It was one of our last cycling highlights on our 2012 Europe Tour of Highlights. We were on the home stretch, bee-lining the over 2600km back towards my hometown of Senftenberg near Dresden, after our mechanical delay in Porto, Portugal. We had two weeks left before we had to catch our plane from Berlin back to Australia but the ever increasing time pressure didn’t stop us from stopping in Asturias up on the Bay of Biscay.
Alto de L’Angliru is was added to the Vuelta a España in 1999 as Spain’s answer to Mortirolo and Zoncolan. It holds a similar mythical status as the famous Italian climbs.
Our plan had been to park the motorhome in Miéres and ride out to the start of the climb from there but after a quick lunch and a brief chat with the lady in the local tourist information office, we were worried that the route would take us along a major busy road so we drove to the little village of La Foz just before Riojas, the start of the climb. While the road turned out far less busy and dangerous as we had anticipated, and a ride from Miéres would have been well worth a nice 15 km warm-up, we ended up climbing the moderate road up to the villages of Llamos as a warm up to the steep climb.
And what a beautiful warm up this ride was! After weeks of rugged, dry, arid Spanish desert, the colourful villages and lush greenness of Asturias was pleasing to the eye.
At the dead-end road of Llamos we turned around, back down to Riosa and the start to the Alto de L’Angliru, more curious than “ready” for “El Olimpo del Ciclismo”.
The sign promised a tough afternoon in the saddle. 12.5 km at over 11% average gradient with maximum gradients hitting 23.5%. My advise to Alberto was to keep going and not wait for me in case I wouldn’t make it. After the equally steep but much shorter Bola del Mundo my goal was to make it to the top, no matter how long it would take.
But the pain of defeat on the Mortirolo a few months earlier was still fresh in my mind and I wasn’t confident at all whether I could make it or not.
It started out easy. Too easy! The 7%, 8%, 9% made me nervous of what was to come. The first six kilometres were not much harder than your average mid-week training climb.
But with six kilometres to go, coming around the bend and over a little open ridge, and the view opened to the steep slopes of El Angliru. From here on it became relentless.
Alberto was out of the saddle, cranking on his pedals. I was out of the saddle, pushing and pulling so hard on my pedals that lactic acid soon started coming out of my ears.
The sturdy mountain horses didn’t seem to mind the steepness, nor our presence. They also didn’t care that we had to weave around their giant droppings all over the road.
A grassy patch gave a first good opportunity for a quick rest. The views were magnificent. The switchback allowed me to get back on my bike after a banana snack.
Each kilometre was marked by a sign, counting down the distance and indicating the average gradient for the next kilometre. Every next sign became my goal. Sign by sign I climbed my way closer to the summit. I tried not to pay attention to the gradient on the sign, nor the road ahead. I kept my gaze steadily two to three meters ahead of my front wheel, carefully avoiding the piles of shit.
I honestly don’t recall how many times I stopped, Strava could tell.
I don’t deny walking a few meters up to the next switchback that allowed me to get back on my bike after loosing momentum completely at that 23.5% section.
And when Alberto and I stood at the top, exhausted and happy, I wondered whether now, at the end of our trip, after climbing almost 160,000m all over Europe, I would also be able to climb the Mortirolo.
After a little chat with some local riders from Ovieto we slowly descended back to La Foz and our Motorhome but not without stopping frequently to savour the amazing views.