Review of Angliru Cycling Challenge 2006
CYCLING UP THE ROAD TO HELL
Despite training going well, having my flight cancelled just 2 weeks prior to leaving enforced a very short trip. Starting with getting up at 6 am and driving to London, then flying to Spain, then hiring a car and driving 50k past the city of Oviedo.
Next job search to find a hotel and then assemble the bike and set off down to the start point.
Over 12 hours into the day already and its 6.45pm as I commence the climb from the hamlet of La Vega Riosa. Unlike towns at the foot of the glamorous French mountains, this is Basque country in Northern Spain and here it resembles a Mexican cow town in a Clint Eastwood movie.
Temperature in the bright sunshine of early evening is unfortunately still 75 to 80 degrees. First 6k of this 12.6k climb is far easier than the latter and I plan to fly up this section in under half and hour. Big mistake as several sections are 14% and it takes me nearly an hour.
With the enforced limited time schedule I forgot to bring power gel and decide not to carry a drink which was a major miscalculation. No performance enhancing drugs, but hopefully my cheese sandwiches at lunch will see me through.
Steady progress is made up to Via Para the flattish midway section of a few hundred metres which gives me a little respite for the big part of the mountain ahead. A few weeks prior, Tour De France TV commentator had remarked on one stage that the final part of the climb is brutal kicking up to 10% in places (wow), I pass a sign that proclaims 24% beware ! Expecting this I gear down and dig in over the first of the crippling slopes and proceed steeply upwards.
As normal there is the obvious perspiration in this temperature, but thankfully proceeding cautiously as planned, so far I have not been in the red or out of breath. Choosing to ride a heavier but lower geared bike seems a wise choice so far. However one and a half hours of climbing is beginning to take its toll after being hit with another section at 23% and sadly I have to stop. Gutted, I rest for a couple of minutes recovery and then back to the seemingly never ending punishing gradients.
After rounding another bend I get confronted with the bizarre site of a half ton plus cow with her calf being herded down this hideous slope which forces me to stop. This was probably exactly the same over 1000 years ago as time alters little on this terrain.
Onwards and upwards in fading light and inevitably it is getting tougher with more 21% and then 23.6% inclines which forces another halt. Aches and pains and groin strain have started after over 2 hours of the toughest climbing I have ever seen let alone tried to cope with. No wonder someone painted on the road "You Are Entering Hell".
It is almost dark now and my mind is wandering from achievement towards survival. Dreams of great accomplishment with a faultless ride up this beast has passed me by on this occasion. Why bother continuing with this torture I ask myself. I also think of the 200 starters in the first pre Vuelta trial of which only 33 made it to the summit. But wait a minute the great climber Roberto Heras had to stop with 100,000 people watching on the mountain while leading this stage of the Vuelta in 2002 and he recouped and still went on to win. Then I also remember the last years solid training and falls and dieting would all have been for nothing.
My head gets back in focus again and off I set with the summit in sight and I'm slowly reeling in the finish. Just as I see the top of the final stretch it is 21.5% and I manage to merely crawl to the finish area. No punching the air with delight, no thoughts of satisfaction, just relief. However, short lived relief as it is now pitch black at 9.15pm and not only do I have to get down this monster with no lights, I also have another 3k climb afterwards back up to the hotel.
Off back down I set and have not gone 1k when bang I hit a pot hole which could not be seen by moonlight and amazingly do not get a puncture. This turns out to be the least of my descending worries as round the next bend I am confronted by a large wild horse standing sideways in the middle of the road leaving no room to pass. As I approach I can tell he is frightened as he looks at me. Equestrian skills to the fore as I make a soothing noise to try to calm his fear and although his body tenses further he steps to the right leaving just enough space to get by. A catastrophe of epic proportions is thankfully averted.
Descending to the bottom takes half an hour and a further half an hour to climb up the road to the hotel. Total time on the bike 3 hours 45 minutes of which 3 hours were solid climbing and one and a half hours were inhuman.
After much intake of liquid and just a few hours sleep, the following morning I drive the car up to take pictures. Just one determined looking cyclist is on his way up - "buenos días". Around an hour later on the way down I see him collapsed on the floor taking on water and when asked if OK ? he just manages to wave as he tries to recuperate. Few riders make it to the top and if the worlds greatest professionals refuse to ride it because it is to hard - then maybe I didn't do to bad after all. This is the toughest mountain climb in the world (by some margin) ever to be used in a listed cycle race and actually completing it has to count for something.
Promises were (kind of) made that this would be the last international endurance stunt. However I just cant help a distinct feeling of unfinished business with this unique wonder of the world.
Stay tuned for more steep thrills !
For those of you not familiar with this mountain please read our Angliru info page