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Archives for October 2014

Pico De Veleta

Pico de Veleta

Pico de Veleta

The book that was the inspiration.

The book that was the inspiration.

Shortly after I started serious cycling again, my sister in law bought me a copy of “Mountain High”, a book listing 50 of Europe’s greatest cycling climbs. Some like the 78m high Koppenberg are there due their links with classic races rather than their severity, but for most, it is their majesty formed by height, gradient as well as the romanticism formed by their links with the famous Grand Tours.

Listed in order of ascending height, we start with 8 hills below 1000m, before the serious stuff starts with 19 mountains in the 1000-2000m bracket, including Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux. There are a further 22 mountain passes listed in the next section, before we get to the final part, 3000m+ with it’s single listing of the Pico de Veleta.

After toying briefly with the idea of conquering all of these climbs one by one, I figured that if I just did the highest of them all I wouldn’t need to do the other 49!

This year for our October break we had hired a villa near Granada. After quite a few years of extended city breaks, rushing around the likes of Rome, Istanbul, Venice, etc trying to see all we could in 4 days before flying home exhausted, we now relax for a week, Helen by the pool while I hire a bike and go cycling.

Now I hadn’t realised how close the villa was to the Pico Veleta (honestly!) when I booked it, but being only about  10km away seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The bike I had hired was an aluminium framed Giant TCR, with Shimano Ultegra groupset and a low gear of 34×28 which should be sufficient as although I am still a good 2 stone heavier than I would like to be, I wasn’t going to be carrying any luggage.

I had hired the bike for 5 days, with the expectation that I would ride for a couple of hours each day building up to the big one. Day one was a 30 mile circular route to Santa Fe, day two was going to be a 50 mile ride but starting in the heat of the afternoon and not feeling too good, I cut it short after getting to the top of the first of two hills on the planned route. Mind you, at 1362m, this hill was 18m higher than Ben Nevis and was the highest that I had ever climbed on a bicycle before, so not a bad effort.

About to leave the villa.

About to leave the villa. The arrows on my YACF shirt point the wrong way on the continent!

I left soon after it was light at 08:47, learning from yesterday’s experience and getting as high as I could while it was still cool. The first 8 miles from the villa were through satellite towns of Granada and fairly flat. I relied heavily on the map function of my Garmin eTrex 30 through these towns as I was led a merry dance through a variety of one way streets. After leaving Barrio de la Vega  it was much easier, and all I had to do was follow the road along the Rio Monochil all the way up to where it meets the A-395 main road at just under 1500m. This section was the hardest by far, 7 miles up with gradients approaching 20% in places, before a short downhill to the main road junction. I stopped briefly to take a photo of a white house cut into the mountain, unfortunately I couldn’t get far enough away to get the whole house in the picture as it was a sheer drop on the other side of the road.


You can get an idea of the gradient in this photo.

On joining the main road it was a case of plodding on, stopping briefly at the 1500m sign for a photo and for a bit longer at the visitors centre on the junction of the main road and the A-4025. Here I refilled my bottles and added a couple of electrolyte tabs to each. I immediately realised that this was not such a good idea, as now I didn’t have any clean water to wash out my eyes if I needed to. Oh well, I better make sure I keep wiping the sweat from my brow regularly. At least as I was going uphill, the Spanish helmet law didn’t apply so, a) less sweat was created, and b) my brow was easy to get to.

On leaving the visitor’s centre rather than continuing on the main road, I turned left and carried on up on the A-4025. This road was through pine trees for the first five hairpins so offered some shade in places. I passed a rider on a mountain bike just after joining this road, the only one I passed all day. I was also passed by just one other rider, on the main road section, another Brit, although he wasn’t going to the top. After about ? miles you’ll meet the main road again, here you turn left unless you are in desperate need of water/food in which case you can turn right and go down into the ski resort of Sol y Nieve (Pradollano) before starting back up again.


Hoya de la Mora is just around the bend.

As I was fine for water, I turned left and continued up to Hoya de la Mora at 2500m. Here I stopped for 30’ at the bar/restaurant for a coffee and Chorizo bocadillo. In total I stopped for 59’on the climb, this one and 15’ down at the visitor’s centre, as well as half a dozen or so photo stops.




Where the road runs out.

Hoya de la Mora is just before the Military Hostel and the barrier across the road stopping public access for cars. Cyclists are fine to continue past the barrier although now the road begins to deteriorate.

Where the rough road gets a bit better.

Where the rough road gets a bit better.

The rough road doesn’t last too long though and gets smooth again as you pass the Snow Virgin monument, and then remains in reasonable condition for maybe 2 miles until it becomes very broken. At this point although the views are amazing and the scenery is like an early Sci-Fi ‘just landed on Mars’ film set, I was becoming concerned that very soon, riding down on skinny tyres would not be possible. However I was determined to hit 3000m so on I went. What was a road with patches of rubble became rubble with patches of road. My gps unit said I had reached 3000m but as I hadn’t seen a sign telling me I went on a bit more, around another two hairpins. Now a straight-ish bit of track and still no sign, so I trusted the barometric altimeter, took a photo of my bike against the snow, turned around, attached helmet to head, and picked my way gingerly back down. Post ride analysis confirms that I hit 3003m so job done!

Looking down on the ski resort from about 2600m.

Looking down on the ski resort from about 2600m.


3000 m

The ride down was a bit faster than the ride up! Coming down I turned left after Hoya de la Mora into Pradollano and onto the main road for a fast bit until the steep hairpins slowed me down back on the GR-410 to Monachil. I did stop early on to put on a rain jacket and silk glove liners under my mitts as the windchill was a little uncomfortable, didn’t bother with the buff or legwarmers though.

Summary of route:

Phase 1 (GR-410 Monachil to the A-395 junction): Very steep in places but very quiet road, great views.

Phase 2 (A-395 to visitors centre): Busier road but not unpleasantly so (it was late October), a number of hotels/restaurants for food/drink.

Phase 3 (A-4025): Quiet road, beautiful scenery, nowhere to refill water bottles so make sure you have full ones before leaving phase 2!

Phase 4 (road from ski resort to Hoya de la Mora): Busier road, 2500m sign just before the bar/restaurant/kiosk area.

Phase 5 (beyond the barrier): Just keep going as far as you can, a mountain bike would be useful, or at least fat tyres and disc brakes!

This is the strava segment for phase 3/4:

and the whole climb: