There were 3 compelling reasons that got me across the line to come to Spain on this trip:
- I had nowhere to live
- I wanted to see the Vuelta
- I wanted to ride the Angliru
As such, today was a BIG day… This is after all one of the few Spanish climbs that I know by legend and it had been talked up ALL week by everyone you meet here, like its some sort of freakish right of passage. Vuelta’s are decided on this climb (just ask Wiggo) and its well documented how brutal it is. After smashing 2200m of climbing yesterday, sounded like just the ticket!
The race heads up there tomorrow (Saturday), but we made the call to ride it today given how rammed it was yesterday on stage 18, so a switch around of days essentially. Before I get to that though, its worth a quick word on Suances where we stayed last night on the coast. Rather than give it a word, how about just the view from the hotel:
I’m basically staying here to get a job with the Spanish tourism board… That’s the North Atlantic ocean lapping in there… DOOOOSH!
Right – To the Angliru! We had to relocate from Suances to Las Caldas, which is in the Asturias region of Spain and just also happens to be where Marcelino and Guti are from, yes, we were heading for the Spanish Mafia’s hood. As we got closer the BEAST came into view for the first time, heavily blanketed in the most awesome day you could ever hope for:
Given that we were in the Asturias and Spanish national pride was on the line as we took on their prized monument, the call had gone out to round up the local mafia, who turned up in force to smash the Dirty Nomad:
The only upside is that they turned up with their WAGS… For the male readership it does appear that being a Spanish Ex-PRO rider provides distinct benefits if you want to marry a Spanish girl…
The newcomers were Adolfo and Mario (so NOT making those names up), both local boys (Mario an Ex-PRO of course) and looking for a heavy session on the Angliru. Yay. I was given the heads up that the weather today was extremely RARE, in fact the boys reckoned that this area only gets 5 or 6 days like this a year! I wasn’t arguing and the GU was stoked:
Some quick stats on the Angliru to put things in perspective (roughly speaking):
- 12.5km’s long
- Avg gradient of 10%
- Elevation gain of 1260m
- PRO record – 41.55 in 2000 by Roberto Heras, who was so juiced you may as well call him Charlie
Was the reality of this beast going to live up to the hype? Would it really be that epic and hard? Surely its manageable? It was all ahead of me to find out.
We rolled out for the short 20km’s to the base of the Angliru… The only interruption being when Marcelino got pulled over by the over zealous Policia because we didn’t have lights when riding through a tunnel, epic Spanish argument ensued and drama was high… Turns out that Guti is also a Policeman as his day job, so we left it with him to sort and rode on.
Oddly, I found myself marshalled to the front for most of this 20km’s… the only time I had company was when Mario sidled up to me and said “Hey, they really want to beat you today, si, possible you very strong si?“. Awesome… this ain’t no holiday mofos! Luckily for me, Marcelino (who was huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf) decided to pull pin at the base of the Angliru, so I was down to 3 mafioso to contend with.
Its time to climb
Right from the official start sign the hammer was down… and I mean it was ON. Adolfo got on the front and dropped it… Guti went with him and I had to try and hang on. It took about 2 minutes for me to realise that there was no way that I could sustain this pace. How was the GU climbing like this?! Had he been sandbagging all this time?!! WTF?!!
30 seconds later and he blew to pieces… turned to me, smiled and said “Is no possible for Guti, Adolfo is crazy!”. Indeed he was… Crazy and VERY good! I wasn’t about to grenade myself either, so settled into what was a manageable pace. The bottom of Angliru is dangerous to be honest, in terms of creating a false sense of security… Its around 7 to 8% and whilst its tricky, your mind does start to wander fatally towards the notion that its not too bad. This isn’t helped by KM 5 to 6 being essentially flat (here’s a shot from there, taken on the way down!):
I was alone by this point and in my exuberance to put the shank deeper into Guti and catch Adolfo, I dropped the hammer on the flat section. Er… Wrong. You come around the flat section full gas and literally into a wall, going from 0% to 11% in a few meters… This soon turns to 13 then 15%, here I am about to get a serious lesson:
From this point on, the climb bites… like a T Rex crossed with a Ray Parker and it does NOT let go at any point… the section above led to the next series of switch backs that averaged 18%:
The photos don’t do this gradient justice, but I was now in stepper machine mode, like on the Mortirolo in July. Only advantage I had here was that I was in the form of my life… Those Clarso and Ironhawk bootcamps where they beat me with socks wrapped in towels (deepheat may have been involved at some stage) were now beginning to pay massive dividends.
Here are a couple of bike cam shots post the Ponies to try and put it into perspective. In the second one, note the angle of the support van as it turns the corner… Yip… Rather steep:
This was steepness on a scale I had never experienced… And the worst was still to come… a fact that occasionally wafted in and out of my brain like a gel fuelled fart. Before I could get to the hardest section though, I still had plenty of 18% sections to manage:
In this pic, notice Guti’s wife standing on the left hand side, yes, its THAT steep… I am not sure which psycho f*cker designed this road, but they were clearly a hater. Oddly, I felt like I was going ok… it was a grind, no question, but I was doing ok. Bits like the one above meant that all I could do was stand up and step on the pedals one by one, but I wasn’t Zig Zagging across the road like a retard.
And then… I got to KM #10.
How to describe this section? In numbers it averages 16% with a max of 23.5%. In Nomad speak? This was the hardest KM I have ever ridden on a road bike. No BS, no sugar on the motherfucker, just pure insanity. This picture doesn’t do it any justice at all:
Ok, so, honestly? I couldn’t ride this section straight… I HAD to zig zag. In fact, at one point I was worried about stalling out. Its mind blowingly hard. I had to coordinate zig zagging, keeping the front wheel down and keeping the rear wheel planted… for a KM. Its like a wrestling match with your bike… There were a few road riders walking up this section! Finally I got through it to some brief respite:
Not far to go now!! Should level off right? WRONG… how about some 20% face punching and general fisting to overcome before the summit… Yay:
And finally… there it was… 3 minutes behind Adolfo the killer, I arrived at the summit… To a coke and some of the best views on tour. Lets take a moment to put the keyboard down and rejoice in the euphoria of the Angliru summit:
So, did it live up to the hype? No… it exceeded it. This is the hardest climb I have ever done… No question. The Stelvio was hard due to length and I was flogged and out of form, Mortirolo wasn’t as steep and there is nothing in the Alps that was like this. Its not as long as Fat Maddie, or Galibier, but there is something quite unique about Angliru. I am just exceedingly pleased I have turned up to it with some decent form and climbing under my belt.
I had done 1600m of climbing within 33km’s of leaving the hotel… Yikes! My time of around 1.09 not too bad (my juicing programme still to kick in clearly) and I left feeling pretty happy about that to be honest! As well as putting 5 minutes into the GU!
If you are mad enough to turn up and climb this thing without a Cannondale Evo, then at least make sure you have a 34 x 28 or 29 ratio. I would even consider a full WiFLI set up into the 30’s in the back, but that’s SHAM junk, so no good to me. Also, if you are mad enough to ride down the Angliru, like I did, then disc brakes also a good call, this happened to be the best business case for them and probably not my best call ever, especially given I was with Mario and it turns out he was a legend in the PRO peleton for his descending… Scary is an understatement.
Make no mistake, if you are a PRO tomorrow and have a bad day on this thing then you are going to lose a TONNE of time, this one climb (and in particular that one killer KM) is going to decide the Vuelta on Saturday and I will be on site to watch it accordingly!
Speaking of which, there was a stage on today of course! Here is the winner in action, Purito smashing it to pieces up Alto Naranco, which I will ride tomorrow (this is from the 25m to go marker, membership privileges again a winner for watching a stage finish):
Why have I hardly focused on the Vuelta stage today? Simple really:
- Horner took the jersey and I am not loving it
- The Angliru is so awesome and epic is needs its own post
- This post has already blown out in word and pics dimensions
- In Spain you start dinner at 9pm and finish at 11.30pm it seems… so its faaarking late here!!
So, tomorrow is another BIG day – Final ride in Spain and then the MASSIVE Vuelta show down on Angliru where the final winner of the Tour of Spain will be decided. PLEASE Nibbles, pull it together and smash Horner back to the 1990’s. We are counting on you…