3 Days of La Vuelta – Day 1

In Our Backyard

As most who are following the Vuelta a España know, the race recently passed through the Cantabr-Asturian northern region of Spain for three pivotal, high-mountain stages. Months ago, this Vuelta set plans into motion for a little weekend adventure. The narrow-gauge FEVE train travels east from Oviedo with a stop near the Cantabrian border in Pesués providing convenient, bicycle-friendly transport to exciting pro-road racing and a cyclo-tourist overnighter. Afterward, a train return home to Oviedo for a third dose – Monday’s 16th stage – a quick slice of the action with the race just outside our door.


Day 1 was a short but climb-filled 110km departing at noon from the train stop in Pesués, heading toward the finishing climb of stage 14 at Alto de Campoo, and then ultimately to my BnB for the night in Nestares. The ride south wound through the Cantabrian foothills slowly gaining elevation along the CA-181 and CA-182 until the first point of interest  – the 611m Collada de Carmona. The quiet roads, great views and ample shoulder made for some nice riding, and the Carmona was a nice 6-7% ish warm-up for a bigger climbs to come.


Over the Carmona and descending down into the Valley de Cabuérniga, the ride eases into climbing again, before a slight downhill the true start of the 1260m Puerto de Palombera. However, it certainly feels like a longer climb than the listed 18km as the road gains elevation for nearly all 40km through this stretch. I met a group of 6 almost entirely defeated British cyclists, about 8km from the summit, who seemed to be losing their motivation, and time window, for viewing the Vuelta as the climb does drag on. Approaching the summit, the trees give way to the beginnings of the alpine and the views of the route-just-travelled were a good reminder of efforts to cross the easily underestimated Palombera.


It was after the short descent off the Palombera that the day rendezvoused with the Vuelta. Roads which up to then felt isolated gave way to crowds of cyclists, camper vans and event festivities. The relatively unknown 16km climb to Campoo is no small feat at nearly 2000m, but the climbing is steady with few difficult sections. The wide roads provided a number of uncrowded viewpoints for the approaching peloton with pleasently rugged backdrops depending on the location. As the summit approached so did the coastal weather, with heavy clouds and cold air slamming into the mountain. I opted out of the finish-line views and instead stopped just below the cloud ceiling, about 4km from the line to get a good view of the breakaway and the favorites as they raced past.


Once the ‘autobus’ riders made it up the climb, the weather really had changed for the worst, and most fans began heading down to see DeMarchi win the stage on the big screen in Brañavieja, myself included. After viewing the main protagonists finish the wind and clouds began crushing down and everyone bombed off the mountain in earnest. The descent at some 6 degrees Celcius was a crisp one with the bikes being buffeted around by the wind. That coupled with the mass of cyclists, the race vehicles and the caravans it looked to be less than pleasant experience for many, but I felt fairly comfortable even amidst the chaos of those who all seemed to be yelling at one another. You can see how the pros did it, up the mountain, at least:

With or without the Vuelta, this route would be recommended as it was quite scenic, has little traffic, is challenging and fun. The Alto de Campoo is neither a must-do nor a must-miss and if you’re in the area and are ambitious give it a rip. On arrival in Nestares, the route was harder than anticipated and after the nearly 3000m of climbing, day 2 loomed large – a ‘backroads’ route, 183km, 5 climbs and over  4500m of climbing. Tomorrow – Day two of the 3 Days of La Vuelta.