As the Vuelta España moved on to the sea-side Cantabrian village of Comillas for Sunday’s departure I spent the night just outside Reinosa – home of Movistar’s veteran domestique and sprinter Fran Ventoso. Not only would my departure point be distinct, but I had planned to enter the Picos Europa from the opposing direction as the peloton to meet the race at the finish line atop Jitu de Escarandi.
The first half of what was set to be a very demanding day would be back-tracking over a majority of Saturday’s route – over the Palombera and Carmona to the village of Puentenansa. From here, I would cross the 3rd and 4th climbs of the day heading directly west on the CA-183 toward the Picos Europa and Asturias. I kept my options open to be honest as I began the day without the best sensations and some worry I’d manage 183km and 4500m+ climbing very well.
The warm weather, clear skies and early descending was a nice way to get some momentum after the early uphill start. After a quick second breakfast, and before long, I was over the Carmona and onto the new terrain. The route between Puentenansa and La Hermida is spectacular and highly recommended. The roads are in great condition and the views enchanting. Each km travelled closer to the Picos, the more rugged and imposing the mountains become. The roads progress from meandering climbs with firm gradients to serpentine switchbacks through plunging valleys.
On the western side of La Hermida is where the day became a little crazier. Mama-google told me via maps that a road existed between La Hermida and Sotres via Bejes. But I’m no fool for google’s tease, so I asked two separate locals in Hermida the state of the road. They assured me it was clear sailing to Sotres, hard climbing, but good roads. So I set off. As the road climbed up, very steeply up – many km sections over 10% – the terrain was impressive and each agonizing ramp that picked up more steeply was rewarded with an even better viewpoint of the mountains around. The legs may have been displeased, but the eyes were driving the bus. It was beautiful.
However, as the views got better, the roads got worse and degraded through: smooth asphalt to rough, concrete to hormigón, gravel to rock, boulders to walking. Yet, at each further degradation I could find a hiker who would ensure me that I could carry on by road bike through to Sotres. Hell, I’m all #roadbikesoffroad and love an adventure, but I’d be shitting you that walking wasn’t pissing me off after 4000 meters of climbing over 90km with another 90km to go, while trying to get to Jitu de Escarandi in time for the Vuelta finish. Did I mention that I had a train to catch at 9:20pm, 78km from Sotres? Where you’re lucky to get off a Grand Tour mountain within an hour of the 6pm finish? I was becoming THAT pissy ‘lil adventurer in cycling shoes. I did however, make it through — not in time to see Purito win, but in time to hear it on the horizon, over the PA, with the helicopters thumping and the race vehicles shimmering in the distance while the clouds swept through. It was beautiful.
After waiting for the entire parade of team cars, support vehicles and guardia civil to begin the steep descent off Sotres, I finally was allowed through and I kamikazeed off the mountain, weaving through the buses, cars and caravans at really such a frightening pace, I don’t want to think about it, let alone do it again. You know, those drivers really become accustomed to moving with pro cyclists, not slow cyclists, and once you’re amongst the cars, you either pull over and wait or get swept up in the tire screeching, brake-burning speed of the mass of all of it. But I made it. After my own personal 78km individual TT, I made it to the Feve in Infiesto in just under two and a half hours with seven minutes to spare. I know most of our readers could crush that, but after that day I was the only thing crushed. Completely and totally crushed. But again, it sure was beautiful.