Pajares. Arguably the most significant pro-cycling puerto in Asturias, and the second most frequented ascent in the region behind Lagos De Covadonga, Pajares is the old highway trade route between Oviedo, Leon and the heart of Spain to the south. First visited during the 5th edition of the Vuelta Espana in 1945, Pajares has seen prolific champions climb to victory on stages featuring her slopes – Berrendero (´45), Bahamontes (´58) and Poulidor (´65) to name just three. In 1988, the Galician, Álvaro Pino, climbed away from Sean Kelly, Robert Miller and the peloton to win in Brañilín in his failed bid to capture a second Vuelta title in three years:
The climb to Puerto de Pajares begins to ease its way toward the sky in Campomanes, some 40km south on the N-630 from Oviedo. The ride from the capital toward Castilla y Leon parallels both the Cercanias train line and the newer, quicker and more modern autovia A-66, which hosts most of the vehicle volume in and out of Asturias. This makes for relatively light traffic on the journey and plenty of rest-stop options through villages such as Mieres del Camino and Pola de Lena. Pajares however, is still a major thruway and sees a substantial number of toll-avoiding transport trucks and thrill-seeking motorcyclists sharing the road with a fair share of cyclists.
The climb is deceptive as it becomes increasingly steep as you approach the summit. Although many list Campomanes as km 0, it’s essentially a 5km false flat averaging between 1.5 and 2% until things begin in earnest in Puente de los Fierros with a 7% ramp. After which point, Pajares is a highly irregular climb which for many will add to the difficulty of the ascent. These short sections of 10%+ are conveniently marked along the way with clear road signs, and these ramps are just steep enough and long enough to get the heartrate out of “casual” territory. The final couple of km, however, come out swinging, as the road pitches up to 10-12% average kms and features substantially long ramps to 15% and then 17% just before flattening out for the last few 100 meters to the cima. Unfortunately, the restaurant that rests at the top of the climb and the provincial border is closed as of Aug 2015 with seemingly no plans to re-open, but it does provide a focal point during the last km of suffering.
From here, many double back on the route descending from where they came for a quicker day, however, more ambitious riders can continue on for an easy additional ascent up to the ski station in Brañilín/Valgrande at 1454m. Or if you’re very ambitious, continue on to tackle the brutally difficult Cuitu Negru – ‘the climb to end all climbs’ – as featured in the 2012 vuelta that ascends up to 1847m and features ramps to 25% and full km’s at 14% and 18%.
Overall, the Puerto de Pajares has a great deal of Vuelta España significance and is a convenient, utilitarian climb whether you want to continue your journey into Leon or tackle further challenges like Cuitu Negru. It’s also a greater challenge than the raw numbers indicate and for those who seek the challenge, the final ramps provide. However, it is less appealing as a destination in itself than neighbouring options due to heavy traffic, fairly underwhelming views until the summit, and for those who aren’t seeking a stiff challenge, although it is short the difficult finishing profile is a beast.