Words and photos: Ian Cleverly
I decided that to get a true fans-eye view of the Angliru, the famously fearsome climb first used by the Vuelta in 1999 and growing in mythical status ever since, I should really walk up the mountain, 12.5kms of it, 23.5 per cent sectors and all.
Several things transpired to turn me against this carefully laid plan. It was raining. It was cold. An old woman collared me as I wandered the town of Riosa at the foot of the Angliru issuing dire warnings of atrocious weather conditions on the mountain and the inadequacy of my clothing. She may have said something about wolves and killer sheep as well, but I was struggling to translate.
Besides all that, there was a press bus leaving for the summit in half an hour. I’d have been a fool not to, surely?
The entrepreneurial townsfolk of Riosa were flogging rather sad-looking rain capes that may or may not have kept the water at bay for a few minutes. I decided against a panic buy and boarded the bus.
As it turned out, conditions at the top of the climb were less than apocalyptic, even if visibility was far from perfect. I wandered down the mountain from the anticlimactic finish area in search of the party. Prime positions had already been taken, walls on the outside of hairpins providing a place to rest for the next five hours before Juan José Cobo would loom out of the mist and wrestle the red leader’s jersey from Bradley Wiggins.
The 23.5 per cent section of Cueña les Cabres was, as expected, quite brutal. Streams of cyclists passed in various states of distress, notably those on road bikes with insufficiently low gearing. The one guy I saw who seemed to have got his gearing spot on was, unbelievably, a unicylist (exhibitionist, mentalist, depending on your viewpoint). I did not take a picture of him. Such behaviour is not to be encouraged.
Eventually I descended below the cloud level to a broad meadow, home for the day to several thousand Spanish fans, blue and yellow flags of Asturias proudly displayed, beers in hand and a big screen to follow the Vuelta’s progress for the next few hours. I settled in for the afternoon. This was shaping up to be a great day.
A more considered view of the Angliru, with proper photographs by Timm Kölln (as opposed to my iPhone snaps) will appear in Rouleur issue 26, coming soon.