Part 2 Granada and the Sierra Nevada.
The bike is a Specialized Tarmac carbon road bike with Ultegra, compact cranks and a 32 tooth on the back. Rented from http://www.sierranevada.cc
. There is a minor glitch in that it is delivered without helmet, but this is soon sorted. Again, the bike is mechanically A1.
Day 1 104 km 1384 m ascent
This ride has three long climbs and three long descents, each higher and steeper the previous. Navigating in and out of the centre of Granada is a bit tricky, but once out into the countryside it is easy. The weather is very hot and windy, but again the scenery is spectacular.
Day 2 64 km 1736 m ascent
Up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains to about 1500 m. Some of the roads are very steep, with hairpin bends labelled with the gradient, 18, 19 21%! Lots of cyclists are on this climb, some pushing, it is also marked with the painted names of Vuelta Espana riders. I have a scary moment on a steep descent, confused by having the brakes the wrong way around, I lock up the back wheel and nearly go over the edge.
Day 3 107 km 2664 m ascent.
This was an epic. Before attempting this, the highest ride I had ever done was 2054 m, more than 20 years ago in the French Alps. The Pico del Valeta is 3395 m, the highest road in Europe. The way out of Granada follows the river, before climbing steeply up to meet the main road after about 10 km and at 1000 m. The main road is wide with a good shoulder, little traffic, and not too steep, mostly 5 -8%. Someone had told me that nothing was open at the ski resort near the top, so I have an early lunch a café at about 1500m up. The altitude of 2000 m is marked with a sign, I stop and take a photo, just 1400 m to go. Near the ski resort members of the AG2R cycling team are descending from the mountain followed by a team car. They look confident and relaxed descending at speed, I think of my knee-trembling, knick-soiling effort of yesterday.
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Just 1400 m to go.
The ski resort is at about 2300m and 30 km from Granada. There are in fact a few cafes open, so I have a coke. Like most ski resorts, it is ugly in the summer time when not covered in snow, but there are high peaks towering over the town, one of which has a big dish antenna on top.
Now the fun starts. The climb out of the resort is very steep, and a bit tricky to navigate because of lots of side roads going off to apartments, and the direction signs are for ski runs. Back on the main road, I pass the 2500 m altitude sign, then find that the way is blocked by a boom gate, with quite a few cars parked nearby. The sign on the gate is in Spanish, and I can only make out that something or other is prohibited. I clamber under it and keep going. There are lots of hikers around, so I assume that it is just cars that are prohibited.
The road is very steep now and I’m starting to feel the altitude. I come to an intersection and am fumbling with my iPhone map when another cyclist passes me, “Valeta to the right,” he says, in German accented English. So I follow him along the road towards the big dish. He is a bit faster and soon out of sight around the bends. Then I meet him coming the other way. “Sorry, should be to the left.” So we roll back to the intersection and start climbing again. In a couple of k’s I meet the German stopped assisting a cyclist with a puncture, I can see sealant oozing out of his flat rear tyre. He has deep rims and, although he speaks only Spanish, I gather that he needs to remove the valve core to change the tube. I don’t have the appropriate tool, so am not much help. Leaving them to it, I proceed upwards. Soon the German passes me again: “2700 m, about 7 km to go,” he says. It is getting hard now, the road is very steep and rough, with lots of pot holes, and no vegetation, just rocks, scree and snow by the sides. I’m feeling light headed and breathing hard. I recon it will take about another 45 min to reach the top. As it gets higher, the road gets worse, more holes, rock and scree than tarmac. I’m worried about puncturing, and in a couple of places carry the bike over sections where there really is no road at all.
The ski resort and the big dish are way below me now, and the top of the mountain Is in sight, with a stone hut on its peak. Coming around a hairpin bend, I see the German off his bike and taking photos. “The road is blocked by snow, 100 m ahead.” We talk for a while and take photos. He lives in Granada and this is his second attempt at the Valeta climb. He was stopped by snow the first time as well. After he rolls off down, I ride on and indeed, a least a metre of snow blocks the road at the next hairpin, with about one km of road still to the top. My Garmin says 3290 m. Which is plenty. Nothing for it but to turn around and start the descent. I take the first bit carefully, because the road is so steep and rough, but once on the main road it is easy and I’m back in Granada in an hour, barely turning a pedal. The temperature in the city is 38 degrees, so it seems odd that just an hour before I was holding a snowball.
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