Friday, June 21, 2024

La Vuelta a España, Stage 15: Solares – Lagos de Covadonga Preview


HomeDiariesLa Vuelta a España, Stage 15: Solares - Lagos de Covadonga Preview

Why do you want to go further, nothing is there?‘ the cute park ranger asks us; she’s guarding the last section of the fabled climb.

Lagos de Covadonga
The deserted lakes at the top look surreal in the cloud and mist.

We’re beside Lago Enol, one of the beautiful Lagos de Covadonga and we need to drive the finale to complete our mission for the day.

Lagos de Covadonga
We showed you our Ranger pal yestyerday, but she deserves a second look!

Two minutes?‘ we plead with her – ‘OK, you have ten and then I come looking for you!‘ she smiles.

Lagos de Covadonga
The cows wander wherever the want – they live here after all, we’re just visiting. Photo©Ed Hood

She’s right, low cloud, grass, rock and no lightweight climbers – just a lone Asturian cow.

Lagos de Covadonga
A simple sign for a stunning part of Spain. Photo©Ed Hood

But we’ve been there; to the top of the Covadonga Lakes climb.

Like it’s sister climb in the Picos de Europa range, the Angliru, further to the west, it’s a ‘road to nowhere,’

On our way down she tells us that yes, she’s seen the bears, and the wolves – but they live much higher up.

Lagos de Covadonga
Plenty tat at the tat shop, but alas, no literature. Photo©Ed Hood

An hour or two earlier, on the valley floor, we dropped in to the Picos de Europa souvenir shop to see if we could get a good guide book to Covadonga, it’s lakes, it’s legends, wolves and bears.

There were no books, just souvenir tat – but there was a cafe with a TV.

Terpstra and Millar, clear of the peloton on the final climb – but with an angry lead group behind.

Crash! and Anton is out; he looked so happy in Burgos this morning.

Lagos de Covadonga
Apparently it was a Catalan ribbon Joaquin was attaching to his saddle. Photo©Martin Williamson

Rodriguez!  That yellow and red ribbon we saw him tieing under his saddle must have done the trick.

Lagos de Covadonga
Zeke Mosquera chatted happily to anyone at the start yesterday. Photo©Ed Hood

Mosquera patiently answers questions for the cameras, moments after that killer finalé – we can’t help but compare his easy going demeanour to Cav’s this morning; stoney faced because he couldn’t be bothered with fans asking for photos.

Onwards and upwards along the valley for us; Covadonga is a famous shrine, a holy place and not just because of the Vuelta.

In the year 722 the Asturian chieftain, Pelayo defeated the Moors (we’d call them Arabs – they ruled Spain for nearly 800 years) at the battle of Covadonga.

It’s seen as the start of the ‘Reconquest’ of Spain where Christian forces gradually drove the Moors out.

Lagos de Covadonga
Don Pelayo’s amazing cave is also his tomb. Photo©Martin Williamson

The cave where Pelayo prayed with his men – and where the Virgin is said to have visited them – is now a shrine.

Lagos de Covadonga
We passed the inevitable tat stalls and shops and climbed the many steps for a peek at this venerated place. Photo©Martin Williamson

There’s more recent history not far from this climb, in 1937 at Mazuco there was a savage battle in the Civil War where Republican troops held off the Nationalists and their German allies despite odds of seven to one, until they were eventually overrun.

Lagos de Covadonga
Across the valley is the beautiful basilica which was built straight on to the rock a hundred years or so ago. Photo©Martin Williamson

Asturias T-shirts duly bought at the tat stall, we needed to flash the creds to the friendly policeman guarding the Lagos road-end and then we were on our way.

There aren’t a lot of hairpins early on the climb, it’s wide and the bends are open, winding fairly gently through a heavily wooded valley.

The road surface is patchy, but not the worst.

The gradient is steady and tough, especially after the hours of big gear pounding leading into it from the start of stage 15.

Lagos de Covadonga
The road just keeps ploughing up the side of the mountain. Photo©Ed Hood

The stats don’t lie; 12.5 kilometres total distance, 15% maximum gradient and an average of 7.2% topping out at 1,120 metres having risen 900 metres – it’s a beast.

Lagos de Covadonga
There aren’t many places to park up here. Photo©Ed Hood

There are very few places to park as the trees begin to thin and we look down on the heat haze in the valley below.

Lagos de Covadonga
It is an other-worldly place. Photo©Ed Hood
Lagos de Covadonga
Extraordinary rock formations loom out of the mist. Photo©Ed Hood

The spikey rock looks like it has forced it’s way through the rough grass and gorse which thrives up here.

Lagos de Covadonga
There are few buildings; those that there are old and rough hewn. Photo©Ed Hood

It feels detached from the world we’re familiar with – maybe Tibet or Nepal from The National Geographic Channel.

Lagos de Covadonga
In the space of one bend, the road ramps up a hundred feet. Photo©Martin Williamson
Lagos de Covadonga
The clouds rolling in chase us up the mountain – good job we’re taking our photos on the ascent. Photo©Martin Williamson

And still we climb, trying to guess how the tarmac gets to where we see it slashing across the rock, high above us.

Lagos de Covadonga
The trees seem to grow out of the rocks. Photo©Ed Hood

The oldest plants on the planet, ferns, proliferate sharing this ghostly world with gorse and the odd hardy tree which impossibly grow straight out of the rock.

Lagos de Covadonga
Just as we reach the top, the sun bursts out. Photo©Ed Hood

Behind, the Picos de Europa tower, pale grey against a pastle blue sky, looking like a 30’s film set.

These impressive summits form part of a band of mountains which run virtually the entire length of Spain’s northern coast – from the Pyrennes in the east to rugged Galicia in the west.

Lagos de Covadonga
The riders will get a quick respite from the small dip in the road at three K’s to go. Photo©Martin Williamson

On and on, the bends tighten, the road narrows and then there’s a dip.

Lagos de Covadonga
Apart from the two dips in the last three K’s, the road pitches up at a pretty constant 7.2%. Photo©Martin Williamson

It twists down then rears again to drop again for a good kilometre past the jewel-like waters of Enol – you have to walk to it’s twin, Ernol.

And that’s where we met our girl, her trendy shades and hair looking so out of place among the mist and rock.

The final lift isn’t too steep, but tough enough at the top of this monster.

This 75th birthday Vuelta will see the finish here among the clouds of the Picos for the 17th time.

Lagos de Covadonga
The first winner was Basque legend, Marino Lejaretta in 1983 – he even had a fan club in Barcelona in his heyday. Photo©supplied

If you’re Scots, it’s a special place, Robert Millar won in ’86 on his way to a second consecut