– Special Travel Feature by Peter Thomson of Thomson Bike Tours –
The 2012 Vuelta б Espaсa is reaching new heights. While this year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia have reigned in the altitude, the organizers of the Vuelta have posted a route that defies gravity. With 10 steep uphill finishes, including 7 pure summit finishes, the 2012 Vuelta б Espaсa is the most mountainous Grand Tour. This elevation will test even the most adept climbers.
Since the route was first announced earlier this year, riders and fans alike have focused on a handful of arduous stages in Asturias that promise to make or break the race for the main contenders. The climbs, including Lagos Covadonga, Cuitu Negro, and Fuente Dй, are all located in this majestic province in the north of Spain and will deliver the decisive moments of this year’s Vuelta.
Each Grand Tour has an iconic climb that stands alone in the race’s long and celebrated history. The Giro d’Italia has the Passo dello Stelvio and the Tour de France has the notorious Alpe d’Huez. For the Vuelta б Espana, that climb is the Lagos de Covadonga. At Thomson Bike Tours, we have conquered this and every other major climb of the Grand Tours. In our experience, it is one of the most awe-inspiring ascents in all of Europe. I’ve asked a couple of our Thomson Bike Tours regulars to discuss their experience on the Lagos de Covadonga.
Extreme cyclists Kristi and Curt Eastin, both professors in the field of Classics and Humanities at California State Fresno, are seasoned experts. Former professional and elite racers, the couple has climbed every mountain in Europe with Thomson Bike Tours. As both staff and riders, they have attended Giro d’Italia, Tour de France Alps “Extreme” and Tour de France Pyrenees “Extreme”, Trans-Dolomites, Trans-Pyrenees, Trans-Cantabria w/ Alto de l’ Angliru and more. In short, they are qualified to speak at length about the sport’s fabled ascents.
Kristi and Curt shared an eloquent account of their experience on the Lagos de Covadonga. They capture the historical significance, the grandeur and the overall sensation of ascending this legendary climb.
Describe the overall scenery of the Lagos:
Curt: The scenery is varied. It changes from wooded to alpine, a bit reminiscent of the Col de la Croix de Fer, especially with the lake towards — but by no stretch “near” — the top. Like the Croix de Fer it starts out densely wooded and shaded, somewhat steep but manageable and gets harder towards the middle.
Kristi: The scenery is fantastic. You begin under the cover of a densely wooded canopy and then ascend into a stark alpine landscape—the transition (due to the canopy) is unexpected and so wonderfully striking.
What sets Lagos de Covandonga apart?
Kristi: To begin with, it is one of the great legendary climbs, and that in itself brings with it a sense of awe; but the Lagos was so much more than I expected—it was truly an “epic” climb, one of those where you smile for no good reason when it gets absurdly steep, in part because you can see the road winding and continuing to ascend in the distance, in part because you can look back see the how far you have come, in part because you can look out to the incredible scenery that accompanies you all the way up the mountain—and, as always, in part because it’s just comically hard, and that’s what you came for.
Curt: Upon emerging from the trees and into the serene alpine landscape, one sees the spectacular Picos de Europa. These mountains are so unique in character as to make this alone reason enough for making the ascent. But it’s more than just the view: as any cycling connoisseur knows, each mountain has its own character (the lay of the road against the backdrop of the scenery, the rhythm of the gradient, the way in which the steeper sections rise unrelentingly both right before one’s eyes as well as across the chasms as the road winds up), and the Lagos de Covadonga climb is sui generis. It must be experienced to be fully appreciated. I put Lagos de Covadonga in the class of the greatest climbs that stimulate the senses even while sapping strength: Stelvio, Gavia, Croix de Fer, Glandon, Galibier. While all mountains are worth conquering, and some are just plain hard, the Lagos — like the other “greats” — has it all.
The descent is fast and furious. Roads are excellent! The view of the Basillica of Our Lady of Covadonga is spectacular both on the way up, as well as on the descent towards the bottom. Don’t miss it! For the history enthusiast, the significance of the site (dedicated to the opening salvo [the battle of Covadonga] in the 800 year struggle that became the Reconquista) is just one more in the long list of reasons to do the climb.
Why should every cyclist aspire to experience this peak?
Curt: This is one of the great climbs of Europe, the Vuelta’s version of L’Alpe d’Heuz. The Cafe at the top has great espresso and hot chocolate!
Kristi: In my book it is one of the “greats”–vying with the Stelvio, the Gavia, the Galibier—and yet, as with each of these climbs, it has its own unique experience. You must climb it to know it.
If you had to sum up the Lagos in 3 words, which would you choose?
Curt: Sublime. Grueling. Fulfilling.
Kristi: Epic. Intense. Sublime.
Thomson Bike Tours will head to the 67th edition of the Vuelta a Espana this August to conquer the Lagos de Covadonga and other essential climbs of the Grand Tour. As one of only 2 Official VIP Tour Operators of the Vuelta, Thomson clientele will also enjoy prime race viewing spots at many of the tour’s most decisive stages.
TBT King of the Mountains Vuelta Trip Highlights:
• LIVE Viewing of 4 stages including the finish in Madrid.
• Climb to Lagos de Covadonga- the most famous climb of the Vuelta a Espana
• Collado de Hoz – one of the best descents ever!
• The 30km Puerto de San Glorio – a spectacular climb and gateway to the Picos de Europa National Park.
• Climb the Bola del Mundo – scene of the epic battle between Vincenzo Nibali and Ezequiel Mosquero in the 2010 Vuelta a Espana
• As always the top support in the industry!
Can’t make the race? There’s another opportunity to climb Spain’s legendary peaks. The 2012 Thomson Bike Tours schedule also includes a Trans-Cantabria Challenge that covers many of the same legendary climbs.
See why this region was voted BEST TRIP OF THE YEAR in 2011 by Thomson riders.
What our riders have to say:
“The terrain was so varied that it took my breath away …that is the breath i had after climbing ! Beautiful vistas, some of the most friendly people in the world …….great routes and its so great to jump into a trip by myself and be surrounded by great cyclists and wonderful characters….I always make a great connection on these trips with the scenery, and the clients ……i will always have a fond place in my heart for Thomson Tours!!!”
Elizabeth Tobin – CT, USA :: 2011 Trans-Cantabria Challenge
“Because I had only heard or seen about Lagos de Covadonga and Alto del Angliru, I was taken by surprise by how difficult but enjoyable the rest of the rides on this tour were. The scenic beauty of the areas we rode through was beyond anything I would have expected, and being from Colorado, USA we have some nice sights. The absence of traffic on most of the roads was an unexpected blessing. I could not have ridden with a nicer group of people than the TBT veterans I was with. And of course the TBT staff were so great! Helpful, encouraging, patient. As much as I enjoyed my Trans Pyrenees trip, when I’m old and can’t ride anymore, this will be the trip I remember! Thank you TBT!!!!”
Gregory Chaloupka – CO, USA :: 2011 Trans-Cantabria Challenge
Visit Thomson Bike Tours for more information on our complete 2012 Schedule!
For more information…
Read more testimonials and find out about all our challenging cycling trips at www.thomsonbiketours.com.