Contributed by Philip Gale
A typical Gran Canarian vista.
Like fishermen and their “it was this big” stories about catches, cyclists have an inherent ability to embellish tales of epic climbs. There is one climb always spoke of on Gran Canaria with fear and respect. I stumbled across it on my first trip to the island, a whisper in a bike shop about “The Valley of the Tears”. My interest was held. Is it possible that a road could justify such a name?
The Valley Of The Tears (VOTT) is the GC606 from the El Parralillo Dam at 300 metres above sea level to the summit at 1,380 metres above sea level. Average grade (including a 1km descent) is 10% (12% without) and maximum grade is more than 25%. A serious climb! As my mother used to say when I was a child and fooling about, “There’ll be tears before bed time”.
Blue Sky Breakfast Planning
Over breakfast with my host, Ray Leddy of Cycle Gran Canaria (authority of riding on Gran Canaria), the plan was made to take on the VOTT. Having met Ray on a previous trip I had spent some time picking his brains about this climb. Maybe it was the blue sky, or the excess of caffeine, the route was planned, we were about to take on a killer.
Our route would take us east out of Maspalamas on the GC500 along the coast. We would then head inland on the GC200 through Mogan to Saint Nicolas. There we would take the GC210 to the GC606 and our date with the VOTT. With the climb done we would take the GC60 back to Maspalamas. Sounded easy, we both knew otherwise.
“Dos cortado por favor” (two coffees please) the second coffee was going to be needed!
Coastal Roller Coaster Warm Up
Riding out along the coastal GC500 both of us made the most of the rolling road and views of the ocean knowing what we were going to face soon enough.
Heading inland on the GC200 the road started to climb, with clouds hanging over the western edge of the mountains a feeling of foreboding was in the air. Cresting the ridge before the Las Casas De Venegueras the weather cleared and we were presented with an amazing sight.
The road continued on and we descended into Saint Nicolas, 2 hours in the saddle already.
Fuelled and Ready for Tears
Pit stop over, we took the GC210 direction Artenara. As soon as we were out of town the road started to climb into a narrow rocky valley. With every kilometre we were getting closer to the VOTT. In this epic scenery of high rock walls we were constantly reminded that we were going to somewhere many cyclists fear to ride.
Turning a corner we were presented with a dam that we had to climb. Rearing up like a wave coming down the narrow valley. The road zigzagged up it like a black serpent. This was a good warm up for the grades to come.
The second dam was steeper and the final major obstacle before we hit the junction with the VOTT.
Technology does not lie!
Time for Tears
The junction of the GC606 and the GC210 signifies the bottom of the VOTT, where the uphill battle begins in earnest. Stopping to look at the road zigzagging up the rock face, our legs naturally seemed to be yearning for a smaller gear in anticipation. In the distance we could make out a fellow cyclist (the only one we had seen since before Saint Nicolas) going up against the VOTT. We knew it was time for us to stop looking, man up, and climb!
The climb definitely comes out fists flying. 25% grades from the start make you really wonder what lies in wait for you ahead. Tacking like sail boats we made our way from hair pin to hair pin, each in our own world of pain, not wanting to look up because then there would have been tears. When we did we saw how much height we had gained.
To our surprise the grade eased after 1.6km in which we had gained 250 metres in altitude. It was here that I caught our rider in front. After a quick discussion he turned out to be Heinz Grunder, a middle aged Austrian and relatively new to cycling. Broad chested and having recently conquered cancer (a slightly greater challenge) he wanted a hard ride so decided to take on the VOTT. Something told me he would not let it beat him.
Contact info swapped between Ray and Heinz (Heinz is in the red) we had another 10km to climb before we could mark the VOTT as bagged. Worryingly we started to go downhill!
Returning to Service as Normal
Like a barnacle clamped onto the bottom of a boat El Carrizal (just visible in the above photo) clings to the side of the mountain and marked our return to climbing. Again the VOTT comes out punches swinging in this the second round. 23% plus for longer stretches makes you work hard. After 4 hairpins the grade eased and we climbed into the Almond blossom of the higher altitudes. Their amazing scent filled the air.
With El Toscon perched in the valley above us it felt like we were climbing into the Andes. Small white buildings were dotted in the valleys below. The hard work was rewarding us with some amazing scenery. No longer in the dry rocks of the valley from Saint Nicolas, the terrain was lush and green. This change offered us mental respite from the continual 15% grade we faced.
Just before El Toscon we hit another steeper pitch by a small goat farm, thankfully we were now used to the effort of this grade. With the sound of their bells in our ears we forged on up the VOTT. This was the last major difficulty of the climb. Now we could see how far we had come with Saint Nicolas far below us. Passing the church in El Toscon marked the final few kilometres of tears!
Saint Nicolas far below.
Leaving El Toscon we counted down the final kilometres of the climb. The grade was nowhere near as steep as earlier but with that already in our legs we were still working hard. 12% to 13% all the way up the final 3 kilometres, with teeth gritted and legs burning we conquered the VOTT. The view at the top was more than worth it. Saint Nicolas was glinting at us from under the sun far below. The Atlantic Ocean was in the distance and on a clear day Mount Tede on Tenerife in all its snow capped glory is visible. As good as any summit in the Alps or Pyrenees, and just as hard earned.
VOTT summit on a clear day.
VOTT bagged we headed to Ayacata to refuel. There are numerous small shops to be found in the towns you ride through. The people who run them are saviours for tired and hungry cyclists offering many calorie filled delights. Here we were caught by Heinz once more and all took some time to re-tell our own personal stories of the climb.
Back patting done, Ray and I both rolled out ready for the 35km of descending to Maspolamas, and the Tapas that we planned for dinner. The only real problem was what to choose!
Is the VOTT the hardest climb on Gran Canaria? Maybe, it is hard but there are climbs longer and less relenting which make you work harder (the GC120 from Ingenio to the summit of the island, being an example). Would I ride it again? Yes. The next day I headed back up to Saint Nicolas to take the GC210 all the way to Artenara (on the VOTT Lite) and have since ridden the climb two more times.
Greener north of island.
The VOTT is a true Gran Canarian style climb, taking you to your limit over a wide variety of terrain and scenery. I know that we both left a little bit of ourselves on the climb that day, the grades really challenge you to find a new strength within yourself.
As Ray and I reflected on our day riding the VOTT, over our tapas and the setting sun, I was certain of one thing. Any cyclist looking for somewhere new to ride should go to Gran Canaria. The weather is great, there are hotels for all budgets and the riding is definitely some of the best I have done. Give Ray a shout at Cycle Gran Canaria and he will be able to help you out with whatever you need. He has added a new guided tour taking riders up the VOTT, the only company on the island to do so. Then, like Heinz, Ray, and I you can say you that took on the mighty VOTT!