For years now I have seen her most mornings. The first time I looked up and saw her I knew she was special, she had a particular beauty I’d rarely seen before. She was clearly out of my league so at first I had tried to put her out of my mind, but as time went by she began to haunt me. Sometimes I found myself looking at her without even realising it, I felt drawn to her, almost mesmerized by her grace and beauty. At times I even thought she was giving me teasing looks but I put that down to my wishful imagination.
I’d never seriously thought of approaching her. I thought that if I did she would simply stop me in my tracks or maybe she might tease me a little and give me false belief, but ultimately I knew she would bring me crashing to the ground – After all I’m sure better men than me had failed to win her over.
However, as time went by my confidence grew and I began to consider trying my luck and actually approaching her. After all what did I have to lose, except my pride. Talking about her to some friends, they began to encourage me to do something about it. So confident and encouraged, I began to think about how it might be to feel her beneath me, to gently feel my way round her sensuous curves ………………….OK, OK That’s enough with the analogy , it’s starting to get smutty and I’m getting a little carried away, I better stop now before it gets pornographic.
So basically, on a sunny August day, I finally plucked up the courage to confront her! I made my move! –
I approached the last 6 kilometres of the L’Angliru –
Forgive the metaphor and the dramatic introduction but anything associated with the L’Angliru needs to be dramatic because she really is something special.
My friend Mark had been threatening to drag me up to the top of the L’Angliru for months. I’d been on a cycling trip to Portugal and back where I’d ridden 1112km in 9 days and theoretically I should have been feeling really fit but when I rode up the Cubilla two days after getting back, I wasn’t feeling exactly great. Nevertheless, when the day finally arrived I stuck to my word and headed out with Mark and another friend Tim to climb the whole length of the L’Angliru.
The weather was perfect as we headed off up the first slopes. We all took it easy as we knew what was coming but none of us were overly confident. In fact Tim had no plans to ride to the top and it was never an objective of his trip to Asturias. Indeed, having only a 26 on the rear he wasn’t really kitted out for an attempt on the toughest climb on the World Tour.
To be honest, even though I’d chucked a 32 on the back, especially for the ride, I wasn’t sure I’d even attempt to make it to the top. I’d climbed The L’Angliru several times before but only up until a certain corner on the first steep section. I certainly wanted to make it past that corner but I really wasn’t sure if I was up to getting to the top. I think the fact that I wasn’t overly concerned about getting to the top probably helped mentally as I didn’t feel pressured to make it.
Once passed the flat section of Viapará Mark started riding off into the distance and Tim decided he’d ride the first steep bits just to get a taster of what it’s like. However, after riding with me a little way he also disappeared into the distance. I climbed as slow as I could, although I still overtook someone on a mountain bike. Tim was nowhere to be seen but I kept getting the occasional glimpse of Mark which I thought was strange as he usually pulls well away. The first steep parts are brutal, reaching gradients of 22% but I was really happy to have gone past the corner I usually turn round at. In fact it was feeling a little easier than I had imagined. There is no let up on the L’Angliru but although still in double figures I managed to get in to a rhythm. However, as the dreaded Cueña Les Cabres loomed I was beginning to get cramps in my legs. Fortunately I managed to ride them out and finally reached the turn of Les Cabres.
Up to that point I’d noticed that I was ever so slightly catching up with Mark, so I knew he was having an off day. This was hardly surprising considering he had ridden most of stages 15 & 16 of the Vuelta the previous days. He’d also been off the bike for two months with injury but amazingly ridden the ETAP in France and then come and ridden some grueling routes in Asturias. To my surprise, when I came round the corner to the approach of the Cueña Les Cabres Mark was stopped at the side of the road. As I passed him I of course cursed him for making me suffer so much and I continued my relentless grind up the climb. Mark is a hard nut so there was no turning back and he bravely set off again, determined to get to the top.
In the distance I thought I could see what was the end of the Cueña Les Cabres . Amazingly I managed to keep going, despite the gradient of 23.6% and just kept focused on reaching the curve in the road that I believed was the end of Les Cabres. Finally I arrived at the curve BUT NO! IT WASN’T THE END! there was still a little way to go. I’d come this far so thought I could make it but suddenly the cramp returned to such an extent that I couldn’t turn my right leg. There was no choice, I pulled over to the barrier, grabbed it as to not fall off and STOPPED.
I’d come so close to making it and who knows if I would of made it if I hadn’t got cramp but I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was quite proud of the fact I’d got as far as I did. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to push off on such a steep slope I dismounted and walked off the cramp, remounting at the top of Les Cabres.
So focused on getting up Les Cabres people (ie: me) seem to ignore the fact that after the Cueña Les Cabres there are still two really steep sections with ramps of over 21%. However, having walked off the cramp I was feeling surprisingly good and managed to tackle the two sections without too much difficulty (relatively speaking – as it was still hell).
Finally the road began to level out and it suddenly dawned on me that I had done it, I’D BLOODY DONE IT! I’d climbed the L’Angliru. The last stretch is downhill and as I cruised down to the finish the smile on my face grew and grew. I saw Tim riding the other way, he’d been there a while and was riding back to see where we were. Finally I crossed the cattle grid denoting the end of the climb and mentally punched the air in celebration (I’m a typically reserved Brit, I’ll save the literal air punching for my US friends).
It was the toughest thing I’d ever done physically and one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. She certainly played hard to get and I’d almost failed but in the end I won here over.
Tim had ridden back to the top and we congratulated each other. I couldn’t believe he’d ridden up on a 26 and I don’t think he could either. He did admit that when he came around the corner and saw the Cueña Les Cabres, he said ‘sod that’ and got off the bike and pushed it all the way up, but even so it was one hell of an achievement.
Despite a temporary Bonk (as I said ‘ better men than me had failed to win her over’), Mark in his usual gutsy fashion ground it out and soon arrived at the top to join us. With several stops on the way to take pics of the amazing views, we headed back down. What a ride! It truly was an experience of a lifetime. You experience such a plethora of emotions but ultimately you are left remembering the good ones and with just great memories.
Mark will be back and will no doubt easily beat my Strava segment time, as long as he doesn’t climb the Ermita de Alba the day before like last time. Tim I’m sure will return but like myself only in a car. I have no intention of climbing her again but we all know that means I will. But at least now I can look out of my kitchen window in the morning, look at her and smile with the knowledge that she wasn’t out of my league after all.
Here’s a video of our ride. It’s a bit long but she deserves more than just a 5 minute clip: