The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of Spain
In the 12 years I’ve been making these guides, I’ve never been more excited to release a book and its here just in time for your early season train camp!
There are so many amazing roads inside, so many classic ascents that will delight, amaze and, at times, outright terrify you. In previous books, I have usually singled out one climb that stands above all others and rewarded it with a Spinal Tap-esque 11/10, but in this book there are THREE! That’s right, three roads so off the charts that you simply have to see them to believe them.
The project began way back in the summer of 2014. The ink had only just dried on my guide to France when an opportunity arose to make an impulse visit to chase the Vuelta around Asturias for four days; I jumped at it. Travelling with my good friend Owen Cooper, we flew into northern Spain for a long weekend of brutal roads, blazing sun and lots of flat cider. We would catch three days of race action, but more important than that was a date with the mighty Alto de l’Angliru. Back in the days before I swallowed my pride and fitted a compact chainset to my bike, I turned up, chest puffed out with a lowest gear of 39x28 and absolutely zero fear of what lay ahead. A climb had never stopped me before, I had done everything from Hardknott Pass to the Galibier on that gear, but as I was to find out, to my eternal shame, the Angliru is a whole different ball game. About three kilometres from the summit, once I had exhausted the art of zigzagging it was either snap my knees or unclick and put a foot down. I was crestfallen. Never before had a mountain road stopped me, but as the clock was ticking and I’d put in plenty of effort already, I ran in my cleats to a point where some sanity returned and I remounted and finished the job.
The project was then put on hold for over six years as I completed my Italian book, but in the spring of 2019 it was time to get back to it. Restarting with a trip to Mallorca, family in tow, I couldn’t wait to experience its famed roads for the first time. Until then I’d never indulged in a ‘training camp’ or ‘mates cycling holiday’. The last time I’d been to the island was in 1997 with my wife and we spent seven days drinking multicoloured cocktails out of plastic coconuts. This would be the first time I’d taken a bike and wow, right away I could see its attraction. It’s neat, compact, the roads are perfect and none of the climbs are hard (unless you make them hard).
Next was a triple-island raid to Tenerife, La Gomera and La Palma. Four days with Ben Lowe and Paul Morgan on a trip which even by my standards was manic. We had five days to visit three islands and tick off eleven giant climbs including the mighty Teide on Tenerife and the incomparable Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma. Utilising every minute of available daylight fuelled by pizza and tortilla, we smashed climb after climb. Highlights were the double ascent of Teide where I was lucky enough to share the road with a young Remco Evenepoel, and our day on Roque de los Muchachos where Ben and I climbed 5,157 metres in just 148 kilometres and got into so much trouble we had to flag down a German camper van and beg them for food so we could make it home.
Later that year, it was time to pack the family into our old Octavia to tick off everything from Pamplona to Ponferrada via the great cities of Bilbao, Santander and, of course, San Sebastián. Also on this trip was my long-overdue return to the Angliru. No climb beats me and gets away with it, so as dawn broke one morning, I set off from Oviedo, this time with a 34 on the front to go with the 28 at the back, determined to regain my reputation. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and once again my CV could read ‘never beaten by a climb’.
Onto 2020 and plans were made for the year and the first trip was to check out the climbs around Calpe and Valencia with Paul and Nick Burton. Something though was brewing on Planet Earth. Covid was starting to take hold and there was a nervousness in the air during our five-day trip which finished with us packing our bike bags with toilet paper because the shelves had been cleaned out back home. We landed back in the UK just days before the world shut down and the project was well and truly put on ice. No mountains were ridden for two whole years. I was desperate to get climbing again. Thankfully, in the spring of 2022 and after an experience that changed all our lives, it was game on once more.
With 64 climbs in the bag, I had 36 still to ride, spread between Gran Canaria, Cataluña, and central and southern Spain. The trip to Gran Canaria followed the same plan as our family week in Mallorca; one base with a great pool close to the beach where the family were very happy as I set off to bag my targets. What wasn’t the same, was the climbs: Gran Canaria is Mallorca on steroids. This was no relaxing week trundling up shallow inclines like on its Mediterranean cousin; this island packs a serious punch with some brutal roads and not an inch of flat. I loved it!
Just a couple of weeks later – and doing nothing for my carbon footprint – I was flying off again, this time to visit Cataluña and of course fashionable Girona. However, we chose to stay not in Girona, but in the far quieter town of Banyoles just to the north. You would struggle to find a better base for a few days riding anywhere. Offering everything from giant climbs to glorious flat roads and a myriad of tracks and trails, it’s no wonder that this area is so popular with people wanting a two-wheeled holiday. There were four of us on this trip, and joining me were Paul, Ben and ‘young’ Chris Moores who was there to put us all to the sword and chase some KOMs that our older legs could not get close to.
With another nine climbs bagged, that just left one more adventure: a mammoth two-week trek with the family driving from Sheffield to the Med and back, clocking up 4,200 miles in the process to see one hell of a lot of Spain. Heading down via the Basque Country then settling in Segovia to tick off the Sierra de Guadarrama before crossing the wilds of La Mancha to reach the coast, the whole trip was undertaken during one of the hottest periods Europe has ever experienced. With daily temps hardly dropping below 30 degrees and peaking well in to the 40s, on some days this made riding a little challenging to say the least.
This trip climaxed with an experience I’ll never forget – my ride up to Pico Veleta. Forty kilometres of climbing (it would have been further if I’d started from Granada), a colossal ride which would see me heading upwards for over three hours. There are many combinations of roads you can link together to build your journey to the top and I had settled on a route which started in Pinos Genil on a back road then joined the main road a while later for its next stretch and arriving in Hoya de la Mora I still had almost 10 kilometres to go. I’d read various accounts about the condition of the road past the small ski village and was prepared for it to deteriorate significantly right away but was pleasantly surprised to find it still in rather good condition. In fact, for over seven kilometres through countless hairpins, all was going well. Soon enough though, holes started to appear … then bigger holes … then patches of gravel then entering the final bends things took a turn for the worse. There was now no more sealed road and the gravel, which had been just about rideable, was quickly turning to rubble. Of course, I had a desire to reach the top, but I also had a desire not to walk and wreck my new shoes, so I made the call to stop. Over 500 metres higher than I had ever ridden before, it was like looking down on the Earth from space, the plains below little more than blue haze. UNFORGETTABLE.
What adventures, what roads, and here they are all bound in these 240 pages. I hope this book helps you plan your trips and hope you find these amazing roads as breathtaking as I did. There are some simply astonishing sights to be seen across the wonderful country of Spain and many monumental challenges to be undertaken.
Have fun, Simon.
The book will be in the shops April 6th but I will have signed copies available on my website from March 6th and I’m already taking pre-orders.