View from Mirador (lookout) 1 km from the finish
Contributed by Ron Hawks, Ard Oostra and Charlie Thackeray
Photo by commons.wikimedia.org
This very challenging climb has been included in the Vuelta a España (Spains Grand Tour) 7 times from 1999-2017 (1999, 2000, 2002, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2017).
Wikipedia has a nice piece on the cycling hisory of this climb:
“The organizers of the Vuelta a España wanted a mountain to rival the Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France and the Mortirolo Pass in the Giro d'Italia, which would go on in 2003 to add one of the world's most demanding climbs, the Zoncolan, in an attempt to compete with the new Spanish climb. The Angliru was first included in 1999, on stage eight from León. José Maria Jiménez won after catching Pavel Tonkov a kilometer from the finish. He dedicated the win to Marco Pantani, disqualified from that year's Giro d'Italia, saying: "I dedicate it to Pantani by everything that he has suffered in this time".
The top of the climb is 1,573 metres (5,161 ft) above sea level. The height difference is 1,266 m (4,154 ft). The climb is 12.5 kilometres (7.8 mi) long, an average of 10.13%. It is near 24% at its steepest. The first 5 km (3.1 mi) are an average of 7.6%— stiff but not over-demanding for world-class cyclists. The sixth kilometre lessens to 2.1% and has a short descent. The last half of the climb is more severe. From six kilometres to the summit, it averages 13.1%. The steepest part, the Cueña les Cabres at 23.6%, is 3 km (1.9 mi) from the summit. There are two later ramps at 18% to 21% (sources vary).
Controversy: During stage 15 in 2002, riders climbed the Angliru in rain. Team cars stalled on the steepest part, some unable to restart because their tires slipped on messages painted by fans. Riders were caught behind them and others had to ride with flat tires because mechanics could not reach them. David Millar crashed three times and protested by handing in his race number a metre from the line. The judges ruled he had not finished the stage and he left the race. He regretted his temper - he had been ninth - and apologised to his team.
Opinions: The manager of the Kelme team, Vicente Belda, said: "What do they want? Blood? They ask us to stay clean and avoid doping and then they make the riders tackle this kind of barbarity." Patrice Halgand, a French rider, said the Union Cycliste Internationale had rules about the distance and frequency of races but not about hills. He said:
The rules haven't foreseen everything. The proof. I find it ridiculous to go looking for a hill on a narrow road, dangerous and winding, because it's not like that, that you change the way a race develops [Ce n'est pas cela qui va changer les données de la course]. There are other cols than the Angliru to climb in the Vuelta. Differences in the riders would show just as well on a pass that's less steep and on a wider road. It would also be better for spectacle, because on the Angliru the guys go too pitifully for the climb to have any sporting interest. Even the winner goes up in slow motion. There's no attacking. From front to rear, everyone just gets up as best he can.
The former climber Charly Mottet approved the climb. He said:
I saw the climb of the Angliru and I thought it was good for cycling. I watched on television and saw a superb race. I am for these difficulties out of the normal, these extreme gradients. The steepness doesn't shock me because there is always a solution in choosing the right gears. The organiser should give an idea of what's needed in the race bible. I would see it, as a former rider (and organiser of the Dauphiné Libéré) as my duty.” Wikipedia - Alto de l'Angliru
Ron Hawk’s Summary - thank you Ron!
The Alto de Angliru is a grueling climb in the Principality of Asturias in Northern Spain. Before we tackled this climb, we started from the city in Pola de Lena and climbed the Alto del Cordal. This climb is a nice little warm-up of 5.5 km's with an average grade of 9%. Once we descend into La Vega, we turn left at a sign for the Angliru which is shortly followed by a larger sign that shows the scary statistics of the Angliru. This is the official starting point, where the road starts going straight up immediately.
O.k. - come and get it - #22 World Climb!
As we pedal up the first part of the climb, the grade is between 7% to 9% which is very mild and was ridden very carefully as to save some energy for what we knew we were about to encounter. The scenery up this road, as it snakes its way up the mountain, is very beautiful but we still don't see the peak of the Angliru which is probably a good thing. Around the 5km marker, the grade eases to around 2% as we ride through a plateau in the mountain with beautiful views of the rolling green mountains on both sides. This section is the last break we get until the last 1/2 km so we strongly suggest you use this break in the climb to get prepared for the hardest 6 km's of climbing we have ever encountered.
Before we get into the details of this section of the climb, it's important to note that the Angliru is considered the hardest climb of all the three grand tours. And after riding it, we concur completely that this climb is nothing to take lightly. When it comes to the Angliru, it's these 6 km's (6 km to 12 km) that make this climb the beast it truly is.
Now for the stats, the next 6 km's (6 km to 12 km) average over 14% with a maximum grade of 23.5%. The hardest stretch is a the 10 km marker where the grade for almost 1 km is at 20%. When we saw this stretch of the road carved into the side of the mountain, it didn't look real. It wasn't until we saw a car that past us a while back making its way up this stretch of road did we realize what was in front of us.
As we start doing this climb, we took full advantage of the switchbacks to take them as wide as possible. In the corners of some of the switchbacks, the grade easily exceeds 30% so taking them wide is a matter of necessity. Surprisingly enough, the second steepest section of the climb is in the first kilometer (6 km to 7 km) with a maximum grade that exceeds 21%. Once we get through this stretch the next 3 km's (7 km to 10 km) is pretty consistent around 12% to 16%, which looking back was probably the easiest part of this section of climbing. At a steep switchback we get to the 10 km marker and start climbing the road we saw on the lower slopes that didn't look real. After passing the 10 km marker, the grade goes to 20% and stays there all the way up this stretch of road and doesn't ease up until we get close the next switchback.
Exhaustion is kicking in and the pain from mashing on our pedals at 40 rpms at a glacial speed of 7 km's per hour (a tad over 4 miles per hour) has us swerving on the road and hoping we don't fall over as there is no way we'd be able to get back on our bikes on this steep section of road. Once we get to the 11 km marker, the road gives us a little respite with a 13% grade, maximum of 20%, which feels like a flat after what we just climbed. This is the home stretch as once we get passed the 12 km marker, the grade eases and the road actually turns flat and we are able to jump into the big ring as we cross the finish line.
This is truly a remarkable climb that we will not soon forget. It gave us everything we could handle and then some but we found a way to will ourselves up this famous mountain that most tour pros consider to be inhumane. And after we experienced this climb firsthand, we would completely agree with that assessment.
Steepest Gradients by Distance
Steepest kilometer starts at km 10 (19%)