Pico de Veleta Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling






Pico de Veleta

Spain

Highest road in Europe . . . by a good stretch!

Page Contributor(s): Ingvar Straume, Norway Ties Ards, Netherlands

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Climb Summary


Riding Pico Veleta Spain by bike - hairpins above the rest station 

Cycling Pico de Veleta - a top world bike climb.

Ride 31.3 km to 3366 m gaining 2,689 m at 7.7%

THE NUMBER SEVEN MOST DIFFICULT CLIMB IN THE WORLD. It is not often that we are blessed to climb “The” of anything, whether it be the “hardest,” the “longest,” the “steepest,” or, in this case the “highest.”  Yet we can honestly claim that Pico is a “The” climb:  The highest paved road in all of Europe -- now that’s saying something!  And it’s not just high, it’s H A R D!

Riding Pico Veleta Spain by bike - hairpins above the rest station

View from the top - May, 2019 - ArdWorks2019

As you ascend any of the Pico de Veleta approaches be alert to the distinctive appearance.  This route is unique in that it can be seen from many angles and distances as you approach the last half of the climb -- some examples: 

Climbing Pico Veleta by bike - cyclist on road - Pico Veleta summit

Road above the rest stop -- Pico Veleta Summit top of photo.

  Bike climb of Pico de Veleta - statue of Virgen de Las Nieves, Pico Veleta seen through statue

Virgen de Las Nieves -- peak above altar.

Bicycling Pico de Veleta - cafe near Sierra Nevada 

Café at km 19.6 -- Peak in background.

Pico de Veleta - the peak of the mountain

The peak of Pico de Veleta.

Veleta Mountain is in the Baetic Mountains, part of Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range (Andalucia Region which includes Granada; Sierra Nevada means “snowy mountain range” or, “mountain range covered in snow”).

Pico de Veleta had been considered for Spain’s Grand Tour (Vuelta a España) for 2017, but this never occurred.  It does not appear that Pico Veleta has ever been included in the Vuelta a España.  

PJAMM’s Brad Butterfield climbed the most difficult (#4 World) route to the top on August 2, 2018.  

Cyclist riding bike up GR 3200 to Pico Veleta

Just getting started -- hairpins on GR 3200.

 

The Peak (Pico)

This was the last of Brad’s Top 10 World Climbs -- got ‘em all!

While climbing Pico de Veleta is of itself a special experience, it was even more so on this day -- this was Brad’s last climb of the Top 10 World’s Highest Ranked Bike Climbs:  1. Mauna Kea (USA; December 2013, May 2018); 2. Scanuppia (Italy; July 2018); 3. Death Road (Bolivia; September 2017); 4. Pico de Veleta (Spain; August 2018); 5. Rila (Bulgaria; June 2018); 6. Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy; July 2018); 7. Rionda (Switzerland; June 2018); 8. Passo della Forcello (Italy; July 2018); 9. Alpe Fuori (Italy; July 2018); and 10. Breithorn (Switzerland; July 2018).  You can check out Brad’s Blog, which documented his path through Europe and the Balkans for 4 ½ months in the summer of 2018, covering 200+ climbs for PJAMM.

When to climb Pico de Veleta?  July and August are the warmest and driest months.

Image:  Climatestotravel.com

But, you never know . . .

Cycling Pico de Veleta - bike in snow on road

Photo May, 2019 by ArdWorks2019

Now for the tale of the tape:  

  • Pico de Veleta (Pico) from GR-3200, beginning at the eastern tip of Canalase Reservoir, is an absolute monster -- there can really be no debate about it.  The first 2.7 km are murderous, even our SAG vehicle had a very tough time making it up the hill.  There is a race on this road for the first 2.7 km and .25 km markers (see Alto de Haza Llanas KM marker slideshow) that never read below a 17% grade (and for one stretch document a 22% grade);  

Road sign and bicyclist at start of Pico de Veleta road bike climb

Start of Pico Veleta climb by bike -- GR 3200, Güejar Sierra.

     

  • It is long -- 31km/19 miles;
  • We gain a LOT of altitude along the way (2394m/7,855 feet);
  • It can be stiflingly hot over the first half of the climb (38℃/100℉);
  • We are on the highest road in Europe by about an astonishing 600m/~2,000 feet (3% less oxygen for every 300m/1000 feet -- do the math on that one -- huff and puff!).  

We ride through an alpine setting for about three kilometers beginning at km 7.  Thereafter, the views are wide open and spectacular.  Because the mountains are so steep and there are no visual obstructions for the last 20 kilometers, we have unobstructed views of Pico de Veleta as well as the Granada Province to the northwest as we climb.  

The peak of Pico de Veleta, Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the distance

The Peak (“pico”) in the distance.

 

Pico in middle of photo.

The final 11km (seven miles) is past a gate -- only hikers and cyclists after this point -- and up through Sierra Nevada Ski Station, which has been host to World Cup Races and is the highest ski resort in Spain.  

    Ski lift cables on Pico Veleta of Estacion de Sierra Nevada 

Estacion de Sierra Nevada (ski resort).

Gondolas on Pico Veleta

Bike on Pico de Veleta just below summit

Just below the summit -- hike from here.

Bicycle and cyclist at the top of Pico Veleta

Should have brought MTB shoes . . .

Pico de Veleta is all about hairpins (curva cerrada)

Gondolas on Pico Veleta

Hairpins at the upper section of Pico de Veleta


Visiting Granada

Located in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the confluence of four rivers, Granada is an extraordinary Spanish city which features the famed Alhambra, a Moorish palace and citadel.  Though the city’s elevation is about 2,400 feet above sea level, it’s less than an hour by car from the Mediterranean coast.  Drawing two million visitors a year, the Alhambra is certainly a major tourist destination, and there’s no question why.  Originally built in 889 AD on the remains of Roman fortifications, and subsequently restored from ruins in the mid-13th century, it was then converted into a palace in 1333, and by the 1490’s had become the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella.  This sprawling citadel is actually the site of Christopher Columbus’ royal endorsement for his 1492 expedition.  A trip to Granada truly feels like you’re walking back in time.  Alluding to the citadel’s luminous color in juxtaposition to the wooded area surrounding it, Moorish poets have described the Alhambra as “a pearl set in emeralds,” and it’s not one you’ll want to miss.  Granada was the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors, and their influence can be seen all around the city which houses 13th to 15th century Moorish palaces and gardens, featuring Islamic architecture in the sweeping views of red roofs, horseshoe arches, and bright tile details.  And the Arab influence isn’t limited to the architecture; finding tea, sweets, and hookah lounges couldn’t be easier in Granada.  The city has deep cultural roots, having been home to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, painter Jose Guerrero, composer Manuel de Falla, and many others whose legacies live on in this vibrant mountain escape.  And if all this isn’t enough to make you want to go for a visit, consider this: Granada is one of the few cities left in Spain which offers free tapas with every drink!

 

Alhambra - photo:  Wikipedia - Alhambra.

Summary by Ties Arts

Netherlands

Ties’ route begins in Granada

 

Ties at the highest point by bike in Europe.

At 3,398 meters (11,148 feet) above sea level, the Pico Veleta is Europe's highest paved road and consequently Europe's highest cycling climb.  The road is a dead-end, though you can go down via the south side’s gravel path, requiring a mountain bike.


The meaning of the name literally translates as “peak” (
pico) "weather vane" (veleta), and the name will perhaps take on a greater resonance as you approach the top. The climb starts just outside of the city of Granada at 750m and arrives at the summit of 3398m, some 43 km later. A description of the Pico Veleta by author Daniel Friebe in his book Mountain Higher sums up the climb quite well. Put simply, the Pico Veleta “is taller and tougher than anything on the Tour de France but lacks in kudos what it offers in elevation precisely because of its height...it is, more simply put, too high. Too high for year-round access and too high, perhaps most to the point, to join the upper crust of professional cycling's most noble mountains.”

This is precisely why the climb has never actually been featured in the Vuelta Espana: it's simply too long, too high and too tough for a Grand Tour. Though the climb to the Sierra Nevada Ski Station has often been featured in the Vuelta, it has never gone beyond the barrier at Hoya de la Mora at some 2,500 metres above sea level.


•    Hoya de la Moya is the last place to refuel, so if you're running low it's advisable that you use this opportunity to refill.
•    Altitude really starts to kick in from here on in.
•    The final 8km are at an average of 8%.

There are a few different approaches to take when you tackle the Veleta, but the final 13 kms from Hoya de la Mora will be the same for every approach.  The main routes are as follows:

•    Cenes de la Vega (southeastern edge of Granada): (43km - 2700m) This is the main route that follows the A-395 to Hoya del la Mora (
click here) -- PJAMM alternate route for August 2018 climb (Map - see also our Climb Page Slideshow for Pico Veleta from Granada).
•    Pinos Genil:  (41.5km - 2747m) Much like the Cenes route above, however, this route is slightly shorter and steeper and avoids the main road for much of climb (click here).
•    Monachil: (37.5km - 2723m) This route is a little more interesting than the two above and throws in an extra climb to make things a little more difficult (
click here).
•    Güéjar Sierra: (43.2km - 2836m) The route via Güéjar is so tough it will make you question your love for cycling (
click here;  this is the route featured on the PJAMM Cycling site).

From the latter we have calculated that if you start from the beginning of the Alto Haza Llanas (from Guejar Sierre) you have 31.2 km of 7.7% average gradient going up +/- 2400m, making it one of world’s most unique and hardest climbs. My ride was in June 2016 with two friends.  The weather conditions were excellent, not too warm and with a great skyline.

The Alta Haza Llanas is the start with directly steep climbing with parts of 15%; the first 4km are the toughest and average 11%. The good news is it will not get harder than this to the top of the Veleta.  The hairpins of the Alto Haza Llanas are tricky because in the corners they get steeper.

After Haza Llanas you follow the road up to the Pradollano/Alto de Sierra Nevada. There is hardly any traffic and amazing views in this section of the climb.

At the Hoya de la Mora before the barrier we had a “tortilla” (Spanish omelette) and some coca cola for sustenance to get us up the last 13km with 26 hairpins.  The payoff was great views of the Sierra Nevada.  The road of the last 13km is good except for the last 1km, which is dirt and snow covered if you’re there before June.

A must do climb to champion Europe’s highest paved road.

Start of steepest kilometer is km 2.5 (14.2%)