We wake up to sunlight streaming through the apartment windows. It is an absolutely glorious morning, but on opening a window we realise it is really very cold. Then we remember that we’re up above 1000 metres. We put on all of the layers to pop out to get coffee back at the hotel bar, then venture to the shop to buy breakfast stuff and snacks for today’s ride. The plan is to ride a loop from Riaño over one mountain pass into a valley, which will take right into the heart of the Picos, then return via another lump of mountain and part of yesterday’s valley road.
We set off wearing all of the layers – jerseys, gilets, arm warmers, knee warmers, jackets, buffs, gloves – pretty much all of the kit we have bought with us. We trace the edge of Lake Riaño before the road splits and we head in the direction of Cangas de Onis (where we stayed a couple of nights ago. The Picos are very compact, it’s probably only about 200km to circumnavigate the entire range). Despite traveling in yet another direction compared to the last two days we are still riding into a headwind, a real horrible grind it is too. There’s much muttering and swearing about wind being funneled down mountain valleys. It’s also getting greyer and colder, we’re steadily riding into cloud. Snow is lining the road and also falling from the sky. Actually it’s not falling from the sky, we’re just riding through it in the cloud. Turning from the main road onto the smaller road to the first puerto the cloud gets thicker and visibility shortens and as the gradient sharpens.
At the summit we can barely see 100 metres in any direction. It’s cold and damp, and snow flicks around our heads. We’re really not dressed for this and have no extra layers. We discuss the possibility that if it gets any worse on the other side we may just have to sack the day off as a lost cause. Concern is expressed about how sketchy the descent may be if the road is wet and slippery. We decide to ride on and within 20 metres of dropping down the other side we’re below the cloud, the road is dry, a beautiful green valley stretches before us and sunlight is bouncing off the snowy peaks in the distance. Within five minutes we’re hurtling through fast corners accompanied by our shadows. I’m so glad we didn’t bail on top of Puerto de Panderrueda in the snow.
The first resident we encounter as we reach the village of Posada de Valdeón is a donkey eating a soggy cardboard box in the middle of the village square. Not sure if this triggers our decision to eat but within a few minutes we’re sitting down to yet another menu del dia and a bottle of Rioja. After lunch we head further into the valley to Cain de Valdeón. All we really know is it’s a 9km road and we’ll drop another 450-500 metres. What we don’t expect is how absolutely spectacular the road is, twisting through farmland at the top end, then wooded sections, and a narrow gorge lower down, sections of the road up to 20% (which after flying down we realise we’re going to have to clamber back up shortly), all the while massive snowy peaks rise all around us, way over 2000 metres. It truly is the most amazing bit of road we’ve ever ridden, simply stunning. Not for the first time this trip we think it can’t get any better and then we turn another corner and blown away by what we see. We follow it all the way to the end where it turns into a gravel path and disappears into the mountains. We realise the river we’ve been following and flowing past our feet further into the rocks is the Rio Cares, the same river through the beautiful gorge on the way to Panes a couple of days ago. Looking at the map we realise it’s only about 20km through the middle of the Picos back to that road, and immediately wish we had cyclocross tyres!
The ride back up the valley is as beautiful despite being a whole lot more effort. The sun is high above us and layers are slowly peeled off, arm warmers rolled down, gloves stuffed in pockets, jackets stuff down jerseys and tied around waists, gilets unzipped. All the gears are needed as the tarmac ramps up to 19% then 20%, even the 13% bit through the hairpins involves standing on the pedals and breathing deeply. Back in Posada de Valdeón we turn on to the only other road out of the valley. There’s no indication on the map how high we need to climb to get back over the mountains and we can’t see an obvious gap in the hills. No puerto is shown on the map so we just ride knowing that we’re going to have to ride over whatever lays ahead, but not really expecting anything huge. The road gradually climbs for kilometre after kilometre. We climb back into the trees and towards the snow, the peaks around us getting closer and closer. We end up riding over the 1560m Puerto de Pandetrave through yet more snow. We’ve climbed almost 1100 metres in the last 20 kilometres.
The descent down the other side is straight and fast through the open fields of a shallow valley, and 15 kilometres pass quickly, but yet again into a headwind. Then we turn into another headwind back on the road to Riaño – these headwinds are starting to get ridiculous! Again there is some muttering and swearing. However it doesn’t stop today from being one of the most beautiful rides we have ever experienced, in less than 100 kilomtres we seem to have passed through three seasons, and the terrain and environment has changed considerably every 10-15 kilometres. Each valley has differed from the last, the highest and lowest points of the day marking boundaries between landscapes.
Distance: 95 kilometres
Climbing: 3200 metres