Vuelta de Los Picos // Dia 5 // Riaño to Oviedo

We wake up to a very different view out of the window to yesterday. Cloud hides the tips of the mountains all around us, just the lower slopes sliding into the lake are visible, their reflections bouncing back at them from the silver mirror like surface. The world is still and quiet. It’s a shame we leave the mountains today.

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We follow the lake edge again, following the opening section of yesterday’s ride, but instead of continuing towards Cangas de Onis we follow the sign for Oviedo, 105 kilometres away. As we trace the edge of the lake the clouds breaks and mountains beyond are slowing exposed like a developing photograph (for anyone old enough to remember dark rooms).

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We’re aiming for a mountain pass at around 1450 metres from which we should gradually descend towards Oviedo. We’re on the main road but we’ve not seen a car for ages, just gently climbing back up into the snow. We stop at the Puerto de Tarna and grab snacks from the framebags. The map is unfolded to look at the next part of the route. We can continue directly back over the border into Asturias on the main road, but the Garmin is telling us to turn left to climb over the 1625m Puerto de Señales. This isn’t exactly direct but we can see on the map that we’ll drop down onto another road to Oviedo. We’ve got all day and we’re not quite ready to leave the mountains so we clip in and carry on climbing.

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We seem to drop quite steeply forever from the pass. It’s a lot of fun losing height so quickly…but in the back of my mind I know that at some point we’ve got to get over another 1500+m pass on the border of Castilla Y Leon and Asturias. How far are we going to have to climb? Ah, forget that, this is fun! Gradually the road levels and we swoop into the valley bottom at lunch time. Time for more food to fuel the next 80 kilometres.

Finding a deserted hostal bar we order fried chorizo and a salad of potatoes, eggs, and tuna. Actually, that’s just for me. George orders a chorizo omelette sandwich. Sipping on tea and coffee the food is slowly delivered. First the fried chorizo. It’s an entire large chorizo sausage and a load of bread. Hmm, I may have over ordered. Then George’s sandwich arrives and it’s basically a loaf of bread with a huge omelette stuffed inside. The salad when it arrives isn’t exactly ‘a salad’, more an enormous plate of carbs in mayonnaise. Between us we make our way through the chorizo and salad. The sandwich is stuffed in a musette that George straps across his back for later*.

Time to ride back uphill. And we seem to have a tailwind for the first time! We have no idea how high we already are but we assume we probably have a 600 metre climb over the next 15 kilometres. The road rises, then falls, then rises again. We keep gaining some height just to lose it again. Then the road just rises and keeps rising. The climb has really started. Snow poles appear beside the road again. Then what looks like a ski resort appears on a plateau ahead of us. Bloody hell ski resorts are ugly places, just a swathe of concrete poured over a beautiful mountain top. We realise how unspoilt the Picos have been. Other than the occasional small town and tiny village, and the roads we’ve ridden, we have barely seen any human intervention. Some days we’ve ridden for hours without seeing a car or another person. We stop long enough to layer up ready for the descent.

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The map gives no real indication of the road that unfolds before us. The next 35 kilometres are all downhill. Every single centimetre. Not a single little ramp upwards anywhere. It’s stunning. The first 10 kilometres are beautiful. Almost clichéd. Long straights between sweeping curves and tight hairpins. The kilometre markers ping by every 90 seconds. The tarmac is smooth and the road empty, we pick and choose our lines with impunity. We are sad to be saying goodbye to the mountains but this is one hell of a parting. We’re so glad that we changed our mind back at the top of the first climb this morning. That road may also have been stunning, we’ll have to come back one day to find out. Once the steep bit runs out the road continues its downward trajectory but at a gentler gradient, there’s time to watch the landscape change from mountains to foothills to hills. Rock and snow give way to grass and trees.

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At the base of the valley we hit some big roads. There are junctions and traffic to negotiate. It’s a shock to the system after the quiet of the last few days. We’ve spent most days on one road, with barely a junction to make us think “Which way?”

The map is retrieved from the bag. George realises we are very close to the Alto el Cordal, a climb he has wanted to climb for years (George is his anglicized name, his real name is Jorge Cordal Lorenzo). The first version of our route for this trip included the Angliru and Cordal on the first day, until we figured out that the logistics were easier reversing the route. We probably haven’t got time to get to the Angliru but the Cordal is doable. “A nothing little climb they do in La Vuelta on the way to Angliru” is how it is sold to me. “Okay”, I say. I’ll feel bad if I don’t let him ride it when we’re only 5km away.

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He lied. It’s horrible. Even without 500 kilometres in the legs and bags hanging off the bike it would be tough. It’s steep from the word go. George disappears into the distance. I can tell how far ahead he is by the sound of dogs barking all the way up the lower slopes. Once past the villages it ramps up again, into switchbacks. I get to the top and have a bit of a swear at George.

However, to be fair to him the 15 kilometre descent off it is bloody great, and when we hit the final 15km to Oviedo we realise the detour has saved us from some horrible roads.

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* This later gets dumped when we realise an egg sarnie that has been sweating away under a jacket all the way up a mountain with the sun beating down on it is probably best not eaten

Numbers

Distance: 145 kilometres

Climbing: 3000 metres

Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/560177820

Diary of a Novice Randonneur, pt.7 – Tour des Trois Vallees

The sky overhead is crashing and sparking setting off car alarms and scaring the hell out of dogs. Rain is absolutely hammering down. It’s not ideal cycling weather. I’m heading to the pub to meet friends, but where most will sensibly stay at the pub all evening two of us, Nigel and myself, will head off for the overnight ferry to Dieppe. We’ve planned a 24 hour trip to Normandy to ride a 200km Raid Dieppe randonnee route from the summer to make the most of the clement autumn weather before it turns for good. Obviously it’s not so clement right now but the forecast for tomorrow over the channel is clear and mild. After a swift half we set off along the coast to Newhaven. Lightening is flashing over the sea which doesn’t bode well for a smooth crossing…

In fact the crossing isn’t too bad, if anything the gentle rolling of the ferry aids sleep. It’s only a four hour crossing and we’ll dock at 4am French time so the aim is to get as much sleep as possible. However, fitfull sleep is all I manage and long before dawn and still half asleep I roll down the ramp into France and drizzle. Nigel boots up the Garmin (I’m still reliant on paper maps and scribbled route notes) and we head for a cash machine whilst it locates some satellites. We head off through the empty town east via industrial estates until we reach unlit roads out into the hills. The sky continues to leak and clouds are animated by a bright moon. It’s promising that we can see the moon, it means the cloud is broken and not thick. There’s enough moonlight to make sense of the landscape around us, open farmland interspersed by wooded hills, but we can only really see what is illuminated by our lights, damp roads and fallen leaves. Red beacons flash atop wind turbines on the ridges towards the coast. After a couple of hours there’s a long fast descent into the Bresle valley before we immediately turn back up the valley side twisting through forest towards a lightening sky. Dawn must be on it’s way, cockerels are calling the sun as we pass through villages. As light seeps into the sky the rain fades away, moonlit clouds gradually give way to a washed out pale blue sky, growing more vibrant by the minute.

We’re 80km down as we hit the town of Londinieres where we spot a cafe. Time for a breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate and chocolate almond croissants. As we climb away from breakfast the moon hangs in a vivid blue sky and the low sun stretches shadows across the road. Whilst there’s no cloud above us but there’s plenty below us, as we freewheel into thick mist in the Bethune valley picking up the Avenue Verte. We follow the path of the river north to where it merges with the Varenne becoming the River Arques running into Dieppe. Where the rivers meet a ghostly muted grey waterscape emerges from the mist. Skirting the edges of lakes we pass old men in wellies riding mountain bikes with fishing rods strapped to top tubes. Rather than follow the river all the way back into Dieppe, we climb west out of the valley emerging back into the sun warming the day. Layers are slowly relegated into saddlebags.

This side of Dieppe is a landscape of agriculture, reminiscent of the east of England. It’s lumpier than our eastern counties but not as hilly as the country we rode the eastern side of Dieppe. The path of roads are visible far ahead running along the borders of fields, occasionally dipping from sight. Dark, ploughed fields ripple away from the roads edge. Every now and again a golden field of corn drys for animal feed or a verdant carpet of fresh beet reaches towards the horizon. Dogs bark at us from behind fences and hedges at every village. Before we turn north for the coast we stop at a bar for a drink and to replenish fading water supplies. Following narrow winding lanes we soon hit the coast where the water is a shade of blue rarely seen our side of the channel. Looking across the marina at Saint-Valery-en-Caux it could be July rather than mid-October.

It’s only about 40km back to Dieppe from here but there are a lot of headlands to clamber over. As much as the climbs hurt the thighs the descents are fast twisty fun. Looking back along the coast we see jagged cliffs rising straight from the sea making visible the route profile we’ve ridden for the last hour. We weave hairpins over the final headland before dropping like a stone back onto the one way system in Dieppe where we started out early this morning. It’s market day and the town is now awake and busy. We head for the quayside to find a suitable late lunch.

A couple of hours and three courses later we trundle back to the ferry terminal for a rest before boarding for home. We’ve ridden a few kilometres short of the 200 but I’m assuming this is because we didn’t take any detours for controls on the official ride. However the extra kilometres on the English coast will bump us well over 200km. I don’t remember too much of the sailing home as I napped most of the way, except for when I stayed conscious long enough to eat some more. Back in Blighty we roll off the ferry into the dark again. Pretty much 24 hours after we set off we spin along the cyclepath back into Brighton.

More details about the official Raid Dieppe events at http://www.dieppetour.com

Route: http://www.strava.com/activities/206135705

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Flying high!

IMG_20140906_100815Months ago I posted about acquiring a Singular Peregrine for adventuring. It’s take a good while longer than anticipated to get the thing built, but it was finally finished about a month ago. Many thanks to Jo Burt for assembling my box of bits into a fully functioning bicycle;

Frameset Singular Peregrine, custom drawn double butted 4130 steel
Wheels Kinesis Crosslight CX
Skewers Salsa stainless steel
Headset Hope
Stem Nitto UI-5GX
Bars Nitto Randonneur
Bartape Brooks leather
Seatpost Thomson Inline
Saddle Brooks B17
Chainset Velo-Orange Grand Cru 46:30
Mechs Shimano Tiagra
Cassette Shimano 12-28
Shifters Shimano Dura-Ace bar end
Brake levers Cane Creek SCR-5
Brake callipers TRP HY/RD
Cables Shimano (gears) / Jagwire (brakes)
Tyres Conti GP 4 Seasons on road, Conti CycloX Kings or Schwalbe Sammy Slicks off road

On the Singular website the Peregrine is billed as “A tourer? Commuter? Monster ‘cross? Dress it up whichever way you like, the Peregrine is our most flexible frameset, with a classic lugged construction.” Having now ridden around 1200km on it, including a 400km audax and an 85km ride along (and up and down and up and down) the South Downs Way, I can concur with this assessment, this is an incredibly flexible frameset. The only change made between the audax and SDW ride was a swapping of tyres & removal of mudguards.

On road with a 25mm tyre on the front and 28mm on the back it was incredibly comfortable over the course of the 400km audax. The slack(ish) angles – 71 head tube, 72 seat tube – and steel frame ironed out all but the worst of the road surfaces, no noticeable road buzz. I got a tiny bit of discomfort in my hands the day or two afterwards but I don’t think that was due to the forks/wheel combo and more to do with the Brooks bar tape. The leather tape looks lovely but has no padding at all. The Brooks B17 on the other hand was astoundingly comfortable. I’m not going to lie to you, this isn’t the lightest bike build in the world so it can be a bit of a drag over hills but when I have hauled myself over them it flies down the other side and the disc brakes mean you can actually be confident of stopping at the bottom of them. On the flat the weight doesn’t really make any difference for the sort of road riding I plan to do on it, it chugs along all day long very nicely. And all night long as it turns out. Full audax story here.

Swap the high pressure road tyres for something fatter, gnarlier and squishier and the fun really starts. You can chuck this bike across all sorts of terrain, the tyres and frame absorbing the worst of the surface. So far I’ve ridden a fair chunk of the South Downs Way on it, plus many of the bridleways across the downs between home and work, from grass ridges to gravel tracks to chalk paths to flint strewn climbs and descents. It’s very stable over all but the lumpiest of track, but I reckon with a set of low pressure 29er mtb tyres on it would probably cruise over and through anything. There’s a photo story of the South Downs Way ride here. I’ve been running 35mm cyclocross tyres on it so far but it has clearance for up to 50mm tyres to suck up rougher stuff. With semi slick CX tyres the Peregrine becomes an awesomely fun on/off road commuter in the dry…in the damp it becomes a slightly squirmier offroad commuter!

I’ve still to try it in full touring mode but have plans for a set of handbuilt wheels with dynamo front hub, and to fit racks, saddlebag and front panniers.

Having said all that, unfortunately Singular have just stopped (for now at least) producing the Peregrine frameset, but all of Sam’s frames are worth checking out at singularcycles.com There’s a couple of small Peregrine framesets still available if you’re quick. There’s a new disc version of the Kite coming that looks pretty damn smart.

Glad I got mine when I did, it has made the commute to work a lot of fun…
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Steeling myself for the year ahead

IMG_20140130_134717Last year’s Tourist Trophy adventures whetted my appetite for further exploring. Thoughts of long distance multi-day rides float around my head. I’m not interested in getting from A to B, or in the case of some racing A to A or even A to A to A to A, as quickly as possible. I’d rather take my time, have a look around, allow myself to get distracted, maybe not go where I intended. Stuffing a saddle bag (preferably one from Swift Industries) with a spare tyre, some tubes, a sarnie, a bag of jelly babies, a camera, and a few rolls of film and head off. To ride place to place and all the points between. Maybe not to return for a few days.

However, as much as I love my Trek it’s not the most comfortable bike over a long day, or days, in the saddle. I know this from back to back centuries between Bath and Brighton last spring. I’ve been looking at cyclocross and touring bikes for a while, thinking about what would be best for rides that involve a mix of terrain. The Trek has been bashed across the South Downs Way on occasions but it’s really definitely not built for that sort of behaviour. Between toing and froing from tourers and ‘crossers and back again a friend pointed me in the direction of Singular Cycles and the Peregrine frameset in particular. I was instantly smitten. Lugged steel, two tone paint, fork crowns, a bike that looks proper, but set up to take heavy duty tyres and disc brakes. So I now have a box in my living room that contains one. And once I’ve decided on how to build it up it will become a bicycle for adventuring.

Whilst this was going on Milltag invited me to continue to write for them after the Tourist Trophy pieces last year. I plan to do a few more Tourist Trophy rides to go to a few counties I missed out last year (and let’s be honest this project won’t be complete until I’ve ticked off all UK counties) and a couple of longer tours this year. However these will be as and when I find time and money. I needed more of a structure to hang the writing around. Also Ed at Milltag asked “What’s this years challenge?” I remembered I was about to enter my first audax with some friends. At 125km it’s not a particularly long one but with 2500m of climbing across the High Weald it’ll be a challenge. Pete at Milltag is a hardcore audaxer (is there any other kind?) so a plan was hatched to aim to ride a 400 or 500km audax by the end of the year. This may be slightly stupid but it’s worth a try.

The language of audax appeals – brevets, populaires, raids, randonneur – and control cards & stamps remind me of cycle touring as a teenager and collecting YHA stamps each night. Looking into the history a little bit it seems an audax would originally be ridden in teams with a road captain, where as randonneuring were ridden as individuals. Audax derives from the Italian for audacious where as randonneur doesn’t seem to have a direct translation from the French. However I like the way it hints are randomness and rambling, even if this is counter to what is involved when considering strict times and controls points. Random rambling isn’t really the idea but I like the word randonneur. So this year I will be writing a “Diary of a Novice Randonneur” for Milltag.

Anyway that’s the plan, so we’ll see what happens. I also notice that Audax UK will ratify solo ad hoc long distance rides which gives me an idea for midsummer’s day…

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