Welcome to a world of steep climbs, impossible gorge roads and wild bears. Welcome to Asturias and the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. The moutains here may not rise to the skies, peaking out at 2,600 metres, yet the roads to the summit are steep and scenic, making these short, sharp climbs breathtaking in more ways than one.
Challenging and beautiful, from the famous climbs of Angrilu and Lagos de Covadonga, to the lesser known Gamoniteiro and Jito de Escarandi There’s a good reason why the Vuelta a España returns to these roads each year.
New. Never travelled. Perhaps your eyes traced a pixellated line on a screen the night before or perhaps you simply turned left instead of right. Ahead only virgin road unridden. The unknown.
Every turn a mystery. Eyes keen, alert for every next direction. A cartographer committing landmarks to memory, extending your mental map lest you travel this way again.
Gasp. The landscape surprises, amazes. Simple things. A twee village, a church perched on a hill, parallel trees in formation either side of the road, a big cow. Nothing of great note, not even worthy of a photograph, the scenery the sum of its parts, less a vision more a feeling.
Structure is both the saviour and enemy of the free. It brings rules and regulations, it moderates and provides guidance. And boy do we need guidance. Total freedom is chaos. Anarchy.
Structure is the foundation upon which society is formed. A system that frees us from anarchy yet strips us of our freedom. We are not free, we are civilised. Stifled. Structure restricts. It forces square pegs into round holes. It discriminates, it bores.
Yet few flee the structure of society. We fear the unstructured. We impose rules and structure on all we encounter. Conversations, days, lives, damn, even cycling. Gone is the joy of random walks, of chance encounters, of just popping out for a ride.
I don’t race, I ride. Yet I’m training. Many will question the word training. As if an amateur cannot train. Especially one who does not race. You are not an Olympian, you are not a pro, you are not a racer, you are not training.
Yet I am training. Despite being self-coached my amateur training is more advanced than most professionals of days gone by. I have rigid plans and structures. I have training zones and a ‘fueling strategy’ aka a balanced diet. I monitor progress and apply basic sport science, some of it half-baked, some of it not. The trouble being you never really know which is which. I take myself far too seriously and I wear a headband for christ sake, I must be training.
For what I’m training for, I cannot say. There’s no medals to point to. There’s the small number of hill climb races I enter. Or the bravado of leading out the peloton or the fear of being dropped on a club ride. There’s local hills and personal bests. Yet I’m not really training for any of these.
Yeah, I’m niche. Not really something to boast about yet we humans like to feel as if we’re forging our own paths, that we are remarkable in some small way, atypical, one of a few. We follow not crowds, only our own will, for yes I’m smart, in control, not one of them, all those others who look and behave just like me, nay, observe me closely, I’m different, I’m special goddamnit.
Cyclists are no different. As a collective, we’re often accused of being self-entitled or ego-led, self-important, self-aggrandising, and as such hate figures to some. Yet the truth is we’re not special, we’re no different to others based on our choice of transport.
We do have our quirks, obsessions that help define us, routines which bond us. Damn, we are special after all.
Hello old friend. It’s been a while. What? Yes, it’s that time of year again. I know, I know. Brrr.
Her? The mistress? That was a mere summer fling, showing off in front of others, a lightweight frolic beneath the sun.
Nothing compares to you, ever dependable winter bike, bike number 1 once and forever. You’re the one who gets me through the hard times, little reward for your endeavours but hour upon hour of steady rolling through frozen landscapes, more mud than road.