Taking into account that this year the dates of Among the Giants coincided with the beginning of the end of the long, warm summer days, the emotional hangover post-event is reaching magnitudes that we do not desire for anyone.
With every sentence we type, our mind brings us back to those days of sharing unforgettable moments with like-minded people. This article is taking us some extra work to write, comparable to the physical effort required to tackle some of the climbs we will mention over the following paragraphs, but we want to make sure it reflects the feelings we experienced from August 30th to September 3rd with the nice group of people we gathered.
It is fair to say that our accommodation was located in a rather remote location, which caused some logistical nightmares for many of the participants. In our preview article, we already unveiled the exact place where we were based while in Asturias, and this accommodation really exceeded our expectations. More on that later!
We were going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the magazine and we wanted to bring some of our closest friends, which resulted in most of the participants being from Spain. There were 23 riders, more than a fifth of them women. We also counted on a high-quality media crew and some family for extra support.
With people coming not only from distant regions in Spain but other countries too, different starting points meant different journeys. On Wednesday, August 30th, there was a constant flow of participants arriving at the Albergue de Arrojo and settling in while waiting for the official event presentation.
Some participants knew most of the members of the group; others arrived on their own without knowing anyone. With the shared moments that awaited them in the following days, friendships would be forged in no time. This is the beauty of cycling in general and Among the Giants in particular: the power it has to unite people.
The weather on the first afternoon was great for Asturian standards, and an ‘unofficial’ get-to-know took place on the terrace facing the mountains. Then, still before the briefing, we gathered for dinner and we talked with the ones we had not had the chance to meet yet. At that moment we could already hear comments like “what is the first route we will do?” or “how does the weather look like for tomorrow?”. We would share all the details shortly afterward, but it was fun to see the mix of excitement and panic across the dining room.
After dinner, the sun was already down, and the lights on the terrace were the perfect background while we carried on with the event presentation. In a few minutes, we went over the different planned routes, explained what the dynamics of riding as a group would look like, and made everyone aware of the brands that were directly or indirectly present among us. We also encouraged everyone to present themselves and introduced us to their cycling background, their current occupation, or anything else they wanted to share. It was a perfect icebreaker and a good example of the friendly atmosphere that would follow us for the next few days.
Lastly and as a surprise, we handed a goodie bag with the custom long-sleeved T-shirt that Laser Barcelona made to celebrate our 10th anniversary, a bidon from Tactic and stickers from different participating brands that then would magically appear on the frame of someone or on the sign of a climb.
Route 1 | Cobertoria, Angliru, and Cruz de Linares
Carbs and coffee. That is all that we needed to tackle the Angliru, as it was on the agenda for the first day. The hostel prepared a special breakfast buffet for us, so everyone could stick to the breakfast they are used to eating back at home, making sure that a lack of food was not an excuse to tackle the challenge ahead.
Specialty coffee was brewed in situ by Victor from CUP, and those beans from Right Side Coffee gave us a good punch to start the day. The faces during breakfast revealed who is a morning person and who is not, but one could feel the excitement in the looks of each one.
We decided the order of the routes we had planned based on the weather forecast during our stay, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to climb the Angliru on a sunny day. We all got ready and at 9:00 sharp we started riding. 115 km and 3.750 meters of accumulated elevation ahead of us.
It wasn’t long until we started climbing, so we quickly checked the good fitness level of all the riders. As organizers, we were also kind of route guides, and we realized that it was going to be hard to follow for three days straight those willing to go a bit faster.
We got to the bottom of the Angliru after climbing Cobertoria from the west side and reaching Piola from Cuchu Puercu rather than from El Cordal, which is the common route whenever the Angliru is featured in La Vuelta a España.
The first few hundred meters were covered as a unified peloton but we quickly split and everyone climbed at their own pace. This is the type of climb that you have to focus on yourself, as it is very steep and long. “See you at the top!” said some to those being distanced. From that moment to our regrouping at the top, we would have time to go through all types of physical and mental conditions.
The good thing is that the sun was shining and we could see the valley below us and even the Atlantic Ocean in the background, something that not everyone who has climbed the Angliru can say. To be honest, we were looking everywhere but ahead, as we didn’t want to know how long we had left. Those who dared to do it saw the rest of the participants going from side to side of the road, trying to alleviate the steepness of the ramp.
The Angliru was considered for most the biggest challenge of this edition, so everyone seemed victorious and relieved when reaching the top. There we would cheer for the ones that still needed to arrive, and we would let our sweat dry while sharing our point of view about the feat that we had just achieved before descending back to the bottom of the climb.
Splits were also made on the descent, as we can assure you that going down a steep climb also has its degree of difficulty. When we gathered again it was lunch time, so we took over the closest bar or supermarket in search of food to fuel what was to come.
Cruz de Linares is fairly unknown and it is actually being featured in La Vuelta for the first time this year. Nonetheless, it is a proper climb of more than 8 kilometers at 9% average. Some thought that everything after the Angliru would be easy but, even if we want to stress again how tough it was, Asturias is a constant up and down and our legs ended up being more used to climbing than coasting on the flat bits.
On top of the third and last climb of the day, everyone looked already exhausted but happy. We would take some time to chill up there and appreciate the landscape ahead of us while sitting on a grass field before covering the last 20 kilometers of the route, which was a much more favorable terrain.
By the time we arrived back at the accommodation and got showered, it was already time to head to the dining room. There, same as the cyclists riding for a professional team, we were offered a variety of high-quality carbs and proteins to fill our bellies. The rice pudding for dessert was the icing on the cake!
Route 2 | Cubilla and Gamoniteiru
The weather forecast for the second riding day changed in our favor, and it looked like we would have two dry days in a row. Believe what we say, it is not that common in this part of Spain. We wanted to make the most of it and for that day we planned a route featuring La Cubilla and Gamoniteiru, which local friends had highly recommended to us.
The route started once again heading east, but this time we would reach the top of La Cobertoria via Lindes, a longer but more peaceful side. The start was humid while riding through a deep forest which then opened up with views of the valley as we got to the top. From there we descended to Pola de Lena, the only village in a 40 km radius with more than 10.000 inhabitants.
During the pre-ride briefing we already explained that from then on it would be a gradual and pleasant ascension to La Cubilla, so for most of it we were able to stay as a group, making sure that those with a lower physical level or with tired legs from the days before could hang on for as much as possible.
We complained a bit about the state of the road in the first half of the 27 km climb, but the truth is that on the last 10 kilometers, the tarmac was like a red carpet. La Cubilla is a dead end, which meant that barely any car disturbed our flow while climbing. Once again, the cows were the rulers of the road, so a bit of zig-zag was required to ride past them, as they weren’t moving an inch.
Everything was super peaceful, and we couldn’t stop smiling while looking at the rocky peaks that surrounded us, somewhat similar to the Dolomites. The top of the climb is located at almost 1.700 meters of elevation, so taking into account that Pola de Lena sits at 300 meters above sea level, we had accumulated a fair bit of elevation over the previous couple of hours.
We would eventually go back to Pola, as we had to return almost to the start of our route to tackle the Gamoniteiru. We climbed La Cubilla first and then the Gamoniteiru so that in case anyone didn’t feel great could go directly back to the accommodation, but most of us would end up reaching the top of this second climb too.
Who would have said while we were chilling under the sun in La Cubilla that the sun would turn into mist and we would barely see two meters ahead of us on our way to the top of the Gamoniteiru? It is a pity because the views from the top at 1.771 meters of elevation, the highest point of this edition, would have been awesome, but on the positive side, it made it look more epic.
Route 3 | Ventana and San Lorenzo
Enjoying three consecutive dry days in Asturias was too good to be true, and since the night before our third ride, we knew it would rain. When it would start and the intensity of the rain was still a question mark, but nothing would prevent us from wrapping up this edition on a high note.
We stuck to main roads to minimize problems in case of rain. This time we started heading west and we descended a bit before riding through what looked like a canyon on our way to Puerto de Ventana. At that moment the sky was threatening us but no drops yet.
It was when we reached San Martin that the group started splitting. While ascending, we gradually entered the low clouds and mist, and we got quite soaked. It was a very long climb which meant that the gaps between us, even more after the fatigue we had already accumulated over the previous days, were getting bigger in every climb. We feel sorry for those who had to wait for the others on top of Ventana while trying not to freeze.
We thought ahead and loaded the media van with extra clothing layers to face the cold and rain, so we prepared for the wet descent to the other side of the climb. It wasn’t long until we took those waterproof or warm garments off again, as the weather on the other side was much better. We stepped into the Castilla y León region, and it was striking to see how much the landscape varied in a matter of kilometers.
For the next dozen kilometers we would ride on a plateau at over 1.200 meters of elevation, and during that segment the heavy rain started. Half of the route was still ahead of us but there was no shortcut, so everyone committed to riding through that rough patch, hoping that it would be just a loaded cloud and it would then turn into more tolerable rain.
It was not really the case, and the combination of altitude and rain turned the descent to Somiedo into a non-pleasant experience. We took shelter in an old-fashioned bar, we followed the advice of the most experienced ones by using newspapers to dry ourselves, and drank as many coffees, hot chocolates and even liquor shots as possible to bring our core temperature back up.
Over the last three days we experienced all types of weather situations, and while in hindsight we can be happy because it could have been worse, at that point in that bar everyone just wanted to get back to the accommodation. The team split into two groups so that everyone could return at the pace they were most comfortable with, and back at the hostel it would dry up again so we quickly forgot about the rough moment we had a couple of hours before.
We accumulated 390 kilometers and 10.500 meters of elevation gain over three days, conquering mighty climbs like the Angliru or Gamoniteiru on the way, so it was time to celebrate. This time we had a burger party for dinner, and afterward, we showed a surprise video with testimonials and best wishes from people that have played a key role in the history of the magazine over the last 10 years.
That was followed by a party on the terrace. Many bottles of sidra, the local drink in Asturias, were emptied that night, showing once again the willingness to share time together and trying to delay the end of ATG6. A few hours later, during the last breakfast, one could see the long faces – also because of the hangover – across the participants of the edition, but it was time to pack and leave.
Thank you Laura, Mireia P, Mireia S, Sandra, Maria, Jeroen, Johnny, Tom, Sergey, Félix, Richard, Aleix, Ricard, Biel, Isma, Victor, Guillermo, David, Luis, Javi, Pavel, Toni, Pol, David, Iván, Alberto, Mariona, Arnau, and all those we were in contact with during the event, for this unforgettable edition.
Special thanks to the Albergue de Arrojo for hosting us and making sure we had everything we needed, even if it meant cooking something they don’t usually cook or adapting the accommodation to fulfill our needs.
Many thanks to all involved brands. Coffee Union Place for their specialty coffee that helped us start the day off right. MMR for allowing us to see and test his new Adrenaline 5.0 road model up close. Hammerhead for their Karoo 2 units to test, which guided us through the valleys and mountains, showing what was in front of us. Laser Barcelona for some unique and special T-shirts that kept us warm off the bike and will become a nice souvenir. Sturdy Cycles and especially Tom for showing us each of the small details of his titanium creations. Tactic Sport for dressing some of us and offering us bottles to keep us hydrated during the route. ENVE for displaying their special edition Melee Velodrom that we got to see up close and had by our side.
Our legs are not sore anymore, but we do not dare to venture on another crazy hard ride yet. It is like when after a breakup the mind needs to process things before starting again from a blank page. Our love for Among the Giant remains unshattered, and like in a long-distance relationship, we are counting down the days until we see each other again.