100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of Spain
By Simon Warren
Vertebrate Publishing, 2023
240 pp Paperback
isbn 978 1 83981 196 8
Also available as an e.book
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Simon Warren’s epic climbing continues. Having already undulated all over the UK and various parts of Europe, Spain is the latest country to have its best cycling climbs catalogued by the author. The roadie enthusiast who wants to pedal in the tyre-tracks of heroic Vuelta riders will not be alone in finding this an enjoyable and handy guide; tourers like climbs too (well, some do, although, if they are like the reviewer’s wife they do not necessarily want to know what nasties are coming up. There are also those who like to park up by the roadside and cheer the pros – use this guide to help you find the best locations – or just sit at home and enjoy the read.
Spain is a mountainous country. I’ve been told that if you levelled the landscape it would be a plateau at 3,000 feet above sea level. True or not, from north to south, from east to west, you won’t cycle far in Spain with hitting the big hills – then there’s the Canary Islands and the Balearics, too. The 100 best climb reflects this, divided into sections covering Mallorca, Northern Spain, Cataluna, Valencia, Sistema Central, Anadlucia, and the Canary Islands. These sections sandwich an intriguing four pager entitled “The Hardest Grand Tour Climb” and book-ended by an introduction and checklist. The latter is a list of climbs for ticking-off on completion, rather than equipment – I’d half expected things like oxygen cylinder.
You’ll find all the famous climbs, Sa Calobra for example, with a mixture of mountain top finishes and cols approachable from different directions or with options to use different roads. A good example is the Puerto La Ragua, a 2082 metre high pass in the Sierra Nevada, over which I enjoyed hauling a fully-loaded touring rig one February afternoon. There are alternative routes heading up from the south which merge shortly below the summit. Coming from the north, the climb is much less than it is from the south. The author chooses to select one particular ascent (after all, this is the "greatest climbs" not all the climbs) for the detailed description, and he covers not just gradients and distances but road surfaces and conditions, too.
I like the honesty of the writing – he admits to having only ever walked up one ascent (pointing out that this was still tough enough) and, rather nicely, during a description of one climb states “I am not really selling this.” There is also "the most mindblowing climb" of the author's massive experience. It gets an 11/10 rating, but you'll have to buy the book to find out more. I guess a mixture of thorough preparation, hard graft, and a good-humoured acceptance that things may not always go as expected is a good mix for the lover of big climbs. It is great to see an ate to see these qualities reflected in this series of books.
So, head to Spain, get ready for the hills, follow the guide, enjoy the conquest of some magnificent climbs; then descend safely and get ready to go again.