In Spain the nearness of the sea is often misleading.
In the province of Almería, for example, you can cycle along spectacular roads beside the sea. You can pedal to unforgettable places like San José del Cabo or across the brief yet picturesque stretch of the isthmus and coast of San Miguel, both nestled within the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park.
But in spite of this, just over forty kilometers and after an incredible change in landscape from the sea, lies Velefique, where the thirteen-kilometer climb with an 8% average begins, leading to the first mountain of the Vuelta a España categorized as “Especial”, the Vuelta equivalent to the Tour de France's “Hors Catégorie”.
For this area, the finishing line at 1820 m of the Alto de Velefique is one of the most anticipated moments of the 2021 Edition of the Vuelta: the first true testing ground for those who aspire to the final podium.
The cyclists who have ridden Provincial Road 3102 that takes you from Castro de Filabres to Alto de Velefique all have the same opinion on the greatest challenge that is faced: the sweltering heat of south-east Spain that accompanies you for most of the ascent.
On the other hand, enthusiasts have varying viewpoints regarding what they remember of that 13 km climb.
Some compare Alto de Velefique to Alpe d’Huez: almost identical in length, altitude, average gradient and with a difference of only one bend – Alpe d’Huez twenty-one, Alto de Velefique twenty. Others, more sensitive to the endless view -which extends as far as the sea- that the ascending hairpin turns offer, and to the visible meandering road below, have whispered yet another name that is sacred to the God of cycling: Stelvio.
Still others, who ran into one of those days in which the wind blows strong from the coast, have even ventured a comparison with the most blustery roads of all: the one that climbs from Chalet Reynard to Mont Ventoux.
All these celebrated analogies make it easy to comprehend how important the 9th stage of the Vuelta a España is, also because between the start at Puerto Lumbreras and the finish at Alto de Velefique there are almost 190 km and an elevation gain of 4,500 m.
However, if the race absorbs the biggest chunk of attention of those who love professional cycling, bicycle touring suddenly becomes an enticing idea.
There are just over forty kilometers separating the splendid sea of Cabo de Gata and the 13 km climb to Alto de Velefique: a perfect alternative for an unforgettable ride.