In Flanders, cycling is sacred. For every road, there is a bike route running right alongside it. So, what better tribute to this region's culture of cycling than the Tour of Flanders?
The inclusion in the Vuelta a España of the uphill thirteen kilometres that from the Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga lead to Lake Enol which, together with Lake Ercina, form the group known as Lagos de Covadonga, is one of the greatest and most recent discoveries of cycling.
The magnitude of placing the finish line at Lagos de Covadonga is reflected in the expressions of exertion and disbelief on the face of the first winner, Marino Lejarreta, at every unexpected and killer change in gradient, even when the finishing line banner seemed already within reach.
It was 2 May, 1983, and since then the arrival at Lagos has always been the conclusion of a highly awaited stage.
Then again, the by now customary alternation in the Vuelta a España editions of the Lagos de Covadonga with Alto de Angliru clarifies better than any other description the degree of difficulty of the climb.
Even so, the altitude of Lake Enol – 1124 m.a.s.l. – wouldn’t lead anyone to predict such a terrible challenge. Yet, the extreme vicinity of the Picos de Europa, and therefore of Covadonga, to the ocean produces considerable elevation gain and extremely daunting slopes.
In addition to this, the fame of the Lagos de Covadonga is linked to the weather conditions typical of Asturias, so incredibly affected by the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean.
Even in August, it is quite normal to see racers emerging from thick fog like ghosts, after watching them pedal for an entire stage under a persistent drizzle: the trademark of this part of southern Europe that, weatherwise, resembles the British Isles.
It is the sum of all these elements – elevation gain, rabid gradient changes, weather conditions – that make the ascent to the Lakes an important proving ground for bike lovers: a challenge that should be faced at least one time in your life.
Therefore, despite the 17th stage of the Vuelta a España 2021 being 185 km long and there being another very demanding Asturian climb – the Collada Llomena – on every inch of the road a single, dreaded image hovers over everyone: the brutal Huesera ramp, the steepest segment of the now legendary ascent to the Lagos de Covadonga.