By Ian Smitton
Climbing the Pico de Veleta is one of the great cycling challenges in Europe. The mountain is the third highest peak in Spain, and also the highest paved road in Europe. It perhaps lacks the fame of Tourmalet, Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez; but Veleta is longer and tougher than all of them.
Veleta is in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalucia, with the climb beginning in the city of Granada. The summit is at 3395 metres, and the total altitude gained during the climb is 2700m - more than twice the ascent of Tourmalet!
The length of the climb is a huge 43 kilometres, giving an average gradient of 6.5%. Unfortunately, however, it is not a smooth 6.5% the whole way up; the last 8km average over 8%. By this stage, the air is getting quite thin and you will get that burning feeling in your lungs. The surface also deteriorates a bit the closer you get to the top, adding to the extra effortin the later stages.
Alternative RouteThe main route takes the A395 all the way up to the service point at 2700m, after which the road turns into more of a track (but still passable by road bike). However, our favourite route goes instead through the town of Monachil, a bit further south of the A395. The first few kilometres are a lot tougher this way, with sections at 14%, 15% and 17%, but the scenery is fantastic and there is almost no traffic on the road.
When to do itDo not try to do this in summer - it is a beast of a climb and with the heat it will not be at all enjoyable. From November until April there is likely to be some snow near the top which means that you will probably only be able to get as far as the service road at 2700m (which is a hard enough climb!); also, during these months, the A395 up to the ski village of Pradollano (at 2100m) can get fairly busy with cars.
May, early June, late September and October are the best months to tackle the climb. There is less traffic and the top should be free from snow - just remember to take a jacket because you can still get cold on a 40km descent even if it seems nice and warm!
You will rarely get the chance to go so high on a bike, so make sure you ignore the pain and enjoy the amazing views - including the city of Granada.
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