At a vertigo-inducing height of 3395m, the Veleta takes the title of the highest paved road in Europe, making it one hell of an attractive challenge for cyclists looking to test the limits of their suffering.
The snow-capped summit towers over nearly every other peak in the Sierra Nevada, casting a vast shadow over Andalusia. Those that dare to tackle the 43km-long colossus typically start from the bustling city of Granada where the road grows ever more lonesome as it gets closer to the Veleta’s peak. The climb is anything but consistent, chopping and changing between 4-8% as you make your ascent. At 2700m, the paved road stops and a gravelled track takes its place – the Veleta playing a cruel trick on those already struggling.
The air starts to grow thin above the 2000m marker, so by the 3395m-high summit of the Veleta you’ll feel that it has almost completely abandoned you. A breath-taking view at the top can only go so far to quench the burning fire in your lungs – the only way to stop that is to fly back down the mountain, gulping mouthfuls of air as you go.
A true test of endurance, the Pico de Veleta attracts the masochists of the cycling world. The record for the 43km-long climb stands at two hours, but just summiting this monster is impressive in itself. The full climb has never actually featured at the Vuelta a España, despite the organisers’ tendency to include the most hellish of climbs. The furthest the pros have ridden is the barrier at Hoya de la Mora, some 30km into the climb and 2,500m above sea level – the final gravel section apparently too much for even the most experienced of pro riders.
Granada lies at the foot of the Pico Veleta and serves as a perfect spot to set up base for a week of riding through the Sierra Nevada. Be sure to visit in Autumn and early Spring when the temperatures are a little more forgiving.