Sierra de la Pandera

Andalusia’s answer to the Angliru, the Sierra de la Pandera is an unforgiving climb that rises from the sun-baked earth in a similar fashion to the other monstrosities that pockmark the skyline around desolate, southern Spain.

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The climb can be approached from two sides – Los Villares to the north, or from Valdepeñas de Jaen to the south – but the roads eventually converge some 8.3km before the summit, a lonesome, dead-end path making the final journey to the Pandera’s peak. From here the ramps steepen to 15%, cutting an ungainly path through the barren flanks of the mountain. Approaching the summit, you’ll catch glimpses of the aerial masts that litter the 1,823m high peak – signalling the final kilometre and the last, gruelling push to the summit.

Until the turn of the millennium, this climb was one of Andalusia’s best kept secrets – revered by locals as one of the final, untouched cycling gems of southern Spain. The Vuelta organisers broke the Pandera’s silence in 2002 while looking for a climb to match the ferocity of the Alto de l’Angliru.

Roberto Heras christened the climb with a dominant display to take the first ever Pandera stage win, before going onto take another storming victory atop the Angliru just a week later. Valverde, Kashechkin, Cunego and Majka have all won atop the Pandera, but it’s the Shark of Messina – Vincenzo Nibali – who holds the Strava KOM with an impressive time of 23:23.

Sticking to its clandestine and secretive nature, the Pandera has no fanfare, signpost or warning to herald its entrance. It’s a purist’s climb and – should you be able to find it – one of the most rewarding in the region. The fortressed city of Jaén lies just to the north of the Pandera and serves as a perfect base camp for an assault on the mountain.