Herman Nekkers

2020-10-09

The highest climb of Europe - #1 Pico Veleta

You won't find Europe's highest road in the Alps. We need to go to the Spanish Sierra Nevada. The Pico Veleta is the second highest peak of this mountain range and the road rises to just below the summit at no less than 3375 metres. This makes it by far the highest road that can be reached on a road bike.

Pico Veleta

Picture 1 (Michaela Stuart): Desolate

Pico Veleta

Country:Spain
Height: 3375 meters


Location

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The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the Spanish region of Andalusia. It means 'snowy mountain range'. The highest mountain is the Mulhacén (3482 metres). To give you an idea, this is higher than the highest mountain in the Pyrenees. The Pico Veleta at 3396 metres is the second highest mountain. The road up goes almost to the top.

Andalusia is the largest region of Spain in terms of population. It offers a variety of activities. The Costa del Sol and the Costa de la Luz are popular coastal areas. Historic cities such as Granada, Cordoba and Seville attract millions of tourists every year. The Mediterranean climate ensures high temperatures that can reach over 40 degrees in summer. The Cabo de Gata is the driest place on the European mainland. On the other hand, the Sierra Nevada is also a winter sports area.

The north west side

The Spanish city of Granada is the most logical start of the climb. From here it is almost 50 kilometres to the top. But there are many more possibilities. Check Cyclingcols.com for the various options.

Via a well paved, through road you first go to Alto de la Sierra Nevada. The terrain is rocky and along the way you have a magnificent view. Dozens of kilometres of climbing with gradients between 6 and 8%. From the village you climb to the parking lot Hoya de la Mora at an altitude of 2500 metres. Here you have to pass a barrier for the last 11 kilometres to the roof of Europe. Attention! There is no possibility to buy food or drinks from here. You are on your own.

Motorised traffic is not permitted on the road to the Pico Veleta. The Andalusian landscape does not excel in vegetation, above you come in a totally petrified environment. Beautiful in all its desolation. Yes, you might think you are on the moon. The road surface is still fine and that is a good thing, because the thin air makes you gasp for breath. CycloWorld reader AnneMarie Pieterse drove up here in 2018 and tells about it: "During the last 11 km up here I clearly noticed that there was less oxygen in the air, I sometimes got a little light headed".

Up to about 3050 metres the road surface is still good, after that the number of cracks and potholes becomes more numerous. In some places, it's hardly possible to ride. A gravel bike is a godsend. AnneMarie on the final stretch: "The last few kilometres the asphalt is getting horrible, there are huge holes you have to walk around. The last kilometre is completely unpaved. I did rid over it and now I have beautiful 'scars' of it on my rims. The last 100 metres to the top you have to walk, because they are basalt boulders here".

Also the weather is something to take into account. Despite a clear blue sky, it can be cold at this altitude. Often there is a strong wind. In this part of Spain temperatures of 30 degrees are more rule than exception. So remember to bring enough warm clothing to the top. But whoever stands here has really reached the highest that is achievable with a road bike in Europe. You can really be proud of that. And the view is truly magnificent!

The descent is a story in itself. "For people who are afraid of heights: it's no fun to climb and certainly not to descend", says AnneMarie. "You get the wind on your wheels continuously and after every turn on the downhill. There is no guardrail for 11 km, but there is an 'abyss' next to you. I really had to push my handlebars almost through the asphalt to keep a good grip on the road. From the barrier back down is a treat! A descent of 30 km on super wide and clear roads where you can go down without braking. For a long time I have only sat here with a grin on my head".

Click here to see AnneMarie's ride on Strava.


Cycling history

None. However, over the years the Vuelta has had several arrivals on the Alto de la Sierra Nevada. This is actually a stopover in the direction of the Pico Veleta.

Gran fondos

Sierra Nevada Limite Road

Profiles

Pico VeletaPico Veleta noord-west

Routes and loops


Click on the image to download the route.

The highest climbs of  Europe, the list

1 Pico Veleta
Spain
3375
2 Tiefenbachferner
Austria
2829
3 Cime de la Bonette
France
2802
4 Col de l'Iseran
France
2770
5 Passo dello Stelvio
Italy
2758
6 Kaunertal
Austria
2750
7 Colle dell'Agnello
Col Agnel
Italy
France
2744
8 Passo Gavia
Italy 2632
9 Col du Galibier
France 2632
10 Colle del Nivolet
Italy 2632
11 Grossglockner
Hochalpenstrasse
Austria 2571
12 Timmelsjoch /
Passo Rombo
Italy
Austria
2509
13 Pass Umbrail Switzerland
Italy
2503
14 Colle delle Fauniera /
Colle dei Morti 
Italy 2481
15 Nufenenpass /
Passo della Novena
Switzerland 2477
16 Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard /
Colle del Gran San Bernardo
Switzerland
Italy
2473
17 Furkapass Switzerland 2436
18 Roque de los Muchachos Spain 2426
19 Hochwurtenspeicher Austria 2421
20 Col du Granon France 2413

Pictures

Pico Veleta

Picture (Wikimedia Commons Zacharie Grossen): Snowy Veleta


Pico Veleta

Picture 3 (Michaela Stuart): Just a few more kilometres, the road surface is still good


Pico Veleta

Picture (Michaela Stuart): The last kilometer


Pico Veleta

Picture 5 (AnneMarie Pieterse): "The most beautiful view ever at 3300 metres"


Pico Veleta

Picture (AnneMarie Pieterse): The last part is totally unpaved


Pico Veleta

Picture (AnneMarie Pieterse): Stunning view from the top


Pico Veleta

Picture (AnneMarie Pieterse): Brace yourself on top against the wind


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