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22-06-2023 | Pieter Frolichs

Quebrantahuesos: the crème de la crème of gran fondos

Italy has the Maratona dles Dolomites, Austria has the Ötztaler Radmarathon, Spain has Quebrantahuesos. Que...what? And what about the Marmotte? As of now, the Quebrantahuesos is in the top three on your bucket list.

Quebrantahuesos - in English "the bearded vulture" - is being organized for the 32nd time this year from Sabiñánigo, a village located at the foot of the Pyrenees in the province of Huesca. If you look at the map you'll see that Sabiñánigo is surrounded by provincial roads. This doesn't seem like a logical location for a gran fondo since those mountains are still pretty far from Sabiñánigo. It got off to a slow start as the Spaniards are almost all traveling to Sabiñánigo last-minute on Friday. But then, as if out of nowhere, there it is: the atmosphere surrounding a cycling event. Suddenly the whole village breathes cycling and the excitement for the day begins.

Feel like a pro for a day

Quebrantahuesos is Spain's largest gran fondo and has two distances. The longest is the Quebrantahuesos with 196 kilometers, 4 mountains, 3500 meters of elevation and goes through Spain and France. The other distance is the Treparriscos with 85 kilometers and 1600 meters of climbing and has a completely different course than the long route.


Photo: in second position, in the red kit.


Photo: at the start with my girlfriend Nicolien (right) who would win in the ladies event.

Every year the event is rigidly sold out and there are 10,000 participants at the start, mostly Spaniards. And that is remarkable to say the least because the organization of this event is outstanding. The entry fee of €90 is actually cheap when you see what you get for it and compare it to other gran fondos of this level. Starting with the most important thing: the course is almost completely closed to other traffic. The first 15 kilometers are even on a completely closed highway - I don't think any other gran fondo has this. Furthermore, all descents are completely free of traffic, which is not only a pleasure for the participant, but also so safe. In addition, every participant is well taken care of, as the Quebrantahuesos has five feed stations and no less than six stations with technical support provided by Mavic. In addition, there are motorcycles and cars that provide technical support to the riders along the way. Last but not least, a small shout out to the jersey in the goodie bag: a super sleek design, high quality supplied by the Italian brand Ale.

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Perfect organization

Quebrantahuesos is broadcasted live on television and has its own live stream on YouTube, including commentators. The local press is on site to cover the event. The expo, where cyclists are so fond of looking around, is one of the biggest I've seen. All the major brands in cycling are present and if you did forget to bring something: don't panic, almost everything is still for sale. You can tell from everything how big the event is.


Photo: Safety is paramount at this gran fondo.

The organizers know to to manage a big event: everything is set up for large numbers of participants. For example, the starting order is tightly organized: participants start in order of time from previous years and otherwise in the general startbox. Everything is clearly marked, there is enough parking (for cars but also for camper vans), a guarded bike parking and the paella pans are so big that there is a recovery meal for all participants after the race.

Pyrenees course at its best

The course, as mentioned, takes in four climbs, three of which are serious (long) climbs through the Pyrenees: Col du Somport (from Spain to France), Col de Marie-Blanque (France) and the Col du Pourtalet (from France to Spain). Perhaps not the names that you'll immediately recognize, but make no mistake: this is the Pyrenees at its best. The scenery and the climbs are beautiful; sometimes you feel like you're in Switzerland. This is not surprising, because this is where the Pyrenees are at their greenest, while the French part is known for its forests and meadows.

The course begins with a quick 35 km warm-up on a mostly flat and slightly uphill road, where you actually cover a large part of the Col du Somport (30.3 km, 2.7% average) before the real climbing begins. Nice, especially if you get some help from the big peloton. You immediately feel like a cyclist when you're riding in the peloton along the highway, accompanied by motorcycles and cars. On Saturday morning at 7:15am (!) the overpasses are filled with spectators and banners are hung up to encourage the participants. I have not experienced this before and it gives goosebumps. By the way, this peloton is led by Spanish former cyclists Alejandro Valverde and Miguel Indurain, who are present as guests of honor.


Photo: in the wheel with Valverde, who would win the men's race.

Back to the first climb: The last 6.5 kilometers of the Col du Somport are the trickiest, averaging 6.4%. But really that is not important, the most important thing is to also take a moment to look around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. On top of the Somport there is again a massive crowd cheering on the participants, many a pro races can be jealous of the number of spectators present here. For many, the reward after a climb is the descent. A feast, because the asphalt is perfect, it is a wide road, not technical and therefore completely closed. After five kilometers you come to a wide three-lane road - and despite the terrible accident of Gino Mäder in the days before - this is a descent where the speed is high in a controlled way. It's a pleasure and also for the next 30 kilometers the road will go in a slightly descending line to the foot of the second climb. It is important to have a nice group here. If you can, you'll be amazed at the average on your counter at the foot of the Col de Marie-Blanque (9.2km, 7.7% average).

The pain in the legs is starting to come

This is going to hurt and it's going to be grueling. No other conclusion is possible when you look at the last four kilometers of the Col de Marie-Blanque: well over 11% average, with the last two kilometers at 13% and 12% average. In short, it is therefore necessary to save in the first five kilometers and still take full advantage of your group. Then it's brace yourself, mind zero and go. The climb leads through the forest and on some sections you can see the road ahead of you: it already hurts your eyes. If you don't feel up to it for the last 400 meters, here again the spectators are there to drag you through with their 'Allez allez' or 'venga venga'. In the descent you come across perhaps the most beautiful part of the route: a kind of plateau with grass meadows on which the wild horses and cows are grazing. Truly fantastic and Pyrenees in optima forma!


After a nice gradual climb, the Col du Pourtalet (28.4km, 4.5% average) is the most irregular one. The beginning is friendly, the end is tough, and the legs have had to endure a few things today anyway. It's a typical climb, starting in a forest next to a stream. As you get higher, you see the reservoir from which this stream originated. Even higher you see the snow melting and filling the reservoir. Again it is beautiful and in the last kilometers you ride through the familiar galleries before you see the summit in front of you. The hardest part is behind you and the finish line is in sight.


Photp: my girlfriend Nicolien Luijsterburg (in white), who would win the ladies' event.

The fourth climb: Hoz de Jaca. A local wall (2.3 km, average 8%) with sections where the gradients go into the double digits. One more bite on the teeth, and you know it's over. It's not the prettiest climb of the day, but the party at the top in the village of Hoz de Jaca is probably the prettiest you'll encounter. Then it's another 25 kilometers downhill to the finish in Sabiñánigo.


Hidden gem among gran fondos

There is only one conclusion: this was one of the best gran fondos we have ever ridden. From start to finish, this event has everything the cycling tourist dreams of. The wonderfully running descents, the large number of participants and cordoned off roads make it a fast (but also very safe) course! This gives another boost to the cycling feeling. It is actually a mystery that this event is not better known and more highly regarded within Europe. Because as has probably become clear, the level of this gran fondo is extremely high and equal to that of the Ötztaler Radmarathon and Maratona dles Dolomites. Quebrantahuesos thus. This gran fondo can go right to the top of the list of goals for 2024. ¡Hasta el año que viene!

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