Saturday 12 September 2009

Wanna do the Quebrantahuesos?

The Quebrantahuesos is the biggest cyclosportive event in Spain, with 9,000 riders taking part.

It usually takes place on the third Saturday in June.

View Quebrantahuesos in a larger map
The ride starts and finishes in the small town of Sabinanigo in northern Spain, and covers a 200km route through the Spanish and the French pyrenees on closed roads.

The main climbs are: col de Somport, col de Marie Blanque, col du Pourtalet, Hoz de Jaca, with a total of 3,500m of climbing.

The col de Somport and Pourtalet, being main roads are quite wide so accommodate the large volume of cyclists on these closed roads.

Although the event is described as international, most of the participants are Spanish. Surprisingly there are comparatively few French people that take part even though half of the race runs through French territory.

There are cut-off points along the route. The times are based on you riding at 16km/h (10mph).

There is also a shorter distance, the Treparriscos - 90km and 955km of climbing.

This is probably the main event of the year for the people in the towns of Jaca and Sabinanigo. In fact they don't refer to it as the Quebrantahuesos, they just call it "the ride."

All the hotels and guest houses fill up several months before, and many of Spain's riders make this a regular pilgrimage so pre-book their rooms for the following year as they are checking out of that same hotel.
All the restaurants are full to the brim with cyclists at Friday lunchtime, and they are only serving pasta meals!

The pre-race registration takes place in a big exhibition area, with loads of stands selling various bike bits, clothing and nutrition. The local radio station does a live broadcast from there, carrying out interviews with various dignatories. Beneath the stage is a table showing an impressive array of medals and trophies on offer to the main contenders of the event. The winner's bronze statue of a Quebrantahuesos bird looks pretty scary!

The goody bag was impressive and included a cycling jersey. Women even got a specially designed women's cut jersey, something which is a rarity in cyclosportives. I was quite impressed given that there were only about 100 women out of 9,000 participants.

After the ride there is a supervised area to leave your bicycle. There's lots of food and entertainment, including free San Miguel beer.

The 2010 edition will be on Saturday 19th June.

I took part in the Quebrantahuesos this year and I really enjoyed it. I loved the atmosphere at the start of the ride as police and media helicopters hovered above, filming us as we started moving. Considering how many of us there were, the riding was very disciplined. The course was rolling for the first 10 miles, then after Jaca we began the climb to the col de Somport. This was just a gentle gradient but continued for around 10 miles. It was quite windy going up so it was all the more important for me to shelter in the group.
By the time we reached the summit we were riding through clouds and we could barely make out the spectators as they cheered us on. I couldn't see them at all. I could only hear them. The descent was surreal as we sped down through thick fog. I still felt perfectly safe as the marshalls had high visibility jackets and flags to signal the switchbacks.

We were now in France and I recognised some of the places from previous trips to the Pyrenees. At Escot we made a right hand turn to start the ascent to the col de Marie Blanque. I'd been really loving whizzing along the roads in the peloton, but on this climb things slowed right down. The col de Marie Blanque is only 8km long but it is a very chunky climb. The gradient is quite irregular, the road surface is very rough, and in the last 4km the gradient don't go below 11%. In fact I recorded sections of 23%. This climb really blew the groups apart, and brought many riders to the brink of despair. Many relinquished the challenge and just climbed off their bikes and walked, while others stopped at the side of the road for much needed respite. I just trundled on with barely any cadence, breathing heavily and feeling sick. I didn't want to stop as I knew I wouldn't be able to get back on my bike again.
The side of the road was thick with spectators all shouting, venga, venga, anima, allez! Some even ran alongside me or gave me a push, like in the Tour de France. As there weren't many women in the event the spectators made even more noise whenever they saw one of us. I just felt lucky to be riding in only 25 degrees celsius rather than the usual 35 degree+ conditions experienced on this climb. I was so relieved to see the summit I almost cried.

At the feed station on Plateau Benou I stuffed my face with everything in sight. I spent almost half an hour there trying to recover. Luckily when I hit the road again it was quite effortless as we descended into Laruns, before beginning the long climb back into Spain via the col du Pourtalet. This climb is very pleasant and really beautiful. You have all of 35km to admire it! For me this was a harder climb than it otherwise would have been, as my legs were still suffering from the battering they'd had on the Marie Blanque! The summit is quite spectacular and was my favourite part of the ride.

The descent back into Spain was a little exposed and windy, but thankfully we were taken round a more scenic route. We could have descended straight into Sabinanigo, but instead the route took us on a mini detour around a lake and over the Hoz de Jaca. This was only about 2km but it was quite steep - about 15%. Ironically this was my favourite climb. It ressembled the climbs that I ride back home in Kent and Surrey - abit like Toys Hill, but with more trees and a lake next to it.
By now my legs were feeling fresh again so I was able to tackle Hoz de Jaca with gusto before finally taking the run back in to Sabinanigo. Some guys in the organiser's car passed by and shouted to me to try and catch the group of riders ahead. I dug deep and took a tow from some cars to get up to the group. There were around 15 of them, including 3 other women - the only 3 women I'd seen on the ride all day! We did a brisk chain gang to get back to the HQ. It was a nice feeling crossing the finish line to the applause of an audience sitting in a specially erected spectators' gallery. I felt like I'd won the race!

It was a great day out, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who does cyclosportives.


Charles Brown said...


Nice write up. Can I ask how you arranged your accommodation? I want to do this ride next year but not having much luck finding places to stay :-(

2Wheel Chick said...

Hi Charles, Accommodation is hard to find for this event. I booked quite late - in April, so ended up staying in the youth hostel in Jaca. It's called Escuelas Pias and is in a school complex. The staff were friendly and catered for the needs of the numerous cyclists there - pasta party, very early breakfast. It was cheap, cheerful and clean, though not luxurious. If there is a group of you, you could try renting a large flat or house in one of the nearby villages between Jaca and Sabinanigo. Hope you find something.

Charles Brown said...

Thanks 2WC. Will look them up and see what the score is - getting excited already.

Treviso hotels said...

I am glad that you've shared your experiences in this article.

Groover said...

I just came across your blog while researching this cyclosportif. We spent a few days in Jaca and the area and also rode parts of this loop a couple of months ago. Your write up brought back fond memories and this would definitely be a ride I'd like to do one day... ;)

2Wheel Chick said...

Hi Groover, I'd definitely recommend it. It's one of the best organised cyclosportives I have done.