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The Valle Nevado – The greatest cycling climb you've never heard of

Written and photographed by Daniel Hughes for Epic Cols.

The stats: 

  • Distance 45 km
  • Ascent 2,329 m
  • Average gradient 5.5%
  • Max gradient 15%

 

Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains not far from Santiago, the Valle Nevado summit is 3,000 m above sea level. With no less than 58 switchbacks over three valleys, this is, at least in my opinion, one of the world's best road climbs.

The Valle Nevado has it all, with rolling contours, vast landscapes, and killer reveals. Once at the top, the majesty of the Andes still tower high above you. Most will hit the ‘lap’ button some 16 km before the official climb begins, adding an extra 500 m of climbing as you ride your way up to the start of climbing heaven.

When you reach the sign, the official start of the climb begins. Ahead lies 1,730 m of climbing over 29 km, starting with 16 gloriously intertwined switchbacks carved into the rocky Andean landscape.

With riding and like this it's hard not to get excited, and the gradient is eminently doable with an average of 6%. The 16 bends pass quickly, leaving you keen to see what lies ahead. You’ll ride a contouring section, before rising up and over a small col. Valuable metres are lost descending to the bottom of another set of switchbacks here in a real-life game of snakes and ladders.

Tackle this climb in the spring and summer months, as the cars will be pretty much non-existent up to the Valle Nevado is a ski resort. During the week it is so quiet you could almost pitch a tent on the road!

There is a drawback to these seasons though, and that is the heat. Likely in the mid-thirties or 90F+, it certainly makes for thirsty work. After switchback 21 there is a small café to refill your bottles, after which you will have no less than 37 further switchbacks before the summit. In a game of switchback Top Trumps, Valle Nevado beats all climbs in Europe, hands down.

Enjoy the super smooth road and countdown markers on each corner as you ride. With every turn and metre gained you can sense the summit drawing nearer, a ridgeline above you suggesting that you are near the top. Many will turn around at the junction of switchback 40 and the other valleys.

Nothing can prepare you for the view you will be granted just a few hundred metres beyond the junction. It is truly mind-blowing, the majesty of the Andes in full force. These high mountain peaks loom thousands of metres above you, with a solitary road seemingly leading to cycling heaven.

18 to go, this is the final section of switchbacks where the landscape changes. The lush green meadows from before have given way to dark and rugged volcanic rock. The air is thinner, the GPS reads 2,560 m above sea level, and there are just a few hundred vertical metres of climbing to go.

I've yet to find a cycling climb where you get to the finish, to see that you've barely scratched the surface. At 3,000 m above sea level, you stand 240 m higher than the highest paved col in Europe, the Col d'Iseran. Unbelievably, the mountains and trails here still extend several thousand metres above you. This is why I find this climb so incredible; the sheer enormity and outstanding beauty which surrounds you. This is truly a feeling which I've yet to experience anywhere else.

The Valle Nevado is the epitome of Epic Cols and its mission. To find, capture and share extraordinary beauty, to challenge the well-known greats and to share climbs which should be recognised among them. This climb wholeheartedly deserves to be considered a great.

To read and see more iconic climbs from around the world go to:  www.epicicols.com

@danielhughesuk Equipment:

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170

Di2 hydraulic groupset

System engineering at its peak. Each of the components magnifies the qualities of the others for an unparalleled level of performance.


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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P

Dual Sided Power meter

The choice of the world's best climbers, sprinters, and time trialists, the DURA-ACE R9100 crank drops weigh while maximizing power transfer. The new design, and its iconic look, is adapted for race specific disc brake systems while still offering a wide range of gearing and crank arm length options. The addition of a reliable, accurate, waterproof power meter makes this crank an even more valuable tool to serious cyclists. With a rechargeable Li-ion battery, left/right balance, and Bluetooth LE and ANT+ connectivity, the SHIMANO DURA-ACE Power Meter sets a new standard in cycling data collection.

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PRO Vibe Aero

Handlebar

An ultra-high performance handlebar constructed with Innegra fibers to ride the most punishing conditions. The new PRO Vibe Aero handlebar is built to meet cycling’s highest demands using state of the art technology. The Vibe Aero is developed with Di2 in mind offering ultimate integration for maximum aerodynamic performance and ultra-clean styling.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

Stem

High-end, full carbon stem

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

Pedals

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@caralimccall Equipment:

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Di2 hydraulic groupset

ULTEGRA R8000 series is "pro-proven" as it is a direct trickle down from DURA-ACE groupset. As road bike component, the stress-free operation is one of the most important feature to lead all day riding comfort with braking and shifting.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

Stem

High-end, full carbon stem

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