By Ryan McDonald
As the location of the highest ski station in Spain and the southernmost in Europe, little can match the majesty of the Sierra Nevada when snow crowns this range of mountains, dominating the landscape as the stunning backdrop to Granada and the iconic Alhambra monument. Even when the ice begins to melt and blistering heat replaces the biting cold, the views across the surrounding countryside make any ascent all the more worthwhile.
Nevertheless, this portion of Spain still remains largely undiscovered and especially amongst skiing holidaymakers, who typically flock to the more famous Alpine resorts of France, Austria, and Switzerland. By comparison, the Sierra Nevada is almost like a well-kept secret, greatly enjoyed by Spaniards, although the region enjoyed some richly deserved publicity in 2017, thanks to the arrival of two major international sporting events.
Having already experienced a couple of failed attempts to attract the Winter Olympics, the city of Granada and the Sierra Nevada finally attracted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 1996, before the region jointly hosted the 2015 Winter Universiade. However, the real coup was managing to secure the 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships, given the inclusion of trendier new disciplines and their growing media following.
Perhaps the biggest boost for the region was the praise of the competitors themselves. Many had never even heard of the Sierra Nevada in Spain, let alone visited. How they marvelled at the quality of the facilities and organisation, proximity to the cultural hub of Granada city, plus the chance to sunbathe on Mediterranean beaches, in between their competitive duties. The positive exposure suddenly put this mountain range and ski resort firmly on the map.
What’s more, the successful hosting of this major FIS event would quickly be followed by another, later in the year. If there’s one certainty about the annual Vuelta a España, essentially the tour of Spain, it’s the unfortunate fact that it doesn’t always pass through enough of the country itself. At the 2017 Vuelta, Andalusia was back on the route map and for the 15th stage, the best cyclists in the world were challenged by the steep ascent of the Sierra Nevada.
The route for Stage 15 took competitors to a finishing line some 3,000 metres above sea level, at Hoya de la Mora, overlooking the Sierra Nevada ski station itself at Pradollano. First across the line after an excellent climb was Miguel Ángel López of Colombia, who would ultimately finish 6th in the overall Vuelta classification. Certainly, the power of that performance will make Sierra Nevada a road racing stage venue he will never forget.
British cyclist Chris Froome was the general classification winner at the 2017 Vuelta a España, and whilst the last two years have been difficult for him, López is tipped at 66/1 cycling betting odds to win the 2021 Tour de France, having finished 6th overall in 2020. The 26-year-old has enjoyed some excellent stage wins during his career, including that remarkable Sierra Nevada run at the 2017 Vuelta.Sadly, the magnificent surroundings of the Sierra Nevada have only featured as a backdrop since 2017. Although the city of Granada was the starting point for Stage 5 at the 2018 Vuelta, neither the city nor the iconic mountain range has featured on the route since then. Hopefully, events over the next year will once again feature one of the most challenging climbs in professional cycling