climb to the kionia radar station

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Cyprus Roadie rides up the blossoming slopes of eastern Troodos to the lesser known peak at Kionia. It's a ride that left us completely spent, but with a load of great memories. 


Words: Nestor

Film, photography and editing: Simon

We'd had this ride in mind for more than six months but it had been a hard one to organise. The starting point is only about half an hour's drive by motorway from our base in Limassol so distance wasn't an issue. But getting a bunch of cyclists together against the competing demands of friends, families and full time jobs can be quite a logistical challenge. Eventually though we found a date, and boy was it worth it.

These roads are usually frequented by Nicosian cyclists, as it’s fairly easy for them to get to the base of the slopes by simply starting from home. Since I work in the capital and commute there every day I sometimes throw my bike on the back of the car and quickly pedal uphill and down again before darkness arrives. It meant I knew the roads around the base of the mountain, and the climb itself. But it was time I shared it with some kindred spirits. 

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It's simply impossible to miss the Troodos mountain peak. It spikes upwards from the middle of the island to a glorious 2,000m summit, so it’s pretty much visible from everywhere. Saying that, it's not just a single pyramid, there are other peaks in the range too. Kionia is the second highest of them, and it's where we decided to haul our bikes and bodies. This peak maxes out just shy of 1,500m, so while we didn’t get altitude sickness, we got howling freezing winds and gradients of over 10% for long stretches of tarmac.
The weather system across these parts of the island is quite unique - they get more rain in a year here than any other part of Cyprus. The landscape stays greener for longer and trees appear at lower altitudes than usual. Being February, we rode in a backdrop of blossoming vegetation and a canvas of green all the way to the top. The shrubs, tall grass and occasional trees  around the villages of Sha and Mathiatis start giving way to the venerable pinus brutia that accompanied us all the way to the top.

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The Route

There's no way getting around it, this is hard parcours. The focal point of the whole route is the climb from Kapedes to Kionia, which dominates the elevation profile. In fact after 15km the road points constantly skywards, and we'd amassed over 1,300m of elevation gain in the first 35 km of the ride. These initial stretches were supposed to provide a gentle warmup, but Simon’s enthusiasm and fitness got the better of him and we found ourselves forming an impromptu paceline over the rolling terrain. Looking at the elevation profile you'd be forgiven for thinking that it’s flat, but it’s far from it. It feels more like a stairway with the road pitching up at 7-8% for a few hundred metres, flattening out, and then ramping up again through a series of green meadows and hairpins until you reach Kapedes, the village at the bottom of the climb proper.

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From here the road hugs the mountainside and follows the contours of the hills; rising through the pine tree forest and climbing above the valleys and villages below. The engineers that built these roads didn't have the luxury of heavy plant machinery, the sort that allows you to build roads of constant gradient (like you find in the Alps). Instead they simply let the landscape do the talking. This robs you of a sustained pace, as the tarmac constantly rollercoasters from a lowly 2% to well over 12% at places. These relentless rollers are broken up by a few short downhill sections mid-climb (incidentally, one of them has a particularly picturesque picnic site). The last 3km however are pure punishment - a constant 8-9% gradient that eventually takes you over the tree line near the Machairas monastery. From here on the landscape's rugged, shaped by howling winds and the mountain streams that bring melting winter snow to the valley below. Eventually we reached the top - a 1,250m high vantage point offering majestic views across the northern part of island all the way to the sea.

 

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Climbing

The Strava segment of this climb doesn't of course tell the whole story; that 7% average conceals the fact there are descents hidden in there, which makes the actual uphill sections that much steeper.

Speaking of Machairas monastery - it takes its name from the word μαχαίρι which means ‘knife’ in Greek. There’s an old religious tale about how a hermit fleeing the schism of the eastern and western churches around 900 AD, brought a painting of virgin mary to Cyprus, and hid it in the mountains to save it. Another pair of hermits (who else?) found it around 1145 AD and decided to build a small chapel on top. The story goes that they were thwarted by the surrounding vegetation which they soundly defeated using a knife given to them by God. Hence the name.  The lavish monastery you can find here now has been through various construction phases, and was initially bankrolled by the Byzantines in the 13th century AD.

But back to the climbing...(yes there was more). 

The Kionia peak houses a communications tower that rises prominently from the top, and we just had to get there. One slight problem was a road gate barring vehicles from going to the top, but we had bikes, and bikes hop over barriers. I'd been worried about my gearing since the beginning of the ride (my loaner Cervelo R3 was running a semi-compact 52/36 at the front, and 11-28T on the back) but I was coping fine. These final slopes reduced my cadence to a measly 50 rpm grind, body swaying from left to right, but metre by metre I was agonisingly inching closer to the top.

The descent from there to the village of Vavatsinia went by in a flash. It’s a pretty technical course that would make a fabulous ascent, but all four of us hit our strides and carved the bends using all the width of the road where possible. The village of Vavatsinia hosted our only coffee break, alongside a large group of motorcyclists. Then it was quickly on the bikes and back to the cars via the historic village of Lefkara - a place that'll feature in another of our ride blogs pretty soon.

Special thanks to Richard and Adam for coming out and riding along