Friday, 13 September 2013

Vuelta a Espana 2013 : Stage 20 Preview

THERE are some mountains in the cycling word who's merest name conjures up romantic images, wonderful scenery, amazing crowds and epic battles.

In France you have Alpe d'Huez where you think of Dutch Corner and of 1986 with Lemond and Hinault.

Mont Ventoux brings lunar landscapes to mind, as well as Tom Simpson and searing pain.

In Italy there is the Stelvio and the Zoncolan.

Spain has it's own mountain worthy of mention along side these greats.

The Alto de L'Angliru.

But there is romanticised talk when this is brought up. This is the type of mountain that is spoken of in hushed tones, in dark, dimly lit corners, well away from the public glare.

Mention it to any pro-cyclist and you'll see his face lose colour, beads of sweet form on his forehead and the religious types may even cross themselves.

For l'Angliru is a awful climb. Great if you're watching from the comfort of your armchair but an absolutely beast for anyone who dares conquer it's slopes.

The basic numbers just give a glimpse to it's severity. 12.2km long it has an average gradient of 10.2% (that's an average gradient of 10.2%) and it's maximum is a mind-blowing 23.5%.

Compare that to Alpe d'Huez. The Alpe is basically the same length but it's average gradient is 8.4% and it's maximum is only 11.5%.

But we still haven't really scratched the surface and as much as I'd like to, I don't think my words will ever do it justice.

So here's the profile of the climb:
Let that sink it. It's a daunting prospect.
But that's just the final climb. The stage is 142.2km long starting from Aviles and has three categorised climbs to get over before the final showdown, all of which are difficult climbs.
The Alto de la Cabrunana is a third cat, climbing for 5.2km at a gradient of 6.6%. It is followed by the second category Alto de Tenebredo which climbs for 3.4km but has an average of 10.5%, higher than the l'Angliru.
The final ascent before the finish is the Alto del Cordal. This is first category simply because it only goes on for 5.2km. It's average gradient however is 9.6%.
On their own they would have made for a monumental stage. And all three have just as savage descents as ascents.
Chris Horner will go into this stage as favourite, and now is 3 seconds up on Vincenzo Nibali in the general classification.
Horner has looked by far the better climber throughout this tour and the steepness of the slopes should see him edge clear of Nibali.
Nibali therefore may not be able to wait until the final climb. Where he can really make a difference however is coming off the Cordal.
The Italian is one of the best in the peloton at going downhill fast. If he can get an edge over the top of the Cordal and hit Horner hard on the descent then he could arrive at l'Angliru close to a minute ahead of his rival.
It would put RadioShack under a lot of pressure and as Horner has only really had Robert Kiselovski as backup in recent stages, it may mean the American has to do a lot of the chasing himself.
Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez are third and fourth, at 1.06 and 1.57 respectively. Both will need to put some serious pressure on to take the overall win and it will probably be too much of a gap to pull back.
But they will both be fighting for a podium and as both can descend and climb, they too may be looking at the descent of the Cordal.
I really can't see the stage win going to anybody but these guys. And that's probably only right. The l'Angliru deserves the main men to be battling to it's summit.
The last two winners on here went on to take the overall title. If Nibali and co don't steal the initiative early, Horner could well complete the hat-trick.
It is fitting that the final climb of this epic Vuelta a Espana is itself an epic monument in world cycling. And if everything pans out as expected it could well see a man 39 days shy of his 42nd birthday taking the final Grand Tour title of 2013.
You've got to love this sport!

No comments:

Post a Comment