Alberto Contador (Astana) said that the “climbs in the Pyrénées just weren’t steep enough.” He was waiting for the Alto de L´Angliru, the hardest climb of the Vuelta a España. Well, today was the 209.5km stage that featured the Angliru as the ultimate climb. And, Contador attacked as he promised with 5km to go and took the GC lead.
Angliru the beast
The Angliru isn’t a stand-alone mountain, but rather part of a steep ridgeline running across Asturias, the lush, rainy northern province that straddles Spain’s northern Atlantic Coast.
Beloki suffered on the Angliru in 2002
Photo: Graham Watson
At 12.2km in length, the climb rises 1,248 m (4,090 ft) with an average grade of 10.3 percent.
The opening five kilometers aren’t terribly excessive, with an average grade of 7 percent, hardly anything that will cause the pros lose sleep. There’s even a false-flat at 5.5km that gives a short respite.
It’s the second half of the climb where the Angliru earns its reputation.
At 6.5km, the road narrows and hits its first serious ramp of 21 percent. From there, the average grade never falls before 12 percent to the summit.
The steepest part of the climb is the so-called Cueña les Cabres with about 2km to go. At 23.5 percent, it’s not a switchback but more like straight run up a wall. There’s another 21 percent ramp in the final kilometer before the summit.
“I went to see in early August and it’s very, very hard. It’s one thing to say but it’s something else to climb it. It’s a brutal climb,” said Mosquera. “Like I’ve always said, it’s where you win or lose everything. If you have a half bad day on the Angliru, the minutes can fall off in chunks.”
The climb is so steep that most will ride with 34×28, with critics calling it more of a gimmick than a true road climb.
“It’s a mountain bike climb with road bikes,” said Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, who’s not racing in the Vuelta but lives near the climb. “I can see the Angliru from my house, but I’ve only climbed it once. It was on a bet when I was 16 and I made it up without touching the ground and I won 50 euros. I haven’t been up it since.”
For Sastre, the Vuelta won’t be decided on the Angliru, but rather on the climbing time trial at Navacerrada on the Vuelta’s penultimate stage.
“I climbed it in 2000, when I won the mountain jersey in the Vuelta. It’s a ‘media’ climb that few have actually climbed on their own. The fans see the ramps so excessive that they cannot help but push the cyclists,” Sastre said. “That year I made a pretty good time even though I remember if you climb out of the saddle the bike starts to slip. And the differences were minimal.”
Leipheimer remains an enigma so far in this Vuelta. He’s publicly vowed to help Contador, but he’s obviously riding to protect his interests. Even if Contador wins the Vuelta, Leipheimer is a very strong candidate to finish on the podium.
“I’ve never climbed the Angliru,” he said. “I don’t even want to think about it.”