Today’s stage is all about the finish to the Lagos de Covadonga. The Vuelta has used this climb 17 times before making this finish the equivalent of the Tour de France’s Alpe d’Huez only it’s a far more irregular climb where the constant variations in gradient will help to prise apart the overall contenders.
The Route: the race speeds over the Puerto de Pajares and then a long descent awaits – riders will climb back up this on Monday – and the race rumbles across the Asturias region, heading north to the coast and then passing over the Mirador del Fito, the Fito lookout. It’s 6.8km long at 8.3% but in fact most of the road is over 10%. It’s hard but not the place to attack as a descent and then 15km on the flat await, tricky terrain to stay away.
The Finish: the final climb of the stage. It’s 13.5km at 7% which sounds ok but as the profile shows the slope keeps changing, especially near the top. Riders who get away near the top can turn the power on for the descents whilst everyone else is floundering, gasping for air and struggling with the change in pace. As they French say, il va falloir jouer du dérailleur, roughly “you need to work the gears today”. Note it tops out at less than 1200m above sea level so altitude is not a problem, big attacks are possible.
The Scenario: it’s hard to see a breakaway staying away as several teams will want to set up their riders. Yesterday’s stage saw the bunch control the escapes and it could be repeated, especially as the wide flat (well, relatively flat) roads suit the bunch better than any fugitives.
Joaquim Rodriguez seems to be in control. His position as race leader means the others must attack but he seems happy to monitor any moves from Valverde or Contador and then stuff them in the final 500 metres where he wins a few seconds and takes the time bonus. In some ways it’s out of Team Sky’s racing-by-numbers handbook yet it is visually more exciting because it relies on letting others attack and explode rather than pacing.
By contrast the Froome-dog looks to be frothing at the mouth, he was dropped yesterday, came back and immediately attacked. Only he ended up with his tail between his legs after he was soon caught, dropped and lost time to Rodriguez, Contador and Valverde whilst Andrew “Pitbull” Talansky was impressive. Several riders still have the fight but it looks like we’re seeing riders scrap for the podium.
Weather: a cool 20°C (68°F) with a light breeze from the north-east.
TV: a change as coverage is from 3.00-6.00pm Euro time, an hour earlier although some channels will start at 4.00pm as usual. Tune in for the 90 minutes if you want to watch the Mirador del Fito climb or from about 5.00pm for the final climb to the lakes.
Covadonga: the Wikipedia entry for Covadonga says the name comes from the Latin Cova Dominica, “Cavern of the Lady” but the Arabic is more appropriate, صخرة بلاي Ṣakhrat Bilāy or “the rock of the affliction or of the putting to the test” because of the test awaiting the riders today.
In 722 AD, Iberian Christians won a namesake battle over the Moors in Covadonga. This was the first significant Christian victory over the occupying Moors and is often considered to be the start of the 770-year effort to expel the Moors from Iberia, the Reconquista. Our Lady of Covadonga is a significant Marian shrine. The Spanish Army has, over the years, named several of its units “Covadonga”.
In short this isn’t just a climb famous because a bike race goes up it.
Repeat edition: don’t forget that if today’s stage is big, tomorrow is even bigger.
Local Rider: embarrassingly it’s Carlos Barredo. The Rabobank rider is currently inactive after the UCI started asking questions about his blood values. He won the stage last year when the race visited but he’s out for now. A timely reminder that suspicion doesn’t just belong to the past.