The Spin: Vuelta Stage 20

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Ahead of tomorrow’s procession into Madrid this is the last real day of racing and it’s a giant day with several big mountain passes coming before the steep climb to the highest point of the 2012 Vuelta. If there’s still any uncertainty about the winner of the race, it will all be settled later today.

The Route: the start and finish are not far apart but the race instead heads out for a long loop to add in more climbs.

  • Puerto de Navafría: 10.1, 5.6%
  • Puerto de Canencia: 9.8km, 3.9%
  • Puerto de la Morcuera: 9.2km, 6.9%
  • Puerto de Cotos: 13.8, 4.9%

The Finish: the final climb is 11.4km at 8.6% but it gets steeper and steeper as the race progresses, moving to a rough surface on what is little more than a forestry access road to the  and 20% sections within the final 3km.

Note the high altitude. Ascending is gradual but as a rough rule, once above 1800m oxygen debt comes with a high interest rate that even the best struggle to repay. Attack and you can crack.

The mountains jersey will be settled today. Australia’s Simon Clarke leads the competition but by two points on Rodriguez. A special prize, the Cima Alberto Fernandez is awarded today as the finish is the highest mountain in the race and there are more mountain points than usual available on the line today.

The Scenario: everything points to a coronation for Alberto Contador although this is no victory lap. Having been done over by Contador and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff, can Joaquim Rodriguez get revenge? He can try but I think he is still better suited to the short, sharp climbs or a searing acceleration in the final moments of a race as opposed to a long range raid, he could content himself with another stage win today. Indeed we could see Rodriguez instead thinking about a plan to unseat Alejandro Valverde’s second place – mountain sherpa Nairo Quintana fell hard in a crash yesterday – but again, this would be difficult. It’s quite possible Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez camp on their overall positions, they have such an advantage on the others that they can afford to mark each other.

Instead there are still places in the top-10 to settle and if the TV cameras might not pick up the action between the likeable Laurens Ten Dam or Andrew Talansky then don’t ignore the fight. A high finish is important in sporting terms but remember 8th place overall lands as many UCI points as a podium spot in a classic like the Amstel Gold Race.

Weather: warm and sunny with temperatures of 26° (75°F) in the valleys.

TV: video from 3.30pm Euro time, and possibly earlier. Don’t miss the final hour to see the action on the final climb. Even if the action is in the final 30 minutes it comes after a gradual process of attrition.

Local Rider: Alberto Contador. Ok, he’s not from the foot of the Bola del Mundo but the mountains are in the Madrid region and it is here that Contador trains a lot. He knows the climb well and can count on plenty of regional support. Spanish cycling seems to sit midway between France and Italy when it comes to regional support, with the Italians being very attached to their region – even the pro teams have a regional take – whilst the French can be attached to local riders, everyone is still celebrated.

Bola what? Bola del Mundo means a globe and the mountain is strictly known as the Alto de las Guarramillas.

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{ 9 comments }

NaturalBornHolmer September 8, 2012 at 7:41 am

According to extreme climbs in the three Grand Tours this year, the Vuelta and Giro is far more interesting than the Tour. Wonder what the organizers can can find of obscure roads to punish the riders with next year! Ugh.

Ankush September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

Another day in the pain cave for the riders which makes for a great spectacle, eh. I hope Purito robs Valverde of the 2nd spot today, we shall see. Alberto for the win.

Bundle September 8, 2012 at 9:52 am

The classic “Puertos of Madrid” stage, nowadays finishing atop a surfaced ski slope. Another defunct Spanish one-day race (“La Vuelta a los Puertos”, this one a true classic, dating back to 1920) used to cross these very mountain passes, a race not unlike Lombardia. (How many “mountain classics” are there left in the calendar? Classique des Alpes is also no longer around…)
It was a good race, and maybe it’ll be back on its feet when the crisis is over, and after the whole area was declared a National Park only yesterday.
I don’t like, though, the way climbs have been categorised. Navafría north is only 2nd, and so is Cotos since it was tarmacked (it used to be cobbled in its integrity, now that was fun, but it is not steep, although it does feel long after the Morcuera). Why inflate them?
One of the hotbeds of Spanish cycling, this mountain range also hosts the yearly “Perico Delgado” cyclosportive event, using exactly the climbs featured today (except the infamous ski slope).
I think Contador will jump away right where the Puerto de Navacerrada ends and the Bola del Mundo proper begins (where the tarmac becomes a rotten concrete track and the chairlift begins). He surely knows the bend with the big hole in the surface, right before the crazy gradients begin. That’s where I’ll be expecting his attack.

Bundle September 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

Don’t know if it’s true, but I have heard that Froome (and Augustyn)’s first training camp in Europe was indeed at the Puerto de Navacerrada, so he must know the roads pretty well too.

bluesky September 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

giro,vuelta, le tour………. and le tour is a very poor third i have to say………..

jonathan b September 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Agree, but next year’s TdeF (if everyone is more careful about their choice of meats) should be a proper three week dust-up…

Larry T. September 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Wanna bet? We’re due for something interesting but LeTour seems to be too often the race “not to lose” rather than the one to win. I have no reason to think 2013 will be different. In my feeble memory the last interesting one was the BigTex vs Il Pistolero Tour, when they were on the same team..but that was more about the polemics than exciting RACING action.

Vera September 8, 2012 at 11:48 pm

My best guess for the 2013 Tour is that there won’t be three time trials.

PJJ September 9, 2012 at 5:26 am

Come on guys, Le Tour is always Le Tour. Quality of racing is subsidized by grandeur, and besides I think this year was a wee bit off an anomaly. As far as I can see, Froome is cooked. Rodriguez was beaten by Hejesdal. Contador, (Is it right his surname means accountant, or was that episode of Archer misleading?) although impressive in parts is assailable. If you want to be negative, the problem isn’t the tour per se, but the calculations, as Sean Kelly would say, being too predictably calculable.

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