Monday, May 27, 2024

La Vuelta a España – Day 3: Stage 13, San Vicente de la B. – Alto de L´Angliru


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Hola! It’s 15.10 Saturday and we’re two kilometres from the finishing line of the Angliru – it’s cold, nippy hand, freezy feet cold. It’s been glorious weather until now, but low cloud has descended and we’re a wee bit panicky about photography, albeit there’s around two hours ’til race time.

Davie had us up early, we got lost trying to exit Oviedo in the correct direction, but on the second pass we picked up the A630, hung a right to El Foz and in no time were drinking café con leche in a café at the foot of the Angliru.

The excitement starts to build as the road painters start their work…

Two Basque chaps spotted our creds and we have our invite to next year’s Classica San Sebastian.

The mega cheese roll I had for breakfast has worn off and I am now starving.

A 10 K walk up the Angliru does stimulate the appetite, somewhat.

We’re at the hairpins just before the two kilometres to go banner. The straight into these hairpins has to be seen to be believed. It slices diagonally across the cliff face and is hard to walk up, never mind race.

You’ve gotta be organised for a day on the mountain.

Even the mountain bikers on their ‘crawler’ gears are struggling – 23%? at least, it’s mad. The 34 x 28 & 29 ratios make sense when you see the climb; big guys will struggle, no question. I think I said on Pez that the other factor which makes it still harder is the continually changing gradient – it’s steep all the way, but ranges from just steep to crazy steep, a very hard climb to find a rhthym on.

There’s only one flat stretch in the 12.5 kilometres; like I’ve said, there are longer and higher clmbs, but none that I’ve seen, get the job done as quickly. As the crow flies, it’s only a few kilometres to La Riosa, which is still clearly visible – or it would be, if the clouds lifted.

We passed a couple of food stalls on the way up, but hungry as I am, I don’t think I’d be up for the “pulpo” – boiled octopus! One of those barbecued slabs of cow they had, sounds good, though.

The temperature is coming and going with the clouds here, from mild to freezing – like it is now.

These calm folk are the nutters you saw later on telly.

[To use that old Ed Hood journalistic device – fast forward to Monday! The mountain stages on Saturday and Sunday were hectic and there just wasn’t time for updating the site.]

It became so cold up on the Angliru that I couldn’t use the BlackBerry, my fingers were dropping off.

Contador was mightily impressive, he’s not one of the world’s great stylists, but he’s good to watch.

The Guarda did a good job of protecting the riders though.

The field was spread over some 27 minutes; Nicolas Roche would tell us later that the fight for position – to be at the front for the start of the Angliru – started on the second last climb.

Bettini minds his own pace strategy.

But as Tom Boonen said on Monday, the gears that are used are so small that it’s hard to prize open big time gaps.

Tommeke grinds out his bottom gear.

There was a lot of pushing getting done, but not many penalties dished out. If it was the Tour, there would have been dozens of fines and maybe even riders going home.

There was a lot of this going on.

Davie got excited and pushed an AG2R guy all the way to the next hairpin.

I had visions of our credentials being confiscated – but it’s the Vuelta and no one gets too upset about anything.

…and this!

A communique had gone out to the effect that riders should not pedal back down the hill, but go in team cars.

The riders didn’t seem to mind for once.

If you’ve read my despatches from the Giro and Tour you’ll have seen my rants about how dangerous it is after mountain stages, with late finishing riders struggling up against a tidal wave of fans and the early finishers riding back down the mountain through the middle of it all.

A few riders felt it was faster (certainly not safer) to ride back down.

Most riders stuck to the rules and settled for the team cars, but a few Tinkoffs and Milrams – including Zabel – swooped and weaved through the throng.

They would certainly have reached the buses much more quickly than they would have done, sitting in the traffic jams.

The trudge back down the mountain, with lots of amazing memories.

We joined the exodus off the mountain and began to walk; after four kilometres of descending, I was struggling – my legs were like jelly.

I’d been keeping a weather eye for one of the press mini buses which had taken journos up the climb at 2.00 pm and would take them off after the stage.

The first mini bus I laid eyes on, I flagged down – if you’ve read Pez, you’ll know it was the sag wagon. Alex, the Dutch driver was sound though, and we chatted to him all the way down.

We were last out of the press room, at 10.00 pm and someone had nicked our ‘press’ sticker off the car – but it was a day-and-a-half, so no complaints.