Tuesday, April 16, 2024

La Vuelta a España 2012 – Stage 20: Faisanera Golf – Bola del Mundo 170.7 km


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Bola del Mundo

We’re on the Bola Del Mundo. The rain stings past the entrance to the ski lift at 45 degrees and tries its damnedest to puncture the metal sheets on the roof; thunder roars in and echoes around the concrete walls, lightning sparks across the dark sky, the air temperature has dropped from a pleasant Spanish summer’s afternoon to January on Porty Prom.

Welcome to the Bola del Mundo; they say it’s the toughest climb in European cycling – we believe it.

We’ve been up to Covadonga a time or two and the Angliru, plus most of the Giro and Tour ‘biggies.’

But this is evil.

Bola Del Mundo
The statue of the walker looks up at the Bola summit. Photo©Martin Williamson
Bola Del Mundo
The Bola Del Mundo hoists upwards. Photo©Martin Williamson

The name means ‘ball of the world’ – derived from the perfect radius on one side of the summit which does look a bit like part of a ball.

But Al Hamilton has another explanation;

“It seems the ‘Bola del Mundo’ comes from TVE, the national Spanish TV station.

“As you know there are lots of TV ariels on the summit and the logo of TVE is a ball (the globe) with transmissions coming from it.

“So it’s named for the TV.”

You chose!

Bola Del Mundo
We took the lift to the top rather than trudge the 3km. Photo©Martin Williamson

There are a number of factors which make it savage; it’s located at the top of a fast mountain pass; parts are insanely steep and it’s more than three kilometres long.

The view to the bottom of the Bola, from the chairlift.
The view to the bottom of the Bola, from the chairlift. Photo©Martin Williamson

But the biggest factor is the surface – on the mountain bike I’ve ridden many a farmer’s ‘home made’ concrete access road to his fields which has a better surface.

The smooth ‘skin’ on top is long gone and rough gravel pokes up to wreak havoc on tubular tyres at high pressures.

Bola Del Mundo
The surface is really sketchy, really slippy, and it’s starting to rain… Photo©Martin Williamson

I know that many folks don’t agree with me, but I have my reservations about these crazy climbs – it’s a thin line between ‘spectacle’ and ‘circus.’

Bola del Mundo
The Bola Bar. Photo©Martin Williamson

We were thinking that if the storm didn’t ease and the riders had to tackle the Bola in the wet, it would gruesome.

It’s hard to overstate how nasty a climb this is and how bad the surface is – trying to get grip on that wet concrete would have been impossible on some sections.

Bola Del Mundo
Eurosport’s Laura Meseguer. Photo©Martin Williamson

But fortunately – for our health and photography as well as the riders – the storm passed, the roads was dry and the sun shone.

Bola Del Mundo
The TV engineers get their boosters ready for transmission. Photo©Martin Williamson

The climb is only one hour from Madrid but the crowds on the approach climb to the Bola – the Puerto de Navacerrada – are nothing like you’d see at the Giro or Tour.

Bola del Mundo
Navacerrada, near Cercedilla. Photo©Martin Williamson

The ‘camper van culture’ isn’t really there and the road is shut early so it’s a long grind on foot or on the bike.

Bola Del Mundo
Most of the fans cycled or walked the 8 km up to the Bola climb, and for many, despite the MTB gearing, it was too steep to ride. Photo©Martin Williamson

When we were stopped at the road block which comes not far from the start of the climb, we talked our way through because we had a race road book – courtesy a friendly race truck driver we’d met – and press cards.

But none of the cars getting sent back down the climb which they’d just driven up, had either – my suspicion is that most would just go home.

Bola Del Mundo
The fans are out to make their mark. Photo©Martin Williamson

We headed upwards and onwards, though – with no campers on the climb and not another vehicle to bother us.

At the top the logistics were good – press room, accreditation, café and ski lift up the Bola were all right there within metres of each other.

Bola Del Mundo
It’s an amazing place to bring a bike race. Photo©Martin Williamson

We went up on the ski lift twice – the first time just to get the lay of the land, the second to watch the show.

Our second accension came after we’d watched the peloton pass the bottom of the Bola, on their way to the Cercedilla loop – around 40 K – which they described and then came back to the Bola from the opposite direction.

Bola Del Mundo
Simon made the break and got enough points to make sure of the KoM title. Photo©Martin Williamson

The breakaway we saw leading on the first pass, by around six minutes had survived and from it, Menchov and Porte had attacked.

Bola Del Mundo
Degenkolb was distanced but had a few teammates with him. Photo©Martin Williamson

Best leave it to the man who was third on the day to explain, here’s what QuickStep’s Kevin De Weert had to say;

‘When two riders attacked at the bottom of the climb, I was on their wheel and followed immediately. Menchov also arrived, and attacked. I followed him, but the tempo was a little bit too high for me.

“Still, I stayed on the wheel of Porte and Menchov to try and recover, but it’s not so easy to recover on such difficult percentages of the climb. In the last two or three K I lost contact because they went just a little bit too fast.

“I tried to keep up my tempo and climb with my pace. You never know, maybe you can return or maybe they will be busy looking at each other and you can return.

“I knew this climb pretty well, I did it already in 2010. I was hoping they’d lose some time on the climb, as you can lose your tempo on a climb like that in a moment. But they kept going good.

“I did my best and I am happy about my performance.”

It was a good ride, no question – but not as good as Menchov’s.

The Russian – who’s just ‘passed’ on Worlds selection – was too strong and clever for Porte at the top.

When they passed us, Porte was trying to get Menchov to come trough, but Menchov was having none of it, retaining his position of surprise until it was time to attack and win.

Bola Del Mundo
The first two pass Martin inside the last Km on the Bola. Photo©Ed Hood
Bola Del Mundo
Porte was forced to lead Menchov round the final right-hand bend. Photo©Martin Williamson

Despite Rodriguez succumbing to Contador’s ambush, it’s been a great Vuelta for Katusha; ‘Purito’ spent 13 – unlucky for some – days in red and won three stages, with Menchov making it four stages in total for the Russian team.

Porte was obviously given his freedom by Sky; it’s apparent that Froome has learned the hard way – as Contador did last year – that back to back to Grand Tours ridden to win, aren’t feasible in modern cycling.

Bola Del Mundo
Rodriguez attacked a couple of times and distanced Contdor, but not by much. Photo©Ed Hood