|Alto de L'Angliru|
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"What do they want? Blood? They ask us to stay clean and avoid doping and then they make the riders tackle this kind of barbarity." (Vicente Belda)
Stage 15 is the one the riders have been dreading. The reason? Alto de L'Angliru. The stuff of nightmares, perhaps the most demanding climb in professional cycling.
Angliru starts off relatively easy - the average gradient on the first 5km is 7.6%, enough to hurt but well within the realms of rideable for a professional. The sixth kilometre is easy, flattening for a while and even descending for a short way. From then on, it gets tough. Very tough. The average gradient for the last 6km is 13.1%, beginning to stretch the boundaries of what can be done - but, as if that wasn't harsh enough, there's the Cueña les Cabres 3km from the top with a gradient of 23.8%.
In the past, this climb has seen riders forced to ride to the summit with flat tyres after team cars stalled and were unable to follow them up. The mountain has not taken life, like Ventoux which inspired its inclusion in the race, but it could one day prove capable of doing so.
|Centro Cultural Internacional Oscar Niemeyer, Avilés|
|The port, source of much of the city's wealth|
|Calle Galliana, some of the Renaissance buildings dating from|
redevelopment after the 1479 fire.
The neutral zone begins at the Niemeyer Centre, a superb modernist complex housing assorted cultural institutions, then travel south-east and around a right corner to the Puente Azud. W reach a junction between the road we're on, the Av. Marqués de Suances and the Av. de Cervantes, turning right once again to take the latter road. The directions, as is often the case with the Vuelta road book, require a little interpretation at this time, for they list the next section as being the Calle de La Cámara - the trouble being that the Av. de Cervantes and C. de La Cámara do not at any point meet one another. The two most obvious connecting routes are to turn right onto the C. de la Marques and then left onto the C. del Rivero before a short section of the C. de San Francisco leads to the C. de La Cámara; or - probably the better and more likely route - continue along the Av. de Cervantes, right onto the C. Galliana and then either the C. de San Francisco or C. de Alfonso VII. Fortunately for the riders, crowd barriers and race organisers will be marking the route.
The peloton follows the C. de La Cámara all the way to its northern end before turning right to join the C, Pruneda and then left at the roundabout by the river for the Av. de Ludo, also known as the N-632, which carries on long and straight before turning west and reaching the end of the neutral zone after 3.8km. They soon come to a roundabout, taking the third exit past the salt works and onward to Piedras Blancas where they follow the road to the right, along the Av. de Eysines and onto the Av. de Galicia leading south-west towards Vegarrozadas. The route passes straight through the roundabout just outside the village, underneath the A-8 motorway and past a filling station then reaches a sweeping S-bend at Carcedo, from where there are good - if not particularly beautiful - views to the motorway viaduct carrying traffic far above the landscape. We pass under two more fly-overs either side of Folgueras, the the road turns west.
|The bridge into Muros de Nalon|
|Santianes de Pravia|
Having passed east of a forest, the route bypasses Forcinas and the road follows the banks of the Rio Narcea for a short while then travels under another fly-over and through a 200m tunnel to Veganas and Villanueva. After Palla, it follows the river again to Corias and Repolles, coming to a stretch of river by San Justo with higher ground either side - a very beautiful stretch of the race. It crosses the river south of Luerces and then, 40.3km from the start, reaches a roundabout near Cornellana. The riders turn left and climb 70m through the forest towards Villar, missing the turn-off into the village to continue on the N-634 east. The road isn't difficult, but does climb gradually; hitting 360m at Cabrunana. The stage's first intermediate sprint takes place on the gentle descent beyond the village. There is one hairpin and a roundabout - straight across, left and right routes are equal - just before Grado, but it's otherwise quite a non-technical section.
|Penaflor from the air.|
More villages pass by, starting with Trubia. The feeding station is at San Andres, 71.5km from the start. The following section could prove hazardous - it's obvious now that we're heading back into the mountains because while the slopes along the sides of the road are not high, they're very steep and have rocky outcrops among the forest. This means that during and after heavy rain mud, leaves, thorns and stones wash down the slopes onto the road, leaving it slippery for a while and covered in assorted bits and pieces able to cause punctures - both things very capable of causing crashes. Tunon comes shortly after a 0.2km tunnel, then the parcours turns left onto the AS-360 0.3km before Villanueva. The first categorised climb, Cat 2 Alto de Tenebredo, starts at this point.
|High in the hills, Comenteros |
(from Grupo de Montana Ramon Mercader/Radio QK)
Once past Argame and Morcin, we enter a section featuring a series of unlit tunnels in quick sucession, one of the most hated of all hazards among cyclists. The first and second, 95km from the start, are 150m long; the third is 200m; the fourth 110m and the fifth 105m - expect the riders to be in filthy moods.
|Palacio de Arriba, Mieres.|
Mieres grew around coal mining and the steel industry - the former now declining and employing a far smaller percentage of the population than it once did, the latter having all but vanished by the end of the 1970s. However, its history is much longer - there are several prehistoric forts nearby and the Romans found a town here when they arrived, but how important a town it was under their rule is unknown because with the declining industry there are insufficient funds available to finance archaeological research. It appears, meanwhile, to have been a small and little-known place throughout the Middle Ages; an irregular inclusion in documents until the 19th Century. Unsurprisingly, with a large population of labourers and mine workers, it became a stronghold of leftist politics during the Civil War, though workers' organisations took on a more Stalinist flavour here than in most other Spanish towns who tended overall to favour anarchistic thought. Anti-Falange activity, including guerilla attacks, continued even after Franco's regime held power.
|From decaying eyesore to fine hotel: the Palacio de Figaredo|
To the south of Figaredo the peloton reaches a complex interchange with the A-66, the main route into Mieres and thus once again subject to diesel spills, turning right crossing the bridge over the river to the southern tip of Las Vegas and then left to continue south. Presently, we reach Villallana, then La Vega and after 1.5km to a junction with the AS-231 where we turn right into a short tunnel under the railway and begin the Cat 1 Alto del Cordal climb which will see the peoloton ascend 510m in 5.3km. The first village on the climb is Munon Fondero which comes just before a 90 degree right bend into forest with an even tighter left into La Cuquera de Abajo. Two more 90 degree bends, one right and one left, lead into La Maderada and through more forest to a mining facility. At this point, the race encounters a series of four tight hairpin bends rising through 69m - the second looks to be the most technical, turning through more than 180 degrees. Four 90 degree bends then lead up to a junction with a road to the left, but the route passes by around another 90 degree right and almost immediately another turning left - the highest point, 790m above sea level, is halfway between the two.
|Cuena les Cabres|
The race proceeds up the wide valley, past the junctions with the RI-3 and RI-4 and around a wide and easy hairpin, then through two 90 degree rights - the first wide and sweeping, the second much tighter. There are two junctions for the RI-5 and the road book is once again a little unclear; however, there is little difference between either as the distance is much the same and they both lead to Viapara. We'll hope the travel past the first one and through Grandiella, meanwhile, because it's a very pretty little village with its low stone houses and narrow streets. From now on, we're on the final stretch, at the bottom of the mountain.
The road climbs gently, then descends for a short while until we turn 90 degrees left and head south, reaching 800m between two gentle left hand bends, then three hairpins in 0.6km take us up another 50m. A fourth hairpin a short way ahead brings us to 900m, then the terrain flattens out enough for the next 100m to be climbed along a long and straight road. At the end of the section is a very tight hairpin, turning through around 170 degrees before turning slightly left, at which point the parcours straightens out again to allow the next 150m to be climbed without bends.
|Climbing Angliru (from Cozy Beehive)|
|Alto de l'Angliru profile|
Predictions: No sprinter, breakaway expert, puncheur or all-rounder can win this stage - with a mountain like Angliru looming over today's race like some vast, threatening presence it can only be the strongest of the climbers. The question is, who is that? We think that Rodriguez is the only candidate this year, though had the Schlecks and Contador been in the race we'd have seen an epic battle. However, nobody really wins a stage like this one - someone will be the first across the finish line, but Angliru will take more from them than they'll receive in return. Wiggins, having recently emerged as a handy climber, will stand a good chance of holding onto the red jersey or, if he loses it, at least leave himself a reasonable opportunity to win it back in the coming days.
Weather: Temperatures remain pleasantly cool again, ranging from highs of 19C down to 15C on the smaller mountains. Angliru will be chillier due to altitude, dropping as low as 10C. Skies will be overcast all the way but no rain is expected. The first 120km will experience changeable winds, varying between light crosswinds and tailwinds - we may see echelons on the flatter sections. Towards the end, as the race approaches Alto del Cordal, things change - as though that last killer climb isn't enough, the riders will fight headwinds all the way from here to the summit of Angliru. As if it wasn't hard enough!
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More information on Angliru: click here
Angliru '08 (best watched with sound turned down to avoid the dreadful Eurohouse music)
Angliru '08 #2 (same again re. the music)
Descent of the Cuena les Cabres (on motorbikes)