|Alto de l'Angliru (from here)|
"It's bollocks, this race! You're working like an animal, you don't have time to piss, you wet your pants. You're riding in mud like this, you're slipping ... it’s a pile of shit." (Theo de Rooij on Paris-Roubaix)
"His body heaved at the pedals, like an automaton, on two wheels. He wasn't going fast but he was at least moving. I trotted alongside him and asked 'Who are you? What's going on? Where are the others?' Bent over his handlebars, his eyes riveted on the road, the man never turned his head nor uttered one sole word. He continued and disappeared round a turn. Steinès had read his number and consulted the riders' list. Steinès was dumfounded. 'The man is François Lafourcade, a nobody. He has caught and passed all the cracks' ... Another quarter-hour passed before the second rider appeared, whom we immediately recognised as Octave Lapize. Unlike Lafourcade, Lapize was walking, half leaning on, half pushing his machine. But unlike his predecessor, Lapize spoke, and in abundance. 'You are assassins, yes, assassins!' To discuss matters with a man in this condition would have been cruel and stupid."
The cruelty among cycling's fans is unique, too. Is there any other sport in which the crowds are most excited and happy not when their heroes have won and are being showered in glory, but on the grinding ascent of a mountain such as the Alpe d'Huez when they're at their lowest ebb, in pain and exhausted? This is a sport in which the fans want to see their idols suffer.
When the Tour goes up Alpe d'Huez, it's a squalid, manic and sometimes lethal shambles, and that's just the way they like it. It's the Glastonbury Festival for cycling fans. (Tim Moore)
RCS Sport, the organisers of the Giro d'Italia, understand this. Wanting to attract new interest in their race and, perhaps, sick of perpetually playing second fiddle to their big French cousin, they included the Mortirolo Pass for the first time in 1990. There are three routes up Mortirolo, the hardest being the road from Mazzo di Valtellina - a 12.4km climb of 1300m which at one point hits a gradient of 18%.
At that time, there was no road over the summit; merely a rough track known only to local shepherds and a few of the hardier hikers who visited the beautiful region. This made it unsuitable for inclusion in the race. However, the Ayuntamiento de Riosa (Riosa municipal council) made the decision to pave the road, bringing the Vuelta to the area and - with a bit of luck - tourists in its wake. It was featured for the first time in 1999 when the great El Chava José Maria Jimenez Sastre, brother of Tour winner Carlos, achieved one of the most legendary stage wins in cycling as he emerged out of thick fog at the summit. Four years later, he was dead, having suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 33 - leaving many wondering if this was caused by the sheer stress placed upon the hearts of climbing specialists.
The climb is 13.1km long and ascends through 1255m. The initial 5km are not especially challenging, with a low average gradient rising to 9.1% at the steepest - hard work for sprinters and mere mortals, but not an ordeal by the standards of professional grimpeurs. A flat section, with an average of just 2.1%, separates this lower section from the heights - where it becomes much, much more difficult. Once into the final 6km, the road enters Las Curvas de Les Cabanes with a 22% gradient over 0.15km, before becoming less steep for a short distance. Next up, La Curva Los Picones hits 20%, followed by La Curva Cobayos at 21.5%.
On average, a professional mountain specialist cyclist will take around two hours to climb Angliru. It is, without doubt, the most challenging climb in any of the Grand Tours; surpassing anything offered by the Tour, trumping the Giro's Mortirolo (maximum gradient a paltry 18%) and even the Zoncolan, introduced by RCS Sport specifically as a response to this mountain.
"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, Team Kelme manager)