Friday, 7 September 2012

La Vuelta: Bola Del Mundo - The Final Climb

Placed at the Sierra de Guadarrama, between the Spanish provinces of Madrid and Segovia lies the Bola del Mundo - one of the highest peaks in the region where it's summit lies at around 2,255 metres capped with the antennae of a weather station. This is the final climb of tomorrows stage 20 and the final climb of La Vuelta. Although it looked just days ago like this climb might decide the race with Alberto Contador hinting that this is where he would fight tooth and nail to take time out of Rodriguez, it looks like the race end might be a little more sedate now...

Vuelta Stage 20The race heads up four other categorised climbs before reaching the long incline up to the Bola del Mundo and an already weary field of riders will most likely be in tatters before this point. The stage profile marks this climb down at around 10km though the road starts to ramp up well before this point and is uphill for the best part of 20km's. It's the final section where things can become interesting - a 3km gravel road with gradients reaching 20% at the top. Its a steep finish that favours Joaquim Rodriguez and his burst of speed but the pace will start high and end high thanks to the Saxobank team and Alberto Contador who now has a two and a half minute cushion of Rodriguez - The real battle here could be between Rodriguez and Valverde as Joaquim fights to regain the second step on the podium. Rodriguez could try and surprise us all and really try to take the race to Contador here, but this is Contador's training ground - he lives an hours drive away and rides this climb regularly. He will recognise every twist and term, every ramp and plateau - beating him here will be difficult.

It certainly is a brutal climb but recent history suggests not brutal enough to create massive time-gaps, likely due to the steeper section only turning up in the final 3km's. Stage 20 of the Vuelta in 2010 ended here with a vicious battle for the overall between eventual winner Vincenzo Nibali and runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera and as you can see the time gaps were smaller than I would have expected - somebody would have to produce a miracle to take time out of Contador:

1 MOSQUERA MIGUEZ, Ezequiel (Xacobeo - Galicia) 4h 45' 28"
2 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas - Doimo) + 1"
3 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, Joaquin (Katusha) + 23"
4 SCHLECK, Fränk (Saxo Bank) + 35"
5 TONDO VOLPINI, Xavier (Cervélo Test Team) + 39"
6 ROCHE, Nicolas (Ag2r - La Mondiale) + 42"
7 NIEVE ITURRALDE, Mikel (Euskaltel - Euskadi) + 50"
8 VELITS, Peter (HTC - Columbia) + 52"
9 LE MEVEL, Christophe (Française des Jeux) + 55"
10 DI GREGORIO, Rémy (Française des Jeux) + 1' 00"

The climb will certainly make for an interesting final to this years Vuelta though I doubt it will produce the spectacle that the 20km Cuitu Nigru did on stage 16 as breakaway riders Cataldo and De Gendt ground almost to a halt as their bikes zig-zagged and weaved across the tarmac in the closing metres which rose to 22% - truly a rare sight even on the most severe climbs of recent memory. The footage told a real story of cycling and conveyed perfectly the physical trauma that cyclists go through just to compete at this level - if you haven't seen the footage you can catch it here. Of course in some ways its a shame that Contador took his chances earlier on stage 17 because this climb could have made for a really explosive finish which would have capped what has been the most exciting grand tour of the year but stage 17 in itself produced such a rare moment in racing and such a display of tactical brilliance that its adequate compensation, of course if the Vuelta has taught us anything though, its to expect the unexpected, so I can't totally rule out any fireworks just yet...

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