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LOGRONO, Spain (VN) — Every few years, the Vuelta a España pulls something new out of its bag of tricks.
In 1999, it was the Anglirú. Next came Bola del Mundo, and then the Mirador de Ézaro. This year? Los Machucos. A short, but punishingly steep climb featured in Wednesday’s stage 17.
The big hitters know it will be a decisive day as the Vuelta turns into its final four hard days of racing.
“Los Machucos, yes, that will be a hard one. It’s not as long as the Anglirú, but the gradients are right up there,” said race leader Chris Froome (Sky). “Tomorrow is going to be absolutely brutal. From what I can see, it’s a wall. It will be a big GC battle.”
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Los Machucos isn’t long — 7.2km at 8.7 percent — but what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in punch.
The road winds up narrow, uneven asphalt, with brutally steep ramps that staircase up the side of the limestone ridge.
Riders will turn directly into a wall at the base of the climb, with the first kilometer hitting sections as steep as 26 percent. The next staircase hits a 25-percent sector. After a second false flat, it grinds up an unforgiving 3km stretch averaging over 10 percent.
The climb peaks with about 1km to go, and ends with a short downhill then a flat run to the line. Anyone who clears the final summit with a gap could take important gains.
“Tomorrow is going to be very complicated,” said Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). “For the difficulty of the climbs and for the ramps that it has. And especially coming after the time trial, you never know how the legs respond.”
Froome now has his eye on Miguel Ángel López (Astana). The Colombian has emerged as the strongest climber of this Vuelta, with two stage victories and a second place in the Vuelta’s second week.
López, still sixth but now more than five minutes back, is hoping to keep the pressure on as the road turns back to his favor.
“I feel good going into the final week,” said López, who admitted he doesn’t know the Machucos climb. “It’s more about having good legs than knowing the climb.”
Positioning on the approach to the base of the climb will be critical. Expect a dogfight to have the leaders at the front. On ramps this steep, one slip of the gears or bad positioning can mean stepping out of the pedals, and losing time.
On ramps so steep, however, even the most aggressive climber can only go so fast. It’s not so much about gaining time off the front, but avoiding implosion, and bleeding time off the back.
The Spanish media are certainly doing their bit to hype up the climb. An ogre. Terrible and inhumane. A colossus. Just as the Vuelta should be.