With 1,200 meters to go on the Alto de l’Angliru, Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) attacked around a 20 percent switchback, put it in the big ring, and never looked back. Behind, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) was moving himself into the GC lead as red jersey wearer Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) struggled a few meters down the mountain. The Slovenian’s trusty domestique and American mountain goat, Sepp Kuss, stuck with his team leader as both men crawled towards the finish at 400w and 15kph.
Carthy flew towards the finish line with a healthy gap and plenty of time to celebrate, taking a career-altering win, and putting himself onto the GC podium. 16 seconds later, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) led the tiny chase group over the line, with Enric Mas (Movistar) rounding out the podium on the day, and Carapaz finishing moments later in fourth. Just around the corner was the group containing Kuss and Roglič, with just Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) for company. The trio crossed the line just ten seconds after Carapaz, putting Roglič in the driver’s seat of la Vuelta heading into Tuesday’s individual time trial where he is expected to take back a minute or more on his rivals.
Time will tell if Kuss saved Roglič’s Vuelta, sticking by his side as the Slovenian slowly began to crack. There is no place lonelier than a desolate l’Angliru, watching your rivals disappear up the road in front of you – Kuss was the hero of the day, sacrificing his chances at the stage win and crossing the line side-by-side with his team leader, Primož Roglič.
Less than 24 hours after what many deemed the queen stage of this year’s Vuelta, the peloton moved on to Stage 12 and the mythical ascent of the Alto de l’Angliru. At just 109.4km, stage 12 was going to be explosive from the off, and four categorized climbs before the l’Angliru only added more stoke to the fire.
The opening 33 kilometers were uncharacteristically flat, meaning that the fight for breakaway was quick and chaotic. I think Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) has been in a breakaway more than he’s been in the peloton during this Vuelta, and Sunday was no different – the Frenchman joined 20 other riders in the move of the day which solidified itself after 14km of racing. Also in the move were Tour de France stage winner Nans Peters (AG2R – La Mondiale), Luis León Sanchez (Astana Pro Team), Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH), Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Cameron Wurf (Ineos Grenadiers), Robert Stannard and Alexander Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott), Imanol Erviti (Movistar Team), and Enrico Gasparotto (NTT Pro Cycling), among others.
Jumbo-Visma controlled the pace in the peloton, never letting the break gain more than several minutes advantage. Sepp Kuss has been Roglič’s right-hand man in the mountains since the Tour de France, and even though he was saving himself for the final ascent, the American still did a load of work near the front as the peloton tackled the first two climbs of the day: the Alto del Padrún and the Alto de Santo Emiliano.
Kuss – first two hours of stage 18:
Avg power: 242w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 281w (4.6w/kg)
Average Speed: 42.9kph (26.7mph)
Alto del Padrún
Avg power: 342w (5.6w/kg)
Alto de Santo Emiliano
Avg power: 331w (5.4w/kg)
For these riders, 4w/kg is almost nothing. It’s their ‘all day pace’, something that they could hold for 6-7 hours without really trying. Jumbo-Visma increased the pace on the climbs just to keep the break in check, but still, 4-4.5w/kg is nothing difficult for these riders. 5w/kg for ten minutes is no big deal either. Most of the sprinters will survive this pace – but as the peloton hit 60km to go and the Alto de la Mozqueta, the attacks began.
David de la Cruz (UAE-Team Emirates) and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) leaped out of the peloton now being led by Movistar of the first category ascent of the Alto de la Mozqueta. Movistar’s move split the peloton into pieces and brought the breakaway’s gap down to less than two minutes by the time they crested the climb with 47km to go.
Kuss – Alto de la Mozqueta:
Avg power: 368w (6w/kg)
Avg Grade: 8.2 percent
After a slick and technical descent that saw Davide Formolo (UAE-Team Emirates) and Andrey Amador (Ineos Grenadiers) hit the deck, the peloton ripped across the valley towards the penultimate climb of the day, the category one Alto del Cordal. Movistar continued leading the peloton up the climb until Chris Froome (Ineos Grenadiers) accelerated less than a kilometer from the top with Carapaz on his wheel. Kuss and Jumbo-Visma immediately spotted the danger, closing the gap before the crest of the climb – The American even put in a 12+w/kg dig to lead over the top, and perhaps to sneak back a few points in the mountains classification.
Kuss – Alto del Cordal:
Avg power: 380w (6.2w/kg)
Avg Grade: 8.8 percent
Avg power: 403w (6.6w/kg)
Avg Grade: 11.9 percent
With the Alto de l’Angliru looming, this was a truly rapid ascent of the Alto del Cordal. Many were hoping to hold back before the infamous 24 percent slopes of l’Angliru, but Movistar and Ineos had other ideas.
There’s not much to say about the Alto de l’Angliru that hasn’t already been said: it’s the hardest climb in professional cycling, the steepest climb that you’ve ever seen, and the most painful thing you’ve ever done. The official climb is 13.2km with an average of 9.4 percent, but it is the second half that threatens to break the soul of anyone who attempts it – from Kilometer 6 to 12, the road averages over 13 percent with a maximum of 24 percent. Even the strongest bike riders in the world can find it hard to turn the pedals over at times.
Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) set a brutal pace at the bottom of the climb, ripping up the “easy” 5-7 percent slopes at over 22kph. Following the flat section at 7km to go, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) took over, increasing the pace again, and pulling until just 3.5km to go. All the while, Kuss and Roglič sat on the Danish rider’s wheel, saving more mental energy than physical since there’s not much of a drafting benefit at 15kph.
Kuss – Alto de l’Angliru “flatter” section:
Avg power: 382w (6.3w/kg)
Avg Grade: 7.6 percent
As Vingegaard pulled off, Enric Mas (Movistar) sprang a surprise attack from the back of the group, putting Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Roglič into difficulty. Even 30 minutes into a 6w/kg+ effort, Kuss is able to keep a level head, staying with Roglič and helping pace him back to the group as best he can.
In a slow-motion battle visible only via motorbike or helicopter, Vlasov, Carthy, and Carapaz crept across to Mas, while Roglič, Kuss, and Dan Martin were distanced. The lanky Brit took off with 1.4km to go – somehow shifting into the big ring after he rounded one of l’Angliru’s switchbacks – and Carthy was never seen again. Vlasov led the chasing group over the line, while Kuss continued to drive the pace for Roglič on the fast and technical downhill run-in to the finish. At the end of the day, Roglič lost just 10 seconds to Carapaz who reclaimed the red jersey ahead of Tuesday’s time trial.
Kuss’ performance on Stage 12 of the Vuelta a España was truly incredible, and with the way he looked on the slopes of the l’Angliru, he may have had even more left in the tank.
Kuss – Alto de l’Angliru (full ascent):
Avg power: 374w (6.1w/kg)
Avg Grade: 9.4 percent
Avg Speed: 17kph (10.6mph)
Steepest section of l’Angliru (6.4km at 13.3 percent):
Avg power: 378w (6.2w/kg)
Avg Speed: 13.5kph (8.4mph)
Avg Cadence: 79rpm
Sepp Kuss – Vuelta a España Stage 12: 6th (+0:26):
(Excluding neutral start)
Average Power: 293w (4.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 329w (5.4w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 410w (6.7w/kg)
Peak 45min Power: 374w (6.1w/kg)
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava.