To the surprise of absolutely no cycling fan, a bike race in Spain has found a new brutally savage climb to force the riders up, and unsurprisingly it destroyed the race.
Stage three of the Itzulia Basque Country finished at the HIKA Bodega, just 20km from San Sebastian. To arrive at the vineyard which overlooks rolling green hills and mountains, the riders had to ascend a final 300m climb that consistently had gradients above 25%. At one point, my Wahoo showed a mindboggling 32.1%.
The Spanish call this type of a climb a muro – wall – and beaten riders were in agreement upon reaching the summit.
“That last climb was very, very, very steep,” opined stage winner and new race leader Jonas Vingegaard. “I think it was incredible. Super steep. What a finish.”
Increíble lo que le pasó a Sergio Higuita 🇨🇴🚵 en #Itzulia2023, un hombre atravesado con una bicicleta en la estrecha escalada final lo hizo tropezar, cuando se preparaba para atacar, chocando otros corredores como Richard Carapaz. Absurdo.pic.twitter.com/e7VVGtDOxzApril 5, 2023
To the delight of the thousands of fans clad in orange t-shirts who lined the ascent, Spaniards Mikel Landa and Enric Mas were second and third, respectively. The latter puffed his cheeks out when asked for his opinion of the finish. “I knew it would be hard, and it was. It was spectacular. What a beautiful climb,” he said.
The leading trio were the lucky ones. Behind them there was carnage. When Sergio Higuita of Bora-hansgrohe tried to sneak up on the right at the bottom of the climb, he veered into the barriers and then knocked into Trek-Segafredo’s Juanpe López. Both had to walk for a period and riders were held up.
“I wouldn’t say I did race up it, to be honest,” laughed Soudal-QuickStep’s James Knox. “Many of the riders who had gotten there before me turned onto the climb and there were bodies on the floor. I don’t know what happened exactly but people were crawling up.”
Knox had jumped off the front of the peloton in the final 20km in an attempt to spring a surprise, but he was caught before the final scramble. “You probably needed 30 seconds [advantage] for the last steep bit, and probably 45 seconds from the bottom [of the climb that begins much easier 700m earlier].”
Esteban Chaves of EF Education-EasyPost was also part of the late attack, and once he caught his breath, he smiled his typical smile. “It was brutal,” was his assessment of the climb. “Hard. But we love this. This is typical Basque Country, and I love this part of the country and this race.”
I climbed up it a few hours before the finish, dressed in jean shorts and flat Adidas shoes. I battled, my chain skipped and jumped (I’m not a very good bike mechanic), but I did not fall off unlike some of the professional riders after me. But then I did take twice as long as Vingegaard took to get from bottom to the top of hell.
Taking all the above into account, we can therefore expect that the Vuelta a España, the Grand Tour that is addicted to hellish muros, will visit as soon as it can.
Javier Guillén, the Vuelta’s race director, is probably on the phone to the vineyard as I type.