The Mirador de Ézaro climb, tackled this afternoon by the Vuelta a España for the first time in its history, is not just famous for being the lookout point with one of the best views in Galicia: it is also set to become one of the steepest roads that a Spanish bike race has ever tackled.
The Mirador de Ézaro is just 1.9 kilometres long in the official Vuelta route book, although local cyclists say it is actually slightly shorter, 1.6 kilometres, with an altitude difference of 250 metres in that distance. What nobody argues about is that with an average gradient of 13 percent and sections early on of at least up to 29 percent, at certain points this is even steeper, albeit much shorter, than the infamous Cueña les Cabres segment of the Angliru - a ‘mere’ 23.5 percent. And more than one rider, surely, will opt for walking, rather than riding up it.
“This climb has a segment of 300 metres which is more than tough, it’s impossible,” recounts Galician ex-pro Ezequiel Mosquera – who tested positive for hydroxyethyl starch at the 2010 Vuelta – in the Faro de Vigo newspaper. “The route book says that part is 25 percent max but people who know about climbs say it can be up to 30 percent depending on how you tackle the two bends of what is a real wall.”
Just to add to the fun, the road surface is cement and concrete, not tarmac. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.
Mosquera recounts that the first riders to tackle the climb were the CC Noia in the early 90s, using a 39x23 gear. However “most of them went up on foot - on foot and backwards, because it was impossible to go up walking forwards!”
The big favourite for today’s climb has to be Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), a specialist in these sorts of ascents. Purito is this year’s winner of Flèche Wallone as well as the uphill finish of Assisi in the Giro and the Fuerte de Rapitan ascent in the town of Jaca in the Vuelta. And that’s just this year.
“I have marked this stage with a cross in my route book,” Rodriguez warned, “and I would love to win here just I have done in climbs like Valdepeñas [de Jaén], El Escorial [both in 2011 – ed.] and Jaca [in 2012].”
It will be interesting to see whether Philippe Gilbert (BMC), another winner on the slopes of the Mur de Huy, can fend off Rodriguez add a second Vuelta stage to the one he took in Barcelona.
With Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) lying just one second behind Rodriguez, and 12, 8 and 4 seconds on offer as bonuses, the battle for more than just a stage win is in play. Were there no bonus seconds on offer, Contador would currently lead the Vuelta overall by 21 seconds from Chris Froome (Sky) - but as things stand, Rodriguez is in the top spot, and the big favourite to gain more time today.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.