Six years ago, it was the time loss on the Alto de l'Angliru that ultimately undid Chris Froome's hopes of winning the Vuelta a Espana, a race that made his name as a Grand Tour contender. This Saturday, the Team Sky rider will be hoping to cement his first overall victory at the Spanish race.
Having tried and failed to win the Vuelta four more times since then, Froome goes into the final mountain stage with all the cards to play. He has a 1:37 lead over his closest threat Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), a solid if not totally comfortable advantage. A win on the mythic climb would be a fitting end to an overall triumph, but Froome wants to ensure that he's got the red jersey nailed down first.
"It would be amazing to win the toughest climb of this race, the Angliru but the biggest objective for us tomorrow is to keep the red jersey," Froome said after making it safely through stage 19 into Gijon.
"I am really taking this one day at a time and counting down the kilometres until Madrid at this point. Obviously, if I can finish tomorrow still in the red jersey then that would be incredible. If the opportunity to win the stage is there then I'll go for it, but at this point I'm purely thinking about getting to Madrid in red."
It might be a while ago that Froome rode the Angliru in race conditions but the sheer savagery of it has not faded from the memory. It is five kilometres longer than the Los Machucos climb that had Froome in trouble earlier in the week, and it keeps its toughest gradients until the top. The temperature is expected to drop on Saturday and rain is forecast, adding an extra element of difficulty, if it wasn't already challenging enough.
"It's a brutal climb with gradients of over 20 per cent, sustained. It's an extremely tough climb," said Froome. "If it's going to be wet as well, it makes it even tougher as well. To stand up on the bike it is not really possible, you have to stay in the saddle and that will make it even harder tomorrow."
Froome added that the wet weather will have a wider impact on the stage: "I don't think anyone particularly enjoys riding in bad conditions and I'm the same. It's going to be the same for all of us. We just have to make the most of the situation. Of course, with dangerous descents coming into play in the race, it's not just going to be the final climb of the Angliru it's going to be about before that too."
The battle for the red jersey will be at the forefront this Saturday, but there will be plenty to be gained up and down the general classification. The podium spots could fluctuate and with Alberto Contador just over a minute behind third place and riding the final mountain stage of his career, Froome is expecting fireworks from the Spaniard.
"Alberto has shown a lot of flair in this race. He's animated almost every stage, so far trying to regain some time on the general classification," he said. "Tomorrow being his last appearance on a big climb like Angliru, I imagine he's going to give everything he's got tomorrow. He's been doing the same these last few days.
"We saw that today. He took almost one minute very quickly to our group, and we weren't going slowly on the climb ourselves. I imagine we can expect the same from him tomorrow and I imagine he will want to get to the end of tomorrow and have no regrets and leave everything on the road."
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