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Vuelta pays homage to its first ever summit finish

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Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at the finish of stage 15 at Peyragudes

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at the finish of stage 15 at Peyragudes (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) finished 3rd on stage 14 and is the only rider still within one minute of GC leader Vincenzo Nibali

Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) finished 3rd on stage 14 and is the only rider still within one minute of GC leader Vincenzo Nibali (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Yesterday (Sunday) the Vuelta paid homage to the Tour de France’s centenary with its first summit finish in France in nearly a decade and today the ‘nostalgia wave’ continues with the Vuelta’s return to Formigal.

Ranked first category, Formigal is a hefty 15.8 kilometres long but has four per cent average gradients, acceptable road surfaces, sections of downhill and lack of any ramps steeper than nine per cent. With today’s weather warm again and barely a cloud in the sky this morning, it looks very unlikely to present any huge challenges to the overall contenders.

Forty years ago though it was another story altogether. Formigal - subsequently visited a further two times by the Vuelta - hosted the stage summit finish where Spanish climbing legend Jose Manuel Fuente aka 'El Tarangu', already a double stage winner in the Tour de France and King of the Mountains in the Giro, first shone in his home Grand Tour.

Earlier on the Formigal stage, Tarangu went on a joint attack with Spain’s Jose Grande and then dropped Grande on the Monrepos climb. As he opened a huge gap on the field, Vuelta boss Luis Bergareche drove behind Fuente and pleaded with Tarangu’s sports director, Anton Barrutia, to tell him to stop because in Bergareche’s opinion Fuente was not famous enough to warrant such a prestigious role as leading the Vuelta. To his credit, Barrutia ignored him, even though he had four riders in the top four places overall - Txomin Perurena, Mikel Mari Lasa, Jesus Manzaneque and Jose Antonio Gonzalez Llinares.

With 5:45 at the summit, Tarangu then reached the foot of Formigal with a massive seven minute advantage and by the top of the climb had 8:37 on the favourites. It was a big enough lead to put him into top spot overall and after another epic display of mountain climbing on the Orduña in the Basque Country, Tarangu’s first Grand Tour win was in the bag, with an advantage of 6:34.

A week later, Tarangu was in Italy for the Giro, which he led for four stages and where he put Merckx into difficulties on more than one occasion. But Formigal was where the Spanish climbing ace first shone the brightest on home soil.

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.