It appears, around a right-hand bend, in a sleepy Cantabrian village. Less a road than a staircase. Demanding baby steps, tiny pedal strokes, in low gear.
Local boy Hector Saez of Euskadi-Murias, at the head of the race, already gritting and grinding, perhaps wondering about the wisdom of his heroic move to blitz the break and surge clear.
He had the look of a man being led to the gallows.
Having first had to ride to the gallows, from Bilbao, one hundred and fifty kilometres away.
Knowing full well a noose awaited.
The climb, today’s summit finish, is Los Machucos, nearly seven kilometres of utter despair. Ramps at twenty-five or thirty percent. Grooved concrete surface. Precipitous drops. If ever a climb was made for TV it was this.
As a viewer, in fact, it’s a peer-through-the-gaps-in-your-fingers kind of a climb; depending, of course, how much you enjoy watching fellow humans suffer for entertainment.
Do you see yourself as a spectator at the aforementioned hanging, is what I’m asking?
Would you have been there, in medieval times, queuing up at the stocks, rotten fruit to hand?
If so, Los Machucos is the climb for you.Embed from Getty Images
Our friend Saez was a goner within a kilometre. The dribs and drabs of the days break grovelled and grappled for the race lead. Frenchman Bruno Armirail gave it a good go; Brambilla, Higuita, and Bouchard emptied their tanks; Pierre Latour rode clear and looked, maybe, for a while, like our stage winner.
The gradient, like a wall, fighting back.
Behind, the group of leaders whittled themselves into position. Quintana took the initiative before crumbling. Lopez and Valverde hanging in, nothing more. It was a double pronged move, eventually, from one of the emerging nations of pro-cycling, that delivered the stage win.
Slovenian pair Primoz Roglic (race leader, red jersey) and Tadej Pogacar (now best young rider, white jersey), formed an alliance.
Not teammates, of course, but countrymen.
Roglic the favourite for the title, Pogacar the twenty year old neo pro sensation and winner of Stage 9, in Andorra, in epic conditions.
The bridged up to Latour, who battled gamely, that bobbing style of his expending energy he didn’t have to spare. The Slovenians soon dropped him. Approaching the summit, the climb relented, and swooped down a bit, for a flat finish to the line.Embed from Getty Images
Pogacar led, Roglic followed, sprint uncontested: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, Tadej me old mate!
Roglic gained time – half a minute on Valverde, and a minute on Lopez – and Pogacar propelled himself into that elite category of ridiculously young cyclists who seem to win big bike races in 2019.
Get practicing your Tadej Pogacar pronunciation, would be my advice. Make sure you really dial it in.
We’ll be seeing an awful lot of him.
(Top Image: http://www.dangerousroads.org)