Chris Froome is now just one crucial stage away from becoming the first rider for almost 40 years to complete the Tour de France-Vuelta a España double. But what a stage it is.
Extending to just 117.5km, the Vuelta’s final day in the mountains takes the race over the first-category Cobertoria and Cordal ascents, before culminating on the legendary Alto de l’Angliru.
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In the 2011 Vuelta, Froome announced himself as a GC contender on its super-steep ramps. Now the Asturian climb is his final obstacle as he attempts to wrap up his first Vuelta victory after three second-place finishes.
It will be an equally memorable day for Alberto Contador, who has spent much of the last two weeks trying to claw back the losses he sustained early on in the final race of his career. He tried once again towards the end of stage 19 into Gijón, quickly gaining a minute and forcing Froome’s Sky team to chase.
Froome explained there was good reason for doing so.
“Contador’s been moving up in the general classification – he’s now just a bit more than three minutes back,” Froome said.
“I think it would have put us in a more difficult situation if he’d picked up another minute today because then he would have been just two minutes behind.”
“He might then have attacked from the start tomorrow, and that would have given us a little more stress. So, keeping him where he is makes us feel a lot more comfortable,” Froome added.
Froome smiled when asked what he expected from the Spanish climber on the Angliru stage.
“Alberto’s shown a lot of flair in this race. He’s animated almost every stage trying to regain time on GC. As tomorrow is his last appearance on a big climb like the Angliru I imagine he’s going to give absolutely everything he’s got,” said the Sky leader.
“Today’s was a big attack. He took almost one minute on our group very quickly and we weren’t going slowly. It was impressive and I imagine we can expect the same from him tomorrow.
“I think he’ll want to get to the end of the stage and have no regrets. I’m sure he’ll leave everything on the road.”
Froome acknowledged that he would be delighted to win on the Angliru, but stressed that his focus is completely on retaining the red leader’s jersey at its summit.
“It would be amazing to win on the toughest climb of this race, but at this point I’m purely thinking of getting to Madrid in red. Of course, if the opportunity’s there to win the stage then I’ll go for it,” he said.
Yet he stressed that the stage is not all about the final climb, especially if the forecasters are right and it’s wet.
“I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys riding in bad conditions, but it’s going to be the same for all of us. There are dangerous descents that are going to come into play. It’s not just going to be about the Angliru,” Froome affirmed.
Asked about his last experience of the Angliru back in that 2011 race, he explained: “It’s a long time back now, six years, but I’ve not forgotten that it’s a brutal, brutal climb.
“There are gradients of more than 20 per cent and if it’s wet it will be even tougher because you can’t really stand up on the pedals. You have to stay in the saddle and that’s going to make it even harder.”