The 2011 Vuelta a Espana has its final mountain top finish on Wednesday, a six kilometre climb of Peña Cabarga, and don’t be surprised if you see lots of people dressed up as bison running around, cheering on race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox).
Yes, you read that right. Cobo’s rather unusual nickname is ‘the Bison of La Pesa’ – the bovine reference is due to his stocky build, and La Pesa is the name of the suburb of his hometown, Cabezon de la Sal in Cantabria, where he lives.
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Various busloads of supporters dressed up in bison suits and headgear are expected to line the last part of the route this afternoon, with one fan saying “we’ll try and have a bison standing on every corner and straightaway of Peña Cabarga. It’s going to look like a safari park.” The mind boggles.
For the region of Cantabria, having a Tour of Spain leader like Cobo is big news: whilst Oscar Freire, also from the region, has won three World Championships, no local rider has ever won the Vuelta. The latest to come close was Isidro Nozal, who finished second in 2003 before Roberto Heras pushed him into second place on the Escorial mountain time trial. Nozal later tested positive for EPO in Portugal.
Curiously enough, Cobo has never actually been to the top of Peña Cabarga in a race, even though it’s some 30 kilometres from his home. The closest he got was last year, when he walked half-way up it to watch the Vuelta stage.
Whilst not anywhere near as hard as any of the previous summits, it does average an intimidating 8.9 percent, and has slopes of up to 19 percent. It certainly suits last year’s winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) – although he may not be up for a good ride today. He finally started today’s stage, after a hospital checkup revealed his left arm was not broken as had been feared in yesterday’s big crash.
The other standout features of the last past of the stage are a very long and dangerous descent from the second category Portillo de Lunada climb, as well as a tricky approach road – last year leader Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed out close to the finish and abandoned the race. Today, ‘Fuji’, as Anton is nicknamed, will have a point to prove.
Joxean Fernandez, the Geox manager, has already made his strategy for Cobo clear, telling Spanish radio this morning “we’re only interested in the overall, not in the stage.” Hardly surprising, then, that there is not one Geox rider in the 21 rider break which is currently up the road.