It was the roof of the race, at two and a half thousand metres above sea level, and the altitude had it’s say on the road to Sierra Nevada.
Above two thousand metres, things start to happen.
Pro-cyclists are adapted to it – we know this from endless articles in the cycling media about winter training camps on volcanoes and nights spent in science-fiction-y oxygen tents – but even they become slowly asphyxiated.
And it’s quite a compelling thing to watch. As the air thins, the heart rate rises, and the power drops.
And that’s unsustainable.
Rather than attacks off the front of the race, we see riders begin to suffer and slide out the back. One or two riders, coping well, increase the pace ever so slightly, and the slowly accumulated oxygen deficit tots up the bill and requires immediate payment from the rest.
One by one the riders find their credit is bad, and slip backwards. “Attritional,” is the word you’re looking for, from the big book o’ cycling clichés.
For rising star Miguel Angel Lopez it was the perfect opportunity to show off his Colombian mountain climbing DNA. He won his first Grand Tour stage a few days ago, and looks just about the strongest climber in the race as of right now.
He attacked decisively, in the final few kilometres, as if fired from a cannon. From that moment, he was not going to be caught. Having lost time earlier in the Vuelta, due to lack of race fitness, he is a couple of minutes off the overall lead of Chris Froome.
But he is chipping away.
Whatever his final result, would it be rash to proclaim Lopez as Columbia’s new next-best-thing as a Grand Tour Contender for next year and beyond?
Nairo Quintana has underwhelmed in recent races, and as Esteban Chaves himself confirmed today he is, semi-officially, Austral-umbian. Certainly his accent is split schizophrenically between the two countries.
Does that leave Lopez as the top pure Columbian?
If so, there is only one disappointing aspect to that: we will be seeing much more of him on our TV screens, and unless he changes team anytime soon that means we are forced to suffer the visual pollution of that vile baby-blue Astana jersey.
Year after year, without exception, the WORST kit in pro-cycling.
Call me superficial if you like, but in a sport where the line between stylish and offensive is a consistently fine one, someone has to police this stuff.
(Top Image: Unenzyklopädisch [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)