The Vuelta Espana of 2017 – now 19 Stages in and two to go – is ready to visit that Spanish climb with the reputation more fearsome than any other; the Alto de l’Angliru, on Stage 20.
It is steep, unforgiving, and is a guarantee of great theatre.
On Stage 19 most of the riders were already mentally tackling tomorrow’s climb; saving their energy, and leaving just twenty-odd plucky escape artists up the road – a quarter of an hour up the road – to sprint between themselves for the win.
Thomas de Gendt, the pluckiest of all escape artists, took it, outwitting the young Spaniard Ivan Garcia to prolong the barren Spanish run at this year’s race.
Whatever happens on the Angliru – Spanish winner or not – we will look back on this year’s race as the stage of a classic British performance.
Delivered, as it happens, by a Spaniard.
No, not just A Spaniard…THE Spaniard.
We Brits like a flawed character. We like plucky losers and near misses. We like our heroes to battle gamely, against the odds, and fall gloriously short.
It’s so much more interesting than a serial and efficient winner.
Alberto Contador, in his final pre-retirement race, is delivering just that.
Thanks to that huge slab of time he lost early in the race, back on the slopes of Andorra, he has spent the subsequent two and a half weeks launching kamikaze and occasionally successful attacks.Embed from Getty Images
He’s attacked from distance, he’s pinched time here and there, he’s formed alliances, and he’s gone solo. Contador has ridden like a man to whom 4th place or 7th are one and the same.
And he will, barring an actual miracle, fail to win the race.
If he were actually British, rather than just figuratively, the Knighthood would already be in the post.
To put this in context, Contador has been that efficient winning machine – winning seven Grand Tours between 2007 and 2015 – albeit with a fair amount of creativity and panache (and the odd brush with the dark side of cycling).
During that period, I found him dull.
Where was the tension? Where was the jeopardy? Where was the sense that he might snatch agonising (and exciting) defeat from the jaws of victory?
It wasn’t there, and he wasn’t my cup of tea.
But as the years passed, and his powers waned, I warmed to him.
And now, in 2017, I find myself leaping from my settee each time he launches one of his rampaging and fabulously doomed attacks. Knowing and relishing the fact that, whatever the result, the glory is his.
Alberto Contador, against the odds, turned out to be a very British Spaniard.