Stage 15 preview

A harsh test

Bernard Hinault once described the climb to the Covadonga lakes as being as tough as the Alpe d'Huez. Rising 1,000m in 14km doesn't look bad on paper, but the average gradient of less than 7 per cent hides a savage test.

After turning inland to Cangas de Onís, the climb starts gently, but the road ramps up past the Covadonga monastery. The most notorious point is at La Huesera (‘the boneyard'), where the gradient hits 15 per cent and stays there for the best part of a kilometre. There's some respite when the road almost levels just after this, but it ramps up again towards the finish. The line itself is only reached after a short descent, which should make for an interesting duel if there's more than one rider clear.

Inside knowledge

Alberto Contador says he'll ride the Vuelta if his team are fresh enough to help sustain his challenge. If he's here, it's likely he'll target victory on this historic climb. If not, Ezequiel Mosquera will be among those most likely to benefit.

Flashback: The Lakes

The climb to the Lagos de Covadonda features for the 17th time this year. It was first tackled during the epic 1983 Vuelta, ultimately won by Bernard Hinault. Unlike 1978, when he crushed his Spanish rivals, Hinault struggled to defeat them. Indeed, so intense was the fight that the Frenchman developed tendinitis, which prevented him from defending his Tour de France title.

Hinault's second Vuelta success was built around a canny piece of riding on the wind-swept stage to Soria. At a signal, Dutchman Hennie Kuiper and Hinault's Renault team-mate Maurice Le Guilloux accelerated off the front of the bunch and many favourites jumped in behind them. Vuelta leader and defending champ Marino Lejarreta almost made the group, but couldn't close the final 2m gap and fell back. Lejarreta's lead, and chance of victory, went with that front group.

Lejarreta had a measure of revenge at Covadonga, though. As Hinault struggled, the Spaniard soared to a reputation-restoring stage victory. The legend of the Lakes had begun. In subsequent years, climbing greats Pedro Delgado and ‘Lucho' Herrera, plus Laurent Jalabert, have all won stages finishing here.

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