Unveiled on December 5 in Madrid, the route of the 2008 Tour of Spain will have cycling masochists the world over licking their lips at the prospect of a bunch of pro cyclists forced to dismount and clip-clop their way up the toughest sections of a quite-likely rain-soaked Alto del Angliru.
Yes, the 13th stage will be unlucky for some: a 199km-long day culminating with the 12.6km ascent of the fearsome Angliru. And what a 12.6 kilometres it is. With a 23 per cent gradient in parts, it has become one of the most loathed of all climbs by the riders, and one of the best loved by spectators.
Introduced to the race in 1999, and with appearances again in 2000 and 2002, the climb has provided an epic stage to proceedings three times out of three. And a wet stage, too, two times out of those three, which only adds further to the craziness of it all. "We're not animals, and this is inhuman," a sodden and upset David Millar famously ranted after dismounting from his bike a metre before the finish line on the 2002 stage, having crashed and then been hit by a race vehicle earlier on the stage. Such stories only help build the climb's legend.
The riders' genuine dislike of the climb has been one of the reasons behind not returning since '02, as has logistics: overheated, broken-down vehicles during the race and the problems with getting all the race paraphernalia and personnel down again afterwards - all have combined to keep it off the route for the past six years.
The riders' voice was listened to at the Tour of Italy, too, when it came to the short, but painfully sharp climb of the Plan de Corones in the Dolomites. Threats from the riders to strike if they were forced up it in the snowstorm that befell it in 2006 led the organisers to shorten the stage and put the finish at the top of the Fedaia instead, despite having forked out a fortune to have the Corones resurfaced after complaints (from the riders again, natch) about otherwise having to ride up its unmade surface. The climb is back on the Giro route for '08.
The riders might argue as much as they can against the grand tour organisers coming up with something a little leftfield, but even they haven't got a leg to stand on when it comes to the spectacle of such climbs. But is the Tour de France in danger of being overshadowed by its Spanish and Italian brothers? Alpe d'Huez has made it onto the Grande Boucle's route again for next year, but there's still no Ventoux. Tour organizers and promoters Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) really need to come up with a 'gimmick' climb of their own - something that can match up to the sheer must-see, down-tools, take-a-day-off-work appeal of the Angliru or Plan de Corones stages at the Vuelta and Giro respectively. Perhaps Tour director Christian Prudhomme is open to suggestions.
© BikeRadar 2007