A hundred meters from the beach of Ézaro, where the Galician coast at its best, there is an ominous sign with a red warning triangle: thirty percent (30%) warns the board, then you directly ride against uphill over a huge rock. This is Mirador de Ézaro, the steepest climb in the bicycle racing history.
The Mirador de Ézaro was included in Stage 12 of the Vuelta a España 2012. A percentage that never before in the bike race had to be overcome. Circus or sport, asked experts themselves. “If that’s what people want to see, then we must understand that we are always a little artists,” concluded Robert Gesink of Rabobank Cycling Team.
At the start line of the stage, the eyes of the riders focused very different than usual. The gear choices are the chatter of the day: which cassette is good for the 1.9 km long and up to 28% (according to exact measurements) steep Mirador de Ézaro, a climb that never included in the Vuelta before. Even the terrible Alto de l’Angliru (23.6%) cannot match with it. Some of the other monstrous and most feared climbs of Europe too: Keutenberg (22%), Mur de Huy (inner curve 25%), Kronplatz (24%), Monte Zoncolan (22%), Wall of Montelupone (21%). Only the Scanuppia climb of Italy is steeper, with a gradient of 45% at one point, but it was never included in any cycling race, naturally.
Rabobank chose 39×32 gear ratio for Bauke Mollema for the first time in the history of the team, though he decided to change it to a 28. Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank chose the least resistance in the peloton, a compact 34×28 ratio. Other competitors chose: Chris Froome 38×32, Alberto Contador 36×28, Alejandro Valverde 39×29 and Joaquim Rodríguez 39×28.
Even one of the most experienced sports directors, Adri van Houwelingen (Rabobank), has never experienced that before. “But, I think, this climb fits in the modern cycling,” he said.
Robert Gesink agreed: “In fact, I have had more trouble with a cobblestone sectors such as the Arenberg Forest, since the luck factor plays a much bigger role. If you look at the differences, that climb reflects the relationships we have in the preceding days in this Vuelta.”
The location of the Mirador de Ézaro in Spain:
Mirador de Ézaro Memorables
Stage 12 of Vuelta a España 2012 edition has finished atop Mirador de Ézaro, for the first time in the Spanish grand tour’s history. As soon as the peloton hit the lover slopes of the climb, Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) moved to the front. When Flecha and then Stannard both dropped off Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) attacked. The Basque climber has managed to open a gap on the favorites and soon started catching the remains of the day’s breakaway.
In the favorites group, Joaquim “Purito” Rodríguez (Katusha), who was leading the race with only one second over him before the stage, had glued himself to Alberto Contador’s (Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank) rear wheel at the start of the climb. But he was the first to react to Anton’s move. Contador instantly followed Rodríguez. The Spanish duo quickly opened up a big gap.
Chris Froome of Team Sky, runner-up of the Tour de France 2012 and one of the pre-race favorites, immediately lost ground and it was his teammate Sergio Luis Henao who drove a chase group that included Robert Gesink, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Froome and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
With Anton and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), the only survivor of the early breakaway caught, the stage was wide open. But Henao’s work appeared to pay off when the gap to Contador and Rodríguez closed to within a meter. After the initial acceleration, the leaders sat up for a while, though.
Then it was El Pistolero’s turn to attack. Purito instantly followed as Valderde, who was wearing the King of the Mountains jersey, launched a desperate defence.
Contador and Rodríguez slowly but gradually increased their lead, while Contador was doing the job with Rodríguez sitting tight on his wheel.
Inside the final 200 meters Contador could only watch as Rodríguez opened up for the line, dropping him and taking 12 seconds more. Valverde was third, with Gesink and a weary Froome in fourth and fifth. Anton held on for seventh but remains outside of the top ten in the overall classification.
Here is the video of the last kilometers of stage 12 of the Vuelta a España 2012, which finished atop Mirador de Ézaro.
But, later in the race, Contador made an amazing comeback at the 187.3 km medium mountain stage 17 from Santander to Fuente Dé, and won the 2012 Vuelta a España.