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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta tech: Gear ratios critical up the Angliru

A look at the low, low gears riders used on the Vuelta's 15th stage

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2011 Vuelta a España, stage 15, Juan Jose Cobo
Cobo evidently chose the right gear for the day. Photo: Graham Watson |

LEON, Spain (VN) — Gear ratios proved decisive in the battle up the Angliru on Sunday.

Juanjo Cobo (Geox-TMC) was one of the few GC riders who rode 34×32 (a 28.3-inch gear) up the steep grades, which topped 24 percent on some ramps.

Most of the other GC favorites rode tougher gearing that later did not give them the same pedal speed that Cobo was able to generate on the steepest ramps.

“We chose those gear ratios because we knew that the ramps were so steep it was important to be able to keep a high cadence,” said Geox-TMC sport director Matxin Fernández. “You could see that Cobo was more agile on the pedals and I believe that made a difference.”

Some Angliru gearing

Cobo 34×32 (28.3-inch);
Nibali 34×29 (31.2-inch);
Froome and Wiggins 38×32 (31.6-inch);
Kessiakoff 34×28 (32.3-inch);
Fuglsang and Mollema 36×28 (34.2-inch);
(gear inch explanation)

A preview of bikes before the start of Sunday’s stage revealed the following selections among some of the GC contenders: Nibali 34×29 (31.2-inch); Kessiakoff 34×28 (32.3-inch); Fuglsang and Mollema, both 36×28 (34.2-inch).

Team Sky’s Chris Froome said Monday that in hindsight he would have changed his gear ratio to something easier than his 38×32 (31.6-inch).

Sky uses the asymmetrical front chain, which Froome said changes the dynamic, but said he would have liked to have had an extra gear or two to take on Cobo.

“We could have used smaller gears yesterday,” Froome said. “Even with different gearing, it’s never going to be easy when it’s 23 percent. We hadn’t seen the climb before, but all the guys were talking about it. We all knew it was going to challenging.”

Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins also rode 38×32, but said it was his preference to have lower gearing when you’re at the sharp end of the action.

“I rode 38×32, that was perfect for the speed we were racing at the front. If you were in the gruppetto, just trying to get up the thing, you might want easier gearing,” Wiggins said Monday. “The climb wasn’t as brutal as I imagined it. The race passes quicker when you’re racing up it and trying hard. The only other experience was the Zoncolan in the Giro. When you’re focused and concentrating, the time passes quicker. Before you knew it, it was 1km to go and we were almost up it.”

Wiggins explained that at one point he nearly fell over as he struggled up the steepest part of the Angliru.

“The crowds were really deep in places on the steeper bits and you need all the road to sway from side to side. It’s just as much about staying upright on the bike,” he said. “At one time, a flag got wrapped around my brake lever. Fortunately, it released. I thought I was going to go down. That’s what’s so great about the sport is that the public can get so close to the spectacle.”

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