On Sunday the Vuelta a España heads to one of the most feared climbs in Europe: The Alto de l’Angliru in Asturias. The climb is steep and barren, rising like a shark’s fin from the valley floor. The narrow, twisting road to the summit averages 10.5 percent for 12 or so kilometers, and near the top there are ramps that surpass 20 percent. And the weather conditions on the Angliru are as treacherous as the climb itself. The mountain is often buffeted by sharp winds and driving rain, and the summit is often shrouded in fog.
Organizers have sent the Vuelta a España peloton charging up the Angliru on seven occasions since it made its debut in 1999, and the climb never disappoints. It’s produced thrilling battles for the Vuelta’s red jersey between some of the top riders of the last two generations: Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and others. He who hopes to win the Vuelta a España overall must survive its steep and punishing flanks.
Here, we’ve compiled some of our favorite images of riders suffering in the fog on Spain’s toughest climb, the Alto de l’Angliru.
Oscar Sevilla came into the Vuelta a España’s 15th stage, which finished atop the Angliru, holding the leader’s jersey by just 1 second over Aitor Gonzáles, with Roberto Heras lurking 1:42 down. Sevilla fought to defend his lead but couldn’t match the pace of Heras, who won the stage and took the lead, which he held all the way to Madrid.
Joseba Beloki tried to match Heras but could not, eventually finishing second on the stage, 1:35 down.
Heras climbed the entire Angliru amid a downpour, and he put 2:50 into Sevilla. He took the jersey and held it all the way to the end of the race.
In 2008 the peloton tackled the Angliru on the 13th stage, and Spaniard Egoi Martinez entered the day in the overall lead, 11 seconds up on American Levi Leipheimer and 29 seconds up on Alberto Contador, both of Astana. The stage was set for a battle to the summit.
Contador’s main rival for the overall was Alejandro Valverde, who was at 4:19 down.
Spanish fans clogged the road, as they always do, and fog shrouded the summit of the climb. Still, fans got a glimpse of Contador attacking to win the stage and take the overall.
Leipheimer’s accelerations on the climb’s steep middle section dropped Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez and set Contador up for his winning attack.
In 2011 Bradley Wiggins looked primed to win his first grand tour, with budding teammate Chris Froome (right) riding as his top lieutenant. The Sky duo were ambushed by Juan Jose Cobo on the Angliru, who dropped Wiggins en route to seizing the jersey. Eight years later, Cobo’s Vuelta win was stripped for a doping violation, and Froome was declared the overall winner.
The 2013 Vuelta came down to a mano-a-mano duel between Chris Horner and Vincenzo Nibali on the Angliru on stage 20. Nibali, who was just 3 seconds down on GC, attacked relentlessly, drawing Horner out into a thrilling battle in the fog.
Horner climbed most of the road out of the saddle, and was eventually able to distance Nibali near the summit. He finished second on the day and consolidated his lead.
Thick fog is always a possibility on the Angliru, as warm and moist air comes in off the Bay of Biscay and rapidly cools on the steep mountain.
The last time the Vuelta climbed the Angliru was in 2017, and the race again hit the mountain on the penultimate stage of the race. Chris Froome came in nursing a healthy lead on Vincenzo Nibali in the overall, and Alberto Contador, in his final grand tour, wanted to do something special.
A motorcycle did not survive the steep climb.
Crowds were thick on the Angliru as Spanish fans turned out in droves to see Contador attack in his final grand tour. They were not disappointed.
Contador attacked from the peloton on the stage’s penultimate climb and then hit the base of the Angliru nursing a slight lead. He did an individual time trial to the summit to hold off Froome and take the final victory of his storied career.
Froome suffered on the climb, but his effort secured his Vuelta a España overall win, which proved to be the second Vuelta win of his career.