Commentary: Ranking the Vuelta a España’s Angliru YouTube clips

Spain's Alto de l'Angliru climb has produced some of pro cycling's best YouTube clips. Here, we rank them.

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Today, the Vuelta a España heads to the Alto de l’Angliru climb for the eighth time in history. The Angliru (which we have dubbed “Angry Lou”) is one of the most feared climbs in pro cycling. It climbs 4,154 feet over 7.8 miles at an average of 10.1%. There are multiple ramps above 23%, and the steeps regularly stall motorcycles and bring the riders to a standstill. The weather is usually bad, with rain and fog. And the fans are absolutely bonkers.

This magical amalgamation of chaos has produced some of pro cycling’s best YouTube clips, all of which are eminently watchable . So behold, we have ranked the Angliru videos based on their rewatchability. The only question is where today’s edition will rank amongst these greats.

#7. 2011: Cobo soars while Wiggo pedals squares

The 2011 Angliru clip lacks the panache and edge-of-your-seat excitement that the best vintages (2013, 2008) contain. Winner Juan Jose Cobo doesn’t so much attack as he simply rides away from the others, and the TV broadcast misses the move entirely. In one moment Cobo is charging at the front of the peloton. The camera pans away for a wide shot, and when it returns, he has a dozen seconds on Chris Froome, who is in full domestique mode for Sky’s leader Bradley Wiggins.

The 2011 Vuelta was supposed to be Wiggo’s big grand tour victory for Sky before he tackled the 2012 Tour. Had the Vuelta organizers skipped the Angliru, Wiggo probably would have won, with the young Froome as his chief helper. Instead, Cobo rode away with the entire thing, becoming the most forgettable grand tour champion of the last decade.

The highlight of the clip is watching Wiggo crack on the La Cuena les Cabres, the steepest section of the climb. Froome almost crashes into his team leader, who swerves awkwardly across the road, nearly coming to a standstill. Eventually Froome ditches his leader and rides on ahead on the wheel of his future super-domestique, Wout Poels.

There is a postscript to this edition, of course, which dumps it at the bottom of our list. In 2019 the UCI stripped Cobo of his title, citing a Biological Passport violation, and gave it to Froome. It was a decision that — let’s be honest — confirmed the eye test that, for many of us, raised some red flags in the moment.

#6. 2002: Heras, Aitor, and a downpour

Another classic Angliru clip, the 2002 Vuelta’s stage 15 was held under a downpour, and featured fog, cold temperatures, and slippery roads. The clip showcases a tense battle between Roberto Heras, resplendent in U.S. Postal blue, and the green Kelme team of Aitor Gonzales. After Heras breaks away, few other greats of early 2000’s cycling give chase: Joseba Beloki, Iban Mayo, Oscar Sevilla, and even Francesco Casagrande.

The clip’s highlights come from the finish line camera, which catches the soggy exhaustion that this brutal climb dishes out. After Heras crosses the line, some guy in acid-washed dad jeans throws a blanket over him and whisks him away to, we hope, a warm car for some hot tea.

#5. 2000: Kelme’s TTT makes the uphills look flat

Per usual, it’s nearly impossible to understand the state of the race from the first minutes of this YouTube clip. The footage is fuzzy, the narration is in Spanish, and the final three kilometers are held in dense fog. It’s pure Angliru chaos.

One year after its debut, the Angliru was held on stage 16 of the race, which by that point had devolved into a battle between Pavel Tonkov, Heras, and Angel Casero. Heras, the captain of the green-clad Kelme-Costa Blanca team, had narrowly missed out on the victory the previous year, and was obviously motivated to win. The highlight of the clip is watching Heras’s men in green ride a blistering team time trial for the first quarter of the climb and absolutely shred the peloton. Let’s just call it what it is: They ride an uphill sprint lead-out for Heras. After his final domestique pulls off, Heras crushes the steepest ramps, and catches and drops a withering Tonkov. Up ahead, a young Gilberto Simoni rides out of the day’s breakaway, climbs above the clouds, and takes the victory under the Spanish sun. Simoni looks legitimately elated to win atop the monstrous mountain.

The clip is chaotic and difficult to follow, but it’s a real gem from cycling’s go-go doping era. Wow, they rode uphill so fast back then!

#4. 1999: Jimenez wins… we think

The full spectrum 90’s cycling awesomeness is on display in the YouTube clip of the Angliru’s first inclusion in the Vuelta. Riders hunch over their aluminum bikes that are at least one size too large. Nobody wears a helmet. Everyone pushes a ridiculously hard gear at a painfully slow RPM.

For its debut the Angliru appeared early in the race, on stage 8. Defending champ Abraham Olano battled for the overall with fellow TT specialist Jan Ullrich, with climbers Roberto Heras and Jose Maria Jimenez also in the mix.

The clip from 1999 showcases the chaos that we now expect on the Angliru. Rain gushes down, and only the riders directly in front of the TV motorcycle can be seen through the fog. Tonkov, who had ridden in the day’s breakaway, languishes out in front as Jimenez and Heras sprint up the mountain at a ridiculous clip. Behind, Olano and Ulrich chug along together, pushing massive gears. At one point Ullrich gets down into the drops to climb out of the saddle in a display of pure 90s doping-era power.

The highlight of the clip is watching Jimenez catch Tonkov as behind, the race lead vehicle nearly swerves off the road into foggy oblivion. In one final moment of chaos, the race motorcycles impede the final sprint, as Jimenez casually rolls across the finish line ahead of Tonkov, who appears not to know that the suffering has ended. Who won? We, the viewers, did.

#3. 2017: Final flight of the Contador

The 2017 edition of the Angliru climb unfolds with a storyline right out of John Wayne movie. Our old gunslinger, in his final act of heroism, battles a seemingly all-powerful and unbeatable force… and wins. The old cowboy, if course, is Alberto Contador, racing the final grand tour of his storied career. The all-powerful force he battles is Team Sky and Chris Froome, who come into the stage nursing a sizable lead. And even though El Pistolero is out of the battle for red — he starts the day in fifth place, 3:34 down — Contador drew his guns and went full #YOLO for the final 35km of the stage.

And it works! And Contador’s last stand produces thrilling action and drama, and the whole thing lives on in a great YouTube clip (I could only find the full climb in Spanish).

#2. 2008: El Pistolero shoots ’em dead

The 2008 Vuelta was extremely important to El Pistolero and his Astana squad. Just months before ASO had blocked them from racing in the Tour de France, due to the team’s apparent link to Operacion Puerto. So rather than race the Tour, Astana hauled its biggest guns to the Vuelta, and made sure they were fully prepared to dominate.

The video clip showcases Contador at his ultimate zenith of power. His pedaling style on the 20% ramps is like a snappy dance. He drops noted great climber, Joaquim Rodriguez, like a hot pimento pepper, and Alejandro Valverde like a sack of potatoes. Contador’s teammate Levi Leipheimer is also at his best in this clip. After pulling for ‘Berto, Levi passes the rivals to finish second, making it an Astana one-two. Above all, this clip’s coup de grace is the super-aggressive “Pistolero” salute that Contador flourishes at the line. Alberto, could you bring that one back on Saturday, just for old time’s sake?

#1. 2013: Grandpa Horner tames the shark

If you’ve only got time to watch one of these Angliru finishes, make it this one (full clip here). The 2013 edition has it all: fog; chaos; motorcycles stalling on the 23% grades; and plenty of wacky fans. At one point, some Stretch Armstrong-lookalike runs along in nothing but bib shorts, socks, and a great tan. In another clip, some guy dons a Santa hat. It’s glorious.

And the race action from 2013 is also the best. Similar to this year’s race, in 2013 the Angliru came on the penultimate stage. It was the last chance that Vincenzo Nibali had to snatch the race lead from ageless wonder, Chris Horner, who was out to show the world what a 41-year-old human body could achieve. In the clip, Nibali tirelessly accelerates away from Horner, who slowly rides back to the Italian after each surge. Nibali reaches deep into his bag of tricks, at one point attacking around a cracked breakaway rider in hopes that the crowds will clog the road. Up ahead, pint-sized climber Kenny Elissonde muscles his bicycle up the hill to the stage win, after nearly crashing himself out at the start of the climb.

Horner weathers Nibali’s attacks for 6km. In one final stroke of panache, Horner counterattacks the blown Nibali, and chugs alone into the fog. Four years later, it’s still a great watch.

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