Sunday 10 December 2017

The 2017 'Subiendo como una moto' Awards

© Olav Standal Tangen

...and the best climbing performances of the 2017 season are:

10th. Mikel Landa on Piancavallo, stage 19 of Giro d'Italia
9th. Alberto Contador on Col de la Croix de Fer, stage 17 of Tour de France
8th. Richie Porte up Leysin, stage 4 of Tour de Romandie
7th. Raul Alarcon on Senhora da Graca, stage 4 of Volta a Portugal
6th. Richie Porte on Willunga Hill, stage 5 of Tour Down Under
5th. Julian Alaphilippe on Salmon Hill, World Championships road race
4th. Alejandro Valverde on Mont Caro, stage 5 of Volta a Catalunya
3rd. Contador, Froome, Woods and Chaves on Ermita de Santa Lucia, stage 5 of Vuelta a Espana
2nd. Sagan, Kwiatkowski and Alaphilippe on Poggio, Milano-Sanremo
1st. Warren Barguil on Col d'Izoard, stage 18 of Tour de France

          The hot Australian summer. Old Willunga Hill filled with fans. Richie Porte out of the saddle, dropping everyone. A déjà vu, that's how the cycling season starts every January. This time though, the Tasmanian didn't just drop them, he crushed them. During Tour Down Under and the spring races, he rode at his best climbing level. On Willunga and later on Leysin, in Tour de Romandie, the watts he unleashed make him as probably the fastest ever climber in this category: 5-10 min effort on a 7-9% gradient climb. Nonetheless, it wasn't Richie the most impressive climber of the 2017 spring season...
             After 37 rides around the Sun, Alejandro Valverde left us wondering if the Fountain of Youth is not out there, somewhere around Murcia. While winning pretty much every race he entered, on the slopes of Mont Caro, El Bala turned back the clock to 2005, recording his best climbing performance since the famous sprint against Armstrong on Courchevel. It was a wild first part of the season, really. Sixteen years passed since the last time Poggio di Sanremo was climbed under 6 minutes and it almost looked like this barrier won't be broken again. Until Peter Sagan attacked, that is. At the top, the stopwatch showed 5 min 55 sec, the 3rd ever fastest ascent of the Poggio. The watts were blooming in the spring.
           The Double. Thanks to Quintana, that was the word most of the fans had in mind at the start of the 100th Giro d'Italia. But after Blockhaus, where Nairo set a very high performance, it all went downward for him. Despite the multiple attempted ambushes by his rivals, despite not having the best team support and the poorly timed toilet stop at the foot of Umbrail Pass, Tom Dumoulin won Il Giro. The Dutchman even delivered an Indurain-like performance on the climb to Oropa, dropping the pure climbers one by one, his top uphill performance in La Corsa Rosa. The third week though was pretty much a one-man show, the Landani show. After two impressive raids to Bormio and Ortisei, Mikel got his stage win on Piancavallo, proving on the way that he was the best climber of the race.
          Different colours, same watts for the Team Sky train in July. Just like last year, Chris Froome didn't have to set any crazy VAM records to win the Tour, his time-trialling superiority and the dream team around him did the trick once again. One of his main helpers even finished just one second off the final podium. Among his rivals, Rigo Uran was the most constant, finding again after 3 years, his best climbing level. Alberto Contador, nowhere to be seen in the decisive moments, did try to cause chaos from far away. His full-gas chase on Col de la Croix de Fer was one of the best efforts on a long climb this season. There was a superior performance recorded in this Tour though. Straight from the first high mountain stage, Warren Barguil proved to be in the form of his life. Then came the succesful, brilliant raid to Foix. The cherry on the cake was his win on the mythical Col d'Izoard. Panache-fueled, Barguil set a record time which was hard to imagine and will be harder to beat. It was the top climbing performance of the season. So the 2017 'Subiendo como una moto' Award goes to Bretagne, bravo Wawa!
           Out of the 10 best uphill efforts of the season, only one took place outside the World Tour races. Where? You guessed it. The anomalous Volta a Portugal, of course. Raul Alarcon frighteningly climbed Senhora da Graca under 21 minutes (~6,7 w/kg) and on stage 9, his team W52 put on a show rarely seen since the magic Gewiss-Ballan circa 1994. But like they say, what happens in Portugal, stays in Portugal. In the neighbouring Spain, Froome brought in La Vuelta a top team at his side, lesson learned after last year's Formigal collapse. Over the three weeks, he showed very few signs of fatigue, his teammates saving the situation every time it was necessary. In Madrid, Froome became the first rider to win two consecutive Grand Tours in the same season since Marco Pantani. A heck of a feat. Even more, he set new personal best performances for the climbs under 15 minutes. The highest of them all came on the road to Santa Lucia church. Contador, Froome, Woods and Chaves recorded pretty much the same wattage as Pantani, Indurain and Riis on Mende, 1995. On the long ascents (more than 30 minutes) though, the numbers were lower than in recent years. Other important mentions from La Vuelta: Superman Lopez superiority at high altitude, Kelderman and Woods reaching their best ever climbing level, Contador's tremendous resurrection in the third week of the race and the unbelievable strength of the Team Sky mountain train.
          The last mind-blowing uphill exhibiton of the season came during the World Championships road race in the stunning Bergen. With 260 kilometers already in his legs, Julian Alaphilippe climbed Salmon Hill (1,5 km@6,4%) at a staggering speed of 33.3 km/h. At this type of efforts, the Frenchman's numbers are higher than those of the best Valverde or Gilbert, it remains to be seen if he can reach their results too...
          Overall, the 2017 climbing speeds were superior to the previous years. While the performances on ascents longer than 30 minutes didn't return to the levels seen before 2006, the short efforts went through a Bitcoin-esque boom. That's why five from the top 10 performances of the year are efforts under 10 minutes. Today's riders climb the short hills as the best did in the mid '90s. The other particularity of the season was Christopher Froome, his exceptional recovery skills allowing him to win the Tour-Vuelta double. Officially going for the Giro-Tour next year. Can he do it?  Vedremo...