How steep is the Puerto de Pajares near the finish?

Lungs of Indurain! Who put tarmac on that wall?

The end of stage 16 was not all that friendly to a bunch of cyclists who’d already cycled 170km over several mountains and who were into the third week of a Grand Tour. The pace slowed to a degree that would have been comical if it hadn’t been so blatantly agonising for those involved.

At one point, Alberto Contador made a face I recognised. I’ve made it myself on hills so steep I can hardly bear it, but my hills are much, much shorter than the Puerto de Pajares. The last 20km averaged 6.9%, but the last 3km hovered between 15% and 22%. It wasn’t just the incline, it was the fact that these riders were tackling it with NOTHING LEFT. It was like watching sports cars powered by elastic bands.

It’s not merely impressive that the riders got up this beast, it’s downright astonishing. However, to try and race another rider in the middle of it is just flat-out demented. Nevertheless, that’s what Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez were doing.

After all that agony, when the road was at its absolute steepest, with just a few hundred metres to go, they were still testing each other’s limits. There wasn’t going to be a huge time gap. They were primarily racing for the third-place four-second time bonus.

Imagine putting yourself through that for a four-second bonus. In the context of the race, it was worth it, but you’d be forgiven for overlooking that in the circumstances. As has been the case throughout the 2012 Vuelta, Joaquim Rodriguez gained a few vital yards on his rival when it mattered. Chapeau to them both though.