We’ve all had them, those days when the pedals just turn and the sensations are good – Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural & Spain) had one, today in the stage from La Robla.
The 26 year-old from Seville was part of a break which went away early; originally 19 strong it split on a climb, with 10 making it all the way to the 13 kilometre slopes which lead 1135 metres up to the glacial lakes of Covadonga.
His margin at the top was 2:02 over the next best break survivor – Ruben Perez (Euskaltel) and at no time from when he made his move some 10 K out did he look anything other than smooth and composed.
Piedra turned pro in 2007 with Fuertevantura and then spent the next four seasons with Andalucia.
His best results up until today were a Tour of Portugal stage in 2007 and a win, this year in the Notwegian GP Rogaland.
And lest you think that was a ‘soft one,’ he beat Vuelta stage winner Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE) and Het Nieuwsblad winner, Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin) to win.
A Grand Tour win for a small team like Caja Rural is a big result – to win on Covadonga is immense.
The Weather Gods even smiled for Piedra – often the clouds mask the summits and the lakes are barely visible in the murk.
But today the sun shone on a landscape which could so easily be the Highlands of Scotland.
Everyone will be tired hearing about the fact that the last wolves in Europe roam these mountains – but it is a fascinating place.
The parcours passes the Basilica built to honour Our Lady of Covadonga, the patron saint of Asturias.
But before we bore you with more history, let’s talk about the GC.
Again it was Contador and his skinny Saxo-Tinkoff henchmen causing the problems for those clinging on by their fingernails.
At one stage ‘Bert’ had three team mates up the road as a ‘launch platform’ but Rodriguez is much too vigilant to let the man from Pinto get more than a few seconds before he’s on his back wheel like a ferret.
It was status quo among the ‘big three’ at the top, as they all finished on the same second.
Contador gained the least with no seconds clawed back, but Rodriguez can cross another ‘danger’ day off the list and hard driving Valverde put 35 seconds into an increasingly tired-looking Froome.
One of the ‘anti-Bert Brigade’ wrote recently that Contador’s last Grand Tour – le Tour de France in 2011 – had been less than sparkling.
But the fact is that he dominated the Giro prior to that and it’s now impossible in these days of ultra-specific targeting of races by the ‘Bigs’ to win Grand Tours back to back.
Not even Lance attempted that – Pantani did it, but let’s not speak ill of the dead.
However, the Giro and Vuelta is possible – as Rodriguez is so ably demonstrating.
Froome rode a hard, hard Tour and it’s no shame that he’s starting to feel it, now.
Covadonga is a tough climb with a gradient which varies from steep ramps to big ring down hills – very hard to find a rhythm on; and whilst no big climb is a good one to have heavy legs, Covadonga is even worse than most.
But it’s a special place, other worldly and surreal with the rock jutting from the gorse like giant skeletons, the high peaks and the gleaming blue lakes, bizarre in this barren place and at such high altitude.
And you’re conscious of the past.
Although it’s hard to imagine armies deployed and butchering each other high on the rocky moors just beside the parcours, that’s exactly what happened here in 722.
The Moors (Arabs we’d say) who ruled Spain for nearly 800 years sent an army to Asturias to tame the local Christian warrior, Pelayo and his band.
Pelayo and his cristianos prayed for divine intervention the night before, to assist them in their impending battle with the fearsome Moors.
Their prayers, which took place in the cave in the rock face opposite the basilica – which is now a place of pilgrimage – were answered and the Christians scored a rare and decisive victory against the Moors.
When you’re up there the day before the race and it’s just you, the hire car, the wind and the mountain – that story doesn’t seem quite so fanciful.
Tomorrow will be third ‘death stage’ in