Labelled by everyone as the Queen Stage of the race, today’s route is packed with climbing and ends with a tough summit finish. Nairo Quintana leads the race but has to take time on Chris Froome. Can he do it?
Stage 13 Wrap: a breakaway of 12 riders rode away and stayed away, finishing almost 34 minutes ahead of a relaxed peloton. The best rider on GC was Cofidis’s Stéphane Rossetto, a strong rider but suffering from a large cut to his leg that tore skin and muscle tissue and so over an hour down overall. Given this the group could have taken more time. As the finish approached the riders traded moves with Valerio Conti proving the best by forcing his way solo. Conti’s a promising rider and a rarity among Italian cyclists as he’s from Rome, pro cycling is big in Italy but not in the country’s capital. You might have seen him during the Giro when he was essential for Diego Ulissi’s stage wins and after finishing this he was still active in the mountains during the Dauphiné. Perhaps it’s genetic, his father was a pro and so was his grandfather, nonno Noé was a team mate of Fausto Coppi no less. Movistar got some flack in the media for not chasing harder but that’ll all be forgotten if – big if – Quintana wins the race overall and in order to do this it was important to save energy for today.
The Route: 196km and a whopping 5,200m of vertical gain, all of which is in France. The first climb is the little-known Col d’Inharpu, never used in the Tour de France but it should be, 11.5km at 7.1% and a scenic, wild climb. The comes a more famous climb, the Col du Soudet but better known to many as La Pierre Saint Martin, the spot where Froome delivered the knock-out attack to his rivals early in the 2015 Tour de France only this time they climb the other side, 24km at 5.2% but irregular and the second half is really 11km at 8%.
A valley section and then comes the Marie Blanque, a mythical climb of the Tour de France that’s famous for its severity, “This is just the mountain I don’t cope with very easily and it seems to defy analysis” said Bradley Wiggins in 2010. It is climbed from its steep side via Escot and the middle of the climb has a long straight section that’s 3km at 12-13%. After the hairpins resume the top is near and there’s a short plateau section across the top. It’s hard but there’s still 40km to go from here so a long range attack is unlikely given the valley roads ahead will allow the stronger teams to chase.
The Finish: a summit finish at the top of the Col d’Aubisque, 16km at 7.1%. Note the irregular gradient, there’s a a gentle start and then a steep 10% moment after 4km marks the start of the harder climbing. The graphic above from the race roadbook says the maximum gradient is 10% but there’s a nasty 13% where the second 10% warning sits. The slope eases in the final kilometre to 6-7%.
The Contenders: Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana? The almost daily iteration of uphill finishes has seen these two emerge as the overall contenders. Quintana seems to be climbing better so far but the two are close but Quintana needs to go clear today and take the stage win for the time bonus to compound any advantage on Chris Froome.
The next wave of contenders include Esteban Chaves, often zippy on small climbs but he’s been saying he’s been prefers the longer climbs and better still stages with a lot of climbing: he’s got his wish here. Alberto Contador knows this climb well having duelled with Michael Rasmussen on the slopes here back in 2007, the Dane won the battle but lost the race after he fled on the rest day leaving Contador to win; such lively riding is impossible but he’s still there on the climbs. Alejandro Valverde should be close too.
Can the breakaway stick? The chances are higher in this Vuelta but we can expect Movistar to take up the pace setting on this stage and they might not leave many crumbs to a breakaway. Still several bigger names have come to the Vuelta with the idea of poaching a stage and the likes of Tejay van Garderen, Pierre Rolland and Thomas de Gendt are obvious picks but infrequent winners, the same for Robert Gesink and Mathias Frank. Among others Astana’s Andrei Zeits seems to be in the form of his life and Hugh Carthy, a man so thin you wonder if Chris Froome feels compelled to offer him an energy bar, has been struggling during the race but should finally be on terrain that suits.
|Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome
|Esteban Chaves, Robert Gesink
|van Garderen, Rolland, Zeits, De Gendt
Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 33°C.