05/09 - Stage 13 - Belorado to Obregón. Parque de Cabárceno - 188.7 km

After a relatively easy day in Logroño, it’s now time for another undulating and demanding stage. A morning breakaway will have a good chance of succeeding today.

The route
From the official start in Belorado, the peloton heads north towards the first intermediate sprint in Espinosa de los Monteros. This long stretch of over 90 km shouldn’t trouble the riders much. However, since this is a good day for a break to make it all the way, we can expect another fast start. Without any climbs to help creating the breakaway, it could easily take an hour before the final break gets clear.

After 100 km on the bike, the riders take on the first categorized climb of the day. Alto Estacas de Trueba is 11 km long and has an average gradient of 3 %. The last 2 km are the steepest with gradients of around 5-6 %. A long and technical descent follows before the road kicks up again. The 6 km towards the top of Puerto de la Braguía have a steady average gradient of 6 %. After another tricky descent, it’s time for the last categorized climb.

Alto del Caracol starts out with a steep section right at the beginning. The first 2 km have an average gradient of 7.5 %. After a short descent, the last 7 km kick up with 6.5 %.  From the top, there are 37.5 km to go. The first 20 km are pretty much downhill all the way. Then, after a long flat section, it’s time for a spectacular finish.

The finish
With about 2.5 km to go, the riders enter the Cabárceno Natural Park. However, this finish is anything but a walk in a park. There is a steep uphill section of 750 meters with an average gradient of about 8 %. A couple of times the gradients are even over 10 %. On small roads inside the park, the riders take on a very fast and technical final kilometer of the race. After passing the hippos and zebras, the road bends several times before a right-hand corner on a downhill section takes the riders towards the finishing line on the parking lot in front of the bear compound. Only the last 100 meters are straight-out and flat. In case this stage will be decided in a sprint, the first rider into the last corner will win the stage.

It’s free to enter the Cabárceno Natural Park today, so we can expect a good amount of spectators on the roads. However, as the roads are already very narrow as it is, hopefully, with so many spectators around, we won’t see any incidents. The photo below shows the downhill right-hand bend leading towards the finishing line on the parking lot.

Vuelta a España 2014 Preview

The favorites
Today’s stage is very tough to call. The following three days end with a mountain top finish. Therefore, the GC riders will be happy to get a quiet day in the saddle. Since a breakaway almost seems certain to win the stage, there aren’t any top favorites. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the most likely candidates for a morning breakaway.

First up is Alessandro De Marchi. The Italian is a true fighter and he’s always eager to attack and try his luck. He has already won a stage in this year’s Vuelta a España after a long breakaway. On paper, this stage is perfect for him to attack and I’m sure he will give it a go. However, in order for Alessandro De Marchi to win, he has to solo away like he did on stage 7. He doesn’t have a strong kick on the steep part near the finish and he’s not very fast on the line either. Still, he’s strong as a bear and if he gets away on the final 15 km, he will be extremely difficult to catch.

Luis León Sanchez hasn’t shown much of himself in this race so far. He tried to make the break on stage 7, when De Marchi won, but without any luck. Today is a typical stage for the Spaniard. Sanchez has won numerous stages like this in his career. He’s strong uphill, exceptional downhill, a good time trialist and fast on the line. So far, he hasn’t looked super but, if he’s ready, this is his day to shine. Both Alessandro De Marchi and Luis León Sanchez spent almost all day in the back of peloton on stage 12. Probably saving as much energy as possible before today’s fight.

For other interesting breakaway candidates look to in-form riders like Roman Sicard, Damiano Cunego and the British champion Pete Kennaugh who’s been very strong lately. Not to forget youngsters like Alexey Lutsenko, Adam Yates and Merhawi Kudus.

In case of a sprint
In the unlikely event that the breakaway gets caught, we might see the GC riders battling for important bonus seconds. Dan Martin showed on stage 3 and stage 7 that he has a very strong kick on the steep gradients. He might fancy this finish. The same goes for Philippe Gilbert. He won the sprint in the peloton on stage 7 and this finish suits him perfectly. The Belgian has won a stage in the Vuelta the last two years and seems to be in better shape this time. He might also try to join an early breakaway. Gilbert has done so before and it would serve him as good training ahead of the World Championships.

The same goes for Peter Sagan. After a very anonymous start to the race, Sagan is now starting to show glimpses of his true potential. He finished 3rd on stage 12 and when he’s in top condition, few in the world can match him on a finish like this. Sagan is not afraid of joining the early breakaways. Like Gilbert, this will be a great test for Sagan before Ponferrada. Michael Matthews probablt also has his eyes on this stage. The late crash on Thursday ruined his chances in the sprint. Today, he has another opportunity to shine. On a good day, Bling should be up there as well, fighting for the win.

Top GC contenders like Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez might also fancy this finish. Naturally, they won’t waste their teams before three hard days in the mountains. But if other teams keep control of the breakaway, they should try to go for the bonus seconds. Alejandro Valverde is just 20 seconds behind Alberto Contador in the general classification. With 10 bonus seconds on the line, he would make his life much easier with a win in the Cabárceno Natural Park today.

To spice up the previews, once again, I’ve asked Eurosport’s on-site Vuelta reporter, Laura Meseguer, to pick a stage winner for each stage of the race. Laura is interviewing the riders before and after the stages and she knows what’s going on inside the peloton.

Today, Laura picks Caja Rural'Luis León Sanchez to win.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.