As the peloton closes in on the two week mark of this year’s Vuelta a España, the impetus to chase down moves on a day such as this (which lacks general classification importance and enough committed sprinters’ team), should leave Stage 13 perfect for the breakaway to take it all the way to the line. The day’s 177km journey from Calatayud to Tarazona offering up considerably rolling terrain which will favour a well drilled breakaway group, rather than the more cumbersome peloton and its sprinters. The riders begin climbing a short ascent immediately from the start, but really the opening 30km are predominately downhill or gently rolling. From here they begin heading upwards to and begin the first of two consecutive categorised climbs, the Category 3 Alto Collado de Oseja (8.2km avg 3.7%) which drags upwards to the following task.
The Category 1 Alto de Beraton (10.9km avg 4.7%) will be another slog, who’s beginning was only momentarily interrupted by several kilometres of downhill respite. After the summit, life becomes a lot easier as a long and steady descent takes them to the start of the day’s final climb with 135km having been completed. Only the Category 3 Alto del Moncayo (8.5km, avg 4.5%) will now separate the frontrunners from the finish line, a simple enough challenge which should be tackled at a steady pace considering its modest gradient. It is nearly downhill all the way to the line from the summit of this last climb, though the road does kick upwards with around 5km left to ride, but the finish is ultimately flat and free of obstacles.
Jens Keukeleire has the required skill set to perform convincingly here on Stage 13, the Belgian rider looking comfortable at La Vuelta when he has decided to go on the attack. Assuming he paces life in the breakaway well, he is bound to be the fastest man in a group which comes to the line together.
Gianluca Brambilla is eager to convert his efforts at the race so far into a stage victory, with today possibly offering him such an opportunity. Brambilla’s climbing has been very strong up to this point and he will no doubt survive the course if he targets the day, relying on his fantastic turn of speed to dominant the sprint from a large breakaway or to establish solo move late on.
Sylvain Chavanel is a habitual breakaway rider and there is a strong chance that he will feature in any move which tries to establish itself today. The Frenchman may be in his twilight years, but his racing nous and ability to calculate his efforts on the fly always mark the IAM Cycling rider out as a contender.
Alessandro De Marchi is another similarly breakaway obsessed rider and has already been quite active in that respect during the first half of this race. BMC are on the hunt for stage victories since their hopes of a general classification battle faded in the wake of Tejay Van Garderen and Stage 13 is an ideal springboard to allow De Marchi to attempt such a move.
Ruben Plaza is once again in a similar mould as to the previous couple of riders mentioned above and has demonstrated his strength in the break on several occasions during La Vuelta already. Victory has slipped from his fingers on these previous attempts, but there is no reason to rule him out of contention here because of these failings.
José Joaquín Rojas possesses a great blend of sprinting ability and climbing strength, a deadly combination on a day such as this which is so suited to the breakaway. Should he choose to join a move, it will be difficult to drop him and subsequently earmark him as the favourite to win a reduced sprint. Even if he decides he is better off hiding in the peloton all day in an attempt to conserve his energy, Rojas remains one of the biggest threats to a rider such as John Degenkolb in a bigger bunch kick.
Tosh Van Der Sande has been riding extremely impressively so far and warrants inclusion here as a possible breakaway or sprint contender. His strength will catch many by surprise right now and underestimating him here could prove a costly error.
Stephen Cummings has demonstrated his affinity for breakaways throughout two grand tours this year and Stage 13 will certainly catch his eye as an opportunity to take another win. The power which he provides such a move with is always welcomed by other riders, but he will have to go it alone at the perfect moment to stand a chance of winning upon today’s finish.
1st Gianluca Brambilla 2nd José Joaquín Rojas 3rd Alessandro De Marchi