The longest stage of this year’s La Vuelta a España, Stage 13 totals 213.4km as it traces its way from Bilbao to Urdax-Dantxarinea, taking in four Category 3 ascents in the process. The composition of the day will make it extremely difficult to control, many teams looking to make life easier by placing a rider in the day’s breakaway to avoid chasing for 200km or more. None of the climbs on Stage 13 are particularly intimidating, but the fact all four are summited in a little over 60km, will ensure that the attritional nature of climbing each in such a short period impacts strongly on the outcome in Urdax-Dantxarinea. The final 31.7km take the form of a lap with gently rolling terrain, though the last 380m to the line hits a gradient of 1.5% – 2% and leads into a tricky roundabout 240m from the finish.
Fabio Felline was once again a nearly man on yesterday’s stage, finishing on the podium in third, but will be convinced that a victory is still within his grasp. If teams interested in a bunch kick collaborate convincingly enough today, then it may be the last chance of a sprint finish before the final day’s run into Madrid. Felline will be interested in joining a breakaway too however, his current form suggests that the day’s terrain is unlikely to break him and he would be the fastest man expected to join the move on Stage 13. The two biggest factors which may improve his chances further still are the slight drag up to the line and the draining nature of the four climbs packed into such a short period of time.
Gianni Meersman is another rider who often performs best after a tough day in the saddle and will seek to take advantage of his rivals’ tired legs by the time they reach Urdax-Dantxarinea. Given that we appear to be seeing some of his best climbing form at a grand tour right now, combined with a brilliant lieutenant in the shape of Zdenek Stybar, Meersman is an obvious contender for the win on Stage 13.
Kristian Sbaragli displayed a hint of the form which has previously secured him a grand tour stage win and could be finally finding his feet as we pass into the second half of the race. He has not committed a great deal of effort up until yesterday and he will be encouraged after yesterday’s realisation that he is not far off the pace of the frontrunners. The attritional climbs and slight drag to the line could be enough to see Sbaragli make it over the line first today.
Nikias Arndt cannot be discounted from appearing in the mix, despite a series of unfortunate attempts at sprints so far at the race. Generally speaking, Arndt is often one of the strongest climbing sprinters when contesting a stage such as this and would not be foolish to invest a great deal in trying to win Stage 13. His team provides a reasonable amount of protection, but it is their leadout skills which could be the factor which swings the outcome in the favour of Arndt.
Zdenek Stybar is a perfect alternative for Etixx-QuickStep if Meersman does not believe he can win today’s stage. The powerful Czech rider is well-suited to the challenges at hand and will be incredibly tough to beat as part of a reduced group which makes it to the finish first. If he makes it into the right move and does not find life too hard on the day’s climbs, Stybar has a great chance of picking up another win for his team at 2016’s La Vuelta a España.
Beyond those mentioned above, Gianluca Brambilla, Dries Devenyns, Jens Keukeleire and Jempy Drucker are all capable of featuring in the day’s action.
1st Fabio Felline 2nd Kristian Sbaragli 3rd Nikias Arndt