There was no need for a power meter on Stage 12 to tell you how fast the stage was raced — it was clear to see on the riders’ faces. After umpteen failed attempts, a seven-rider breakaway finally stuck and, surprisingly, it contained both Pete Kennaugh and David Lopez of Team Sky.
After the stage, Kennaugh would say that this was not part of any major plan and that it was just fortune, though he also reported he was throwing up at the start of the stage so it looks like his cards were a mixed hand today. Regardless, his 15th position on G.C. ensured the peloton (Movistar, mostly) didn’t allow the breakaway to last, nor achieve a considerable lead, and it was caught on the final climb.
A lone attack made by Dries Devenyns of IAM cycling looked like it was going to last the distance as the peloton couldn’t decide how to or who should chase. This was unfortunate for Luis Leon Sánchez of Astana whose team had put in a lot of work to set up a victory for him. Without a proper chase, he was forced to make a move himself, and it ultimately came to nought.
Looking like a solo win for Devenyns, it was only the dogged attempts of a bullish Simon Yates (OBE) that animated the chase, forcing other riders to up their speed and eventually, with only two or so kilometres to go, swallow up the tiring IAM rider. Yates, at this point, was still on the front, and if it had been a tougher run in to the line you would’ve fancied his chances. However, the much faster men, liking their chances on a flat finish, started to lay their power down. With no sprint trains it looked like it could be anyone’s day and, eventually, it was a spirited and very powerful acceleration in the final 500 metres that took Jens Keukeleire (OBE) over the line first, ahead of a visibly infuriated Maxime Bouet (EQS).
Yates’ attacks hadn’t been for nothing then, as Orica were able to conserve their energy and emerge victorious — their second stage win of the Vuelta and a much deserved one for the Belgian domestique so often used up and near the back by a stage’s end. The fact he won in front of his family, including his newborn child, must’ve made it all the more special.
There were no changes in the G.C. as all the favourites concentrated on staying with each other, as the weekend’s mountains loom large in their minds.
Stage 13 is another break-friendly day, and the G.C. men will probably be happy to let it go the distance, with one eye on a brutal weekend of climbing ahead of them. The profile is more undulating that stage 12, but, with less severe climbs, it would suit the strong rouleurs in the peloton.
This is the longest stage of this year’s race, weighing in at just over 213km, so it’ll be a long hard day for the breakaway. We are still in the Basque country, so expect more lunatic fans on the roadside as the riders roll out from Bilbao and head towards the Pyrénées, where they will be for the next two days of racing. There are no real stretches of flat in the stage, and the road is constantly up and down for first 90km, giving ample opportunity for the break to establish itself. They then reach the first of four category 3 climbs, the Alto Monte Igueldo (5.3km, 6.2%). Next, at the 120km point, comes the hardest part of the stage, with two cat 3 climbs in succession, the Alto de Aritxulegi (6.2km, 6.5%) and the Alto de Agiña (5km, 6.2%). The final cat 3 of the day comes at 160km, with the Puerto de Lizaneta (7.2km, 4.7%). After this there is only 50km left to race.
At the top of the final climb the riders will be in France, but by the time the reach the the bottom of the descent they will have returned to Spanish soil. The stage ends with a circuit of 31km, which takes them back into France and then returns the race to Spain for a lumpy finish.
On paper this looks like a spring one-day classic, so we’re going to look for a candidate from those who can survive a long hard day in the saddle either in a break, or out of a small group at the end of the stage. Actually, Jens Keukeleire has all of these qualities, but he might be back on domestique duties on this more difficult stage. Orica might have a better chance with Simon Gerrans, who has been quiet this season but who goes well on this sort of long hard day. You’ve got to name Philippe Gilbert for this kind of thing, even though his wins are fewer and further between of late. And then there are the usual strong breakaway riders from this Vuelta: Jan Bakelants, Alexandre Geniez, Luis Leon Sánchez, Omar Fraile and Zdeněk Štybar, to name just a few. Nathan Haas could also have a good chance here, as could Yves Lampaert. But for our money, the best bet here is the in form Fabio Felline. After he stepped up to replace Bonifazio as lead sprinter for Trek, Felline has been a constant feature of the breaks and the sprints alike, and he not only deserves a win, but he also has a very strong chance of one here. If it all comes back together for a sprint, it will be Gianni Meersman who is Felline’s biggest threat.
Fabio Felline, and, for the podium, Zdeněk Štybar.