Stage 11: Colunga. Jurassic Museum — Peña Cabarga, 168.6km
What's It About?
Another flat stage with a big twist. This time, the twist comes in the form of Peña Cabarga, a climb Vuelta viewers should be well familiar with by now. Vasil Kiryienka won here the last time it reared its head in 2013, with Chris Froome taking his first of many big wins at the peak in 2011.
ChrisF's Dirt and Rock Pairings
Where we never takes things for... More dinosaurs!
The stage commences at the Asturias Jurassic Museum (MUJA), in Colunga, an authentic geological monument regarding the dinosaur remains of that period of the Earth's history. It is an amazing museum where one can discover all the peculiarities of these fascinating reptiles that became extinct 65 million years ago. It is worth seeing the building from the sky, in order to see that the shape of the building is in fact a tridactyl (three-toed) dinosaur footprint.
As the stage follows the coastline, the most noteworthy geological elements are the beaches and river mouths. There are all kinds of spectacular beaches: Guadamia is a river canyon with a beach at the back; Cuevas del Mar is surrounded by cliffs and blowholes where the air blows when it storms; La Palombina is formed by an isthmus in the shape of a shell, etc. Ribadesella Beach is, besides an estuary, formed by the mouth of the Sella River and, Ribadesella is where we find the Tito Bustillo Cave Art Centre, whose paintings feature in Unesco's World Heritage listing. This cave has prehistoric paintings that date as far back as 22,000 years ago.
From here, the stage crosses a karst region. La Vuelta does not have any underground stages, meaning that we will not see the caves, galleries, stalactites, etc, that lie just beneath the entire route. But, luckily, there are also other surface phenomena, such as sinkholes. All these phenomena have to do with the dissolution of the area's limestone, that dates back as far as 150 million years.
I think that's my old geography teacher saying "SEE! These aren't just in the book!"
Some topography formations result as a combination of the coastal processes and the limestone. The most striking aspect of this is the presence of blowholes in the entire area. These are karst galleries found on the sea level where the waves go in, creating immense pressure, making the pulverised sea water shoot out above the cliff, accompanied by a very characteristic blowing sound that gives it its name. The Arenillas Blowholes are the largest on the Western Coast, reaching around 40 metres high.
Between San Vicente de la Barquera and Comillas, the route passes through the Oyambre Natural Park that was created in order to protect sand dunes, estuaries, marshlands and beaches, that form a singular complex. In truth, we will continue to see river mouths and the beaches associated with them right until the end of the stage. One of the most striking is the Saja River's mouth, between Suances and Miengo, that forms part of the Liencres Sand Dune Natural Park, considered one of the most important in Northern Spain due to its geo-morphological interest.
I can do the map and profile with a pencil. It's straight along the north coast of Spain, Basque country bound. And while we don't reach that land on this stage, the final climb is Itzulia-esque.
Another stage designed as if to purposely create boredom for the first four hours, and twenty minutes of excitement. The few kilometres before the climb will be hectic — Igor Anton says hi. Anyway, once the riders hit the bottom of the climb, it's ten per cent most of the way.
A false flat section in the middle of the five kilometre ascent is the only respite from the gradient, which reaches eighteen per cent. The final kilometre is the toughest part, where the eventual victor will probably grind out an advantage.
Whom Does it Favor
That's a trickier question than you might expect. On paper, it favours the GC guys, but this Vuelta has been full of breakaways being let away for stage wins, and I think that will happen again. Movistar will be parked on the front as they have been all race, and they're not going to want to expend too much energy on chasing down a breakaway that won't threaten Quintana. So another breakaway stage, I expect. Who gets into the breakaway is basically a lottery between the umpteen riders who sense a stage chance, so here are a few names. Arroyo, Zubeldia, Mamykin, Vervaeke, Gesink, Frank, Luisle Sanchez.
Quintana, Froome and Contador will fight for a few seconds behind, with Quintana hoping to capitalise on his advantage while he has it.
Pick to Win
Matthias Frank. He wasn't far off on Sunday, and there's something in the water at IAM recently.