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Vuelta Stage 13: The Mountains Await

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Another hop, skip and a jump through the Basque Country sets up the queen stage.

Clasica San Sebastian Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Bilbao / Urdax-Dantxarinea 213.4KM

What's It About?

Coming to the earth-shattering conclusion that there can't be mountains every day. Oh, and sapping the legs with a 213 kilometre day.

ChrisF's Dirt and Rock Pairings

Where we never take things for granite.

The faults and the dissolution of rocks give way to a particularly fractured topography. The stage is scattered with karst formations (sinkholes, channels, stalagmites, galleries, etc.). The Puente Viesgo Wellness Spa is another notable example of the importance of geology, because a detailed study of the region's faults and karst formations is what allows these thermal centres to flourish and make the most of the mineral and medicinal waters.

This stage takes place parallel to the coast and visits some of the most emblematic locations of the Iberian Peninsula's geological heritage.

The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, declared by UNESCO in 1984, encompasses the territory pertaining to the Oka River's catchment area. This place preserves traces of the Earth's history dating back 250 million years, and researchers from all over the world work hard to interpret them. From ancient volcanoes and underwater deltas, to extremely well-preserved fossil reefs. The mouth of the river is amazing with its abrupt, whimsical sand formations. One particular attraction is the sand barrier of Mundaka, that results in one of the most famous waves in the world for surfing. The karst cavities and caves that give the Biosphere Reserve such a characteristic appearance are also very interesting. Some of them, such as the one at Santimamiñe, contain archaeological remains from the first inhabitants of Urdaibai. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As the stage passes through Zumaia, the coast acquires a spectacular outline. We enter the Basque Coast Geo-park, declared by UNESCO. Add to the cliffs and beautiful beaches the fact that the rocks are formed by alternating layers, both hard (limestone and sandstone) and soft (marlstone and clay rocks), reminding us of a giant “millefeuille” (thousand leaves cake). These particular formations, that go by the name of flysch, are vertical here, allowing us to see the different layers of sediment that are normally found horizontally.

We arrive in a witch town, in Zugarramundi, where there are endless deep, closed valleys, sinkholes, upwelling water, etc. in a karst landscape that presents an irregular, intricate and mysterious topography that has stirred the imagination of its inhabitants since ancient times.

Urdax Cave stands out for the multitude of colours found in its ochre, orange and white rooms and walls. Also worth mentioning are the enormous formations that, although they do not join the ceiling to the floor, they do hang from the ceiling exposing their attractive colours to visitors. These are commonly known as “artichokes”. These caves were occupied in ancient times, as various archaeological investigations have shown. Remains such as chisels, scrapers and harpoons made of flint have been found there, as well as food remains and traces of a human burial, which proves that Palaeolithic men inhabited these lands.

Course Features

Your map and profile:

Well, well, well. Umpteen category threes, with a tough climb at the...what's that I'm hearing? Aw, shucks.

Yes, unfortunately the route was quite drastically altered, leaving it a shell of its former self.

That leaves just four third category climbs, with just some uncategorised bumps at the end, possibly opening the door for another sprint win. Notice how the course dips into France? Get used to it.

Whom Does it Favor

The inverted commas sprinters? Nikias Arndt was my favourite to come home with a heap of sprint wins under his belt before the Vuelta started, but he's not firing on all cylinders. The man who is? Gianni Meersman. He took the first couple of sprint stages, and a Fortuneo-Vital Concept signature later he should be ready to spring back into action. Magnus Cort and Jonas Van Genechten should be the main challengers.

Pick to Win

Meersman.