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Vuelta Stage 14: Queen Stage!

Le Tour de France 2012 - Stage Sixteen Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Stage 14: Urdax-Dantxarinea — Aubisque - Gourette 196.1KM

What's It About?

Finally putting down the hockey sticks, and trying to decide the Vuelta, or at least set things up for the time-trial. The peloton have a day in France, and through famous French Pyrenean passes, ending on the Col d'Aubisque. It's a very similar stage to one used in the 2007 Tour de France, which was won by Michael Rasmussen.

ChrisF's Dirt and Rock Pairings

Where we never take things for granite.

The rocks that make up the Aralar mountain range are primarily limestone with significant karst phenomena both on the surface and underground, giving way to a rocky and chaotic landscape made up of channels, blind valleys, sinkholes and a multitude of caves and chasms. At the same time, it is a landscape of evergreen meadows and beech woods that change colour with the passing seasons. It is one of the most important dolmen sites as well as a classic tourist destination for mountaineers and hikers alike.

The Kakueta Gorge is a narrow canyon almost five kilometres long where the Uhaitza River flows. This pass is made up of limestone and features several cascades, waterfalls and narrowed stretches. It also has several caves located along its rocky walls. In fact, the river's water level receives underground contributions from the karst system of Larra, depending primarily on the season. The canyon is prepared for tourist visits thanks to its rock steps and some bridges that allow visitors to go inside it.

Nearby is the San Martin Massif, made up mainly of limestone from the Late Cretaceous Period (around 100 million years ago). The area's particular lithological, structural and climactic characteristics have conditioned the development of an important karst system on the massif. The superficial formations are the regional landscape's most striking element, especially the channels. But, although it is far from view, the underground karst development is just as, if not more, spectacular. Actually, this is where one of the 15 deepest caves in the world is found.

Course Features

Your map shows a winding, south-westerly route hugging the Spanish border.

The profile's the important thing for stage fourteen though. A flat first fifty kilometres leads to the foot of the Col Inharpu, which itslef is followed up La Pierre St. Martin (where Froome staked his Tour de France claim last year) and the Col de Marie-Blanque. None of them are even deemed worthy of Especial status — That's reserved for the Aubisque.

Seventeen kilometres and seven per cent, it's not a climb you would expect to see in the Vuelta, but since ASO's buy out of the race, I suppose some more Tour de France style climbs will sneak into the race.

There's a gentle lead in to the big climb, but at Eaux-Bonnes there's a ten per cent section, after which it's consistently over seven per cent.

Whom Does it Favor

Hmm...postmen? Classics guys? Of course it's the climbers and GC guys, by which I mean Quintana and Froome, who should fight it out for precious seconds which will be valuable in stage nineteen's time trial. Whatever Contador does, he can't stay with the two, so he's going to crack with three to go, or stick with Valverde and come fifth. Either way, the likely duel between Froome and Quintana is the main attraction of this stage, and if Froome is telling the truth when he says that he is riding into form, he and Quintana should be very evenly matched. While this isn't Pe‎ña Cabarga, Froome was Quintana's equal or better there, even if Lagos de Covadonga wasn't so much his climb. Whether they'll fight out the stage is another question, but Movistar and Sky are well-rested after today's crawl to the line, so I think any break may be given a short leash. Pardilla, Van Garderen, Meintjes and Brambilla are names who could be found in that break.

Pick to Win

Quintana. He has to use his form while he has it.