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Stage 17: No Country For Old Cows

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Naranjo de Bulnes, Picos de Europa
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Stage 17: Villadiego — Los Machucos, 180km

It’s maybe the last great stage of the race, if you like your mountains mixed with some distance. OK, almost nobody would agree with that description, but it’s definitely one of the two stages left where the race can still be made.

And it continues a trend that will last until Madrid of practically every stage either starting or finishing on the coast. The time trial on stage 16 was the fourth stage of the race not featuring a view of the sea. That’ll continue in the Picos de Europa, which are just south of the populated northern coast. Not a bad theme.

Map:

Stage 17 map

Profile:

Stage 17 profile

What’s It About?

Entering Los Picos. The Picos de Europa, so named for ships arriving from the new world and spotting them before any other sight of European soil, feature some of the more difficult cycling routes around. Part of the Cantabrian Mountains, they are not high but often devilishly steep, and the climb to the Mountain of Hurts, the Alto de los Machucos, will definitely hurt.

Alto de los Machucos

Prior to that comes a pair of climbs that will take some of the starch out of the riders’ legs, the cat-2 Portillo de Lunada and the cat-1 Puerto de Alisas, 10km of a steady 6-7%. But the finishing peak is the notable one, simply beyond all reason with lengthy stretches of over 20% as well as longer bits of well in excess of 10%. Just a complete nightmare.

Whom Does it Favor?

The purely evil. If you haven’t made a pact with the devil, then you have no business succeeding on a climb like this.

Did You Know?

The cow monument on the summit is known as the Vaca Pasiego, the Pasiego cow, named for the nearby valley. I can’t tell you if the Pasiego cow is anything more than a typical cow who happens to be from there, as opposed to a specific breed. But I can tell you that the monument to the Pasiego cow is anything but typical.

Pasiego Cow

The monument was dedicated in 2010 by the local poobahs, through the Ministry of Rural Development, and its dedication was attended by local mayors and the president of Cantabria. So it was a big deal when just weeks later the cow suffered mysterious damage to its various extremities in the dead of night.

Here’s how it was described by the local press.

In particular, the authors of the wreckage broke the horns, ears, nose, tail, udder and a hind leg, in addition to pulling the sign indicating the place where the sculpture is located and making several graffiti on it. The complaint also highlights that a few hours earlier, on Friday night, a letter contest was held in a Bustablao bar attended by people from other nearby localities, and some of them may be responsible for the events.

Ya think? Anyway, the cow looked like this:

Vaca Pasiego

Terrible. But she’s been patched together again, and will be on hand to welcome the racers to the summit of Los Machucos road, in the heart of the stunning Collados de Ason national park.

Pick to Win

M.A.L. Best climber, hardest climb. But there’s a real chance the Sky-dominated peloton will let some KOM hopefuls away up the road to fight for the stage. CrAzY Thomas de Gendt?