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Vuelta Stage 18: Break’s Over

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Or... is it?

Lignum Crucis, Santo Toribio
Cristina Arias, Getty

Stage 18: Suances — Santo Toribio de Liébana, 169km

Ah, the Vuelta, where even the transitional stages have MTFs.

Map:

Stage 18 map

Profile:

Stage 18 Profile

What’s It About?

A potentially forgettable stage, except to the opportunistic, be they breakaway artists or the GC guys. The final two-plus hours are all up and down, albeit over minor climbs averaging six percent or so. The race programme doesn’t seem to think they will add up to much, so who am I to argue?

Whom Does It Favor?

Clearly a break will have a chance to stay away at this point in the Vuelta, but I would note that a 6% power climb at the end of a stage might be something that tempts a few guys from the GC who like the easier ramps and want to bag a few seconds or so. One Chris Froome comes to mind, and Wilco Kelderman will be in the thick of a GC position battle, which might be drastically changed by the time the race starts (I’m writing this preview before stage 17). Something like this won’t favor the true climbers, not like Wednesday and Saturday. They could be back on their heels a bit. Nibali strikes me as a guy who might try something too, maybe on a twisting descent. Or maybe they’ll all just be exhausted and watch the breakaway sweep up the leftovers.

Did You Know?

Back to the history lessons. For once, the Vuelta pulls a Giro and ends up at a monastery, except it’s no ordinary rendezvous with the nuns. The Santo Toribio de Liébana monastery is a sixth century institution which celebrates with a feast on years when Santo Toribio’s Day falls on a Sunday, which it did this past April. That’s also the only time they ever open the Door of Forgiveness.

But the real headliner has to do with their most important relic, the alleged largest piece of the cross — the Cross — still in existence. The story goes, Saint/Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine was on a tour of Palestine as it rebuilt itself following the sacking of the Jewish state by Titus. She decided that a temple over Jesus’ burial site needed to be torn down, and discovered three crosses, which raised her interest. Someone rounded up an old woman near death, and when she touched the first two crosses, nothing happened, but when she touched the third one, she got well again. That’s science for you.

There were several relics involved in the discovery, and the piece of cross in question here went to Saint Turibius, who took it to Spain. On the discovery site Saint Helena ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So with connections like this, maybe in a few years the Vuelta will start in Jerusalem too.

Pick to Win

Alberto Contador. I think he gets let off the leash, and all of Spain wills him to a stage win. This is as harmless and controllable a place for the fairy tale to be staged.