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Vuelta Stage 19: Putting the Yadda in Yadda Yadda Yadda

Can this stage be over already?

Moon over Gijon

Caso/Parque Natural de Redes — Gijon, 149km

Transitional stage or... transitionalest stage?


Stage 19 map


Stage 19 profile

What’s This Stage About?

Hey... it’s backwards! I’m going to guess that not only is this the first ever stage of the Vuelta to start in the Picos de Europa and go downhill toward the coast. In fact, I’m not sure there’s ever been a recreational ride, grand fondo, or any other cycling event that’s followed this path, besides maybe a farmer biking to town with a sheep in need of medical attention. I’m not saying there’s no reason to go to Gijon, I’m just saying that the Picos de Europa tend to beckon people up and in, not down and out. Except spiritually, of course.

The only real question is whether the last climb of the day, topping out with 13km to go, affects the outcome, and it’s got a bit of a bite to it:

That would maybe disrupt a sprint from developing, which you could also say about the cat-1 climb early in the stage. But if people are determined, I guess it could happen.

But coming between three hard stages and the Angliru, this one has breakaway stamped all over it.

Whom Does it Favor?

If a sprint were to happen, I suppose we might see Magnus Cort Nielsen and Matteo Trentin go at it again. Trentin could use some points here if he’s to even have a hope of catching Chris Froome for the Points Competition, and when Quick Step can smell a possible stage win, they hone in on it like a hungry barracuda.

Still, a much better bet is that the usual suspects hit the road early and are never seen again. So a different Quick Step rider will do the honors instead, like Alaphilippe or Lampaert. Davide Villella will likely want to sew up the KOM jersey, since Cannondale are desperate for good news. Who else comes out to play is anyone’s guess.

Did You Know?

Bullfighting still exists. It’s pretty hard to imagine, from my American perspective, because to me it just looks like an exercise in animal torture and slaughter. I’m very sympathetic to animals, although I certainly recognize the fact that we eat a lot of them and that food webs are part of life on Earth. So if people want to watch a bull being killed, it would be foolish of me to ridicule them on Twitter from my seat at Five Guys Burgers. [I’m not actually at Five Guys Burgers right now.]

But I bring this up not to weigh the morality, but just to maybe frame it a bit as a cultural symbol. Gijon has a lovely bullring dating back to the late 19th century, where they do bullfighting and host concerts. And not much else of interest; it’s a regional industrial capital. So I’ll use this opportunity to look into bullfighting a bit. If you want a few factoids about this matter, read on. If it sickens you, skip ahead to my daring prediction for the stage win.

Bullfighting in Gijon
Europa Press

Bullfighting dates back to before recorded history, supposedly (I recognize that virtually every assertion of fact that makes the event look better or worse is probably the subject of heated debate). From Mesopotamia to Crete to Rome (here we go again), there is evidence of bullfighting of some sort, growing from the religious worship of bulls. Incidentally, I once read a book called Food of the Gods that theorized, with some reason, that bulls were revered in Mesopotamia because hallucinogenic mushrooms grew from their poop. Pretty hard not to assign magical qualities to such a creature. Anyway, humans and bulls’ facebook relationship status is definitely “it’s complicated.”

Spanish bullfighting came of age in Medieval times, as a royal pleasure, and is the most well-known version, though in fact a number of different styles exist in Spain. Some are non-lethal, involving leaping over the bull acrobatically or snatching a rose from its horns, though I’m sure the training of bulls is still no picnic. But the classic one involves lancing the bull in the shoulders just enough to sap the bull’s strength, not to stop it right away. That’s why you get so many pictures of a bull with a bunch of sticks hanging from its shoulders. Eventually the exhausted bull lays down and is killed with a sword through its heart.

Bullfighting is surely a cultural entity in Spain, but that’s about where agreement ends. I suppose it’s a bit like football in the US, where politicians of a more nationalist strain will sing the praises of the manliness involved, as Franco did for many years, but Spain is a difficult place to govern, and more independent regions like Catalunya and Galicia have turned against it as a symbol of centralized control. It’s still big in Andalucia, the large swath of the south, which is also a bit like football in the US, and in Madrid. But I’m not really qualified to say anything deeper about Spanish politics.

Its future is a tricky one to predict. Cultural symbols don’t die quickly (cough), but one poll in 2006 found only 25% of the Spanish population expressing interest in watching bullfighting, and primarily older people, while there is a large activist movement in Spain opposing it on moral grounds. It was dropped from live TV broadcasts in 2007, though some regional channels will show it. People in favor of it argue that bull pastures are part of the landscape because of bullfighting, and will be replaced by golf courses if the sport dies. That might sound silly except it’s a billion-dollar industry that is estimated to employ over 100,000 people, and that sort of value might keep the truly evil golf course developers away. (This I think we can all agree on.) So even as it drops in popularity, it’s hard to imagine bullfighting disappearing.

Just thought you might like a bit more context as to why the Vuelta shows that little wooden bull silhouette every year. It’s not just part of a tourism brochure, it’s a complicated part of Spanish culture.

Pick to Win

Julian Alaphilippe. I got a good feeling about this kid...


Here is my all-time favorite documentary on bullfighting.