Stage 12: Circuito de Navarro — Bilbao, 171km
The Vuelta moves fully back into the host country, with a run from Navarra to Vizcaya, traversing the heartland of the Basque Country and the spiritual home of cycling in Spain. It’s a lumpy route with some potential surprises in store for the leaders if they aren’t careful.
What’s Up With This Stage?
Mostly this stage is about connecting two places that any sane person with an interest in the outside world would want to visit. Bilbao especially is paradise for people interested in modern art and design. They have their own Guggenheim museum, wrapped in the visual madness of a Frank Gehry structure. Their airport is called La Paloma because it looks like a bird. There’s even a huge dog made out of flowers. Seriously, I doubt anyone will be worried about who wins the stage. Even the riders will be too busy talking about the new Jenny Holzer exhibition.
And El Profilio. That little lift near the end, known as the Alto de Arriaz, is 2.2km at 12%, and will surely see some sort of nonsense attempted. Whether it’s by the breakaway (90% chance) or the GC group (4% chance) is tbd, but a steep climb that tops out at 8km to go with a nosedive to the line... I mean, why wouldn’t you try something?
Because there are eight more stages and at least ten of them are major mountain events, that’s why. Chillax, enjoy the scenery, and finish up early enough to get into the Holzer exhibit.
Who will win?
Cross off the sprinters. You did that already? In June? RIght, then I think maybe forget about the Red Jersey folks, they have to at least let the break go, and it’s hard to see anyone gaining from a massive effort to get free on a short climb when that climb is followed by a long descent. There are, however, some climbing points at stake, so you should see Angel Madrazo and his Burgos boyos up there, perhaps with Geoffrey Bouchard and of course some Euskadi stage hunters. Add in some guys from the long list of climbers whose team has little happening in the GC fight, and you have yourself a big breakaway.
My pick: Gianluca Brambilla. That guy’s awesome.