Stage 13: Bilbao to Los Machucos. Monumento Vaca Pasiega (166.4 km)
The ski-jumping bell cow should be under attack as the race heads to the steep bovine finish on Los Machucos. If Roglic can limit his losses, he may put a damper on the overall ambitions of the herd of climbers looking to cut into his time-trial-abetted lead. Or the stage may portend the death of Roglic’s lead by a million cuts over the mountainous last half of the race.
The Vuelta heads back to the finishing slope of Los Machucos for the second time, after previously visiting in 2017. On that infamous day in 2017, Stefan Denifl, pumped up on super-charged cattle blood, took the surprise victory even though Alberto Contador now earns the recognized stage win, while Chris Froome would falter on the slopes, perhaps leading to a panic-induced asthma attack that would result in his adverse analytical finding on the next day’s stage.
Back in 2017, the GC battle didn’t start until the final climb, and though the route to the final climb is quite different (there was a category 1 climb and descent leading into Los Machucos and only a single category 2 climb on the remainder of the stage), the same thing should probably happen tomorrow. The finale is so steep that it would be foolish to waste energy on any of the lead up climbs. Those climbs prior to Los Machucos, however, do make it another good opportunity for a large breakaway.
The monument at the top of the climb is dedicated to the Pasiega cattle, the type of cow that is bred in the Pas Valley of the Cantabrian region. The Pasiega cow makes a particularly germane Vuelta mascot as it’s also know as roja pasiega or rojina for it’s hazelnut, cherry, and chestnut colored coat.
If you go about 30 kilometers west of the Pasiega cow monument, you’d come to the the Cave of La Pasiega, which is a UNESCO Human Heritage Site because it contains examples of some of the earliest paleolithic cave art, which may or may not have actually been made by Neanderthals over 60,000 years ago. And if you wanted to visit such an awe-inspiring piece of human (or non-human) history, what would you see? Well, lots of paintings of cattle of course (31 to be exact), perhaps proving that perhaps we are not as evolved, artistic, or unique as we think we are as we’ve been making the same god-damned cow-art for 60 millennia.
While there’s a decent chance that the winner can come from the break or from an attack from the GC group from a rider who has lost a lot of time, let’s look at the GC battle. Realistically, there’s only five riders left that can win this race. While Movistar has the numbers with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, they don’t have the team spirit. Roglic will be looking to hold onto wheels and hopefully not hemorrhage too much time. Tadej Pogacar is a good pick but is young and unseasoned. I think the battle goes to Miguel Angel Lopez on this stage. He has already ridden up Los Machucos in 2017, coming in 3rd behind Denifl and Contador and the steepness should suit him. With strong support from the other Stanis, look for Superman to cut into Roglic’s lead and move up to second place.
As for the winner of the stage, let’s go with Superman’s compatriot, Daniel Felipe Martinez. He lost some time today, perhaps setting up an opportunity to get into the break, and could pull out a stage victory from the bigs, as he did in Paris-Nice this year.