Start location: Ólvega
Finish location: Zaragoza
Start time: 13:58 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
The Basilica del Pilar has stood proudly in Zaragoza ever since the city’s very earliest days. The story goes that the Virgin Mary appeared in an apparition to the Apostle James on the banks of the Ebro River while preaching the gospel in 40AD, inspiring him to build a shrine, the first to ever have been built in her honour. He was executed for his faith a few years later, but three centuries later the Roman Empire had become Christian, and a much larger basilica was constructed on the same site.
The Basilica has since become a symbol of the nation’s Christian identity, and has over the years been reconstructed and developed. It was rebuilt as a Romanesque church, then in the Gothic style in the fifteenth century, until work began in the 1680s under Charles II that saw it become the Baroque construction we know it as today. In the eighteenth century, one of Zaragoza’s most acclaimed sons was commissioned to paint frescos on the church’s domes and vaults: Francisco Goya. The painter’s humble lower-middle-class family came from Zaragoza, and Goya spent much of his childhood here before moving to Madrid to make his name as an artist. Should any of the riders find time to seek out some of the paintings of his that can be found throughout Zaragoza, his depictions of human anguish and suffering may resonate this deep into a Grand Tour.
Stage 12 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
Despite boasting all this national historical pedigree, and being the country’s fifth biggest city, the Vuelta a España has not visited Zaragoza since the 2008 edition, when Sébastien Hinault got the better of the more fancied sprinters Tom Boonen and Óscar Freire in a bunch finish. Without a single categorised climb all day, that will likely be the outcome once more again today.
This will be the last chance for the sprinters for a while. The race heads back into the Pyrenees in stage 13, and there’s no respite from the climbing until deep into the third week, on stage nineteen. Often sprinters head home after a stage like this, not believing the parcours offers them enough to make all the suffering worth it, but more riders than usual might stick it out compared to normal Vueltas, as this year there isn’t a World Championships occurring a few weeks later to rest up for.
The flat parcours might make this look like a sure sprint, but the organisers of the Vuelta are loath to ever give the sprinters too comfortable a day, and the race’s technical director Fernando Escartín has stressed the potential impact of the wind today. On a clear day in this part of the world, the Cierzo winds from the northwest, and has been known to reach speeds of over 100 km/h several times a year – conditions that could cause carnage in the peloton.
With a stage that mainly heads downhill, today is likely to be one for the sprint teams to contest. There are two climbs in the opening section of the stage but these aren’t likely to put sprinters under pressure and there’s only 865 metres of uphill throughout the entire stage, while there is almost double the amount of descending metres. Kaden Groves of Alpecin-Deceuninck stands as the key favourite for today after his two stage wins so far. The Australian rider has proved to be close to unbeatable when he gets a clear run at the line, with his lead-out train including the likes of Robbie Ghys doing a great job on multiple occasions.
Sebastian Molano of UAE Team Emirates is another fast man to watch, he’s had a second and a fourth place in this Vuelta so far and will be looking to go better today, though Molano is without a dedicated lead-out train around him. Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers has also tried his hand in bunch sprints a couple of times in the first week of the race and might be up for it again today, his stage win in the time trial is proof that the Italian is in good form.
A surprise winner on stage seven, TotalEnergies’ Geoffrey Soupe shouldn’t be counted out today – the Frenchman has proven he has the speed to outrun the best and this will give him plenty of confidence. Alberto Dainese of Team DSM is a two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner who could contest the bunch kick today if he is in good form, as could Marijn van den Berg of EF Education-EasyPost.
Edward Theuns has been unlucky on occasions in sprint stages so far this race and will want to improve that today, so an eye should be kept on the Lidl-Trek rider in these closing stages. Hugo Hofstetter of Arkéa–Samsic and Milan Menten of Lotto-Dstny are also riders who will be up there in the bunch sprint.
We're betting on Filippo Ganna to win the sprint today, the Ineos rider looks to have the form to do it and Ineos have nothing to lose by dedicating a lead-out train to the Italian rider now that they have no GC hopes.