Start location: Formigal
Finish location: Col du Tourmalet
Start time: 13:50 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
The Col du Tourmalet is one of, if not the, most famous mountains in bike racing, but its reputation comes from the Tour de France rather than the Vuelta a España. It’s the single most used climb at that race, having first been introduced in 1910, in which time no more than three editions have passed without it being visited. Despite being only just over the border in the Pyrenees, the Vuelta has not been here since 1995, when Laurent Jalabert, despite not being a pure climber, managed to overcome it and other big Pyrenean summits to win the stage en route to claiming the first – and ultimately only – Grand Tour overall victory of his career.
Not content with just revisiting the mountain, the organisers have made it the headline attraction of stage 13, repeating recent experiments at both the men’s and women’s Tours de France by having it host a summit finish. And given the drama it has produced in these races, it’s easy to see why. In 2010, a race-long evenly-matched duel between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck came to a climax in evocatively misty conditions, with the former withstanding multiple attacks to seal overall victory by just a matter of seconds (until he was later stripped of the title for a doping violation); in 2019 French hearts were set racing as Thibaut Pinot claimed a stunning stage victory with perhaps the greatest performance of his career, while Julian Alaphilippe defied expectations to finish second and defend the yellow jersey; and just a few weeks ago Demi Vollering managed to crack the formerly indomitable Annemiek van Vleuten, and drag back a dangerous move from Kasia Niewiadoma, to seal the stage and overall victory on the historic queen stage of the Tour de France Femmes.
Stage 13 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
The stage starts in Formigal, a name that will send shivers down Chris Froome’s spine; it was during a stage finishing here in 2016 that he and his Sky team were ambushed by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador, effectively losing him the race. There are similarities between this year's stage and that fateful occasion, mostly in that this, too, will be a short stage at only 135km, and therefore one in which could be raced with similar intensity.
The main difference is that today the climbing is much more severe, in what is the first full-on mountain stage of the race, and that would have been a shoo-in for queen stage status were it longer. The Col d’Aubisque might come a little early for attacks, crested 86km from the finish, but it’s certainly hard enough for stronger teams to try and isolate their GC riders from weaker teams. Should they succeed in doing so, the next climb, Col de Spandelles, might be the moment to strike, given how its average gradient of 8.3% is the steepest of the day’s climbs. But everyone will be anxiously aware of what comes at the end, and the need to preserve energy for the punishingly long and unforgivingly steep 19km rise up the fearsome Tourmalet. As such a monstrous summit, and with so much difficult climbing preceding it, this stage could see the biggest time gaps between the GC contenders of the race so far.
This stage, arguably the toughest of the whole Vuelta alongside the Angliru stage, looks primed for a GC showdown, and almost certainly a stage winner from the overall race favourites.
Jumbo-Visma, with their triumvirate of team leaders including the red jersey Sepp Kuss, will be forced to control proceedings, but it will be just as incumbent for the other contenders to attack at some point if they are to overhaul Kuss' lead.
The American, who has held the overall lead since the end of stage eight, is a potential winner on a stage like this. We've seen him at the pointy end of similar stages guiding his teammates deep into the final climb, and on this occasion he'll need to preserve his efforts as long as possible to be poised to mark any attacks. The purest of pure climbers, it's stages like this where Kuss could flourish given the chance.
Jumbo-Visma do have advantage of numbers in hand, meaning Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard will no doubt be given permission to attack and pile pressure on the other GC contenders. With riders of this quality, there's every chance one of them could escape and be able to take huge chunks of time out of the rest of the top-10.
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) is currently the biggest threat to a Jumbo-Visma overall victory and this stage will be a huge test of his Grand Tour credentials. It doesn't get tougher than having to fend off attacks from high quality riders on the same team, and we've yet to really see if Evenepoel can flourish on a high altitude day with such a severe amount of climbing.
UAE Team Emirates are another team with three riders nestled in the top-10, but it remains to be seen how they will work together to push a rider to the top step. Marc Soler is the closest to Kuss, second overall at 26 seconds, but seems the least likely to be able to win a stage such as this. João Almeida has the experience and the guile to be amongst the final selection on the Tourmalet, while supertalent Juan Ayuso has looked in mixed form in this race but is more than capable of achieving something special here.
Enric Mas (Movistar) and Alexandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) are definite outsiders in this company and both will surely be pleased to stick to the main favourites and gain time on anyone who is forced to drop away.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) is slightly closer to being in the fray after regaining time from the breakaway on stage 11, but whether he'll attempt to stay with the overall favourites is unknown.
Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) is a superb climber and has impressed so far to be able to remain sixth overall, but a stage of this magnitude feels like a stretch too far currently for the 20-year-old.
We think Jonas Vingegaard will win the stage.