Start location: Liencres Playa
Finish location: Bejes
Start time: 14:40 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
The rest day sees the riders transfer from Lekunberri in Navarre to Liencres Playa in Cantabria some several hundred kilometres to the west, and that westward trajectory continues for the first part of the third week. The riders will leave the beaches and rocky cliff faces of Liencres Playa to head through the mostly flat terrain of the Cantabrian coast. About 100km into the stage they will divert from the rugged coastline and head back inland towards La Hermida, a gorge which has the distinction of being the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, whereupon they will start climbing to the finish in Bejes.
Located in the region of Liébana, Bejes is a new host town for the Vuelta a España, and is best known for its picón blue cheese. Made from cows, sheep and goats’ milk, its final maturing is achieved through at least two months of curing in the many natural limestone caves found in Liébana, including Bejes, which is one of the summits of the Picos de Europa range which is at an appropriately high altitude. It’s during this final process that the cheese is infused with the bacteria Brevibacterium, giving it a spicey, butter and tart taste.
Stage 16 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
With a totally flat parcours until a final steep uphill to the finish in Bejes, it’s difficult to call how this stage will play out. On one hand, the terrain will make it difficult for the kind of explosive climbers and puncheurs who would excel on the final climb to make it up the road. But with sprinters having no chance on such a finish, and with GC teams surely wanting to save their energy ahead of tomorrow’s much-anticipated Alto de l'Angliru, which teams are going to bother chasing to bring the breakaway back? As the shortest road stage of the whole Vuelta aside from the final day in Madrid, they can at least be encouraged by not having too long a chase.
As for the GC riders, the gradients of the ascent to Bejes, which kick up at about 9% for the first couple of kilometres, and then back up to double-digits again after one kilometre of respite in the middle, are steep enough to cause gaps between them, though its overall length of just 4.8km means there isn’t enough time for ones likely to be meaningful to the rankings, especially this deep into a Grand Tour when deficits are generally already sizable. But looking back at the Vuelta past visits to Liébana, perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to discount the impact such a stage can have. In 2012, having spent the previous days in the high mountains trying and failing to dislodge Joaquim Rodríguez from the top of the general classification, Alberto Contador at last managed to decisively drop his rival on the comparatively modest category two Collado La Hoz, one of the summits neighbouring Bejos in the Picos de Europa). It turned out to be the turning point in the race, as Contador took the red jersey and ultimately sealed overall victory.
The profile of stage 16 feels a bit like a copy and paste of stage 11 when Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) sprinted to victory from the breakaway. Given the GC situation, and the looming prospect of the Angliru on Wednesday, this stage feels like a dead cert for the breakaway.
Herrada himself could be in line for a second stage victory if he can replicate his effort on stage 11, but the finale here is shorter and more consistently steep, which may allow other explosive riders into the fold.
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step), now out of the GC and hunting stages, would surely fancy his chances in a head-to-head against anybody up this climb and should have plenty left in the tank following the rolling terrain that precedes this final climb.
Stage two winner Andrea Kron (Lotto-Dstny) should enjoy a finish like this with his powerful kick and has looked like one of the most in-form riders so far in this Vuelta.
Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) is another rider who can thrive on shorter, punchier climbs, as he's shown at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the past, and looked strong in the break on stage 15 on Sunday.
Rudy Molard and Romain Grégoire are two strong options for Groupama-FDJ, while their compatriot Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) has continued to ride well as the race has gone on.
Ineos Grenadiers will be hoping to find some more luck at this Vuelta, but this climb is not potentially suited to their roster here. Geraint Thomas did well to finish fifth on stage 11's similar summit, while Filippo Ganna showed he can power up shorter climbs well. Jonathan Castroviejo would be another possible contender, but the Spaniard may prefer a longer, shallower effort over an explosive climb like this.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Sergio Higuita is a potential candidate for victory, as is Lennard Kämna, who has already won a stage.
We think Andreas Kron will win stage 16 from the breakaway.