Start location: Lerma
Finish location: La Laguna Negra
Start time: 13:15 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
There’s an unsettling beauty and mysteriousness to La Laguna Negra that has inspired many stories and legends over the years. Situated high up in the Picos de Urbión, nestled between pine forests and rocky granite walls, it’s said that the lagoon is bottomless and leads directly to the sea, and that an elusive sea creature exists under its depths, devouring anything that falls into it. The poet Antonio Machado found it evocative enough to set his allegorical poem La tierra de Alvargonzález here, about a couple of brothers who dump the body of their murdered father in the lagoon, only for the land they inherit from him to stop producing crops as cosmic punishment for their act of patricide.
La Luna Negra is part of the Picos de Urbión, a mountain range in the Iberian System between the provinces of Soria and Burgos in Castile and León, which the Vuelta has travelled to as one of a series of short transfers between stages during the second week to bring the race back towards the Pyrenees again. The roads here are on a high plateau, with the stage starting out at almost 1,000m above sea level at the town of Lerma (a picturesque and historic town of great importance in the 17th century), then finishing at almost 1,800m at the lagoon.
Stage 11 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
Though the whole stage takes place atop this plateau, at no point does the road rise up significantly anymore until the finishing climb up to Laguna Negra. In fact, this is the only stage of the race that features a category one mountain and no other climb, and the sense of whiplash in the riders legs upon ascending such steep gradients (it averages 6.8% over 6.5km) at the end of such a flat day can sometimes catch certain riders off guard and cause unexpected results – especially as this stage comes immediately after a rest day.
There were, however, no such surprising results the last and only time La Laguna Negra has previously featured in the Vuelta a España, at the end of stage three during the 2020 edition. The three riders who were top of GC at the time (and all ultimately went on to finish in the top four at the end of the race) were the top three on that day, with Dan Martin taking the stage ahead of Primož Roglič and Richard Carapaz. They all waited for steepest, double-digit gradients inside the final 1,500 metres to make their move, where Martin had the quickest finishing kick of the three to take the win in an uphill sprint, and six other GC contenders trailing them by 12 seconds or less, illustrating how this isn’t the most selective of uphill finishes. Martin is the archetype of a rider who can excel here, not necessarily a pure climber who excels on longer efforts, but one who packs a real punch over a few steep kilometres.
Given the lack of any kind of climbing en route the final ascent, it will be difficult for a large breakaway to establish itself and stay away with a large time gap, so we think the GC contenders and other climbers will compete in a final drag race to the line on the last climb.
As noted, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has performed well here on the one and only occasion the climb has featured, and has already demonstrated in this Vuelta he still carries a strong punch to the line.
But Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) has been his match and was insistent he could have beaten Roglič to the line on stage eight if he'd realised they were racing for the stage. This climb looks well suited to the former world champion, who has not been shy about wanting to collect as many stage wins as possible in his mission to win a second successive red jersey.
Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) is a fast finisher too and is still looking to get off the mark in Grand Tour stage wins.
Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ), who has led this race, could go strongly on a steep climb such as this with his pure climbing physique.
If the break does manage to stay away, there's some riders who've staked a claim already to strong form in this race. Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) have already won in this Vuelta a could go well again. Meanwhile the likes of Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) and Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) have been active and looking in good enough nick to take a win. Oier Lazkano (Movistar), David De La Cruz (Astana), and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Lidl-Trek) are other possible contenders.
This stage looks perfect for Primož Roglič, so we think he'll outsprint the other contenders for victory.