Start location: Pamplona
Finish location: Lekunberri
Start time: 13:20 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
Early July might signify the start of the Tour de France for cycling, but for residents of Pamplona, and the many tourists who travel here for a part of the action, it’s all about the Festival of San Fermín. Held in the honour of Fermin, the patron saint of Navarre, it’s one of the most famous festivals in the world, thanks partly to being brought to international attention in the 1920s by Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Always Rises.
It’s celebrated by a range of activities from processions, fireworks, and parade of the giants and big-heads, consisting of over-sized papier-mâché caricatures, but above all it’s the controversial running of the bulls that gives the Sanfermin festival its notorious reputation. Legend has it that Saint Fermin was martyred for his Christian faith by being tied to a bull and dragged to death, and every morning during the festival, several bulls are let loose in the narrow streets of Pamplona’s old town while hundreds of brave/foolhardy (delete as appropriate) participants flee from them.
Those same roads will again close in order to allow the Vuelta a España to depart from Pamplona for the start of stage fifteen. It’s fair to say that, even speeding along on their bikes, the skinny frames of these riders won’t elicit quite the same fear as those muscular bulls.
Stage 15 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
The 2020 Vuelta also featured a stage that began in Pamplona and ended in Lekunberri, on which occasion Marc Soler broke clear from a small group of favourites on the descent of the final climb to take the stage victory. However, that stage is not the best guide as to what might happen today, as the category one climb San Miguel de Aralar that caused the selection is avoided.
Instead, the stage will culminate with a finishing circuit revolving around two ascents of Puerto de Zuarrarrate. This is a climb typical of those found here in the Basque Country in the sense that it is more of a hill than a mountain, with a modest average gradient of 4.8% for 7.3km. Coupled with the fact that the finish line comes not at its summit but rather in Lekunberri after a 8km descent, and this stage seems unlikely to draw out the GC contenders — especially when you consider how tired they and their teammates will be following the last two gruelling days in the Pyrenees. They’re unlikely to want to make the effort to chase, so stage-hunting climbers and puncheurs will surely have circled today as one to try and win from the breakaway.
After two big days in the mountains for the GC teams, stage 15 looks set for a successful breakaway. But it will be a big fight to get in it because all the riders will know that a stage win is up for grabs, so won't want to let an opportunity like this go by, especially with the third and final week heading back to the mountains and any opportunities for the breakaway to go clear dwindling.
Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) could take a second stage win here if he manages to get into the break. The final ascent up the Puerto de Zuarrarrate could provide him with another launch pad to add a second victory to his name. He’s also a strong descender, and this could provide him with an advantage on a stage like this.
Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) is another rider who has been active so far in the race’s breakaways and could potentially be a rider looking to take this stage win. However, after the energy he used to take second place in the Pyrenees yesterday, the Frenchman may be looking for an easier day in the saddle.
Dutch duo Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) and Bauke Mollema (Lidl-Trek) are both very experienced riders with numerous successes from breakaways. Another rider is Finn Fisher-Black, who could be a contender for UAE Team Emirates. He’s displayed a solid performance so far for his leaders and has looked good in the mountains. But it’ll be a question as to whether he is allowed the freedom to go for a stage win when UAE Team Emirates are so close to a podium spot in the GC runnings.
A victory on home soil is something Oier Lazkano (Movistar) is hunting down, and this will be another opportunity for the Spanish rider to achieve his dreams. Stage 11 winner Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) is also another rider who could give the Spanish fans someone to celebrate again.
Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ), Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny), Omar Fraile (Ineos Grenadiers) or David de la Cruz (Astana-Qazaqstan) are also possible candidates for a breakaway victory.
We think Bauke Mollema will take today’s stage from the breakaway.