Stage 12: Castro Urdiales - Santillana del Mar-Cuevas de Altamira, 158km
Puerto de Alisas (cat.2) 8,7km @ 5,8%
Alto del Caracol (cat.2) 13,1km @ 4,6%
Alto de La Capía (cat.3) 3,9km @ 8,0%
After the saw-toothed agony of the Basque stage yesterday, we have a shortish intermediate stage through Cantabria, which is probably well suited to a breakaway but the GC riders will have their opportunities to take a few seconds here or there in it. The finish being an uncategorized uphill follows on from other similarly styled mid-race Cantabrian stages in recent years, such as 2008's stage to Suancés
in which Valverde fell off the back of the bunch grabbing a rain jacket when the bunch split, and Paolo Bettini grabbed his final career victory on the closing ramp, or 2013's stage to Parque Cabarceno
, which came to a group charge on the final ramps; Dani Navarro took the win by a few seconds from Moreno and Kelderman, with Valverde then outsprinting Nacer Bouhanni (a double wtf, first Valverde outsprinting Nacer, and Nacer being there in the first place). So there's precedent for the stage and a combination of potential outcomes, though I still think the break winning is the most likely.
Castro Urdiales is a scenic coastal town in eastern Cantabria, close to the border with País Vasco, and indeed it is a town which competes successfully in estropadak
; there are a few Cantabrian teams that compete, but typically it is most successfully undertaken by the Galicians and Basques. It's a popular town in summer owing to its attractive beaches, but here it's just a launchpad for the stage after a short transfer from Bilbao. The possibilities to make a really tough stage here are almost limitless, however I don't want to make the stage so hard that it kills the action in the Bilbao stage, so this one is comparatively short and only uses a small number of climbs in the region so that it has banana skins without being a killer stage that affects the racing days around it. Hence we open up with a couple of uncategorized climbs that are difficult, leg-breaking rhythm killers that will hopefully ensure an interesting breakaway in the early action, but then they give way to a long period of flat.
The first real ascent of the day is the comparatively consistent, classic climb of the Puerto de Alisas. Wide, well-paved, with some scenic lacets, it has been a feature of the Vuelta stages in the region since the 70s. Most recently, it has been used as a lead-in climb to Peña Cabarga
, the current belle of Cantabrian cycling, after hosting the Vuelta in 2010, 2011 and 2013, as one of the summit finishes closest to a major population centre, short enough to be readily accessible without a car but steep enough to cause gaps. However, we're a long way from the finish, so Alisas' far more consistent slopes are unlikely to have much effect in the long run; anyhow, instead of heading toward the coast for the climb, when we reach Liérganes we switch back southward to take on another less steep but more drawn-out climb, the two-climb link that is the Alto del Caracol
It's another Vuelta classic, this one, having featured in a great many stages over the years. Being more gradual but having those kilometres at 7-8% near the end, this cresting around 55km from the line is unlikely to create much impact but could sort wheat from the chaff with yesterday's stage in the legs, meaning that on the last climb of the day some of the bigger names could find themselves isolated. I expect the main thing here, however, will be that the breakaway will splinter. The slopes of the short but steep Alto de La Capía ramp all the way up to 23%, and will be reminiscent of some of the hell-slopes of yesterday.
(of that profile, only the first 3,9km are raced here). There are some really nasty ramps
on this one and, cresting with just inside 22km remaining, somebody might be tempted on that 20% section, after all there will be tired legs in the péloton and there's an easier day to come shortly. The run-in after the steep climb to La Capía is not so easy either, however, as the first thing the riders do after the descent is start climbing again on the uncategorized climb of the Alto de La Montaña - however, this is fairly consistent and averages just 4,5% for 3km with no steeper ramps
so shouldn't be anticipated to break things up - however, from the breakaway it may make a useful point to go solo, cresting with 14,7km to the finish, especially given the temptation of the bonus sprint in Torrelavega at 10km from home. After passing through the city, it's just a rolling hit for home with the slight and inconsistent drag up through the historic town of Santillana del Mar, which includes a stretch of cobbles:
After the town we have a slight drag up to the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Cuevas de Altamira, fabled for the Paleolithic cave paintings. In addition to the paintings
it's a fascinating place for the geological features anyway, not that the riders will care since they'll be above ground of course. Altamira does have some cycling heritage as well, hosting the national time trial championships when Torrelavega's region hosts the nationals, most recently in 2009 (Contador won; the road race was held with an MTF at Cueva el Soplao, won by Rubén Plaza) and 2004 (José Iván Gutiérrez won; Cabarceno hosted the road race, won by Paco Mancebo). In addition to this, the Museo de Altamira (at the Caves, same location as we're finishing) hosted a finish in the 2006 Vuelta, however it was in a pretty anæmic stage
that was taken by Sérgio Paulinho from the break. The break should take this one again, but there's the chance that the group don't all take the same time like they did back then...