|Santa Marina, Sarria.|
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Ever since the route was first announced, riders have been saying that this year's Vuelta is a difficult race. Stage 13 proves their point and may well be unlucky for some - especially those that don't like climbing because there are mountains all the way.
The first two, both respectable Category 3s, come in the first 35km; then there are two Cat 1s between 60 and 100km - though how the 1670m Puerto de Ancares got classified as a Cat 1 is anyone's guess. As if that wasn't enough, there's one final Cat 3 and an unclassified climb in the last 40km too. Deep Heat muscle rub, anyone?
Sarria is a stage town for the very first time today. Located 111km - the minimum distance required for a legitimate pilgrimage - from Santiago de Compostela on the Way of St. James, Sarria is known for the the splendour of its churches; twenty of which are of particular architectural interest. Of equal fame are the Torre la Fortaleza de los Marqueses de Sarria, a picturesque and ivy-covered edifice which is all that remains of the medieval castle, and the 13th Century Monasterio de la Magdalena. The town's fortunes are closely linked to the popularity of the pilgrimage - during a long period when it was almost forgotten, Sarria was reduced to just 70 hourses.
|Rua Maior, Sarria, 1965.|
The neutral zone begins just south of the town's main part on the Calle de Benigno Quiroga, also known as the LU-546, which heads north-east into town. The peloton will turn left at a fork in the road to travel along the Calle de Matías López and then left again onto the Rua de Calvo Sotelo. This leads over a wide bridge and on to the LU-636 which they turn right to join, continuing on the same road until the reach the start of the race after 5.2km. There's a short but steep climb in the first few kilometres, then the first categorised climb - Alto O Pico da Pena, summit 950m, climb 430m - begins after 6.3km. The road, previously dead straight, becomes twisty at San Antolin and passes a steep wooded slope to the right and curves around it near Galegos. There are some difficult bends as we reach 900m above sea level a short way on from the junction where the LU-0503 joins the road.
|Becerrea. Any town where locals create their|
own mini-beach at the side of the road
sounds a fun place to me.
While not without its charms, Becerreá is perhaps not the most aesthetically appealing of towns - there's a little too much grey concrete for that. However, the busy social calendar revealed on the municipality's website suggests it's a fun and pleasant place to live and all in all rather likable. Once within the town, the road merges into the N-VI, called the Calle Carlos III as it passes through. The first intermediate sprint begins at 27km from the start, travelling uphill. A very tight right corner to join the LU-0708 marks the beginning of the second Cat 3 climb, Alto de O Lago, at 28.3km. There is a difficult hairpin around 0.9km from the junction.
The road reaches 900m above sea level as it enters forest, then veers off to the north when it emerges to avoid a steep 200m slope. It then passes beside more forest along a ridge and takes a 90 degree right as another road joins from the left, closely followed by another on the right - both look to be poor quality, leading to the possibility of mud, dust or grit causing a hazard - before traversing the ridge, being joined by a third road and then crossing over the top at 34.6km, the summit of this climb. The landscape east and west is some 200m+ lower and the ridge stretches off north and south, giving some of the best views of the stage. After around 5km, it climbs back to over 1000m again, then descends to a crossroads where we go straight on. The descent is fast but relatively untechnical.
When the road reaches a fork, the peloton turn right and head towards Navia de Suarna. It then follows the high ground around the beautiful Val de Córneas, coming soon to a forest and a crossroads where they turn right again. The steepest - and fastest - part of the descent begins just around a left hand bend, 0.8km from the crossroads. The view on a clear day from the bend to the high mountains in the distance are spectacular. A difficult left hand bend leads into two sweeping bends, the first left and the second right, then the parcours drops below 700m on a short twisty section immediately afterwards with more tight bends to come. Perhaps the most dangerous is the very tight corner in forest at 42°58'3.30"N 7° 1'49.34"W, a very likely point for an accident.- and the final hairpin upon entering Navia de Suarna.
|The medieval bridge at Navia de Suarna.|
The village is very beautiful indeed with many stone buildings of great antiquity and a medieval castle. There are much older buildings, including dolmens, scattered around the area. As we leave the bridge we turn left onto the LU-702 - though the road passes through thick forest, it's mostly straight and shouldn't create any issues. We follow it until we come to a tight right corner where we join the Estrada de Navia A Rao where we begin the ascent of Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas, the first of the two Cat 1s. The first hairpin comes after approximately 0.1km, the second 0.4km after that. At the next, a little further through some trees, is a large and rather spooky looking abandoned building on the perimeter of Munis; then the road veers away back into forest, climbing up to another hairpin before two simple bends take us above and past the village. There's a tight right corner about 0.5km ahead, then another right, a left and a final right a short way further.
A sharp U-shaped bend followed by yet another 90 degree right corner mark the point where we top 800m. Having passed some houses, we reach a Z-bend followed by a fork in the road, this marking the summit. We take the left route and begin the steep, fast descent which has many technical bends and 15 hairpins of varying complexity. The views are good here, especially to the east over Rao far below. A little way on, the race reaches Murias. The village's finest feature is its location among the green mountains, some of which have dramatic rocky cliffs, but there are interesting buildings too - the old village granary, built of timber and equipped with unusually tall mushroom-shaped legs (the rats round here must be good at jumping) and, east of the village, a peculiar round structure formed of a low stone wall with a door. Whatever it was, it looks ancient. The road leads down to the southern extremity of the village then loops back up to the north before beginning to ascend in preparation for the beginning of the second Cat 1 climb, 1670m Puerto de Ancares, after 84.6km from the start.
|Balouta (borrowed from Mi mágico León Blog).|
|Puerto de Ancares, the highest point of Stage 13.|
The steepness of the initial part of the descent can be clearly seen on the stage's altitude profile, but what can't be seen so easily is the number of very tight hairpin bends - the riders will need to exercise extreme caution here and any who dare to tackle it at high speed are either very talented descenders indeed or mad. It's the sort of road that sorts one from the other - and can end the careers of those it finds lacking in the skill it demands.
We drop below 1000m along a straight section leading south of Tejedo de Ancares, not quite reaching the village before they turn a sharp left and right to proceed onwards to Pereda de Ancares, the road descending in the latter half. Pereda has more of those picturesque pallozas and a church that is really little more; though it has a bell tower and a tiled roof. Candin comes 2km later as the peloton reaches a crossroads, passing straight through to by-pass the village, then a junction with the CV-126-15 leading to Villasumil - they don't go that way, but the camera operators aboard the helicopters are very unlikely to be able to resist the attractive little community with its stone houses. The final categorised climb of the stage, 1045m Cat 3 Puerto de Lumeras, begins 2km later after 112km from the start, reaching the highest point in a wide open area where three small roads join 4.7km later. - this shouldn't be much of a test for the climbers, even so soon after the last climb, but will be a real knee-breaker for the rest. There are four hairpins on the descent - the first of medium difficulty and unlikely to cause problems; the second tight and difficult, making it a possible hazard; the third wide and easy and the fourth - which curves around a mansion - medium difficulty.
|San Andres, Vega de Espinareda (from Panoramio)|
|Cabanos Raros' flag.|
A fly-over carries the race across the A-6 motorway just before Columbrianos - there's a noticeable change in the feel of the surroundings here: they no longer look nor feel like sleepy mountain villages and pallozas have given way to modern industrial units; these are the suburbs of the city, and soon the stage ends. Yet Columbrianos still relies upon agriculture for a large percentage of its annual income, giving it the character of an independent market town rather than a mere satellite conurbation, and its church - with a tower rebuilt in 1948 after it was destroyed by lightning, is pretty.
Just outside of the town is a roundabout leading to a junction with the N-VI, the peloton turning right onto it and travelling west for a short while. Soon, they reach another junction leading onto the Av. de Galicia, then turn right at the first roundabout onto a connecting road, turning left at the end onto the Av. de la Cemba. Very soon, they reach a sharp left onto the Av. de Portugal, one of the main routes into the heart of the city. They take the third exit at the roundabout ending the road, then almost immediately take a sharp left for the Av. de los Escritores and, having passed by the railway museum - a must-visit for anyone with an interest in steam power - right for the Av. de la Libertad. The road is straight with a roundabout after 0.2km followed by a 0.4km straight, another roundabout followed by another 0.4km to the stage finish 158.2km from the start.
|Castillo de Templario, Ponferrada.|
|Basilica de la Encina.|
Predictions: Odd one, this. The finish is tailor-made for a sprinter and would especially have suited Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel - unfortunately, Cav's long gone and the word on the wire is Kittel will be abandoning the race after Stage 12 (Update: Kittel's decision to leave the race has now been confirmed). However, those two Cat 1s could put all the sprinters out of contention every bit as easily as the finish could take glory from a climber. So, it looks like it'll be a puncheur - or perhaps anyone who feels they have the strength to break out early and maintain a good lead.
Weather: Looks set to be much the same as Stage 12 with temperatures ranging from 20C at the start, down to a low of 12C on the Puerto de Ancares anda high of 24C at the finish. It's likely to be wet again with rain predicted from the 60km point, getting heavier as the race climbs Ancares and then clearing up from 120km to the end. The wind, though moderate, will be changeable: crosswinds for the first 20km, tailwinds for the following 30km, crosswinds all the way to the top of the Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas and an extremely welcome tailwind up Ancares which should continue through the rest of the stage. As ever, weather can change rapidly and is very difficult to predict at altitude - with three peaks over 1000m and Ancares reaching 1650m, things may prove very different for the riders.
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