The Tourmalet signals the real Vuelta a España start but can Evenepoel survive a Jumbo and UAE onslaught?

Stage 13 race preview: Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates look to ramp up pressure on the Belgian as they eye Vuelta and world domination

Clock21:05, Thursday 7th September 2023
Remco Evenepoel, flanked by the Jumbo-Visma leading duo of Vingegaard and Roglič

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Remco Evenepoel, flanked by the Jumbo-Visma leading duo of Vingegaard and Roglič

Brutal. That’s the first and only word that springs to mind when analysing the profile for stage 13 of the Vuelta a España.

With over 4,000 metres of vertical climbing and four categorised ascents, including the Col d'Aubisque and the monstrous Col du Tourmalet, it’s little wonder that the GC riders soft pedalled their way up the final climb on stage 11.

For all intents and purposes, and after several brief but survivable skirmishes in the open week and a half, the 2023 Vuelta a España is set to detonate in the French Pyrenees.

While it’s impossible to determine the final outcome of such a pivotal stage there are key factors that will create a passageway for the victorious as well as the vanquished.

Vuelta a España GC battle wide open

At present there are ten riders separated by a shade over three minutes on GC with Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) resplendent in red and Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) at a meagre 26 seconds in arrears. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal QuickStep) is at 1:09, with race favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) a further 23 seconds down. 

The plucky and hugely talented Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ), as well as João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Enric Mas (Movistar) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) complete the top ten, with almost all of the pre-race favourites still in contention for at least a podium spot. In truth, only Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) has been cut adrift at this point.

The key question heading into the stage is whether Evenepoel can handle an expected onslaught from UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma, because both teams will be determined to test the young Belgian now that this year’s time trialing has been completed. Both teams fear the defending champion but the stark reality facing the Soudal rider is that he doesn’t have an advantage in the overall standings, despite two tests against the clock. And come Friday’s stage it’s likely to become abundantly clear that while his team support have talent, they do not have the resources to control such a demanding stage.

A quick reminder of the GC. There are six riders from two rival teams inside the top ten, and as talented as Evenepoel is he can’t mark a hexad of hazards. That’s not to say that the Soudal rider’s Vuelta defence will end on the Tourmalet, but significant factors will have have to go his way if he is to remain in contention. This could be his sternest test yet in a three week race.

Who are the real Vuelta a España leaders?

Meanwhile, it’s still not entirely clear who UAE Team Emirates are riding for. Marc Soler produced the time trial of his life on stage 10 but is he really the candidate on which the team hopes to mount a challenge for the red jersey? It's unlikely.

Juan Ayuso and João Almeida have looked competent throughout but do not have the power to drop Roglič at this point. Over at Jumbo-Visma the pattern of leadership is perhaps a little clearer but still slightly fuzzy.

Sepp Kuss leads the race and has ridden admirably, but it’s worth remembering two key points. Firstly, he was given several minutes in the first week, and he is racing his third Grand Tour of the year. At some point the wheels will fall off if a challenger can be found. UAE will know this, and may attempt to sacrifice one of their cards in order to at least force Jumbo into declaring their intentions to the rest of the race.

Jonas Vingegaard has looked human after all but still commands a huge amount of respect and the due diligence of his rivals, while Roglič has started to turn the screw, as shown by his intermediate sprint on stage 12.

One major point, that has rarely received attention but is playing a massive factor in both the team selections prior to the race, and the present GC situation, is the battle for world number one status. It’s a tag that means little to even the hardened and most dedicated cycling fans but to UAE and Jumbo it means everything. 

UAE Team Emirates have sold the idea of world ranking domination to their owners, while Jumbo-Visma are gagging to complete a Grand Tour clean sweep in 2023 and take the top spot in the rankings. UAE currently lead the UCI rankings but it's close, with the Vuelta certain to play an outcome in the final rankings.

It’s why both teams have raced with three potential leaders, and on the Tourmalet stage we’re likely to see both squads take it in turns to send riders up the road - partly to isolate Evenepoel but also to try and establish an advantage over each other.

This is where Evenepoel might survive. If he can pick the right combination of attacks to follow but such a tactic would take volumes of patience, restraint and risk.

The first climb of the stage is the Puerto du Portalet, with the third category ascent taking the peloton into France after just a few kilometres after leaving the start in Formigal.

After a long descent into Laruns the race immediately begins to climb with Col d'Aubisque (16.5km at 7.1%) the likely scene of several major moves - quite possibly from riders inside the top ten as they look to establish gaps over rivals or as Jumbo and UAE take the fight to Evenepoel at the first opportunity.

The Col d'Aubisque signals the start of the infamous ‘circle of death’ chain of mountains to feature in this year’s Vuelta a España, with the second being the Col du Tourmalet. Before riders reach the final climb, however, they must contend with the unclassified Col du Soulor (2.3km at 4.8%) and the category 1 Col de Spandelles (10.3km at 8.3%).

Finally, the weary riders will arrive at the foot of the Tourmalet (18.9km at 7.2%) and gaze upon their final task. At 134.5km in length, this is by far one of the shortest stages of this year’s race, but in terms of consequence and meaning there could be few days to rival this one.

Vuelta a España stage 13 climbs:

  • km 4.4 - Puerto de Portalet, 4.4km at 5.6% (cat 3)
  • km 48.6 - Col d’Aubisque, 16.5km at 7.1% (hors catégorie)
  • km 81.9 - Col de Spandelles, 10.3km at 8.3% (cat 1)
  • km 134.4 - Col du Tourmalet, 18.9km at 7.2% (hors catégorie)

We’ll be showing live and on-demand coverage of all 21 stages of this year’s Vuelta a España from Saturday, August 26 to Sunday, September 17, plus daily expert analysis on The Breakaway. Head over to GCN+ now to check the start times of each broadcast so that you don’t miss out on a moment of the action! As always, territory restrictions will apply.

To watch our GCN+ original film looking at the mythical Col du Tourmalet, click here!

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