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  #1951  
Old 11-22-12, 23:27
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Next up, the GC battle gets shaken top to bottom.

Stage 4: Oliveira do Hospital - Penhas da Saúde, 155km





Climbs:
Alto do Carrazedo (cat.1) 9,7km @ 6,8%
Serra da Estrela-Alto da Torre (cat.E) 28,5km @ 5,1%
Alto Atalaia (cat.3) 6,7km @ 4,3%
Penhas da Saúde (cat.1) 13,1km @ 7,5%

It's time for the first mountaintop finish of the Volta, with a serious, serious stage that, whilst comparatively short, will no doubt see the GC battle set on fire in earnest as the riders take on the highest road in continental Portugal.

Oliveira do Hospital is a relatively small municipality of 20.000 halfway between Coimbra and Guarda, that has recently become a standard host for the Volta; it has hosted a stage start in 2011 and a stage finish in 2012. By contrast, the finishing town is relatively rare - it's been a long time since A Volta finished here, but the GP Portugal Telecom held an MTF here in 2000, and the GP Mosqueteiros followed suit in 2002. I would expect, however, that the finish would be paid for in part by Covilhã, the town at the base of the climb, which hosted a stage in 2011 and has hosted several in the past (most recently before then was 2003), and in part by the Serra da Estrela itself, same as usually goes on with the Torre stages. This would mark the first time since 2006 that the Alto da Torre has not hosted a stage finish (back then it was on a stage from Gouveia to Fundão in a very disappointing Volta route). Hopefully I've served up a substitute for that iconic MTF more successful than that 2006 attempt.

The first part of this stage is simple enough, a grinding uphill false flat followed by a gradual descent, then a stretch of rolling through the foothills of the Serra da Estrela, letting the riders get themselves eased into the rhythm for the day. After about 35km, however, the troubles begin. The Alto do Carrazedo, from Vide, is a common lead-in climb for the Alto da Torre, in stages such as this one from 2007. It's generally wide and open, so it won't shelter the rides from the burning sun. At around 10km at just under 7%, it's a pretty solid opening gambit too. After a descent, we find ourselves ready for our first Meta Volante in Seia, more used to being the last town before the finish. Our next port of call is to tear the bunch to shreds and make the riders suffer, because next up it's the legendary Alto da Torre. 28km of tortuous grind, and glorious inconsistencies, with some flat, some descent and some walls of up to 17% early on in its never-ending slopes. This features some of the Volta's most famous scenery; Lagoa Comprida, the rocky roads, snaking up mountainsides and of course Torre itself, a 7m high structure built atop the summit of the mountain, in order to raise its height from 1993m to 2000m. We obviously won't be taking this final 700m of dead-end road to the normal finish, so it's "only" 28,5km of Torre this year, not 29,2%. There are 70km remaining at the summit, however, so I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't any true GC moves on the climb this year.

On the way down, we pass the Piornos plateau, also well-known to the race, and hosting an MTT in 2004. Basically, if you climb Torre from the Manteigas side (as in the redesigned 2010 stage), where you join the Covilhã side is roughly Piornos. The actual Piornos summit is a little higher, but you have to turn back towards Covilhã to reach it. It is this Manteigas side - profile here - that we now descend. Known as the easiest side of Torre, it is also, after a couple of technical hairpins early on, a very straight and fast descent. Once we reach Manteigas the stage goes from descent to downhill false flat for 15km until we reach the village of Verdelhos. After this it is a relatively easy and gradual - maximum of only about 7% - climb up to the rotunda separating Sarzedos from Atalaia and the descent into Covilhã.

Covilhã, which will host our second Meta Volante, is, as you can see, built into a hillside, and so said sprint will likely be uphill. It also means we can add an introductory first kilometre of climbing into Covilhã onto this profile, which shows the Covilhã side of the Alto da Torre, which hasn't been climbed in the Volta for a while. However, what we're doing today has been climbed in the last couple of Voltas, as you can see from the 2012 queen stage - the climb from Covilhã to the mountain village of Penhas da Saúde, which hosts most of the amenities and chalets for the Vodafone Ski Resort at the summit of Torre, is around 12km in length (on top of that kilometre into Covilhã) with the first 8km of those all around 7,5-8%. It gets a little easier closer to the summit, but nevertheless, these roads of pain will sap strength and cause a lot of suffering, especially bearing in mind that more than 2 minutes separated the top 10 in 2000, and 3 minutes in 2002, on much easier stages than this one in the short stage races. And of course, after 230km of up-and-down all day into Coimbra yesterday, the riders will probably have enough fatigue in them to open up some pretty sizable gaps on these slopes, especially with every incentive to attack given that tomorrow is the rest day. The stage being fairly short may reduce gaps, but that will just keep things open enough for later days. Still, at least it'll look nice.

Oliveira do Hospital:


Penhas da Saúde:
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  #1952  
Old 11-24-12, 14:50
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Stage 5: Seia - Guarda, 163km





Climbs:
Gouveia (cat.3) 4,8km @ 4,2%
Alto de Algodres (cat.2) 6,0km @ 5,1%
Estrada Aldeia-Viçosa (cat.3) 5,8km @ 4,1%
Guarda (Pero Soares)(cat.2) 12,5km @ 4,0%
Guarda (cat.3) 3,6km @ 5,6%
Guarda (cat.3) 3,6km @ 5,6%
Guarda (cat.3) 3,6km @ 5,6%
Guarda (cat.3) 3,6km @ 5,6%

After spending the rest day in Seia, allowing all the training in the Serra da Estrela a rider could ever want, the first stage after the day off skirts around the northern half of the range. Seia has featured as a stage town of the Volta sporadically, though it has hosted a stage in 2011. However, the town usually stumps up some of the money for the Alto da Torre summit finish, so as they may not have got their TV time in Sunday's stage to Penhas da Saúde, they will be placated here. The stage finishes in Guarda, a more common stop off for the Volta, which has featured on the route every year since 2006 except for 2010, when the city hosted a U23 short stage race instead. It has typically been a stage start, although there was a difficult time trial into the city in 2011, and in 2006 and 2009 they had an uphill finish - the profile for the latter is here. That stage was won by Cândido Barbosa in what was basically an uphill sprint; this stage is a bit tougher than that day, however.

The first part of the stage is simple enough; rolling along the edge of the mountains, pausing only to include a traditional Volta a Portugal spot, the gradual but mostly cobbled climb to the town of Gouveia. In such stages we would typically take the long and gradual Penhas Douradas climb, but today I save the riders that bearing in mind the difficulty of stages 3 and 4. And although there is a category 2 climb in there, really, the first two thirds of the stage shouldn't dislodge all but the most miserably bad of climbers. Everything of any real difficulty has been crammed into the final 60km.

This begins with a long and arduous - but gradual - climb from the mountain village of Pero Soares up towards our finishing city. This is mostly at around 4,5%, but with a brief flattening out about three quarters of the way up. The road joins the N18 at Chãos and then enters Guarda on Avenida Dr Francisco Sá Carneiro. The péloton turns right onto Avenida Dr Afonso Costa, and just 200m later crosses the finishing line for the first time. Team cars will go back down this route when we get to the diversion later, see.

After this the riders have four laps of an 11,5km circuit around Guarda, very similar to that in the closing stages in 2009 in fact. The final climb begins on Avenida Cidade de Waterbury, then takes in Rua Cidade de Béjar, Avenida Monsenhor Mendes do Campo and finishing outside the stadium. Although the climb is over 3km long and averages over 5%, the roads are wide, much of the time they are quite straight, and there are no really steep sections; this is one where puncheurs may have a chance, and because of several laps attacking riders may be confident in their chances, but a well-organised péloton could make this into an uphill sprint with minimal - if any - time gaps. The 2006 stage, late in the race, created some large gaps, while the 2009 stage saw a large bunch come in at 3", with Cândido Barbosa beating Santambrogio, Héctor Guerra and Danail Petrov by 1" and the field, led home by Cunego, by 3". Therefore this may be one for the puncheurs, but I'd still hold some thought that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Moser, possibly even Rojas, could compete if they tried. Or, to put it in Portuguese cycling terms, Sérgio Ribeiro will probably win.

Seia:


Guarda:
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  #1953  
Old 11-24-12, 15:20
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Two different stages celebrating Col d'Iseran!

First stage is: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne --> Col d'Iseran (205 km)



Second stage: Embrun --> Val-d'Isère (215 km)

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Last edited by Netserk; 12-01-12 at 15:26.
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  #1954  
Old 11-24-12, 16:05
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i am liking your volta libertine. you should include a finish on avenida dos aliados coming from ribeira and starting the climb close to the ponte d. Luis you could get there from the marginal road.

let me see if i could make a profile of the last few km's.

there it is:



i could make the profile maker pass in front of the sao bento train station because of traffic rules, silly site taking those into consideration, but this is pretty close anyway as it only has a small detour(the 2% part on the profile) before turning to aliados itself.

also the entire climb is on cobbles so that an extra

Last edited by Parrulo; 11-24-12 at 16:26.
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  #1955  
Old 11-24-12, 19:06
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Very nice to read routes on places you've cycled on. I've done Casal do Alho countless times (fun to descend too).

Parrulo, I've literally think about that every time I'm at Aliados. From Ribeira (more or less) finishing at the City Hall. You could even go further up to Praça da República. Plenty of space and still the possibility to ride on cobbles through Rua Alferes do Malheiro+Rua do Almada.

Last edited by canyonball; 11-24-12 at 19:12.
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  #1956  
Old 11-25-12, 14:11
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Stage 6: Lamego - Mondim de Basto (Alto da Senhora da Graça), 170km





Climbs:
Alto de Mosteirõ (cat.2) 9,9km @ 4,2%
Barragem do Alvão (cat.1) 9,4km @ 7,0%
Alto Campanhó (cat.1) 12,3km @ 4,8%
Monte do Viso (cat.1) 9,7km @ 5,9%
Alto da Senhora da Graça (cat.1) 8,3km @ 7,6%

The second - and final - MTF of the Volta comes early this year, with a stage with no fewer than four category 1 climbs to arguably the most iconic site in the Volta's history, the spiraling road to the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Graça atop Monte Farinha. Although there have been recent worries about financing the Volta's summit finishes here, it has remained a fixture of the Volta every year since time immemorial (and has featured in several other Portuguese stage races over the years too), and so in order for this route to be even partially realistic, I needed to have a summit finish here. Recent routes have been getting easier, featuring little in the way of lead-in climbs, much to my disappointment. For example, here is the pathetic 2012 stage, a direct copy of the equally chronic 2011 version. Abysmal, especially when you bear in mind the terrain in the vicinity of Mondim de Basto. Far better are the 2010 and 2009 versions, with the Alto Campanhó and Barragem do Alvão respectively as lead-in climbs. And they proved much better for racing too - in 2009 Nuno Ribeiro and João Cabreira went up the road on the penultimate climb and were never caught, while in 2010 a strong group got away on the Alto Campanhó including Hernâni Broco, who was able to hold on for a top finish when the heads of state got to the front on the final climb.

I have tried to include all of the respective lead-in climbs in order to create a legitimately tough mountain stage. My inspiration in this is the excellent 2008 stage, which though short managed to cram in a number of severe climbs including Monte do Viso and Campanhó in order to ensure legs were tired by the time riders got to the base of Monte Farinha. Perhaps this is because, unlike every year since, Senhora da Graça came after Torre that year, so the organisers needed a genuinely selective stage to enable riders to reasonably believe they had a chance of making up their deficits from Torre. That stage was won by Juan José Cobo, who attacked early and finished a minute ahead of David Blanco and Héctor Guerra, with more than a minute separating the rest of the top 10, while Rui Sousa, who had held the lead since his win from the breakaway on Torre, lost his camisola amarela to Blanco after being distanced early due to the cumulative climbing and finishing 17th, 4'32 behind Cobo.

It had been a while since Lamego had featured on the route of the Volta, however in 2010 and 2011 it brought Joaquim Gomes' festival to town, first for a finish and then for a stage start. With the nearby Tarouca having the climb of the Alto de Santa Helena, it has become a not-uncommon spot for smaller races in Portugal too. The first port of call for the day is just to descend gently to the banks of the Douro, which we cross into Peso da Regua. The first climb of the day is gentle and mostly consistent, so I don't see it causing any great difficulties, before a rolling period into the city of Vila Real. It is here, 40km into the stage, that the difficulties begin in earnest.

The first real challenge of the day is the 9km slog up to Barragem do Alvão, a mountaintop reservoir in the Serra of the same name. As you can see from the profile, this also includes a toughest gradient of 13,5% and a kilometre of cobbles near the start - like an easier version, I guess, of Monte Abantos on top of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. From here we could go the 2009 route of descending directly into Mondim de Basto, but in the words of John Cooper Clarke, I don't wanna be nice. Instead we take on part of the descent then bear left to take on what is admittedly the easier side of the Alto Campanhó. From this side it is mostly consistent at around 5%, so riders will be able to get into a rhythm and survive this one, though when they get to the summit they may curse themselves when they look to their right and see where they're going to finish.

This marks more or less the halfway point in the stage, and the riders now have 40km to enjoy with very little climbing at all; first the main body of descent of Campanhó, then some downhill false flat, and then 15km of dead flat after passing through Mondim de Basto for the first time, crossing the bridge to the west and turning away from Monte Farinha, because unfortunately for them, there's another climb to handle. The riders will be used to this - in 2008 and 2010 they went through Mondim de Basto early in the stage before doing a couple of mountains and returning later for the final one. The penultimate climb of the day, cresting 36km from the finishing line, is Monte do Viso. This was formerly a common lead-in climb for the Volta ahead of Senhora da Graça, but is seldom used for this purpose anymore, though it does occasionally crop up in stages to or from Fafe. Again, like Campanhó, it offers a dramatic vista with Monte Farinha taking centre stage to intimidate the riders. At just under 10km it isn't super difficult, but the last 3km are far more difficult, averaging over 8% and with a maximum of 14%, so that may tempt attacks from secondary challengers with little to lose, especially as while the descent is very gradual, it is also very technical with a number of switchbacks, so they may benefit from being out of sight and out of mind.

The final climb should be familiar to all of you, but just in case here's the 2010, 2001 and the end of the 2009 climbs. The Altimetrias profile notes it as 11,1km at 6,4%, but includes the first couple of false flat kilometres from Mondim de Basto itself. The Volta's official profile is slightly different, but hey, it's a proper mountain summit of around 8-9km at over 7%, all told. It'll do its job of splitting the race up. And what's more, it brings out fans. While Torre's 30km climbing may be more destructive, fans tend to be more spread out there, whereas the more explosive Senhora da Graça, with its one road up, creates more of a wall of fans, which can only be good for the race. And while I may think the climb has got pretty stale, at the same time I do think the Volta would probably not be the same without it. Like terrible music, oppressive heat and doping, it's just totally embedded in the history of the race.

Lamego:


Alto da Senhora da Graça:
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  #1957  
Old 11-26-12, 12:26
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That last pic is pure beauty!
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  #1958  
Old 11-28-12, 22:31
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Stage 7: Fafe - Vila Nova de Cerveira, 171km





Climbs:
Monte de Riba (cat.2) 4,4km @ 8,8%
Louredo (cat.4) 3,0km @ 3,5%
Alto Cerdeirinhas (cat.4) 1,9km @ 7,2%
Alto de Lamas (cat.1) 9,5km @ 5,5%
Alto de Brufe (cat.3) 3,0km @ 6,7%
Felgueiras (cat.3) 3,0km @ 7,0%
Arga de Cima (cat.1) 5,0km @ 10,6%
Portela da Penha (cat.3) 4,0km @ 6,7%

This next stage up in the very north of Portugal will be a good day to get into a breakaway, with the Senhora da Graça stage having just preceded it; however it will also be far from a day where the GC contenders can rest, because this is a real potential hazard for them. It starts in the town of Fafe. Fafe loves cycling - it has hosted a stage of the Volta every year this millennium, as well as several stages of other short stage races such as the GP do Minho and the GP CTT Correios de Portugal, in 2011 being the host of the prologue. The stage goes over a number of climbs before finishing 171km later at Vila Nova de Cerveira, a new host for the race in 2012, right on the border with Galicia.

The stage starts almost immediately with quite a steep climb up to the village of Monte adjacent to Casal de Estime. This should enable a strong breakaway to form, before most of the rest of the first part of the stage is rolling, including a couple of categorised climbs, but nothing too severe. This all changes when we get to the longest climb of the day, the Alto de Lamas. This is a scenic and dramatic climb close to the Spanish border with amazing views ending in a plateau. This is more to put a bit of suffering in the legs than anything else, for after this we have another short climb, and then a long descent after which the terrain is nothing more than rolling with a couple of short hills, until the last 35km, which could cause some serious problems.

The first of these two problems is the more serious. Should this part of Portugal ever stump up the money to host La Vuelta, you can more or less guarantee that Javier Guillén will set up a dead flat stage that finishes on the Serra d'Arga. After all, it has all the makings of a Unipublic special - it's short to mid length, and it is horribly steep. It starts off wooded then becomes exposed to the mid-August heat, as the riders twist and turn to the summit at the village of Arga de Cima. 30km remain at this point, and most of the first half are a technical descent. There is another, less steep climb to follow Arga, which isn't too tough, but enough to mean that if a group comes back together after attacks on Arga de Cima (which there should be, it's like a slightly steeper Peña Cabarga-type climb), it can be smashed to pieces again before the riders arrive in Vila Nova de Cerveira.

I expect a very difficult race to control on this one, with a strong breakaway taking the stage, but splintered to pieces, and the group also splintering to pieces behind them in the last 35km. This one could put some pressure on the capabilities of RTP's cameramen to keep up with action.

Fafe:


Vila Nova de Cerveira:
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  #1959  
Old 12-01-12, 10:59
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Stage 8: Viana do Castelo - Aveiro, 193km





Climbs:
Portela de Tamel (cat.4) 2,9km @ 4,2%
Alto de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (cat.2) 5,4km @ 7,3%
Mosteiro (cat.4) 3,8km @ 4,5%

A transitional stage as we head back away from the northern tip of Portugal, this stage begins in Viana do Castelo, a port city that has hosted the Volta in each of the last three years, twice with a stage start and once a stage finish, and finishes 193km later in Aveiro, an old (10th Century) city known for its picturesque canals, close to the Atlantic and one of the main urban centres of the Centro region. It has hosted the Volta every year since 2007, although curiously only once (stage 8 in 2009) has it been a stage finish.

There isn't a great deal to write about this stage; the riders take on an undulating, rolling stage with few real challenges; the stage passes through a number of key towns for the support of cycling in Portugal, especially in the first half of the stage, passing through Barcelos early on, and more notably at the 60km mark, Santo Tirso, a monastery town which hosted the Volta every year from 2004 to 2011, with each stage from 2007 to 2011 finishing on the category 2 climb of Monte Assunção, a short but tricky climb that often reduced the bunch. It never told you who would win the Volta, but it would tell you who wouldn't. We are going over this climb, but that's more of a sop to tradition than anything else. There's so much time after that I'd expect the sprinters to come back easily.

The stage continues by heading around the satellite towns around Porto's eastern edge, including Valongo, a city which now has a pro team after years of elite amateurs. This area is especially common for teams, as Efapel are from Vila Nova da Gaia, LA-MSS/Milaneza were from Maia, and the Liberty Seguros amateur setup is from São João de Vêr, which we pass not long after crossing the Douro. The next city on our course, just before the river crossing, is the satellite city of Gondomar, then it's more rolling terrain after crossing the river, until the city of São João da Madeira. From here it's just gentle downhill false flat, before a pancake flat final 45km, with 2 laps of a flat 10km circuit around Aveiro to finish.

The sprinters have had to wait a long time for their day, as after all they had to really work for their chances in Leiria and Castelo Branco, and unless they're the Cândido Barbosa/Sérgio Ribeiro type, they won't have been able to play in the Coimbra or Guarda finishes either, so this is a sop to them.

Viana do Castelo:


Aveiro:
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  #1960  
Old 12-08-12, 11:12
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May as well finish this off.

Stage 9: Oliveira do Bairro - São Pedro do Sul, 175km





Climbs:
Serra de Baixo-Cabeça do Cão (cat.2) 9,3km @ 4,7%
Alto de Talhadas (cat.3) 5,6km @ 4,4%
Monte Arestal (cat.1) 10,0km @ 5,6%
Serra da Freita (cat.1) 14,8km @ 5,1%
Alto de São Macário (cat.1) 9,2km @ 9,1%

The final road stage of the Volta is a mountainous one, running from Oliveira do Bairro to the long forgotten stage town of São Pedro do Sul. Oliveira do Bairro has hosted the Volta four times in the last 6 editions, three as a stage start and once - 2011 - as a stage finish. The 2012 edition was a flat stage, but in 2007 and 2009 it served as the beginning of a mountain stage. These were both more traditional than today's fare, however, being the typical stage over Carrazedo to Seia and the Alto da Torre. Today we go through much less well-trodden Volta mountains to give the climbers their last chance to win it.

This is a stage which is up and down all day at a variety of difficulties, with the climbs steadily getting tougher as the day goes on, which should mean a very strong breakaway and great difficulties for the leaders' teams in controlling the race. The first climb is a fairly gradual climb up to the Serra de Baixo, shortly before the village of Cabeça de Cão. This is false flat at first, and then a manageable 5-6% for the second half. Some very light and gradual descending on a brief detour into Viséu province then leads us to the follow-up back in Aveiro, the road up to Talhadas, a scenic village in the foothills of the mountains.

After crossing the Rio Vouga, the first major test of the day starts. The riders head through Sever do Vouga and Rocas do Vouga on a 10km climb up to the Serra do Arestal, a climb which jumps about a bit in gradient, with the toughest section in the middle, a kilometre or so from Novelido to Covelo, being over 10%. After this it's 15km of pretty gradual and mostly straight descent with only a few technical switchbacks, so I wouldn't expect much action on Arestal.

The next challenge takes us to the highest point of the day, cresting at 1.011m. The climb of the Serra da Freita from Ervedoso has some tough sections, getting up to a maximum of 12%, and despite the low average gradient can be very tough owing to its three-stepped nature. According to mapmyride, this can be broken up into an initial 2,2km @ 5,7% (though that gradient profile would suggest a steeper, shorter initial ramp with a longer flat period between it and the second section), then some flat before 3,6km @ 5,8%, then a brief respite before 7,1km @ 6,2% that has some ramps of over 10%. The views up here on the Serra da Freita are impressive, the road passing sights as the riders suffer. The summit comes with 76km to go, however, so it's an adventurous GC challenger who goes here. The climb is followed by a long, multi-stepped descent with a couple of plateaus into Santa Cruz da Trapa, home of the Solar dos Malafaias Gralheira da Santa Cruz da Trapa, before rolling into São Pedro do Sul, today's stage town, and crossing the finishing line for the first time with 39,5km remaining.

Immediately after leaving São Pedro do Sul there is a short but uncategorised climb, but really, that's an irrelevance, because the important part of this circuit is the stretch that begins at 30km from home, and ends 21km from home. That's because this is one of Portugal's most feared (and criminally, criminally unused) climbs, the Alto de São Macário. This Giro-tastic climb has its longest prolonged stretch at 13%, but it is almost totally unrelenting at over 9%, as you can see from the profile. This is cruelly overlooked by the Volta year upon year, although back in 2009 the Volta do Futuro included it in a stage to Arouca, when Amaro Antunes destroyed the field on its sharp inclines. This was apparently with a view to seeing if it could be incorporated into A Volta, but nothing has come of this to date, much to the disappointment of myself, Parrulo and most reasonable-thinking fans of the race. This savage road rises up from the valley, narrow and dramatic, sweeping up to the chapel at the summit. Amazing views welcome the riders, but they can only enjoy this plateau for about 8km (whilst thanking the lord I didn't tack the short Portal do Inferno section on to the end after some of that flat). Then, it's 13km to the line, almost all of which is a difficult, twisty downhill. The gradient is nothing to compare to that of the ascent, but still, rather like the Jausiers stage of the 2008 Tour, it's practically downhill right to the line.

I anticipate fireworks on São Macário. It's not a climb where the group can stay together. And while the plateau may give good time triallists a chance to limit losses and reduce some of their deficits from the climb itself, there's then the chance for daredevil descenders to make time/reduce deficits as well. So really, it's the best of both worlds. And the first proper Volta a Portugal mountain stage to finish on a descent in several years, too.

Oliveira do Bairro:


São Pedro do Sul:
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrFiUlhAPes

Forever tête de la course.
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