Race design challenge - v3

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Okay, here we go.

Scores for Race 1:
Devil's elbow: Clasica de Navara, 176 km
lemon cheese cake: Manx International Cycle Race, 224 km
Libertine Seguros: Paris Tours (re-designed), 214 km

Judge 1:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 9, CR: 5
Very good design . A sterrato classic in the fall is most welcome. Could be a bit longer, but otherwise it's very well balanced to ensure long range attacks about 45-55 km from the finish. The cultural rating is high because of Basque country being one of the most significant cycling regions in Europa, but unless of Vuelta stages it's not many fall races there. Also plus for using Navarra and Pamplona since this are is underutilized compared to San Sebastian, Bilbao, Eibar for cycling races.

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 7, CR: 4
Good design, but I withdraw some because of using the same climb several times, albeit from different sides. And the design feels a bit similar to a San Sebastian design which is not my favorite. Plus though for being a race in the middle of the Irish Sea in late September which could mean a lot of wind and rain. The cultural rating is high because motor cycle race, but compared to Basque Country and PT, it doesn't have the same ring to it for cycling racing.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 8, CR: 5
Very good balance between the a sprinter's and a puncheur classic. Should fit several rider types, from the most punchy hilly riders via the cobble specialists that pack an acceleration and sprinters with a certain engine. The cultural signifcance is undeniable with the long history of the race.

Judge 2:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 9, CR: 3
I like the gravel design especially, and in a rarely used area in professional cycling is always a great way to spice up the calendar. Pamplona is also very culturally significant, so you get high marks all around.

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 7, CR: 5
Personally, the design is great, just does not compare to the first one enough to get higher marks. However, the cultural level stands out, incorporating key marks on the Isle of Man gives me the reason to give high cultural marks.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 6, CR: 5
Alas, all races can’t be A+. Your design is a balance between hill and sprint types. I also expect to see similar designs later from other contestants, so yours won’t be an outlier. However, using a historic race of course gives max cultural points.

Summary:
Devil's elbow: 14 + 12 = 26
Libertine Seguros: 13 + 11 = 24
lemon cheese cake: 11 + 12 = 23
 
Veluwsche Wielerronde
Race 2 of the challenge to create a reinvigorated autumn one day race schedule, and this time we are in the Netherlands. After the first race on the Sunday in the Isle of Man, this is scheduled to be on the Wednesday that follows. And while the Manx race may have been quite a hilly affair, this has much flatter terrain, although you may expect that if your first thought of the Netherlands is Amstel Gold Race like mine mostly is!

Background
The Netherlands has a well-known history for bikes, whether that’s racing or general day to day usage. In fact, interestingly there are more bikes in the Netherlands than those that live in the country. While many know the traditional upright bike found so commonly in the Netherlands as the ‘Dutch Bike’ it’s roots and identity have more in common with the Safety Bicycle that was built in Coventry by John Starley as the successor to the French Velocipede. The Dutch may be the ones who have some of, if not the best cycling infrastructure in the world, as regularly shown through channels such as Not Just Bikes or Bicycle Dutch, but also these two channels have also shown that it wasn’t always this way.

Bike racing in the Netherlands has been going strong for decades though. The first National Championships took place back in 1888 and hasn’t not taken place annually since. Not even two world wars and the recent pandemic could stop it from taking place. The main event became professional in 1927 with a Women’s category added in 1965. The national tour also took place in since 1948 however after the 2004 edition it combined with the organisation of the Tour of Belgium to become the Benelux Tour due to the race struggling to stay afloat. In recent years, it seems to have become more of a Belgium centred race in recent years, although stricter regulations on elite sport during 2020 and 2021 may have helped influence that with a key example being in the 2020 edition where all Dutch stages were cancelled. While Belgium is littered with WT races the men’s side only has the couple of days of the Benelux Tour and Amstel Gold Race at WT and the 2.Pro of the Ster ZLM Toer in the Netherlands. The women’s side has the Simac Tour, Ronde van Drenthe and Amstel, while the currently names Bloeizone Fryslan and Drentse Acht tend to gain high quality fields even since the World Tour category has been brought in.

On the men’s side the Holland Cup of 1.2 races are spread throughout the season and start with the Dorpenomloop Rucphen and finish with the Ster van Zwolle. Many of these have a similar format to that of the Veenendaal Veenendaal Classic that took place this past weekend, but others like the Ronde van Achterhoek, or the slightly more well known 1.1 Slag om Norg, break from that style with a bit of gravel thrown in. The aforementioned race around Veenendaal had taken on various different forms with recent editions only racing the surrounding area of Veenendaal but has ventured over to Arnhem in the past. It now exists as part of the old series of Belgian one day races now known as the Exterioo Cup along with the Ronde van Drenthe.

Race Background:
I should probably discuss the race. The Netherlands is made of 12 Provinces, with Amsterdam in Noord Holland, Rotterdam in Zuid Holland, Limburg in the south and Friesland and Groningen in the north. In the central band of the country in the east is Gelderland and Overijssel, where cities like Arnhem, Nijmegen, Apeldoorn, and Zwolle lie. All have connections with bike racing with Zwolle hosting the previously mentioned Ster van Zwolle. The others are probably larger on the consciousness than Zwolle though. In 2016 the Giro d’Italia started off with a Prologue TT in Apeldoorn, followed by stage 1 going from Arnhem to Nijmegen, and stage 2 going from Nijmegen to Arnhem. Tom Dumoulin won that prologue with Primoz Roglic first really showing himself with his effort sticking him in second. Marcel Kittel then swept the field away in the following stages that both finished in a bunch sprint. While Nijmegen has some fairly steep hills on a ridge that leads to the German border, Arnhem has a much larger amount on the ridge running along the river towards Ede and Wageningen which is the current neck of the woods for Annemiek van Vleuten, although her name does actually refer to her home town as she is actually from Vleuten in Utrecht. The ridge just to the north of Arnhem leads into the Veluwe. This is an area that stretches all the way from the the Nederrijn in Arnhem, right up to the Veluwemeer that separates mainland Netherlands and the reclaimed polder of Flevoland. Apparently Veluwe refers to ‘fallow land’ as opposed to the stretch between the Nederrijn and the Waal being the Betuwe, or ‘good lands’ which is more fertile. This is quite apparent as if you visit the area, the vast areas of woodland and forest as well as wild grassland and sand dunes and drifts. The reason for this area is due to Glacial action long ago, but now it’s home to many tourist attractions. The Posbank in the Veluwezoom around Arnhem featured in the 2016 Giro, while the Hoge Veluwe is home of tonnes of Deer and also the Kröller Müller art museum. Around Apeldoorn are the Radio Kootwijk radio station and the Kroondomein Het Loo that features the royal palace of the Paleis Het Loo.

The Race:



Start: Zwolle
Finish: Arnhem

Climbs:
Hoog Soenen – 3,2km @ 1,7%
Italiaanseweg – 1,8km @ 1,4%
Emma Piramide – 1,4km @ 4,0%
Zijpenberg – 2,5km @ 1,7%
Posbank – 3,7km @ 1,7%
Heuvenseweg – 2,1km @ 3,1%

Gravel Sectors:
Dijkhuizerzandweg – 1400m
Horsterweg – 1000m
Heetkampsweg – 200m
Tolweg – 800m
Laarstraat – 400m
Schaverenseveld – 800m
Hertenkampsweg – 800m
Alverschotenseweg – 1700m
Molenweg – 1500m
Fonteinallee Boerderij – 400m
Loopbergenseweg – 900m EàW
Loopbergenseweg – 900m WàE

Cobbles:
Paleis Het Loo – 700m
Italiaanseweg – 1800m
Kluizenaarweg – 1100m
Heuvenseweg – 800m

The Veluwe is where I’ve taken this race’s name from. But despite this, we don’t actually start at a location that is categorised as being in the Veluwe. The start takes place in the medieval Hanseatic city of Zwolle; the capital of Overijssel. Zwolle is situated next to the Ijssel River that flows into the Ijsselmeer which is part of what used to make up the Zuiderzee before the Afsluitdijk was built across the entrance between Noord Holland and Fryslan. The race would roll out from next to the Grote Kerk and wiggle it’s way out of the old city to go and head across the Ijssel and into Gelderland, where the riders will remain for the remainder of the route. A left turn will lead the course onto the Geldersedijk where the flag will be dropped and the neutralised zone ended, just before the riders skirt around the edge of the town of Hattem. At this point the riders turn into the first section away from open land and into the forest, following the Oranje Nassaulaan, named after the current reigning royal family in the country of the Netherlands (of which King Willem Alexander is the imcumbent monarch. We cross the motorway and skirt the edge of a military training ground before heading towards the town of Epe and the first sector of gravel in the race. The race barely goes into Epe, but instead dip into the edge of it twice. The race comes here from the north, makes a left turn, shortly followed by a right turn an this leads into onto Dijkhuizerzandweg which lasts for 1400m and kicks the unpaved roads off early. The opening straight section leads into a left turn followed by a wavering section, before the tarmac returns just before reaching the very small village of Dijkhuizen. It isn’t too narrow so should be a nice way of easing into the race. The route returns to Epe before swiftly leaving it and returning to the gravel, this time with the 1000m Horsterweg. The first section weaves and winds slightly but is a bit better surfaced than the second, especially if the edges are a bit chewed up by farm vehicles like when the street view was taken.

The race leaves Epe behind and heads to the next sector of gravel. We ride along the 200m of well surfaced Heetkampsweg before a flick flack or right then left, to take the race to the Tolweg, which is a bit longer at 800m. Here, the surface is a bit more ‘rustic’ with a bit of grass growing down the centre. There is no rest though, as the 400m Laarstraat followed immediately by the 800m Schaverenseveld come fairly soon afterwards. These are then followed by the Hertenkampsweg that again lasts for 800m and has a couple of kinks and corners in it, compared to the previously fairly straight sectors. A gap follows as the riders head down towards Apeldoorn, via Vassen. On the edge of Apeldoorn, the riders take a right turn onto Koningstraat which leads to the Royal Paleis Het Loo. While it is now a museum it was the residence of the Dutch royal family up until Queen Wilhemina died in 1962. It has had quite a history, being built for William III and Mary II of England, showing links to the British and Dutch royal family date well back. The King of Prussia and Louis XIV have also laid claim to the house and gardens in the past, with the king of France completely changing the style of the house and gardens, which remained as so for long after he left the site in central Netherlands. A passage infront of the palace gates take the riders along a small cobbled sector before we head past a Canadian war memorial and into the centre of Apeldoorn. We head along the Loolaan which was the location for the finish of the 2016 giro Prologue after it started at the Omnisport (Velodrome) on the other side of the city.

The Omnisport is not passed, as the riders head off east towards the first ‘climb’ of the day up to Hoog Soenen. While 3,2km at 1,7% is nowhere near alpine, it is a sizable height gain compared to anything else featured on the route so far. The road drops down to the Alveschotenseweg which is the next sector of unpaved road. Compared to the other sections, this is much wider and looks to be a standard road width like any other busier paved road you’d find in the Netherlands. Prior to this the riders will cross a railway crossing over the mainline that links Amersfoort and Apeldoorn before riding across some paving stones that although look relatively benign, having ridden on similar blocks in other areas of the country, I can safely say they sap the speed from your bike and the energy from your legs! The riders pass through the village of Kootwijk shortly after the end of the previous gravel sector which is a location that lends its name to the Radio Station situated in the middle of this section of the Veluwe. Originally used for communication between the Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands over short wave radio. It is now decommissioned but is an iconic location in the country. It has been used to shoot a couple of films including an average at best sounding American film ‘Mindhunters’ while it has also featured in various music videos. If anyone follows the like of Niki Terpstra, beach racers like Ivar Silk and Jasper Ockeloen or even Demi Vollering on social media apps like strava or Instagram, then you may have seen it in videos and pictures on some gravel rides in the area.

After leaving behind Kootwijk, the race continues on towards the entrance of the Hoge Veluwe National park, where the Kröller Müller art museum lies, in Oterlo. Before this though, the riders will divert off the main road at Harskamp and head for the Molenweg gravel sector. This is the longest sector of the race at 1500m and also appears to be the loosest with a very sandy surface, meaning it could be quite soft and loose if it hasn’t rained much before the event. After this sector, the course heads away from Oterlo and the Hoge Veluwe and starts what is probably the longest section between any notable features on the course. The race heads down to Ede (not to be confused with Epe that was earlier in the race!) and onto Bennekom, before scraping the edges of Wageningen. This town has a well known research university and as mentioned in the background section, it’s where Annemiek van Vleuten resides when she’s not training with the men’s Movistar team! At this point the race goes towards the second part by heading through Renkum and down to near the banks of the Nederrijn. A short section of gravel along the Fonteinallee and through a farm (hence the name of the sector Fonteinallee Boerderij) and under the motorway to skirt along the bottom of the Boersberg.

As the Boersberg is not ridden up, we do need to have a way to get up off the flood plains of the Nederrijn and up to higher ground and this is done by the use of the Italiaanseweg. This climb is not overly steep, but does drag on for 3,2km and is on some fairly rough cobble stones with two hairpin bends. It is also not the widest of roads, so if groups are still large at this point, then being at the front will be crucial. Originally used as the driveway to the Kasteel Doorwerth, the cobbles actually go on form maybe another 1,5km or so to the main road between Wageningen and Arnhem, but we only go up to where it passes by the town of Doorwerth. The course now dips down slightly before hitting the slightly easier tarmac climb of Hoofdlaan up to Oosterbeek. This is where the museum to the Battle of Arnhem lies that was infamous for the less than successful Operation Market Garden. The race leaves Oosterbeek via the Loopbergenseweg, travelling along this from east to west. After a quick trip through the area of woodland marked as Warnsborn, the race enters the finish town of Arnhem for the first time.

The riders descend slightly and pass through the Sonsbeek Park, which I read somewhere is the oldest city park in the Netherlands. A rolling ride through Arnhem follows, as the riders pass a couple of other parks on their way to Rozendaal and Velp. This marks the entrance into the Veluwezoom National Park. To get up into it, the riders will ride up the Emma Piramide climb from the side that runs up the Kluizenaarweg. This also happens to feature paved cobble stones similar to those around the area before Radio Kootwijk, so it wont be the easiest section of the day. It is the has the steepest average gradient of the whole day of 4% with and lasts for 1,3km. Following immediately after a little winding descent is the Zijpenberg. This rises up to the top of the road through this area of the park and momentarily takes the riders out of the forest. A slight downhill leads to a left turn before a cattlegrid and a very small section of gravel (probably no longer than 50 or 100 metres) takes the riders back into the trees and onwards towards the heathland. A rolling downhill takes the riders to Laag Soeren (Low Soeren) after passing through Hoog Soeren (High Soeren) on the other side of Apeldoorn. A flat section then follows through Dieren and onto De Steeg where the climbing starts again. This takes the riders up to the Posbank. While there is an overall steeper side that was used when the Giro came to this area (and Maarten Tjallingii took the KOM jersey) using this side allows a greater use of the terrain at hand than one could use in the Giro stage. The early section is the steepest, but there are pitches towards the top that could lead help with attacks. The riders dive down the route the Giro went up, but turn right at the bottom and go up the Heuvenseweg. This road starts off with cobbles similar to the italiaanseweg, but then transitions into tarmac that drags up to the top at the Zijpenberg. The race then rejoins where the Giro went and descends quickly before coming over the much shorter and therefore uncategorised Emma Piramide, before descending out of the Veluwezoom for the last time. The race passes the Kasteel Rozendaal and then heads onto the Schelmseweg that acts as a ring road around the top of Arnhem. Here the race passes the Openluchtmuseum and the Burgerszoo. The museum is a museum all about the goings on of day to day dutch life, while he Burgers Zoo is a the local zoo and is apparently one of the biggest in the country. The schelmesweg is fairly rolling and takes the riders to the point where they will ride back through the Warnsborn woodland and onto the final gravel sector of the day. The reverse sector of the Loopbergenseweg is only fnishes only 3,5kms from the finish line, so plays a similar role to that of the of the Mesheul sector if Ribin in Tro Bro Leon that finishes only 2,5km from the line in Lannilis. While only 800m long this sector could be the last section to really put in an effort to break a group up through being a slight bit better bike handler across the rough stuff. Another turn right and briefly into Oosterbeek again takes the race back towards Arnhem for the finish on Utrechtseweg, near the Museum Arnhem and the rather evil villains lair looking Alliander Building.

Summary:
I didn’t do this for my first race but I shall summarise each event a bit from now on. The race is most likely the flattest out of all of my races meaning its’s probably the most likely one that will give the sprinters a chance to fight for a win. However, the mixed surfaces throughout the first part of the race, and small categorised climbs that are linked with rolling lumps and bumps in between in the second half should splinter the field and produce at least a small bunch of maybe a maximum of ten towards the end. One can draw comparisons from other dutch races mentioned, such as the the Slag om Norg which has had no more than four riders come to the finish or the Ronde van de Achterhoek, which has had similar finishes whether as a UCI event like last year, or a national event prior to that. Or the gravel and climbs will have no real impact on the race and finish in a Bunch sprint like the Veenendaal Veenendaal Classic does over terrain in a similar area.

As Paris Tours is a race that currently features a lot of gravel in it, is fairly flat, and has some small climbs littered towards the end, I’d expect some of the same names competing in this as do in that. I wouldn’t expect riders from the Manx race to travel over after the Sunday event for this on the Wednesday though.

Start in Zwolle:

Finish in Arnhem:
 
I did actually have my post in the works, only it got a bit out of hand...

Race 2: Subida a Urkiola/Urkiola Igoera
Distance: 180.2 km
Category: 1.1

Profile


Map


Link to the route

Probably the biggest downgrade to the calendar in recent years has been the move of Milano-Torino to the spring, a move which has seen the race go from an exciting showdown between the world's best climbers up a historic climb to a pan-flat race with a mediocre sprint field in one swift move. What made it worse was that it apparently happened at the request of the organising RCS, something that makes the decision to have the final mountain stage of the Giro end with a Fedaia MTF look brilliant by comparison. Moreover, this has left the professional scene without a single comparable race - ignoring Lombardia (if that counts), the only remaining climbers' one-day races are the Mercantour Classic and the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, neither of which are suitable replacements in their current slots on the calendar.

Now I could have done a Milano-Torino redesign as a part of this challenge, but that would either have entailed removing the MTF (which has its merits, considering that the possibilities include something like Saturday's Giro stage, but doesn't fix the issue), or keeping the MTF, which wouldn't have been much of a new design. So, instead, I've looked to an area that used to specialise in MTF one-day races... Northern Spain.

Once upon a time, there were three Spanish one-day races ending on a climb. In Asturias, there was the Subida al Naranco, first raced in 1941, which (with two interruptions of over a decade each) continued until 2010, when it merged with the Vuelta a Asturias. The Naranco stage was dropped from the latter in 2016, meaning that the Vuelta stage that year remains its most recent use in a professional race. In the Basque Country, the Subida a Arrate debuted in the very same year as its Asturian counterpart, running almost interrupted until 1986, after which it became a part of the Euskal Bizikleta. While the latter has been subsumed by the Itzulia since, the Arrate stage, thankfully, continues to be held annually to this day. However, there had been one race that had started it all a decade prior... the Subida a Urkiola.

First held in 1931, the Subida a Urkiola originally was a short race that consisted of a single ascent of Urkiola. It immediately disappeared again after that initial edition won by Ricardo Montero, but the climb would be incorporated in the inaugural Vuelta a España in 1935 as a pass, where it was the single hardest climb of the race. A second edition of the Subida would be held one year after, but this would be the final one for decades, and with the Vuelta also being held irregularly at the time, it would not be used there either until the fifth edition in 1945, then returned for the next four editions (with one interlying year in which the Vuelta was again not organised) before a longer hiatus as the national race lay dormant.

In 1956, El Correo-El Pueblo Vasco took over the organisation of the Vuelta and this would prove to be the end of the layoffs. Urkiola itself would continue to be used regularly and saw the race nine times between 1957 and 1974, always as a pass and always as one of the key points in the whole race. In this time, Subida a Urkiola also returned for six editions between 1961 and 1969. Half of those were won by Julio Jiménez, one of the finest climbers of his day; the Avila-born rider won twelve GT stages as well as three consecutive KOM classifications at both the Tour and the Vuelta, but could never quite capture the general classification, coming closest at the 1967 Tour de France, where he finished second. Whilst the one-day race disappeared for a longer period of time again, the Vuelta stepped in with two MTFs in 1975 and 1977. By this time, of course, the political situation in the Basque Country heavily threatened the Vuelta's continued presence there (a process that had already started in 1968 with the ETA setting off a bomb when the race was about to pass). It was at the latter Urkiola MTF that the Guardia Civil responded to Basque protesters with gunfire; this led to the next day's final stage in San Sebastian being moved to Miranda de Ebro at the last minute, allowing Freddy Maertens to set his GT stage win record. After the final stage had to be called off midway through the following year, the Spanish federation banned the Vuelta from entering the Basque Country, the Basque El Correo-El Pueblo Vasco initially cancelled the next edition, before Unipublic (not entirely coincidentally led by Luis Puig, the boss of the Spanish federation who would later head the UCI) stepped in to organise a race that would avoid its most traditional heartland for the foreseeable future.

In the wake of all this, the Basque calendar was reinforced, it was in this era that the Clásica San Sebastian was launched. From 1984 onwards, it would form a double header with a newly restored Subida a Urkiola, which was now ran as a full-length race, an arrangement that continued all the way until its final edition in 2009. Leonardo Piepoli eventually surpassed Jiménez by winning the race for a record fourth time, other winners include Marino Lejarreta, Andy Hampsten, José María Jiménez (all twice), Pedro Delgado, Claudio Chiappucci, Tony Rominger, Beat Zberg, Francesco Casagrande and Dario Frigo. In other words, it was usually won by a top-tier climber. Following the introduction of the ProTour in 2005, the field became less international, but the race still continued to produce big-name winners: a young Joaquim Rodríguez in 2005, Iban Mayo in 2006, David Arroyo in 2008 and Igor Antón in 2009, after which the race became one of may to fall victim to the global financial crisis by which Spain was so badly hit.

By this time, the political mood had started to shift and the Vuelta was finally able to return to the Basque Country in 2011. Urkiola was almost an obligatory stopoff and it was the final climb of the race once more... on a stage with a flat second half and without a particularly difficult run-in, which ended up in a reduced bunch sprint won by Daniele Bennati. The Vuelta hasn't been back since, and given that 2011 was also the last visit of Itzulia, it's - shamefully - been over a decade since the men's peloton has set foot on this holy ground of Basque cycling, although the now-defunct Emakumeen Bira did continue to visit, most recently in 2018. This lack of racing is another excellent reason to revive the Subida a Urkiola, a climb this steeped in history should be used much more often than it is now.

The original race traditionally consisted of two ascents of Urkiola with little else before or in between. Here's a profile of the 2009 edition.



Obviously there's a room for improvement here, and so my race only has a single ascent of Urkiola, in exchange for a far more exciting run-in. This should make for a more selective race where there's a much better opportunity to attack ahead of the final climb.

As is tradition, the race starts from Durango. It is an old town that owes its existence to being on the junction with the Urkiola pass road, dating back to at least the 12th century, something that is reflected by the existence of a number of Durangos in the Americas, including a certain Colorado town that is the home to a certain American rider a certain participant in this challenge is not particularly fond of. This location on a junction meant that it was of significant strategic importance, and when the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War reached the area in early 1937, this had disastrous consequences. In a bid to move into Biscay, Francoist forces bombed the town on March 31st of that year, killing 250 civilians; the tactic would be repeated the next month in the much more infamous bombing of Guernica. The town has successfully redeveloped since and, despite the discontinuation of Subida a Urkiola, remains a town that is supportive of cycling, with the Bizkaia-Durango team having entered its twentieth season, and the women's race Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria being held annually.


Durango seen from the Urkiola massif


Mavi García in her Bizkaia-Durango days.

The start of the race is very easy, however, starting with four times of the lap around the "climb" to Miota, which is used by every smaller race in the area, including this one when it was still held.



This lap takes us through Berríz, the hometown of the mighty Marino Lejarreta. El Junco (the Reed) burst onto the scene in 1980 at the age of 22 with a podium at Itzulia and a fifth at the Vuelta, his first of fifteen top-10s in a GT. Lejarreta backed this up in the same season by winning his first big race at the Volta a Catalunya. He won the inaugural Clásica San Sebastian the year after; his three wins at the race remain a record. The year after, Lejarreta was just behind the podium for much of the race again, before riding himself onto the podium with a stage win on the final MTF at Puerto de Navacerrada, just two seconds ahead of Alberto Fernández with Michel Pollentier a further sixteen seconds behind, but two minutes behind the presumptive winner, Angel Arroyo. However, two days after the race, it was revealed that Arroyo, Fernández and a number of other riders had tested positive on the Navacerrada stage, thereby handing the win to Lejarreta.


Lejarreta in 1987.

And so it became that Lejarreta became one of those riders who was awarded the biggest win of his life retroactively, as he would never win another GT. He came closest when he was defending his title, when he did get to ride in the leader's jersey after the Pyrenees but ceded control after that and eventually finished second, just over a minute down on Bernard Hinault. Lejarreta's exploits would cross the Spanish border after that as he won two stages at the Giro and eventually also one at the Tour, making the top-5 five times between the two races, in addition to a second Volta, five wins at Escalada de Montjuich and four at Vuelta a Burgos, amongst a host of other victories including two at this very race. In his later years, he set a record of ten consecutive finished GTs between the Tours of 1987 and 1981 that would only be broken by Adam Hansen over three decades later. However, Lejarreta actually contested the GC in the majority of these, managing a top-10 in six of these ten races, including a final Vuelta podium (third) as his teammate Melchor Mauri surprisingly romped home. The following year, Lejarreta spent most of the season sidelined following a crash, after returning to the bike for a final few race days in October he decided to end his career. Lejarreta's older brother Ismael was also a professional cyclist, serving as a domestique during Marino's winning Vuelta; Ismael's son Iñaki later became a promising mountainbiker, taking a junior world title in 2001, however he was killed in a road accident in 2012, aged just 29.

Eventually we leave this circuit to head past Durango through the adjacent village of Iurreta, home of the Emakumeen Bira, towards the first real climb of the day, the Muniketa.



From here, there is very little respite, however the next climb of the day, Balcón de Bizkaia, is easily the most gradual of what is still to come. This is the first of four consecutive climbs that is shared with the Monte Oiz stage of the 2018 Vuelta.



However, in contrast to that stage, we do the next loop over Lekoitz Gane and Gontzegaraigane twice.





Then, finally, it's time for the steepest climb of the day, Monte Oiz. As we are using it as a pass, we only climb as far as San Kristobal on the profile below, but this section does contain the hardest slopes, peaking at 25%. Moreover, the hard part is on hormigón. This gives a real opportunity to attack ahead of the final climb.



The same is true for a significant part of the descent, however this road is mostly quite gradual and clearly wide enough. It's still fairly technical, so if the splits haven't come on the climb there's still potential for a bit of action ahead of Urkiola. Off the descent, there's one final passage through Iurreta and Durango, then we head south through the village of Mañaria, the hometown of Julián Gorospe, a contemporary of Lejarreta who is a two-time winner of Itzulia and a stage winner at both the Vuelta and the Tour. This is where the climb truly starts.



Just like in the old race, we climb just past the pass to the actual sanctuary, about 200 metres before the profile above ends. I've already talked at length abouth the climb, it's unrelenting with the nastiest pitch at just over a kilometre ago. I'll end the post with some footage of the climb. Here's the 1991 edition of the Subida, which saw Pedro Delgado beat Marino Lejarreta...


...and, for some slightly more recent imagery, here's the final edition.



The sanctuary of Urkiola.
 
Race 2: Tour de Champagne
Men: 240km
Women: 156,7km





Here we have the first of my ‘new’ races, invented for the purpose of this challenge rather than a repurposed existent race. This race will take place on the Wednesday of the week’s festivities, and is part of my attempt to limit logistical struggles as well as provide varied and original parcours.

One of the key things that I brought up in my discussion of Paris-Tours in the consideration of developing a one-day race is to ensure that said race has an identity. There are dozens of identikit flat to rolling one-day races all over cycling’s heartlands, so you need to have something that elevates your race above the countless 1.1 races that dot the French, Belgian and Italian countryside throughout the season if you want to establish a race at a strong level. If we look at the newest additions to the calendar that have taken off, then you can see this theme is strong. Strade Bianche has increased in level to become the fastest addition to the pantheon of Classics in some time, while Tro Bro Léon’s identity with the ribinou and the dust has led to a cult status as “your favourite small race”. Other races’ identities are formed by famous obstacles, a classic climb or simply an iconic image or location. A race needs to have something that makes it stand out.

Simultaneously, some races’ position in the calendar fixes importance. The move of Brabantse Pijl from Alsemberg to Overijsse and the shift in the calendar from a week before Ronde van Vlaanderen to a spot between Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold initially seemed suboptimal, but it actually suited the race parcours better, owing to its position parcours-wise as a sort of halfway house between the flatter northern Classics and the hillier Ardennes, such that it kind of forms a continuum from the flatter races with small hellingen such as E3 and RVV, through Brabantse Pijl, to Amstel Gold and then onto the Ardennes proper. It had been a reasonable semi-classic with half a century of history, but the move in the calendar gave it a new lease of life that has really improved its standing. So this second race is designed to be, considering we’re starting with Paris-Tours and ending with the Giro di Lombardia, kind of the Brabantse Pijl/Amstel Gold kind of play of the week. That’s one part of its identity. The other part is the scenery and the culture that it pays homage to. We have a Beer race. We have a Cheese race. How about we go a bit more aspirational and add a Champagne race?







During the Tour de France, an often underrated character in the history of the sport is l’Hexagone itself, the French countryside. How many tedious sprint stages have been rendered watchable almost solely by the colourful displays put on by towns and villages, and the helicopter shots picking up local vineyards and châteaus? A great many, that’s how many. The Chemins des Vignes have been used to enliven Paris-Tours in recent years and the Champagne-Ardennes region used to hold the Critérium International until 2010. But Champagne proper, the Marne and the historical region now subsumed into le Grand-Est, is strangely under-utilised in the sport, especially in recent times. The Tour has occasionally moseyed on in to town, but otherwise it’s a surprisingly barren area for the sport. I’ve had a couple of reasons to hunt out a race in this area, however. Firstly, in doing an experiment along similar lines to the Nordic Series around motor racing circuits, using the historic Reims-Gueux circuit which is now defunct; and secondly, when working on potential women’s Tour de France routes, as Reims is the hometown of multi-talented Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who started her career collecting rainbow jerseys including an unprecedented period where she was World Road, Cyclocross and Mountain Bike champion simultaneously, then decided instead to collect injuries, and eventually specialised in MTB, rather reducing and eventually scaling back entirely her road commitments, and meaning that she is no longer of much relevance when talking about development of French women’s cycling despite her prominence and that she’s still only just turned 30. Reims also hosted the World Championships in 1958, on a circuit which included part of the Reims-Gueux motor racing circuit during that era when motor racing circuits were frequently used in the Worlds (credit to the Lasterketa Burua guys for mapping that, btw), but while Tour stages and Tour de l’Avenir stages have been not infrequent in the area, they have largely been sprint stages and not used the scope of the terrain at hand.

But although Reims was where my previous thinking had been, to make this a true Champagne race, the race had to be centred around Épernay, was my thinking. This is due to the historic (and UNESCO-inscribed) Avenue de Champagne, a former market street on which several major champagne brands are based, and regarded by some as the most expensive street in the world, owing to the immense value of the commodity stored on this one road. I have, naturally, decided therefore to place the race’s finish on this iconic thoroughfare, which has seen a few sprints in its time, since it usually hosts sprints on those occasions the Tour de France heads into town.


Épernay’s Avenue de Champagne, the finish of our race

Although the Avenue de Champagne was not the scene on that particular occasion, Épernay is also the city which played host to the last time we got some high level racing in these parts as well, with a very good 2019 week 1 Tour stage which was won by Julien Alaphilippe, who with it acquired the maillot jaunt and set into motion his surprising GC odyssey of that race. Riders at the head of the field in the chasing group behind him included some of the GC big guns, but also people like Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, Greg van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin and Sonny Colbrelli, all of whom are adept over hills but nevertheless aren’t really called hilly classic type riders. Much of this stage’s run-in has been aped in the 2022 Tour de France Féminine route as well in what looks like an intriguing hilly stage but also one which will suit the ‘usual suspects’ in terms of the traditional parcours of major races in the women’s calendar, although this state of affairs is improving. I have included elements of these stages but without letting it overbalance the race parcours, as while in a stage race, especially in week 1, a certain conservatism must naturally take hold in that riders have to conserve energy for a three week race and time matters if you are dropped, in a one-day race, especially late in the season, there could be gambling to be done from further out by riders out of contract, fewer riders racing hard in the chase just to limit losses once the victory is out of sight, and more fatigue given it’s now into October in the timeline these races take place in.


2019 Tour de France stage to Épernay


2022 Tour de France Féminine stage to Épernay

The race pays homage to the totality of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the “Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars” location, however, and so it is not simply out and around Épernay. Instead we have the start in Ay-Champagne and the Ay-Champagne Experience, a small commune on the lower slopes of the Montagnes de Reims which is home to the Bollinger champagne brand and is part of the extended sphere of influence of Épernay.


Ay-Champagne

The women’s race starts in another historic small town nearby, to the west of Épernay, called Châtillon-sur-Marne, within walking distance of the larger city and most distinguished by its statue of Pope Urban II.


Châtillon-sur-Marne

Now, although the region is known as the Montagnes de Reims, full-scale “mountains” they are not. However they are a range of hills which can add a bit of variety and intrigue to proceedings, suiting riders who are adept on the hille, but without being a true puncheur’s festival, meaning this is one where those classics riders who like the northern Classics but can be competitive in e.g. Amstel Gold should be the riders who are favoured.

The first 55-60km of the race are a rolling, undulating circuit that brings us into Épernay from the south past the Châteaux de La Marquetterie and Pierry. No race will ever scream “vineyards and châteaux!” like this one. Heading into Épernay, we give the riders a quick chance to check out the finale they will be taking in another 180km time to get a feel for it, before heading out west to the first real climb of the race, the Côte de Vauciennes, 2,2km at 6,5%, and then there’s a brief stretch along a plateau above the Marne valley until we descend down into Châtillon-sur-Marne, from whence the women’s race will commence.

We then traverse the western side of the Montagnes de Reims close by where the 1958 World Championships course was, although we don’t utilise it in full; there’s little reason to, sadly the high speed triangle is long since abandoned, although pleasingly, unlike other legendary circuits that have been dismantled around l’Hexagone such as Rouen-les-Essarts, reminders of the heritage of the site do remain in the form of the now skeletal remains of the pit boxes.


Reims-Gueux

We instead head into central Reims for a quick stop by at the legendary and iconic cathedral - of course we had to - but this is a fleeting visit, along the lines of the incursion by Gent-Wevelgem into Ypres, or when a Como-Bergamo Lombardia route pops through Lecco. Reims basically comes at the halfway point in the men’s race, and about 40km into the women’s, before around 15km flat takes us into the hills of the second half.


One of the most iconic structures of northern France

The first of these climbs is the double-ascent of Mont Sinaï, above the village of Verzy. The vineyards of Verzy are considered Grand Cru, and the hills above the village - which we are riding through - are notable for their Faux de Verzy, dwarf trees which grow to small heights with twisted, complex trunks and branch structures. This climb consists of around 1,8km at 5,1%, then a brief downhill into the village and then 900m at 8,9%. The climbs aren’t exactly thick and fast, but flat terrain now gives way to rolling terrain and annoying digs around the top of the plateau, before another climb outside of Ludes at around 85km from the finish. This is 1,4km at 8,4%, though the steepest part is 800m at 11,1% in the middle of the climb - puncheur territory for sure, but still quite some way from the finish.

After passing through Ville-en-Selve, which entails an uncategorised climb of around 400m or so, there’s another climb, though this time a less threatening one, from Saint-Germain which is around 6% in steepness for a kilometre, before a fairly long stretch of false flat which drags the gradient down - I’ve highlighted only the steep bit on the profile. The plateau through Le Bois-Joli enables us to descend back down into the Marne Valley to the west of where we could have gone by the quickest route to Épernay, to enable us to take on the keynote climbs of the 2019 Tour de France stage / 2022 Women’s Tour de France stage - profiles taken from PCS’ profile of the stage:





The interesting thing for my race here, however, is that the climbs are at an almost identical time in the race as those in the Tour - 185km, 190km and 200km respectively - but as this is not intended to be entirely a puncheur-fest, this makes them a further 25km from the line than they were in 2019. This means that the final categorised climb of that stage, where Alaphilippe made his bid for victory, comes at just inside 40km from the line in my race. Like in 2019 it should be a pretty decisive moment for the race, but with a lot more to come distance-wise - and instead of telling us who will win, it will tell us who will contend for the win.


Côte de Mutigny

From here, the Tour stage descended back into Ay-Champagne - yes, the race start town - and then rolled over the gradual, multi-stepped climb over Mont Bernon, the Hausberg of Épernay, and then up a final 250m sprint at 10%. I have omitted all of this (except the 250m at 10%, but that was taken on the first run through the town and is not included in the finale because I wanted to finish on the Avenue de Champagne) in favour of a longer circuit which takes in some of the parts of the initial loop and adds a few more platforms for an attack - but none of which are quite as tough as that trifecta, so it’s going to be up to the riders themselves on the day to figure out whether they dare to take it from deep, whether they will make the selections on the climbs that are ‘known’ and use the lesser ascents once they’ve isolated opposition, or if they’re going to try to keep thinning things out until they get a reduced sprint.

Now… the first 10km of that remaining 40km are almost ramrod straight, so that will favour the people wanting to keep things together. But then we have the first of the final trifecta of climbs, in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. I had to include this small village in the race seeing as it is regarded even by wine enthusiasts as home to two of the most revered of champagnes, Salon Le Mesnil and Clos du Mesnil. This climb to the Côte des Pâtis d’Oger is 2,1km at 5,5% and is not super steep, the steepest kilometre in the middle is 7,5%, so it suits a different style of riding to the 12% average gradients in Mutigny. The summit here is 22,5km from home, then we loop back toward where we just came from, dropping down back into the valley and then into the adjacent village of Avize, where we have our penultimate ascent. This is a shorter climb - 900m - and averages 7,7%. Again, long enough to provide something to work with for the puncheurs, but not so long and so steep that the Sagans and Matthewses of this world can’t hold on if their form is there.


Avize

This climb is 14,3km from the line, but there’s just one more ascent to take as we loop back toward Château-Pierry; this is a steep but very short ascent through Monthelon on the Rue du Maltrait and Rue du Chavot, which Cronoescalada marks as 530m at 9,4%. This puts it in the realm of something like a harder version of Moskesstraat, one of the main climbs on the finishing circuit of Brabantse Pijl, or Gulperberg and Kruisberg from Amstel Gold. It’s a little easier than the Cauberg gradient-wise, but it is narrow and more akin to a road out of a northern Belgian classic.

The run-in is pretty similar to - but not actually the same as - that used by railxmig in one of their Tour de France stages, which you can see linked here. I’d actually designed the race without remembering or realising that railxmig had already investigated this run-in, and only came across this when searching for images of the final couple of climbs, but need to give credit where it is due, they came up with this - or a similar - conclusion before I did, although it seems La Flamme Rouge thinks these last climbs are a bit steeper than Cronoescalada does. Railxmig however was using this trifecta as the only climbs of the day, similar to the 2019 Tour stage but approaching Épernay from a different direction. The main difference between their stage and mine is that, in wanting to not make this too biased towards puncheurs considering it comes after more climbs than in that stage, I have not climbed the entirety of the hill in Monthelon, as I’ve climbed only as far as the steepest part in the village itself.

I have stolen a couple of Railxmig’s pictures, though.


Bottom of the final climb


Top of the final climb

From here, it’s just 7,5km home to Épernay, around 3km shorter than in Railxmig’s slightly more interesting run-in that diverted around a few of the sites we’ve already seen. Instead we just drop back down into Pierry and retrace our steps from the start of the race back to Épernay for the iconic finish on Avenue de Champagne.

For the men, I think this is the kind of classic that has a wide variety of outcomes available. It’s going to get rid of the purest sprinters, but can a Matteo Trentin or a Michael Matthews survive all of it? Probably. The Biniam Ghirmays of this world, or the Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Wert types, should feature. ATVs like Kwiatkowski and Evenepoel will naturally be fine. Is it hard enough for the punchier riders? Alaphilippe yes, but can the likes of Martínez, Hirschi or Higuita contend or will they head straight down for the latter part of the week heading into Lombardia? Bearing in mind we’re in France, are the likes of Alexis Vuillermoz and Benoît Cosnefroy going to be out in front of the home crowds?

Kinda wish we’d had this 10 years ago. Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel would have just spent the whole race attacking one another in a war over the love of the French housewives for 240km before inevitably being caught and defeated. Every year.

So perhaps rather than diversify the calendar, I’ve kind of reinforced the traditional homes of the sport by making possibly the Frenchest race imaginable.

 
Scores for Race 2:
Devil's elbow: Subida a Urkiola, 180 km
lemon cheese cake: Veluwsche Wielerronde, 181 km
Libertine Seguros: Tour de Champagne, 240 km

Judge 1:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 7, CR: 4
A hilly classics in Baaque country is never wrong, and the combo of Oiz/Urkiola is pretty good. Urkiola would usually be so hard that it would be a waiting game, but the difficulty of Oiz also makes it probable with attacks there. The downside is that the gradients and lengths of these climbs makes it possible for a rather small selection of riders, the very best climbers to win. It would probably be even more selective than Lombardia and the Superga versions of MT. For cultural rating the same applies as the basis for rating in the first race. Basque country is a great cycling region and deserves more top races, but since you already added one more before, this doesn't get top score for CR.

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 7 CR: 3
A race with combo of gravel sections, cobbles and hills is a nice touch, but it feels a bit underwhelming in the sense that it is rather short and the most of the difficulties comes (too) early. Adding 40-50 km of the same terrain would have made this muce closer to a top score. If more difficulties It feels like a updated version of Scheldeprijs, but some more sectors of gravel/cobbles and narrow and twisting roads should make for a greater selection. Netherlands is big cycling nation and should have more than one big one day race, so the cultural rating is at least okay.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 8, CR: 4
Good length and climbs scattered out in suitable intervals along the route and from the finish. It could provide action already on Mutigny, but at least on the last three climbs the final 20+ kms. Although not a fully hilly classics, I would assume that this profile would we similar to AGR in type of riders challenging for the win. The region in France is not the most important for cycling but I add one point for the Champagne race idea for CR.

Judge 2:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 9, CR: 5
I dare say I almost give maximum points for this perfect design. Using the Urkiola climb in combination with a longer and steeper beforehand forces a brutal day in the saddle for any prospective winners. I certainly expect a small group at worst at the finish. On the cultural side, you revive a Spanish classic with an amazing history and reviving the Spanish scene in the fall stands well with me.

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 7, CR: 2
I do really enjoy the usage of gravel in your race. The gravel won’t be the be the biggest factor, but could result in a winning break or a reduced bunch early in the race. Later on, the climbs seem to be good enough to force a selection if the gravel didn’t, so I do enjoy what you did for your “flattest” race. However, despite the Netherlands have a great cycling history, this area does not have too much, so that’s for the cultural score.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 8, CR: 3
I do enjoy a pure punchers classic like the one you have provided to us today. The climbs itself are placed perfectly to amp up the affects of the gradients and the low valley time as well. Also using a relatively different route in that area seems well to note. The cultural elements are fun enough, but not too significant to give it more than an average score in that department.

Summary:
Devil's elbow: 26 + 25 = 51
Libertine Seguros: 24 + 23 = 47
lemon cheese cake: 23 + 19 = 42
 
Last edited:
Race 3: Freccia Marchese
Men: 200km
Women: 141km





On the Friday, we have the third of the five races. This slot was always going to be reserved for the main Lombardia tune-up event, and I had a few ideas for it before eventually settling on a brand new race. Rejected ideas included a more thematically suitable Memorial Marco Pantani, because it just doesn’t seem right to have people like Roberto Ferrari, Sacha Modolo and Elia Viviani on the list of winners of a race in tribute to Pantani, which would have included the Cippo di Carpegna; a revamped Milano-Torino which descended into the city with a run-in fairly similar to the Giro stage we saw at the weekend; a climbing race around the Valle d’Aosta; and a race around Filottrano dedicated for Michele Scarponi.

One thing struck me, though, and it’s that I had been arranging these races kind of in a vacuum from one another, and not taking into account that this would be a week of continuous racing, so the parcours of later races would impact riders’ attitudes to racing on the earlier ones, especially bearing in mind that this would be a tune-up race for Lombardia, so riders who are strong in the hilly to medium mountain classics are not likely to go 100% from deep in this tune-up race, because they don’t want to expend unnecessary energy that they might need for the more important race to follow.

I did, however, note that something was missing from the set of races that I had, and it was something that would work perfectly here, in fact - and that something was an uphill finish. This is something of a double edged sword, of course. La Flèche Wallonne is what it is because firstly people don’t want to exert all their energy before LBL - but also because it invariably comes to an uphill sprint on the Mur de Huy, it’s become an effective Puncheur’s World Championships. In all of my original plans for this competition, I had kind of fallen for tradition, however, as this part of the calendar already has its own equivalent of La Flèche Wallonne - a steep, iconic hilltop finish at the end of a one-day race: the Giro dell’Emilia, with its summit at Bologna-San Luca.



However, with two of the races in the quintet already set - Giro di Lombardia being compulsory in the rules (not that I wouldn’t have included it regardless, being a sap for tradition), and Paris-Tours being set in my mind, knowing what I was doing with the final weekend as well left me feeling my races were sorely lacking in originality. The other problem with doing the Giro dell’Emilia is that looking at typical recent routes it’s kind of more a medium mountain race than a hilly race, and also doing five or six laps of the finishing circuit isn’t very creative from a design point of view. Also the women’s race is completely Unipuerto and overly short which is very disappointing, even if in 2020 at least we did get the best of all outcomes this side of Ojo Guareña.

But while San Luca might be the most famous such finishes in the late season, what I was looking for here was something that would be in line with a sort of late season La Flèche Wallonne - something where you would see all the elite puncheurs and puncheuses turn up and, although they might not give us 80km of great action with Lombardia just two days away, the prestige of having all the elite puncheurs duelling head to head would make it a desirable win to have on the palmarès. Therefore the two key rules were:
The race is supposed to be the warmup race for Lombardia - therefore, it should be in Italy;
The race must end on a punchy climb considered challenging enough to confer adequate prestige inherent, in similar fashion to the Mur de Huy. A Cauberg-alike may be better for racing from distance, but what we really want is a proper wall, such as those we often see in Tirreno-Adriatico.

This latter point led me to my conclusion. For many years Tirreno-Adriatico was essentially a stage race built around preparation for Milano-Sanremo and dominated by sprint stages. This is how you got editions with GC winners like Paolo Bettini (who won in 2004 in a race where only one stage didn’t go to a full on bunch sprint, that being a stage gifted to the breakaway who were already out of it on time) and Óscar Freire (who won in 2005 in a very similar fashion). The organisers started to include time trial mileage and started to include ever punchier climbs in a bid to vary the outcomes more. During this period, Paris-Nice was like the petit-GT and Tirreno-Adriatico was settled by long, complex stages punctuated by walls and ascents that gave it an identity; over the 2010s the two swapped roles as Tirreno-Adriatico started using Prati di Tivo, Monte Terminillo and other MTFs, but in the late 2000s and early 2010s, for me, it hit a sweet spot. And the catalyst for this was the unveiling, in 2008, of the first, and still the best, of the Marchese walls; the hill where the legend of Murito was born as Joaquím “Purito” Rodríguez unleashed hell on an über-doped péloton of Italian puncheurs and grimpeurs including Danilo di Luca, Emanuela Sella and Riccardo Riccò and taught them all a lesson about how to ride when it’s 20% plus, and where the term “murito” was brought into wider currency among the cycling fandom… the mythical, mighty Muro di Montelupone.


After the success of its introduction in 2008, they went straight back to the well, using it on stage 4 of the 2009 edition of the race, with once more Rodríguez winning ahead of a host of… well, Rebellin, di Luca, and everybody else from the previous year that managed to escape wave 1 of CERA positives. But since then… it’s gone. Having helped forge the identity of Tirreno-Adriatico for years to come, the Muro announced its mission was complete, and instead the race focused on areas like Chieti, the Muro di Guardiagrele, and other complex finales in places like Castelfidardo. But Montelupone is still the original and best, and every time the race goes by or through the town, there is a sense of anticipation that we will get to see the Muro this time - yet for the last decade we’ve only ever passed through, and when we have it’s never been from its most beautiful, nay, ugly, nay, beautiful side.

So I thought, why not bring it back? There’s a sense of theatre about it and anticipation towards it and with only two ascents it built up enough of a reputation to still see clamour for its return. It’s a short enough climb that it’s an explosive shootout, it’s hard enough that it will still be selective if everybody just decides to make it a one-climb shootout, it’s different enough in characteristics to much of Lombardia - but similar enough to make it a worthwhile form guide, and its reputation allows us to confer some prestige inherent on it. So this race is kind of a Flèche-alike, with a number of punchy climbs, including a couple of circuits of varying lengths around multiple ascents of the key climb, ending with a hilltop finish. There are no real long climbs, so this can keep a little bit of mystery to riders’ form ahead of Lombardia, as well as freeing up Emilia to go on the Saturday before Paris-Tours, for those puncheurs and grimpeurs who don’t fancy the Tour de Champagne and want to get a week of Italian pre-Lombardia work in.



The race starts on the Adriatic coast near the border with Emilia-Romagna, before heading down the coast from Pesaro, where it starts toward Ancona, taking in a few scenic seafront resort towns on its way. In Ancona we get our first climbing of the day, but none of the ascent on Monte Cornero has been deemed worthy of too much attention. The first 80km of the race are essentially the first 80km of this 2010 Giro stage, in reverse; this is also the first of my races where the women’s race will in fact start in the same place as the men’s, because the truncation happens later. We pass through Ancona, then over and through the Parco Naturale Monte Conero and its scenic coastline, before we descend into Numana, and leave the Adriatic behind for good.



Now, the climbing begins. The first climb that I’ve drawn attention to is into the hilltop town of Castelfidardo. This is a popular town for racing, which used to host its own one-day race, featuring such diverse winners as Emanuele Sella and Murilo Fischer, albeit the latter being in his anomalous, freakish 2005 season. There are a lot of different ways to enter Castelfidardo, and one of the most popular is a kind of gradual uphill which was seen in the 2008 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico (Óscar Freire winning a sprint of a heavily reduced bunch of only around 40) and the 2011 Giro d’Italia (following on from a number of interesting hills and with John Gadret taking the first GT stage win for Team Gadret, becoming the first rider to both ride and DS their own stage win for their own team at a Grand Tour), while another steeper route into town was used by the 2013 Giro Donne, with Marianne Vos out-punching Evelyn Stevens and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. I have chosen the route into town which was used in the 2021 Tirreno-Adriatico, however, a short but even steeper ramp with its summit at around the halfway point in my race. This stage was relentless up and down and was won by Mathieu van der Poel ahead of race leader Tadej Pogačar, and Wout van Aert.


We climb the left-hand profile.

This is followed almost immediately by a climb up into Recanati. Like Montelupone and Castelfidardo it is a hilltop town as so many that dot the Marche region are, and has several routes up to the top. Recanati has appeared in countless races over the years, as a frequent intermediate sprint or hilltop categorised climb in Tirreno-Adriatico or the Giro. It doesn’t often feature as a finish, but it doesn’t half like to get involved. It is actually better known for time trials in recent years, with an uphill ITT in the 2020 Giro Delle Marche in Rosa won by Eugenia Bujak, and a longer ITT in the 2008 Tirreno-Adriatico won by Fabian Cancellara. It did host the start of the 2012 Giro stage to Roccà di Cambio, which Paolo Tiralongo won, but by and large it is a town which features on the route but not as the finale - save for a 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico stage which looped around the town taking two different climbs on in a circuit - in similar fashion to the Mont Cassel stage of the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque.


Here, we are climbing the steeper of the two ascents taken on that day, similar to what we did with Castelfidardo.



We then ride along through the town on the higher plateau before descending down ready to face our first climb up to Montelupone, the true, the epic, the crème de la crème of the Marchese walls; the original and best.





Its steepest gradients may be topped by Porto Sant’Elpidio or the Muro di Guardiagrele, but this beast is longer than them and it realistically consists of a whole puncheur climb THEN a facsimile of Guardiagrele, as this comparison shows.

The first time we crest the summit of the climb, we are 80km from the line. When it was used in 2008 they followed along the ridge that these towns are on, and in 2009 they descended back down to put two passes of Montelupone within the final 20km. I’m heading along the ridge, but in the opposite direction to 2008, so avoiding Potenza Picena (sadly avoiding the opportunity to give a shout-out to Marina Romoli Onlus, but I’m sure Marina would be likely to put in an appearance given the proximity to her hometown); instead we head westward.

This is the point at which the men’s and women’s races deviate. The men will follow the route the women take later, so we will pick up that story when we get to it, but before that, however, the men are taking on a loop of just under 60km that extends the race out. This actually borrows a trait from a stage I posted in the Race Design Thread all the way back in 2013, riding along the ridge from Montelupone so giving no descent respite, getting to Santa Maria del Monte, and then joining the Macerate circuit from the 2010 Tirreno-Adriatico stage, aka that one time Mikhail Ignatiev racing like Mikhail Ignatiev actually worked. The climb is the second part of that on this stage profile, its average is a comparatively meagre 4,6%, but there are some short steeper sections as can be seen from the final few kilometres of that stage. Then we descend down into the valley and head back through some smaller, shallower climbs that aren’t as worthy of note, returning us to our second ascent of Recanati.


Macerata, towering over the Marchese hills behind it


Recanati: scenic enough in its own right

This time when we pass through Recanati, there are 33km remaining at the top of the hill, so you could start to think about risking it à la Fabian Wegmann in Flèche from here on in if you’re a secondary or tertiary contender and don’t have Il Lombardia to think about. Especially as we’re then headed straight across to our second ascent of Montelupone.

This time, we are just over 21km from the line when we crest the mythical summit. And this time we follow the route the women took earlier - for they have a route without any breaks between the climbs, once they start climbing they don’t stop. Instead, from here we descend a narrow - but entirely usable - road just west of Montelupone village allowing some nice gradual gradients back down to the banks of the Potenza river, and have one final climb into Recanati before descending back via the route taken in the 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico stage to our final climb. Climbing into Recanati from this side is much less steep and challenging than from the north - this path is the first of the two ascents shown in the profile taken from the 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico stage - essentially 3km averaging 6,8%, but at least with a brief stretch of 20% near the summit in case anybody does dare. However, my expectation is that even though this crests just 9km from the line, its presence is akin to that of the Chemin des Gueuses in La Flèche Wallonne, especially given that this side is less challenging than the side climbed earlier.

For the women, however, this has been a slugfest, as there has not been that respite of a stretch from Macerata up to the second ascent of Recanati. Yes, they haven’t had to climb Recanati’s steeper northern side twice, and yes, there’s one fewer climb of the Muro di Montelupone for them. But on the flip side, the five climbs which I’ve categorised to draw attention to on the profile for them are back to back, with Montelupone at the finish, Recanati from San Pietro at 9km from home, Montelupone once more at 21km from home, Recanati from San Francesco at 33km and Castelfidardo at 43km from home, so a brutal final 50km that will absolutely be about the elite puncheuses. Hell, this many climbs at these kind of get-off-and-walk gradients might make some of those struggle, and move things on towards those featherweights who succeed only on the nastiest of gradients, like Harvey or Patiño, or who are at by far their most competitive when climbing, like Rooijakkers - however I’m expecting to see the likes of Cille, Niewiadoma, Vollering, Labous and co. being the central challengers here.

For the men, it’s going to be more about a shoot-out on the Muro. I can’t see that the women have ever ascended the wall here, but the men have. Of course, very few riders who featured in either of those Tirreno-Adriatico stages remain active - it was 13-14 years ago after all (Christ time flies). Riders competing back then include long-retired names like Frédéric Guesdon, Paolo Savoldelli, Íñigo Landaluze, Leonardo Piepoli, Paolo Bettini, Erik Zabel and Magnus Bäckstedt. Hell, Wim Vansevenant raced the 2008 stage and his son would be a genuine contender for my race victory. And those who were active are unlikely to be among those contesting the win - this is a comprehensive list of those who completed the Montelupone stages of Tirreno-Adriatico who are still active as of 2022 (allowing for the recent belated formal retirement of Davide Rebellin):
José Joaquín Rojas
Dries Devenyns
Heinrich Haussler
Imanol Erviti
Max Richeze
Mark Cavendish
Vincenzo Nibali
Greg van Avermaet
Robert Gesink
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Andrey Zeits
Rui Costa
Ángel Madrazo
Luís Ángel Mate

As you can see, not many viable winners of the race among that lot - and indeed only Nibali really contended back then, although a couple of the others are useful enough climbers who were still pretty young there - Zeits and Costa - although at this stage in their career I wouldn’t expect to see any of them - including Il Squalo - have enough explosivity to respond to the elite puncheurs here. Hell, on current evidence I wouldn’t even expect it of Valverde and he is still churning out podiums in La Flèche Wallonne.

So, who should be the contenders here? Well, it’s easy to say to look at results on the Mur de Huy, and that is the temptation. Certainly people like Alaphilippe, Teuns, Roglič, Hirschi and Vlasov are people that we should consider. But Montelupone is longer than the Mur - 1,9km to 1,3% - and has a steeper maximum as well. It is closer to the Giro dell’Emilia, suggesting people like Almeida and Carapaz would come into it as well. Michael Woods shows strong abilities across both types of distance. Finishes like Ermualde and Garrastatxu in the Vuelta al País Vasco are also potential examples to pick up on, bringing people like Landa and Pogačar into it. A lot of the kind of elite names who would also target Lombardia, so this could be the ultimate in bragging rights.

My pick though? Well, I’m expecting the two Slovenes to be perfectly honest, but I have a bit of a chaque we might see something from Diego Ulissi - he did win in their backyard in a Tour de Slovénie stage with two back to back finishing climbs of 2-3km at >10%. And looking past that, he has 3 podiums including a win on San Luca at Emilia, has podium results at Flèche, has won the version of Milano-Torino that has an MTF at Supergà and 2nd in the nationals on the same climb, has won almost every hilly Italian one day race under the sun, and it is a scientifically proven fact that being in Italy gives him a power boost of at least 20%...
 
Race 3: Paris-Tours
Distance: 231.9 km
Category: 1.UWT

Profile


Profile (final 46.5 kilometres)


Map


For me, one of the negatives about the current late season is that it feels like there's only one actually-big race after the Worlds. It wasn't always like that - while the UCI has made some attempts to beef up the final parts of the season, like moving Züri-Metzgete to early October for what would be the final two editions in 2005 and 2006, there was one other constant: Paris-Tours. It was traditionally one half of the Autumn Double (Lombardia, of course, being the other), and for decades the two closed out the season. When the ProTour was introduced, things stayed that way (with Züri-Metzgete making for a triple header for the first two years), then things started to change. In 2008, ASO withdrew all its races from the ProTour, including Paris-Tours, then two years later the old endless final straight of Avenue de Grammont had to be largely withdrawn following the construction of a new tram line. And when ASO (and the other GT organisers) and the UCI ended their feud to create the WorldTour in 2011, Paris-Tours... wasn't included.

The race lost some of its prestige as a result, and in response ASO started to modify the route. In 2016, the race was run without its classic final hills of Côte de Beau Soleil and Côte de l'Épan to serve as a warmup for the Qatar Worlds, and following a final edition that did use this remaining part of the classic finale, the old route was ditched altogether to create a wannabe Strade Bianche over sectors so rough that punctures are everywhere, sacrificing the race's character entirely (and shortening it a bit) in exchange for a weaker field than even the few years before as the change proved unpopular with many teams. In other words, the race has lost its way, much like in the 70s and 80s when the race was run from south to north without visiting either Paris or Tours.

So, let's fix that. Of course, the old final straight cannot be brought back, but I still think the race can restore its identity and prestige if the following is done:
  1. Bring back Beau Soleil and Épan as the final two hills
  2. Ditch the gravel (there's a better alternative one week prior in my calendar anyway)
  3. Return to what was the usual distance of 230-odd kilometres
  4. Restore the race to the WT
  5. Try to lengthen the finale a bit (compared to the old route, this is the one thing that isn't terrible when it comes to the current route)
The race starts from Chartres, just like the past few years, thereby maintaining the current arrangement connecting two cathedral cities. It then follows the existing course as far as Vendôme (coincidentally the site of another failed ASO unpaved sector experiment at Paris-Nice a little longer back). Here, we leave the current route to take a more western approach into Tours, first heading through rolling terrain featuring the early climb of Côte de Thoré-la-Rochette, then towards Château-Renault. After passing the town, we embark on a series of direction changes through mostly open terrain in an attempt to take advantage of the wind if it's strong enough for echelons.


Chartres Cathedral - almost bombed in the Second World War, now part of the UNESCO heritage list as one of France's most important and best-preserved Gothic buildings

Inside the final 50 kilometres, we hit the next climb, Côte du Gué des Prés. While the terrain becomes more rolling again from here, the next real climb should be too far away for it to be raced. Instead, I expect the finale to start once we enter the final 30 kilometres and immediately hit three climbs around the town of La Membrolle-sur-Choisille within the span of three kilometres. Côte de Beauregard (link - first 250m only), Côte de l'Aubrière (link) and Côte de la Huberdière (link) are all short, but relatively steep, with the middle one spiking at 20% as per the French geoportal. Moreover, they are connected by a lot of corners, including on the descents, so the peloton will inevitably be strung out here, increasing the chance of a selection happening. That being said, the hills are short enough that a well-positioned sprinter should be able to get over them, as is befitting of Paris-Tours.

The course continues to roll as we head towards the Loire valley, but it doesn't get as steep here, the trickiest part being the Côte de la Grand Cour (link - final 400m only). This section is on sinuous, relatively narrow roads, making the chase harder. There's a brief respite as we reach the wide road along the Loire, then we briefly turn north again onto the Côte des Hautes Roches, which is slightly longer than what we've seen so far (link). We then head onto the incomplete western bypass of Tours to cross the Loire and Indre rivers (this is not as insane as it seems, the road basically dead-ends two exits north of where we join it and it will only be blocked in one direction), before leaving it to head towards the classic finale. From the moment we hit Côte de Beau Soleil (link) at just over 10k to go, the route will be identical to what it used to be.



There's not too much point in me going into extensive detail about this finale, it's been done before both in real life and in this challenge. Côte de l'Épan (link) is the traditional final climb. Like most of the climbs in the race, it's made harder by the 90-degree turn onto its initial steepest ramp. We head back into the city through the suburb of Joué-lès-Tours, hometown of Jean-Pierre Danguillaume, winner of the 1969 Peace Race who went on to take seven Tour de France stages in the 70s, then join the non-tramified section of Avenue de Grammont at 800 metres from the line.


Greg Van Avermaet outsprinting Marco Marcato to win the 2011 edition.

All in all, I think the sprinters still have a fair chance of winning this one, given that the "old" two climbs are at least as hard as my new introductions, but they'll have to work for it, as there will be a lot of Flandrien types more than capable of making a move stick. It should make for an entertaining finale with a variety of possible outcomes - exactly what Paris-Tours should be about.


Tours Cathedral. The city was a seat of the French monarchy in the 15th and 16th century, explaining the many castles in the area.
 
Ah well I didn''t realise yesterday was when we were supposed to post! Whoops.

Aachen und Nordrheinland Eifel Rundfahrt
The third race of the challenge takes me to the second weekend race of the three. While the riders who looked the racing my race in the Netherlands the other day will probably be heading to some version of Paris Tours, the ones who look to the hills will be off to Germany, after a few days between this and the lap of the Isle of Man.

Background:
German bike races have definitely had a dip in recent years. While the Deutschland Tour is back and seems to be thriving, it took 10 years between Linus Gerdemann winning the GC in Bremen in 2008 to the first stage that Alvaro Hodeg won from Koblenz to Bonn in 2018 for the race to be re-established. There are now one day races in the world tour with the Hamburg Cyclassics and the Eschborn Frankfurt. Despite this the UCI calendar is very small in Germany. There are only 5 mens races in 2022 compared to 2006 when there were 23. While this challenge is only looking at 1-day races, overall there more than 70 UCI race days that included a national tour, another Protour race and a world cup on the womens side. Now there are only 15 days, and also no womens world cup/tour event, with the Thüringen Rundfahrt not having that strong of a field this year, compared to previous editons. With this race, I’m hopefully looking to an imaginary cycling calendar where german races are once again/still populous on the calendar.

Germany is split into 16 Bundesländer (Federal States) of which three are the cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin. Below this there are various different separations inside the states, including the splitting of areas like Rheinland-Westfalen where this race takes place into Rheinland and Westfalen, or into districts and then municipalities. As just mentioned the race takes place in the State of Rheinland Westfalen, which is in the west of Germany and borders Belgium and the Netherlands. To be more precise, it takes place within districts that make up the Landschaftsverband of Rheinland with the start and finish in Aachen.

Aachen is a city that directly borders the Netherlands and Belgium, with the Tripoint at the top of the Vaalserberg marking where each country joins. The location sits just north of the Eifel mountains in Germany and Belgium, with the Eifel National Park immediately to the south. It isn’t the biggest city in the country but still has some large history, including being the residence of the Emperor Charlemagne of the Frankish Empire. This was an empire that spread across a lot of western Europe over the middle ages, with the main area in most of Belgium, Netherlands, Northern France and across towards modern day Thüringen. It is also the home of a thermal spa, as well as a well respected Technical University.

While the Eifel mountains spread much over area of the border of southern Belgian, Germany and Luxembourg, the National Park of the Eifel is just in the area of Nordrhein Westfalen. Through it flows the river Rur, or Roer, that is a tributary to the river Meuse and flows into the more major river in Roermond in the Netherlands. This is not the same as the Ruhr or the Rohr that flow into the Rhine.



Race:



Start: Aachen
Finish: Aachen

Climbs:
Grossnau – 7,5km @ 2,3%
Brandenberg – 3,5km @ 6,1%
Schmidt – 6,3km @ 4,2%
Woldgarten – 6,9km @ 3,3%
Bröicher Höhe – 2,8km @ 5,6%
Neuhaus – 3,3km @ 5,0%
Hellenthaler Strasse – 3,7km @ 4,3%
Ettelscheider Höhe – 2,4km @ 4,4%
Einruhr – 2,0km @ 2,8%
Kesternich – Ruhrberg – 6,2km @ 4,3%
Raffelsbrand – Kevelaerberg – 3,7km @ 4,1%
Frackersberg – 1,5km @ 4,3%
Benedictusberg – 0,9km @ 6,2%
Rohrberg – 1,4km @ 3,5%
Lousberg – 1,7km @ 3,8%


The race starts in the centre of Aachen in front of the Rathaus in the market square. It rolls out past the main station and into the outskirts of the city. Just before the crossing under the A44 motorway, the riders head towards the town of the Stolberg which a few bike riders have come from, including the former national road and current cyclocross champion Marcel Meisen. The race continues onto Erschweiler, before turning right and off towards the mountains and hills, and away from some of the massive surface mines of Inden and Hambach that have completely changed the landscape of the area, depths from the surface of down to 500m.

While the road is slightly lumpy between Aachen and the foot of the first climb at Schevenhutte, this is where the real climbing starts. The first climb up to the village of Grosshau. They take the regional road for the first section and then chain on to the Rennweg, through the Hürtgenwald. It is a gentle introduction into the longer and/or tougher stuff with an average of 2,6% over 7,8km. Once over that, the riders head into Kleinhau and turn left for a quick downhill to Kreuzau before the start of the next slightly steeper categorised climb in Obermaubach up to Brandenberg, with pitches up to 15%. While the climb shown is over 5,4km, the race turns left in Brandenberg at 3,2km before the fairly flat section starts on the profile. The race heads past a small airfield and back down to the river Rur to pass by the edge of Niddegen before rising back up to Schmidt. The race again doesn’t quite go to where this climb is categorised, but unstead cuts out at 6,2km to dive down the steeper side into the town of Heimbach that’s again at the bottom of the valley of the Rur, shielded by the Dam of Schwammenauel.

From Heimbach, the race heads up to Wolfgarten. It starts off with steeper ramps of 9 or 10 percent before easing off and then heading back up to similar steepnessess. This is followed by a very flat section right the way to the top in the village. The next descent and a small rollingness to Schleiden takes the riders to the foot of the Bröcher Höhe. The pattern of this race so far has much been ascending from a river valley and back down again, which continues up until this point as the climbing does continue after this but not categorised. Once at the top in Benenberg it drops down to the valley with a stream running through it before the start of the climb to Neuhaus in Wolfert. Here it does rise up to 11% in the middle sections. Again here the race climbs a bit more towards the Belgian border, which we follow for a short point to get to the highest point on the course at 681m above sea level. From this point the riders drop down to the town of Hellenthal, which is protected by the Oleftalsperre, before riding up the Hellenthaler Strasse. Once at the top the riders take the next downhill where the road leads onto the town of Schleiden again. Before we get there though the race hits the Ettelscheider Höhe via a tight switchback onto a much narrower road

At the top of the climb, the race crosses over a plateau, before dropping down to the Rur river at Einruhr. The climb of the same name starts at the same point. Before taking bunch to Ruhrberg. This starts off the climb from the reservoir through the town and onto the main climb back up to Kesternich. We avoid Simmerath (not for any specific reason!) and head back downhill to the foot of the Raffelsbrand. To be more specific. The route comes to the foot of the Keverlaerberg that makes up part of the Raffelsbrand climb from this direction. With this being fairly steep at the bottom and the one of the last climbs, but still a distance from the finish, I’d liken it to the Redoute in Liege Bastogne Liege. Another descent takes the riders to the foot of the final climb in the Eifel of the Frackersberg up from Zweifall.

The descent from here takes the riders to the edge of the city of Aachen and through the outskirts along the Luxemburger Ring and Amsterdamer Ring towards the University Hospital of Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. The race turns off the B1 that goes to Vaals and the dutch border before dropping down to Lemiers to start the penaultimate climb of the Benedictusberg. This is the steepest of the small little bergs at the end of the day, but also the shortest at only 900m. Following a loop around through Laurensberg, the race drops back towards the university campus, before hitting the Rohrberg at Selfent. While the steeper section is the second section, the part through the village is actually slightly cobbled. After that, the race passes through the back of the hospital and up the uncategorised Melatener Strasse, before dropping past the Aachen West Station to the inner ring road. This takes the riders to the climb up to the finish. A flick left to the Kupferstrasse takes the start of the Lousberg with the steepest ramps of 5% right a the bottom. It isn’t long at only 1,7% with the final kilometer dragging on and only going up to just below 3%.

Summary
So the race and how should it play out? I’m thinking of it being an autumn equivalent of the Liege Bastogne Liege so the race should be suited to similar riders who feature in that. The course finishes with the uphill finish and that will have the final show down, but I don’t think it’ll come down to a large group like Fleche Wallone or the old Ans finish in LBL. Part of this is due to having a long season in the legs rather than LBL being at the end of spring.

Start location of Aachen:

Finish on top of the Lousberg
 
Sorry for late response. Was out all day yesterday. We therefore postpone deadline for posting of race 4 to this evening.

Scores for Race 3:
Devil's elbow: Paris - Tours, 232 km
lemon cheese cake: Aachen und Nordrheinland Eifel Rundfahrt: 221 km
Libertine Seguros: Frecchia Marchese, 200 km


Judge 1:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 8, CR: 5
Although there are some small differences from LS's Paris-Tours, it is so similar that I rate this race the same as LS and the same explaination for the rating applies. Good balance between being a possbile for a puncheur and sprinter to win and high cultural rating due to the historic significance of the race.

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 7, CR:4
Difficult race to rate. The intetention/idas is definitely good, but very much depends on the detail of the climbs. The average gradients of the climbs are fairly low, so it would have to be depended on much steeper sections. The last three climbs looks quite okay for attacking from a smaller group and the gentle section to the finish also seems suited for attacking. The most uncertain issue of the race is if the distance of 26 km of the flat section between the third and fourth last climb is too long, and if the climbs before that is difficult enough. The region is traditionally not the most important, but I like including a big one day race in Germany other than the not very interesting Hamburg classic, and Aachen is a historically significant city, so fairly high cultural rating.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 9, CR: 4
Now we're getting pretty close to something great. The muritos in Marche really deserves more attention in cycling than a TA race. Either frequent stages in the Giro, or even better; a yearly one day race. I love the muritos, and this race is going to blow apart the last 30-40 kms. The only reason for not giving it a to rating is that I would have liked Montelupone as a decisive point a bit earlier than the finish. High cultural rating because of it's newfound significance in cycling racing, but it is historically not on par with for example Basque Country for cycling, so it's not top rated.

Judge 2:
Devil's elbow:
TR: 6, CR: 5
I can’t deviate from my prior rating of a very similar race provided by Libertine. Of course, the race is suitable and likely to attract some good names, but overall not my absolute favorite type of design. The cutural significance of a better Paris Tours race can’t be overstated, hence the 5 for that category

lemon cheese cake:
TR: 8, CR: 4
Really liking the punchy races I’m seeing here in this race design contest. This one is a little bit unique, in the sense the climbs aren’t the steepest, hence the riders will really have to drive to get a gap, which hopefully can lead to better racing. The usage of Germany was a little bit of a surprise to me, albeit a pleasant one, as it revives some of the cultural history of Germany and cycling, however in the grand scheme of cycling Germany has not been the biggest, hence the 4 rating.

Libertine Seguros:
TR: 9, CR: 3
If you can’t tell from my previous ratings, pure punchy races like your own previous race are my favorite type of races. Naturally, this one gets high ratings, as the usage of an old classic of Tirenno with other punchy elements warrants high ratings. The cultural level is average once again, as while the cultural level of the finish is important for Tirenno Adriatico, otherwise not really too

Summary:
Devil's elbow: 51 + 24 = 75
Libertine Seguros: 47 + 25 = 72
lemon cheese cake: 42 + 23 = 65
 
@lemon cheese cake, @Devil's Elbow

Okay, we postpone deadline for race 4 until tormorrow, Monday, at 23.59.

Deadline for race 5 will be at Thursday at 23.59.
Sorry, but I'm going to have to pull out and be a DNF. I've now suddenly got alot more work than I expected for the next few weeks so will not be able to post anything else substantial enough to be worth posting. It's a shame, as I've enjoyed posting these after not being active in the Race Design Thread for quite a while.
 
Sorry, but I'm going to have to pull out and be a DNF. I've now suddenly got alot more work than I expected for the next few weeks so will not be able to post anything else substantial enough to be worth posting. It's a shame, as I've enjoyed posting these after not being active in the Race Design Thread for quite a while.
Ah, that's a shame. I guess you have a plan for the last two races, so I hope you can post them in the Race design thread when you have the time? The intention with this contest wasn't just the contest itself, but also to see how a re-vitalized spring classics season could look like.

@Devil's Elbow and @Libertine Seguros: Do you want to continue and post the last two races? In a more concise format if necessary.
 
Ah, that's a shame. I guess you have a plan for the last two races, so I hope you can post them in the Race design thread when you have the time? The intention with this contest wasn't just the contest itself, but also to see how a re-vitalized spring classics season could look like.

@Devil's Elbow and @Libertine Seguros: Do you want to continue and post the last two races? In a more concise format if necessary.
Well, the last race is going to be Lombardia for all of us ;)

I'm happy to continue to post the remaining races even if you decide to postpone or even cancel judging, I'm partway through the write-up of race 4 as we speak. It just feels like, a bit like the very first, abortive attempt at a Race Design Challenge (the Criterium International format which never got posted, but some prospective entrants later posted what would have been their races, or reused parts of them in other races that got posted in the Race Design Thread), things have just conspired against it from the start. A few prospective players simply didn't have time, I committed to playing but then we had to delay things because of the judges' commitments, then when we have started playing, I've had to delay the game twice because of real life goings-on limiting the time I have to write up and post the races I've made, and now LCC has real life commitments that prevent them from finishing - like me I assume the problem is not tweaking and finalising designs, but simply finding enough time to write up the route, explain thought process behind the race, and so on, which often takes longer than the design itself!!!
 
I'm happy to continue to post the remaining races even if you decide to postpone or even cancel judging, I'm partway through the write-up of race 4 as we speak. It just feels like, a bit like the very first, abortive attempt at a Race Design Challenge (the Criterium International format which never got posted, but some prospective entrants later posted what would have been their races, or reused parts of them in other races that got posted in the Race Design Thread), things have just conspired against it from the start. A few prospective players simply didn't have time, I committed to playing but then we had to delay things because of the judges' commitments, then when we have started playing, I've had to delay the game twice because of real life goings-on limiting the time I have to write up and post the races I've made, and now LCC has real life commitments that prevent them from finishing - like me I assume the problem is not tweaking and finalising designs, but simply finding enough time to write up the route, explain thought process behind the race, and so on, which often takes longer than the design itself!!!
Okay, then we just finish this RDC this week as planned.

And learn from the experiences/mistakes done if I in the future decide to try and host a new one.
 
Race 4: Paris-Bruxelles
Men: 243km
Women: 145km





Yea, this one is a cop-out. A big time cop-out. I had so many ideas for what to do with my one allotted cobbled race, but I’m nothing if not a sucker for tradition in the sport, and I kept on circling back to this. Some rejected ideas included a monster cobbled race in west Yorkshire patterned after a Tour of Britain stage I did years ago, and a classic around Saxony and Dresden with Steiler Wand von Meerane, but in the end, it just kept coming back to this. I wanted to do my cobbled race outside of Belgium, but it made too much sense both logistically and tradition-wise to make this my cobbled race.

It’s not quite the total cop-out it seems; I have tweaked and made some changes to the race that I posted all the way back in 2014 but, for the most part, I’ve kept the character of the design as it was back then. After all, this design seemed to go down well. Almost five years later, regular contributor Rghysens described it as their single favourite design in the almost decade that the thread had been running, and it even drew rave reviews from the forum’s most dedicated Classics specialist, Echoes, as I attempted to return some value and prestige to a race which had long since fallen from its heyday. And it’s one of my favourite designs I ever put forward for the thread, and I’m kinda proud of it, so it’s worth another look and tweak since things have changed in the eight years since I posted it.

Since 2013 the real life Paris-Bruxelles has been off the calendar, replaced by the largely flat and painfully uninteresting Brussels Cycling Classic, to reflect that it barely leaves the Belgian capital anymore, has a lengthy run from the last obstacles back into the city, and usually finishes with a sprint at the Atomium; of nine editions since the change, last year’s, won by Remco Evenepoel, was the first to not end in a sprint. And that was when they completely redrew the route to excise the climbs that had been part of the newer version of the race (such as the Chaussée d’Alsemberg, Bruine Put and Krabbos, the latter of which are more familiar nowadays from the Brabantse Pijl) and instead go and use the Kapelmuur and Bosberg. That may have increased the difficulty again but it has taken all of the individual character and identity of its former self that remained, and leaves it a far cry from when it was a prestigious and elite race in the late season attracting a high level field of the best classics specialists of the time.


Merckx, de Vlaeminck, van Springel and co in the 1973 Paris-Bruxelles

The fact of the matter is, however, that the change to the Brussels Cycling Classic, though disappointing from a traditional point of view, was not some horrific abortion performed on the race as I might make it sound. The change to the course in 2021 was more offensive to the character of Paris-Bruxelles, just by removing the climbs and obstacles that were part of the history of Paris-Bruxelles, in favour of being “just another Belgian one-day race”. The change in 2013 did not really alter the history of the race, in that the race in its existent state had become a victim of various changes in both the sport and the world in the intervening period. Improvements in bicycle technology and sports science meant that more and more riders could get over the obstacles that the race traditionally included, and with the race taking on a lot of key routes through the Brabant that linked various villages and towns with the nation’s capital, they couldn’t stop the march of progress in the way that some villages in the Vlaamse Ardennen have been able to protect their beloved kasseistroken and hellingen from being tarmacked over. Climbs like the Alsemberg were no longer a challenge for the modern péloton and, far from my criticising that it took until 2021 for the Brussels Cycling Classic to end without a sprint, the fact of the matter is that the last time Paris-Bruxelles ended in any way other than a field sprint was Nick Nuyens in 2004; after that it had been a sprint each time, and this has helped make Robbie McEwen the record winner of the race, with five editions going to the Australian fastman, 2002 and then four consecutive editions from 2005 to 2008.


Alsemberg in the early 60s, with Graczyk and Cerami among the stars

Now, although I made a deal of it as a late season classic, it wasn’t always thus. It is one of the oldest races on the calendar, originating in 1893, but the real history begins after the race was resurrected in the early 20th Century. A one-off stage race edition in 1906 gave way to a 400km one-day race, and then this gradually shortened down to the 220km or so that it settled at at a later date, although this did fluctuate, and it is one of the last major races to run at a duration in excess of 300km, with 1987 the last edition of such marathon length. It traditionally took a spot after Paris-Roubaix, effectively occupying the spot that Brabantse Pijl now has in fact, but a combination of two factors: two editions in the mid-60s being adversely affected by traffic and problems securing the course as the number of vehicles snowballed and the rapid urbanisation of the populations meant Paris and Brussels both considerably growing made the race increasingly difficult to secure at the height of spring, and the rise of the Amstel Gold Race as an alternative sitting before the hillier classics in the Ardennes, meant the race ceased to be for a few years in the late 60s, before it returned in the form we know it more from a modern perspective as, a late September race which ran prior to Paris-Tours, in 1972. It ran for many years on the Wednesday before Paris-Tours, before moving to the location I place it on, the Saturday immediately preceding the end of Classics season, in 1996. From 1973 to 1980 the finish was in Alsemberg itself, which helped that climb develop its legacy within the race, but after that it was moved into the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht (famous of course for the football team) and although Alsemberg remained the key climb of the run-in, the removal of the cobbles from it in the late 1980s removed a lot of the challenge of the climb and sprinters began to feature more commonly in the list of contenders before taking over for good in the 2000s.

It also features a lot of its own legacy, like any true Classic should, with historical incidents like Octave Lapize being disqualified for ignoring a neutralised section all the way back in 1910 (he later won the ensuing three editions and was the joint record winner, alongside 1920s champion Félix Sellier, all the way until McEwen’s fourth win in 2007) and Shay Elliott crashing out from a huge solo lead in 1958, breaking his bike and having to borrow one from a spectator, enabling Rik van Looy to catch and outsprint him, and also for 22 years Freddy Maertens held the Ruban Jaune after completing the course at an average of 46,11km/h in 1975 after a strong southwesterly wind proved an obstacle to attackers and propelled the bunch on with a fierce tailwind for much of the day.

Many of the greats have won Paris-Bruxelles, and I want to reinstate a bit of the prestige that brought such champions to the race as the following:
Lucien Petit-Bréton (1908)
François Faber (1909)
Octave Lapize (1911, 1912, 1913)
Henri Pélissier (1920)
Nicolas Frantz (1927)
Marcel Kint (1938)
Briek Schotte (1946, 1952)
Rik van Steenbergen (1950)
Rik van Looy (1956, 1958)
Pino Cerami (1961)
Jean Stablinski (1963)
Felice Gimondi (1966, 1976)
Eddy Merckx (1973)
Freddy Maertens (1975)
Jan Raas (1978)
Roger de Vlaeminck (1981)

That’s a pretty solid list, no? Sadly, I’ve had to excise some of the traditional climbs simply because they involve going some way out of your way to include, and many of them are simply no longer enough of a challenge for the modern péloton and including them would either extend the race beyond reasonable length (243km is already pretty long, no?) or be detrimental to the racing.

My race, like the most traditional route (at least once starting in Paris itself ceased to be feasible), begins in Soissons, and the women’s race follows a similar format to my Paris-Tours route, in that they will simply join the route from Fourmies and the remainder of the route will be exactly the same for both genders. There isn’t a current women’s version of the Brussels Cycling Classic, so this will be brand new for them. That’s also why I’ve gone for a not-short-but-not-super-long race as well, though in time hopefully their race can be lengthened accordingly.


Laon

The first 100km or just under which the women won’t be riding is largely just preparatory. The race frequently historically saw headwinds, and so we will be challenging the riders over mostly tarmac with a few smaller obstacles in that ever-frustrating terrain of Picardie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais, mostly flat, but not truly so, with small hills, false flats and undulations continually adding to the workload. Apart from a stretch through the scenic hilltop town of Laon, there are no cobbled sectors while we’re in France, and those are just your average urban centre cobbles, not comparable to, say, Haaghoek let alone the Roubaix monstrosities, so no real issue there. When I first posted my Paris-Bruxelles route back in 2014 I mentioned a bunch of these early obstacles in and of themselves, although only the climb into Laon and the Entre-deux-Bois ascent (1300m, 6%) are ones I’ve bothered to put a mountain symbol on this time around, as these one-day races often award prizes over climbs and cobbled sectors to spice up breakaways so this would be to signal that something like Rue des Marais doesn’t really need to be noted as an obstacle - it’s 2km long but averages less than 4% on a wide open straight road, that isn’t going to be challenging for anybody who makes it to a high enough level to compete in this race, at least now that Andrea Guardini has retired.

As such, only three climbs are noted in the French sector of the race, these being Laon (2,2km at 4,7%), Entre-deux-Bois (1,3km, 6%) and the Côte de l’Hôpital / Côte des Beaux Sarts (1km at 5,2%). The last of these is the first obstacle for the women, whose race starts in Fourmies, a northern French industrial town close to the Belgian border which hosts its own renowned and historic (running since 1928) one-day race, which on the present calendar is in fact of a higher status than the modern successor to Paris-Bruxelles. Winners of the traditionally flat GP de Fourmies include Jean Stablinski, Eddy Merckx, René Pijnen, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, Olaf Ludwig, Andrea Tafi, Michele Bartoli and Philippe Gilbert, though like a few of these races it has become increasingly sprinter dominated lately, with Romain Feillu, Nacer Bouhanni and Pascal Ackermann wracking up two wins each in recent times.


2021 GP de Fourmies

I skip most of the “hills” of the GP de Fourmies - they’re easier than even those I’ve bothered to mention thus far in this race - and head straight for the border, which we cross at 136km into the men’s race, so a little over halfway even if most of the important decisive stuff will take place in Belgium, and at 38km into the women’s, which is largely held in Belgium and stands a good chance of Lotte Kopecky creating home victory if she has form like she had at Flanders.

We head through the centre of Binche, which hosts its own smaller late-season race, Binche-Tournai-Binche (later Binche-Chimay-Binche) which has appended a tribute to the late great Frank Vandenbroucke to its name following his untimely death. This race dates back to 1911, but has only run sporadically with very long gaps in its history. It was resurrected after its latest hiatus in 2010, with the tribute to Vandenbroucke who at that point was the last winner of the race, back in 1996. A bit like the Memorial Marco Pantani it seems a shame to have a tribute race to a swashbuckling, aggressive rider like Vandenbroucke be won by sprinters, but nevertheless.

Once we pass Binche we head into La Louvière, and then the obstacles begin.

First up is Mariemont, via Rue Nazareth, at 79km from the line. This is 500m @ 7,2%, on relatively even but slightly worn cobbles. Adjacent to it is the Côte du Canterlot which is slightly harder in terms of gradient, but this is paved which negates that benefit unfortunately.



This is just a warmup as there’s then a decent sized stretch of tarmac, but once the kasseistroken begin, they really start to heat up here. At 63km from the line we enter a 3,2km stretch of cobbles beginning on Rue Félicien Canart. This also includes around 2km of uphill, at low and inconsistent gradients, amounting to the first 2km of this profile. Most of it is pretty safe, well-paved with ridged sides to make it harder to escape into the gutter but along the same lines as familiar traditional cobbled stretches like Lippenhovestraat or Haaghoek. But occasionally, it’s not so nice. Especially if the weather is bad, as shown here.

This is where my first deviation from the old version of my race comes. You will notice that I’m some 5-6km further from the finish than I was at the same stage in the old version of the race. Instead of a single tarmacked climb in the coming stretch, we have a slight deviation to the west and then a double-climb which is a little tougher than that which preceded it back in 2014. Instead therefore of just the Côte de Fauquez (1,0km @ 4,5%), we have the doublette of the Côte d’Asquemont (1km, 6,4%) at 52km from the line and the Rue du Masy (1,6km, 5,5%) at 49km from home. These are my last tarmacked bergs for a while, for next up is another climb-within-a-longer-kasseistrook section, on the Rue de la Fermé du Pré. The cobbled sector for this stretch out of Haut-Ittre is 1500m at 44km from home, but in the midst of it there is that 500m at 5,9% disguised inside it.



From here we descend into Braine-le-Château for a personal favourite of mine, the monstrous mess that is the climb to Châpelle Sainte-Croix via the Rue des Comtes des Rubiano. Including some paved roads, some cobbles and a short stretch of sterrato, this is 650m at 9% including max stretches of 15% and gets very narrow at the top, which crests at 34km from home so is likely to be one of the key points in the race.





A short downhill cobbled run on the Rue de la Vallée takes us back to tarmac, and descending via a pretty straight route (including Krabbos, a climb used in more recent editions of the Brussels Cycling Classic) into Dworp, which is one village over from Alsemberg, the classic climb of the race’s history. And in fact, the base of the Bruine Put, a popular climb often used in the newer version of the race and also in the Brabantse Pijl. But although Bruine Put is the more well known and steeper climb, and Alsemberg is the more traditional climb to Paris-Bruxelles, I am, as I did eight years ago, taking Dikkemeerweg, which is between the two, primarily because, well, it’s cobbled. At 1,6km at 4,7% it is hardly imposing, but it is worth noting all its hardest gradients are at the bottom with the first 150m at over 10%, and of course, it’s cobbled so if the weather is bad it could be treacherous. 25km remain at the summit.



Barely have we crested the summit before we have downhill false flat on cobbles - some pretty worn out ones too - on Grote Hertstraat and Donderveldweg for a total of 1750m of cobbles on this stretch.



This is itself followed very rapidly by the Laarheide-Rollebeekstraat climb of 700m @ 7,8%, which comes at about 20km from the finish. It’s followed by a small coda of the last 200m of cobbles on Kasteelstraat, although at a meagre average of 4% these shouldn’t be an issue.


Laarheide/Rollebeekstraat

The run-in is where I deviate most from my previous script. I do continue via the 300m @ 6,3% cobbled stretch on Sint-Sebastiaanstraat in Linkebeek, but rather than ease my way into the city, here we continue with smaller but savage obstacles. These climbs are much smaller so less threatening than their predecessors, but the determination is that we must not allow a bunch sprint here. Therefore we go for a brutal cobbled ascent of 280m at 11% on the Rue du Château d’Eau in Uccle, cresting a mere 12km from the line, the Paterberg of my race if you like.



This is followed almost immediately by the 500m @ 8,4% of the Kauwberg - this is by and large a well-paved cobbled stretch more like city cobbles, but a pedestrianised section in the centre is a bit rougher. This is the ‘Bosberg’ of the race if you like, and is at 11km from the finish.

We then have to circumnavigate Uccle by a slightly complicated route to avoid tramlines, until we, at 4,7km from home, crest our final obstacle. Like the rest of the latter obstacles it’s really only a small one, but the sum total of all of these obstacles - and platforms from which to attack - should make this one a great war of attrition. This is a tarmac obstacle as well, the Rue du Mystère, in Forest/Vorst, a Brussels suburb, and 11% for 300m with a sharp right turn onto it that takes all momentum away. I’m expecting that we will have riders solo or in small groups and strewn all over the road by now, so there’s every chance we could see decisive moves made on this small ramp, simply as there’s nobody left to help chase, or there’s nothing in the legs left.


Rue du Mystère. The sign says it’s a No Through Road, but there are bollards at the top to stop cars, cyclists can pass, and these could be removed on race day, as with the similar obstructions to prevent car traffic on the Kapelmuur

I’ve had to modify the route into the finish due to changes to the pedestrianisation and tramlines in Brussels City Centre in the last few years. As a result we head north through Saint-Gilles to Porte du Hal, then along Boulevard du Midi close to Gare du Midi, the Eurostar terminal for the city, and then finishing on Boulevard Anspach just before Place Fontainas which has now been pedestrianised.


Transition from Traffic to Pedestrianised sections of Boulevard Anspach, finishing straight for Paris-Bruxelles à la Libertine

We should be able to have a safe sprint here but I highly doubt we get one. My main motivation here was to have a showpiece end of season race for the classics men that are not going to feature in Lombardia. Traditionally that race had been Paris-Tours, but I find the current Chemins des Vignes version to have lost a lot of the character of Paris-Tours, and simultaneously that Paris-Tours was too much of a sprinters’ race for the current iteration of the péloton; too many of those flatter classics are too easy for sprinters’ teams to control, hence why I flipped the traditional calendar spots of Paris-Tours and Paris-Bruxelles in terms of their weekend, but kept Paris-Bruxelles on its traditional Saturday. There is absolutely no reason for any rider not to be giving their all here and letting every last bit of energy go to make the race from deep, because I simply can’t imagine anybody doing 243km of cobbled racing in northern France and Belgium and then hopping straight on a plane to do Il Lombardia the following day; notwithstanding that there are very few riders who might be tempted to have a go at doing a double of these two races, the logistics and fatigue are pretty severe and their racing characteristics are very different - it’s not the days of Anquetil doing the Dauphiné and Bordeaux-Paris anymore.

As a result, this should be the final day of racing for pretty much everybody on the startlist, and I’ve given them everything they need to put on a show.- hopefully they don’t let me down.
 

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