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Race Design Thread

Page 113 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
I think averaging 10,3% just 9km from the line is probably going to make it raced too hard for the more versatile sprinters to hang on, unless you're maybe counting Gerrans and Sagan as versatile sprinters. If raced really hard, it's almost Purito terrain.

Back in Spain, after the rest day, similarly we're on transitional stages.

Stage 16: Santander - Miranda de Ebro (Área Recreativa de San Juan del Monte), 193km



Puerto de Alisas (680m) 8,0km @ 6,7% (cat.2) - km 35
Puerto de la Sia (1225m) 20,5km @ 5,2% (cat.1) - km 64
Alto de Ro (546m) 6,4km @ 3,6% (cat.3) - km 110
Puerto de Orduña (900m) 7,9km @ 7,6% (cat.2) - km 150
San Juan del Monte (624m) 3,0km @ 5,0% (cat.3) - km 193

Metas Volantes:
Amurrio - km 134
Miranda de Ebro - km 187

After three successive days of mountain carnage, from the steep slopes of Pozo de la Nieve to the difficult mountaintop finish at El Acebo, and finishing off with a difficult MTT on the mythical Lagos de Covadonga, the riders will be glad of the rest day, on which a short transfer from Asturias into neighbouring Cantabria will take place. The first stage after the rest day will see us transition from the coastal mountains into the inland plateaus on a stage custom made for the breakaway, but with a sting in the tail for the main contenders.

The intention of the stage is to ensure that we have a strong breakaway, as it is highly likely they will duke out the stage win, so obtaining a large group of stagehunting riders is a priority. To this end, the early parts of the stage feature two sizable obstacles on our way inland; first up is the category 2 Puerto de Alisas and itswinding scenery, but it is soon followed by the long and drawn-out grind up to the Portillo de la Sia, an insanely dramatic road via the Collado de Asón which twists ever skyward on the way to forming the border between Cantabria and the Provincia de Burgos. There are myriad possibilities from here; you could turn right at the base of the descent for a gradual finish at Estación de Esqui Lunada, or right again to climb the easier side of Picón del Fraile; even more dramatically, you could take on the partially sterrato northern face of Picón Blanco directly from the Portillo de la Sia, then descend its brutal southern face (not recommended if you are Ivan Basso). But here, we're a long way from the end, and none of this is really necessary.

The descent into Espinosa de los Monteros heralds the start of a very long flat stretch along the plateaus of northern Burgos, broken up partway through by a gradual and unthreatening descent. The break should ideally be about 10 minutes ahead here. The only real break-up of this section is the uncomplicated Alto de Ro, which could easily be considered "no puntable". This leads into a brief foray into Euskadi, which is of course rare but no longer implausible in La Vuelta. This leads to an intermediate sprint in Amurrio, but the main reason for the detour is to include the toughest ascent in the Sierra Salvada, the difficult Puerto de Orduña. This has been given category 1 status in the race recently (in 2012), however is more a tough cat.2 in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is steeped in Vuelta history, being one of the iconic climbs of the race from the days when the race still finished in Euskadi, and also being forever associated with one of the greats. With ramps of up to 14% and very little respite, this will be the spot where the breakaway shreds to pieces and the chaff is shelled. Just over 40km remain at the top though, so it would be a brave rider who is strong enough to drop everybody on the climb and still a powerful enough rider to hold on until the finish.

Orduña, since the Sierra Salvada leads on to the plateaus, is one of those lopsided climbs; the descent is short, and then there are about 30km of flat roads leading into Miranda de Ebro, an industrial city on the banks of - as its name suggests - the Ebro, but perhaps equally notorious for harbouring one of Franco's main concentration camps, the last of all to close. Here, there are bonus seconds once more available as it hosts an intermediate sprint just 6km from the finish. And half of that is a small uphill rise to the finish.

The uphill drag to San Juan del Monte is one of those climbs that gradually turns up the heat so that the 3km @ 5% stats don't really tell you all that much about it. That said, it isn't especially steep - the toughest stretch is 150m or so at 9% - before it eases out with the last 600m being more or less all at 500m. Here's a more detailed profile. The climb featured in the Vuelta a Burgos in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The first time around, Joaquím Rodríguez was victorious, just ahead of a trio of Hermans, Valverde and Botcharov. A year later, a somewhat less puncheur-heavy top 10 ensued, with Samuel Sánchez just managing to out-punch the more power-oriented climbing of José Iván Gutiérrez, with Kristof Vandewalle a few seconds behind. The two previous winners duked it out in 2011, both finishing a few seconds ahead of the rest, with the Asturian winning the sprint. That said, Denis Menchov - never a man known for his puncheur credentials - was 4th. That should give you an indication of the style of the climb - it's not a pure puncheur's climb, but if some of the GC guys are inclined to work for a few seconds, they may be able to get them. I'm going to make the assumption that the break will take this, so this could be a battle of the functional climbers, all-rounders and second-tier guys whose GC ambitions have fallen by the wayside. This is a potential banana skin, but also a good opportunity for stagehunters.


Miranda de Ebro (San Juan del Monte):
Stage 17: Faustino V - Tarazona, 154km



Alto del Grisel (785m) 5,4km @ 4,6% (cat.3) - km 136

Metas Volantes:
Calahorra - km 60
Tarazona (1er Paso por la Línea de Meta) - km 129

Don't be fooled by the scale on the profile - it makes the climb look like something far more significant than it is. Depending on the course that year, this is something of a Worlds tune-up kind of stage, which offers an attacking rider something to aim at while also offering the sprinters an opportunity if they are durable enough. It's a short stage so there's a good chance some like Demare, Degenkolb or Matthews will be interested in this one.

The Faustino V bodegas around Oión hosted the Vuelta in 2011 and 2012. Both are somewhat strange and notable; in 2011 the stage from Faustino V to Peña Cabarga came two days before the famous Igor Antón victory in Bilbao, however Oión, while just 5km from Logroño, is in Araba, and therefore it is that stage that saw the first return of the Vuelta to País Vasco, not the Bilbao one. In 2012, the race basically doubled back on itself, since stage 3 departed from the bodegas across País Vasco, yet stage 5 was the Logroño circuit race. I selected this as the start simply because of the recent interest in the sport, but it could just as easily be Logroño since they like to host the race at present.

For the most part this is a flat stage which passes through La Rioja and Navarra and into Aragón over typical plains of the area. Towns visited are Lodosa, Calahorra (which hosts an intermediate sprint), the historic Alfaro and Cintruénigo as we head through verdant fields and vineyards.

The important parts of the stage come in the last 25km, after our first crossing of the finishing line, as we have a finishing circuit which contains the only obstacles of the day. The main obstacle is the climb from the village of Grisel to the eponymous summit in the shadow of Moncayo, a relatively gradual climb that nevertheless should offer a platform for attacks - the first half of the climb is only around 3-4%, but then 500m at 8%, another 500m at 6% and then the rest of the climb at 5% fixes that gradient up somewhat. It crests 18km from the finish. After this we have a technical run-in which includes a short and sharp but uncategorized ascent of Cuesta Bayona, a twisting ascent on the Calle Crucifijo. This is around 450m at 9% which crests about 5,7km from the line on a complex run-in which is mostly technical, however the final kilometre is ram-rod straight on the road back into Tarazona, another town which seems to like the Vuelta at present, hosting the time trial twice lately.

Faustino V:

Stage 18: Zaragoza - Lleida, 162km



no hay puertos de montaña

Metas Volantes:
Candasnos - km 85
Fraga - km 109

This is the fifth and final stage for the sprinters to take precedence (after Rabat, Ciudad Real, Astorga and Noia), although more durable sprinters and rouleurs will have found a couple of other stages to their liking (most likely Tangier and Tarazona). There isn't a great deal to be said about this stage, which will be a pure transitional flat stage to take us from the capital of Aragón into Catalunya, since, well, if the race can finish in Euskadi (much of the time until 1978) and in Galicia (this year), why can't Catalunya join in the fun?

There are no categorized climbs whatsoever in this stage, and only one descent of any significance, and even that is not much of a threat, exaggerated by the profile as it is. Towns and cities hosting the stage will more than likely see a lame duck breakaway with the péloton haring after it a few minutes later. These include Fuentes de Ebro, Bujaraloz, Candasnos, Fraga, Zaidín and Alcarràs. But mostly, it's scenery like this - long plains stretching out into the distance with hills on the horizon.

They are but a warning.


Jul 24, 2014
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Apologies for the delay, busy past few weeks + watching the Vuelta + spending time researching other races meant that it's been a while since I last posted an update to my Giro. Here's a quick overview of what has happened so far:

1 Lindau [GER] - Bregenz [AUT] (ITT)
2 Konstanz [GER] - Luzern [SUI] (Flat)
3 Luzern [SUI] - Biasca [SUI] (Mountainous)
4 Bellinzona [SUI] - Biella (Flat)
5 Santhià - Planaval Valgrisenche (MTF)
6 Ivrea - Alba (Flat
7 Alba - Rapallo (Hilly)
8 Livorno - Il Ciocco (Uphill finish)

So today we resume on the second Sunday of the race, at the end of what should have been an interesting first week; after some mountains early on and two difficult hilly days preceding today's stage.

Giro d'Italia Stage 9: San Giovanni Valdarno - Perugia | 234km



Climb details:
Odina (cat.3; 3.5km @ 11%)
Pontenano (cat.2; 11km @ 5.7%)
Vezza (cat.4; 5.6km @ 5.1%)
Terranera di Sotto (cat.3; 5.3km @ 7.7%)
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina (cat.4; 9.5km @ 3.4%)
Col di Morro (cat.4; 8.6km @ 4.4%)
Valico per Cortona (cat.4; 4.6km @ 7.3%)
Castel Rigone (cat.4; 6.8km @ 5.1%)
Colle della Trinità (cat.4; 3.7km @ 8.2%)

Yesterday, the race brought 6 categorised climbs to the riders. But today, we raise that to 9 as we traverse through the hills of Tuscany and Umbria. This will no doubt be a hellish day for the riders, not only is there an alarming saw-tooth profile to deal with, but the stage is also over 230km long! In my opinion, every GT needs a "Sky-killer" stage, and this is it.

We have a bit of a transfer from Il Ciocco to the town of San Giovanni Valdarno, but it is very reasonable. The action should start from the very beginning as we tackle the steep climb of Odina. With the asphalt disintegrating about 800m from the top, and the surface on the descent shaky as well, this may throw the cat amongst the pigeons already with still more than 200km to go. Next up is the only 2nd category climb of the day, to Pontenano. With the 4th category climb to Vezza, and then the third category climb to Terranera di Sotto following in quick succession, as we pass through the charmingly ramshackle town of Capolona, it will not be until about 80km of the stage have passed that the riders will be able to relax for a moment. The constant up-and-down nature of this first part, and indeed the whole stage, may lead to quite a large breakaway forming, and we could find ourselves in a L'Aquila 2010 situation.

After some slightly undulating, but not challenging, flattish roads, we reach the climb to Monte Santa Maria Tiberina. This climb is on narrow roads, and is very irregular, as you can probably see from the profile. The quoted percentage of 3.4% does not do it justice as that includes two mini-descents, indeed the last 3km are at 7%. This beautiful and scenic hilltop town, captures the area in a nutshell: pretty little villages perched on small hills in largely unspoilt countryside.

After a tricky little descent on poor road surfaces, we rejoin the valley/plains, and after a tiny but steep uncategorised ramp up to the Basilica Santuario Madonna del Transito di Canoscio, we ascend the shallow gradients of the Col di Morro as we briefly return to Tuscany, having crossed out to Umbria before the climb of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.

A trio of short and sharp climbs then follow. The first one, the steepest, is the climb to Valico per Cortona, and sees us cross back over the provincial border into Umbria. The second is uncategorised, and the third, to Castel Rigone, another charming medieval village, with views of the beautifulLago Trasimeno (continuing the recurring theme of lakeside views here) presents a not-too-challenging ascent, but a viciously steep descent. These three climbs are a good place for an opportunist to try and launch a move, as they follow each other very quickly, and if you're a good descender, you could pull out some time that you would need for the 10kms of flat road between Castel Rigone and the penultimate climb of the day (the last categorised one), the Colle della Trinità. Not only does this climb have views of the finishing town of Perugia, but it is also steep, with an average gradient of over 8% for the duration of its 3.7km. Topping out at just 14km from the finish, and with a technical and steep descent on fairly narrow roads following the climb, I would be amazed if no one made a move here.

Finally, after the last of the categorised climb has has been tackled and we sweep into the stunningly beautiful city of Perugia, we have an uphill finish to deal with, with the last 2.5km coming at around 4% as we finish at the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti (assuming the cafés are happy to reduce their outside table facilities for the day!)

I had thought long and hard about making this stage a strade bianche stage, as it would be geographically feasible as we are in roughly the right sort of area, but I felt that that is one of those clichéd things that everyone seems to want to be put in to the route every year, and I thought that I would try and be a little original and do something a little different (although there is sterrato on Odina and Monte Santa Maria Tiberina). I think it's turned out quite well, and worthy of being a weekend stage.

After today we have the rest day, and then a fair-sized transfer almost due south.

San Giovanni Valdarno:

Tour de France

Stage 17: Valence - Annonay, 103 km



This the shortest stage of the race (not counting the time trials), but it should be quite entertaining. We directly head to the hills of Ardeche, climbing Col des Fans (21 km 3%). The hardest climb of the day leads from Lamastre to Nozières (10 km 5,7%) at km 49, followed by more gentle slopes. Annonay has been built on a hilltop, which gives us the opportunity to include some small climbs within the last few kilometers. The first of these is Côte Barlet at 6 km to go, which culminates at Rue de la Fontaine and is 1 km long and 8,4% steep. Then there is a second little dig, just 100 meters long, at the beginning of the last kilometer at Rue Montgolfier (Annonay was the home of the Montgolfier brothers). This leads us to this nice place in the heart of the city. We could now head straight on to the finish but unfortunately the road is too narrow. Therefore we take the road to the left (where the blue dot is), descending for 200 meters, and directly start climbing again, as the last 700 meters are uphill, although at a moderate gradient of 4 to 5 percent. This actually includes three switchbacks in a row, on a good, wide road.


Stage 19: Tremp - Camp del Serrat/Llac d'Engolasters (Andorra), 171km



Port del Cantò (1725m) 19,5km @ 5,3% (cat.1) - km 58
Alt de la Rabassa (1810m) 13,3km @ 6,8% (cat.1) - km 116
Coll de la Gallina (1910m) 11,8km @ 8,5% (cat.ESP) - km 144
Llac d'Engolasters (1643m) 12,1km @ 5,3% (cat.1) - km 171 (fin en alto)

Metas Volantes:
La Seu d'Urgell - km 89
Andorra la Vella - km 159

Yes, we're going abroad this late in the race, about the first time since the 2000 Giro I think. Traceurs have always had a love-hate kind of relationship with the tiny country of Andorra, nestled in the Pyrenées as it is. On the one hand, it's a scenic and cycling-friendly country which is willing to pay to host races regularly and which features a large number of climbs very close to one another and plenty of ski stations and lookout posts with enough space to host the world's biggest bike races; on the other hand only a few of these climbs are genuine passes, and in even fewer cases are both sides fully paved; in addition to this, several of the prospective mountaintop finishes are rather uninspiring, featuring long tempo-grinding climbs most prominently. I have taken a Vuelta stage to Andorra before, an early stage in my third attempt, which finished at Els Cortals d'Encamp, a shorter but steeper climb not typically characteristic of these Andorran ascents.

Before the riders arrive in the mountainous principality, however, they have 100km of Spanish-Catalan roads to negotiate, with one climb to dot it. For the first 40km or so the riders are in flat valley roads, but then the climbing starts in earnest. The Port del Cantó is fairly typical for the big climbs in this part of the Pyrenées - it's long and sinewous, with splendid views, and the road is wide, clear and in pristine condition. As a result, although it's not pure consistency, it never really ramps up to anything that will destroy people by anything other than attrition, although the seemingly endless descent features some noteworthy steep bits near the bottom.

From here it is back to the valley roads until La Seu d'Urgell, a pretty town at the foot of a number of mountains, which played host to one of the best stages of the Volta a Catalunya in years, when Joaquím Rodríguez and Óscar Pereiro attacked the bunch 60km out, Xavier Tondó rode over to them, Pereiro was dropped and then the two Catalans rode together to finish well ahead of the field, Purito allowing Tondó to take the stage as he was taking the race lead. An intermediate sprint will be held on the same finishing line before the race turns to the north to cross the border into Andorra from the south, so familiar to racing at this point.

What the riders may not be so familiar with, however, is the selection of Andorran climbs I have in store for them. The Alt de la Rabassa should be known to the riders, of course, as it was climbed in the 2008 Vuelta, twice in fact, with the second time the riders continuing on to the Nordic ski station of Naturlandia, in some horrendous weather, with Alessandro Ballan of all people winning from the break. Naturally we are not going all the way to the summit here, because the two routes to Naturlandia share the same final four kilometres. Therefore the climb is slightly shorter, with this dual profile illustrating the point at which the riders turn off of the climb (the left profile), and join the descent (the right profile). You will note the 3km averaging 9,5% near the bottom which will be the start of the problems for the less adept climbers. Views up here are stunning, but the riders will have to concentrate on the road as the descent is very technical with a large number of switchbacks. Nevertheless, I expect all riders of importance will have saved themselves and the bunch will still be of a decent size when they return to the dramatic setting of Sant Julià de Lorià. So far, the stage is the same as my one to Els Cortals, and bearing a striking resemblance to the 1999 Vuelta stage to Pal. But that's about to change.

In the last few years the Vuelta has twice placed a summit finish at the Santuari de la Mare de Déu de Canolich, climbing from Sant Julià de Lorià via Bixessari. The road continues winding higher beyond that, however, which you all knew. The Coll de la Gallina is known as one of Andorra's toughest ascents, 11,8km @ 8,2%, although there is little at the summit when the tarmac unfortunately runs out. There is, however, a second side of the climb, which is the same length but starts a little lower, and hence is a little steeper. The profile shows that apart from near the beginning, there are no periods of respite in this one at all. The "rest periods" here are the ones averaging 6-7%, which would ordinarily be a very solid average gradient. The other thing is that at the time I designed this stage, there was another weapon that the climb had that it will not have much longer. That was part of what made it tough, but was also the reason the Vuelta had yet to touch it: that the final 4km, from where the road splits with the one to the Mas d'Alins, are no longer the beautiful tarmac of the lower slopes but instead sterrato. However, it has recently been announced that the authorities in Andorra have decided to pave the rest of this side, thus giving a complete tarmac loop. On the minus side, this takes one of the attractions away from this stage; on the plus side, it makes it much more reasonable to hope for.

After cresting the Coll de la Gallina, the riders then descend the side that we saw in the 2012 and 2013 Vueltas, even with the difficult hairpins that characterise it. Lots and lots of hairpins. This will be a real technical test and therefore I can see moves being made on the penultimate climb, especially seeing as it crests just 27km from the line. After the descent there are just four flat kilometres, which culminate in the intermediate sprint in Andorra la Vella before we're off uphill again, this time for the last time (sort of).

La Comella, seen clearly here on the left of this photo, is only a small ascent but is one of Andorra's better known ones, being as it is one of only a few that have two full sides enabling them to be used as a pass. Here, however, La Comella is only being half-used as a pass, because the more southerly (and harder) of its two sides can be ascended, but after part of the descent of the easier side a separate junction takes us up another short climb, past the church of Sant Miquel d'Engolasters to Camp del Serrat, a hotel and restaurant complex with a large, bike-race-friendly car park on the edges of Llac d'Engolasters, a mountain lake which overlooks Andorra la Vella. The resulting double climb could easily be divided into two 2nd category climbs (La Comella 4,4km @ 7,8% and Llac d'Engolasters 5,1km @ 8,2%) or combined together into a single cat.1 climb. However, because of that interruption in the middle of the climb, the ascent is both more dangerous than its statistics (12,1km @ 5,3%) would let on, with 2km at 9,5% in the middle for example, and because of the length of climbing being reduced, less dangerous and offering fewer opportunities to break up the race, thus increasing the likelihood of attacks coming earlier in the stage on La Gallina.

Or the riders could be a bit more conservative knowing what's coming, but gaps can be created by those near 10% slopes anyhow.


Llac d'Engolasters:
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 11: Gaillac - Lacaune: 197.5km, medium mountains


Pic de Nore : km98 ; 17km @ 5.7% ; 1st cat ; 1211m
Col de la Croix de Sou: km114.5 ; 4.5km @ 6% ; 3rd cat
Col de Cabaretou : km159 ; 10km @ 6.16% ; 1st cat ; 941m
Col de Frajure : km174 ; 4.4km @ 4.3% ; 4th cat ; 957m
Col de Roc de Montalet : km189.5 ; 4.6km @ 8.3% ; 2nd cat ; 1206m (short section of 1km @ 12% in the beginning)
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 13: Tarascon - Mont Ventoux: 185.5km, medium mountains + MTF


Côte de Gordes : km49 ; 5.3km @ 5.3% ; 3rd cat
Col des Trois Termes : km53 ; 2.6km @ 6.6% ; 4th cat ; 574m
Col de Murs : km63.5 ; 5.8km @ 4% ; 4th cat ; 627m
Col de Lagarde d’Apt : km101.5 ; 11.1km @ 7% ; 1st cat ; 1105m
Col de la Sône : km156.5 ; 9.2km @ 6.3% ; 2nd cat
Mont Ventoux : km185.5 ; 17.3km @ 8.6% ; HC
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 14: Nyons - Saint-Agrève: 217.5km, medium mountains


Côte de Valeyrac : km24 ; 3.2km @ 5.1% ; 4th cat
Col de Serre Mure : km87 ; 7.8km @ 8.28% ; 1st cat ; 747m
Col de la Chaux : km132 ; 6.8km @ 6.2% ; 2nd cat
Col de Brun : km147.5 ; 6km @ 9%; 1st cat; 1113m
Côte d’Intres: km164 ; 2.8km @ 9.8% ; 3rd cat
Montée de Saint-Jean-de-Roure : km193.5 ; 5.16km @ 10.25% ; 1st cat ; 960m
Col des Baraques : km212.5 ; 11.3km @ 5.5% ; 2nd cat ; 1125m (last part of the climb: 6.3km @ 7.2%)
It's also a great piece of pacing because it's on the Sunday; the Saturday however features what is presumably the toughest MTF of the race, on a mountain which will make it impossible to ride tempo and preserve energy for the tough Sunday stage. Ventoux is hard enough on its own, so there will be tired legs with time gaps to make up racing up short but steep climbs. The Col de Brun is perhaps too early to expect serious contenders making moves, but you might see some secondary moves there. You'd expect action on the Montée Saint-Jean-de-Roure though.
Stage 20: Andorra-la-Vella (Andorra) - Bagà-Coll de Pal, 192km



Port d'Envalira (2408m - Cima Alberto Fernández) 21,2km @ 5,1% (cat.1) - km 24
Coll de la Creueta (1923m) 22,2km @ 3,6% (cat.1) - km 88
Coll de Fumanyà (1678m) 13,4km @ 7,7% (cat.1) - km 138
Coll de Pradell (1732m) 3,3km @ 10,8% (cat.2) - km 143
Coll de Pal (2104m) 19,3km @ 6,6% (cat.ESP) - km 192 (fin en alto)

Metas Volantes:
La Pobla de Lillet - km 109
Bagà - km 172

Here it is: the mountain finale of my Vuelta, and the toughest day in the Pyrenées that the Vuelta has perhaps ever had. Five categorised climbs, arguably four. The way Unipublic tends to categorise, I would expect them to separate out Fumanyà and Pradell, though I would likely prefer to see them categorized together as a single, uninterrupted ESP ascent. And it doesn't even start in Spain.

We start things off straight away; if Andorra hosts a stage, it's almost certain that the following day will begin in the small principality's capital, and so it is today. Instead of heading back where we came from yesterday to re-enter Spain, however, we head on the northward road towards France. Which of course means going over the highest paved pass in the Pyrenées, and therefore the highest road in the Vuelta, the grinding ascent of the Port d'Envalira. With only a couple of stretches at 10%, it isn't steep, but it is long enough that it will be felt, and will ensure a strong breakaway. It will also have the bonus of there being increased mountain points due to being the ceiling of the race, and will ensure that we get a strong breakaway on its route skyward.

Crossing the Port d'Envalira leads us to descend towards Pas de la Casa, and then we enter France, descending via Col de Puymorens on a long and winding, but wide and not overly steep road. The detour into France is only brief, however, and we swiftly return to the country that the race is named for close to the town of Puigcerdà. This seemingly endless descent and downhill false flat eventually yields into climbing again at the resort town of Alp, along an inconsistent climb varying between slopes of 6-7% and false flat and with a couple of phases of a couple of flat kilometres mixed in, one of the many routes to Coll de la Creueta, a lonely road high above the ski resort of La Molina. It's long but it won't cause much action, before the long and tricky descent into La Pobla de Lillet.

From here, there is a phase of flat riding, and then se armó un zapatiesto! It's time for one of the double-acts (well, triple-acts) traceurs have wanted from the Vuelta for the longest time: Fumanyà-Pradell-Pal!!! Destruction is there to be had. First up is the Coll de Fumanyà, a relentless blast of a climb which is close in stats to Alpe d'Huez, and with no fewer than thirteen ramps of 10% or above (max 15%) in the first 10 kilometres. It's a perfectly asphalted, wooded climb which crests with about 55km remaining in the stage, but it has a second bullet in its gun - its evil twin, the Coll de Pradell, which from any side is difficult but here we have excised all of its easier slopes but kept all of its killer parts - the brutal switchbacks, the narrow passages and especially the hell slopes of 20% on hormigón. This one is going to be very, very nasty indeed, and I can well foresee there being very, very few domestiques remaining when this one crests with 50km remaining. My post in the 21 ESP climbs the Vuelta should be using thread about this hell-beast is here, although while I'm at it I may as well point out this subsequent post which deals with the rest of this stage.

That's right, there's about 30km of downhill to follow, broken up by an uncategorizable rise partway through, that leads us first to Guardiola de Berguedà and then to Bagà, a small town which hosted the start of the stage to Andorra (Santuari del Mare de Déu de Canolich) in the 2013 Vuelta. We're more interested in the other thing it starts: the Coll de Pal. At nearly 20km in length and with barely any respite, this killer is an almost relentless grind at just under 7%. It has been used in races before, but only occasionally - it was last climbed by the now defunct Setmana Catalana in 2005, and some guy named Contador won. The gaps that day weren't huge, but then the stage hadn't been anything like as tough as this one, nor had riders had a serious mountain day the day before, nor were gaps likely to be as sizable as they would be on day 20 of a Grand Tour. It's a desolate world on the way to the "better Pal", but it's visually stunning, and should be a fitting mountain climax to a brutal Vuelta. The climbers must go now - they have no other choice.

Andorra la Vella:

Coll de Pal:
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 16: Vienne - Hauteville-Lompnes: 197.5km, high mountains

Map & Profile:

Col de Portes : km76 ; 15.3km @ 5.2% ; 1st cat ; 1010m
Col de Ballon : km101 ; 9.2km @ 6.1% ; 2nd cat ; 946m
Col du Grand Colombier : km138.5 ; 15.9km @ 7.8% ; HC ; 1505m
Col de la Biche : km170.5 ; 11.5km @ 8.4% ; HC ; 1330m
Col de Mazière : km 191.5 ; 7.8km @ 7.6% ; 1st cat ; 1144m
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage18: Besançon - La Planche des Belles Filles: 162km, medium mountains + MTF

Map & Profile:

Côte de Belfahy : km101.5 ; 3.5km @ 10.3% ; 2nd cat ; 840m
Col de Ballon de Servance : km122.5 ; 9.5km @ 6.1% ; 2nd cat ; 1158m
Col de la Bois du Sapois : km137.5 ; 4km @ 7.3% ; 3rd cat ; 861m
Col de Chevrères : km145 ; 3.5km @ 9.5% ; 2nd cat ; 914m
La Planche des Belles Filles : km162 ; 5.9km @ 8.5% ; 1st cat ; 1035m
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 19: Belfort - Le Markstein: 161km, medium mountains

Map & Profile:

Col de Ballon d’Alsace : km28 ; 12.4km @ 5.2% ; 2nd cat ; 1178m
Col du Page : km46.5 ; 7km @ 5.5% ; 3rd cat ; 957m
Col du Grand Ballon : km87.5 ; 16km @ 6.1% ; 1st cat ; 1342m
Col de Boenlesgrab : km115 ; 5.4km @ 8% ; 2nd cat ; 865m
Le Petit Ballon : km136.5 ; 9.3km @ 8.1% ; 1st cat ; 1163m
Col de Platzerwasel : km153.5 ; 7.1km @ 8.4% ; 1st cat ; 1193m

The first 3km after the summit of the Boenlesgrab are on a slightly descending gravel road (around 3.5% downhill)

Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 20: somewhere around Paris - Paris/Champs Élysées: flat, +/- 125km

Map & profile:
who cares

who cares
rghysens said:
Tour de France sans Alpes et Pyrenées stage 16: Vienne - Hauteville-Lompnes: 197.5km, high mountains

Col de Portes : km76 ; 15.3km @ 5.2% ; 1st cat ; 1010m
Col de Ballon : km101 ; 9.2km @ 6.1% ; 2nd cat ; 946m
Col du Grand Colombier : km138.5 ; 15.9km @ 7.8% ; HC ; 1505m
Col de la Biche : km170.5 ; 11.5km @ 8.4% ; HC ; 1330m
Col de Mazière : km 191.5 ; 7.8km @ 7.6% ; 1st cat ; 1144m

Great stage!