Race Design Thread

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Because the Peace Race is Warsaw, Berlin, Prague in some iteration, and to not include the former DDR would be inauthentic. Maybe if I keep up the alternate universe I'll have some overseas starts - the real race of course started in Moscow in '85 and Kiev in '86, so a start in Budapest or Vilnius or L'viv - or indeed in a western country in the rapprochement of the alternate timeline - wouldn't be out of the question. Don't worry though - not too much repetition this time, that's one of the benefits of the fact the race changed its rotation of the cities, so you can visit different places on the way each time.

Oh, and you forgot the Lusatian Sorbs ;)
 
Stage 2: Praha - Liberec, 159km





Intermediate sprints:
Mělnik, km22,8
Stráž nad Nisou, km110,4
Liberec, km130,3

GPM:
Křižansko Sedlo, km99,1
Rudolfov, km121,9
Tetřevi Sedlo, km138,5
Rašovka, km152,3

While railxmig may have reasons for their concerns - indeed I do rather have a fascination for all things Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the former East Germany need not concern us yet as we're getting this race kicked off through the former Czechoslovakia (for the record, this edition of the Friedensfahrt will stick entirely to the modern day Czech Republic for its Czech stages, this is for two reasons: 1) the real life race did, mostly, too, owing to the country's shape and the need for a comparatively even split between the three countries making many of the mountains of Slovakia - and the unfortunate southern locations of a couple of the biggest cities, namely Bratislava and Košice - difficult for the race to incorporate with any regularity, and 2) in this universe, the region may have had a few stages in recent years to capitalise on the popularity of Peter Sagan, but he is now plying his trade in the west and so appeasing his home audience in Slovakia is no longer of as much importance to the organisers. Instead we're heading northward from Prague towards the tristate border northwest of Liberec.



The opening of the stage will allow the riders to see a little more of the beautiful and historic city of Prague than they did in the opening circuit race, as we'll start right in the heart of the city, which is difficult to incorporate into a circuit due to the tramlines, but in a neutralised section that shan't be a problem.

Now, in terms of the Peace Race's traditional cobbles and Plattenwege, the Czech Republic has a little less to offer on the surface than either East Germany or Poland, as many of those roads were either already paved back in the pre-war days or have been sufficiently repaved with tarmac that it is very rare to see lengthy stretches of cobbles remaining, at least in the west of the country where we are at present. There are some, as we shall see, but this stage is more about the thing that the Czechs do have an abundance of compared to their Peace Race neighbours - hills. Rudé Pravo's leadership of the Czech part of the race organisation have deigned to have us move northward at this stage so as to make the GC contestants alert from the word go, with this potentially tricky hilly stage. Our first landmark is the chemical plant at Neratovice, but perhaps more interesting is the castle of the Lobkovic dynasty, confiscated by the Communists in 1945, at Mělník. Situated at the confluence of the Vltava and the Elbe, two of the most important rivers of the region, it is therefore a strategically-located city known for both the decadent and capitalist wine-making and the rugged workers of the major freshwater port.



This then takes us into the Kokorínsko nature reserve, which takes its name from the Kokorín castle; we do not pass the castle as it's on the southeasternmost protrusion of the reserve and we enter from the southwest, but still, there is some real fairytale scenery here - enchanted forests and dramatic rock formations proliferate. The stage remains, however, resolutely flat-to-rolling until a good 50km later, as all of the climbs are crammed into the final 65km. Not that this is an especially difficult stage; the first climb, above Křižany, takes us into the small bowl valley that Liberec sits in, between the range on which its Hausberg, Ještěd, sits, and the Riesengebirge/Krkonoše part of the Sudeten mountain range. It's 3,4km @ 6,0% with a toughest kilometre at 7,8% so not a killer but a decent enough leg-tester to start the day.

In my original design, I had intended to circle around Liberec and include the Smědava climb, but that would have resulted in a much longer stage that would have not been in keeping with the traditions of the Friedensfahrt, with only a couple of real long stages, and I already had those ones in the bank and not really amendable. In fairness, it works out in the long run; the intention was a stage something like Proposal 2 in my Nordic Series post on the city - however if starting in Prague, this would simply be too long even with the second lap of the closing circuit excised. Instead, however, we go for a smaller and more accessible climb to the village of Rudolfov, which is similarly placed to Ještěd on the opposite side of Liberec, so we head through the city from the second intermediate sprint in order to climb it. Close to the Bedřichov ski pistes, which are a second and higher summit that could have been used if I had wanted to extend the stage, the climb is just under 4km at 5,5% and with ramps of 11-12% as its toughest; not the toughest climb in the world but enough that some of the most woeful climbers around ought to be removed from contention and this certainly isn't one for the sprinters to battle out.

After this we enter Liberec itself, the thriving metropolis which represents the third largest in the Czech Republic, after Prague and Plzeň, at least once its contiguity with neighbouring Jablonec is taken into account. The conurbation has a lot of sporting history across a number of sports, including Tomáš Enge, the first ever Czech Formula 1 driver as well as the first F1 driver to be sanctioned for doping, World Championship gold-medal-winning hurdler Zuzana Hejnová and veteran ice hockey star Petr Nedvěd, a journeyman in the NHL and part of that tradition among Czech ice hockey players for being truly evergreen, retiring after his 25th pro season. And if we extend to include the other cities in the Gebiet, we can also add multiple Olympic and World champion javelin thrower Barbora Špotáková, who took three World and two Olympic golds over a reign of terror from 2007 to 2017, and World Cup overall-winning biathlete Gabriela Koukalová, whose career came to a crashing halt immediately after that major success due to a dangerous combination of injuries, eating disorders and no small element, if her concurrent score-settling autobiography is anything to go by, of being consumed by her own ego. At the same time, she wouldn't be the first person to write an autobiography before the dust has truly settled and have a touch of regrettable bitterness as a result - José Manuel Fuente's doesn't exactly pull punches in this regard - but she doesn't exactly leave the impression of somebody her teammates will want to play nice with should she come back anytime soon.


Liberec, with the Ještěd tower in the background

We cross through Liberec with just under 30km to go, to undertake a loop which will be familiar to those of you who read through my Nordic Series post on the Areál Vesec arena in the city, taking on both the climb to Tetřevi Sedlo, the pass underneath Ještěd tower, and Rašovka, a bumpy route back into the city. Also known as Výpřež, Tetřevi Sedlo is the first cat.1 climb of the race, underneath the iconic mountain but not a straightforward climb nonetheless. It would likely be a cat.2 climb in another European race, but the Peace Race had its idiosyncrasies - in fact it had many - and the climb categorization was one of these. There were just two categories:
- cat.1, for climbs which exceeded 250m in height gained and were over 5km long, or exceeded 250m in height gained at an average of 10% or more
- cat.2, for all other climbs.

Tetřevi Sedlo is 6,1km @ 6,0%, and amounts to the first 6,1km of this profile of Ještěd, so it acquires cat.1 since that amounts to over 360m of elevation gain. Cresting with 20km remaining, it's definitely a good platform to spring an attack or test a move out on, given we will only have 6 man teams here, in deference to Peace Race tradition.



The Rašovka climb doesn't have an official profile as Altimetr.pl has not mapped it and I don't believe I've ever seen it on genetyk either, the other source of altimetry profiles for the Polish and Czech Sudeten mountains and Beskids. A few of the climbs appear on Quäl dich! too, but not this one. Either way, mapping it out, it amounts to 3,5km @ 6,0% and considering there's absolutely no flat between Výpřež and this, and that it crests just a mere 6,7km from the line, ought to ensure this produces some action, not least because the descent is quite technical, with a steepest section including four switchbacks.

To help incentivise attacks and give the break something to fight toward, I have repeated myself and placed the finish at the Nordic skiing stadium, as this brings the stage finish closer to the two climbs, and also given a technical run-in with a number of corners to help escapees get out of sight and subsequently out of mind. Liberec has a long Peace Race history dating all the way back to the very first race in 1948, when local hero - the first Czechoslovak cycling king - Jan Veselý triumphed in the city, with periodic returns since. Ještěd is not the toughest climb in the world with around 8km at a little under 7%, but it's not too dissimilar to a slightly easier version of Verbier, so it could justify itself as a mountaintop finish in a post-1990 Friedensfahrt as the race tries to make itself more selective; long flat stages through northern Poland and the Rostock/Schwerin parts of the DDR were ceasing to be of much relevance with improvements to road infrastructure by the time the Iron Curtain fell, so in this fictional universe all the same, the Peace Race will have needed to combat this with seeking out more selective locations for finishes - having such a visible mountain so close to a major city kills two birds with one stone. However, the Nordic arena has never hosted a finish though it has plenty of room to do so, as I investigated here. In 1998, the real-life Peace Race finished a mountaintop finish at Ještěd which was won by Raimondas Rumšas, but that's the last time the city saw racing. I'm sure they'd be happy as they often were in the former Communist East to tie in the country's other sporting tastes, as the Course de la Paix frequently saw stages finishing in athletics stadia, while other races frequently used common motorsport venues like the Masaryk Ring in Czechoslovakia, and the Schleizer Dreieck and the Sachsenring in East Germany, as hosts, and ski stations have been a staple of cycling for generations, even in the east with Karpacz and Zakopane proving adept hosts even before the 1990s, so why not a finish at the Nordic venue?

 
The everlasting story continues:

Deutschland Rundfahrt 12. Etape: Bad Säckingen - Konstanz: 116km, flat
(Baden-Württemberg)

The third consecutive stage in Baden-Württemberg will be a flat affair in between two more deciding stages.




I think the map and profile say most of it. Although there are two hills to spice up race development a bit, they probably won't have a big influence on the eventual result. The climbs are too far spread out and too far placed from the finish to have a real influence on the eventual result. I also made it short enough in order not to bore anyone out. Above that, it's also a week day, so not much chance a lot of people will be watching TV or sideline the course.

The finish is in Konstanz, founded as a military outpost by the Romans and blessed with a picturesque setting on the shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), with the Allgäuer Alpen on the background and some nice edifices in its historic city center.



 
Deutschland Rundfahrt 13. Etappe: Friedrichshafen - Friedrichshafen: 56km, einzelzeitfahren
(Baden-Württemberg)

The fourth and last stage in Baden-Württemberg will probably play a pivotal role in the GC. To honor the German focus on timetrialling in the (recent) past, and just because any GT should have one, I designed a long ITT just before the second intermediate weekend. It makes a big loop around Friedrichshafen, which hosts the annual Eurobike bike fair. In addition to that Friedrichshafen was a finishtown in the 2005 and 2002 Deutschland Tour.
So, it has some ties to cycling.



The course starts nearby the yacht club and skirts the shores of the Bodensee for about 10km. It then turns inland to tackle the first small climb after 22km. A short plateau then leads to the second climb, slightly longer and steeper. Step-by-step the road descends to the Hamlet Urnau after 40km. A few kilometers later, there's a short wall to break the rythm before the last, slowly descending kilometers lead to Friedrichshafen.



 
The long itt will undoubtly completely have reshuffled the GC, with the climbers suffering. But today they have a chance to reclaim some of the lost time on the second intermediate saturday of the race.

Deutschland Rundfahrt 14. Etappe: Lindau - Oberstaufen: 203.5km, mountains + hilltop finish
(Bayern)

We remain at the shores of the Bodensee, but move to a different Land.



Allthough there was a Roman settlement in the neighbourhood Aeschach, Lindau proper was found on a small Island in the Bodensee, where the neutralized start will take place. The course will head east, towards the Austrian border, which is crossed after 4km.In fact, todays course is so sinuous it crosses the German-Austrian border six times.



The first visit in Austria isn't long or difficult, as after six false flat kilometers we re-enter Germany where we climb out of the Leibach valley to the first hill of the day. The third category Kienberg is no more than a warm-up, enabling to establish a strong break. It is followed by a rolling plateau and leads to Lindenberg im Allgäu. Very soon there are two more small climbs, but then the profile flattens out for a while as the course follows the Konstanzer Ach, a small river, upstream. After a tad less than 50km, the course skirts the Großer Alpensee on its way to Immenstadt. Here the bunch takes a wide turn south, now following the Iller valley to Oberstdorf. Here the race turns west again, climbing the Riedberpass from Obermaiselstein, good for 5km @ 10.1%.



The descent, at first steep, but quickly turning into a more gradual affair, leads to the foot of the Bödele Losenpass, meanwhile having crossed the border a third time.



The descent to Dornbirn is longer and steeper than the climb, and is followed by some valley floor before the third main climb of the day kicks in after 148km. The Pfänder from Lochau is a regular, but steep climb to a viewpoint overlooking the Bodensee.



By now there's only 50km to go, and the next stage will be considerably easier, so climbers with some teammates up the road can risk a long range attack. Just as with the Riedbergpass, the descent is very gradual, with some small bumps underway and it takes about 25km before the start of next climb appears. the Sulzberg starts rather steep, but flattens out near the summit.



Its descent leads to the final border crossing, and the final climb of the day: the Dreiländerblick, which starts with 12km to go.



This climb was used in the seventh stage of the 2003 Tour de Suisse won by Sergei Yakovlev. The final of this stage will be a copy of the 12 km long stretch between the start of the Dreiländerblick and the first passage of the finish in Oberstaufen of that Tour de Suisse stage.
The last difficulty today will be the uphill drag to the finish, labelled as a 4th category climb


 
Stage 3: Liberec - Náchod, 160km





Intermediate sprints:
Vrchlabí, km59,6
Trutnov, km90,2
Stárkov, km119,3

GPM:
Nová Ves nad Nisou, km13,5
Štěpánka, km27,5
PEC Areál Černá Horá, km73,8
Odolov, km113,2
Vysoká Srbská, km131,5
Vysoká Srbská, km144,3

The Peace Race continues with a stage along the northern edge of the modern Czech Republic, winding its way through the foothills of the Riesengebirge. It's a format not that unfamiliar to the Friedensfahrt, with the first half including the main obstacles but the second half of the stage only including smaller ones, with the aim that the earlier climbs will have the effect of 'lengthening' the stage in terms of its physical effects and make the smaller obstacles more important because they will a) be more selective than they otherwise would have been; and b) will serve as the only real platform for a decisive attack and therefore will see inevitable action.



More or less the first thing to happen in the stage is an uncategorized climb, however, a little dig on the way to Jablonec nad Nisou. I mentioned this popular ski town in passing during the last stage due to its contiguity with Liberec and its rich sporting heritage, so I shan't repeat myself here. We leave the town via the relatively inconsequential climb to the neighbouring village of Nová Ves nad Nisou, which has been built around the spring that serves as the source of the Lausitzer Neisse, one branch of the river which forms a large part of the border between Germany and Poland (which were divided along the Oder-Neisse line after WWII). It's not an especially challenging climb and I don't expect there to be any selection other than the break of the day exploits until we get to Tanvald, a town which still retains its German-origin name, comparatively rare in this part of the country (its original mainly-Sudeten-German population was expelled post-war) and which serves as the base for the longest and most difficult climb of the day, Štěpánka.



The actual Štěpánka on this occasion is a lookout tower which provides observation all through the Jizera mountains and the Bohemian flatlands below, above the small town of Přichovice, built in the mid-19th Century. Given the feminine given name Štěpánka (roughly equivalent to Stephanie), the climb up here is a cat.2 in a western race, you would venture, being 7km long and just under 6% in steepness. It's fairly consistent, however, which will help riders get into a groove on it, but some of the sprinters' teams may find themselves having to chase on from some way back very early in the stage.

The complex geography of the Jizera mountains means a very technical descent ensues, into Jablonec nad Jizerou, just to add confusion. The name references the presence of large apple-orchards in days gone by, and the river had to be added to save further conflation with Jablonec nad Nisou. There is a small ski resort and the remains of a former castle in the town, before we follow the river out into the foothills and up a small rise onto the flat area around the town of Vrchlabí, which hosts the first intermediate sprint.



With around 13.000 inhabitants, Vrchlabí is one of the gateways into the Krkonoše mountains for most tourists, and its sporting heritage is pretty much exclusively in the wintersports arena. Most successful is Eva Samková, gold medallist in snowboard cross in the Sochi Olympics, but that is dangerously close to the nonsense X-Games type sports which seemingly only really get wider currency at the Olympic times, therefore given the current popularity of the sport in the Czech Republic perhaps more famous long-term is biathlete Zdeněk Vítek, who won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2003 and competed in four Olympiads, before going on to be the chief trainer of the women during their most successful period recently, and moving on to coach the men for the last year or so. Strangely, the city has never hosted the Friedensfahrt, but it has passed through on numerous occasions. I could from here have added either the Benečko (7,3km @ 5,6%) or Strážne (4,2km @ 6,7%) climbs, but really the stage is not supposed to be about climbing, so it's not really necessary to make the first half too difficult, just difficult enough.

Nevertheless, the next stopping point of note is the next GPM, at the ski resort which sits on the shoulder of the much larger Černá Horá mountain. The actual pass that we are climbing sits just above the base of the Černohorský Express z Janských Lázní cable car. As we're not climbing to the actual summit of the mountain - it's a dead end although it would be possible to hold a mountain top finish at Rozhledna Černá Horá if required (perhaps some Course de la Paix or Tour de Bohémie in the 90s or 00s has done so) - the climb amounts to the first 7km of this route - gradually getting steeper from 3% to 6%, with the total being 7km @ 4,5%.



The feedzone comes at the bottom of the descent, and then comes the second intermediate, in Trutnov. Trutnov has been a Friedensfahrt host in the past, first appearing as a stage host in 1984. I'm not sure of the details of the stage from Mladá Boleslav to Trutnov that was won by Tom Barth of the DDR team, though I think it may have approached via the same Černá Horá climb that I am using. I do know a bit more about the following stage, however, from Trutnov to Karpacz with the finish at Orlinek. It was the first ever mountaintop finish in the Peace Race, and saw the isolated race leader, Nencho Staikov of Bulgaria (a gifted climber who won his home race in Bulgaria three times, along with the Tour of Normandie, the Tour of Turkey, and several podiums in races like the Circuit des Ardennes thanks to his ebullient style. He later turned professional to go and ride in Portugal, where he stayed until fairly recently, coaching the Tavira team and partially masterminding David Blanco's earlier victories in the race. 1984 was the closest Nencho ever got to winning the Friedensfahrt and becoming only the second Bulgarian to achieve that feat; he won the mountainous stage into Most which transitioned from the DDR to Czechoslovakia via the Fichtelbergpass, before gifting the ensuing Most to Prague stage to a teammate as it seemed the Bulgarians were going to rise and become a fifth major power in Ostbloc cycling. However, he was isolated early in the Trutnov-Karpacz stage and forced to chase a long distance multi-col attack from Sergey Sukhoruchenkov, the gifted but mercurial Russian renowned as the Eastern Bloc's greatest ever escalador. Soukho won the stage and took the yellow jersey from Staikov by a mere 12 seconds, which he would protect over the ensuing flat run-in to Warsaw.

Five years later, the city was back, but this time it was a DDR festival of domination; Olaf Jentzsch won a stage from Mladá Boleslav to Trutnov over the same distance as 1984 so presumably the same stage, more or less, and then there was an ITT around the city which was won by eventual victor Uwe Ampler, and represented the 7th (!) straight stage win by an East German as at this point the Ampler/Raab/Jentzsch/Schur/Ludwig lineup was almost untouchable. The final stage the next day into Prague was won by Dutchman Frank van Veenendaal, the only Western rider to win a stage that year, as the DDR riders were happy to protect Ampler's lead so that he could triple up. The city became a regular host in the early 90s as the fall of Communism (in that particular universe, which is the one we live in most of the time) meant that the capitals were no longer on the course as the prestige and the value of the organising newspapers dwindled to almost nothing. Trutnov hosted multiple stages in 1992 - Frank Augustin won a stage into Trutnov, then the Moroccan Abdelwahed Latrach took a surprise escape victory in a stage looping around the city and Piotr Chmielewski took an ITT win there the following day - and 1993 - the Czechs took all three stages in similar fashion (road stage into city, road stage around city, TT around city) with Pavel Padrnos, who later found fame as one of Lance Armstrong's loyal lieutenants, winning the latter. A year later the race finished outright in Trutnov with a single road stage - not as selective as the past, it was won by a very young Robbie McEwan. Only one more stage took place in Trutnov; Alessandro Bertolini winning a 230km breakaway stage in the 2000 edition with a solo ahead of a select group which featured long-fallen 35-year-old former superstar of the area Uwe Ampler.



From here we follow the path of the Úpa river; it's a flat but twisty route which means that an attack could feasibly work as you could get out of sight fairly quickly in these forested areas. A small climb to Odolov takes us out of this pattern and into the little area where Poland starts to protrude into the Czech Republic, around Kłodzko. We don't cross the border, but we do come close to it as we loop around the part of the Czech Republic that encloses this little protrusion, which is in the area of low-lying hills that separate the Sudeten mountains and Krkonoše range from the Beskids. We go through the town of Stárkov and enter a small circuit of 13km around the town of Hronov, and we do this circuit twice before detouring left to our finishing town.

The main reason for this is that this enables us to take on two climbs of Vysoká Srbská, a climb which... well, see for yourself.



Altimetr.pl records this climb as being 800m @ 10,6%. The unfortunately now no longer visible genetyk.pl profile recorded 750m @ 11,5%. Both agree on a last 300m averaging 17%. And all of it is cobbled. The everyman Sudety Tour takes on the climb, so we have some photos to showcase it a bit.







This nasty little piece of Flanders that somehow got lost in Czechoslovakia comes with 28 and then 15km remaining, so is likely to be the place where the selections are made. Of course cobbles and bergs were a large part of how the old Friedensfahrt made itself selective, given the geography of its catchment area is not as mountainous as the biggest Western races, so this is a nice touch of authenticity, especially given the Czech Republic doesn't see as much of those old cobbled roads and Plattenwege still existent as Poland or the former DDR. As a result I fully expect the last 30km of this stage to be the decisive part as riders battle out position relative to the cobbled climb, and then try to consolidate over the fast run-in to Náchod.

Náchod has never hosted the Course de la Paix, largely as its border town nature meant it was somewhat peripheral as cross-border travel was uncommon for the everyman in the Soviet bloc, but has a long and historic past tied in to its famous castle, which was built in the 13th Century to protect a trade route between Prague and Wrocław. It has been rebuilt and redesigned in more contemporary styles on numerous occasions through the 16th to the 18th centuries, and survives today as a museum. It also had a renaissance as a city in the 19th century following the industrial revolution, reinventing itself as a textile town, however it's now a somewhat forgotten outpost of the Czech Republic, that is ripe for rediscovery as a cycling town.

And yes, look at the map and you will see that this discovery had something to do with the proximity to the Duszniki-Zdrój biathlon facility.

 
Stage 4a: Nové Město na Moravě - Nové Město na Moravě (Vysočína Arena), 17,8km (Pairs TT)





The first half of a split-stage fourth day, and the first test against the clock in the race. And it's time for a bit of that classic Peace Race madness, as the race does have a bit of a history of slightly unusual and, occasionally, insane race formats. These include, but are not limited to:
- split stages with a 40km ITT and a 140km+ road stage, like in 1958 and 1959 (twice!!!) and 1961 (twice again!!!)
- stepping that up in 1962 with a split stage of a 47km ITT and a 157km road stage (!!!)
- a 100km TTT three days from the end of the race in 1962 and a 110km one on stage 3 a year later. A further 100km one on the opening weekend in 1965
- an 88km road stage including the toughest climb of the race right from the start but a flat finish in 1965
- Criteriums in 1966, 1970, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1986 and 1997
- An out and back along an Autobahn from Berlin to Frankfurt an der Oder in 1968
- 40 and 60km ITTs two days apart in 1969
- A double-ITT split stage in 1971, consisting of a 33km flat ITT and a 3km MTT on the cobbled Borsberg
- an epilogue time trial in 1973
- a relay race to begin the race in 1975, with the yellow jersey going to the fastest laptime but the stage win being credited to the fastest overall team
- a Parallel Time Trial over 7km on the Karl-Marx-Allee in 1981 with riders taking each other on in head to head drag races, replicated in 1984 and 1987
- a 6km prologue in Prague followed by a flight to Moscow for three stages followed by a flight back to Prague in the afternoon after a 50km TTT in the morning in 1985
- going through with a three-stage opening in Kiev in 1986 just days after the Chernobyl disaster, including riders taking to roads that, before they rolled off the ramp, were being hosed down by men in hazmat suits and with people with geiger counters on the roadside
- an ITT in 1987 which included a climb of the Harrachov ski flying hill, which none of the teams or riders knew would be included until they arrived in the town the previous evening
- a three-part prologue in 1990 based on track cycling events, including a 20km ITT, a 25km points race and an elimination race, modified in 1991 to run an elimination race, points race and then a flying lap over a short circuit, then in 1992 to an elimination race, a 3,3km TTT and a points race
- the three-part opening was moved to Tabor in 1993 with a 1,6km circuit used for a TTT, then two 16km races, an elimination race and a points race, repeated in 1994 but with the elimination race first before the TTT. This format was repeated in 1995 but the race moved to České Budějovice

Despite a lot of this experimentation, however, the race tended to fall into a fairly recognizable format, including a short first TT, a couple of decent length ones later or one long one, stages varying between 125km and 175km with a couple of longer ones - occasionally becoming very long with some of the distances covered reaching 240-250km. The experiments would vary this slightly, and indeed depending on the routes taken, the race would differ in its character. For example, 1977's edition included a number of stages through the north of Poland and the DDR, which are very flat, so there were no real decisive stages in the first half of the race except for the 28km ITT that opened the race, meaning Pikkuus' lead was well established and unthreatened until the second half of the race, whereas in 1979 the inclusion of back to back mountain stages in Slovakia in the middle of the first week saw Sergey Sukhoruchenkov open up a massive advantage thanks to his time-honoured strategy of "find the most mountainous stage and attack from distance in it" paying off big time.

Here, I'm including something which is a piece of 'mild' experimentation that I feel is in keeping with the Peace Race's tradition of not standing too still too long and trying out new things, as well as not being so experimental that it is a complete reinvention à la the Pursuit race at the 2017 La Course or the dreaded Hammer Series. Instead, this is something that we do see relatively commonly in standalone events (well, a couple of times a season), but very rarely in stage races - a truncated Team Time Trial, which given the teams will consist of 6 riders, will be undertaken in pairs. Now, of course, this being stage 4, there is the possibility that some teams will have lost a man by now, so there would be some riders who would have to take the start alone. They will go at the start of the day and not be subject to the time limit, to ensure they are not disadvantaged on that front - however obviously if a team has been reduced to 5, the rider asked to go alone will not be their expected leaders! Teams will have their own discretion as to who they set in the pairs, opening up a tactical element.



Those of you familiar with the Pairs Time Trial will probably remember it from the Duo Normand, which takes place in September and has been running since the early 80s. The Soviets only discovered it shortly before their fall, but did win three back to back in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Four riders have won on three occasions - Luke Durbridge and Svein Tuft have won thrice as a pair, while Thierry Marie and Chris Boardman have each won three times with different partners (neither with one another). 2001 is particularly notable, when the dream team of Mick Rogers and Fabian Cancellara was topped by Jonathan Vaughters and Jens Voigt. With a number of successes at the race, including in the late 2000s and early 2010s where Russia almost locked out the podium (two all-Russian pairs and one with one Russian and Aleksejs Saramotins in 2009) it's easy to see this, in the parallel dimension where this race exists, having become a race where the Ostbloc amateurs like to test their wares.

The other major Pairs Time Trial on the calendar was the Trofeo Baracchi, held in Tuscany, which had some incredibly stellar names in its run from 1949 to 1991. Fiorenzo Magni won it with three different partners, including Lombardia winner Giuseppe Minardi; Fausto Coppi and Ricardo Filippi won it three times in a row, before an even more stellar pairing of Coppi and Ercole Baldini took it two years afterward; Jacques Anquetil won the event three times, with three fellow legends - Rudi Altig, Jean Stablinski and Felice Gimondi - as his partners; Eddy Merckx won it twice with 1971 Vuelta winner Ferdinand Bracke and once with Roger Swerts, a winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Züri-Metzgete and the GP des Nations; Herman van Springel and Joaquim Agostinho won in 1969; Luís Ocaña and Leif Mortensen won in 1971; Martín Emílio "Cochise" Rodríguez won in 1973 when paired with Gimondi as part of his pioneering racing for Colombians in Europe; Michel Pollentier and Freddy Maertens made an all-star Belgian lineup in 1976; and the Eastern Bloc finally got in on the act in the late 80s, after Lech Piasecki won the race alongside Giuseppe Saronni in 1986, the year he was traded west; he won alongside fellow pro convert Czesław Lang in 1988. You would have thought after Gösta Pettersson won alongside his brother Tomas in 1970 that the Ostbloc would have got in on the act, after all the Fåglum Brothers' exploits against the Eastern Bloc riders in the amateur categories in the late 60s were legendary, but it was not to be. The undisputed king of the trophy, however, is Francesco Moser, who took 5 victories over an eleven-year period from 1974 to 1985 despite never settling on a particular partner to develop chemistry with for the format, with Roy Schuiten, Gianbattista Baronchelli, Giuseppe Saronni, Bernard Hinault and Hans-Henrik Ørsted all partnering the legendary Italian to his victories.

Not only that, but a slight twist on the format has been included in a Grand Tour before too - the 1991 Vuelta a España opened with a Trios time trial (with 9 riders per team in the GTs, the pairs format would leave somebody alone, and so like my Pairs Time Trial for the 6 rider per team Peace Race, this divided each team into three). The ONCE trio of Herminio Díaz Zabala, Anselmo Fuerte and eventual race victor Melcior Mauri took the win 8 seconds ahead of PDM's lead team of Raúl Alcalá, Tom Cordes and former DDR veteran Uwe Raab. So the format can work in a stage race, as well as necessitating some tactical decisions about who to pair with who for best benefit.



The chosen venue for this test of rider and rider vs. clock in a handicap match is the small city of Nové Město na Moravě, part of the central Czech region of Vysočina and about 75km south of the previous day's finish in Náchod. With a little over 10.000 inhabitants, it's not a big city, but it has pretty good sporting credentials. It sits on the western tip of the historical region of Moravia, at the base of the highland area of the Žďarské Vrchý. The history of the region in sport is generally a history of wintersport, and indeed cross-country skiing competitions in the vicinity of Nové Město na Moravě date back to the 1930s, with the establishment of an annual competition called the Golden Ski of the Bohemian and Moravian Hills. Skiers from the town became Czechoslovakia's best known of the time - Bohumil Kosour competed for the country both before and after WWII in the Olympics, including the Patrol Race (precursor to modern biathlon) in 1936 and even Nordic Combined in 1948, while František Balvín competed in the XC twice in the post-war era, having started too late for the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games. More recently, the city is also the home of four-time Olympian and 2003 World Champion in the 50km freestyle (in individual start format, as this was the good old days) Martin Koukal (whose brother Petr is also a native of Nové Město - and not to be confused with the badminton player Petr Koukal, who is more well-known outside of the Czech Republic as the husband of Gabriela Koukalová (née Soukalová), as mentioned before).



It was likely for this reason that the city was chosen when the Czechs were looking to develop a new wintersports mecca, and the Vysočina Arena, with a full network of Loipe and a top standard biathlon range, was inaugurated in 2006, immediately being taken on into the calendar on the IBU European Cup (now just IBU Cup), the second level of international competition in biathlon, graduating to hosting the European Championships the following season. The venue included some nicely tarmacked, well-prepared paths for rollerskiing that made the course ideal for summer training, so they also hosted the Summer World Championships in biathlon in 2009 and 2011. Further successful IBU Cup rounds led to the venue being accepted, subject to a redevelopment to increase capacity, as a host of the World Championships in 2013. To this end a World Cup was arranged for 2011-12 to test its ability to host, which it successfully passed, and therefore the World Championships arrived in 2013 and were a great success, with the national team benefiting from the improved facilities and becoming increasingly prominent in the sport. This has at times been a slight problem, for example in 2016 when the partisan fans cheered Laura Dahlmeier missing targets, leading home favourite Gabriela Koukalová to reprimand the fans and the organisers of the event to apologise in public to the German whilst simultaneously expressing their frustration that while it was obviously a good thing for them that so many fans had been attracted to the sport by the Czech successes, many of these same fans were too partisan and "still know little about sportsmanship". While Nové Město has yet to become a permanent fixture on the calendar, it is still called upon more often than not for the World Cup and has also hosted the Junior World Championships and another European World Championships in its time, as well as being accepted in a bid to host the World Championships a second time, which will take place in 2024 - and it is probably well on the way to becoming a fixture so long as they can guarantee reliable snow, because the atmosphere in Nové Město is always spectacular and it's great to see a crowd of this size at an event outside of Germany and Russia - especially bearing in mind the latter is likely to be off the calendar for a few years now - sure there are plenty of venues which regularly sell out, but some like Kontiolahti and Pokljuka are much smaller as venues than Nové Město.



When not hosting the World Cup in biathlon, however, the Czechs have done a good job of keeping the facilities prominent; the Cross-Country World Cup has rocked into town on numerous occasions - it was originally intended to be part of the 2006-07 Tour de Ski as the first glimpse into the new venue's future, but lack of snow put paid to that. It did host the event in 2007-08 and 2008-09, before returning to the World Cup in 2012, 2014 and 2016, although recent events have just had a sprint. The tracks here are not renowned for their particular difficulty, however, especially on the shortest loops (some of the longer ones are quite tricky) with a lot of the gradients being comparatively low and lengthy drags, enabling decent time gaps in the against-the-clock formats but less selectivity in the head to head races; indeed some of the XC events in the Classic format have seen the elites double pole their way round the entire course. However, obviously biathlon is what the stadium's main purpose is, and that has another way of separating out the competitors - the shooting - so it's less of a problem there.

The venue also has another use, and it's more to do with what we're here for: it's an annual host of the Mountain Bike World Cup, or at least the cross-country side of it which to be honest is the only part I really have any interest in, after being introduced in 2011 in an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of Jaroslav Kulhavý. The only exception has been 2016 when it hosted the World Championships instead. The biathlon range is reappropriated as the pits and the finish is on the tarmacked rollerski track, which is plenty wide enough to deal with bikes - perfect for me as a result, as it means I can do the inevitable, which is incorporate it into my parcours. What is race design if you can't throw some biathlon or Nordic skiing in? Here's a video of the track so you can see the tarmacked sections.



There is one way that the world of cycling and the world of wintersport intersect here, although not ideally for the Vysočina Arena - there is one high profile double-sport athlete who is also from Nové Město na Moravě, who it would be remiss of me not to mention - Olympic multiple gold-medal winning long-track speed skater Martína Sablíková, who also has a second career as a cyclist. Now, there are many cyclists who have come across from speed-skating among the women, albeit most of whom do not keep up their speed-skating careers at the same time; most high profile overall is probably Clara Hughes, who has won medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics as a result, but at present the most high profile would probably be Janneke Ensing (although Jip van den Bos and Eva Buurman may surpass her in time). Sablíková doesn't enter many road races, but has won the Czech national championships on numerous occasions; she has finished 9th (in 2012) and twice 12th (in 2014 and 2015) in the World TT championships but doesn't seem to get on well with racing in pélotons - though this may simply be that cycling is an off-season thing for her and she doesn't want to jeopardise her winter career with an accident by being in the wrong place in the pack at the wrong time. Nevertheless, she wanted to compete in the Olympics in Rio but was unable to as she had insufficient road race results and the regulations required an athlete to enter both the RR and ITT.



It was inevitable, therefore, that I would put the Vysočina Arena in my route. The stage is not a tough one, but it's also far from flat; the riders climb 160m in the first 4,5km - therefore an average of only 3-3,5%, but not being one for pure flat engines either. The next 9km or so are rolling before a bit of descending at similar low gradients, before the last 1,3km are spent coming off of the 35314 onto a paved surface link road that leads onto the biathlon track - of similar nature to those that access motor racing venues or allow emergency vehicles access directly to the trails. This short path leads onto the last kilometre which loops around the 2km paved track, perhaps the least challenging of the ski routes at Nové Město na Moravě, but for that very reason also perhaps the most appropriate to use when riders will be in their aero gear on bikes. No tight corners or hell-slopes (not that the Vysočina Arena has anything to compete with Falun's famous Mördårbacken or Kontiolahti's famous Wall, both of which are world-renowned for fans of the Nordic sports) before finishing on the home straight. For an idea, here's a video of the 2,5km loop on rollerskis - the 2km loop goes straight on at the 33 second mark and we join the course at the 1'14 mark before taking the left at 4'25 that leads back into the stadium (rejoining the video at 5'52).

This TT isn't especially long so it shouldn't break everything up too badly, but it's tricky enough that you could lose time, both due to tactical errors and due to not feeling it on the day...
 
Stage 4b: Nové Město na Moravě - Brno (Masaryk-Ring), 105km





Intermediate sprints:
Masaryk-Ring (1st passage), km69,2
Masaryk-Ring (2nd passage), km87,1

The second semitappe of the fourth day of the Peace Race is a transitional stage with a potential banana skin which moves southward from Nové Město to the second largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno. Before we get there we pass through a few towns and cities, the most significant of which are Tišnov, located at the confluence of the Svratka and Bobrůvka rivers, and Kuřim, home though not birthplace of former pro Tomáš Konečný, best known for a stage win at the 2001 Vuelta a España. The journey from Nové Město to Brno is not an especially long one, only around 55km, and then it's a trip through the streets of this historic city for the riders.



With a number of historic monuments, including the hilltop Špilberk Castle and the UNESCO-inscribed Villa Tugendhat, Brno has plenty to recommend it and is a beautiful Central European city without the bustle of tourists that is permanently etched upon Prague. Brno also has a rich sporting history; I'll get to the most significant part of that in a minute, but first it's worth mentioning a few notable sporting firsts connected to the city. Firstly, the ice hockey player Jaroslav Jiřík, who became the first ever Eastern Bloc player to appear in the NHL; he was granted permission to travel to the US after coming to the attention of the St Louis Blues in the late 60s along with two others but because of their youth the others were not allowed to go; Jiřík, already 30, continued with his trip to North America and had a successful season in the team's minor league affiliates before being activated on the main roster near the end of the season. However, he chose to turn down a retainer contract in favour of returning to Czechoslovakia and so his sojourn in the West was short-lived. The city was also home to Grand Slam tennis star Jana Novotná, a proponent of the now moribund serve-and-volley style who was a mainstay of the upper rankings throughout the 90s before eventually winning her sole Grand Slam event when she took the title at Wimbledon in 1998. She retired shortly afterward and settled down to home life, until a lengthy and protracted battle with cancer led to her becoming unfortunately the first women's Grand Slam champion of the Open era to die when she passed away in 2017.



One of the reasons for this stage, however, is to honour Vlastimil Moravec, who was born in Nové Město na Moravě and died in Brno. A member of the Dukla Brno cycling club, he came to the sport young, winning the Tour of Slovakia at the age of 21 and earning selections for the Czech national team as a result. He most prominently won a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir in 1971, but it was his achievements in 1972, at the age of 23, that he is most renowned, when he did what nobody else seemingly could in the early 1970s and found a way to beat the Communist Cannibal, Ryszard Szurkowski. He had quietly gone about his race in the first half, especially taking advantage of a split in the bunch on stage 3 where the Poles' leaders had all been caught out, before winning the stage to Hradec Králové at the halfway stage to move into 2nd in the GC, behind the Russian Vladimir Neljubin. He then took 5 seconds' bonus time in the ensuing stage to Gottwaldov (now Zlín) to move just 1 second off the lead, then stuck like glue to Szurkowski as the Pole tried repeatedly to escape en route to Třinec on the final stage on Czechoslovak soil. A two man break settled the first stage in Poland, with Neljubin extending the lead with his bonuses for 3rd, but when Szurkowski made his move on the stage into Lublin, Moravec played a risky game of chicken with Neljubin. It worked - Szurkowski's win in the stage gained a lot of time back and moved him back into the mix albeit needing a miracle on the last day, while Moravec contributed only once Neljubin had fired all his bullets, taking time at the line and assuming the race lead. Szurkowski again tried to escape on the final day, but any hopes the USSR team had of Neljubin returning the favour to the Czech were dashed by an unfortunate fall, and with that the full Czechoslovak team dedicated their time to preventing Szurkowski gaining time so that while he did get the stage, he gained next to no time other than bonuses, and Moravec held on to the overall title by the narrowest margin in Peace Race history - a mere two seconds.

Having a decent sprint finish was a key part of Moravec's arsenal and while he didn't win much, lots of high placements ensured he was regularly in the mix. He twice won the hilly one-day race the GP ZTS Dubnica nad Vahom and in 1975 the Tour of Bohemia, but it took him until 1977 to win another stage at the Friedensfahrt. Retiring from racing in the early 80s, he became a coach but was tragically killed at the age of just 37 - just a few days after marrying - when a truck hit him when he was riding home, becoming the second former Peace Race winner to die in that fashion after 1961 winner Erich Hagen (though Hagen's death, in a one-car accident in the taxi he had taken as a post-cycling career, also had the possibility of suicide about it) and the youngest of all deceased Peace Race victors. A simple, unadorned stone memorial adorns the spot where he was killed.



After passing the site we head to the outskirts of town for the Kohoutovice suburb, where we honour the most famous of all Brno's sporting heritage, however, and that means its motor racing circuit, the Masaryk-Ring. But we don't mean the new, permanent facility which was opened in 1987 and hosts Moto GP, oh no. We mean the old, undulating, twisty, hilly long-form course which the new Masaryk-Ring sits on the edge of but has adopted little of the character or challenge of (like the permanent facility at the Sachsenring), which hosted racing going back to 1930 and also the amateur cycling World Championships road races in 1969. It looks like this video of the roads and streets today - with several ups and downs and a main climb of around 1350m at 6%.


All layouts of the Masaryk Ring on one photo, with the modern autodrome encased within the previous street circuits. We are taking on the 1949-64 version

The old circuit has been rebuilt by enthusiasts in simulators over time, so the nearest thing we can get to imagining the course in its former glory in high speed vehicles of the time is the simulator Grand Prix Legends 2, in which this painstaking reconstruction has been built, but this would not be possible today as you can see from the genuine video - several roundabouts and other items of road furniture have been built since the glory days of the course, and so it is no longer able to be used for motor racing in that fashion - nor does it of course need to be with the permanent facility so close at hand - although it was originally one of the venues hoping to be chosen to be the first ever F1 race in the Eastern Bloc, only to be beaten to the punch by the Hungaroring. You can see why the new permanent facility was required - even in the heavily shortened version of the course run up until 1986, you can see the danger from this motorbike footage from the day - this kind of risk inherent survives realistically only in "true" road racing, events such as the Isle of Man TT course. In some respects it feels sad to lose such events as the soul of motor racing, but at the same time there's just no way to make an event like this safe; there isn't the scope to build the kind of run-off sections that have enabled them to keep Le Mans sacred. The last race on the old road circuit was the 1986 European Touring Car Championships - there's even video! - but this type of super-long undulating course was moribund as a tester in car racing; street circuits were tending towards the smaller, more compact low-speed courses like Monaco and Pau, which were much easy to manage safety at, and other long-form road courses like Charade, Spa-Francorchamps and even the legendary Nürburgring were having to be shortened to retain their position with the highest level series.

The Masaryk-Ring has one thing that the Hungaroring can't match though - it has hosted the World Championships in road cycling. Albeit only the Amateur and Women's Road Races, with the Professionals racing on another motor racing circuit, in Zolder, the 1969 World Championships saw the UCI experiment for the first and I believe only time with split World Championships. I suspect the recency of the Prague Spring may have been a factor in this - the 1969 Friedensfahrt omitted Czechoslovakia entirely as a retribution, and then had to be rerouted including a short section in the country, which was met by countless protests, tacks on the roads and all of the associated furore. The Road World Championships were linked to the Track World Championships in those days, however, and so the top notch velodrome at Brno was a key factor in their hosting the event, with the professional events taking place in Antwerp. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly as the track had been the area where the Czechs were competitive with their bigger Eastern brethren, the home nation didn't win a medal, and the Warsaw Pact nations were shut out of the medals in the Amateur Road Race too. This was a pretty remarkable Amateur Road Race in one respect though - the gold medal went to the Dane, Leif Mortensen, who took the triumph ahead of the 20-year-old Belgian Jean-Pierre "Jempi" Monséré; the same duo, in their first pro season, finished first and second, albeit with the order reversed, in the professional Road Race a year later - also on a motor racing circuit, with a course akin to the Zolder one incorporating part of the countryside surrounding the start/finish and a lap of the Mallory Park motor racing circuit near Leicester, in the UK. You can even see some footage in this short profile of Leif Mortensen from Danish TV - though the race coverage is restricted to Mortensen riding in the last 200m or so alone, and a shot of the new amateur World Champion on the podium with the two vanquished Belgians.

We will do two laps of the rolling circuit which includes just enough hilliness to encourage a few risks, but given there's been a TT in the morning and there are some tough stages ahead I figure this semitappe will be more about a fast pace being set if any of the sprinters are dropped, or a stagehunter looking to sneak away here or there.



The Road World Championships have used motor racing circuits a lot, whether they be long-form circuits as courses in and of themselves - Lasarte-Oria, Nürburgring, Brno, Sachsenring - or courses incorporating all or part of a racing circuit - Montjuïc Park, Imola, Mallory Park, Zolder, Zandvoort, Reims-Gueux - but this has generally been out of fashion lately even if the Imola course has shown up in the Giro twice in recent years; racing circuits can be used for safe sprint finishes, admittedly, like at Motorland Aragón in the 2012 Vuelta, but for the most part those olden-days long-form circuits are a dying breed. While some are still there at least in principle (you can still connect by paved roads the entirety of the old Spa-Francorchamps course, but the new permanent facility is now closed off permanently to traffic whereas until recently the stretch from Blanchimont to La Source and from La Source through Eau Rouge/Radillon and all the way down the Kemmel Straight were public roads), others are being reclaimed with sections now overgrown and old pit buildings left to decay - Reims-Gueux and Rouen-les-Essarts are good examples of this, while being a permanent facility doesn't protect you once you're deemed too long, just look at Hockenheim - or the courses being rendered impossible due to the instalment of road furniture (Le Mans only escaped this by virtue of the prestigue of the 24h - the Mulsanne Straight now includes roundabouts in daily traffic, but these are diverted away from the straight used in the 24h itself); because unlike Spa-Francorchamps or the Sachsenring the new facility was not built directly over part of the old circuit but instead within its confines, however, Brno offers the possibility for a bike race to cover the whole of the former circuit without having to make any compromises. It honours the past and gives us an interesting and bumpy course that would still make for an interesting World Championships today.
 
Cycling, and sport in general, is not only just sport. It's often a way of city or regionmarketing. More and more broadcasts of cycling races are interspersed with touristic images of landscapes and cities, and often some information too. We all watched the countless chateaux in flat Tdf stages and admired the Gorges du Tarn in the stage to Mende in the 2015 TdF.
With this in mind I made the design of the 15th stage of my Deutschland Rundfahrt. Despite being on a sunday, it won't be a difficult stage, but rather an opportunity to showcase some Bavarian touristic sites. Still, it is possible to gain some time on your opponents.


Deutschland Rundfahrt 15. Etappe: Oberstdorf - Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Eibsee): 143km, flat + hilltop finish (Bayern)

A short transfer brings the race caravan the famous wintersport venue Oberstdorf, already crossed in the previous stage. Settled at the end of a valley, and surrounded by several peaks, Oberstdorf is a base for some of the hardest climbs in Germany. But most, if not all, of these climbs are on dead end roads. So we won't use them.


Instead we ride out of this valley, down to where the fields are green, for a short, flat stage skirting the feet of the Bavarian Alps and enjoying some of the sights.


From Oberstdorf the course heads north to Sonthofen and then east, crossing Bad Hindelang and the Oberjochpass.



The course then heads north again, passing the Grüntensee and crossing the small village of Nesselwang, where there's a slow turn east-southeast to the small township of Hohenschwangau after 67km. This will be the focal point from a touristc point of view. Here, amidst forested mountains and prisitne lakes, the Bavarian "mad" king Ludwig II built the fairytale castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.







Were going north again, to Steingaden and a smal hill on the Bavarian plateau before continuing to Oberammergau. Thi small town is mostly known for its houses with intricately painted facades, wood carvings and passion play.
By now there's less than 30km to go, first with a descent to the Loisach valley, then with an uphill false flat to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.



However, the stage won't finish in the city center, but continues for another nine kilometer, to the Eibsee, a little lake at the foot of germany's highest mountain: the Zugspitze. It has some touristic facilities at its shore, which are reached after a short but rather steep climb, where the punchers can distance their competitors.

 
I doubted a while to include this stage in my design, as it's not the first time someone centers a stage around this area. And in a 1 or 2 week Rundfahrt I probably wouldn't have done so, but in a 3-week tour of Germany the Berchtesgadener land can't lack.

Deutschland Rundfahrt 16. Etappe: Bad Tölz - Obersalzberg:194km, high mountains
(Bayern)

It's not the most innovative design, but I think it would definitely work in real life:


I'm getting tired of the time it takes to post my stages, so i'll hurry a bit and just show the most important climbs:
Sudelfeldpaß:


Hirschbichl:


Roßfeld-Höhenringstraße:


Hinterbrand:


All in all, a stage where the climbers can and should make the difference.
 
An Oberstdorf to Garmisch-Partenkirchen stage without a wintersports travelogue?! I'm choking back the tears...

Back in the Peace Race, it's time to cross our first border.

Stage 5: Kroměříž - Magurka Wilkowicka, 229km





Intermediate sprints:
Frýdek-Místek, km99,0
Wisła, km195,2
Szczyrk, km213,5

GPM:
Chumchalký, km67,3
Koniaków, km150,8
Koczy Zamek, km167,9
Przełęcz Kubalonka, km181,1
Kasztanowa, km187,2
Biały Krzyż, km203,8
Magurka Wilkowicka, km228,7

The fifth stage of the Peace Race takes us from Czechoslovakia (today's Czech Republic) into Poland and is both the longest stage of the race, the only one over 220km, and the toughest finishing climb, so this will be a key stage for the final GC. MTFs were a real rarity in the Friedensfahrt back in its glory days - indeed the paucity of high mountains in the race's homelands and the lack of a high level infrastructure for significant finishes at ski stations - as well as the lack of real high altitude ski towns with places like Liberec, Banska Bystricá, Zakopane and Ůstí nad Labem sitting at the foot of mountain ranges rather than atop them - as well as the decisiveness of many of the flat stages and small hills during the era when cycling was less formula-driven and the infrastructure of Eastern Europe had yet to fully recover from WWII, leaving many hideous pockmarked cobbled streets and Plattenwege in the race - meant that it was not until the 1980s that the race saw its first genuine mountaintop finish, with the 1984 stage from Trutnov to Karpacz finishing on the Orlinek climb that saw vaunted Soviet climber Sergey Sukhoruchenkov wrest the leader's jersey from Bulgarian Nencho Staikov. It was felt that that year's route, with a long stage into Most and the Karpacz MTF, had tilted the balance a bit away from all-rounders, perhaps influenced by Soukho's triumph - the 1979 edition that he demolished had been an uncharacteristically mountainous route through Slovakia - but Karpacz did return in 1987, a day after the now-legendary Harrachov ski jump ITT. Of course, Karpacz then became a standard finish for the Tour de Pologne, with both an uphill TT from Jelenia Góra and a mountaintop finish often on the same day - the increasing post-Wende profile of the race and its incorporation into the WT mean we've had a few well-known victors there, though a guy who won when a fairly raw neo-pro is the one that's gone on to become the best-known - for Karpacz was where some Spanish fellow with a signature salute took his first career victory.

After the Wende, mountain stages became more common as the race first became Open, then accepted trade teams, then became a fully Pro race, and turned more into a race which aped the formats of the Western races; Karpacz returned in 1992, then in 1994 MTFs at Lysá Horá and Malá Upa followed, Fichtelberg and Zlaté Navrší were added and Lysá Horá returned in 1995, Zlaté Navrší was revisited in 1996; 1997 saw two new summits at Praděd and Pustevný and 1998 added Ještěd. Pustevný was back in 1999 but this was the end of the mountaintop finish in the Peace Race; after this point the ailing race, a mere shadow of what it once had been, was scrambling to get by from year to year and unable to finance these out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere finishes. In my fantasy world of course this has not been the case, however with the race in the 80s becoming more sprint-happy as trends in world cycling coupled with increasingly strong road infrastructure in the race's homelands meant we got a lot more western-style sprint stages, so to keep things broken up, more hills and mountains have been necessary to find. Hence in addition to those mentioned, a few other mountaintops have been added to the race's history, including Pancíř, Klinovec, Großer Inselsberg, Štrbské Pleso, Bukowina Tatrzańska, Równica and today's innovation, Magurka Wilkowicka.



The stage starts in Kroměříž, a city of just under 30.000 inhabitants which is not far from Zlín, which was previously known as Gottwaldov and under that name was a very regular stage host in the Friedensfahrt. However it's a bit of a trek across from Brno and for the sake of realism I think we have to limit the length of transfers here (yes, I did just invoke realism in a travelogue of a race which relies on Communism in Eastern Europe surviving almost 30 years beyond that point at which it fell). Besides, Kroměříž is a pretty city in and of itself and not only that, but it also has a UNESCO-inscribed castle with some truly remarkable gardens and its cultural heritage leads it to the somewhat fanciful nickname of "the Athens of Hanakia" (a rather archaic English name for the Haná (Czech) or Hanna (German) region of Moravia).



Kroměříž is also famous as the hometown of Karel Kryl, a legendary Czech protest singer and poet, a vocal and prominent critic of both the Communist regime and its antecedents (including Vaclav Havel) who sprung to fame in 1969 when his album Bratříčku zavírej vrátka, composed about the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet occupation, was released and then quickly shelved due to its controversial nature. While his one-man-and-his-acoustic-guitar protest-folk nature have led to inevitable comparisons to Bob Dylan in the West, he perhaps is better compared to East German protest singer Wolf Biermann, though Kryl is a more melodic singer with better range; both spent the majority of the era in West Germany after leaving to play a concert there (Biermann was refused re-entry to the DDR as a supposed dissident, despite his being a dyed-in-the-wool Communist; his dissatisfaction was with the SED's manifestation of it, not with the ideology per se; Kryl by contrast chose voluntarily to stay in Western Europe where he took a job at Radio Free Europe). Though Kryl didn't return to Czechoslovakia until the Velvet Revolution, his songs and lyrics were widely disseminated through underground channels and he became a voice of protest for many Czechs and Slovaks as a result. Not enjoying life in post-partition Czech Republic, he left for Germany again in 1992 and died two years later of a heart attack, aged just 49.



Early on we pass through Valašské Meziříčí, hometown of tennis ace Tomáš Berdych, as we speed northeastwards toward the Polish border. Only one of the 7 categorized climbs in the stage is on Czech territory, and it's also probably the easiest of them; this then takes us through to Frýdlant, which became a host of the real life Course de la Paix a few times in its dying embers, often hosting a time trial. Pavel Padrnos won the first two such stages, in 1994 and 1995, on the latter occasion the win underpinning his GC victory, while Steffen Wesemann used the city to similar effect a year later. Frýdek-Místek hosts the first intermediate sprint of the day, after a full 99km - this is a stupendously long stage for an amateur race, with the feedzone coming after the length of some of the other stages' entire distances, but then some of the 'professional' races in the Asia Tour include some bonkers long stages and the real Friedensfahrt sometimes got 250km stages back in the 50s and 60s. Frýdek-Místek is another of those cities like Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Villingen-Schwenningen that have been combined and turned into a single municipality, though retaining a non-concentric model with two separate and distinct centres. In the Czechoslovak times it was a fairly quiet area but has now been turned post-Wende into a vibrant technological centre thanks to many international companies - especially from Korea - setting up European bases here.

We then head into a flat plateau between the Moravian-Silesian and Polish Solesian Beskids, avoiding the city of Třinec and crossing the border into Poland 140km into the stage; after crossing the border the road immediately turns uphill, for the first of 6 climbs that will punctuate the last 90km of the day. Koniaków, the first of these, is the first cat.1, but that's more because of the sustained length than its great difficulty - although it's pretty inconsistent, and you wouldn't ordinarily expect a climb averaging 4% to include regular ramps of over 10% and a steepest 200m at over 12%. It's a very inconsistent climb so might be more troublesome than its meagre stats - 7km at 4% - suggest. This is followed by a very steep follow-up climb once we descend into Kamesznica - we almost loop back on ourselves to go to Koczy Zamek - the peak is very, very close to Koniaków, though the route does not intercept itself - and though the profile shows 8km at 4,5%, it's really only that final 2km that interest us from a GPM point of view - but what a brute they are. With 60km remaining at the summit, we take on 2km averaging a brutal 11,5%, and even this is not consistent, with two respites to almost false flat gradients in it and a max gradient over 200m of 16%. The descent is fairly narrow too, but those kind of gradients should mean the group is strung out a bit.



The descent is not quite as brutal as the ascent, but it has some technical moments. The chasers will have their chance to get back on with some short false flat before the beginning of the next climb, to Przełęcz Kubalonka, a fairly straightforward climb from this side. The Zameczek side of the climb should be familiar to fans of the Tour de Pologne, as it was used several times in the 2010 stage to Równica which was won by Dan Martin, and also twice in the 2018 stage to Szczyrk. We are climbing the slightly easier southern side of the climb - 3,8km @ 5,8% with a steepest section at 13%. Having said that there wasn't so much by way of skiing infrastructure in the Peace Race countries, that refers only to Alpine which needs the big altitude differences, of course - for here on this plateau there is a cross-country skiing venue with shooting range, albeit one that is only used for domestic competitions.

For the second time in Poland, however, we're doubling back on ourselves almost, doing a descent and then a tougher climb which is parallel to the descent we just did, to a summit very close to the one we just climbed. In fact, the descent from the Kasztanowa climb, also called Kozińce, comes so close to the Kubalonka climb that you can visually see the summit of it as you pass it, as you can see in this picture (please note that the state of the Kozińce road is a bit better than it looks from this photo nowadays):

The climb of Kasztanowa is also especially brutal, averaging 9,9% for 2,6% as you can see from the profile. The steepest 500m is in the middle of the climb and averages 16%; the steepest 200m averages an angry 23,5% - a real Basque monstrosity, this. It's painfully inconsistent, with 100m repechos veering wildly between 4% and 20% so, cresting 40km from home, this is liable to be where the first really significant warning signs come as to who's feeling good and who isn't. We descend through the stadium and join the Przełęcz Kubalonka road from Zameczek, the one that was climbed in the real-life Tour de Pologne, before turning right at the base of the road, so as not to go to Wisła town proper - a novelty in that it is unique within Poland as the only place with a population over 10.000 where Protestantism is the majority religion - but to the other thing that Wisła is known for - ski jumping.



"Malinka", as the Wisła World Cup ski jumping venue is affectionately known, has a main road which passes under the outrun, and this will be where the second intermediate sprint of the stage is contested - at the entrance to the tunnel under the jump. The jump has officially now been named for Wisła's favourite son, the legendary Adam Małysz. One of the biggest stars in the history of the sport, Małysz is one of the main reasons that ski jumping World Cup meets the world over are awash with excitable Polish fans, blasting away on vuvuzelas and cheering their team's every move. Kamil Stoch may be their current beau and maybe one day he can eclipse Małysz's glory, but for the moment Adam still reigns supreme in the hearts of Polish hopp fans, and rightly so - he holds the joint record for most World Cup overall globes, with four. Four is a magic number for Małysz - he also holds four Olympic gold medals, four World Championships individual gold medals (also a record), and he has won the Vierschanzentournee or Four Hills Tournament, the biggest annual event in the sport. He's also won the now-defunct Nordic Tournament on three occasions, and I'm sure it would have been four had the event survived, just for symmetry. His immense popularity has also helped him to win the Polish Sports Personality of the Year award... and yes, you've guessed it - he's got four of those too. Since retiring he took a brief break to compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally (!) before returning by popular demand, as the director of ski jumping at the Polish ski federation.

The ski jump also serves as the base of our penultimate climb of the day - the longer but less complex - but still justifiably cat.1 by Peace Race standards at least - Biały Krzyż, aka Przełęcz Salmopolska. This was also seen in the Szczyrk stages of the Tour de Pologne, from both sides; here we climb only the steeper southern side, which is 7,6km @ 5,5% and crests with 24km remaining. It's a much more consistent climb than its predecessors, and its max is only 12%, but there is a kilometre averaging nearly 9% in there so it's still not 'easy' per se. This will be the last chance for any move from distance to get away although I anticipate it will be more about different groups and making it difficult for helpers shed on the Kasztanowa climb to make it back, or, if they do make it back, limit their usefulness to leaders, meaning that the final climb is more mano a mano between the main protagonists seeing as it's only 6-man teams in this race. It may also give us some of the most dramatic helicam footage of the race.



Szczyrk hosts the last intermediate sprint of the day, with just 14km remaining. With bonus seconds available this would be another incentive to keep the pace up, to prevent any potentially dangerous rivals gaining time here. This town is another famous name in wintersport in Poland, with alpine runs, ski jumps, a Nordic centre and a skating centre too. It is home to a couple of well-known former athletes too - shock World Championships medallist ski jumper Antoni Łaciak, and Nordic Combined athlete Stefan Hula - and if that name seems familiar to you it is probably because his son has gone into ski jumping in recent years. The town has hosted stages of the Tour de Pologne the last two years - I will link to the 2018 finish because the 2017 race was not on my radar thanks to my Sagan embargo (note the "unbiased" commentary on that clip) - we are forgoing that steep ramp because it's difficult to find a usable way back down that doesn't involve a loop-de-loop far too short to be practical or roads that are simply not usable in any way shape or form for road racing, so instead it's a meta volante in the main body of the town... and then...



Magurka Wilkowicka is a nasty little thing. With a decent sized parking area and open flat field used for Nordic skiing events it is a viable stage host, with a nice - albeit fairly narrow - tarmac road leading up to the guesthouse at the summit.



On first glance it seems somewhat like the Ustroń Równica climb used in my first Peace Race (the one that was basically just a modern race between the three capitals, rather than staying all that true to the spirit of the Course de la Paix), and won in the 2010 Tour de Pologne by Dan Martin. But it's not. 7,0km @ 7,5% might sound like a cat.2 in ordinary circumstances... but it's not. Some of the comparisons made by posters at the climb's altimetr.pl profile page belie what we really have. A comparison to the toughest 3,5km of Karkonosze; a description as a "little Zoncolan"; it's a true pain. You see, of that 7,0km @ 7,5%... the first 3km averages less than 4%. The last 4km by contrast average 10,6% - truly putting this in the same kind of ballpark as recent Vuelta favourites like Les Praeres, Más de la Costa, Cumbre del Sol and their ilk. This will create timegaps in and of itself, even if everybody is scared of it and doesn't take the chances offered to them by Koczy Zamek or Kasztanowa; not least because everybody will have 220km in their legs by this point. It's not as inconsistent as some of the other climbs from earlier - steepest 100m is only 17% which when you have back to back kilometres averaging 13,1% and 12,8% is not that radical - but it is relentless as a counteraction to that; there is a spell of 2,5km where the gradient never once drops below 10%. Gaps here mightn't be huge - but then they might be. Considering small team size and mixed field drawn here - top level riders from the Ostbloc but quite a few espoirs and prospects - we could see some gaps akin to, say, the Volta a Comunitat Valenciana stage to Más de la Costa from 2017 or the Castilla y León stage to Lubián[url] from 2015.

Either way, the GC is going to get a real shake up here, and considering how much of Poland is flat and how much it has its reputation for long flat stages - here we have a good explanation for why so many of the country's best cyclists - Majka, Szmyd, Niewiadoma, Niemiec - have been climbers. And this is a great way to introduce the péloton to Poland too.
 
I have an idea for a 5-6 day stage race in North Carolina. Need to put some time into what the stages would fully look like. However the basic idea is: 1 flat sprint stage on the coast, a ITT somewhere in the Sandhills, 1 stage in either the Charlotte or Winston-Salem area that would be hilly. One or two full out mountain stage in the Appalachians, and a hilly circuit stage in or near Raleigh.
 
Stage 6: Żywiec - Limanowa, 193km





Intermediate sprints:
Zawoja, km37,4
Rabka, km91,5
Łukowica, km153,8

GPM:
Przełęcz Przysłop (cat.2), km31,8
Przełęcz Krowiarki (cat.1), km50
Przełęcz Zubrzycka (cat.2), km60,7
Toporzysko (cat.2), km71,4
Przełęcz Gruszowiec (cat.1), km114,0
Przełęcz Rydza-Śmigłego (cat.2), km 124,0
Kapliczka (cat.2), km135,0
Przełęcz Ostra (cat.1), km142,9
Kanina (cat.2), km162,6
Wysokie (cat.2), km178,2
Kanina (cat.2), km185

Very much a candidate for the queen stage here, stage 6 includes no fewer than 11 categorized climbs (10 different climbs as one is undertaken twice) over a distance just shy of 200km which, after 220km and a mountaintop finish yesterday, ought to be especially taxing on the recovery of the riders, since this one is sawtoothed to say the least, taking advantage of what the Beskids have to offer us.

The stage begins close to yesterday's MTF - just a few kilometres down the road - in Żywiec, a city which most people will recognize solely from its eponymous beer, but which is a historic city dating back several hundred years. Formerly with a vibrant Jewish culture as a strong centre in Ashkenaz II, its final Habsburg owner refused to sign the Volksliste; the Jewish population was removed first to the Sucha Beskidzka ghetto and then onwards primarily to the nearby Auschwitz extermination camp; a notable resident of Żywiec is Wilhelm Brasse, the photographer whose images of the sufferers of Auschwitz are now recognized worldwide as one of the primary identifiers of victims of the camp, as well as being among the most famous images of the site's brutality. I originally had the stage starting in Bielsko-Biała, a larger city with more Friedensfahrt history, but that led to a stage over 200km in length and I thought given changes in cycling over the last 30 years, and the mixed level of the startlists in the Pro-Am days, that would perhaps be excessive after yesterday's race so unless I added a long transfer after stage 4 - not really reasonable considering Nové Město na Moravě is a fair distance from Náchod and there had been two semitappes on day 4 - that would be two 200km+ mountain stages in a row, which would be unlikely. As a result, the start moved across to Żywiec, seeing as it doesn't really affect the transfer from Magurka Wilkowicka since both cities are close to the base of the descent.

While Bielsko-Biała first hosted a stage of the Friedensfahrt back in 1965, a mountainous stage won by Gennady Lebedev to underscore his GC triumph, communism in Eastern Europe was a thing of the past by the time the race first stopped in Żywiec; Jacek Mickiewicz took his second of 5 Peace Race stages in his 15-year career on that day, while a year later German national champion Christian Henn took the triumph in the city. These were the only two finishes in the city, though the race started the ensuing stage there on each occasion.



The stage will, unlike previous stages in the city, wind its way almost entirely through the mountains, although pleasingly for the riders, the opening salvos of the stage are generally fairly rolling rather than especially tricky, and indeed the first summit crested is shallow enough not to merit categorization in the long run. After we pass through the small town of Kuków, however, we turn right away from the road to Sucha Beskidzka, and the day's mountain odyssey begins. Given the size of the climbs of the region - and that we are not ascending anything like Przehyba here - this is very much climbing more in the vein of, say, Liège-Bastogne-Liège over the course of the day, but there is a lot of relentless up and down that will make it a less than comfortable day in the saddle.

After an initial climb of Przełęcz Przysłop (not to be confused with the climb of the same name closer to Zakopane, this one is not too difficult, albeit with a final 500m at 9%), we have the first intermediate sprint in the newly-developing ski town of Zawoja, and then immediately after that the first cat.1 climb of the day is Przełęcz Krowiarki - 9,4km in length at 4,4% but not especially consistent, with a few 100-200m repechos up above 10-11% and a 1,3km @ 8% section near the top. It's also the highest pass on Babia Góra, a national park built around a popular hiking mountain summit on the Polish-Slovak border, literally translating as "old lady's mountain" but often colloquially used in the sense of a witch.



The descent is broken up by a further climb, to Przełęcz Zubrzycka, which is officially 3,6km @ 4,1% but in reality is essentially a bunch of false flat slowly rising to a final 800m at 8%. This opening sequence of climbs in the stage is topped off by the short punchy climb leading toward the village of Toporzysko, a kilometre at 8%, the descent from which leads us into the village of Jordanów, which has the unwanted distinction of being razed twice during World War II, once when first invaded by the Wehrmacht, and then subsequently at the end of the war by the retreating forces in January 1945.

Rolling terrain follows, some blessed respite for the riders, allowing groups to consolidate their position as I'm sure we'll have a large breakaway group in this stage. This stretch also includes our second intermediate sprint, which comes in the spa town of Rabka-Zdrój, formerly hosting a Gestapo police academy but now better known for wintersport, with its most famous offspring being ski jumper Jan Ziobro. It's also a large focal town for the local Goral population, a distinct ethnic group with a heavily Slovak-influenced variety of Polish as their native language, along with Zawoja and Zakopane.



The other population centre in this middle section of the stage is Mszana Dolna, formerly known as Königsberg in the middle ages as it was mainly settled by Walddeutsch Germans. It was a Jewish market town with a strong Ashkenazic culture prior to World War II, and a ghetto was established there when the majority of the Jews of Łódź were also deposited in the city; in 1942 these were divided into the "Arbeitsfähig" Jews, who were then put to various enslaved works, and the "nicht Arbeitsfähig" Jews, numbering 900 or so, who were shot in a mass grave outside of Nowy Sącz. Aside from this rather morbid history (which is, sadly, not uncommon all over this part of Poland, as Silesia was one of the provinces that held the largest confluence of German (seeing as much of Silesia had been a Prussian province and Galicia had been a Habsburg possession until the end of World War I), local Slavic, and Jewish Pale of Settlement populations) the city's only real claim to fame is as the birthplace of two prominent former biathletes from the 1990s, Jan Ziemianin and Helena Mikołajczyk, both of whom won a solitary World Championships medal, a bronze in the now-defunct team event, in 1997 and 1993 respectively.

Then, the mountains begin again; the last 80km include no fewer than 7 summits. The first of these, Przełęcz Gruszowiec, gets cat.1 because of the rules of the Course de la Paix, but really isn't very hard - it's only because it's 9km long that it gets over the 250m altitude gain requirement because it only averages 3% - the steepest ramp is only 7% - and it only just sneaks inside 80km to go. Przełęcz Rydza-Śmigłego is much more promising in terms of selectivity; although its stats are also meagre, a steep final kilometre saves this from the 3% average ignominy with a kilometre that averages 9% just before the end (from km5,2 to km6,2 on that profile for those wondering). We're now approaching the outskirts of today's stage town, Limanowa, which we will skirt around but not arrive in until the very end of the stage; we are taking on the most famous and difficult climb that leaves the town to the south, but we bypass having to loop around Limanowa by taking on a further short climb out of the village of Słopnice, which is a small and narrow road which at times is in poor condition. It's 2km long averaging 7% or so and there's no official profile unfortunately, but the descent is fine compared to several used in the past in the Tour de Pologne so I have few concerns on that front. There's 58km remaining at the summit so the pace isn't likely to be too high anyway.



Przełęcz Ostra is one of the better known climbs in the area here, mainly perhaps due to its use as one of the more prominent events in the national and regional Hillclimb motor racing championships. As a result there are some Grand Prix style kerbs and you're more likely to find clips online of sportscars and even open wheelers taking on the climb than you are cyclists. One such example is this onboard clip. From Stara Wieś the climb is 6,6km @ 5,1% though, as ever around here, that only tells half the story as there is a stretch of 2,6km @ 7,7% in the middle of that and a maximum of 12% as well as a couple of tough lacets. Almost exactly 50km from home, this is where any speculative moves will be made. There is a small dig within the descent between Młyńczyska and Roztova but not worthy of categorization on a stage already laden with so many climbs, and then it's more rolling terrain around the final intermediate sprint in the village of Łukowica.

From here, we enter a short loop-de-loop. This centres around the village of Przyszowa, one of the oldest population centres in the Limanowa region. Its claim to fame is as the home of Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz, a military figure who led a successful battle on behalf of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in its war with Sweden in the 17th Century, against a Swedish garrison in Limanowa that significantly outnumbered the Poles. The climb up to the hamlet of Kanina is 2km long at a fairly consistent 7%, which we crest for the first time with 30km remaining in the stage as we turn left onto highway 28 which runs between Nowy Sącz and Limanowa. This road is a crest road which eventually takes us down to Limanowa, but the first time around we take a right a few kilometres before the city to head towards Mordarka and take the valley road which runs parallel to the 28 between the same two cities, avoiding the climb up onto the ridge but necessitating a detour north from Nowy Sącz. We are headed eastwards out of Limanowa, but before reaching the end of the valley, we take a right to climb back up onto the ridge at a further eastern part, onto a steep and nasty climb called Wysokie.



The small hamlet at the summit you can see there is the end of the climb, but here are some pictures of the road (unfortunately oversized for the forum) to give you an impression of the tough, painful direct route that we take to get out of the valley and up to the ridge. The climb amounts to the first 3km of this ascent - a very dramatic rise which totals 2,8km @ 8,9% but with the last 1,4km averaging a País Vasco-esque 11,6% - the maximum gradient is in excess of 20%, the steepest 100m section is 14,5% and the last kilometre of ascent is at 12,2% - and the summit cresting just 15km from the line, this is inevitably going to see some serious action and there will undoubtedly be some time gaps created. We then descend directly into Przyszowa again to climb back onto the ridge at Kanin with just 8km remaining; there's little respite as the first 2,5km are flat, and then it's 5,5km of slight downhill into Limanowa to finish, a bit like a finish in Oviedo after La Manzaneda or El Violeo where the descent is a vague sauntering rather than a headlong charge.



Long-term followers of the forum will probably not be surprised at my choice of stage host within this part of the Beskids; Limanowa never hosted the Peace Race, often being overlooked in favour of nearby Nowy Sącz, which hosted on a few occasions after a successful introduction in the 1979 edition, where Bernd Drogan won a 29km test against the clock, but the distance was simply insufficient to make real inroads in the colossal advantage Sukhoruchenkov had built up in the Tatras. The city has a bit more history in the Tour de Pologne, where recently Nowy Sącz has hosted two stages, in 2015 when a three-man break of Gatis Smukulis, Kamil Zieliński and Maciej Bodnar held off the bunch, with the latter winning the sprint, and a year later when Niccolo Bonifazio won a bunch gallop. As you maybe can imagine from the bunch gallops, the Wysokie climb did not feature. Otherwise the city has been more for the Course de Solidarność et des Champions Olympiques, which added the honouring of Solidarność to its name in the last 20 years (in the universe of this Course de la Paix I don't think Wałęsa and his supporters would get the same honouring of course) and the Tour of Małopolska, which interestingly introduced the Przehyba climb as an MTF this year, hopefully testing its viability for the larger Tour de Pologne. Limanowa does have some history as a host of the Tour de Pologne, however, albeit just the once. It was introduced in 1968, with Tadeusz Prasek winning stage 3 between Busko-Zdrój and Limanowa, but that was the only time, as its proximity to Nowy Sącz and Zakopane kept hamstringing it as an option for the race.

However, as noted, it will be no surprise to many of you to see me choose Limanowa as a stage host, and for some the only real surprise will be that it's taken me this long to put any races in the city. Home to 15.000 people, Limanowa is another of those cross-cultural cities of Silesia, with parallel names in both Silesian German (Ilmenau, which puts it into parallels with a similarly located city in the Thüringer Wald) and Yiddish (Liminuv). It was on the frontier in World War I, with the Habsburg Empire successfully defending the city from the Russians in the Battle of Limanowa in 1914, while in World War II it was another of the cities of Lesser Poland to establish a Jewish ghetto and to lose many of its Jewish inhabitants to nearby Nowy Sącz's mass graves, as well as many locals being shot as co-conspirators and hostages. The city has rebuilt itself as an attractive holiday destination within the Tatra/Beskid range, albeit well in deficit to the likes of Zakopane and Wisła. It has a strong sporting tradition, however, and it is for this reason that I have chosen it as a stage host.

The location surrounded by mountains has been perfect for a number of sports; in addition to the motor racing hillclimb mentioned above, there is a well-known extreme mountain-running marathon called the Kierat which is based around the city, and a small alpine skiing resort on the north side of the town. Its main wintersport claims to fame are in the Nordic disciplines, however. Poland's favourite wintersport is undoubtedly ski jumping, and it is unsurprising therefore that Limanowa should have produced some strong ones - in this case it's the Kot brothers, Jakub and Maciej (alias "Matt the Cat"), who have become established names on the world circuit, though Jakub has mainly toiled at the Continental Cup level compared to his more successful younger brother, who has a World Championship gold medal and an Olympic bronze, both picked up in the team event. Maciej has two World Cup victories, albeit both picked up in flyaway events in Asia in 2017 which many frontline World Cup names elected not to travel to. The brothers pale into insignificance in comparison to the city's most famous wintersport daughter, however.



Justyna Kowalczyk needs little introduction to Cross-Country Ski fans. She's arguably the second most successful female skier of all time, after her perennial rival Marit Bjørgen, and certainly she's the second most successful of the modern era. One dreads to think how strong her palmarès could have been had she not had the misfortune of being coterminous with the Norwegian behemoth. Her formidable list of achievements includes five Olympic medals, including two gold - the 30km mass start in Vancouver 2010 and the 10km individual start in Sochi 2014 - both in Classic, her favoured style; four overall World Cup titles and five category titles (four in distance and one, quite unbelievably, in the sprint, a format she has increasingly become peripheral in); four consecutive overall wins at the Tour de Ski, with a record 14 stage victories; 8 World Championships medals, two of which are gold - the 15km pursuit (now skiathlon) and 30km mass start, both at the 2009 Liberec Championships; and 50 victories at the World Cup, Championship or Olympic level, with 54 further podiums. For good measure, as she's grown less explosive as she gets older she's moved into ski marathons and focused on the super-distance calendar since the all-Classic-technique long-distance format suits her perfectly, especially on the mainly flat and rolling courses that don't require the kind of technical descending that has always been her achilles heel - and so she's managed to win the Vasaloppet once and the Birkebeinerrennet twice since moving to the discipline. While Adam Małysz, who I mentioned in the last stage description, may have four Polish Sports Personality of the Year awards, Kowalczyk can better that, achieving five on the bounce from 2009 to 2013 inclusive.

But even more so than Justyna, great though she may be, and even though my love of the Nordic sports is well known, most people will have anticipated that I would stop off at Limanowa because of a different sportsperson somewhat closer to home for this forum - for Limanowa is also the hometown of Polish escaladora Katarzyna Niewiadoma (alias "Katie Unknown"), one of the strongest climbers and stage racers in women's cycling.



Only just turned 24, Niewiadoma is a tough rider to dislike. She burst to prominence in 2014 when the laden-with-star-power Rabobank team selected her for the Giro Rosa, a selection which raised a few eyebrows among fans of women's cycling; we were used to some of the low-budget Italian teams sending young riders to the slaughter because their best riders would always end up moving up to bigger budget teams anyway, but Rabo? They had Vos, PFP, van der Breggen, van Vleuten... and they were going to make up the numbers with a teenage neo-pro? We needn't have worried, because Kasia acquitted herself superbly, being the last rider left in Pooley's wheel on La Crosetta in the queen stage, and then attacking on the Madonna del Ghisallo to finish 11th overall despite having been sacrificed in aid of the leaders for much of the first half of the race. She was then in the selection on the final lap in Ponferrada with no teammates left, and as Rabo got too top-heavy and started hæmorrhaging talents, Kasia got a bit more freedom.

Which was good, because it introduced us to one of the now well-known Universal Laws of Women's Pro Cycling. Much like "as importance of race increases, the probability of Emma Johansson finishing on the podium but not winning tends toward one", "if the road goes uphill, the probability of Kasia Niewiadoma attacking approaches one" has become a standard, acknowledged even by the lady herself, stating after yet another consecutive 2nd place at Strade Bianche "the way to win is always by attacking." And her copy of Cycling Tactics: A Comprehensive Guide by Jacky Durand and Aleksandr Vinokourov has clearly served her well; she won the Emakumeen Euskal Bira, the women's País Vasco, in dramatic fashion, defending by one second on the final day, and finished 5th in her first GC tilt at the Giro in 2015, as well as winning the European U23 Road Race in Estonia in surprising fashion and attacking repeatedly on the cobbled hill of the Baku European Games Road Race to take silver thanks to a sprint weapon that... well, I think we all know I'm a fan of Kasia, so I'll be kind and say it's not her best weapon. Attacks from distance won her the GP Elsy Jacobs and the Giro del Trentino in 2016, showcasing that hills and mountains are her playground - which is perhaps unsurprising given she grew up cycling these climbs around Limanowa - although her first World Tour win in fact came on a flat stage, after several near misses in the Ardennes where the WM3 team, which had lost many of the big stars of its Rabo days and was heavily dependent on Kasia for results, had struggled to deal with the Boels-Dolmans orange juggernaut and left Niewiadoma outnumbered in the final stages. That win was, however, from a 50km solo in the Women's Tour (i.e. of Britain, but they can't call it that for licencing reasons), due to the bunch miscalculating because surely a rail-thin grimpeuse wouldn't successfully pull off a 50km attack in a flat race? In the end she was left to comfortably manage a sizable lead over the terrain she would ordinarily use to attack. Her upbeat demeanour, friendly character and combative, entertaining racing style won her many fans over that week, but did take away from her Giro performance slightly. This year she broke the hex on World Tour one-day races by winning the Trofeo Binda, but mistimed form meant disappointing take-homes from the Ardennes and the Giro Rosa, salvaged with an overall win at the Tour de l'Ardêche. Nevertheless, we can probably anticipate Kasia being part of the frontline péloton for a while yet, and given her never-say-die racing style and position as one of a relatively limited number of climbing specialists in the women's bunch, that's a good thing.

Oh, and I think we can all agree that that Rabo Polish champion's jersey was awesome.



Back to the Peace Race, and I resisted the urge to put the punchy climb up to Limanowa Ski on the end of the stage - I figured that with yesterday being a mountaintop finish, this would be better served with the small descent, and I didn't want to dissuade the earlier action. After all, a lot of the time the men race a little more conservatively than the women - though the small team sizes and difficulty here in a mixed field ought to help ensure selectivity...
 
At the time I was writing this article, news broke about grave injuries suffered by Polish cycling legend Ryszard Szurkowski in an event in June. The 72-year-old superstar of the amateur era was badly hurt in a crash, and required two spinal surgeries and facial reconstructive surgery to recover, and has spent the last three months in a hospital bed, not knowing if he will ever stand on his own two feet again. A four time winner of the Peace Race, amateur World Champion and five time national champion in the road race as well as multiple titles in pairs and team time trials, the "Communist Cannibal" won nearly everything there was to win in the open-am days, except his home race. He kept on racing well into the 80s, long after his heyday was over, just for the enjoyment of it, as is evidenced by his still being willing to compete to this day. His story is already tinged with tragedy - he lost his son in the September 11th attacks - but it is a testament to his stature in the sport in Poland that the reason this came to my attention was a post about it by Anna Plichta, a women's pro who wasn't born until Szurkowski had been retired for almost a decade. Godspeed and strength to you, Ryszard.

Stage 7: Kraków - Kielce, 179km





Intermediate sprints:
Jedrzejow, km75,7
Kielce, km115,5
Tor Kielce, km155,8

GPM:
Widoma (cat.2), km143,3
Widoma (cat.2), km166,4

After a couple of tough climbing stages we're back on the terrain for the rouleurs as we move on towards our second capital with a rolling stage that takes us northwards and out of the southern Polish mountains. There is a lot of history in this route and these cities - a stage between Kraków and Kielce featured on the very first Peace Race route, although as there were parallel races between Warsaw and Prague and between Prague and Warsaw in those 1948 editions, the edition from Prague to Warsaw, won by Aleksandr Zorić, was still running after August Prosinek had already won the Warsaw to Prague edition, and so Prosinek was already a champion in the event before a third Yugoslav (Zorić was a Serb and Prosinek a Slovene) won the 122km stage into Kielce - from a third different Yugoslav group, as stage winner Milan Poredski was from Croatia.



As the second largest city in Poland and its former capital, Kraków obviously has plenty to offer the tourist, and is a rising tourist destination as more and more people in western Europe discover the former Eastern Bloc countries' charms thanks to budget airlines and affordable prices. It's renowned as one of Europe's most beautiful cities and duels with Prague for the title of the most beautiful city in Central Europe. The Uniwersytet Jagielloński - named for the ruling dynasty of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the time - is inside the top 20 oldest extant seats of higher education in the world, and the entire city's Old Town, mainly constructed during the Złoty Wiek (translated as "golden age", but literally meaning "golden century") is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes - you guessed it, seeing as we're talking about this most unfortunate corner of Poland - the former Jewish Ghetto, from which many were sent to the nearby Auschwitz extermination camp during the latter phases of World War II (it was from here that Oskar Schindler selected his enamelware factory workers and conducted his operations to save many Jews from their otherwise inevitable fates). On a more positive note, in addition to parts of the city being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the same institution has declared the city a City of Literature, and it was a European Capital of Culture in the year 2000. The city's decline was exacerbated by the end of the Jagiellon dynasty, and a succession of foreign rulers left Kraków's authority dwindling; one outbreak of bubonic plague - which even during the Black Death era had left much of northern Poland alone, but these areas through Silesia and Lesser Poland were badly affected - later, and the Swedish-Polish Wars led to the Swedish Vasa dynasty moving the country's capital to Warsaw, a location which was both more suitable to them and central enough to Poland to make the logistics of ruling from overseas easier. Kraków became romanticised as a place of Polish awakening during the times of partition, as the Habsburg authority over Galicia was a little less restrictive than the Prussian or Russian rule, and it was also from the city that Polish national icon Józef Piłsudski raised his militia to fight for Polish independence during World War I. And more recently, another national icon of Poland, Karol Wojtyła, better known now as Pope John Paul II, was synonymous with the city, having been appointed to the papacy from his position as Archbishop of Kraków - with their Catholicism being a key defining characteristic of the Poles within Cold War Europe as something that set them apart from the Soviets, the Catholic Church became something of a fermentation ground for disquiet and protest within Poland.

Kraków is also a major sports hub. Its rival football teams, Wisła and Cracovia, have been at loggerheads for more than a century (though Wisła Kraków are significantly more successful), while the city's ice hockey team have won the national title a dozen times. Kraków is also home to a number of successful sportspeople across a range of sports, from Poland's first F1 driver, Robert Kubica, who came close to a world title despite only one career win, in 2008, and tennis player Agnieszka Radwańska, and closer to home, pro cyclist Tomasz Marczyński, a three-time national champion on the road and one-time national champion in the time trial, whose biggest success came unexpectedly in 2017 when he took not one but two breakaway stage wins in the Vuelta a España - some step up for a rider who had previously only tasted victory outside his homeland in a stage of the Vuelta a Asturias, and then a couple of GCs at minor races like the Tour du Maroc and the Black Sea Tour in Turkey. That said, having been top 15 in the 2012 Vuelta, obviously he is no scrub!



Kraków nowadays features on the Tour de Pologne route almost every year, usually with a 30km or so ITT. But it also had plenty of Peace Race history back in the day - in the early days of the race it would usually be overlooked in favour of Katowice as a stage host, but it was back in 1959, 1960, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1976, then undertook a long layoff until after the Wende. The most famous winner in the city is probably Yuri Melikhov in 1965, a Peace Race winner, though Stanisław Szozda, a perhaps better known winner, owing to his position as number 2 to Ryszard Szurkowski in Poland's greatest cycling era, did win a stage leaving Kraków - interestingly enough finishing in Kielce. Another stage from Kraków to Kielce, this time in 1973, saw Don Allan score Australia's first ever Peace Race stage victory - a remarkable journey from a man who had been paralysed in a car accident three years earlier. It is a good place for Peace Race firsts as well, as in 1972 Abdellah Nahly surprised everybody to take Morocco's first stage win, taking the short but lumpy Katowice - Kraków stage ahead of a number of specialists.

For the most part, this is a transitional stage, passing through few places of major importance, though Jędrzejów is a regionally important traditional town known for its cement production. Generally stages of all races through this area have tended to see it as suited only to transitional flat stages so few places until we get to Kielce itself have much cycling heritage.



The second intermediate sprint of the day takes place in Kielce's central business district. The majority of traceurs who have tried to do something interesting with the Tour de Pologne will probably be aware of Kielce, on the basis that it's one of the few cities in the northern 2/3 of the country that has some decently-sized hills nearby, at least of substantial enough size that they could at least give the worst climbers among the sprinters some trouble. Railxmig used the city in interesting fashion here - intriguingly using a number of different climbs to me, although their design is more selective than mine, owing partly to its position within the race as railxmig's Kielce stage showcased the race's first real climbing, mine comes off the back of two significantly more difficult stages, as we're headed in opposite directions through the country. As mentioned above, Kielce's Peace Race history dates all the way back to 1948, and its usual role was indeed as the finish of a short stage from Kraków. For most of the 50s and 60s the city was off the menu as the flatter routes through Poland took a familiar form with Łódź and Katowice on the route most years, precluding other southern cities like Częstochowa and Kielce from hosting. The 1973 stage won by Don Allan was in fact the first time the race had seen the city since that initial edition, though the same 118km route returned three years later, with former race winner Stanisław Szozda triumphant. After that, though? Radio silence.

Now, Kielce does still have an interest in hosting cycling; a 2014 Tour de Pologne stage departed from the city, while in 2007 and 2010 the national championships took place here. The Course de Solidarność regularly has stage finishes in Kielce, and recent winners in the city include Alan Banaszek, Ivan García Cortina and Danilo Hondo. With 200.000 inhabitants it is a large and historic city, with pride of place taken by the Palace of the Bishops of Kraków, one of the few buildings to survive the 17th-Century razing of the city by the Swedish forces.



Kielce is home to one notable cyclist, Zbigniew Piątek, who was successful at the time of the Wende, representing his country at the Olympics both as an amateur and a professional. He had a near-20-year career, though its crowning glory was always that title in the Tour de Pologne that he picked up aged 21 in 1987. He mostly raced for Polish teams, though he had a somewhat unexpected year in his late 30s on the Chocolade Jacques team in Belgium. The city is also famous for the Kadzienia gorge, a scenic stretch of parkland eked out of a former quarry, which will likely have been seen by every child that grew up in a Communist country, seeing as it was a popular filming location for adventure and western films from Poland and the DDR; it has since been converted into an amphitheatre.



We are, however, not finishing in Kielce itself but a few kilometres north of it, so there are more than 60km remaining when we pass through the city. Instead we travel northwestwards towards Miedziana Góra, a neighbouring village, which hosts the Tor Kielce racing circuit.

Tor Kielce is a somewhat unusual racecourse in that it, in effect, comprises three distinct sections. There is an elongated oval at the base of a hill, with no banking or retaining walls, so essentially just two straights linked by two parabolic curves, with a technical drifting course encased within it. This is connected via a gangway to the 74 highway, which heads in a series of fast curves up the hill. At the top of the hill is a hairpin bend which takes the drivers onto a series of sweeping downhill curves back into the oval.


Tor Kielce, oval


Highway climb, start/finish at the oval in sight in the background


Downhill sweeps

The set of sweeping curves taken downhill are slightly steeper and trickier, so I will enter the oval in the reverse direction so as to go through the oval and then up the steeper incline as part of the circuit; as a result we pass the finishing line for the first time with 45km remaining, and then take on two 22,5km loops. I haven't actually categorised the climb at the racing circuit seeing as it's only about 350m long, but it averages a good 9% so it could justify it. Instead, we head up the climb and instead of doubling back down the highway part of the course, we continue over the crest of the hill, before heading westward to Oblęgór, where we pass the museum of the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz and turn right onto a climb on Góra Siniewska which, essentially, is a straight road that heads directly up the contour lines at an average of 7,6% for 1,5km.

As you can see from the profile, it's not a deadly climb, but 500m at 9% in the middle and a ramp up to 13% near the end offers something for escapees, maybe not the first time at 35km (though you never know with the smaller teams and the long days before it) from home but the second, with 12,5km remaining, you could well anticipate a few people trying to use this opportunity to fox the sprinters. The rest of the circuit is fairly straight though, so you will need to do some tactical collaborating to make this one work, and we could well see an interesting tactical battle break out between the chasing sprinters and the leading escapees which ought to include a puncheur or two. There is the possibility for a GC threat to risk something here with the relatively benign ensuing stages, the fatigue accumulated from the last two and the relatively short distance from the climb to the finish making it a fairly low risk strategy. It should be interesting nevertheless.

 
Stage 8: Radom - Warszawa, 136km





Intermediate sprints:
Warka, km47,5
Warszawa, km107,4
Warszawa, km121,2

GPM:
Góra Kalwaria, km71,6

A rather unfortunate product of the 'three capitals' format of the Course de la Paix is that two of them, Warsaw and Berlin, are located in extremely flat terrain, which means that rather unfortunately we are here on the middle weekend of the race and, well, a long way from any selective climbs, as we head towards the second of our three capitals which, inevitably to anybody who has been following the rough direction of the route, is the Polish capital of Warsaw. I could have gone directly from Kielce with no transfer, but, realistically given the pro-am world in which we are competing here, some shorter stages are needed to balance it; the real-life Peace Race would often feature a lower average stage distance than the western Grand Tours owing to the amateur nature of it. As a result, we're starting in the city of Radom, a city of 225.000 located around 100km south of Warsaw itself.



Radom became renowned back in the 14th and 15th Centuries, when its location on the border of Lesser Poland and Mazovia meant it became a convenient stopping point for King Władysław Jagiełło in his commutes between Kraków and Vilnius, and the city became a seat of the Crown Council; it was here that the Crown Council ratified the Vilnius recommendations that helped establish the unity of Poland and Lithuania, whose great Commonwealth ruled much of the Baltic and the modern areas of Belarus and Ukraine and coincides to a great extent with the later Pale of Settlement for Ashkenazic Jews in Eastern Europe ("Ashkenaz II", to contrast with "Ashkenaz I", focused around western France and the German cities along the Rhine and tributaries - many common Jewish names refer back to the prominent cities of Ashkenaz I - Mainz, Frankfurt, Trier, Speyer, Heilbronn and Worms are all referenced, although the forms are now greatly altered (e.g. Speyer is most commonly reflected as Shapiro, and Heilbronn has become most commonly seen in the form Halpern)). Its position as a border town between provinces meant it changed hands a number of times, beginning with the peaceful Swedish takeover in 1655. Like many cities along the route of the Pale, Radom had a large Jewish population and served as a very popular market town for shtetl culture. Known in Yiddish as ראָדעם ("Rodem"), the Jews accounted for around 40% of the city's population at the turn of the 20th Century; this share remained relatively constant even as the town rapidly expanded in the 1920s and 1930s due to a number of new industrial concerns as Poland sought to rapidly modernise following independence post-WWI. As a result, of the city of 80.000, some 34.000 Jews were inhabitants of Radom when the Wehrmacht rolled into town late in 1939. As a result it became one of the most renowned ghettos when the Jews were shut in definitively in 1941 and, though Majdanek was far closer, the rail links with Warsaw meant that most of the Jews of Radom were sent northeastward to perish in the Treblinka concentration camp.


Inside the Radom ghetto

Since then, Radom's history has been rather less tumultuous; it has continued to grow, with its position at the crossroads of two important rail lines, from Warsaw to Kraków and the West-East line that runs from Łódź to Lublin and onward to the Ukrainian border, being key to that. Nowadays it is best known for its Air Show, the biggest in Poland despite the small size of its airport being unsuitable for commercial craft; its Jewish history has rather faded away as with many such locations that are now more associated with pain and suffering than they are with the vibrant Ashkenazic culture that preceded them. At the same time, those Jews remaining in, or returning to, Radom - which dwindled yet further following strained relations with the local Poles post-war, numbering a meagre seven (as in literally 7 people) by 1965, could at least hold some level of pride - a local Jew, Tuviah Friedman, had become one of the leading 'Nazi hunters' and played a role in the capture of Adolf Eichmann.

In cycling, Radom is a fairly peripheral city. The preference of the Friedensfahrt to head to Warsaw via Katowice and Łódź meant that other cities on the southern side of Warsaw seldom got a look in for hosting, especially in the early days of the race. The city first appears in the Friedensfahrt in 1968, when an absurdly difficult double-stage took place, with a 50km ITT (!!!) from Puławy to Radom being won by Poland's own Jan Magiera, before the subsequent 125km stage from Radom to Warsaw was won by veteran Klaus Ampler, several years after his own Friedensfahrt victory, and also championing his teammate Axel Peschel's overall triumph, a popular win in that this was during the last of the eras where the western amateurs were able to compete with the Ostbloc riders on their own turf, and with Bernard Guyot and Marcel Maes having won the last two editions, it salvaged a bit of pride for the Communists. In 1973 the format was back, but the organisers learnt from their foolhardiness and gave the riders an overnight break. It was also the golden age of Polish cycling, with Ryszard Szurkowski winning the 40km ITT from Starachowice to Radom en route to taking the GC overall, and then his right hand man, Stanisław Szozda, taking the ensuing road stage into Warsaw. And that's it; that's the sum total of Radom's involvement in the Course de la Paix.

This being a short stage, we fly by a few cities and the pace will likely be high. The first intermediate sprint takes place in Warka, a small town of 11.000 whose main claim to fame is as the summer retreat of the Pułaski family; the most famous member of these is Kazimierz Pułaski, known to anglophones as Casimir Pulaski, an independence fighter both at home in Poland and in America whose exploits during the American War of Independence - including saving the life of George Washington and dying as a result of battlefield wounds trying to rally dispirited French troops - have led to his lionization in American lore (Lafayette personally laid foundations for the Casimir Pulaski monument in Georgia); he is one of only eight people to have been granted honorary citizenship of the United States, and a museum of his life and achievements is the main attraction of the town of Warka as a result. To be honest, the main reason I know of his existence is because of the song, and I don't mean the Sufjan Stevens one either. God, Big Black ruled.



A few kilometres later we have the only categorized climb of the stage, a 300m cobbled grinder at Góra Kalwaria. It really is a nasty little one, but it's short enough that it ought not to be too decisive given it's over 60km from the line. But still, just look at it. It's a thing of beauty.



This is, however, not a stage that is likely to be settled by the cobbles. Stage 3, to Náchod, suits that definition and there's liable to be another to come (this is, after all, the Friedensfahrt), even if I did omit a rather nice 1500m sector in a forest to the east of Warsaw (you can expect that in a future Friedensfahrt, trust me). After this, though, it's a high speed charge through Konstancin-Jeziorna and then we're on to the final circuit in Poland's erstwhile capital city, Warsaw.

Of course, Warsaw was always on the Peace Race's route until the Wende thanks to the Three Capitals arrangement, with only a couple of early exceptions (e.g. 1974 and 1988), so more than enough greats have seen their moment of triumph in the city. It was a home rider, Wacław Wrzesiński, who took the first stage win in Warsaw, the final stage of the 9-stage edition of the 1948 race (the one won by Zorić), but subsequent star turns to take the triumph in the city include:
- Jan Veselý (stage 1, 1950), 1949 Peace Race winner
- Stanisław Krolak (stage 12, 1953), 1956 Peace Race winner and source of an oft-repeated legend that saw him assaulting Soviet riders with a bicycle pump
- Mieczysław Wilczewski (stage 1, 1954), 1953 Tour de Pologne winner
- Alexey Petrov (stage 14, 1962), 11-time Peace Race stage winner, and a former king of the mountains renowned as the best Soviet climber until Soukho and Ivanov showed up in the late 70s and early 80s.
- Jan Smolík (stage 1, 1967), 1964 Peace Race winner
- Klaus Ampler (stage 14b, 1968), 1963 Peace Race winner
- Ryszard Szurkowski (stage 14, 1972), four time Peace Race winner and best Polish rider ever
- Stanisław Szozda (stage 9, 1973), 1974 Peace Race winner
- Valery Likhachov (stage 13, 1975), Olympic & World TTT champion
- Tadeusz Mytnik (stage 7, 1976), six time Polish TT champion
- Aavo Pikkuus (stage 1, 1977), 1977 Peace Race winner and TT terminator
- Yuri Barinov (stage 1, 1980), 1980 Peace Race winner and Olympic bronze medallist in the Road Race
- Shakhid Zagretdinov (stage 14, 1981 and stage 7, 1982), 1981 Peace Race winner
- Olaf Ludwig (prologue, 1983, stage 11, 1984 and stage 4, 1986), 1982 and 1986 Peace Race winner and record stage winner, and Tour green jersey winner
- Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (stage 14, 1987 and stage 1, 1989), Tour green jersey winner

The city also, of course, is central to the Tour de Pologne, often hosting both start and finish in the Ostbloc days; in recent years it has become confined to early-race sprint stages, hosting TTTs in 2007 and 2008 as a slight variation on that. As you can see from the list of Peace Race era winners, as the roads improved so the likelihood of sprint finishes in the city increased, and just as Olaf Ludwig and Djamolidine Abdoujaparov dominate the 80s, winning 5 of the last 6 stages into the city before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this has continued to the present day, with winners of recent stages in the city including such all-terrain luminaries as Marcel Kittel, who has won twice in Warsaw, in 2011 and 2015.



The one exception to the pattern is 2014, when in a 234km stage in bad weather, Petr Vakoč managed to make a break stick despite a profile less than conducive to its success. The stage I have used is based on a circuit used in the 2016 Tour de Pologne, however, a stage won by Davide Martinelli, who didn't attack from any real distance like Vakoč, but showcased more of Quick Step's ability to fashion victories from unexpected quarters by taking advantage of other riders' fascination with Fernando Gaviria, as the favourite for the sprints, to sneak away within the last 500m in convincing style.



As you can see from the profile there are some lumps and bumps in the circuit, but while the cobbled Wiadukt Stanisława Markiewicza may be cobbled, it's not the kind of rough cobbles that can be selective and it's not going to break things up - and the slope is fairly gradual, as you might expect with people like Kittel surviving to the end; while Ulica Agrykola includes some serious gradients but is ramrod straight and not really long enough to be particularly decisive. The stage finishes on Senatorska Ulica, same as in 2016, outside the Pałac Jabłonowski, a scenic palace in the heart of Warsaw's old town, where we can expect a sprint, but with a technical run-in, who's to say 2014 or 2016 won't repeat themselves?

 
I don't know when i will have time to read all this, but it sure looks awesome.

Libertine reminds me a bit of cyclingnews founder Bill Mitchell, who usually writes great stuff on his blog but always writes such loooooong posts that it is hard to find the time to read them.
 
Stage 9: Płock - Włocławek, 49,1km (ITT)





The main reason for such a short flat, uneventful Saturday stage is that Sunday's is this - if we're going to spend the weekend in very flat terrain as is almost inevitable with a PWB route, then we can at least make it significant for the GC, and a 49km ITT most definitely will be. It's kind of overkill for the balance of the race by current standards, but then time trialling was always a very important part of cycling on the other side of the Iron Curtain and including lengthy TTs was usually a way to try to force other teams to try things to distance the best TT riders in the hills or on the cobbles to distance them through tactics. At times, the course would be heavily TT-biased, at others it would dwindle away to next to nothing; because of small team sizes, the mixed levels of the amateur fields and the different styles of racing back then, the mountains did not need to be super-steep or super-long MTFs to balance out the distances in the TTs like is often seen in the professional péloton today. Nevertheless, the contre-le-montre has given the Friedensfahrt many of its champions, and also one of its most memorable moments, the infamous time trial climbing up the Harrachov ski flying hill which was kept secret from the competitors until the day before they tackled it.


Uwe Ampler, whose record-equalling run of Peace Races matched the achievements of the great Ryszard Szurkowski, albeit only 3 of these were achieved during the race's heyday - Ampler turned pro as three-time defending champion in 1990 - and Wesemann would eventually win 5, albeit all of them after the race fell from grace. Ampler's main tactical modus operandi would be to use his surfeit of strength against the clock and manage the race afterwards à la Jacques Anquetil

The ITT was introduced to the Peace Race as a stage format in 1958, with one of those herculean split stages - 40km from Leipzig to Halle in the morning, then 143km from Halle to Karl-Marx-Stadt (modern Chemnitz) in the afternoon. It was a Peace Race legend that won the time trial too - home hero, and the most popular sportsman ever in the DDR, Gustav-Adolf "Täve" Schur. The same stages returned a year later along with a second split stage of a 40km ITT and a 127km road stage, this time in Poland, with Romeo Venturelli winning both chronos - his biggest claim to fame in a fourteen-year pro career came as a neo-pro, when he won an ITT in the Giro d'Italia, though he also took stages of Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie. From then, time trials, both individual and team, became a fixture of the Course de la Paix. At first, westerners seemed to show the way to go, with the likes of Willy Vandenberghen and Henk Nijdam (father of Jelle and a Tour stage winner in his own right) triumphing in the early 60s, and it was 1963 that, for the first time, the man-against-clock battle proved decisive in the overall GC. And it was another famous father that won the race that year too - Klaus Ampler, father of Uwe, who won the 57km time trial from Bautzen to Dresden that underpinned his triumph.

It was a triumph that came with quite some story, too. Born in Marienburg in the Reichsgau of Danzig-Westpreußen (now Małbork in northern Poland), the elder Ampler was a promising rider who often found himself passed up for selection for international races for the DDR. As until 1961 the border was open in Berlin, Ampler was using his formidable track skills to compete in prestigious and lucrative track events in West Berlin. He was scheduled to compete for his country at the 1961 World Championships in Bern, a sort of apology from the regime for omitting him from the Peace Race team, however with his disillusionment at his opportunities in the DDR and his contacts in the West - and with the Berlin Wall having just been put into effect cutting off his chances to race in the West - there was a very real fear that he would defect - if he went well, he could potentially defect West to turn pro. Or, worse, he could potentially help a West German rider with whom he was acquainted! Obviously, none of this was very satisfactory to the DDR authorities, and so a positive drugs test was fabricated to prevent his participation, with the evidence to overturn it "unfortunately" coming too late, preventing him from travelling West. His rise to a position of prominence in the squad in the ensuing years was very much an olive branch offering. He won the DDR-Rundfahrt twice and the Friedensfahrt once in quick succession, before an early regression in his career and a retirement shortly after turning 30. Nevertheless, he remained active in the sport and obviously his son became a prominent DDR-Sportler too, and he occasionally cropped up to discuss the past in the Eastern Bloc's sporting heyday until his death in 2016 at the age of 76.



Ampler wasn't the last Peace Race winner to take it to the house thanks to a strong ITT performance. A year later Jan Smolík won the 45km hilly TT from Erfurt to Oberhof en route to the overall GC win, Frenchman Bernard Guyot won the short TT (but not the long one) when he won in 1966, another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Danguillaume, won a 58km time trial from Wilhelm-Pieck-Sankt-Guben (now just Sankt-Guben after removing the honorific to the former Communist) to Cottbus - just two days after another long TT, won by Jan Magiera of Poland as so many TTs were in the East in those days. Szurkowski won an ITT en route to his win in 1971, and two in 1973. Aavo Pikkuus won the opening TT in 1977 and held the jersey all the way to the end, Olaf Ludwig won the prologue and a long TT in 1982, Lech Piasecki did likewise in 1985, while Ampler the Younger won every single test against the clock from his three year reign of terror in the late 80s. This will, therefore, be a very important stage in shaping the eventual GC.



The first historical capital of Poland, Płock is a city of 125.000 inhabitants on the Vistula, northwest of Warsaw. Like many of these cities it has a rich ducal history interrupted by fire, war and plague during the 17th Century, followed by partition, during which time it became part of Russia and was one of their westernmost outposts. It was briefly renamed Schröttersburg during the period of Nazi control in WWII, after an 18th Century Noble of West Prussia, before regaining its original name upon liberation. Płock also had one of the most significant Jewish presences in Poland, with a history dating back to the 13th Century and almost 50% of the city being Jews in 1800. The city's Jewish population were also responsible for the instigation of factories to create tools during the Industrial Revolution, and they also built and ran both religious and secular schools and hospitals. A ghetto was established by the occupying Third Reich in 1940, and the city's Jewish population dwindled to just 300 in 1946, most of whom died or moved away post-war to the point where by 1960 the town was all but empty of them and the city's smaller synagogue, one of the few to survive the persecution, lay vacant until being converted into a museum.



Interestingly, the first time Płock appears on the route of the Peace Race, it was 1970, and it was almost identical to this stage - a long Contrarreloj between Płock and Włocławek, which was won by the Frenchman Marcel Duchemin, who had a lengthy amateur career but never went professional and is as a result the most successful ever Frenchman at the Course de la Paix. My stage is slightly longer than that one - 49km to 47km - due to changes in the roads since, but otherwise this is pretty straightforward - almost 50km of fast, flat and hard contre-le-montre pounding.



Włocławek was, as mentioned, added to the annals of Friedensfahrt hosts in 1970, but unlike Płock it got an immediate return, with Ludo van der Linden of Belgium winning a sprint in the city a year later, and another Belgian, René Dillen, winning an identical stage from Nieporet to Włocławek in 1973 too. Both fell out of favour after this, however, crowded out by the popularity with the race of both Łódź and Toruń, both of whom were able to host on several occasions. It is therefore a rarity in the traditions of the Peace Race, in that it's a multiple-time stage host that has never been won by a single Ostbloc rider.

It's also another historic city of over 100.000. Its origins are still debated, with evidence of settlement dating back thousands of years, but it's believed the current city sprang into existence in the 12th Century, only for a lack of record-keeping to hamstring historians. Now that we're further north in Poland, we're into the areas that didn't sit happily and peacefully Polish for several hundred years until the Swedes showed up, but instead were in conflict with the Teutonic Knights, who renamed the city Leslau when it was under their control, and it was this name that was resurrected by the Nazis when they annexed the city in 1939. As the borders between Germany and Poland were somewhat different in 1939 to the ones we know from today, Włocławek was fairly close to the border and was one of the first where the distinctive yellow badge form of the Judenstern was introduced (the badges in the Danzig-Westpreußen Reichsgau were different). Because Włocławek's ghetto was burnt down and its inhabitants - those not sent to nearby Chełmno's extermination camp at least - were either left to starve or relocated to the Łódź ghetto, and around 1/3 of the city was razed at the end of the war, extensive rebuilding has had to be undertaken to restore the city's amenities and as a result there is little to no trace of the vibrant multicultural pre-war society. Not that Włocławek doesn't have a lot of cultural importance anyway - it was in a cathedral school here that Nikolaus Copernicus was taught. The city has further scientific importance as it is the birthplace of Tadeusz Reichstein, an important figure in the history of cycling (he's the man that, along with Kendall and Hench, identified and isolated cortisone), and of Chaim F. Shatan, whose family moved to North America in the late 1920s and so escaped the persecution of a decade later, and whose pioneering studies on Vietnam war veterans enabled him to study, analyse and define Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The city also likes to claim Lech Wałęsa as one of its own - his home is a small village called Popowo to the north side of the river - had I run the chrono on the north of the Wisła I could have incorporated it, however let's face it, as I mentioned in an earlier stage, the chances of the Peace Race honouring the leader of Solidarność is, well, unlikely...
 
Stage 10: Piła - Szczecin, 216km





Intermediate sprints:
Wałcz, km22,1
Stargard Szczeciński, km127,8
Szczecin, km195,0

GPM:
Przełęcz Bukowa, km169,0
Szczecin Panorama, km 177,2
Wieża Gocławska, km206,7

I'll level with you all - this is the point where the race starts to get a bit less satisfying for me, as I'm not totally happy with the course from here on in. I haven't been able to fully resolve the route within the remaining timescales into something that I'm happy with, but the alternate world I've created opens up opportunities for me to rectify those issues with future races as I will probably run a few races that rely on the old Open-Am type calendars - 10-12 day stage races, which were commonplace in the Open days as the longest and toughest races open to amateurs, and allow for less restrictive tours of particular areas, such as the Milk Race (Tour of Britain), Coors Classic (covering California, Colorado and others), the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt was strong before it became the five-flat-stages feast of rubbish it later became (recovering this race might be an interesting project for me since I hated it), then there was the Girobio and the Tour de l'Avenir. Even above this, you had the Volta a Portugal which was up at 3 weeks at one point, and so on. In the universe I have posited this race, the Volta a Portugal would almost become a second amateur Grand Tour, as it would be an Open (i.e. Pro-Am) category race (equivalent to 2.1) and would be one of the biggest and toughest long stage races open to the Ostbloc riders. At the 2.2 level we do see plenty of long-form stage races in Latin America and a few in the Asia Tour, so it would be on those lines. For example, I'm still finding it difficult to incorporate the Thüringer Wald into my Peace Race routes and the distances from both Prague and Warsaw have made the Slovak climbs, which include a few of the most significant and difficult in all four successor states to the Peace Race homelands - and arguably the hardest outright, Kraľové Holé - off limits thus far. I have partial designs for a couple more Peace Races but I'm not going to launch into them all back to back, I don't even do that with the Vuelta, but despite how thoroughly I've pounded the DDR drum on the boards, there's still plenty that I can - and will - unlock within the old East Germany even beyond this time.

However, we're not in the DDR just yet, as we are still working our way across Poland with the first stage after the rest day.



The city of Piła is an important transport crossroads in Poland, where the goods route travelling northward from Wrocław and Poznań toward the ports of Szczecin intersect the route which runs eastward from Berlin and then splits from the Warsaw route to head up through Bydgoszcz to the port of Gdańsk. It has sprung up from an old woodcutters' trading village, thanks to its forested location, and its very name showcases that, translating as 'saw'. The Germans, unlike with other cities where the names are fairly parallel (Posen-Poznań, Stettin-Szczecin, Danzig-Gdańsk, Gdingen-Gdynia, Kołobrzeg-Kolberg (a particularly interesting one since the Germans have taken the name for this very flat seaside town and translated the suffix "brzeg", meaning "shore, bank", to "berg", meaning "hill, mountain", something that doesn't exist around Kołobrzeg!)), have calqued this, so the German name for the city was Schneidemühl, "sawmill". It was a relatively small town until the 16th Century, where settlement from both Jewish traders and German Protestants from Bohemia escaping persecution for their religion expanded the population manifold. The close-knit wooden houses (wood being the one plentiful resource in the area) led the town to be susceptible to fires, and after one such widespread fire razed the town in 1626, Queen Konstancja decreed that it be rebuilt with religious segregation built in, and new brick and stone houses proved hardier than previous iterations of Piła.

Prussia regained control of the city in the early 19th Century, and afterward pursued an aggressive policy of Germanization, marginalizing the Polish language in the city municipal usage and leading to that common situation where the cities were mainly Germanophone and the countryside Polish-speaking, and the onset of the steam age meant that its location became desirable due to its transport crossroads possibilities. Piła was also located just inside the borders of the Weimar Republic, with the Second Polish Republic's borders originally drawn north of the town, but following protest from the town's German majority it was redrawn 5km south of Piła. It became capital of Grenzmark Posen-Westpreußen, a series of border areas drawn of previous parts of the province of Posen that had remained part of Germany following the redrawing of borders in 1919, even though the city that gave its name to the province (Poznań) had been divorced from it and become part of Poland. Unlike many cities in the area, the Jewish population had never swollen to significant size, owing to the ghettoization dating back to the 17th Century meaning many Jews in the region had moved onwards further into the Pale of Settlement rather than settling in Piła. Those that did remain - around 1.000 - mainly drifted away during the Weimar Republic as the border position took away the value of the city as a transport hub leading to high unemployment and the split population of the region fostered resentment leading to high support for the NSDAP, and if they didn't, they suffered in a 1938 pogrom.

Despite its Polish location, therefore, the majority of famous people that have called the city home are in fact Germans; the main exception relevant to the Friedensfahrt (owing to the conflation of sporting success with national pride in the Ostbloc) would be Olympic silver medal winning canoeist Andrzej Gronowicz. The famous East German athlete Eberhard Schenk was also born in Piła during the Weimar Republic days, and his son Christian was one of East Germany's final Olympic champions when he won decathlon gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and had continued success in unified Germany in the early 1990s despite a bizarre fixation with continuing to run the high jump using the long-outmoded straddle technique owing to a lack of mastery of the now universal Fosbury Flop technique. He hit the press recently with a voluntary confession of career-long doping, although at the same time this was hardly a revelation that East German track and field athletes had doped by this stage, of course. The DDR regime would also venerate former transport minister Erwin Kramer and, perhaps most of all (or perhaps not as he was otherwise conservative politically), the prominent anti-Nazi Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who led or participated in three putsch attempts against Hitler - two of which were before WWII even began - and was the planned replacement Reichskanzler had the 20 July Plot to assassinate the Führer succeeded.



As a result, the whole of today's stage goes through territory which was until fairly recently German territory. There is an early intermediate sprint in Wałcz - some bonus seconds may be fought over by main GC contenders therefore, before the break establishes itself - where the Polish set up one of their main athletics training facilities in post-war Europe, meaning that a number of sportspeople have called the city home, including a number of canoeists - World Champion from the 70s Grzegorz Kołtan, 90s silver medalist Tomasz Goliasz, and more recently European champion and World Championships silver medallist Łukasz Woszczyński. Star cruiserweight boxer Krzysztof Głowacki also calls the city home, retiring with a 30-1 record, the lone loss coming against - if you've looked at the weight class you probably already know - Oleksandr Usyk.

After this early intermediate, however, things settle down and it's a very much flat transitional stage which quietly goes about its business - it's a long stage for an amateur race however, so the péloton will likely be happy to let the break have a bit of limelight and fun while they settle in to pace themselves ahead of the obstacles later in the day. This stretch of transitional travel through broad Polish forest and prairie lasts over 100km until the second intermediate sprint at Stargard, a city of some 70.000 which is one of the biggest remaining settlements with a name reflective of the Kashubian language (Stargard is a contraction of "stari gard", "old town" - reflecting the use of "gard" for "town", cognate with Czech "hrad", Polish "grad" meaning "castle" and showing the older meaning of the word, cognate with Russian "gorod" "town" - the Polish would be "stare miasto" where "miasto", cognate with Czech "město" (cf. Nové Město earlier in the race) mean "town", but are cognate with Russian "mesto" "place") and the biggest outlying part of the Szczecin agglomeration. In fact, until 2015 it was known as Stargard Szczeciński. A German POW camp was set up here in WWII, called Stalag II-D, but compared to many of the German camps of the time this has justifiably not reached the same level of notoriety, as this was not a concentration or extermination camp of the kind that has become the main global face of the horrors of that particular conflict.



From a cycling point of view, all of the interest in this stage is in this final third as we leave the S10 highway that has been the backdrop for much of the day and head into the Ecological Park Szczeciński Park Krajobrazowy "Puszcza Bukowa", literally meaning "Landscape Park Beech Forest". It's a protected area consisting of seven different nature reserves covering 91 square kilometres with some enchanting forests, popular for mushroom gatherers and nature lovers, and with some attractive small roads that criss-cross it periodically, narrow and helpful for bike racing in that they use some of the few hills in the region and also enable riders to get out of sight of the chase very easily.



Now, of course, the climbing here isn't especially difficult - and with the first climb, Przełęcz Bukowa (literally "forest pass") being 47km from the line, not likely to be especially selective either - but teams of 6 mean they may have to be slightly wary of counter attacks here or letting too many riders get out of sight that they cannot chase down. The "descent" takes us into Podjuchy, an off-centre part of the Szczecin city on the east bank of the Oder, where we have an uncategorised 200m ascent on the cobbled Miechowska road, before looping back down onto the same road we had previously been on, and climbing up to Hotel Panorama, the detail of which I took from phil-i-am's post here with a prospective Tour de Pologne stage. 1km at 7,1% on a very straight and wide road is not likely to be too decisive - for phil-i-am it was a stage finish which could have opened up opportunities for puncheurs or at least fast finishers from slightly reduce groups - the gradient is too steep for a Kristoff or a Degenkolb but perhaps a Matthews would be well-placed for it - however for me there's still 39km remaining so I doubt we'll see too much of interest happen as we then turn onto a major road so the advantage of being out of sight is lost, and we curl our way down past the non-public airport into Szczecin proper, after passing its industrial dock area.



We first pass through Szczecin for an intermediate sprint with 21km remaining to the line, though this does not in fact entail crossing the finishing line, as we will roll by beneath the old town with the sprint taking place outside the Maritime Museum, before a couple of short digs that will hopefully see some spurred into action on the closing sections of the stage. First, 250m at 6% on Ulica Druckiego-Lubeckiego, which will be narrowed to a single lane to avoid tram rails, meaning placement will be absolutely imperative to the riders going in, then 800m at 6% on Świętojańska and Pokoja ("Peace". Appropriate, hey?). There's a tight left-hander at the bottom of the descent and then, after a kilometre or so of flat, we have the coup de gras, a nasty, nasty little ascent which sits under Wieża Gocławska (Wieża Bismarcka) - one of over 200 similarly-styled uniform towers built all over the former 19th Century German Reich in honour of the cult of Bismarck.



There is a worrisome pinch point for riders coming into the climb too - a double 90-degree left hander that in effect forms a hairpin bend over a tram line, so it's going to be very important to be well positioned going in. The main reason for this climb, however, is not because of Bismarck, but because the first 700m or so are at 7,5% and are cobbled. And not very nicely either. They start off well-aligned enough, but gradually get worse, as you can see:







Yes, this one could be pretty brutal. The second part of the climb is less difficult, with a short downhill then another 800m or so at around 4%, but the first half will be decisive. The end of the climb comes with just under 10km remaining, so gaps created here - especially given over 200km in the legs and small team sizes - could be very decisive indeed. The run-in is very fast and most corners are fairly gradual, though there are a couple of sweeping bends of over 90 degrees late on; there are then two right-angle urban street corners in the last kilometre with the latter 350m from the line with the finish on Aleja Niepodległości, a thoroughfare in the heart of Szczecin.



Szczecin has a population in excess of 400.000, and is the seventh-largest city in all of Poland. It began life as a Slavic city, as a stronghold of the Pomeranian (Kashubian) people back in the Dark Ages, but has spent a large amount of its life under German control, such that it is only recently that it has come back under Slavic command. It was briefly part of Piast Poland, but then subsequent conquests and possession deals between royal and ducal houses saw it change hands between Saxony, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark before becoming part of Swedish Pomerania, before being taken over by Prussia and spending over 200 years under German control. Its most famous landmark dates from the 16th Century, when the House of Griffins had the Ducal Castle built, which stands proud over the city to this day. The city has been ransacked many times, including by its own people - in 1942, the proud classicist monument to Sedina, the personification of the city, was destroyed and looted for copper for the war effort. It has since been replaced by an anchor, honouring the city's maritime tradition - with the interwar period seeing Danzig/Gdańsk changed from German possession to a free city, ostensibly to offer the Second Polish Republic access to a fully-functioning high capacity seaport, Stettin (as it was called then) became Germany's primary Baltic seaport. When municipality lines were redrawn under the Nazis it became Germany's third largest city by area, and numerous Slavs, Jews, Gypsies and other groups considered undesirables were imported from other Polish cities to function as, in effect, slaves or at least indentured workers in the city. 15.000 Polish slaves were in the city as of 1940, when the Jews were all removed and sent to the Lublin Reservation, a large concentration camp complex. Originally, this was not intended as an extermination facility but more for forced labour in the most remote outposts of the Reich, until such time as sufficient Lebensraum had been accumulated that the Jews could be made somebody else's problem - of course as time went by this changed, but this was long after the last of the Ashkenazim had left Stettin. However, it was the expulsion of the Jews from Stettin and the publicity it received that led such operations to be done on a more clandestine basis going forward.

Because of its location being somewhat isolated from interesting cycling terrain, Szczecin rather fell from favour in old Ostbloc racing; its location in the very corner of Poland and a long way from Warsaw made it a difficult host to incorporate in the Tour de Pologne, and it would be difficult to integrate into the Peace Race in at least two of its potential design iterations (if Prague was the middle city, it would be practically impossible to include). Another problem was severe underpopulation; some two thirds of the city was lain waste by Allied bombings, and because the city had been so thoroughly established as a German city for so long, and that it lay to the west of the Oder-Neisse line, it was expected that it would be included in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ - Sowjetische Besatzungs-Zone) that became the DDR, so while over 400.000 Germans fled the city in retreat in 1945, many returned only to once more vacate once it was decided that an agreement between the Soviet Union and the PKWN, that the "Stettiner Zipfel" would be passed to Poland, would be honoured. The population gap was attempted to be covered with new arrivals from parts of eastern Poland that had now been annexed by the Soviet Union as the entire Polish Republic shifted westwards - including a number of Ukrainians escaping the shortages post-war that were in places reminiscent of the Holodomor.



As a result, despite its size, Szczecin was only an infrequent host of the Course de la Paix; with the DDR not on the menu until 1952 it was impractical to include (although it did debut in the Tour de Pologne in 1948), and then, once rebuilt (the authorities wanted to ape Piast Poland style, only to settle on Renaissance and Gothic when no suitable exemplars could be found), the city also raised the ire of the authorities by being a centre of anti-Communist revolt in 1970 and, being another major shipping centre, being one of the places with the greatest support for the 1980 strikes and the site of one of the August Agreements that helped legalize and legitimize the Solidarność movement. It didn't appear in the biggest amateur race of the East until 1961, when Yuri Melikhov won the stage en route to his GC triumph.


Crowds gather to greet the riders on the Peace Race's first visit to Szczecin[/url]

The next time it appeared was 1966, when Pietro Guerra, later a winner of stages of the Vuelta and Tour, won in a race which featured all flat stages in the second half; Jan Serpenti, a Dutchman who also won a Vuelta stage, won in 1967, then, in 1971, once that era where the westerners were winning the Friedensfahrt was over, it was still a plaything for western riders if a stage ended in Szczecin, with little-known Italian Franco Balduzzi winning in 1971. The balance was rectified when national star Stanisław Szozda won in the city in 1974, one of a remarkable 6 stage wins he took that year - including four in a row in Leipzig, Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz), Sokolov and Ůstí nad Labem - so not even like they were sprint wins, with the latter often being the finish of mountain stages including climbs like Dlouhá Louká. In 1977 it hosted a stage start but not a finish (the Szczecin to Neubrandenburg stage would see the Soviets pull out an even bigger advantage with Vladimir Osokin and Aavo Pikkuus (the race leader) coming in together well up on the bunch); in 1979 it was a criterium on the first day after a long transfer from Warsaw on the rest day, which Krzysztof Sujka, a successful sprinter of the time, won; it reprised the role of the first day after a long transfer in 1985, with another stage to Neubrandenburg in a year the East German stages were, well, rubbish - accommodating the three days in Moscow meant some long transfers and more direct, less hilly routes in the north of Poland and the DDR - and Estonian hardman Riho Suun winning, while 1986 saw a more or less normal road stage - except for a nice little piece of Peace Race insanity at the end, with Zdzisław Wrona winning a stage which - there is video footage - finished with a long straight on a wide open highway, and then a hairpin bend 150m from the line.

Szczecin hasn't been seen by a major race since 2002; it held the Tour de Pologne a few times in that era, with the most recent victor being the Estonian Janek Tombak, credited by Philippe Gaumont as being the only rider other than David Moncoutié to ride clean on the Cofidis team of the era. Along with wins in the national championships, the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque and the Danmark Rundt, it's probably just about his biggest triumph. This is the last 200km+ stage of my Course de la Paix, and it would be perhaps, if not likely, the most interesting route by which the race has come through to Szczecin, at least for modern cycling (many of the roads which had been cobbled challenges back in the 60s had been tarmacked over by the 80s and the city was generally host to sprints from that point) - though in addition to the stage from phil-i-am mentioned above, railxmig has also done some interesting things with the city including a further, shallower-gradient but longer cobbled climb which you can see here. I was sorely tempted to include that in the finale, but I felt it just extended the stage slightly too much given I don't want to spam 220km+ stages in a race that would theoretically at least be contested by amateurs. I'll talk more about who might contest when we get to the end.
 
Re:

Koronin said:
I have an idea for a 5-6 day stage race in North Carolina. Need to put some time into what the stages would fully look like. However the basic idea is: 1 flat sprint stage on the coast, a ITT somewhere in the Sandhills, 1 stage in either the Charlotte or Winston-Salem area that would be hilly. One or two full out mountain stage in the Appalachians, and a hilly circuit stage in or near Raleigh.
Move it to Virginia, call it the Make the Tour of Trump Great Again, finish in Wintergreen :) .
 
Re: Re:

Tonton said:
Koronin said:
I have an idea for a 5-6 day stage race in North Carolina. Need to put some time into what the stages would fully look like. However the basic idea is: 1 flat sprint stage on the coast, a ITT somewhere in the Sandhills, 1 stage in either the Charlotte or Winston-Salem area that would be hilly. One or two full out mountain stage in the Appalachians, and a hilly circuit stage in or near Raleigh.
Move it to Virginia, call it the Make the Tour of Trump Great Again, finish in Wintergreen :) .
Promise to build a wall for a murito finish, eventually having it as a flat stage?
 
Re: Re:

Red Rick said:
Tonton said:
Koronin said:
I have an idea for a 5-6 day stage race in North Carolina. Need to put some time into what the stages would fully look like. However the basic idea is: 1 flat sprint stage on the coast, a ITT somewhere in the Sandhills, 1 stage in either the Charlotte or Winston-Salem area that would be hilly. One or two full out mountain stage in the Appalachians, and a hilly circuit stage in or near Raleigh.
Move it to Virginia, call it the Make the Tour of Trump Great Again, finish in Wintergreen :) .
Promise to build a wall for a murito finish, eventually having it as a flat stage?
Fake news indeed... :D
 

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