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Race Design Thread

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Oct 19, 2015
Another stage that's focal to this tour and its creation. I hope you'll also like it.

Last stage: link

Tour de l'Avenir – stage 8. Saint-Antoine-l'Abbaye – Gresse-en-Vercors, 140km, mountain.

Col du Mont-Noir – 17,4km, 7%, cat. HC, 1421m
Col de l'Arzelier – 11,8km, 6,6%, cat. 1, 1154m
Côte de Saint-Andéol – 4km, 8,4%, cat. 2, 1020m
Col des Deux – 2,5km, 8,7%, cat. 2, 1222m

The stage starts near Isère in Saint-Antoine-l'Abbaye, on the southeastern edges of Plateau de Chambaran (middle of Dauphine). The village was founded by Gaston of Valloire as La Motte-Saint-Didier in early XII c. It was located around an abbey (created just after the 1st Crusade), that was founded to store the remains of Saint Anthony (i guess they were stolen during the crusade). Right with the abbey also the Order of Saint Anthony was founded. Apparently the saint appeared in front of a local knight during the 1st Crusade, hence this place was chosen for the abbey. The abbey stopped operating in 1901 when it was moved to Andora in Liguria (not Andorra).


The front of the Saint-Antoine abbey.

The first mostly flat 15km towards Isère are on D27. The first climb of the day starts immediately after crossing the Isère in Saint-Marcellin. It's also the first of two HC climbs of the race. Of course you know it very well because it's the very hyped here Col du Mont-Noir, which just had it's virginity taken by the Dauphine. It's here mainly to provide a good battleground for a strong breakaway.

Profile of Col du Mont-Noir.

From Mont-Noir the race goes the ususal way towards Villard-de-Lans and Lans-en-Vercors via the Gorges de la Bourne and then descends down to the western outskirts of Grenoble (Seyssins), mainly known for some ridiculous placement of road signs. The descent starts in Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte and is quite complicated. It's 14,5km at 6,4% (a good cat. 1) with 7 harpins and a ton of smaller turns. The road is wide and seems to be in good quality but if it's wet in can be troublesome.

Profile of the descent from Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte.

La Grande Mucherotte (2285m).

The ride through Seyssins is on smaller roads that sometimes date back to antiquity. I'm going alongside the A51, trying to use as less of D1075 as possible. From Seyssins the stage heads through Claix, Varces and Vif on the left side of the Drac to enter the region of Gresse, where the last part of the stage will took place.


Gresse is a small hilly region east of Vercors and of the Grand Veymont (2341m) and Grande Mucherotte (2285m) ridges. It's west of A51 and former N175. The first spark of life is the A51 highway ending up with a... roundabout!? Hidden in the shadows of the rockface of Grand Veymont and Grande Mucherotte are a set of local roads, which create three main climbs of Gresse – southernmost Allimas (just south of Gresse-en-Vercors), westernmost Deux and northernmost (and hardest) Arzelier. There's also a secondary climb to Saint-Guillaume, which can be extended by either Arzelier or Deux.

Le Grand Veymont (2341m).

The main municipality of the region is the finishing village of Gresse-en-Vercors. The best place for a finish should be a parking space at the end of Route du Grand-Veymont. This parking is 350m long, but not too wide though. It should have enough space for potentially even a Dauphine. Gresse-en-Vercors is also the biggest ski resort of Gresse with roughly 25km of ski slopes. It sometimes also hosts some national level competition in alpine skiing. I assume for l'Avenir it should have enough money.


The voyage in this rather isolated area will begin with a very picturesque cat. 1 Col de l'Arzelier. It's 11,8km at 6,6%. It's a relatively regular climb on a nice and wide road reaching the max slopes of roughly 10%. The hardest are the middle 5km at 7,4% that's followed by the easiest 2km of the climb at 4,5%. The top is 27km from the finish line. The top also provides quality views of the Grand Veymont. Judging by the abundance of MTB videos including this col it seems to be a popular mountain biking/treking hub.

Profile of Col de l'Arzelier.

While a decent cat. 1 climb for the Tour standards, for Avenir it should provide a good selection and a potential launch pad for a longer attack. While the next days are in the mountains i think/hope many climbers with GC aspirations will have quite big loses to the leaders and will try something bigger to close the gap.

Col de l'Arzelier.

The descent to the Gresse river/gorge is 8km long on a mostly wide and fine quality road. It's quite technical, but not as much as the ascent. The first 4km to the village of Château-Bernard are on 6-7% slopes. They're not too difficult with only 2 harpins above the village. After a roughly 1,3km of 2-3% in the village the toughest part starts. The last 2km to the junction with D8 are at 8-10% and above a quite sizeable (protected) backdrop.

Immediately after the descent is a small 900m at 6,2% climb to Saint-Guillaume. It's followed by a 1,5km long false descent to Pont Massette before the climb to Saint-Andéol starts. Pont Massette is roughly in the middle of a quite deep La Gresse gorge. The climb to Saint-Andéol is 4km at a steep and stable 8,4%. It's quite picturesque with occasional views over the Gresse and the Grand Veymont range. The top is 12km from the finish line. The roads are wide, but their quality is not the best.

Gresse seen from the ascent to Saint-Andéol.

From Saint-Andéol there's no descent but 5km of plateau ride just below the Grand Veymont. This plateau ends with another short murito to the top of Col des Deux. It's 2,5km at 8,7% with the middle 1km at 10,5% (max 11%). The top is roughly 5km from the finish line. The descent is wide and straight but it's also steep and on a rather shaky surface. It leads to Gresse-en-Vercors.

Profile of Col des Deux and Côte de Saint-Andéol.

Col des Deux.

The finish line is not in the village but just above it on a parking space belonging to the local ski station. The last 3,2km starting right after the descent is at a relatively stable 3%. The hardest seems to be roughly 500m near the bottom (when approaching the village's XIII c. Église Saint‑Barthélémy) with 5-6%. The road is wide and on a much better surface.

Finish in Gresse-en-Vercors.

So, i guess Mont-Noir should provide a good content for the first half of the stage, while the last 40km should be hopefully also full of content. I hope potential GC time losses the climbers will hopefully have will force them to go deep on Arzelier. The last 20km are also quite bumpy with two short (less than 4km) but steep (over 8%) muritos and a slightly uphill grind to the finish.

Hopefully i've provided a fine enough guidance of the rather overlooked Gresse region as it can provide a potentially interesting medium mountain/mountain experience at the edge of the Hautes-Alpes.
Oct 19, 2015
Today is time for the only MTF of the race, which hopefully will also open up for you a new option for the Durance valley.

Last stage: link

Tour de l'Avenir – stage 9. La Mure – Crévoux, 142km, mountain, MTF.

Côte de Saint-Jean-d'Hérans – 4,5km, 5%, cat. 2, 820m
Col de Saint-Sébastien – 2km, 7%, cat. 3, 983m
Côte des Costes – 6,5km, 4%, cat. 3, 1091m
Col de Manse – 4,8km, 3,8%, cat. 3, 1262m
Côte de Puy-Sanières – 6km, 6,5%, cat. 2, 1177m
Montée de Crévoux – 12km, 6,7%, cat. 1, 1610m

There's a lot of small climbs peppered around the Route Napoléon but i'll be mainly focusing on the last climb to Crévoux. You probably may not recognize the name, but you probably do the Parpaillon. Besides the last 1-2km in the village the climb to Crévoux is mainly on the Parpaillon road. Its difficulty is comparable with neighboring Les Orres 1800 and it should be a bit tougher than also nearby Puy-Saint-Vincent.

La Mure.

The stage starts in La Mure and heads towards Trièves via Pont de Ponsonnas and Saint-Jean-d'Hérans, which is home to the first climb of the day. Together with Col de Saint-Sébastien it should shape up the breakaway. After passing through Mens – the main town of Trièves and Col de Saint-Sébastien the race will come back to Route Napoléon in Corps via the picturesque Barrage du Sautet. Of course the region is known for it's man made lakes inside local valleys like the Lac du Sautet or Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet.


Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet.

After climbing to Corps (topped by the intermediate sprint) the race stays for a while on Route Napoléon before leaving it near Saint-Jacques-en-Valgodemard for smaller roads of the Champsaur plateau north of Gap. The region is well known thanks to Orcières-Merlette, Manse, Gleize, Moissière etc. Today however i'll only zip through the region via the north side of Manse before descending the La Rochette route back to the Route Napoléon, bypassing Gap in the process. The roads can be quite narrow in some places.



Of course from Gap the stage borrows the N94 up to the Pont de Savines in Savines-le-Lac on the coast of Lac de Serre-Ponçon. The ride passes through La Bâtie-Neuve and Chorges. Of course you should know the region pretty well and if not then check out the 2013 time trial from Embrun to Chorges. Interestingly, it was the last edition the Tour had two long time trials.

Lac de Serre-Ponçon.

I'll be borrowing the Côte de Puy-Sanières from that time trial but i'm doing it the other way. It's 6km at 6,5% and should be a fine warm-up before the last climb. A quite tricky and narrow descent leads to Embrun – an ancient Alpine town and bishopric. It's a quite picturesque town right at the top of a cliffside.


XIII c. Maison Chanonges, Embrun.

The last climb starts after crossing the Durance just below Embrun. Rather than taking the normal route of D39 i'm tackling a smaller sideroad through a hamlet called Le Coin. The whole climb takes place in the Crévoux valley that's parallel to the Les Orres valley. It's overshadowed by a very massive Pic Saint-André (2863m).

Le Grand Parpaillon.

The climb is split in half. The first half to Le Coin Haut is 3,4km at a stable 8,5%. It's followed by an easier 2km at 2,3% with even a small section on a descent (roughly 350m at 4-5%). The last 6,6km to Crévoux are at a stable 7,3%. Overall, it's a cat. 1, 12km at 6,7%. It should be hard enough for even something like Dauphine, not to mention l'Avenir.

Crévoux and Pic Saint-André (2863m).

Crévoux is a village and a minor ski station (dating back to 1937) below the Grand Parpaillon massif, roughly halfway through Col du Parpaillon. It's obviously not as popular as the famous col but it has some space available for a smaller race and it should be enough for something like l'Avenir. The finish line is just above the village on a parking belonging to the local ski station. I hope it's a fine alternative for any Durance MTF like Les Orres or also nearby Risoul.

Crévoux and its XV c. church.

I hope it's a nice enough MTF for such kind of a race. The next stage will be a bit weird as for this hilltop finish i decided to visit Italy.I think you may already guess it'll have something to do with Mont-Cenis and the upper Arc/Maurienne valley and it's here only to say that it may be a lot more probable option than rather tiny Bessans or some of the dead ends of the Vanoise.

Tour de l'Avenir – stage 10. Briançon – Modane-La Norma, 149km, mountain, HTF.

Col de Montgenèvre – 8km, 6,2%, cat. 2, 1850m
Montée de Sestrières – 6,5km, 7,6%, cat. 1, 2035m
Montée de Moncenisio – 10km, 8,1%, cat. HC, 1435m
Col du Mont-Cenis – 13,3km, 6%, cat. 1, 2094m
Montée de la Norma – 1,8km, 7,8%, cat. 3, 1346m

Treat this stage as sort of an optional bonus. It doesn't need to be in the race and for me it can finish in Crévoux. It's an alternative towards Valfréjus and that Bessans experiment LS once did.

Mont-Cenis with Moncenisio.

This stage also features a lot of Piemonte. The climb to Sestriere (or Sestrières in French) is quite interesting as i'm climbing the less used SP215 side via Bessè, which has the last 6,5km at decent 7,6% and then descending back to Cesana via the traditional side. I'm not crossing over with myself in Cesana as one way i'm going right through the middle of the village via Viale Senatore Bouvier and then i'm going back on the other side of the river (Dora Riparia). Both roads are separated by only 150m.
Once again great job by many people. Unfortunately I don't have the time to continue my Giro but I'm reading the designs of the people here when I have the time. (studying for big exams in June to win a very good uni)
I finally found some spare time to continue my Deutschland Tour.
My last stage was a mountain stage with a sawtoothed final through the Black Forest. In order to induce long range action in that stage I made the following stage a bit easier, but there are still possibilities to ambush someone if that would be necessary.

Deutschland Rundfahrt, 11. Etape: Freiburg - Bad Säckingen, 142km, medium mountains

From the town center of Freiburg the course goes more or less parallel to the Rhine for about 30km, until the town of Müllheim. After a lefthand turn the road starts to rise, first very gently, but later steeper to culminate in the Kreuzweg, the highest, and highest ranked climb of the day.

The descent to Tegenau, on wide roads, isn't overly technical or steep, but comes abruptly to an end with the first steep pitches of the Gresgen:

The peloton remains on main roads en route to Zell am Wiesenthal, situated at the foot of the Eckhag, which is no more than the first, steep part of the Northwestern side of the Gersbacher Höhe.

Allthough the race hasn't even covered 80km, it's well over halfway and after the descent to Wehr, things are getting really serious. The Heuberg is similar to La Planche des belles Filles in length and gradiënt but since it's no mtf and i'm not working for ASO, it doesn't get an easy 1st category rating. Its descent isn't that steep and contains even a few minor bumps and leads to today's finish: Bad Säckingen. This is, however, not the finish, as there's a local lap of 22km. This includes the climb to the hamlet Jungholz, which is similar to the Heuberg. After the village there isn't an immediate descent, but 5km on rolling terrain. The descent itself isn't technical, but has some steep pitches and ends right at the city center of Bad Säckingen, located on the banks of the Rhine.

Obviously all of these fictional race designs take place in some kind of alternate universe where they can exist seeing as they’re our fictional creations, but this next event takes place in an even more different universe than most, one that involves the re-writing of a lot of history for it to even make the remotest lick of sense.

I’ve obviously had two attempts at a Peace Race before; the first was essentially a modern bike race but between Warsaw, Prague and Berlin, and the second was an attempt at staying true to the spirit of the Peace Race racing-wise, so more cobbles and mud, but using smaller towns and cities in an attempt to make it a semi-realistic revival of the great race. This attempt, however, is more an attempt (first of a few but I won’t go into them all back to back as I tend to design at a faster rate than I’m able to post) at what the legendary Course de la Paix would look like if it had never gone away in the first place. To that end, history is a bit different in this universe, and we have a Friedensfahrt in glorious technicolor, like in the 2018 documentary MDR made about it, with Täve Schur, Olaf Ludwig, Jens Voigt and Robert Forster.

Obviously, we need some ‘creative’ political history for this to be possible, and my reasoning is that instead of a fully-fledged reunification, we have a rapprochement between East and West in the late 80s and early 90s, with the approach being instead a gradual transition toward reunification. To that end, the DDR never ceases to be, and the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia never break up, but the latter switches to a Federalist model and there are concessions made away from the rigid amateurism of the past in the sports model. This means that until the end of 1994, the history of cycling is as per real life including that success of the post-Soviets in the 1994 season with Berzin winning LBL and the Giro, and Tchmil and Bobrik also winning Roubaix and Lombardia respectively, however without the comparatively pliable Yeltsin in charge, the weakening of the Russians doesn’t take place to the same extent and an uneasy post-Cold War tension exists. In cycling, the restructuring of the calendar in 1995 has major effects. The moving of the Vuelta to September and the Worlds moving to the end of the season rather than their August position as a result creates an opportunity that the Ostbloc nations are keen to exploit, which is that the Vuelta, the one GT they’d been able to get invites to in the pre-professional days (no trade teams in the east), can now be accessed with a double peak as it’s no longer so close to the Peace Race that nobody can do both. As a result, a lot of talented Warsaw Pact riders are given significant incentives to remain amateur in the east, as this is seen as a huge propaganda prospect by those nations. Those existing pros remain professional, but this also means there is no abandonment of the Amateur World Championships for 1996 either. The Peace Race therefore sees a resurgence of importance among the Ostbloc riders as a ticket to prestige and with many benefits in the East as well as being a potential ticket to the west.

That strange period of coexistence between commercial sponsorship and the Communist nations, the two Uwes, Raab and Ampler, representing the DDR after signing for PDM in 1990

In 1996, this has an obvious impact with the emergence of the first enduring champion since Uwe Ampler turned professional. Svoráda, Rjakshinski, Wesemann, Bílek, Voigt and Padrnos are decent enough names, but the field had been hurt by the best eastern riders going west to turn pro and the race had shortened. Now back up to 13 stages (12 and a prologue), there is a concerted effort to restore the race’s prestige. The 1996 edition sees a new star born as Jan Ullrich takes the overall GC victory thanks to a thunderous ITT performance, ahead of Sergei Ivanov and Andrei Zintchenko of the USSR team. A combined pro/am DDR team also including Dietz, Wesemann and Kummer takes part in the 1996 Vuelta and the world is shocked and impressed when Der Kaiser finishes 4th overall. The escapade does harm the DDR-Rundfahrt, however, which moves its position in the calendar to August to ensure the strongest home riders will enter.

In 1997, Ullrich goes on the rampage, winning the Peace Race by slaughtering the field, and follows it up with a victory in the DDR-Rundfahrt, earning a further Vuelta selection. The results shock the world even more than the previous year, after the new Uwe Ampler showcases he’s not just a time trial king, dropping everybody to Sierra Nevada and assuming the lead of the race after the Córdoba TT. Neues Deutschland goes into fits of ecstasy celebrating the triumph of Communism as, after trading the lead with Alex Zülle for the ensuing two weeks, Ullrich narrowly defends his lead in the Alcobendas time trial on the penultimate day and becomes the first amateur to win a Grand Tour in decades. He is fêted and awarded the highest possible honours by the SED, and enters into negotiations for professional contracts with their blessing. Eventually a deal is struck to move him into the pro ranks after the 1998 Peace Race, to join a team with fellow DDR propaganda icon Erik Zabel. In the meantime, Richard Virenque wins the Tour de France. Ullrich also wins the amateur road race at the World Championships a second time for good measure.

Jan Ullrich after winning the amateur World Championships in 1993

Ullrich backs up his Friedensfahrt achievement the next year in what amounts to a lap of honour for him; the race starts in East Berlin and is back up to 14 stages. A 55km ITT in his hometown of Rostock is arranged which he unsurprisingly dominates, and holds onto his lead for the rest of the event. Signs are that the Soviets are reacting to the DDR dominance, however, as while Klöden finishes 2nd, a young Kazakh named Vinokourov manages to get onto the podium and excites many back in the USSR with his swashbuckling style. The Festina affair leads to a bit of panic among western teams, and given the long and sometimes chequered history of Eastern Bloc sports, there is a bit of reluctance to take risks on riders from the East, although a few more Czechs and Poles get opportunities to turn professional than East Germans and Soviets.

The 1999 Peace Race ushers in an era of Soviet domination; with no Ullrich, the DDR team looks rudderless, and the Soviets go 1-2, with Vinokourov winning ahead of Rumsas and new DDR leader Andreas Klöden. In response to the DDR successes at the Vuelta, the Russians also move their National Championships in Stage Racing, a 10-day race around the Crimea with teams from each SSR, to August, to serve as a major selection race. It backfires somewhat, as there is such competition for places that riders go too hard in the preparation event and are undercooked late in the Vuelta when Vandenbroucke starts wreaking havoc. We then enter a period of relative stability for cycling, as the Peace Race continues to hold high prestige as an amateur race, but post-Tour-of-Redemption, it becomes a ticket to the pro ranks for riders on both sides of the Curtain. Rumsas wins the 2000 Peace Race before turning professional, while in 2001 Óscar Freire becomes the first man to win the World Championships three times back to back, because Vainsteins won the amateur road race in 2000 rather than the pro edition, however his success after turning professional in 2001 show that he was a genuine talent anyhow.

Óscar Freire proving himself better than that Sagan fellow

Post-9/11, there is a cooling again of relations between the US and the USSR about the response to it, and it looks like we’re headed for a new era of separatism à la the Brezhnev era. In cycling this is truly manifested when the UCI restructures the sport ahead of the 2005 season. Under the UCI’s new system there are now three levels of team - Pro Tour, Wildcard, and Pro Am. This therefore renders the days of the Eastern Bloc teams riding the biggest races over, so no more Vuelta wildcards and no repeats of Ullrich’s legendary 1997 achievements being possible without turning pro. Races are divided into Pro Tour, Continental Pro Tour, Open and Amateur, coded as “PT, HC, .1 and .2”. Sensing this might be the last opportunity available to be a professional, a few of the better known Ostbloc riders such as 2003 Peace Race winner Yaroslav Popovych and star climber Denis Menchov, who hasn’t been able to win the Course de la Paix owing to bike handling problems - he was never one for the rain or the all-too-common-for-the-Peace-Race cobbled surfaces, and especially both rain and cobbles at the same time as we discovered in 2009 - but who has demolished the Tour of Sochi and the Soviet Championships in Stage Racing in the Crimea, as well as two overall wins in the mountainous Tour of Yugoslavia, the Circuito Montañés and one at he Vuelta al León, two big Spanish amateur races, sign pro contracts. The recommencing of the “Open” era does safeguard the Friedensfahrt, however, which fixes on a 15-stage, two week duration with a rest day after stage 9, and becomes the highest profile race under the Amateur category once more.

At first, things remain as you were; the Soviets are in control of the Course de la Paix, winning in 2005 with Aleksandr Kolobnev and 2006 with the 2004 World Amateur Champion Kanstantsin Siutsou. When Operación Puerto hits, however, the impact is strong on the sport at all levels. The collapse of the Liberty Seguros team leaves big Ostbloc names like Vinokourov and Kashechkin without a team. After much wrangling with the UCI it is agreed that “elite sin contrato” riders can be considered for the amateur ranks, and so the duo return to the USSR and wreak havoc on the Crimean stage races for the rest of 2006 while Alejandro Valverde wins his first Vuelta. The duo are signed by the Unibet team for the 2007 season and return to Western Europe.

Debates raged throughout the cycling world - who wore it better? Vladimir Karpets, or Laurent Brochard?

Vladimir Karpets wins the 2007 Course de la Paix as part of a one-season campaign of destruction reminiscent of Yuri Barinov. Only with a better mullet than the guy who was actually racing back when that was actually fashionable. It’s the fifth straight win for the Soviets, but more controversy is coming in the West. The Freiburg saga takes down the biggest West German team, and following the Landis saga and then Rasmussen the following year US sponsors are dwindling. Discovery Channel pulls out leading to a merger between them and the nascent Unibet team, which has been having trouble securing the invites its ProTour status suggested should be automatic; the presence on their team of a number of major stars including two-time Peace Race winner Yaroslav Popovych, reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and some old bald guy who is four years away from hitting a career high when he causes the cyclingnews forum to break the scale for impotent internet rage means that that they are able to safeguard those invites even despite the mid-season suspensions of Vino and Kashechkin for doping and the massive disappointment of anticipated team backup GC challenger José Rujano. Spaniard Xavier Tondó wins the amateur World Championship, the first westerner for several years, to much consternation in the east. The number of participations in “open” races is stepped up as a response to being beaten on what the Ostbloc feels should be its own turf.

2008 is the start of the DDR’s revenge. They unleash new sprint stars André Greipel and John Degenkolb on the world after the former wins Berlin-Cottbus-Berlin and the Rund um Berlin in short order, and he goes on to win five Peace Race stages, to which Neues Deutschland goes crazy with talk of a new Olaf Ludwig. The Czechs take the overall in a surprise result after Roman Kreuziger drops Vladimir Efimkin on the climactic final mountain summit to Praděd, near his hometown, while fresh from the comical domination of the Vuelta a Asturias, Ángel Vicioso finishes 3rd, leading to some consternation about the long term effects of the 2006 judgement on Vino and Kash meaning lots of top level pros unable to find a team at the wildcard level are being classed as amateur and entering races supposed to be strictly for amateurs. These protests, along with the general changing of the guard in the Ostbloc, are rather overshadowed, however, by the return of Lance Armstrong, who joins the Unibet team to reunite with former boss Johan Bruyneel. The DDR’s rejuvenation continues into 2009, with a less mountainous route in the Peace Race leading to no fewer than eight stage wins for the men in Königsblau - four sprints for André Greipel, one apiece for Degenkolb and emerging sprinter/time trialist Marcel Kittel and two time trials and the overall GC for Tony Martin, though the Russians can console themselves with Kolobnev’s second straight amateur World Championship and the emergence of young prospect Mikhail Ignatiev.

Mikhail Ignatiev, with the world at his feet, or so it seemed...

The breakup between Contador and Bruyneel thus leads to Telefonica jumping into the sport a year early to secure El Pistolero for Abarcá, which has the effect of rather squeezing out Joaquím Rodríguez, who leaves along with his close companion Daniel Moreno for Unibet, now a shell of a team that can build around him with Armstrong and Bruyneel having set up their own Radioshack team by this point. Martin wins the Peace Race again in 2010 but the DDR is unable to capitalise in the rainbow race, with Greipel dropped and Degenkolb beaten in the sprint by young Australian Michael Matthews. One of the big stories is the discovery by Czechoslovakia of their young talent Peter Sagan, however, who is kept away from the two week Peace Race at age 19 but draws attention in Open races in the West, winning stages of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Tour de Wallonie, the Tour de Luxembourg, the Tour du Haut-Var and in the east in the Tour of Bohemia. Perhaps most interestingly for eastern teams long term is that following the scandals for LA-MSS in 2008 and Liberty Seguros in 2009, the Volta a Portugal downgrades itself from Continental Pro to Open, in order to strengthen its start lists with strong teams from the East and giving a second viable season goal for the Ostbloc stage racers, resulting in some interesting battles as the best stage racers of the East take on the August machines.

2011 is even more about the Chrono, and Martin triples up. Sagan continues to impress and André Greipel wins the rainbow jersey in the amateur Worlds along with this fourth straight Berlin-Cottbus-Berlin classic, at 250km+ the longest race in the East. Lots of debate ensues about wanting to see the East German sprinter take on Mark Cavendish, the fastest man in the west. 2012 sees even more hot debate as to who would win between ITT specialists, Martin or Wiggins (the answer is the latter, as proven in the Olympics). The Britons are on fire at all levels, however, as Jonathan Tiernan-Locke wins the rainbow jersey in Valkenburg, though the Peace Race fell during his mid-season slump leading to a bit of disappointment. Major news is made in August, however, as while facing a CAS date for his HGH positive test, Patrik Sinkewitz becomes the first rider to defect from West to East Germany, seeking to preserve his career by racing as a theoretical amateur, though speculation is rife that it is a paid transfer. Poland is on the rise, strangely enough needing the mountains to achieve at their best, with late bloomer Przemysław Niemiec and newcomer Rafał Majka along with all-rounder Michał Kwiatkowski forming the basis of a strong team. It’s too early for the young Kwiatkowski, and he fades in the final week, with Martin becoming the first ever rider to win four on the bounce.

A young Tony Martin at one of his first international successes, leading the FBD Insurance Ras, a large amateur race in Ireland

The Poles have a little longer to wait, however, as in 2013 a veritable shock takes place, as Riccardo Zoidl becomes the first westerner to win the Peace Race since Jean-Pierre Danguillaume all the way back in 1969, capitalising on a stellar season where he was strong over every single type of terrain. It’s a strange year’s race with the DDR team’s GC aims blowing up in their face; Sagan is in the midst of a struggle to convert placements into wins as he gets constantly outnumbered, while Lutsenko and Kwiatkowski make up the rest of the podium. 2014 is Poland’s year, as the team earns favourable comparisons with the great team of the early 70s, as Majka wins the Friedensfahrt and Kwiatkowski wins the amateur World Championships (France is sent into raptures as Tony Gallopin wins the elite Worlds, thanks mainly to a disorganised chase).

However, 2015 is the year of Peter Sagan. Climbing like he’s never climbed before, winning where once he’d have come second, and generally being the new Olaf Ludwig, Sagan goes into beast mode like never before. He wins the Course de la Paix thanks to time bonuses after surprisingly losing only a minute to new Soviet sensation Ilnur Zakarin on the Przehyba climb, as well as the Tour of Bohemia GC, the newly-Open-category Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, the Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, Nokere-Koerse, two stages of the Tour de Brétagne, Tro Bro Léon, the GP Pino Cerami, the GC of the Tour de Wallonie, two stages of the Volta a Portugal and of course the amateur World Championships. Talk is of whether he can be lured west, and whether or not he can replicate that kind of a season. He can’t - 2016’s Peace Race is won by Ilnur Zakarin ahead of Kwiatkowski and Lutsenko, but Sagan’s stage-winning domination and success in Open races such as the Tour de Luxembourg continues, leading to much speculation especially from CN forum blowhard Libertine Seguros about how great he would be if he got to ride the biggest races in the West. He doubles up on World Amateur Championships in September and inks a Piasecki-type deal to switch to the pro ranks in return for bike tech and gear by the Czechoslovakia team, eventually signing with Quick Step.

Peter Sagan, one of the most successful riders of modern cycling

The top two from the Friedensfahrt, Zakarin and Kwiatkowski, are reversed in 2017, but the most interesting thing to note is the emergence of former ski jumper Primož Roglič, who wins two mountain stages along with his home tours (both the regional Tour of Slovenia and the national Tour of Yugoslavia) as well as finishing an impressive 2nd behind Raúl Alarcón in the Volta a Portugal. Yugoslavia won the first two Peace Races, but have never won one since, so there is a lot of excitement about Roglič in Yugoslavia. He goes one better in 2018, but just lacks a bit of skill for the ruler stages and loses out by the narrowest of margins to Michał Kwiatkowski. However, history is made in Bergen when Sagan becomes the first rider since Merckx to win the World Championships as both an amateur and a professional, and one of very few to win a rainbow jersey at the first attempt.

Peace Race palmarès post-Wende:
1990: Jan Svoráda (CZE)
1991: Viktor Rjaksinski (URS)
1992: Steffen Wesemann (DDR)
1993: Jaroslav Bílek (CZE)
1994: Jens Voigt (DDR)
1995: Pavel Padrnos (CZE)
1996: Jan Ullrich (DDR)
1997: Jan Ullrich (DDR)
1998: Jan Ullrich (DDR)
1999: Aleksandr Vinokourov (URS)
2000: Raimondas Rumšas (URS)
2001: Aleksandr Botcharov (URS)
2002: Ondřej Sosenka (CZE)
2003: Yaroslav Popovych (URS)
2004: Yaroslav Popovych (URS)
2005: Aleksandr Kolobnev (URS)
2006: Kanstantsin Siutsou (URS)
2007: Vladimir Karpets (URS)
2008: Roman Kreuziger (CZE)
2009: Tony Martin (DDR)
2010: Tony Martin (DDR)
2011: Tony Martin (DDR)
2012: Tony Martin (DDR)
2013: Riccardo Zoidl (AUT)
2014: Rafał Majka (POL)
2015: Peter Sagan (CZE)
2016: Ilnur Zakarin (URS)
2017: Michał Kwiatkowski (POL)
2018: Michał Kwiatkowski (POL)

Anyway, this is essentially a very over-long way to explain the reasoning behind the philosophy of this race design; my first Peace Race was basically a modern race, but between Warsaw, Prague and Berlin, and the second was an attempt to honour what the race was about but transplanted to now. This route, however, is what the Peace Race would, or should, be if it had never gone away in the first place. And just think of the teams we could have in this parallel universe - Poland with Banaszek, Bodnar, Kwiatkowski, Majka, Owsian, Paterski, Sajnok; Czechoslovakia with Barta, Hirt, Hnik, Kreuziger, Štybar, Toupalík, Turek (or Sagan of course); Yugoslavia with Roglič, Đurašek, Kišerlovski, Mezgec, Mohorič, Pogačar, Polanc and Špilak; the DDR with Burghardt, Degenkolb, Geschke, Greipel, Kanter, Kittel, Kluge, Martin, Selig, Wagner, Zabel; the USSR with Chernetskiy, Foliforov, Grivko, Kangert, Kiryienka, Kuznetsov, Lutsenko, Navardauskas, Neilands, Ovechkin, Padun, Sivakov, Skujins, Stalnov, Strakhov, Taaramäe, Zakarin and Zeits. Western teams restricted to Conti or below could nevertheless mix journeymen and latecomers to the sport with prospects - France could have Antomarchi, Barbier, Champoussin, Gaillard, Lebas, Le Cunff, Maldonado, Paillot, Raibaud; the Dutch could have David van Der Poel, Arensman, de Last, Inkelaar, Kooistra,Looij, Ottema and even Rob Ruijgh; Belgium with Stevens, Pardini, Jans, Janssens, van More and Teugels; Britain with Continental vets and young prospects like Bibby, Clancy, Cullaigh, Hayter, Pidcock, Stewart, Connor Swift and Dan Whitehouse; Italy with loads of riders like Battistella, Dainese, Ficara, Seid Lizde, Marengo, Ravanelli, Santoro, Paolo Toto and Marco Zanotti; Spain with people like Alarcón, Errazkin, García de Mateos, Salva Guardiola, Benjamí Prades, António Soto and Óscar Pelegrí; Australia with Dyball, Crome, Ewart, Giacoppo, Harper, Hill, Hucker, Tim Roe, Steele von Hoff; and what of the South Americans, whose domestic scene have plenty of strong riders? How about, given the exotic nature of some of the Peace Race start lists, Iran with the likes of Pourseyedi and Kohladouz? Could you imagine that? Open racing with the strongest beasts of Colombian and Venezuelan domestic cycling vs. Portugal and Spain with the jet-propelled Volta teams vs. Tabriz Petrochemical beast mode vs. No holds barred Eastern Europe - absolute hell on wheels. It might end up being carnival cycling, like racing on another planet, but don’t pretend that wouldn’t have you curious.

So let’s get that Activity Classification definition dusted off (points for each intermediate sprint and KOM plus bonus points if you finish in a group of less than 10 that finishes a minute ahead of the next group on the road, with an extra bonus point for every additional 30”, by the way. An excellent classification to reward combativity by giving points not only for the escape but more incentive to keep working once the break has gone as well as giving more benefit to successful escapades than to pointless ones), dig out the anecdotes about relay races and ski jumps, and fling ourselves headlong into the 2019 Course de la Paix parcours!

Stage 1: Praha - Praha, 133km

Starting uncharacteristically with a road stage, the first stage of the Course de la Paix for 2019 is a circuit race in the Czech capital of Prague. Previous routes have been Warsaw-Prague-Berlin and Warsaw-Berlin-Prague; this time around I’m going Prague-Warsaw-Berlin, to shake things up and try to ensure things don’t get to repetitious.

The circuit may be familiar to some of you - it certainly should be, at least for the older ones among you; this same 13,3km circuit was used in the 1981 World Championships Road Races, the second time the World Championships had been held in the Eastern Bloc, after 1960 in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) nominally (the course was the old Sachsenring motorcycle racing venue a good few kilometres outside the city) - though that’s only partially true in and of itself, since in 1969 the Czechs had held the amateur and women’s road races while the Belgians held the professional road race and TTT events - both using motor racing circuits, the Belgians using the pan flat Zolder and the Czechs using the much longer and more complicated, undulating Masaryk-Ring. The 1981 World Championships featured 14 laps of the circuit for the amateurs and 21 for the professionals; the gradual rise up to the line on the undulating course meant that Freddy Maertens outsprinted Giuseppe Saronni (who would go on to win the rainbow jersey a year later in Goodwood on a course which had a similar but somewhat tougher rising final few kilometres) and Bernard Hinault (who had won on the much tougher course in Sallanches the year before) to take the title. You can see the finale here.

The amateur road race was won by the Soviet Andrei Vedernikov, who beat Belgium’s Rudy Rogiers - who would go on to finish second in Paris-Roubaix three years later as his crowning achievement - in a two-up sprint. He became the first Soviet to win the amateur road race, a source of some embarrassment to them even if there had been no race the year before because it was superseded by the Olympic road race which Sukhoruchenkov had won. Nevertheless, it was imperative to them to have a rider from a Communist nation triumph on effectively home soil in Czechoslovakia, and with East Germany and Poland having two former champions each (Schur and Eckstein, and Szurkowski and Kowalski respectively) it was about time for a Soviet champion, they thought - after all, they were in the midst of dominating the Eastern and Open race calendar with some ludicrous strength in depth at the time - they’d just won their fifth straight Friedensfahrt with their fifth different rider (Aavo Pikkuus in 1977, then Aleksandr Averin, Sergey Sukhoruchenkov, Yuri Barinov and Shahid Zagretdinov in order).

The riders here, however, will only take on 10 laps of the course, for a truncated total of 133km. This is as the Course de la Paix always had a few shorter stages to account for its amateur countenance, but also as this kind of day 1 circuit often sees shortish stages, like the Giro in Napoli a few years ago. That and the parcours is rolling enough to see some selection but not sufficient to really create big gaps, so I anticipate a reduced sprint or a small breakaway that gets allowed too much rope by accident to be caught on the low-gradient climb up to the finish (one of the times at the line will offer GPM points, simply to be able to give the jersey out) and holds on by a few seconds. Replicating a World Championships kind of distance on day 1 was of course never going to happen, and I do tend to favour using round numbers on this kind of course so 10 laps was a satisfying number to use.

Not least because the course uses a couple of one-way streets against the normal direction of traffic and corners that require some precise routing to make the mapping engine take the riders the way I wanted to, and it was proving frustrating to map several laps of the course that way, so that also justifies the short stage to me… the stage starts and finishes outside Velký strahovský stadion, the colossal sports facility nine times the size of a football pitch with a capacity of over 250.000 - built apparently for synchronised gymnastic displays, its enormous size means in terms of capacity, the only sports venue ever built that is larger is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Too large for any ‘normal’ sports, however, the venue fell into disuse post-1990 other than occasional rock concerts, however the intervention of UNESCO and interest from Sparta Praha football club saved it from demolition, with the football team converting the behemoth stadium into a range of different training pitches and secondary and tertiary team venues (the main team stick to the much more compact and ordinary stadium-sized Letná Stadion).

The absurdly-sized Velký strahovský stadion - you can see the final few corners of the circuit bottom right, the stage finish is on the straight at the far side of the stadium. Neighbouring national athletics stadia for scale

With, in this universe, the Peace Race never having gone away, it would not be a problem to shut down a section of the capital for the race, notwithstanding that, you know, unlike my previous incursions into Prague we aren’t affecting the main tourist areas like Václavské Náměstí, Karlův Most, Malá Straná or Staroměstské Náměstí. There should be some pretty good crowds out, in fact, seeing as they’ll get to see the riders no fewer than ten times en route…

Don’t worry, not all of the stages are going to feature this much hypothetical drivel - but I had to set the scene. My imagination rather ran away with me about how the sporting world would have played out…
Oct 19, 2015
@LS going bonkers... Why does it feel like you're specifically creating an alternate lore just to include east Germany? I guess that's just me. I myslef would drop Germany as historically it has nothing to do with Slavic countries (at least up to XII c. if you include west Slavs from Mecklenburg) and include Hungary, which while ethnically diferent it has basically the same history as it's neighbors and it would have way more sence in the modern day. I'm worried this race will once again end up as an East Germany pornfest.
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

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

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

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

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

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

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:




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

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

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...