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Race Design Thread

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And now, something a bit different from my usual fare. I’m not going to run into dozens of paragraphs per stage for this one seeing as, essentially, topographically it is not the most riveting race you will ever find. But it will nevertheless have some discussion of geographic history and cycling background and is a bit of a departure for me but fits in with one of my wider targets.

If you look through the World Tour right now and through the most successful riders from the continent in history, South American cycling is for most fans synonymous realistically with one country and one country alone: Colombia. Cochise, Lucho, Parra, Mejía, Botero, Rincón, Pacho, Nairito, Urán, Gaviria, Chaves, the list goes on - and seemingly will continue to do so with the onset of the era of Egan Bernal and Iván Sosa. Sure, other nations have provided the occasional star - José Rujano from Venezuela, Murilo Fischer from Brazil, and now seemingly Richard Carapaz from Ecuador - but for the most part cycling’s history in South America is tied in to the continent’s north westernmost nation - and most of the continent’s oldest and most prestigious races are contested in Colombia, or in neighbouring Venezuela, especially in Táchira, a province close to the Colombian border with a strong cycling tradition and which hosted the World Championships in 1977.

However, while it has run since the early 1950s, Colombia does not hold South America’s oldest national tour, instead it is the race which holds that distinction which I have turned my attention to - the Vuelta del Uruguay, which held its first edition all the way back in 1939 and has been an annual occurrence since 1946 - meaning it has actually got through more editions than the Vuelta a España.



While the Vuelta del Uruguay might not be the oldest race in South America, no previous race had attempted to cover an entire nation’s geography (or at least claim to do so as many South American nations include vast tracts of either mountainous or rainforest terrain that is unrealistic for inclusion in a bike race with today’s logistics, let alone 80 years ago) - Uruguay was helped in that respect by its comparative lack of size - it is the second smallest sovereign nation in the continent, after Suriname - and also a source of pride for a country which owes its existence in a large part to, and often suffers from its comparison to, its larger and frequently-at-loggerheads neighbours, Brazil and Argentina; when General José Gervasio Artigas championed federalism for the Spanish-speaking part of the southern cone and came into dispute with the centralists in Buenos Aires, he rebelled and took the Banda Oriental, as the provinces that make up modern Uruguay were known then; Portugal then annexed the region, only to then have to cede them six years later when Brazil won its independence from its former colonial masters. Three years later, the Treinta y Tres Orientales - a revolutionary force led by Juan António Lavalleja and Manuel Oribe y Viana - attempted to secede from Brazil, backed by Argentine forces; the ensuing war was named the Guerra da Cisplatina, or Guerra del Brasil (the former name is preferred in Portuguese, referencing the Portuguese name for the Banda Oriental, the latter name preferred in Spanish). Eventually in 1828 the war petered out and with help from the United Kingdom, which wished to expand its economic power in the region as Spain’s control waned, the independent nation of Uruguay was born, ostensibly creating something of a buffer state between the rival Argentinians and Brazilians.

Despite having an older history than the Colombians and Venezuelans, however, Rioplatense cycling has never had the same impact on the European cycling world that its fellow Latin American nations have managed to have. Sure, we have had the likes of the Richeze brothers or the Haedos or Murilo Fischer competing in sprint events, but the most successful rioplatense cyclist in terms of their results in Europe didn’t even represent a South American nation, for it is Juan António Flecha, the veteran cobbled specialist who spent much of his career with Rabobank. And while the 2018 World Tour featured 18 Colombians spread over a range of teams, there are just 3 Argentinians (one of whom is a stagiare), and no Brazilians or Uruguayans. This year, for the first time, the Ecuadorians now outnumber the Argentinians, and in fact with that the entire rioplatense scene, with three World Tour riders to Argentina's 2 (which could reduce further with Sepulveda slated to leave Movistar in the offseason). In fact, Uruguay only has two riders at the Pro level in Europe - Mauri Moreira at Caja Rural, and at the Continental level, his former teammate Fabricio Ferrari at Efapel. That doesn’t mean that the country doesn’t have its own legends who require a bit of an introduction though - and we’ll meet a few of them on our way - or that they aren’t a prominent and serious part of racing along the southern cone and in Brazil, even in races like San Luís and San Juan when the bigger guns roll into town.



Part of this is likely to be because Uruguayan cycling, like Argentine cycling in the Pampas regions, tends to revolve a lot around sprinters, echelons and hard paces, with flat ITTs and occasional small hills as well as a few dirt roads, and not the more lucrative GC candidates and punchers that are generally produced by the higher altitude countries in the northwest. The biggest obstacle in this part of the world is not long and winding mountain roads but rather the wind, as long exposed swathes of countryside feature absolutely no respite from it and roads often have no real gutter, making for battles of attrition especially as the national Tour tends to run with small team sizes to prevent too much tight control over the race being exerted by strong squads. I’ve tried to blend this with the small collection of available hills to make a tough man’s race with some hilly stages thrown in to prevent it being all about the ITT in the event of stronger teams arriving - the race has periodically grown bigger and more internationally prominent, attracting European teams - a few times Spanish elite amateur or Continental Pro teams have shown up, while in the 90s in the wake of Perestroika, several Russian and Ukrainian lineups found their way to Uruguay, with Vyacheslav Djavanian even winning the race in 1994, to become one of the biggest name extranjeros to win the race. A few other fairly well-known riders from the region can count themselves among the winners, such as Jorge Giacinti and 2017 and 2018 winner Magno Prado Nazaret, but for those who don’t follow so much racing outside of the top tiers, the biggest names to podium here would likely be the likes of former Movistar/Caisse d’Epargne riders Marlon Pérez and Carlos Oyarzún, or Tom Zirbel, for whom a contentious positive test scuppered his progression to WT status with Garmin.

Historically, the home teams have seen the favourites compacted into a small handful of teams, and multi-sport teams of great prominence in Uruguay dominate the early years of the race, especially Club Atlético Olimpia, the most famous athletics club in the country. As ever, however, the big football teams came to control a lot of the biggest talents and the upper echelons of the GC for many years were dominated by the two most famous names in Uruguayan sport: Nacional, and Peñarol - both have won the teams classification five times, and added several individual classifications to their collection too. A number of specialist cycling teams came to the fore as the football teams diverted less of their budget to extraneous sports, however, most of which remain in existence today - the most famous three being CC Amanecer, CC Fénix (which also organises the Rutas de América, Uruguay’s other major race) and CC Alas Rojas de Santa Lucía, currently operating as Schneck-Alas Rojas and the most successful team in Uruguayan cycling history.



In recent years, extranjeros have come from Brazil and Argentina in the main (often with a lot of success, especially from Funvic/Soul Brasil and Clube DataRo, the former even locking out the podium in 2017 thanks to a dominant TTT victory) with only a team or two from elsewhere, though the Rutas de América a few years ago even brought in ProConti teams from Spain. If this were to be the case I would only expect Caja Rural (on account of their Uruguayan riders) and maybe Manzana-Postobón, Burgos-BH or one of the American teams like Holowesko or Rally to show any interest - the race suffers in that respect from fixture congestion seeing as it is tied down to tradition - the final stage of the race historically happens on Easter Sunday and the Uruguayan national year begins when the final rider crosses the line on the final stage. The race usually lasts 10 days, with no rest, and stages vary in length from short to pretty long - often requiring fairly lengthy stages in the less populated inland areas but short stages to link the coastal and central cities, so you can see why larger teams concerned about the bottom line have little interest in flying across the world for a 2.2 race that lasts over a week - but at the same time, with its great sense of history and tradition, and the fact that the race is something of a cultural institution in the small River Plate republic, with live coverage available, as well as the challenge of finding ways to produce a challenging route in an area that is comparatively geographically benign, made it a race I was interested in trying to do something with. And so here we are: my Vuelta del Uruguay.

Stage 1: Montevideo - Montevideo, 118km





GPM:
Alto del Letrero x6 (1,4km @ 6,8%)

Historically, the Vuelta del Uruguay has begun and ended in Montevideo and that pattern has only recently come to an end. I have elected to reinstate it, but frankly only really because I didn’t want to finish the race on this stage as while the Cerro district offers the best racing opportunities in the city, it also means that we are denied the more scenic or historic finish in the heart of the city, instead finishing out of town in a western suburb, on the cost at the Playa Cerro.



Indeed, this is possibly the toughest stage of the entire race in terms of climbing that could legitimately be decisive in the stage outcome. Before they get to that, however, there is a loop around to the east of the city which takes us around near the airport and the new, out-of-town home of Uruguay’s most successful and marginally most popular football team, CA Peñarol. Formed as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club by British expats, the team swiftly moved from cricket to football and became heady rivals of Nacional, their perennial opposition for both footballing supremacy within Uruguay and the hearts and minds of the fans. As mentioned above, both are multi-sport clubs who have also fought out their battle on the roads of their homelands, often with great success. The CC Peñarol still appears regularly in the Vuelta del Uruguay but the club will always be most closely associated with its football arm, which has won five Copa del Libertadores titles and nearly 50 national titles, with the exact figures somewhat unclear due to a combination of the Apertura-Clausura system and points penalties for failure to control fans which have cost them three in-season titles.



The aurinegros have had plenty of success in the Vuelta del Uruguay, however, so we honour that with an intermediate sprint in their home barrio. Peñarol riders have won the GC on nine occasions - a remarkable streak back in the 1950s with Dante Sudatti opening the club’s account in 1952, followed by Aníbal Donatti in 1953, then back to back wins for Luís Pedro Serra in 1954 and 1955, then finally Juan Bautista Tiscornia in 1956, before a long period until the team’s second stint on top, capped with four triumphs from Uruguayan cycling legend Federico Moreira from 1989 through to 2002.

After that we enter six laps of a 10,2km circuit which is built around the small climb of the Alto del Letrero, which climbs up to the old fortifications on the Cerro and the Fortaleza General Artigas; now converted into the Uruguayan military museum, this fortification on the hill overlooking the city has been Montevideo’s main line of defence throughout its existence, on the only prominent elevation in the nearby area. Though it’s a short stage, this will still likely be able to produce some decisive gaps as there aren’t too many puncheurs in the peloton of Uruguay, and with six ascents of the punchy climb which gets up to 11% max according to cronoescalada, the last of which crests a mere 3,4km from the line, it’s a chance for those less likely to make up time in bonuses at metas volantes and in sprints to take the lead, and try to control the race from that position of strength. The finish is on the seafront, by the Playa Cerro, where recently large block lettering to celebrate the city has been installed in full view from the Mirador at the fortifications. This stage should set up the GC in interesting fashion as some of the sprinters might have deficits to make up.

 
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Stage 2: Canelones - Colonia del Sacramento, 181km





The second stage of the Vuelta del Uruguay is an ugly and difficult slog for the riders as they head for the southwestern corner of the country. The stage sets off from Canelones, capital of the eponymous province despite being dwarfed in size by Las Piedras and Ciudad de la Costa. This city takes its name from a type of cinnamon commonly grown nearby, and is the home of one of Uruguay’s legendary founding fathers, the 33 Orientales, Juan Spikerman, as well as being the home of the first head of state of the then proto-Uruguayan state, Joaquín Suárez, who later became president for a decade during the Uruguayan Civil War, who is credited with the design for the Uruguayan flag and whose legacy is so great that he has an entire city named after him, which we passed through on the preceding stage.



Early in the stage - less than ten kilometres in - we have an intermediate sprint, in the city of Santa Lucía. This city has prominent history in Uruguayan cycling, as the hone to the Alas Rojas de Santa Lucía team mentioned in my preamble. They are level with Nacional and Peñarol on 5 team classification victories in the Vuelta, one behind Policial and also level with the most successful extranjero team, Caloi. Formed in 1963, the Alas Rojas team had some success in the 70s, but never took their national Tour, although they managed two podiums and also managed a solitary victory in the Rutas de América. In the 1990s, however, the team was rejuvenated, and from 2000 onward they became one of the most feared units in the rioplatense péloton, with their Argentine rider Javier Gómez winning the Vuelta twice and local hero Richard Mascarañas adding two further triumphs; more recently, in 2016 Néstor Pías was the last home rider to triumph in the race which he did while riding in the colours of Schneck-Alas Rojas; the team were equally successful in the Rutas de América, with Gómez and Pías both winning alongside further triumphs for Héctor Águilar and two for Hernán Cline.

Alas Rojas de Santa Lucía was also the original team for possibly the most well-known Uruguayan in the modern péloton, Fabricio Ferrari, who is from Santa Lucía and got his start with his local team. He won a stage of the Vuelta del Uruguay as a 19-year-old, and relocated to Spain, coming under the wing of Héctor Raúl Rondán, a former pro with Reynolds (Abarcá) and the first Uruguayan to ride the Vuelta a España - Ferrari himself would become the 2nd, after turning pro with Caja Rural and entering a Grand Tour for the first time in 2013. Professional victories have thus far eluded him, but the GPM of the Volta a Portugal a few years ago, and the podium of the Vuelta a Madrid, along with some solid placements throughout the Spanish calendar, established him a good niche within the ProContinental péloton, especially as one of the very few non-sprinters representing the Río de la Plata in the European cycling world, before moving to Portugal to compete with Efapel in 2019. Owing to his tough rouleur background he’s also often a willing baroudeur, most notably showing the Uruguayan jersey at the very front of the World Championships in Valkenburg in 2012, and has collected a good few secondary jerseys for combativity, metas volantes and similar in his career.



There is also a second early intermediate sprint in the first hour or so of racing, in San José de Mayo. This city of 40.000 is known for its monument to one of Uruguay’s most beloved traditions - mate - and is also the home of two time Vuelta winner Luís Pedro Serra. Also a successful track cyclist, he also won Pan-American Games medals in the kilo TT and participated in three Olympic Games, before travelling to Europe and becoming the founding father of Uruguayan grass roots motorsport, setting up the first permanent karting circuit in the country.

The main decisive factor in this second stage is, however, sterrato, and there’s a lot of it. I’m aiming to create significant time gaps early on in the Vuelta del Uruguay and prevent therefore the sprinters’ teams from assuming control early on and then managing it from then on in. There are six sterrato sectors in the stage, which combine for a total of a whopping 56,3km of unpaved rouleur monstrosities, the last of which is exited just 7km from the line. The first stretch is the longest, at 16,6km in length, on the well-known Camino del Carretón.



There is some respite after this however, with a 20km tarmac stretch as we head toward the coast; after a couple more stretches we arrive for the last of the day’s metas volantes, in the town of Juan Lacaze, which is home to many successful footballers, most notably national legend Cristián Rodríguez, a midfielder with over 100 caps for La Celeste and a formidable record of domestic trophies won over a career bookended at Peñarol but including spells at Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Porto and Atlético Madrid. This sprint comes just 3km after the end of an 11km sterrato sector and around 50km from the line so this could be where the first real moves in earnest come, especially as at the 130km mark, this is where the endurance of the aficionado riders starts to prove a problem for them.

The rest of the stage sees us crossing over and over the Ruta 1 highway from Montevideo to Colonia del Sacramento, an old colonial outpost and trading hub on the Río de la Plata that has changed hands a number of times between Spain and Portugal in colonial days, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its historic architecture and its significance and with its remnants of old colonial times at its heart; the city plan is irregular as the fortifications that protected it were removed in the 18th Century, however their location is easy to ascertain; the old Portuguese walled city followed the land contours, whereas the Spanish city was built later as it expanded into the flat land on the outside of the walls and follows a regular grid pattern.



The Vuelta del Uruguay’s all-time record-holder for the number of stage wins calls the city his home, though it would not be a stage that he would especially like today; Gregorio Bare was a somewhat one-dimensional sprinter as a road cyclist and never troubled the GC of the Vuelta, despite representing his country at three Olympics - Barcelona ’92, Atlanta ’96 and Sydney 2000 - and taking him no fewer than 19 stages spread from 1993 to 2002. In 1999 he also won a number of gold medals on the track at the ‘B’ Worlds, which helped him win Uruguayan Sportsman of the year.



This stage is one of the key ones for the GC, as we turn northwards after this, to take on the interior on stages that are more about linking the locations than ones with any great freedom for creativity for traceurs. However, after stage 1’s hilly circuit and stage 2’s dirt roads, we should have set up a bit of a deficit for the sprinters that suggests time bonuses alone might not solve their problems.
 
Stage 3: Carmelo - Fray Bentos, 136km





Our first ‘true’ flat stage, one for the sprinters, is a shortish stage up against the Argentine border as we turn northwards. This should be an extremely fast stage, as the most common prevailing wind direction in Uruguay is in from the Atlantic, so this would be a cross-tail-wind blowing from behind the riders’ right shoulders for much of the stage, and its comparatively short 136km distance ought not to dissuade riding hard from the gun; however, a pampero blowing across from Argentina could see wind direction change, and there’s also always the possibility of weather systems seeing a west-to-east crosswind for the riders to deal with; one thing that’s always worth noting about the Pampas is that not only are they very flat, but they’re also not very tamed in terms of protection from the wind, so the riders will be glad for a fully tarmacked stage, but they will also now have to worry about the weather forecast.

The stage start in Carmelo honours possibly Uruguayan cycling’s first hero, El León de Carmelo, Atilio François. Born in the small village of Juan González just outside Carmelo, François’ talent showed early, winning a regional championship at the age of just 16, and being one of the first riders from the Banda Oriental to win significant races on Argentine soil; still starting for his local team, he finished 3rd in the second Vuelta del Uruguay, before the suspension of the race for a number of years led him to pursue other avenues in the sport. A specialist on the track as well as the road, he won a number of national titles in various categories, but his greatest achievement was probably the silver medal in the pursuit in the 1947 World Championships (amateur category), and he was also part of Uruguay’s Olympic TTT offerings in 1948 and 1952. By this time, however, he was already a major champion at home; having moved to the Veloz team, he won three back to back Vueltas when the race recommenced in 1946, winning 12 out of 25 stages over that three year reign of terror (two further stages were annulled). After this period though, he focused more on the track and spent less time on the road, moving to Peñarol in the early 1950s before an abrupt retirement at the age of 30 after competing in one last World Championships. He worked as a trainer for the Uruguayan team for a while and was a key part of the organisational committee that brought the World Championships in track cycling to Montevideo in the 1960s (the pro events were in Rome, the amateur events in Montevideo), after which the Velódromo Municipal de Montevideo was renamed the Velódromo Municipal Atilio François in his honour; he remained a popular figure until his death in 1997 at the age of 75.



The main stop-offs for the race en route to Fray Bentos are Dolores, a city which was ravaged by a severe tornado - reaching F3, far stronger than is typical in this part of the world - in 2016, with seven killed and 400 houses destroyed, and Mercedes, the capital of the Soriano Department which we are travelling through. With 41.000 inhabitants it just scrapes into the top 10 of most populous cities in the country, and hosts an intermediate sprint here just before the river crossing that takes us across the Rio Negro and into the river’s eponymous department, whose capital we are headed for as our final destination in this stage.

With a port on the Río Uruguay, Fray Bentos is industrially and economically important for the nation of Uruguay, and has been for many years. An old industrial complex from the meat-packing trade has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (no, really), and its name lives on as a brand of pre-packed meat products to this day.



Although the meat-processing plant may be a thing of yesteryear (and the Fray Bentos-branded meat products are now manufactured in Great Britain), however, industrial processes remain a key part of Fray Bentos’ economy, and the city is home to one of the largest pulp mills in the world, which was the source of a protracted dispute between Uruguay and its Argentine brethren in recent years, with the latter upset by the effect on tourism in the Río Uruguay area, and the former contesting that as the river ecology was not affected and they were on their own soil they ought not be prevented from building the mills.

Fray Bentos also has a link to cycling that makes it a perfect - and regular - host for the Vuelta del Uruguay; not only is it the hometown of Héctor Raúl Rondán, who as mentioned in the last stage became the first Uruguayan to enter the Vuelta a España, but it is also the hometown of Juan José Timón. Timón is an interesting figure as he gives the lie to the stereotype of Uruguayan cycling as being all about flat racing, sprinting and time trialling. He actually turned pro and raced for Molteni, albeit before Eddy Merckx appeared on the scene, but he was already 28 as he had wanted to complete his goal of winning his home nation’s race before turning pro. As well as contending on home terrain, Timón was, uncharacteristically for a rioplatense cyclist, an excellent climber, winning the GPM at the 1960 Vuelta de la Juventud Mexicana, a sort of ersatz Vuelta a México as that was running sporadically at the time, which was held as an amateur race across a two week duration, and winning the race outright in 1961 and 1962. However, despite status as an icon of cycling in his homeland, with numerous stage wins on home turf, and a bronze medal in the TTT at the World Championships, no less, to go with Team Pursuit golds at the Pan-American Games, the overall win at the Vuelta del Uruguay eluded him until 1965, after which he led a short career in Europe; however, not adapting well to life in Italy, he soon returned to South America, and after a lengthy period living in Brazil working with the Calói company, he took up a role as sporting director for the Uruguayan national team, providing an important role in Federico Moreira’s return from premature retirement and helping direct Milton Wynants’ successes in the late 90s and early 2000s, before his death aged 64 just a year after his work came to its peak fruition with Wynants’ Olympic silver medal.



There is a good chance, though, if you know of Fray Bentos, it isn’t to do with packaged beef products or Juan José Timón’s achievements; it was a favoured destination for the family of Argentine author Jorge Luís Borges, whose short stories mention the town a few times; it is mentioned in The Aleph by name, and also serves as the hometown of the protagonist of Funes el Memorioso, one of the author’s better known works. After I mentioned the work of Borges during my last Vuelta, this just happens to be a happy coincidence.

The stage will be a sprint.
 
Stage 4a: Paysandú - Salto, 115km





Stage 4b: Salto - Salto, 20,7km (CRE)





The fourth day is a split stage, including a TTT, which has been a key element in the early GC shakeup for the Vuelta del Uruguay in recent years. I mean, obviously all the usual flaws of a TTT still apply, and if anything are amplified by the flatter nature of the race than many other races where the TTT is a key component - for example, in the 2017 race, a victory by almost a minute in the format underpinned a lockout of the podium by the Funvic-Soul Brasil team, who were able to extend their lead elsewhere anyway thanks to their strength, with the first Uruguayan, Sixto Nuñez (who later failed a doping test anyway) nearly four and a half minutes back from the eventual winner, Magno Nazaret.



Running the semitappe, along a short trip down the Argentine border along the Rio Uruguay from Paysandú to Salto, first allows us to honour two of Uruguay’s most prominent cyclists. Away from the sporting arena, Paysandú is perhaps best known as the home of Los Iracundos, an enduring pop-rock and romantic ballad band from the 1960s best known for their hit Puerto Montt, named after the scenic city of southern Chile. In a sporting arena, though a number of footballers have come from the city, the favoured son is Milton Wynants, who won one of only ten Olympic medals that Uruguay has ever achieved, their first since Washington Rodríguez won bronze in the boxing in Tokyo in 1964 and their last to date, when he took silver in the points race in Sydney 2000, after getting to Sydney on an invitation as he hadn’t achieved the requisite qualification points; sitting outside the medals, he snuck through to take 2nd in the final sprint, the double points from which vaulted him up into the top 3 for an unexpected medal, which made him something of a star back home.

Wynants was no fluke, though - he also won a silver medal four years later at the World Championships, though he couldn’t repeat his Olympic successes either at Athens or Beijing. He did achieve an unusual double in the 2003 Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo, however, when he won both the points race and the road race; he was also a dab hand at stage races in his homeland, winning the Vuelta del Uruguay in 1996, after escaping with Hernán Cline to build up an advantage he could defend against Federico Moreira in an uncharacteristically long 50km time trial on the penultimate day and make the race into just a head to head between himself and Cline, the Uruguayan coming out on top of his Argentine adversary. He wasn’t typically a GC man at the Vuelta, however, only podiuming one more edition, in 2001 - though he did win the Rutas de América twice, in 1998 and 2007, preferring the race in which he had originally made his name in 1992. Wynants retired in 2010 at the age of 38, although he did have a brief, aborted comeback two years later.





The trip from Paysandú to Salto takes us from the hometown of perhaps the most well-known Uruguayan cyclist on a global scale, thanks to that Olympic medal, to the hometown of perhaps the all-time biggest icon of Uruguayan cycling. As the city is, with over 100.000 inhabitants, the second largest in Uruguay, it is perhaps not surprising that several key figures in the nation’s identity call the city home, but while the authors Horácio Quiroga and Enrique Amorim may add cultural heritage to the city (the latter campaigned successfully to erect a statue of Federico García Lorca in the city), and the city’s most famous progenies to most of us in the modern world will be the controversial footballers Luís Suárez and Edinson Cavani, two of the best players Uruguay has given the world since the days when they were winning the Olympics and the World Cup back in the 1920s and 1930s (as an aside, why is Suárez vilified so much for the handball against Ghana? Lots of players handle the ball on the line, but nine years on people still bring that up as a reason to hate him - there are plenty of other, more justifiable reasons than a desperation move sacrificing himself to potentially save his country’s World Cup run) - but the reason for the Vuelta del Uruguay rocking up into town is to celebrate arguably Uruguay’s greatest ever cyclist, Federico Moreira.



Already a junior Pan-American champion at 17 on home roads, he backed this up with a gold in San Cristobál de Tachíra in 1979, on the same course that had housed the World Championships two years earlier. He hit the top 10 of the Rutas de América the next year and by the time he took his first victory in the race, in 1982, he was well on his way to becoming an icon of Uruguayan sport after finishing 2nd in the Vuelta del Uruguay, just 8 seconds off the win and being the best Uruguayan in an edition dominated by overseas talent, with two Argentines on the podium and representatives of Italian and French national teams also filling the top 10. A year later he was again best Uruguayan, in 3rd place behind two Argentines, and in 1984 he repeated his heroics from two years earlier, with the Colombian Rogélio Arango this time keeping him from top spot.

They couldn’t stop him for long though, and by 1986 Moreira had taken his first GC win in his home race, after moving from the smaller teams that had sustained him through his early career to CC Amanecer. He then moved away from stage racing for a couple of years to prepare for the Olympics in Seoul, winning the points race in the Pan-American Games in 1987, but sickness put paid to his Olympic hopes and he returned to stage racing, winning the Rutas de América and then in 1989 his second Vuelta del Uruguay; he then moved to the giant of Uruguayan sport, Peñarol, and took a two further consecutive Vueltas to cement his position as a superstar. Only this time there was controversy - the great champion had tested positive for nikethamide, a respiratory stimulant often present in over-the-counter medication in South America. It was a source of great controversy and eventually Moreira was cleared, but it was a divisive topic that made his presence at the start-line of the 1992 Vuelta much anticipated - would he win a 5th as many wished, or would he wilt under the magnifying glass?

In the end it was a storm in a teacup, as the Peñarol team were disqualified for leading protests against poor racing conditions halfway through the race; Moreira took a break from competition after this, but after Juan José Timón persuaded him to return, he joined the Brazilian team Calói, the most successful extranjero team in the Vuelta del Uruguay, and was promptly 2nd in the 1996 edition, which motivated him to return to his homeland with Fénix, and subsequently deliver his record-equalling 5th victory in the Vuelta a year later. Two years later, the now-aging Moreira delivered a victory in the time trial in Fray Bentos that set him up to become the sole holder of that record with his 6th, a record which stands to this day - though it’s worth noting that Magno Nazaret now has three titles, and at 33 does have the time remaining if Funvic-Soul Brasil remain as dominant as they have been the last two years… Anyway, after finishing 2nd in 2000 when lightning couldn’t strike twice - the Argentine Javier Gómez bested Moreira in the chromo to take the GC overall - he returned to Peñarol where, aged 40, he reached his final podium in his home race, shepherding home teammate Gustavo Figueredo. He attempted the race once more, in 2005, in the aim of achieving the one stage win he needed that would match Bare’s record (both riders retired at around the same time), but couldn’t finish, and a similar tilt at the Rutas de América, which he had won three times (here he is winning in 1988), a year later met with a similar outcome, at which point he rode off into the sunset… only to soon resurface as the new President of the Uruguayan Cycling Federation, mainly as he was such a God in the sport in Uruguay that if he announced he was running for the job today, he’d be elected yesterday; Federico Moreira isn’t just the face of cycling in Uruguay; he isn’t just the voice of cycling in Uruguay. He is cycling in Uruguay.



The main success that underpinned Moreira’s success was his time trial, but he was also far more versatile than many riders who specialise in the rioplatense scene; he won the Vuelta a Chile’s mountains classification in 1984 and the overall in the same race a year later, so he could climb when he needed to, but he preferred to base his calendar around his home races throughout his career.

Like many great cyclists, Moreira’s children have also gone into the sport in the aim of following their fathers’ footsteps. Elder son Federico Agustín Moreira spent a brief period in Spain in 2013, but has settled into racing in his homeland primarily, where he has shown that he is a chip off the old block in terms of his style if not yet his results, winning the national ITT championship in 2017 and achieving his first GC podium in the Vuelta del Uruguay in 2018 at the age of 25. Younger son Mauricio has been more successful internationally; after winning the national ITT championship at the U23 level and two stages of the Rutas de América at age 20, he was, like his brother before him, invited to compete in the Spanish amateur scene, but he was much quicker to adapt, winning a stage of the Vuelta a Segovia, and a year later he was winning the GC at the Vuelta a Zamora, a short stage race which also includes a mountaintop finish at the Alto del Lubián, and turned professional with Caja Rural, where he’s in his second year and starting to settle in, finishing 2nd in the Boucle de la Mayenne and being visible in breaks in the Tour of Turkey. To a global audience he might already be better known than his Dad; but in his homeland, to eclipse his father’s achievements he’s probably going to have to win a Classic or a Tour de France stage or something.



The first semitappe is a flat stage with little to mark it; the second semitappe, the TTT, loops around the city from the Puerto de Salto to the Plaza Treinta y Tres, with the finish along scenic city streets that the teams will already have had a look at in the sprint finish earlier. I’m hopeful that this stage won’t ruin the race - in 2018 the TTT was 25km and we got a tense, close affair, whereas in 2017 a shorter TTT saw a wider victory margin and the entire podium drawn from the one team. The CRE has become a popular way of dividing up the GC in the first half of the race in recent years, however, so I’ll stay loyal to realism to a certain extent and accept the TTT here.

 
Stage 5: Salto - Tacuarembó, 208km





The only 200km stage of the race comes at the halfway stage, featuring a fair amount of rolling terrain but no actual climbs as we head through the sparsely-populated north of the country - indeed, we are at the point of placing metas volantes in villages with population levels of under 500. This is common terrain for the Vuelta del Uruguay, although often when headed in the opposite direction, the stage will officially be from Tacuarembó to Salto but the stage will not start for some 30 or 40 km west of Tacuarembó, I’m not sure if they drive the race caravan out to the Iglesia de los Orientales or just have an extremely long neutral section before kilometre zero.



It’s going to be a long and boring stage if the weather doesn’t play ball, but if it does play ball it could be carnage with echelons a major possibility, side on to the coast (albeit a long way inland, but as discussed, very little in the geography of Uruguay to break that wind), and also with some possibilities of poor road conditions. Here's a video of a short section of the road in the hills to the west of Tacuarembó, unfortunately with a pretty soul-destroying soundtrack courtesy of the execrable Bryan Adams.



Tacuarembó is a relatively young city in Uruguay, and at over 50.000 inhabitants one of the biggest of the inland cities in the country, second only to Rivera, on the Brazilian border, among northern Uruguayan cities. It isn’t a naturally occurring city, having only been established following presidential decree from General Fructuoso Rivera, a controversial figure in Uruguayan history, having been a great patriot who fought against the Brazilians in the defence of the Banda Oriental, rising through the ranks in the Cisplatine War, but who also quarrelled at length with Lavalleja and during his first term as President pursued a highly divisive policy of elimination of the native Charrúa people to help colonise the interior; until Rivera launched La Campaña de Salsipuedes in 1831, the Charrúa had lived more or less untroubled alongside the Spanish/criollo communities, but soon, at the behest of Rivera and at the command of his brother Bernabé, they were declared extinct, save for a small handful of survivors who were captured and sent for display in Paris. It is said that in the inland provinces there are around 200.000 (estimates vary around 50k either way) descendants of the Charrúa people, but it is only in the last 15-20 years or so that they have come to embrace and openly celebrate that ancestry; the name “Los Charrúas” is an appellation often given, somewhat ironically given the country’s role in wiping them out, to the Uruguay national football team.

Fructuoso Rivera also provoked, through his subsequent disputes with Oribe, the Uruguayan civil war, and de facto as a result of the armbands worn by the combatants, founded the Colorado Party, one of the most successful in the history of Uruguay (the supporters of Oribe were known as ‘Blancos’ for their white armbands by contrast). Six months after the annihilation of the Charrúa, Rivera instructed his brother to construct and develop a city in the location of Tacuarembó. Located on the Tacuaremboty river (a Charrúa word), the city was inaugurated under the name “San Fructuoso” (clearly, modesty was also one of Rivera’s characteristics, but officially it was named after San Fructuoso of Tarragona) in 1832, becoming the capital of the Tacuarembó department five years later, and being renamed after the department and the river at the turn of the century when the veneration of Rivera became a bit less fashionable. The location of the city was probably in memory of the Battle of Tacuarembó, then a plains area near the river, rather than an inhabited town, where the Brazilian forces finally subdued General Artigas and incorporated the Banda Oriental into Brazilian territory as the southern province of Cisplatina.



The city’s main sight is the Catédral de San Fructuoso, a national monument and the site of our stage finishing sprint. As ever, the city’s most famous children on an international level are footballers, but there are two cyclists of some repute who call the city home.

Still active today despite recently turning 40, Richard Mascarañas has won almost everything there is to win in Rioplatense cycling. A relative latecomer to the sport, he spent over a decade riding for the Alas Rojas team, mainly serving as a sprinter but developing enough of a tactical brain and time trial strength to become a GC threat in the Uruguayan stage races, culminating in the 2008 Vuelta del Uruguay, when he won from a breakaway in the 8th stage and successfully defended his lead in the ensuing time trial to hold on - a few weeks later he also became the first and to date only Uruguayan to win gold in the Road Race at the Pan-American Championships, which were held that year on home roads in Montevideo. Only one other Uruguayan has taken a medal in the format, Héctor Águilar’s bronze in Mar del Plata in 2012.

Two years later, Mascarañas duplicated his feat in the Vuelta, defending from start to finish after winning both of the first two stages, and in 2009 he became the only non-Argentine to win the Clásica Primera de Mayo, but after that, he has struggled to maintain winning ways in the larger races. He still picks up stages here and there, and was the national champion in 2017 (for which he was awarded a contender for worst national champion’s jersey of all time), but apart from a rogue 3rd in the GC at the Vuelta del Uruguay in 2016, it seems like he is on the wane and being replaced by a newer generation of Uruguayan talent, like Matías Presa and the Moreira brothers. I would also have mentioned Ignacio Maldonado, but he tested positive in the 2018 Vuelta a San Juan.



One of the riders who falls between those generations, who might have become one of the rider’s the national scene could rejoice in, was Ramiro Cabrera, another Tacuarembó native. Getting onto a Brazilian team - Avaí - early in his career, he got some good results in the Voltas ao Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo, before providing a shock GC podium at the Vuelta del Uruguay just a few weeks after his 20th birthday. A strong time triallist, he used those skills to escape to win the Volta de Gravataí and finish 2nd in the Rutas de América the following year, and replicated his GC podium at the Vuelta del Uruguay in 2010 as well as coming 4th in the Rutas de América, both underpinned by his skills against the clock. These performances drew the attention of Movistar, so when the Colombian-based Movistar Continental team was set up, and Telefonica had their interest in bringing in riders from all over South America, Cabrera was their choice to represent their interests in the River Plate - it made sense; he was young, he was strong against the clock, and he was promising.

Of course, that entailed relocating to Colombia, and of course the type of riders generated by Colombian cycling is very different to that created by Rioplatense racing; while Cabrera got to ride the Vuelta a Colombia, the Vuelta a Boyacá, the Vuelta a Antioquia and the Vuelta a Cundinamarca, he struggled to adapt to racing in high mountains and racing at high altitude, and so in 2012 the team utilised him more in races outside of Colombia, such as the lower altitude Venezuelan races, and in his home race where he finished in the top 10 once more. He did enter the Vuelta a Colombia once more, and with a top 10 in the prologue and a flat beginning to the race he held on to a good GC position for a few days, but inevitably fell away once the mountains started for real. Cabrera then returned to Brazilian cycling with Funvic but moved on to DataRo after one season. 2014 was a bit of a return to form, winning a number of smaller Brazilian races including 3 stages and the overall of the Volta a Goias, and then in 2015 he made a return to his home races, finishing 10th in the Vuelta del Uruguay, and then 6th the following year. Since then, however, he has disappeared from results sheets and it seems he may have retired quietly.

 
Stage 6: Tacuarembó - Durazno, 198km





The last of the stages on this all-flat loop around the northern and western parts of the country sees us heading southwards back toward Montevideo on what is also the last ‘long’ stage of the race. It’s also the most liable to suffer from headwinds, so may well be an endurance test, unless the wind is swirling in from the Argentine Pampas, in which case it’s going to be another trial by echelon.

It also includes our first categorised climb for a while, early in the stage, but surprisingly not as we pass one of Uruguay’s more recognisable natural features, the Cerro del Batoví. One of the most distinctive points of northern Uruguay, standing at 224m, the name mean’s “hill of a virgin’s breast” in the Guaraní language, a name adopted for the mountain owing to its curious shape.



The hill may be distinctive, but although the road in the vicinity ramps up slightly, it is only undulating at this point. Far more valuable for the climbing points is the 5km (at about 2 to 2,5% admittedly) drag up to the Parque Eólico Pampa, the largest agglomeration of wind farms in Uruguay. How windy does it have the potential to be? Well, Uruguay currently accrues over a third of its energy from wind power. Uruguay is one of the most sustainable countries in the world when it comes to the energy sector, with 95% of its power coming from renewable sources, and wind power is a large contributor to that statistic.



The Cuchilla de Peralta wind farm and power station is another landmark we pass, possibly the largest individual wind farm in the country. Perhaps the largest actual town we go through is Paso de los Toros, which holds a special place in Uruguayan lore because of the eponymous soft drinks - the story goes that a British immigrant challenged a local chemist from the town, who sold fruit-flavoured soda beverages, to produce a tonic water to match the British brands that were popular in Montevideo; after many months of careful tinkering with the proportions of the ingredients, Agua Tónica de Paso de los Toros was introduced to the populace in 1929 and became a hit, eventually being bought out by Pepsi in the 1950s and remaining a popular brand in Uruguay to this day, retaining its identity even in the face of the company’s more internationally recognised brands, in much the same way as Spain still has KAS and Norway still has Kvikk Lunsj - although alternative flavours have been added to the range, and aggressively hip marketing has been added to what had been a very old-fashioned drink.

After nearly 200km of trial by wind, however, the riders arrive in Durazno, regarded as the most central city of Uruguay and once its de facto capital city when the bitterly divided country had Montevideo under siege, though Montevideo maintained its own rule under Rivera and Oribe’s control of the rest of the country was in theory controlled from an outlying barrio - thus making it iconic to Uruguayan identity, which is not bad for a city with its history supposedly stemming from being founded during the Brazilian occupation of the Banda Oriental and named San Pedro de Durazno in honour of the Brazilian ruler of the time (an alternative story crediting Fructuoso Rivera has also been mooted; both would have propagandistic implications). It was in Durazno, however, that the quarrelling Rivera and Lavalleja agreed to work together to defeat the common opposition in the Brazilians, and also it was in a battle in Durazno that the supporters of Oribe and Rivera, during conflict, donned the white and red armbands that would later symbolise their parties’ lines of ideology and give names to the two parties that would define Uruguayan politics for the next 150 years.

 
Stage 7: Florida - Minas, 143km





The more GC-settling second phase of the race begins with this stage, departing from the south-central departmental town of Florida, a city of 33.000 people which was also home to early Uruguayan President Pedro Varela. It held the Uruguayan national cycling championships in 2009, in which the little-heralded Néstor Aquino won the title, and most recently saw its national tour in 2016, when stage 2 ran in the opposite direction to my stage today over an identical length (slightly oddly considering my stage finishes with circuits!) - with the stage ending in a sprint which was won by Richard Mascarañas, though Héctor Águilar was able to retain his yellow jersey thanks to bonus seconds acquired from his third-placed finish from a heavily-reduced group, which you can see a brief clip of here.

The city is more important for its non-cycling heritage, though, for it was here that, on August 25th, 1825, the formal declaration of the independence of Uruguay was made, from the famous - and actually in person somewhat unassuming - Piedra Alta de la Florida. The three pronouncements in succession were the Ley de Independencia, where the Provincia Oriental seceded from Brazil, the Ley de Unión, where the union of the Provinces of the River Plate was proclaimed, and the Ley de Pabellón, revealing the new structure of the newly-independent republic. Plaques commemorating this historic occasion are now embedded in the rock of the Piedra Alta.



Florida is also the home of the cathedral of Nuestra Señora de los Treinta y Tres, an apparition of the Virgin Mary also venerated as the liberator of Uruguay in the local Catholic tradition. The city’s role in the Independence movement is at its beating heart, with the centre bearing a sculpture commemorating the declaration of independence by famous Uruguayan sculptor Juan Manuel Ferrari, which was inaugurated with a patriotic poem by Juan Zorrilla de San Martín.



The stage is, for the most part, in an easterly direction, heading toward the Brazilian border. As ever, the majority is flat, especially at first as we head toward an early intermediate sprint in San Ramón, a town of 7.000 which has grown around a station on the railroad line from Montevideo into southern Brazil, home of José María Águilar Porras, a famous tango composer, and Walter Moyano, an early cycling hero in Uruguay, who was, until Federico Moreira’s sixth triumph in 1999, the most successful rider in his national Tour of all time, having taken five titles between 1957 and 1969. Almost all of his palmarès was acquired in rioplatense cycling, though he was 2nd in the Vuelta a Mexico in 1961, which tells you that, actually, Moyano was no mug on the climbs either. What Moyano really excelled in, however, was the contrarreloj. He loved a good time trial, scoring his first stage victory in the Vuelta in 1956 when he won a 67km test against the clock in Punta del Este, which were effectively home roads for him, as he represented CC Punta del Este. The win moved him up to second place in the GC, having missed a move that Juan Bautista Tiscornia had made it into in an earlier stage. He would not repeat the error the following year, losing the first TT to Tiscornia, but escaping from him the day before the second ITT, taking the stage win and the leader’s jersey, then putting a fine point on it by winning the TT a day later anyway. He was absent in 1958 and 5th in 1959, before showing he was far from a one-trick pony by winning the 1960 edition which didn’t have any ITT mileage. He made the podium again in 1962 without the benefit of a chrono, before a year later winning the first stage from Montevideo to Rocha and then going coast to coast in the leader’s jersey. The contre-le-montre was restored to the race for the 1964 edition, partly perhaps to honour Moyano, seeing as he won the 50km test in Paysandú and happily rode on to his fourth victory with it.

By this time, Uruguayan cycling had become a three-way battle, between Moyano, his contemporary René Deceja, and the young upstart Juan José Timón. They largely blocked one another from stage success in 1965, but Timón narrowly squeezed out Moyano in the GC, and neutralised one another a year later again - while Moyano pushed his way up to 2nd thanks to winning the ITT once more, the Correa brothers of the Paysandú-based Wanderers team had been allowed to profit from the big names’ civil war, with Tomás Correa winning the race overall as a result. Moyano was second behind the other Correa, Jorge, in 1968, before using his smarts to win the 1969 race despite having been usurped as a TT king by this point in his career, the 36-year-old Moyano adopting the soubriquet “El Rey de la Vuelta”. As the Vuelta went through one of its eras of international invasion in the early 70s, the ageing star ceased to be a factor and retired to his home in San Ramón. I believe, though I can’t confirm, that he is now the oldest surviving winner of the Vuelta del Uruguay.



After passing through the town of Tala, founded by Argentine general Conrado Villegas, we have an 11km stretch of sterrato, but being in the first half of the stage this is unlikely to be particularly decisive. Returning to national route-12 after the sterrato, we enter Lavalleja department, named of course for the member of the 33 Orientales. Another 20km or so of nice flat roads take us to the city of Minas, where we enter an 11,7km circuit which will be taken on three times to finish the stage, and includes our first decisively-placed categorised climb since stage 1 - the short dig up to the Cerro Artigas, atop which a monument to the general of the same name stands, iconically overlooking the city.



The climb to Cerro Artigas really isn’t that imposing - 700m at 5% is its full statistics, but the first 400m are at 7,6% with a maximum of 13%, so it’s also a decent opportunity to try something. Especially as the rest of the circuit around Minas isn’t flat - there’s also 250m at 7% on Calle 93, and a further 150m at 7% - on sterrato - on Calle Grauert. The stage finish is outside Parque Rodó, so it’s effectively twice up the Calle Grauert ascent but three times up Calle 93 and Cerro Artigas, the last cresting of which comes at 3,2km from the line. This will be an interesting battle for the rulers and classics types, which will hopefully break things up a bit given we’re talking rioplatense cycling so it’s not like we’re going to see Mathieu van der Poel obliterating the riders here, and in six-man teams, we aren’t going to see the sprinters’ teams strangle racing to the same extent the same circuit may see in Europe, where the sprinters are comparatively durable and the domestiques are high quality.


Start of the ramp

With nearly 40.000 inhabitants, Minas is the 12th-largest city in Uruguay, and was settled by Asturian and Galician settlers returning from failed attempts by Spanish colonialists to settle Patagonia with inhabitants of their more mountainous regions. Its most famous son is of course the revolutionary Juan Antonio Lavalleja, after whom the department of which Minas is the capital is now named. Lavalleja was the de facto leader of the 33 Orientales, He has risen to the status of a somewhat mythical and legendary figure as a result of this, however like many revolutionary heroes, his adaptation to ordinary political life once the aims of the revolution were achieved was fraught with difficulties; he stood in opposition to the rule of Fructuoso Rivera, and despite a period during which he emigrated to Argentina, returned to Colonia del Sacramento and led several civil revolts against both Rivera AND Oribe during their lengthy conflict which meant that for much of the ensuing twenty years, Uruguay was in a perpetual state of civil unrest and instability. This was resolved in the triumvirate agreement of1852, in which Lavalleja was posited alongside Rivera and the younger Venancio Flores as part of a power-sharing agreement; soon after this was implemented, however, Lavalleja died suddenly at the age of 69.



Minas was also the site of a large battle in the Revolución de Mayo, for which Manuel Francisco Artigas grew to legendary status, and is renowned for its natural parks which surround it. It is one of the most traditional hosts of the Vuelta del Uruguay, first appearing in the race in 1946, when Atilio François took the stage win, and returning regularly since, with winners in the city including Primo Zuccotti, who was a gregario for Fausto Coppi and Hugo Koblet in his European career before relocating to South America, Juan Bautista Tiscornia, Luís Pedro Serra, Juan José Timón, Federico Moreira, Dario Díaz and, most recently, Héctor Águilar. It’s also a regular host of the Rutas de América, with Díaz, Águilar and the likes of Alejandro Borrajo winning stages of that race in Minas. So it’s a pretty traditional Uruguayan cycling spot, and this will work for the race to create a competitive Classics environment, as we head toward the more selective part of the race.
 
Stage 8: Minas - Las Cumbres, 138km





Heading towards the finish, we have a real unique and rare thing for the Vuelta del Uruguay - an uphill finish - which will take place on Good Friday (seeing as the race traditionally ends on Easter Sunday), as we head back down to the Atlantic coast for the final few days of the race. While we could shorten this stage significantly by heading directly south from Minas on National Route 12, I have bumped up the difficulty of the first part of the stage by taking a loop to the southwest of yesterday’s finishing town to both add difficulty and add scenery, as the first port of call is to go through the Parque Salus nature reserve, which hosts a number of rare animal species in the Sierra de la Coronilla hills, and is a popular getaway for the population of Minas.



The other benefit of coming via this route is that we then get to take on a very tough obstacle by Uruguayan standards, as we climb back into the Sierra de la Coronilla, in the sub-sierra called the Sierra de las Ánimas, named for Cerro de las Ánimas, one of the peaks in the range which reaches 501m above sea level, one of the highest in Uruguay. Although on National Route 81, this is nevertheless sterrato for a full 15km, and that 15km includes a 3km @ 5% climb, the toughest arguably in the race as a result. We even approach a stratospheric (don’t laugh) 300m above sea level in this challenging dirt bowl of a road. This video shows the road that we are taking, showcasing the mid-route climb and then flattening out so the video ends where we rejoin National Route 60, which branches off from National Route 12 south of Minas, to continue our quest towards the Atlantic. As you can see, there’s a period around 2/3 distance which is pretty poor condition but most of it is not a problem. However, we do not turn right to head south, but in fact the opposite way, turning left to head back towards Minas, before turning right at Minas Viejas, and heading up a short climb - 750m at somewhere between 6 and 8% - as we rejoin route 12. On the below picture we arrive from the distance coming toward camera, and then turn right onto the road on the left of shot.



Shortly after this we cross into Maldonado department, and slowly saunter downhill from the “highlands” back toward sea level, save for a short ramp of a climb at El Edén. Then we traverse a ridge of hills which runs from the coast up to Aigua and forms a slightly anomalous offshoot of the Cuchilla Grande, before an intermediate sprint in Abra del Perdomo and a cut through towards the city of San Carlos, which is now the accepted birthplace of former president Francisco Antonino Vidal (originally believed to have been born in Montevideo in 1827, birth records in San Carlos suggest he is in fact two years older than that), as well as being the home to rising motorsport star Marcos Landa, who got his start in Fórmula Metropolitano, becoming the first extranjero to win the Argentine feeder formula, before moving into TC Mouras, a feeder for Turismo Carretera - essentially Argentine stock cars but with very powerful engined racers, and TC2000, Argentina’s most popular racing series and effectively a major touring car series - and the best way for a Rioplatense driver to make it big without relocating to Europe or North America. He’s currently high up in the standings after taking his first win at the Autodromo Roberto Mouras in La Plata.

This then serves as the introduction to a further 9,2km of sterrato, starting 24km from home, so potentially very significant in the overall shape of the race, despite the short stage length. This deposits us in the town of La Sonrisa, or Cerro Pelado, on the outskirts of Maldonado, which has now effectively swallowed it, and where we have an intermediate sprint with 13km remaining, very soon after leaving the sterrato section. Should be fun. We head towards Punta Ballena, a resort town on the Atlantic coast, and have a second intermediate sprint in short order there at Playa Solanas, just about the westernmost beach that can be considered part of Punta Ballena’s resort beaches, several kilometres outside its parent resort of Punta del Este, before turning north and inland, for we have traversed that odd mountain ridge once more by the coast, and are just to its west.



This now means that we are headed for that rarest of mythical beings, a hilltop finish in the Vuelta del Uruguay. It’s not a killer in the slightest by European standards, but we are beyond the days of flat stages breaking things up by minutes so although there have been hilly circuits in Montevideo, sterrato for the ages in Colonia del Sacramento and echelon-baiting galore, there’s still the chance that there could be riders who are very closely tied to one another on time, on which this finish, 1700m at 5,9%, could be dangerous. It consists of a kilometre at 7,2%, before a short drop and flattening out, then 300m at 11%, before a flat final 150m to the line. This could well open up some time gaps especially if the top of the GC is made up primarily of rouleurs rather than specialist puncheurs who will enjoy this kind of finish. Here is some video of the climb.



The finish is in one of those rare things in Uruguay, a hilltop resort, part of the Punta Ballena resorts complex but somewhat detached and not being included within the typical beach-holiday-favouring characteristics of its neighbours. Instead it sits high above the Lussich arboretum, named for the founder of the town and resort, and is a hilltop spa and hotel complex which offers some of the best facilities and views in the entire Rioplatense area. This will be a very scenic finale as well as testing a skill that the Uruguayan péloton doesn’t often get to challenge in themselves - climbing.

 
Stage 9a: Punta del Este - Fuente del Toro, 95km





Stage 9b: Piriápolis - Piriápolis-Cerro San António (CRI)





The final weekend of the Vuelta del Uruguay starts with a split stage which will set the final GC positions thanks to the obstacles across the two semitappes, as well as showcase a bit more of Uruguay’s glamorous coastline. We begin by departing from Punta del Este, which has for decades been locked in a battle with Mar del Plata over supremacy as a jet-setting resort town for the people in the Rio de la Plata area, in much the same way as the Côte d’Azur and the Amalfi coast carry that connotation in Europe. Nicknamed “the Monaco of the south”, Punta del Este’s permanent population is under 10.000 and it is dwarfed by nearby Maldonado, but its tourist hotspot status leads to that figure being greatly inflated throughout the summer months. Like a reverse of the quieter, more historic coastal city companion Colonia del Sacramento, Punta del Este was originally settled by Spaniards but then expanded by Portuguese colonisers, and its strategic importance lay in the peninsula leading to Plaza Gran Bretaña, the end of which is the ‘official’ end of the Río de la Plata and therefore beginning of the Atlantic Ocean, although obviously the Río de la Plata estuary widens pretty extremely before it gets considered open ocean, so there’s most definitely some ‘sea’ status-worthy bodies of water along the Uruguayan coastline west of Punta del Este!!! Formerly a fishing village, the city has rapidly expanded with a large number of luxury hotels and villas built, so it has a very chic feel to it, as well as a claim to fame for organising the summit in which the WTO was formed.



In keeping with the Monegasque vibes, Punta del Este has also tried to market itself via that most glamorous of sports for the über-rich: motor racing. Starting at the regional level, the city brought in Argentine TC2000 racers in 2007, and remained on South America’s favourite touring cars’ calendar until 2010 (depending on your stance on Stock Car Brasil, which are silhouette cars - not true ‘stock cars’ in the US sense, they are more like a less powerful, cheaper version of the DTM-type cars, so opinions vary on whether they count as ‘touring cars’), providing some decent racing, all things considered - and those things to be considered include some pretty dangerous barriers and a layout which was mainly out-and-back and caused chaos. In the 2008 race linked above, the TC2000 season title was won by José María “Pechito” López, who has since gone on to great success in World Touring Cars and then in Toyota’s endurance program in the WEC, as well as making a return to Punta del Este after a new, slightly less crazy but still fairly crazy, course was introduced to the Formula E calendar in 2014, where it has also hosted races in 2015 and then returned to the calendar in 2018. The city continues its connections of glamour by being twinned with a number of similarly exclusive beach resorts across Latin America - Cancún, Mar del Plata, Viña del Mar - but has also been twinned with European resort towns like Dubrovnik and Marbella.

As a result, the first part of the stage is pretty dramatic as a location, heading around the ePrix circuit in the neutral zone, before heading on along the coast into the city’s larger neighbour, Maldonado. With 60.000 inhabitants, Maldonado is a departmental capital and dwarfs Punta del Este in literal terms, but lags well behind it in terms of international recognition. Maldonado is also much more common than Punta del Este in cycling terms, appearing in the Vuelta del Uruguay on several occasions, most recently in 2017, when the Argentine veteran sprinter Héctor Lucero won a stage into the city. Maldonado was also scheduled to host the national championship road race in 2018, but inclement weather forced the abandonment of the race before it had started. The municipality of Maldonado also includes Punta Ballena, which we travelled through yesterday, however this time we’re on the coastal road rather than the somewhat higher altitude inland route, so ascending up to the Arboretum means a categorised climb in today’s stage.



We pass the town of Chihuahua, another resort town (the permanent population is, according to the 2011 census, less than 100!), and the international airport Laguna del Sauce, before heading inland to complete two and a half laps of a 24km circuit around the finishing town of Piriápolis. The circuit starts by heading inland to Pan de Azúcar, named after the summit of a nearby hill and meaning “sugarloaf”, much like its more famous Brazilian brethren. This then leads to a long, straight, rolling section of course that takes us past the iconic Castillo de Piria, the home residence of Francisco Piria, who initially bought a gargantuan tract of land including Cerro Pan de Azúcar, Uruguay’s third highest. peak, and the full area on which the city now stands, and into Piriápolis, which hosts an intermediate sprint on both of the first two passages through the city. The city, as you can probably guess, takes its name from its founding father, who developed hotels and the coastal avenue that led to the city - then known as El Balneario del Porvenir (“the resort town of the future”) - being developed and growing around, unusually, its planned facilities rather than growing these organically as it increased in size. It also, in my stage, serves as the base of a climb onto the shoulder of a nearby hill, via the not-especially-challenging Camino de los Arrayanos, which amounts to 2,2km @ 3,8%. This is crested at 47km and 23km from the line. I know, you’re thinking “hmmm, 24km circuit, 23km from the line, this suggests the finish is halfway up the climb!” - but the circuit isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, because the final time around, we take a slightly different route out of Piriápolis, one which will hopefully be more decisive.



The Fuente del Toro fountain is a feature on the shoulder of the Cerro del Toro hill which overlooks Piriápolis, a three-tiered fountain beneath an iron statue of a bull, from whose mouth the water shoots into the fountain receptacle. It was designed by French sculptor Isidore Bonheur and then acquired and transported to Piriápolis by Francisco Piria in order to form part of his “trilogy” of ideal fountains. The format of this fountain has been cloned on numerous occasions throughout the Latin American world, with the most famous example being located in Maracay, Venezuela. The final 600m of the stage are uphill at 9%, so this could create some small time gaps that could be crucial.

In the afternoon, after the semitappe to the fountain, the riders depart for a time trial around the town of Piriápolis which is scheduled to finish on the city’s other summit, the Cerro San António. This is a mid-length ITT at 22km and will serve as likely the final chance to impact the GC, with only the short final stage to come. The ITT will start on Avenida Francisco Piria, which was travelled along in the morning semitappe as part of the route back into town after the Camino de los Arrayanos climb - but in the opposite direction. The riders then took a left turn onto Avenida Salta and then a 45º left onto Avenida 25 de Mayo; here we start just before Avenida Salta in the opposite direction, thus enabling us to keep the logistics of setting up the start ramp from getting in the way of one another, while minimising the additional disruption.

The Chrono is, for the most part, an out and back, with the riders first starting continuing inland as far as the Pabellón de las Rosas before hitting the seafront corniche along the Rambla de los Argentinos, for what is a “true” out and back, with the riders travelling along the corniche then turning around with a brief loop around Playa Hermosa before returning along the other side of the Rambla. Sinkholes destroyed part of this corniche in 2016, but the area has been renovated and is now an attractive seafront destination for Uruguayans whose location also means that the wind will be an additional factor for the riders to consider.



The second time check comes near the centre of the city again, at the Playa Guernica, before the riders turn inland on a final 2200m which climb 104m at an average of just under 5%. Also known as the Cerro del Inglés, this small hill houses a chapel, and a very rare thing in Uruguay - a ski lift - which ferries people to the summit, and in this instance therefore can help with the logistics, ferrying riders and technical staff down from the summit minimising the space requirements at the top - nevertheless the riders will likely need to be sent on their way in waves, as happened in the Kronplatz and Nevegal ITTs, to ensure logistical viability. The winner of the Vuelta del Uruguay is likely to be known after this stage.

 
Stage 10: Pan de Azúcar - Montevideo, 104km





And so here we are, the final stage of the Vuelta del Uruguay, scheduled as per tradition to take place on Easter Sunday, thus setting into motion the Uruguayan year. As is traditional, we will end back in the capital, back where we started, but not with the interesting hilly circuit that we began with, and instead a straightforward flat stage, a short stage all along the coast where the wind will be the only real potential obstacle to a victory parade for whoever is in the lead of the race coming into the final day of racing.



Pan de Azúcar translates as “Sugarloaf”, and is the name of a mountain which overlooks Piriápolis - patterned after the more internationally famous Sugarloaf Mountain, which overlooks Rio de Janeiro. Cerro Pan de Azúcar also overlooks, to its north, the city of Pan de Azúcar, which developed in the late 19th Century and has around 7.000 inhabitants. Its most famous son is probably the composer José Pierri Sapere, whose classical guitar works of the early 20th Century are among the best known Latin American classical pieces.

Shortly after the beginning of the stage the riders will go through the resort town of Solís, and cross the estuary of the Río Solís, at which point they will reach the coastline of the Atlantic seaboard, along which we will travel for the remainder of the race. This takes us through various resorts of the Costa del Oro, one of Uruguay’s main tourist hubs outside of Punta del Este, with various towns and cities having sprung up to cater for the tourists who come from all over the rioplatense region to enjoy Uruguay’s beaches. Originally a landscape comprising solely sand dunes and not suitable for agriculture, this region was considered of little value for the entire colonial period, however when economically powerful families from the Montevideo region were looking for a quiet dacha-style retreat away from having to share Montevideo’s seaside with the hoi polloi, efforts were taken to improve the region’s suitability, and trees were imported from Galicia and Portugal that could grow in the sandy soil to develop the area, and eventually the modern Costa del Oro was created. Perhaps the most famous is Cuchilla Alta, rather comically named (translating as “high hills” but only around 30m over sea level), but worth noting is the number of Basque settlements along this coast, including Jaureguiberry “new manor house”, and other ones with more famous resort names such as “Biarritz”.



Perhaps the most famous of these Costa del Oro towns is Atlántida, which has a permanent population of 5.500, but at the 2010 elections almost double that figure were registered to vote in the municipality due to the number of people holding second homes or seasonal dwellings in the city. It has two main beaches, one on open sea, and one somewhat sheltered, which leads to separate characteristics - the open seaboard is used as one of Uruguay’s main watersports centres.

After around 70km we reach the city of Ciudad de la Costa, a particularly tautologous nomenclature given it’s, well, very patently obvious that this city is, indeed, on the coast. Historically considered a well-to-do extension of Montevideo’s urban sprawl, Ciudad de la Costa only became recognised as a city independent of its capital in 1994, but this immediately saw it become Uruguay’s third most populous city. This was largely to do with a significant urbanisation of the population in the 1970s and 1980s that saw Montevideo rapidly expand and its former outlying towns swell to reflect the strain placed upon the urban space, with Ciudad de la Costa almost doubling in size over an eleven year period from 1985 to 1996. As a result, it doesn’t really have any famous sons or daughters - mainly as any former famous sons or daughters of Ciudad de la Costa would typically have been born in Montevideo itself. It is, however, twinned with Hollywood, which is a pretty unusual place to have as your only twin city.

It is also the home of Autódromo Victor Borrat Fabini, otherwise known as El Pinar, Uruguay’s foremost auto racing facility, which has recently been extended and acquired FIA Grade Two, enabling it to host all but the highest level motor racing and placing it officially at the same level as famous circuits like Brands Hatch, Portimão, Autopolis, Brno, Zolder, Jarama, Dijon-Prenois, Long Beach, Watkins Glen and other world class facilities not homologated for F1 such as Road America, Sebring and Circuit de la Sarthe. It tends primarily to host Formula 4 Sudamericana, but has also hosted Turismo Carretera, TC2000 and Turismo Nacional - and in the past, when safety was not quite so paramount, we even saw regional Formula One series compete here - back in the 60s and 70s, when there were large numbers of non-championship F1 rounds, there were a number of regional series, and F1 Argentina was one of these. The most famous corner at El Pinar is named for Gonzalo “Gonchi” Rodríguez, a famous Uruguayan pilot who raced in F3000 and was considered a promising talent winning races in Spa and the Nürburgring, but was competing in the era where F3000 wasn’t truly preparing drivers for F1, and so teams were looking lower down the rungs of motorsport to pick out younger but rawer talents like Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen. Rodríguez therefore did as many other F3000 talents of the time, such as Justin Wilson, Oriol Servià, Sébastien Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya and Bruno Junqueira did, and travelled to the USA to race in CART. He scored a point in his first race with Penske in Detroit in 1999, and travelled to Laguna Seca for the season closer in the aim of cementing a position for the 2000 series. However, he never made it that far; in qualifying for the Laguna Seca Grand Prix, Rodríguez’ throttle stuck approaching the famous Corkscrew and his car speared straight on into the retaining wall at the top of the corner, which given it was so unlikely a driver would not brake at all into the corner (of course Rodríguez was trying his hardest to brake, but the car wouldn’t arrest its speed) had only a thin layer of tyres in front of a concrete wall, and the car slammed front-on into the wall and somersaulted end over end over the barriers, fracturing Gonchi’s skull and killing him instantly. He was 28. With the subsequent premature death of another promising young driver, Greg Moore, a month later, and a number of driver injuries during the season, 1999’s CART season was rather like 1994’s Formula One season, and many changes had to be made for forthcoming seasons, which, in combination with Newman-Haas Racing electing to enter some IRL races in order to access the Indy 500, helped shape the following decade of the AOWR split.



The next barrio is Carrasco, which is home to Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, the main international airport of Uruguay, serving Montevideo and the entire Costa del Oro resort stretch. I have already, in stage 1, discussed the cultural and historic prestige of Montevideo so I shan’t repeat myself too much here as we enumerate the sights that we pass on our trip around the city to finish, as is traditional, at the Velodrómo Municipal. We race along the scenic corniche of the Bahia del Buceo and its associated port, which also includes the naval museum of Uruguay, along the Playa de los Pocitos, Montevideo’s most popular and famous urban beach space, and down to a final intermediate sprint, 11km from the finish, at the Punta Carrenas with its famous lighthouse.



We then pass the Holocaust Memorial and the Monolito a los Moteros, before turning inland at the Parque José Enrique Rodó, a sizeable and scenic urban space in honour of the writer and essayist whose correspondences and theoretical works have helped shape Latin American literature in the early 20th century. Rodó rejected utilitarianism and espoused a more romantic vision of happiness, and also denounced what he described as “nordománia”, or a romanticisation of, and aspiration toward, North American and particularly US-American culture and society. Instead, Rodó espoused theories as a proponent of a specifically regional Latin American in general, and Uruguayan/Rioplatense in particular, culture. We then pass the Museo de Artes Visuales, which houses Uruguay’s largest collection of paintings, and head north toward Parque José Batlle y Ordóñez, where the race will reach its conclusion.

Parque Batlle is part of a central park complex, which effectively serves as Uruguay’s great sporting hub. We actually pass the velodrome on the opposite side of the road with about 2,5km to go, as we do a bit of a technical loop around Parque Batlle before returning on the opposite side of this multi-laned highway to enter the velodrome. The most famous landmark of this sporting complex is also the oldest, that being the Estadio Centenário, that glorious 70.000-seater football stadium completed to celebrate both Uruguay’s centenary as an independent nation (or at least its constitution), and also to host the country’s most famous, defining moment in any sporting context - when the mighty charrúas lifted, on home soil, the very first Football World Cup, in 1930.



The Centenário is a fortress for the national team, with even Brazil only holding a 3/20 win record there, and from 1933 to 2016 served as the home of Peñarol, until they relocated to the purpose built Estadio Campeón del Siglo. Nacional also played several of their high profile home games at the Centenário, and many of the smaller Montevideo clubs hire the venue for matches either against one of the big two, or when playing Copa del Libertadores fixtures, in order to maximise potential gate revenue. It is also popular as a concert host. As well as its permanent icon status derived from hosting the first World Cup final, the Centenário has also played host to the Copa América on several occasions, in 1942, 1956, 1967 and 1995. During the 1970s, the Copa was held with home and away fixtures, and so the Centenário hosted a leg of the final in 1983 also, when Uruguay won the title.

In addition to the Centenário, there are two smaller stadia within the same complex - the 6.500-capacity Parque Palermo, home of Segunda División team Central Español, and the 4.000-seat Parque Luís Méndez Piana, home of Miramar Misiones, a long-established team who have fallen on hard times. There is also the national athletics stadium, which was completed in 1938, the , ostensibly with the aim of hosting the Pan-American Games at some point, however Montevideo has never successfully bid for these at time of writing.

At the north of the park, we pass the [url=http://municipioch.montevideo.gub.uy/sites/municipioch/files/styles/620x410/public/p80106309091.jpg?itok=fDAVxcLy]Monumento La Carreta
, before heading westwards on a bit of a loop around to pass the Obelisk of Montevideo, the great icon which stands as the western frontier of Parque Batlle.



From here we head along Avenida Dr Luís Marques to the Fuente Illuminada, then turn north to loop around the Monumento La Carreta once more, and ride the city park roads around the Estadio Centenário. After this we re-emerge on the opposite side of the Avenida Dr MAmerico Ricaldoni - it has a divider, so there is no issue here - before entering the Velodrómo Municipal for the traditional closure to the Vuelta del Uruguay. Constructed in the late 1930s, the Velodrómo Municipal hosted the amateur races in the 1968 World Championships, which are its greatest claim to fame. It was during a down-period in the Ostbloc racing history, but despite this there was still one major name to consider - the legendary Swedes the Fåglum Brothers were at their peak at this time, and three of the four brothers were part of Sweden’s bronze medal-winning Team Pursuit - the distance was not suited to them as they tended to prefer the longer time trials, winning the 100km quartet TTT three times in a row from 1967 to 1969 before turning professional. The Fåglum Brothers were of course not called that because Fåglum was their name - rather, their family name was Pettersson. Erik, Sture and Tomas are best known for their amateur achievements as the Fåglum Brothers, but the eldest of them, Gösta, went on to be the first Swede to win a Grand Tour, after later winning the Giro d’Italia. What he might have achieved had he not waited until nearly 30 years old to turn professional we may never know, but he was one of the stars of the amateur world at the time so having him on the medal podium in Montevideo was something of a coup. Sture was, for the record, the Fåglum brother to miss out on the Montevideo podium, with Josef Ripfel taking his place.

Thankfully, compared to many such courses, the entry to the Velodrómo Municipal is pretty safe - there is no right angled turn into the middle of the back straight like in Roubaix (which is only not dangerous because Roubaix is such a difficult race that there’s never a full péloton arriving together) nor is there a dangerous pinch point into the stadium like all the historic Peace Race athletics stadium finishes. Instead, the entry road has an admittedly sharp right-hander, but one with quite sizeable run-off, and then it gradually filters onto the velodrome like a highway slip road. The tradition is that the Uruguayan year begins when the final rider crosses the line in the Velodrómo Municipal, and so I couldn’t possibly break from tradition and prevent the Uruguayan year from beginning, trapping them forever in the past, now, could I?

 
Since it's November, I'm getting in the mood for some real sport to begin, so time to bring back my Nordic series. And where else to get people pumped for the upcoming Nordic season than the most iconic ski race of them all? I had a one-day race which just so happened to also fit in with the Nordic series theme, so here we go.

Nordic Series #23: Mora (Vasarennet)



Much is made here about certain similarities between cross-country skiing and cycling. Both endurance disciplines, with a mixture of technical and power athletes, a mixture of specialists for different styles of racing, between heavier, more powerful sprinters and lighter-weight, elegant skiers more suited to the distance events. And often the most decisive parts of any course are its climbs - some of which have become iconic in their own right, most notably Mördarbacken at Falun; simultaneously, skiing has also developed - under the watchful eye of cycling, seeing as several cycle race organisers were consulted in the development of it - a series of stage races, with leader's bibs for different categories and the biggest and most important stage race ending with a climactic mountaintop finish hillclimb stage to Alpe Cermis. Skiers with a strong sprint finish will try to bury themselves within the pack, and breakaway moves can be killed by a lack of cohesion, while men's distance races are often negatively-raced affairs with a number of contenders happy to not gas themselves early and not take risks. There has also been a drive from 'the powers that be' toward shorter distances and more circuit races, with individual start (time trial format) events being marginalised, but the purist fans still yearn for the longer races and celebrate the romance of the solo win from distance (at least when it's a victory due to great guts and style, like Johan Olsson in Val di Fiemme or Hans Christer Holund in Seefeld in the 50k, and less so when it's egregious overstrength just skiing away from everybody, as we frequently saw from Marit Bjørgen with brute strength, and have more recently seen from Therese Johaug with whirling dervish limbs, in the women's competitions).

The analogy is not perfect though; the benefit of drafting is much lower at those speeds, and so you don't often get the same level of cohesion in varying groups, other than in pursuit races or things like Nordic Combined where working together is often the only way for some strong skiers who've jumped poorly to maximise their day's results. Biathlon doesn't feature the same amount of working together to limit deficits because, due to the frequent stops to shoot, any alliance can only really last one lap. And the element of breakaways and tactical chases doesn't tend to apply to the same extent on the World Cup. There is, however, an area of skiing which has even more in common with cycling, and that is, paradoxically enough, the world of everyman skiing, on the marathon circuit. Worldloppet, or its successor, Visma Ski Classics, is a series of long distance races - usually around 50-60km - which similarly to the World Cup have bibs for overall World Cup leader, points leaders and youth leaders, and features trade teams battling it out rather than national teams. There's even - another cycling parallel - a particularly silly design awarded for the best climber. Pretty much all events are in Classic, which enables large peloton-like groups to form of the elites ahead of Joe Public's attempt at the race. Long distance races frequently see enthusiastic breakaways hunted down by those favouring sprints or their teammates, while steep late obstacles often prove decisive. The Marcialonga, for example, could be considered skiing's answer to La Flèche Wallonne, with the Salita della Cascata in the last 2km, as previously mentioned in my entry on Val di Fiemme/Lago di Tesero. But the grandest prize of all is the longest and most iconic of all the ski races, the one that gave the entire series its name, the legendary Vasaloppet.



Literally thousands of people line up for Vasaloppet every year, with places sold out almost before they're made available. Inspired by a (possibly apocryphal) legendary ski journey made in the 16th Century by King Gustav Vasa, fleeing Dalarna and then trying to convince the people of Mora to rebel against the occupying Danes. Initially unsuccessful, the people of Mora allegedly changed their mind and sent their best skiers to follow him, eventually tracking him at Sälen, and convincing him to return. The 90km route from Sälen to Mora has been traversed in informal pilgrimage by skiers in winter until 1922 when the Vasaloppet came into being, thus making it the oldest cross-country ski race in the world. The supreme length of the race as well as the fact that it has increasingly been won in a sprint finale in recent years makes it rather like skiing's equivalent of Milano-Sanremo. In another Italian cycling parallel, the Vasaloppet even has its own equivalent of Alfonsina Strada, in Margit Nordin; the 1922 and 1923 entries were open although Nordin was the only woman to enter; women were barred from entry from 1924 until finally being allowed entry in 1980. At one point the argument was that if women were allowed to enter and finish the race, it would diminish the race's reputation as a challenge (!); in the 1970s some women took part in the race wearing prosthetic makeup and padded ski suits to disguise their appearance, and eventually women were allowed to return to the Vasaloppet. In 1997, a separate women's prize was set up, although the women's race tends to break up far more than the men's, as the women set off before the men, and then you will often see the stronger women hitching a ride on the mens' trains as the race progresses.

The Vasaloppet was included in the World Cup in the mid-2000s, but this was deemed a major failure; due to its anomalous length in the calendar (seeing as the long distance marathon events are generally longer than those shorter but hillier courses on the World Cup calendar) many World Cup names chose not to enter and the race was dominated by the marathon specialists among the men, while FIS instituted a shorter (45km) women's race, which was an even bigger failure - not only did several World Cup names not enter, but none of the marathon specialists were interested in racing a bastardised facsimile of the Vasaloppet, so they continued to enter the full 90km race as they were entitled to do, leaving FIS with egg on their face with an uncompetitive, truncated startlist in the women's World Cup race. If it's not 90km in length, it's not the proper Vasaloppet. Although a number of other races have appropriated the name, because "Vasaloppet" has become as synonymous with long-distance skiing as the ubiquitous "yellow jersey" has spread far beyond the Tour de France, or the Indianapolis 500 has become renowned enough to name an entire type of car, as American Open Wheel racers are known universally as "Indycars" because they're the cars that race "at Indy". As a result we have "Vasaloppet USA" ,"Vasaloppet China", "Vasaloppet Japan" as well as other races which play on the name, such as Finland's "Botnia-Vasan" or Australia's tongue-in-cheek "Kangaroo-hoppet". The famous arch and the wreath for the winner are simply iconic shots in skiing that hold currency far and wide. Realistically, the comparison of the Vasaloppet and Worldloppet/Visma Ski Classics in general in comparison to the World Cup is somewhat like comparing Formula 1 to the World Endurance Championship - with Vasaloppet being the 24h du Mans, the iconic event out of which it all grew, and drawing its own mixture of everyman and elite competitors, and its own collection of specialist, often a bit older than the World Cup average, distance racers.



Although an actual bike race exists, this is a fully amateur, not-actually-raced-per-se event on the forest tracks that make up the actual Vasaloppet route undertaken on mountain bikes. I am here to present an actual Vasaloppet equivalent on bikes.

Proposal: Torsby - Mora, 262km





Seeing as Sälen and Mora are only - you guessed it - 90km apart, if we are to ape the actual Vasaloppet, we can't really just go between those two towns as to do so would take us so far off the beaten track that apart from the start and finish towns it would bear no resemblance to the actual Vasaloppet, so I've elected to move the start southward to Torsby. There is method in the madness, however - Torsby has been chosen for its housing the world's longest ski tunnel, a facility enabling year-round training on snow for the skiers - for symbolic reasons I will have the start there. For the wider world it may be better known for being home to football manager Sven Goran Eriksson, but in the Nordic disciplines, Toini Karvonen, later Toini Gustafsson, is better known - one of the pioneers in women's skiing, Toini won four Olympic medals while women's cross-country was in its infancy, including two golds at Grenoble 1968, after which she retired. She was born in Finland but the family were forced to flee following the Winter War, and came to represent her adopted country with Torsby becoming her de facto home. Torsby also has one of Sweden's bigger biathlon facilities, which led another Torsby native, Mikael Löfgren, to take up the sport, winning two bronze medals in the Albertville Olympics in 1992 and winning the World Cup overall title in 1992-93. He later went on to coach the arch-rival Norwegian team from 2008-2012, presiding over overall World Cup wins for Emil Hegle Svendsen and Tarjei Bø. Torsby also hosted the Junior World Championships in biathlon in 2010, with prominent results-getters including Johannes Kühn, Maren Hammerschmidt, Synnøve Solemdal, Monika Hojnisz, Aleksandr Loginov, Simon Desthieux, Benedikt Doll, plus some quieter names like Tiril Eckhoff and Gabriela Soukalová, some results about which Kokoso and I have argued at length in the past.



Anyway, my Vasaloppet race is very long considering it would likely be at the 1.1 level - but that's OK because it's aping the Vasaloppet, so it should be very long, in order to make the limited obstacles more significant, no? At 260km in length, this is the length of a monument, but on a small race which will probably see a bunch of Scandinavian Continental teams like BHS, Joker, Memil, Coop and ColoQuick. As a bonus cross-country link, we pass through Malung on our way to Sälen, at around the 80km mark. This is the centre of the municipality to which Sälen belongs despite being some 60km from the town, and is the home of Sweden's current favourite belle of the snow, Stina Nilsson - although Stina had better watch her back, because Ebba Andersson and Frida Karlsson are coming for that title, which she herself stole from Charlotte Kalla. Stina is a hugely successful sprinter who has increasingly developed her game to better be competitive all season long across all distances, to become an athlete along similar lines to Ingvild Flugstad Østberg. She is far taller and stronger than Østberg, however, so the tough climbing events still tend to be too much for her, but her distance capabilities have improved to the extent that she does count a bronze in the 30km (!!!) among the four Olympic medals that she acquired in Pyeongchang - albeit only because Theresa Stadlober went the wrong way on the final lap - however the gold in her favoured sprint discipline remains her crowning glory. She even podiumed the Tour de Ski in 2017, although hasn't been able to recreate that. However, in the overall standings in recent years it has very much felt like a battle of Stina Nilsson vs. the entire nation of Norway, which has given her a level of popularity beyond the borders of Sweden as a seeming underdog. But when you have three in-category crystal globes, five Olympic and seven World (albeit all in sprint and relay disciplines) medals, you're really not much of an underdog anymore!



After Malung, we pass through the small town of Lima, not to be confused with the much larger Peruvian city of course, as this one is clearly a superior place as it has a small cross-country stadium and biathlon range. This leads us up the valley of the Västerdal river towards Sälen, which is the mid-point of our race (the first time anyway), and obviously a key spot here, seeing as it hosts the start of the annual Vasaloppet cross-country race, which is the town's main claim to fame, and attracts a huge number of tourists compared to the town's relatively sleepy status and small size. It was also featured in U2's video for New Year's Day, but I won't link to that because I can't stand U2, even back in 1982 when that came out and they were just Joy Division wannabes, long before they became an execrable, self-righteous stadium rock act.

Sälen also has a number of ski resorts surrounding it as a means of attracting people in and also providing amenities for the thousands taking part in the Vasaloppet; as a result we do a little loop around the town taking in the climb up to the Lindvallen resort, which is the most sustained climb of the day at 5,5% for 4km. There are dozens of lifts and small runs here, so we run along the crest for a little before returning to Sälen with 120km to go, which means we can much more tightly hug the proper Vasaloppet route for the latter part of our race.



The first thing we now do is go for a steeper climb, the spiky puncheur dig up to the golf course overlooking the town. You will probably have noticed that the distance from Sälen to Mora on my profile is some 120km, so a 33% increase on the distance in the Vasaloppet. A large part of that is because the Vasaloppet climbs out of the Västerdal valley quite quickly, but there are no paved roads along that stretch of the route between the golf course and Mångsbodarna, therefore we have to descend back down into the valley and retrace some of our steps, albeit on the opposite side of the road. At over 7% for around 2km, this is the steepest of our climbs on the day. After a narrow descent into Vorderås, we turn left as we arrive at the Kläppen Ski Resort to take on the climb onto the main plateau which forms the main body of the Vasaloppet parcours. This climb, which finishes at the Stor-Kallsjön lake, is about 2,5km at 6,5% before flattening out to overall characteristics of just over 3km at around 5%. Again, we are still over 80km from the finish, so it's unlikely that we will see much action here, but it's more about making sure those who make it to the end have earnt their right to sprint for the win. And that those at the back have earnt their Blåbärssoppa, another legendary Vasaloppet tradition - the bilberry (the literal translation is blueberry, but it is not the same as North American blueberries) "soup" that is served at various village stations on the route to keep the energy levels - and body heat - going for the participants of the great marathon. In fact, with a prominent brand of the stewed fruit sponsoring the bibs of the event, it eventually became the informal nickname of the bib itself.


Vasaloppet route and profile

As you can see, the Vasaloppet itself climbs immediately from Sälen to the plateau, and does so by heading north and then almost due east, through Vasaloppetskontroll Smågan, one of seven intermediate checkpoints that characterise the race, where the Blåbärssoppa is handed out and where also the dreaded rope is hung, abandoning those behind it to their fate - this is a sign that the checkpoint is now closed, and therefore preventing any further travel on the route for those trapped behind it - it is the equivalent of being pulled from the course, effectively stating that those behind the 'rope' will find it impossible to make it to Mora in time for the opening up of the route, and therefore cannot be allowed to continue (the course remains open for 12 hours and 15 minutes, so the vast majority of participants will succeed in their aim of completing the route). Smågan is one of only two of these checkpoints that we skip (the other, somewhat fittingly, is the final one, at Eldris, because this is some way off the beaten track when it comes to roads). We, confined to tarmac, instead head south from Sälen and then head east after that, so when the route heading southeast from Smågan reaches the road route at Mångsbodarna, this is where the Vasaloppet route and my Vasarennet route converge. It's not a perfect match - the Vasaloppet route follows a forest trail which runs parallel to the road - but we do largely match up to the route of the iconic skiers of legend through the next checkpoint at Risberg, and then up the small drag to Evertsberg (around 500m at 6% the actual 'climb' so to speak, but overall nearly 2km at a meagre 2-3%), which is an unusual control in the Vasaloppet as it sees skiers have to turn back on themselves, as the control is right in the middle of the village, so it gives skiers a chance to see what damage their pace is doing behind, which is fairly common on the short circuits of the World Cup circuit, which often loop back on themselves to go up and down crests and provide twisty, technical challenges; in long point to point races like Vasaloppet, it's a lot harder to do that.

We then take on a descent which is much steeper than that taken in the ski race - but much straighter, because if there's one thing cross-country skis are not suited to, it's going steeply downhill around corners - that's why you often see the elites taking skate steps on technical descents, even in Classic races, and generally speaking Loipe are much easier with cut tracks. Catching an edge on the rail-thin Nordic skis is far easier than on Alpine ones, and given the number of rank amateurs and beginners who will participate in Vasaloppet, they can't exactly put obstacles à la Mördarbacken or dangerous icy descents in. The Vasaloppspåret follows the road by a twistier route on the way to Oxberg, where another twisty control takes place, and at this point we deviate from the Vasaloppet route by turning left where the course ought to indicate right, in order to include our last real obstacle - at 30km from home we take on our final climb, the Blyberg. 2km at 5,4% but including some of the steepest - 13% - gradients of the whole race, this is not a huge obstacle but it's one that the sprinters will have to prove they can get over in order to earn the right to take part in the iconic sprint in Mora. Given the kind of field we're likely to draw, endurance is likely to become a factor too, as we're already 230km into the race, so the sprinters will have to be durable to make it. We return to the south of the Österdälalven river at Spjutmo, which is the location of the Riksberg checkpoint in the Vasaloppet, the penultimate such stop-off, and follow the road known as Vasaloppsvägen into Mora, although the actual trails follow this for a while before departing somewhat southward to take in the Eldris checkpoint.


At the checkpoints

From there, it's just the charge into Mora to finish, although there's a short ramp of 600m at 6% 7km from home, around Selja, that offers a final opportunity to at least try to fox the sprinters. It just depends on who is here really. I would expect such a race to draw a fairly limited field given its niche location and backdrop, and the paucity of Swedes in the top tiers. Certainly not anything to rival the crowd numbers from the actual Vasaloppet, because that's an absolute institution of course, but we could get ourselves a pretty decent 1.1 race here and with its extreme length, at least some kind of "northern Milan-San Remo" vibe, much as races like Berlin-Cottbus-Berlin used to have in the Ostbloc days.

I can't imagine many WT teams lining up especially with the lack of Swedes at the top tier, but teams desperate for points and with some local-ish interest like Dimension Data (who have no Swedes, but a number of Danes and Norwegians) may harbour some interest, while Jumbo-Visma may be strong-armed into participation as a sponsor requirement, given Visma also sponsor the Ski Classics. People like Riwal would also show, but much of the rest would likely be from the Continental calendar, in which case 260km is a rare enough challenge to really pose something pretty extreme.

Aww hell, let's just watch the Vasaloppet. It's time to get in the mood for the skiing season.
 
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Nordic Series 24: Praz de Lys-Sommand



While Le Grand Bornand is a regular host of cycling and was, if anything, the inspiration behind me taking up this project of combining cycling’s options around the Nordic sports venues when they opened up the permanent-temporary Stade de Biathlon Sylvie Becaert, I haven’t had a go at it yet; this is partly because it is fairly well trodden in cycling and partly because the very first venue I tackled in the project was the Plateau des Confins, which lies very close to the town.

There is, however, a second established Nordic venue in the northern section of the Alps, between the classic Tour regions and Lac Léman; in the Massif du Chablais, the northernmost French Alpine massif, lies the Praz de Lys-Sommand station. This station is a two-part station, which is split by the Col de la Ramaz; on the eastern side of the pass lies Sommand, sometimes known as Mieussy-Sommand after the village at the base of the mountain, and on the western side lies Praz de Lys. The station covers both alpine and Nordic skiing, but when it comes to international competition, its main claim to fame is hosting the 2009 Junior World Championships in the cross-country (the ski jumping and Nordic Combined took place in Štrbské Pleso, in the Slovak Tatras).

While quite a few of the athletes to compete in Praz de Lys back then have gone on to success in the world of cross-country, the undoubted star of the show was Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, who won gold in every event - including the relay - en route to the top of the World Cup standings and several World and Olympic titles, only limited by her arriving not long enough after a couple of other major stars of the sport, most notably Therese Johaug, and being beaten in a lot of distance races by her (slightly younger) contemporary Heidi Weng. Norway’s gold-winning women’s relay also included future Olympic champion Maiken Caspersen Falla and Marthe Kristoffersen, while the bronze medallists in the men’s relay included Tomas Northug, Finn Hågen Krogh and - also winning a bronze in the skiathlon - future 50k world champion Hans Christer Holund. For Russia, Aleksandr Panzhinskiy won the sprint, while Sweden’s efforts were slightly unusual - Hanna Brodin (now Erikson) and Lisa Larsen won all their individual medals, but it’s the other half of their relay silver medal that have gone on to World Cup success - Emma Wiken and Hanna Falk. Krista Lahteenmäki (now Pärmäkoski) won a silver in the skiathlon, while the somewhat anonymous American relay featured some now-familiar names in Sophie Caldwell, Jessica Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen. Others appearing include Calle Halfvarsson, Federico Pellegrino, Jonas Baumann and the British duo of Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young. It’s a pretty sizeable resort so it could easily handle a bike race.



The interesting thing about Praz de Lys is that while it is part of the way up a climb which is relatively well-known, it still offers some different options for racing. Largely as, since the Col de la Ramaz was introduced to the Tour de France in 2003, only the southwestern side, from Mieussy, has been used. It was first introduced in this stage where it was a key climb, with Richard Virenque escaping to take the stage and the yellow jersey for one day before Armstrong took it to Alpe d’Huez the following day; it returned in similar fashion in 2010, although this time a Morzine-Avoriaz MTF was appended to the stage, and Andy Schleck won the stage, with Cadel Evans taking the maillot jaune. The Col de la Ramaz, however, hit fame for being the downfall of Lance Armstrong in his comeback 2.0, as his hopes faded once and for all. Finally, it was one of four climbs in a short, tough stage in 2016, again used mid-stage, so not as decisively as in 2003. The opposite side of the climb remains unused. Which is kind of a shame, as although the Mieussy side may connect nicely with Morzine, there is still plenty that can be done with the eastern side.



You can see Praz de Lys noted on the profile there, although the Nordic station is about a kilometre closer to the Col de la Savolière, as you can see from the brochure for the 2009 Junior Nordic World Championships. This means that the closest run-in to the station has 4,5km at 9,5% ending just 500m from the line, or 3km at 9,5% if you come direct from the Col de l’Encrenaz. And with some really steep stuff.



With a couple of well-known classics in the near vicinity - Joux-Plane, Col de la Colombière - plus a lot of less well-trodden terrain surrounding it, Praz de Lys-Sommand is only really prevented from giving us some really interesting options for racing by the fact that Morzine is much more likely to spend that money on getting the Tour in. Praz de Lys could readily host the Tour, but therefore perhaps the Dauphiné or the Tour de l’Avenir are more likely. Nevertheless, there are plenty of options out there…

Option 1: Annecy - Praz de Lys-Sommand, 162km



The thing about this option is that it’s totally achievable at any level - a collection of classic mountains in Tour history, with fantastic connectivity, coming from a town which has hosted the race often in recent years, but still with a completely new and unique finale. This would make a great final mountain stage in Le Tour. I chose to put the Croix-Fry and Colombière double in the first half of the stage, but this could work even with nothing until Cluses and the smaller climb to Châtillon-sur-Cluses anyhow; Colombière is a popular Tour climb, appearing on 22 occasions, and Croix-Fry has been regularly appended to it since the early 90s. The easier western side of Colombière has largely fallen out of favour in recent years, though it did crop up in 2016's Morzine stage; otherwise we typically now see it from Cluses, often via the Col de Romme, as in 2009 and 2018. The connectivity of Colombière through Cluses, over Châtillon-sur-Cluses to Samoëns and up to Joux-Plane also harks back to Floyd Landis’ legendary 2006 raid.

Joux-Plane was introduced to the Tour in the late 70s and became a staple through the early 80s. It has returned to relative rarity, but features periodically in the Dauphiné to keep its mythology alive. Normally, it seems, it is a key climb in stages usually finishing in Morzine like it has been in 2006, 2016 and the 2012 Dauphiné. Generally, it is the final climb of the day, but occasionally we get something more creative and better, such as in 1981, where in fact the Col de la Ramaz was used as a tune-up for the traceur favourite one-two punch of Joux-Plane and Joux-Verte, a col which sits just beneath the Avoriaz ski station.


1981 Tour stage to Morzine

That 1981 stage was the only time Joux-Verte has been used as a pass, and at 12km @ 6,5% it’s a worthy cat.1. Placing it back-to-back with Joux-Plane in this stage means that it crests at 33km from home, putting the hardest climb of the day at 55km out, since the climbs back onto one another with no respite. As a final roll of the dice, that’s just about close enough to tempt people, but if it’s not, it should get rid of a lot of helpers since these final climbs connect to each other very well. This means that we head straight from the descent of Joux-Verte into Montriond, and to a cat.2 double-header - so the final climbs are not as hard as their preceding run-in climbs; hopefully this should encourage earlier moves, but l’Encrenaz and the final climb to Praz de Lys should not be underestimated; l’Encrenaz is 9km @ 6,5% but with the final 6km at almost 8%; it has also never been climbed by Le Tour, which is seemingly preposterous given its location so close to Ramaz, Joux-Plane and Morzine - however it has often been overlooked in favour of the wider and easier road to Les Gets, which is far easier for riders, but also far easier for logistics. It is, however, only 9km from home, because we only get 6km into the descent before we turn uphill for the final climb to the Nordic station at Praz de Lys - looking at that profile above you can see where the road from the Col de l’Encrenaz joins the profile, and given that we know Praz de Lys is only around 500m after the Col de la Savolière, that means we in effect have a Mende-alike finish, with 3km at 9,5%. This would be a really creative way to breathe some new life into a part of the French Alps that has seen plenty of racing lately and, although they’re discovering new climbs to keep it relatively fresh, as long as the stages continue to rely so heavily on Le Grand Bornand and Morzine for finishes, run the risk of the finales getting stale.

Option #2: Albertville - Praz de Lys-Sommand, 150km



The second option is designed to make the Col de Joux-Plane into the defining climb for the stage, removing the Joux-Verte and l’Encrenaz from the run-in. Instead, the rest of the climbs of this stage are cat.2 level, so it’s continuous up and down, but no climb will take the focus away from the intended focal point, which is the final 40km. This is designed with the intention of mimicking the style of the 2010 Avoriaz stage, but in reverse, with Morzine coming between the penultimate and final climb (well, full-sized climb, because like that day I am electing not to categorise Les Gets), but it’s done in reverse; the hardest climb is the penultimate one, but the final climb is still pretty tough - but not tough enough that it isn’t worth attacking earlier.

The stage is also built around using some less obvious Tour climbs around this part of the Alps, possibly because they’re all cat.2. The Côte de Combloux is a stop-off on a more well known climb, though, as well as sitting above another well-known climb too. That’s as Combloux sits between Domancy and Megève on the road up from Sallanches; as a result it was included as a stop off - the second time check in fact - on the 2016 Megève MTT in the Tour de France; the first part of the climb is also the Côte de Domancy, 2,7km @ 8,5% including some seriously steep ramps, which was also part of the 1980 World Championships Road Race, one off the toughest of all time, based around Sallanches, and won by Bernard Hinault solo, ahead of Gianbattista Baronchelli, with the rest of the field several minutes behind the two. The same circuit was used as the finish of a 2010 Dauphiné stage which was won by Edvald Boasson Hagen. There’s also a Nordic link with Sallanches - it is the birthplace of, and hometown of, French veteran skiing ace Maurice Manificat, who has won five international bronze medals - three at the Olympics and two at the Worlds - all in the relay events, plus a World Championship silver medal from 2015 in Falun in the 15km individual start, among ten World Cup victories spread across a ten year period. A specialist in distance skiing, he has at times been somewhat peripheral thanks to the increasing number of sprint events on the calendar, and has begun to be usurped by younger, sprint-adept skiers in the French team, but he remains their most successful threat in distance to this day.



We also then climb the Côte d’Araches, another mid-station and a more difficult alternative to the Côte de Châtillon-sur-Cluses which was used in the 2009 queen stage to Le Grand Bornand, when Thor Hushovd went on his epic mountain raid to secure the maillot vert with intermediate sprint points. It is the first 7km of the Col de Pierre-Carrée from the west side, then descending this side as far as Châtillon-sur-Cluses. This side, from Cluses, has been climbed twice recently in the Tour de l’Avenir, with a finish at Carroz-Arâches, a little way above Arâches-la-Frasse which is where the climb we’re using - and which the 2009 Tour used - finishes. Dylan Teuns and Jhon Anderson Rodríguez were the two stage winners on those occasions, although in 2014 perhaps of more interest was that Miguel Ángel López did not lose any further time to Aleksandr Foliforov, Pierre Latour or Robert Power. The next cat.2 climb is the Côte des Esserts, by its easier side - a climb to a resort above Morillon which has never featured in a notable French race, but, strangely, has come to prominence in an Italian race - the Giro della Valle d’Aosta featured a number of stages around Morillon and Châtel in the early 2010s, and Les Esserts provided a finish for two road stages, as well as two MTTs. The road stages were won by Dylan Teuns in 2014 and Laurens de Plus a year later, while the MTTs were won by Ildar Arslanov and Robert Power respectively.

After a steep and difficult descent into Samoëns, the big beast that is the Joux-Plane, where all the important action of the stage will take place, rears its ugly head, and crests with just 27km remaining so I’m optimistic of some action on it, especially as I’ve tried to incentivise it further with an intermediate sprint in Morzine. After this, it’s just 6km of uphill false flat to Les Gets, 4km downhill, and then 5km at 9,5% from Fry to Praz de Lys - hopefully this won’t deter action on Joux-Plane, but if it does, just having a climb like that in the legs before you begin a climb which is like a Peña Cabarga, an Urkiola or a more difficult version of Planche des Belles Filles should be sufficient to ensure gaps are opened.



Proposal #3: Praz de Lys-Sommand - Praz de Lys-Sommand, 115km



Yea… it’s a circular short mountain stage. Ideal for a final Dauphiné stage or the Tour de l’Avenir. And it’s a slightly experimental one in that it’s a short mountain stage that dares riders to try to leave it til the last. Let’s see just how many risks they want to take. The only flat is in the lead-in to the final climb… but it’s there. There will need to be some brutal early pace on this one to get the right riders into the break, so unless we’re seeing an end to the era of the short mountain stage, with seemingly both the Tour and the Giro eschewing them next year, this ought to be an interesting one. I’m using the closing stages of proposal #1, but in reverse, as a stage opening, so the easy side of l’Encrenaz, but the harder side of Joux-Verte, with its stretches over 10%, and then the Col du Ranfolly, an interesting twist on the Joux-Plane formula, which is almost never taken up by major races and certainly not in Le Tour - however it is popular with traceurs because of the connectivity with the as-yet-unused Plateau des Saix HC MTF. Instead, here, we’re going back to Morillon-Les Esserts, or Morillon 1100, by its more difficult side.



Now, I could have returned directly via Taninges to Praz de Lys, which would have meant Morillon-Les Esserts came just 27km from the line rather than the 39km it is here. But, that would have entailed a stage which is just 103km long.- which even in my shorter stage options I do kind of baulk at - and also returning up the same road we descended earlier to an MTF, which won’t do at all - it’s only in recent memory been done with Champéry in the Dauphiné, and that was in a stage designed not to be a proper MTF, so wouldn’t draw the same potential crowds as a 5km at 9,5% MTF would, which could spell disaster with the péloton descending the same road crowds will be climbing to get to the race. Instead, we go over the ‘classic’ side of the Col de la Ramaz, meaning we have a classic Vuelta-style short downhill finish of the kind familiar from Xorret del Catí, Angliru or Arrate, with the summit of the cat.1/HC borderline col coming just 4km from the line. The traditional side of the Col de la Ramaz is very tough in its own right, and better known to the riders too of course, but not so tough that it’s impossible to attack earlier, especially in such a short stage. And Ramaz has not been used in a position to be as decisive as this since 2003 anyway so even if we do get a one-climb showdown stage, then at least it’ll be something new!

Proposal #4: Chamonix - Praz de Lys-Sommand, 172km



Another attempt at doing something creative with a well-trodden area of the Alps, using less well-known variants or at least different chains of climbs than might otherwise be expected - as well as providing a legit top level mountain stage in the heart of the Alps, without a single HC mountain. It also features something pretty unusual, which is climbing the same climb twice, but the second time only part of the way to the summit. Stages where the riders climb part of the final climb before looping back to the base and then climbing it in full are not uncommon, especially in Spain - take for example the 2008 Vuelta stage to La Rabassa, the traditional Vuelta a Burgos stage to Lagunas de Neila - before the introduction of Picón Blanco necessitated the easier version we now see - or typical País Vasco stages to Arrate which feature the Alto de Ixua before looping back to Eibar via Urkaregi to climb all the way past the Ixua junction to Usartza before finishing at the sanctuary. Even the infamous 2013 Tour double Alpe d’Huez stage didn’t quite go all the way to the summit of the Alpe the first time around, though it did go higher when accessing Sarenne. I’ve also added a few in this thread before, such as a stage which went to Cuchu Puercu before descending via Cordal into Pola de Lena to climb to Cobertoria east; or a stage climbing the Collado Bermejo before the second time climbing all the way to the observatory.

However, stages where, the second time, you don’t quite go all the way to the top are far rarer. One of the only ones that I recall was the 2011 Valle d’Aosta stage to Torgnon, an epic won by Joseph Dombrowski from the elites, which also included Fabio Aru and Kenny Elissonde. Here, we have a double climb of the unknown version of Ramaz from Taninges, only the second time we stop at Praz de Lys. I also utilised this method in the penultimate stage of my Yugoslav tour, in the mountains overlooking Sarajevo, stopping at the bobsleigh run that has been so iconic of the strife that the city has seen since its international glory days of 1984.

Before that, however, we have a few other climbs to make our way around. I was rather enthused by the idea of using Le Bettex as a pass, since I don’t think it’s an especially strong climb to use as an MTF due to its connectivity. However there are two roads to the top, and especially further down there are options - the 2015 Dauphiné featured the steep Côte des Amerands in the run-in in a stage won by Chris Froome, while the following year the climb was used in Le Tour, instead coming via Vervex, in a stage won by Romain Bardet.


This is the side we’re climbing today, 12km at 6,2%, a perfectly reasonable cat.1, and after that we have the Côte de Megève, similar to proposal #2, only just to show the comparison instead of stopping at Combloux we go all the way to Megève before descending back down again. That’s therefore the 2,7km @ 8,5% of the Côte de Domancy followed by 7km at around 4,5% to make a cat.2 climb, descending via a narrower, parallel road toward Cordon. After riding to Cluses, we take on the Col du Romme, a worthy cat.1 climb which has only been used twice in the Tour, both times as penultimate climb in a stage to Le Grand Bornand, as part of a double-hit with the Col de la Colombière; cutting all of the easier parts of Colombière off, this is still its most popular role with traceurs, but rather than add a long loop via its more famous neighbour I thought I’d just include Romme on its own here and descend back into Cluses via the opposite side of the climb - normally we would just descend to La Reposoir and then climb again, but instead we join the side of Colombière we descended in proposal #1, and head down toward Cluses again. I have done a minor detour to prevent the route criss-crossing itself which has resulted in not including the Côte de Châtillon-sur-Cluses, but that could be included between Romme and Ramaz if necessary. The first time through the finishing line is 37km from the line and there’s only about 7km flat between Mieussy and Taninges there, so this is plenty tough enough as a stage.

Proposal #5: Chamonix - Mieussy-Sommand, 193km



The final proposal is slightly different in that it doesn’t use Praz de Lys as its finish, but instead the neighbouring Sommand station, on the other side of the Col de la Ramaz, however the connectivity of climbs and the characteristics of the stage created were something I was too pleased with to resist. While most of the elite cross-country trails at the Praz de Lys-Sommand station are on the Praz de Lys side of the summit, Sommand has its fair share of them, and deals more with the everyman type courses as you can see from the network of green and light blue Loipe on the trail map below.



In fact, this is one of my favourite designs I’ve posted at all in the Nordic series, simply because it uses a whole area of Alps that are little used and, with up and down all day, it’s a little piece of País Vasco designed for the Tour de France. I’d love to see a mountain stage like this in the Tour, as a final mountain stage after a couple of stages of the classic kind with maybe only two or three climbs but those being absolute monoliths - like a Val Thorens, a Galibier via Télégraphe, a Madeleine or a Bonette type super-sized climb. No need to be afraid of these climbs, then - since they’re only cat.2/3!

On the other hand, there’s just no flat here, after the climbing begins with the aforementioned Côte d’Araches, there’s maybe 10km of flat in the entire stage, and it also includes some gradients you mightn’t ordinarily associate with this part of the Alps on climbs of this size. It opens up benignly enough, with Araches and then Les Gets, which is categorised from this side, especially as we’d be climbing all the way from Taninges so it is over 10km at 4% and does merit some mountains points. After Morzine, there is a comparatively well-known ascent of the Col du Corbier, climbed a few times by the Tour in the 70s and 80s (sample stage from 1978), and known to followers of the Giro della Valle d’Aosta during that period when Châtel was regularly hosting - the town is also a regular host of the Tour des Pays de Savoie, and so many of today’s péloton will have raced it back in their development days. Le Tour hasn’t used the Corbier in 30 years, but it has appeared in the Dauphiné a couple of times recently, in the Champéry stages. At 6km @ 8,6% it’s a reasonably good leg-tester. It actually is part of an optional loop as it would be possible to head directly from Morzine to the feed zone at La Vernaz; instead I have chosen to jump into the Val d’Abondance, and then return via the short cat.3 Col du Grand-Taillet. Afterward, we descend toward the scenic Gorges du Pont du Diable.



From here, we’re onto some relatively little-heralded climbs that have precious little high-profile cycling heritage, but which could all be potentially useful in a stage like this with next to no respite. The only one of the middle-section of the climbs which is compulsory to take is the Col du Feu, a 3km @ 9% kicker which includes some serious gradients above 10%, and then enables us to descend into the basin of Lac Léman’s surrounding flatlands.

67km remain at the summit of the Col du Feu, but that could be reduced depending on what one chooses - I have gone for the nuclear option here, but it would be possible to do only one of the following two climbs - it would be possible to cut out the approximate 10km of flat terrain between the Feu descent and the Col du Cou by cutting the latter climb entirely and going straight to the Col des Moises, climbing all of it rather than just the last last five and a half kilometres, but that would entail leaving out one of the hardest climbs of the entire stage; alternatively one could cut out the Col des Moises by leaving the flat from Feu to Cou but then descending directly to Habère-Lullin before the Côte d’Ajon - however this would remove the nice connectivity between Cou and Moises. It does, however, have the benefit of meaning that the last three climbs do not show any weak points and are all real challenges, so not dissuading attacks on the earlier one by placing some less selective climbs between it and the final climb. The Col du Cou has been climbed a few times in the Tour, mostly in the 60s and 70s, and never since 1984, but never in a particularly decisive spot; Moises has never been climbed.



The following climb, Ajon, is a bit of a stinger, used as an alternative to the less interesting Col d’Avernaz from the west. It’s a borderline cat.1/cat.2 climb when taken in its entirety from the Villard side, but in order to use it as a pass, I have to cut it slightly short - at the junction for Bogève on this profile - that never less leaves us with 6km at 8%, and cresting just 21km from home, so it’s got some real potential. It’s also very scenic, offering views into the main body of the Alps from the Pointe Miribel.



The northeast face of Ajon, from Les Moulins, is not safe to descend, but the road from the Col d’Avernaz to Onnion, is perfectly fine, and is in fact one of the routes used to access Ski Station les Brasses, although you have to then descend part of the other side of l’Avernaz to get to the access road. The side of Avernaz we descend is much tougher than the side we would have climbed - hence the decision to use Ajon and prevent this from being a final-climb-only proposition, and it’s only the first 500m of the descent, between the Côte d’Ajon junction I’ve used and the road through the Col d’Avernaz, that should present any problems - but I’ve one last trick up my sleeve to try to get this to be something other than a final col shootout. And that’s that I have, quite simply, elected not to go to Mieussy and climb the Col de la Ramaz in full. Instead, we take the D226 to Saint-Denis, then take a shortcut on Voie Communale 202, which joins the Col de la Ramaz road above the village of Messy; this joins the western side of the Ramaz at Chez-Besson, meaning we have another 6km at around 8% to reach the summit, with the final kilometre and a half averaging 10,5%.

With almost 10 categorised climbs (I chose not to categorise Vaudagne on this stage, whereas I did categorise it on option #4) but none above cat.2 level, this could really be a banana skin of a stage, and a genuine medium mountain horror show, even though it’s in the Alps. The Tour doesn’t do enough up-and-down-all-day type stages, and this would be a great way to rectify that, as well as shining a light on a less heralded ski station, with some interesting Nordic heritage.
 
In the Nordic Series? It's something I can go back to periodically and dip back into here and there. In the thread in general? Dunno. I enjoy the design elements and things like that, however I also appreciate that super-long encyclopædia posts by the likes of me and railxmig can make it off-putting for others to join the discussion and a lot of long-term contributors have either left the forum or stopped posting in here until it's increasingly something of an echo-chamber. I do design stuff at a far faster rate than I post in it, too, of course.

Nordic Series 25: Altenberg

It is something of an oddity that in 24 previous Nordic Series posts, I only once (that’s 1 time) have posted about a German venue. Considering Germany’s very central role in three of the four Nordic disciplines at present (they don’t have much of a presence in cross country, but are one of the world’s top nations in ski jumping, are almost dominant in the last decade in Nordic Combined, and biathlon is a cultural phenomenon in some parts of the country, more important than almost any sport this side of football). Admittedly that is partly to do with the limitations of geography - Notschrei is the only venue that could be described as being among ‘high’ mountains, and while Oberhof offers a lot of opportunity, several of us have already either passed through or used as a stage host the DKB Arena at the Grenzadler pass above the town. However, there are quite a few other German venues in hilly or medium mountain terrain which offer quite a few options, and I have been somewhat lax in investigating them, especially when you consider that German interest in cycling is on the up-swing at the moment, with the Deutschland Tour having been resurrected for the umpteenth time, and considering I have done two two-week and one three-week Deutschland Tours on this thread in the past alongside myriad shorter stage races within the country, or using it as part of the course à la the Peace Race, which I’ve also had multiple goes at. And while I have spent more time than not in the former DDR, with its great history of cycling, it is to that well that I have gone once more, and investigate the biathlon arena at Altenberg.



Altenberg has a long and storied wintersport history, dating back to the 1950s, when the cross-country stadium was built to accompany the Geisingberg ski jumping hills; a shooting range was then added, with Altenberg hosting the Biathlon World Championships all the way back in 1967, when the sport was still in its relative infancy. There were only two events: the 20km Individual and the Relay, both for men only, with the USSR claiming gold through Viktor Mamatov in the former, and Norway taking gold in the latter, and times being approximately double those that you might expect for the same distances today (the relay included penalty minutes, rather than penalty loops or reloads, which had yet to be introduced, and largely explains this discrepancy). While the ski jumps have passed into disuse, a bobsleigh and luge track has replaced it from the 1980s onward, so Altenberg remains a key name in German winter sports tradition to this day. Two of the town’s most famous children are biathletes - Sapporo bronze medallist Horst Koschka, who competed on home snow for the DDR in Altenberg in 1967; and Manfred Beer, who won two world titles and an Olympic bronze in the relay in the 1970s, as part of a biathlon dynasty - that East German world championship-winning relay consisted of Manfred Beer, Klaus Siebert, Frank Ullrich and Eberhard Rösch, all of whom have had long-standing relationships with the sport; Ullrich a 9-time World and 1-time Olympic gold medallist who later became a central trainer and only left the sport in 2015, Klaus Siebert as a world champion in 1979 in the Individual and latterly as the brains behind the Belarusian triumphs and Darya Domracheva’s mentor, and Beer and Rösch as part of family dynasties, with Beer fathering the two sisters, Katja and Romy, and Rösch fathering Michael Rösch, who based himself around Altenberg and has lived there for most of his life; the younger Rösch, nicknamed “Ebs” after his father, burst onto the scene to be part of Germany’s gold medal winning relay in Torino, after a few successful years fell from prominence, fought his way back into the scene before losing his place again, after which he switched to compete for Belgium in the aim of returning to the Olympics. In latter years, the success of him, and also Frenchman Florent Claude who likewise defected to Belgium, has led to them becoming cult favourites in the relays, especially with Rösch being instantly recognisable with his large bushy beard; he retired recently to take up a coaching role after becoming a popular father figure around the circuit.



Latterly, Altenberg has played something of a second fiddle role in German biathlon; it has a relatively small capacity, which is something of a problem as you will know if you’ve ever seen pictures of Oberhof or Ruhpolding on race weekends. As a result, despite far more reliable snow than Oberhof (the deepest snowfall in a German town and the coldest average temperature in Germany are both recorded within Altenberg’s municipality), it has had to settle for lesser competitions; the European Cup raced here in the 80s and 90s, then its successor, the IBU Cup, raced at Altenberg in 2005-6 and then from 2009 to 2012 before settling on Langdorf-Arbersee as the home of its German round. People to have won in Altenberg include Dmitry Iaroschenko (before his EPO positive), Franziska Hildebrand (junior sprint, 2006, so five years before her World Cup debut), Christoph Stephan (before his first breakout, let alone his comeback), Frode Andresen (hitting a pretty unbelievable 19/20 no less), Evgeny Garanichev (before his breakout), Erlend Bjøntegaard (some seven years ago!) and Erik Lesser. Since then, however, with a paucity of stars coming from the Saxon training bases (and their big prospect, Tina Bachmann, being forced into early retirement by illness and injury), the venue has been somewhat maligned as an option, save for the German national championships on roller skis in Septembers, and the occasional bike-biathlon gimmick event.

Speaking of bike/biathlon crossovers, here we are.



Proposal #1: Altenberg - Altenberg (circuit), 16,6km



The first prospective stage is a circuit race or championships course which finishes in the arena. Depending on the amount of circuits involved, it could cover various levels. I would recommend, at the present time, around 9 circuits (149km) or 10 (166km) for a women’s championship race. (probably 9 for national or Euro championship, 10 for Worlds), 11 (183km) for an U23 race, around 14 (232km) for a national championships men’s race and 16 (265km) for a European or World Championships men’s road race.

And it’s a tough hilly circuit too, although not too much in the way of super steep gradients meaning this could still be a fairly open race. Looking back at Lasterketa Burua’s guide to historic World Championships courses, the circuit seems to bear the most resemblance, over time, to Frascati 1955, Gap 1972, San Cristobál de Tachíra 1977, Colorado Springs 1986, Stuttgart 1991, Benidorm 1992, Agrigento 1994, Varese 2008 or Ponferrada 2014, although with precious little flat. It might fit with the Nürburgring (more the 1966 and 1978 versions than the earlier version with the Steilstrecke instead of the Karrussell, though) too.

The circuit starts and finishes on the Loipe of the Altenberg biathlon stadium, which has a couple of short climbs around it, but the most important part is the climb from Geising to Altenberg, which according to Quäl dich is 4,0km @ 5,5%. I actually climb a little bit further, beyond the village to the parking area for the biathlon arena, but that is at very low gradient and doesn’t really add anything to the climb. Something that the circuit has in common with Benidorm and Ponferrada is that the descent into Geising is in fact steeper than the ascent, as I didn’t want to turf out an unrealistic World Championships course - although what constitutes that seems to be changing with the inclusion of a circuit around the Col de la Petite-Forclaz in 2020 at least…


Altenberg town

There’s a large parking area at the top of the climb, which serves as the access point on foot to the Sparkassen-Arena biathlon stadium. There is a path that enables a direct walk through to the stadium, but that is not accessible to vehicles and is not paved, so we are unable to take the cycling course that way, instead we continue to Georgenfeld, where we almost reach the road point at which we descended when leaving the stadium, before a sharp right onto Georgenfelder Weg takes us into the Georgenfelder Hochmoor, a plateau that separates the main road from Altenberg to the Czech border from the biathlon arena, which sits on its opposite shoulder. As a result, we have another 1km at 5% climb - enough that it could be used as a springboard for attacking from, but not enough that it is necessarily likely to be decisive unless the group has been whittled down by moves elsewhere. After around 600m of the plateau, we enter the Loipe for the Altenberg biathlon arena, finishing in the stadium after a couple of relatively gentle left-handers (none of the super-switchbacks stuff is included until the way out of the stadium).


The Loipe are wide enough to use here as the route has been fairly selective. This is easily as wide as the cycling course used in the Women’s Tour of Britain and several of the roads used in Flanders and Denmark!

Admittedly, there are some technical challenges on the way out of the stadium, with an initial 150º right-hander coming out of the home straight to pass the shooting range, then after leaving the stadium, a slight downhill which ends in a 180º right-hand sweeper. We also leave the Loipe by way of a left hand hairpin (actually two back-to-back 90º left-handers, one to leave the Loipe and one to join the access road Schneise 28). This leads to the first climb of the circuit, 1250m at 6%, with a max of 11%, onto the other side of the Georgenfelder Hochmoor, before the relatively fast and straight descend through Zinnwald to Geising. This would, in my opinion, make for a very interesting World Championships route, because the climbs aren’t as hard as, say, Mendrisio, but there’s really very little flat at all and the cumulative effect of them would surely remove the sprinters from contention; there’s no single obstacle there likely to get rid of the Sagans and Matthewses of this world, but would constantly climbing up and down even at low gradients for the lengths of a championship race wear them down, especially if the pace was high? For a national championship, I think the women’s race would simply come down to: are the climbs hard enough for Clara Koppenburg to drop Liane Lippert? Whereas the men’s race would leave question marks on if it was tough enough for Buchmann, or should this terrain be written off as Schachmann’s domain for the foreseeable future?

Proposal #2: Bautzen - Altenberg, 222km



A queen stage for the modern version of the DeutschlandTour if ever I saw one, seeing as the race has decided to be mostly flat to slightly hilly rather than incorporate the real variety of terrain that Germany has to offer. In addition to this, this would have the benefit of moving the race into one of German cycling’s true heartlands, Saxony. I’ve used Bautzen as a stage host in a lot of races due to an affinity for the Lusatian Sorbs and their losing battle for the preservation of their language and culture, and also did a Tour of the Sorbengebiet early in the days of the thread, including some nice cobbled sectors. The first part of this stage ought to be familiar to long-time readers of the Race Design Thread, as I’ve used a fair few of the early obstacles before, in my Peace Races, Deutschland Tours and the DDR-Rundfahrt I did. But this is also aided by some Nordic heritage, because at the moment the city of Dresden hosts the Cross Country World Cup, albeit on a fairly tedious route which is used for sprints (my second least favourite format in XC) and team sprints (my absolute least favourite format) only, owing to a fairly flat route with a couple of rollers. However, it does at least give us some pretty scenic shots.



Winners of the sprints in Dresden have been Federico Pellegrino and Sindre Bjørnstad Skar among the men, and Hanna Falk and Stina Nilsson among the women. The relatively dull route, and a sub-optimal calendar position directly after the Tour de Ski meaning many big names skip the event, have meant the Dresden city event hasn’t really caught on, but it does have a few more years in its contract to try to make something of itself. But you guys don’t care about that - it’s time to start climbing. I dealt with the Loschwitzer Berg and the Borsberg fairly recently, in my DeutschlandTour, which you can see here. But you know the drill by now. Cobbles. And plenty of them. Borsberg of course hosted a Peace Race MTT as part of a split stage ITT pairing (one flat one, one uphill one), and has relatively well-known status as a climb in German cycling lore, at least in the East. We do in fact rather copy that Cottbus-Bastei stage for a while, with the two climbs around Dresden and the drop into Pirna, though I’ve added another somewhat easier climb on a detour around Pirna before the partially-cobbled (900m @ 11%!) Pfaffenberg, because that would have disrupted the earlier stage from making earlier climbs decisive, but here these climbs are about putting something in the legs early in the race, so it’s not as imperative that they chain directly to one another.

From here, some rolling terrain takes us to Zwiesel, not to be confused with the other Zwiesel, in the Bayrischer Wald, which sits underneath the Langdorf-Arbersee biathlon facility and therefore may be seen at some point in this series. This Zwiesel leads us into a series of climbs, around 2/3 of which are categorised, making up the central portion of the stage. This ends with the climb of the Ruckenhainer Berg, the first of two times onto a plateau above Dittendorf, before we do a bit of a loop-de-loop. To do so, we need to continue to climb at low gradient (circa 2%) after the summit of the Ruckenhain climb. After descending back into the Bielatal, we could turn left and head directly toward Geising and Altenberg, but we do not, we instead head right. The first left could take us up toward Altenberg on a long gradual climb, but instead we take the second, an inconsistent 3,5km climb to Falkenhain. The overall average is just under 7% but the first and last kilometre average nearly 9%. We then descend into Schmiedeberg and then over the Molchgrundweg climb - 40km from home - before a two stepped descent including an uncategorised climb and taking us to the base of Dittershöhe, which crests at 27km from home and is where the action should take place.



Dittershöhe is a key point in the Königlich-Sächsisch triangulation routes, and is therefore important for long distance travel. The climb has been profiled on Cronoescalada but with the summit all the way up near the village, so including all the false flat afterward for a total distance and gradient of 3,6km @ 6,3%. That only tells part of the story, though, of course, so I have put the mountains points at the end of the most brutal tramo, after 1400m averaging 11,9%. The first kilometre averages 12,8%, so this is a little piece of País Vasco. It’s then followed, like Ruckenhainer Berg, by around 1700m at 2%, before a final 500m jumping back up to 5-6% as a little coda. At this point we rejoin the road we did earlier and descend back into the Bielatal, but we do turn left toward Altenberg this time. This means a few kilometres of false flat into Geising - so instead of just following the route from my circuit race in proposal #1, we climb the Geising to Zinnwald side of the climb, which is 4km at 6%, and could of course crest very close to the finish as per the circuit route; instead however I thought to try and make a more complex finale, so the summit is approximately 9km from the line - as instead of just going up over the Georgenfelder Hochmoor, we instead take the main road and descend - but only as far as Altenberg village itself. There, we take two lefts to take a different route uphill out of Altenberg, but a much easier one that shouldn’t incentivise leaving it until here, 2km at 4% on a pretty straight road, past Galgenteich to the base of the Kahleberg, and then over a couple of rolling kilometres into the stadium as per option #1.


View of Altenberg from the Kahleberg.

Proposal #3: Zwickau - Altenberg, 174km



Proposal #3 is the ‘nuclear option’ version of this, one which is perhaps more suited to a Peace Race type route, but could be used for a Deutschlandtour or Sachsen-Rundfahrt if that race is ever revived. It starts and finishes in Germany but includes some key sections in the Czech Republic, which may hinder some viability, but of course it is not unusual to see races decamp onto neighbouring countries’ terrain for part of a stage. Of course, it is more common that when races do this, they have a stage finish there, but this is not essential, as can be shown by races such as the 2016 Vuelta stage to Dantxarinea or the 2007 Tour stage to Aubisque. In fact, one of the most famous stages of all time featured such a detour - Coppi’s epic 1948 Cuneo-Pinerolo raid, which entered France on its first pass of the day, and only re-entered Italy with the penultimate climb of the stage.


Part of Pro Cycling 101.

So we have a stage which treads the border between Germany and the Czech Republic along the Erzgebirge. After a rolling introduction we end up in Aue, the foothill town that sits at the basis of the legendary Teufelstein. I’ve written plenty about Teufelstein before, of course, the sub-5km climb that still got cat.1 status in the Friedensfahrt due to its difficulty; it’s 3km at 10,7% early in the stage. So it’s the steepest climb of the day, but it’s really early in the stage so is more here to ensure a strong breakaway. Especially as for the next 30km there’s essentially no flat terrain, it’s all up and down but over small, uncategorised climbs that will sap the legs so that when they hit the big climbs later in the day, some legs will already be screaming.


Teufelstein.

None of the next climbs along the middle of the stage are especially steep, but there are also quite a few ‘hidden’ climbs, such as around Zöblitz, where there’s a steep road to Songau which is over a kilometre at over 7%, but again, uncategorised. Now we’re in the Flöha basin, we’re straddling the border, but we turn away from it for a low gradient grinder up through Seiffen, which then crosses the border higher up, near the village of Klíny. This is a multi-step climb of a very low gradient, which then leads into a long and technical descent into Litvínov.

This is where the ‘serious’ climbing begins. There are two major climbs in the stage, both climbs in the Czech Erzgebirge. Dlouhá Louka in the Krušné Hory has its own Loipennetz, and has some good steep sections, and is 8,8km @ 7,1%, which makes it a reasonable enough cat.1 climb, at least for the kind of races it is going to be in. It could be a cat.2 climb in a Grand Tour level type race, though, mind. This crests 52km from home, so it’s unlikely any major moves will happen here, but a good pace should kill off some domestiques for the day. There’s twelve kilometres of rolling terrain here, before descending from Stürmer via Mikulov into Hrob, which is very technical and twisty.

Now, from here, we could climb directly to the border at Zinnwald from Dubí, via a perfectly reasonable climb which, according to Quäl dich, is. 8,8km @ 5,8%. But I have something a bit nastier in mind. Instead, we have five extra kilometres of flat in the Bohemian plains, to Vrchoslav, then we turn left at the Krupsky Akvadukt, and then climb up to Krupka, which is a much steeper, much nastier ascent.



Yes, this is a little killer of a climb, measuring 5,3km @ 9,6%, with a steepest tramo of 250m at 15,4%. Known as Graupener Pass to the Germans, this is one of the nastiest routes to the border in the Erzgebirge, and its climb statistics and characteristics put it in the same kind of category as Peña Cabarga, Puerto de Urkiola, Planche des Belles Filles and other similar types of ascent, so plenty capable of causing separation. Especially considering only 17km remain at the summit. And there’s no real descent either, as we ride a few kilometres of undulating terrain along the border back to Zinnwald, before descending into Geising, and following the route from the circuit in Proposal #1. As mentioned, I could have gone straight to the finish from Zinnwald, by tracing the first few kilometres of the circuit route backward - this would bring the finish 4km closer but get rid of the final climb, as I am again copying the route from the circuit, climbing up from Geising through Altenberg itself toward the stadium - only this time, putting the finish at the Parkplatz, meaning we have a climb of 4km @ 5,5% direct to the finish, akin to the kind of final climb we see in the decisive stages in the Tour de Pologne.

Certainly a finish in the stadium going direct from the Zinnwald climb from its Czech side would offer another pretty strong option, but I felt that too many border-straddling options might be unlikely given there is no Peace Race now, so it would rely on stages in the Deutschlandtour or, less likely, the Czech Cycling Tour, and as Krupka offers the best option for approaching the Altenberg biathlon facility from the Czech Republic, this would be the best option to showcase.

 
My oost is pretty much the Antithesis of a classic Libertine Seguros post, a whole Tour de France route with links to all the stage profiles in one post.

Here we go​

  • Stage 1 Rouen – Mur de Bretagne; 127km. The opening stage is on the shorterside, but features the same circuit as the 2018 stage with 2xMur de Bretagne.
  • Stage 2 Plouguerneau – Lannilis; 206.27 Km. Stage 2 is a surprise, a carbon copy of Tro-Bro-Leon. The small climbers could loose a lot of time.
  • Stage 3 Fouesnant - Plumelec; 176km. 4 laps of the classic Plumelec circuit at the end of the stage.
  • Stage 4 Saint-Nicolas-de-Redon - Bressuire; 165km. an easy sprint stage after 3 pretty haectic days.
  • Stage 5 Parthenay - Parthenay ITT; 25.2km. A mid length ITT early in the first week, a bit like the 2008 Tour. This one, stage 2 and (if we're lucky with the wind) 1 or 2 of the sprint stages should create gaps and force the climbers to attack already on the first mountain stages (stage 8 and stage 9).
  • Stage 6 Poitiers - La Flotte; 158km. crosswinds stage. This one could be interesting if the wind is blowing, otherwise it will be a rather normal sprint stage with a finish on the IÎle de Ré .
  • Stage 7 Libourne - Biarritz; 227km. .An easy sprint stage to Barritz, but really long. Maybe wind could be a factor, but probably not.
  • Stage 8 Anglet - Port de Larrau; 169km. The first MTF of the race and it's a big one. I expect a serious selection before the false flat part, the best climbers among the gc riders will then try to gap eachother on the final 2 kms.
  • Stage 9 Orlon-Sainte-Marie - Lac de Payolle; 193km. If we're just speaking about overall altitude gain this is the hardest mountain stage of the entire race, around 5,900m of altitude gain. Decent length, 5 cols, the heat and it comes right after a hard mtf, we should get some fireworks on the final climb of the day. I don't expect a lot of gc action before the final ascent, but after such a hard stage the gaps could be huge.
  • Stage 10 Agde - Avignon; 168km. On paper it looks like an easy stage, but the Mistral could make things really complicated for the pure climbers. Otherwise it's stage for the sprinters, but the small hill near the end could spice things up, a late attacker has a chance to win this one.
  • Stage 11 Carpentras - Manosque; 153km. A medium mountain stage, but with Ventoux at the start. Besides the Ventoux the other climbs of the day aren't really that hard, but it's always up and down, so you never know what could happen.
  • Stage 12 Pertuis - Sisteron; 156km. The calm before the storm, a rather easy stage for the sprinters.
  • Stage 13 Sisteron Dignes-les Bains ITT; 51.6km. A long ITT before the Alpes.
  • Stage 14 Digne-les Bains - Risoul; 213km. After a +50km ITT we get a mountain stage that would count as a Tappone in the Giro. +210kms long and around 5,100m of altitude gain is some serious stuff. Vars-Risoul is also a great combination, the final 5km of Vars are at 9% and the final climb starts right at the end of the descent. Those who have lost minutes in the TTs will could already attack on the penultimate climb.
  • Stage 15 Briancon – Tignes; 160km. Probably my favourite mountain stage.
    Col de Montgenèvre right at the start to get a hard pace and a strong breakaway and the awesome Cenis-Iseran combination before a finish in Tignes.The race should explode on the Iseran, this is the stage where one could gain minutes on his opponents.
  • Stage 16 Bourg-Saint-Maurice - Thonon-les-Bains, 189km. With the stage coming right after a rest day, over 4,400m of altitude gain and 2 big climbs right at the start this could be the stage for an unexpected ambush. If someone has a bad day after the final rest day he could loose minutes and the chance to fight for a great position on the gc or even the win.
  • Stage 17 Thonon-les-Bains - Annecy; 134km. An easy sprint stage before the big final.
  • Stage 18 Aix-les-Bains - Seyssel; 131km . My only short mountain stage, but this one features 4 steep climbs, Mont du Chat right after the start, so we should get a great mountain stage with action before the final climb.
  • Stage 19 Belley - Tassin-la-Demi-Lune; 148. This is probably going to be a breakaway stage, the 2 climbs should be too hard for the sprinters and with the stage being between 2 bigger gc days we also can't expect any gc action, otherwise I would have made this one even harder.
  • Stage 20 Lyon–Clemont-Ferrand; 247km. This is the reason why we had 3 shorter stages on the last 3 days, the final gc relevant stage is the longest stage of the entire race. A nice medium mountain stage that finishes in Clemont-Ferrand, the last chance to try something (having a teammate in the breakaway could be crucial), so we should still see a few people who are wiling to try something to improve their position on the gc.
  • Stage 21 Montgeron - Paris, 105km. The usual parade stage, no profile needed.
In the end it's a Tour with really hard mountain stages, but enough kms of ITT and a few potential rouleur stage to keep it balanced, at least in my humble opinion.
PS: Feedback is always welcome.
 
@Mayomaniac

Stages 1-2-3, I love. One of the best uses of what La Bretagne has to offer that I have seen in a design. Saturday-Sunday entertainment for sure...and Monday too. Flat OK to regroup stage 4, flat medium ITT stage 5: great placement. Definitely keeping GC contenders on their toes. 6 and 7 could be great if the wind gives echelon opportunities (although unlikely -as you noted- on stage 7, so far south).

Week-end in the Pyrenees...I like the approach: both stages should see action. It would have been tempting to offer a monoclimb on stage 8. Nice not to do so, instead we have a true mountain stage, but not a monster. It will deplete the riders a little ahead of a great stage 9.

Stage 10 is OK, stage 11 you could have gone straight to Sisteron used Ventoux and Montagne de la Lure, which has never been done. But as it is, stages 11-12 will not be easy, and in the middle of July, riders will be baking.

Stage 13: some will love it (Dumourain and his fans for sure), but to me, with a flat 25K ITT already in the books, that's flat ITT overkill. A matter of taste maybe.

Week-end in the Alps: again, brilliant.

Stage 16 could be the stage for a desperate or poker move, I agree. Or a rider 9th in the GC being part of the breakaway, gaining 6 spots and becoming a podium threat. Interesting.

Then a transition stage, then one really cool way to race the south Jura mountains. Why not a MTF atop La Biche though? Or a few hundred of meters after the top on the plateau at La Croix de Fanban? Because that descent as a finish could be ugly, very ugly...please someone tell Ritchie to stay home.

Stages 19-20, very good.

All-in-all, a very cool design IMHO. Great job!!!
 
@Tonton, thanks for the kind words.
I was thinking about making the long ITT a bit hillier.
Yes, the descent on stage 18 is a bit risky, maybe a finish on La Croix de Fanban could be the better option, I already have a few downhill finishes in the race, so it wouldn't be a bad idea.
 
Right, this is less of a complete design, and more of a vague idea, though for a specific edition of the TdF, namely the 2021 edition. We know that 2020 will be quite light in the TT compartment, so who's to say 2021 can't be quite heavy?
We already know that stage 1 will be a 13 km ITT in Copenhagen, it'll obviously be flat because… Copenhagen. However, it could be quite technical if it's actually in the city.
Then stage 4 could be a TTT of 20-30 km, with some technical passage and some tempo passages, bit left-right-up-down.
And finally stage 20 could be a 50ish km, completely flat, just halfway out, turn around, go back. Full gas.
 
It's funny, Mayomaniac, the week following the Tour route presentation, I created my own route as a response to what I didn't like about that route (but overall I had mixed feelings as there were a lot of good stuff too), and while the overall structure and balance is somewhat similar, the only start or finish town we share is Paris and the 7 passes we both use (5 in the Pyrenees, no surprise) are all opposite sides. With your route being counter-clockwise and mine clockwise and the both of them together covering most of France, they fit perfectly as successive editions! Only trouble is that we both omit Pau, which is a bit unrealistic as we haven't had two years in a row without the city since '69, '70. The horror ...

First for the overall impression: As for balance and overall structure, it's obvious from my first paragraph that I'm quite happy with that. Your route is a bit short though: Overall distance is ~3300 km. Not trusting Cronoescalada's categorization of climbs and not having yours, by my own count you have 30 climbs, 10/12/8 (HC/1st/2nd). It's the same as this year's edition had, but with twice as many HC climbs. 2018 was the edition with most HC climbs (9) and a total 26 climbs of cat. 2 or higher, so you are certainly not lacking in that department. I personally think that is quite fine, especially so with a more normal amount of TT'ing than in recent years. I too share the view that we need more of both, but it does make it hard for me to suggest changes that would add to the tally.

It's a good domestic Grand Depart, and I can definitely imagine something not too dissimilar happen in the future. But I have to object to the finish of your 2nd stage. I don't think the short finish circuit can work in this context. Just like the 2018 edition had a Tour du Finistère stage that was modified so it was without the small circuit in the end. I think the larger circuit is quite fine. I don't watch Tro-Bro Léon, so I can't say how much else would need modification, but given the rumours in recent years, it's clear that Ribinoù are on the table.

While I know of cases nearby, the Tour has never had a finish on a border before and I'm not sure if it's the case with the other GTs. I don't really think it's a problem, but it got me wondering, and I definitely prefer the full Larrau ascent over a finish at Col d'Erroymendi. The next day is absolutely fine, I'm not sure if it's too overused (here) to finish straight after Tourmalet with something extra in-between. Beyrède is always an alternative for either of the two final climbs, but not really a clear improvement.

I have to say that Ventoux here feels a bit weird to me. I appreciate that it serves a function and that it's the rare side, but wouldn't climbing to Chalet Reynard by the traditional side be fine too? I think it makes sense to insert Col de Lagarde-d'Apt afterwards, but I'm aware that it adds to the tally without adding crucial quality to the stage. I think Tonton's idea work too, but I'm not sure what to have afterwards, as it would be pointless to go directly to the ITT.

I don't have anything to add to your Alp stages. I really like your Jura stage and its circuit shouldn't be too short to cause trouble - I think it's an excellent combination of the climbs. My only suggestion would be to change the beginning and go over Sapenay instead (or alternatively move the start to Rumilly and go over Clergeon) and also use the fourth side of Grand Colombier from Anglefort so that all four sides are in use. An illustration.

I like the nod to Puy de Dôme in the end, giving the route a retro feel. All in all, I quite like it. 8/10
 
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In 2014 the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc had a MTF on the Grand-San Bernard as the final stage and there weren't any problems.


Unlike Switzerland Spain is a part of the EU, so it should be even less of a problem.
 

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