Race Design Thread

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As you can probably imagine… plenty of time for me to get through my colossal backlog of race designs, since the write-ups predictably take longer than the race designs. I’m gonna try and rattle through a few that are tours of smaller areas and/or one-day races / championship circuits and so on, so as to run through a few of the races I have at my disposal.

One of the things I’ve had variations of for a long time is this race. Back a few years ago, the Tour de San Luís was the best way to begin the cycling season. Happening at roughly the same time as the Tour Down Under, this was a one-week race in Argentina which featured some reasonable time trialling, some good level climbing (especially later on when they used the full climbs rather than skipping the Cerro El Amago and just climbing to the Mirador del Sol instead of all the way to the Sierra de los Comechingones. There would be a mixed péloton between Spanish and Italian ProContinental teams, a few additional World Tour teams with South American interests, some Continental teams from the US and Colombia, and then a bunch of Rioplatense riders who were peaking, but most importantly, there would be RRRRRRadio Popularrrrrrrrrrr de San Luííííííííís, when cycling was subjected for one week to the kind of commentary we are of course used to from regular Latin American football broadcasts. The race fell on its sword in 2016, and though the Vuelta a San Juan has stepped into its shoes, that race is, well, I don’t know. It hasn’t really gripped me the same way.

I like Argentina, though, and it is an area with some route design possibilities. I have investigated the country a few times before, doing a two week Vuelta a Argentina (which only covered the northern part of the country) as well as two week-long Vueltas in the Patagonian Lake District, around San Carlos de Bariloche, and also my rather unique Vuelta al Fin del Mundo, around Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost race in the world. This one, however, is a much more feasible race, and an almost direct replacement for the Tour de San Luís. Focusing on a large metropole with sporting heritage, and with mountains around it, this should be realistically achievable. And so I present the Vuelta a Córdoba, not to be confused with the amateur race around the Provincia de Córdoba in Andalucía.



Córdoba is the second most populous province of Argentina, with over 3 million inhabitants, with around half of those living in the province’s capital and title city and its outlying areas. The city was originated and developed by the Spanish as a stationing point on the route from the altiplanos of the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Río de la Plata. It then became a major Jesuit centre and then a centre of learning, with multiple higher education institutes developed, leading to its nickname among Argentines, “La Docta”. It was a driving force behind the quest to retain a federal setup for the nation after the end of the colonial era. The Provincia de Córdoba effectively divides into two parts; one smaller part which begins at the city itself and spreads out westward, over three mountainous ridges, and the larger part of the region to the east and south of the city, which is the western tip of Las Pampas, and an extensive cattle herding plain.

As might be expected from the second most populous province, it’s also the second strongest regional economy in Argentina, as well as its spa towns in the Sierras de Córdoba attracting tourism from all over the country and the wider Rioplatense regions. Renault, Fiat and Volkswagen all have major plants in the outlying Córdoba areas, which has led to it becoming a motorsport centre for the country as well, with the Rally Argentina held in the Sierras to the west of the city, largely on gravel and dusty roads (as opposed to legendary wrestling personality Dusty Rhodes) and the nearby Alta Gracia circuit hosting the country’s favourite motorsports, Turismo Carreteras (low-slung, high powered stock cars) and its subsequent offshoot TC2000 (faster, sleeker, but not too dissimilar to European Touring Car racing which is probably why its most famous alumnus of recent years is José María López, who went on to win WTCC and is now part of Toyota’s WEC program). However, a lot of heavy industry is now leaving the city as it becomes a South American computing hub, and perhaps in line with this simultaneously it’s time for a bike race, to turn the tide towards greener travel?

Stage 1: Córdoba - Mirador Los Cocos, 126km





GPM:
Alto de Candonga (cat.2) 7,1km @ 4,0%
Camino del Cuadrado (cat.3) 3,6km @ 4,9%
Mirador Los Cocos (cat.3) 2,3km @ 6,7%
Mirador Los Cocos (cat.3) 2,3km @ 6,7%
Mirador Los Cocos (cat.3) 2,3km @ 6,7%

The first stage is a short hilly stage, which serves as a quick introduction into the race, heading north from the state capital into the northern part of the Sierras Chicas, the easternmost and lowest of the three bands of mountains that make up the Sierras de Córdoba. The stage starts at the province’s biggest sporting theatre, the Estádio Mario Alberto Kempes, a 57.000-capacity stadium in the northwest of the city, in the area known as Château Carreras.



Purpose-built for the 1978 World Cup, Estádio Córdoba (it was renamed later in honour of local hero and 1978 World Cup Golden Boot winner Mario Kempes, born in Bell Ville, Córdoba, about 150km to the east of the city) hosted eight games during the first and second group phases of the tournament, and has also been used in two Copas de América. However, until recently it has only served as a sort of ‘bonus’ host for local teams, who will move into the Estádio Mario Kempes for large matches where their own grounds have insufficient capacity for demand; generally historically the biggest team (and my personal favourite in Argentina as a whole) in Córdoba have been Belgrano, who base themselves out of the Gigante de Alberdí, which is closer to the city centre on the same side of town, a 30.000 capacity stadium which has an interesting history - when the team were first promoted to the top level the stadium couldn’t meet safety standards, so fans would ‘borrow’ signs, fencing and other materials from nearby houses and gardens to shore the place up before returning them after the game, this tradition giving the team the enduring nickname “Piratas Celestes de Alberdí”, and the team is often known as “El Pirata Cordobés”. In recent years, though, the pirate has been superseded in importance by local rivals Talleres, based in the south of the city - however their traditional stadium, the Boutique del Barrio Jardin, holds fewer than 20.000 spectators and is simply unsuitable for Copa Libertadores football, so they have all but moved into Mario Kempes.

Away from football, the stadium has also held a number of rugby internationals, as Córdoba is one of the main hubs of the sport in Argentina, as well as a super-bantamweight world boxing title defence by local hero Sérgio Palma against Panamanian contender Jorge Luján, numerous concerts and a series of Rally Argentina special stages similar to the München Olympiastadion DTM events.

The stage heads northward through Villa Allende to the tourist area of Río Ceballos, from which we then ascend onto the Camino del Cuadrado, the first fully-paved traversal of the Sierras Chicas north of Córdoba (the much cooler road from Villa Allende to Cosquín is gravel on both sides, so not safe to descend on rod bikes). The ascent is gradual and two stepped, I have elected to categorise the two most significant ascending sections, first a two-stepped 7km at 4% (cat.2) and then a 3,5km at 5% that takes us onto the plateau. It’s not a challenging climb, but the descent into the Traslasierra plateau is pretty cool.



This descent takes us into the town of La Falda, a popular getaway for Cordobeses which includes the Eden Hotel, whose most famous known guest is Albert Einstein - though conspiracy theorists who believe that Hitler lived on and moved to Argentina believe the individual they think to have been Der Führer to have stayed there a couple of years after the war. It is also famous for its Festival Nacional del Tango. Once we’re into the Valle Punilla, it’s a gradual uphill before we reach our final 20km circuit, which we enter in the town of La Cumbre. So called because it was the high point of the old railroad, the town was largely built by British railroad workers and features a different architectural style from surrounding towns as a result, but the railway has long since left town, and it has become a getaway for outdoor retreats. This leads us into a double climb which is the main feature of the circuit - an initial ramp of around 1km at 5%, to the part of town including the museum to the novelist Manuel Mujica Láinez, who died at his villa here in 1984, and then a similar descent into Cruz Grande, from which a punchy ascent of 2,3km @ 6,7% takes us up to our finish at the Mirador Los Cocos.

The first half of the climb takes us to the entrance to Parque del Descanso, a theme park including karting, rides, a maze and other attractions. But the crucial thing is that the park is divided, and there are further attractions further up the hill, located around the Los Cocos ranch and the Mirador los Cocos, so we can ascend further to this, with a final 500m at 8%, before descending back into the actual urban area of Los Cocos itself, inasmuch as a village of 1250 inhabitants can be considered an urban area.

Either way, we do two further laps of this circuit, meaning three times up the climb - the final time being to the line, so there should be some small time gaps at the start here, with the punchy finish offering a bit to the climbers but realistically not being one to guarantee we won’t see the sprint-at-the-top-of-the-hill types as well. You’d be expecting the usual suspects here, right? Julien Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde, you know the drill.



Stage 2: Jesús María - Miramar, 190km





No climbs at all on stage 2, which is a fairly characterless trip from the eastern edge of the Sierras Chicas down into the inland plateau, finishing by the shores of Laguna Mar Chiquita. The start of the stage is in a town of nearly 30.000 inhabitants which has grown out of a former Jesuit ranch, hence the rather pious name. The Estancias of the Córdoba region were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 2000, but Jesús María itself is a relatively nondescript city - though it has rather reinvented itself as a centre for gaucho culture in the region, hosting an annual festival. It is home to tennis pro Juan Ignacio Londero, who won his first ATP title at his home event in Córdoba last year, and TC2000 driver Marcelo Bugliotti.



Not much by way of real features for this stage, which is expected to be one for the fast men. Villa del Totoral has connections to the writer Pablo Neruda, and Obispo Trejo has a historic former station from the days of the Ferrocarril Central Argentino, but for the most part this is a straightforward A to B, no climbs, gradual downhill so this should be very fast, and the big concern for the riders will be if the wind blows. If not, then there should be no trouble and the sprinters will have their day. If it does, then there is a stretch from 50km remaining to 30km remaining which is likely to be side on to the predominant wind direction in the area, so there is the possibility for carnage. At 13km from home, though, we turn northwards toward the shores of the salt lake Mar Chiquita for a finish at Miramar. A lakeside spa town, Miramar was developed in the 1920s and swiftly grew to be one of Argentina’s best known and best loved resorts, but deforestation in the Gran Chaco region and high rainfall led to a rise in the lake’s water levels, flooding the town repeatedly, which combined with the development of cheap tourism and budget travel and the end of the military junta opening up a lot of borders to the Argentine populations to holiday abroad led to an erosion of its prosperity, until in 1992 the decision was made to relocate the town to the south after a third destruction of a number of its hotels in a little over 20 years, including the closure of its flagship hotel, the Gran Hotel Viéna, which has passed into folklore as the centre of a number of mysteries. The town has recovered somewhat - the shell of the Gran Hotel now becoming an auxiliary attraction even - and is on the way to restoring its former glories. Lots of hotel rooms are available in Miramar and it’s trying to establish itself as a hip destination once more - so it’s an ideal host city candidate - let’s have a sprint on the shores of Mar Chiquita.

 
Reactions: Kaptain Kool
Stage 3: San Francisco - Villa María, 154km





The second consecutive pan flat stage through the eastern part of the province, this one is a bit shorter and almost entirely in a southwestern direction. In fact, it’s almost entirely ramrod straight. This one is a lot more like a Tour of Qatar stage, you know the ones, where they’re headed down a deserted carriageway and there’s basically an intermediate sprint “after the left hander” because there’s basically two turns on the course. That’s what this stage is like.



As you can see, while both cities are based on a grid layout, there is one extremely significant and clear difference between the city of San Francisco, on the eastern border of Córdoba Province with Santa Fe, and its famous namesake in California: this one is absolutely pan flat. And a lot smaller, with around 60.000 people calling it home. It was largely populated by refugees following WWI and WWII and is one of the many Italian-dominated towns and cities of Argentina, which exerts influence on the local variety of Spanish also. Though based in Arroyito, around 50km to the west, the large confectionery company Arcor has its main factory in San Francisco, and other food producers have targeted the area, especially those specialising in Italian food due to the high Italian population. Like yesterday’s start town too, San Francisco is home to another tennis pro, Mariano Puerta, who fits perfectly in here - his career high, reaching the final of the French Open in 2005 before falling to Rafael Nadal (hey, it was Roland Garros so of course Nadal won), was marred by the previously-banned Puerta receiving an eight year drugs ban for testing positive in that very match. Puerta successfully argued that the small amounts were not performance enhancing and due to trace amounts left by his wife (who was apparently drinking a glass of etilefrine, go figure) and saw his ban reduced to 2 years, but was never the same player upon his return (again, go figure). Gonzalo Najár, eat your heart out.

We pass through the town of Saturnino María Laspiur, named for a 19th century lawyer and statesman, and on to Las Varillas, a city renowned for manufacture of agricultural machinery, to the extent that it has a pretty badass flag including a circular saw. It is the hometown of Argentine folk guitar legend Luís Amaya, one of the contributors to the important Misa Criolla album chronicling folkloric music in the country. In the video I’ve linked he’s performing with singer Chito Ceballos and Carlos Homer in the popular group Tres Para el Folklore. He was sadly taken far before his time, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of just 29.



Las Varillas is the biggest town we pass through en route today, being several times the next largest left on the route, La Playosa, which has just under 3.000 inhabitants. This will simply be a long drag race of a flat stage, unless we get a Sudestada wind, in which case this will be a 150km trial by echelon because the riders will be side on to the wind from start to finish, which should be fun, we’ve seen the local boys do well in windy conditions in San Luís and San Juan before. The stage finish comes in Villa María, again the religious iconography in the place name is apparently to do with a Jesuit establishment, though a competing suggestion is that it was named in honour of the residence established for the wife of the founder. Villa María has around 70.000 inhabitants but its urban sprawl takes it into six figures, making it the third largest city in the Provincia de Córdoba. It also has key connections that make it an important trading stage post on Ruta 9, one of the most important road routes in Argentina, as it links Córdoba through Rosario to Buenos Aires, thus three of the country’s most important cities are connected through it. Since 1968 the city has organised the Festival Nacional de Peñas Folclóricas in its grand amphitheatre, the same year as local folkloric music hero Luís Amaya died. The city has a brand new regional airport which has been named for former president Néstor Kirchner, a large hippodrome and a number of football and rugby clubs, and the eastern terminus of the state short distance rail service. The stage should climax with a sprint finish on Avenida Marcelo T. de Alvear, named for the former sport shooter who became one of Argentina’s greatest statesmen and President for six years in the 1920s. He later led a coup against party leader Hipólito Yrigoyen (who has a park named after him in Villa María also) who was both his predecessor and successor (awkward) and led an unsuccessful coup on a grander scale against the conservative government in 1932.



Stage 4: Río Tercero - La Cumbrecita, 116km





GPM:
Alto de Atos Pampa (cat.3) 15,1km @ 2,2%
Villa Berne (cat.2) 6,1km @ 4,2%

The fourth stage of the Vuelta a Córdoba is another short hilly-ish stage which takes us back towards the Sierras de Córdoba and away from the humid pampa, so the GPM is back on the cards - whoever took it on day 1 will have had a couple of days on the podium unchallenged, so now they have some work to do to defend it. Río Tercero, the stage start of the fourth stage, is around 100km to the west of Villa María, and is so named because it is the first major city port on the Tercero river, also known as Ctalamochita, which is the most important of the rivers which rise in the Sierras Grandes, the larger, central chain of the three Sierras de Córdoba. The river has now been dammed at Lago Piedras Moras, and a hydroelectric power station set up there, so its flow through Río Tercero is not quite as it once was, but the city has retained a level of importance and today has a population of just under 50.000.



A relatively young city, Río Tercero was inaugurated in the early 20th Century, when a former fishing village was transformed by the establishment of an armament and petrochemical works. This led to a hard-nosed industrial city developing (as well as various health issues). In 1995, the munitions factory exploded, killing seven people. It was alleged that this was a deliberate act in order to account for missing military equipment illegally sold to Croatia and Ecuador in their early 90s conflicts, though nothing was ever proven. Having largely developed around installations for military purposes, physical culture was a crucial element in life in Río Tercero and it is perhaps unsurprising therefore that several sons and daughters of the city have gone on to prominence in sporting fields. Four distinguished basketball players have come out of the city - Gustavo Fernández and his son Juan, who played at the NCAA level, Marcelo Milanesio who became a legend of South American basketball, and Pablo Prigioni, a member of the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist squad and who became, in 2012, the oldest rookie in NBA history when he finally made the leap to the highest level at the age of 35. There are two famous tennis players to call the city home - 1980s Grand Slam semi-finalist Ivanna Madruga and wheelchair tennis world #1 Gustavo Fernández (not to be confused with the basketballer), and former duathlon World Champion Óscar Galindez calls the city home. In Argentina’s favourite sport, Claudio López went on to 55 caps for the national team and played in two World Cups; arguably most famous at the present time, however, would be José María “Pechito” López.

A late blooming racing driver, López had already raced in F3000 and GP2 before returning to Argentina to compete in TC2000, winning this in both 2008 and 2009 as well as the offshoot Top Race V6, and was scheduled to join F1 with the nascent USF1 team in 2010 before it turned out to be the motorsport equivalent of Pegasus Cycling team. After winning TC2000 for a third time he won a spot in World Touring Cars, and from there his career went from strength to strength, winning the World Championship three years running from 2014 to 2016, before moving into Formula E and earning a spot in Toyota’s World Endurance Championship frontline squad, being 2nd in Le Mans in 2018 and 2019 and in the WEC overall last season; currently partnering Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, he leads the 2019-20 WEC, and with races currently up in the air regarding their viability with the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing, he may have another World Title to add to his collection soon.



The stage is a short one which quickly heads toward the metallurgical town of Almafuerte, which sits at the site where the Ctalamochita river is dammed. Almafuerte is the home town of one of Argentinian cycling’s greatest names, the veteran time trial specialist Jorge Alberto Giacinti.

First emerging in the late 90s, Giacinti won the national championships road race in 1997, and freshly clad in this jersey went on to win the Vuelta del Uruguay the following year, first showing his capacity to dominate racing based out of a strong ITT and also beginning his long-standing friendly rivalry with Matías Medici. After a couple of years of domestic success, he won the Vuelta for un Chile Lider (not to be confused with the Vuelta a Chile although the races are similar. This is a sponsor name race - its status in Chile is rather akin to the Clásico RCN in Colombia) in 2001, and was 3rd in 2003 after demonstrating surprising climbing skill on the way to the Farellones ski station. In 2004 he won the Vuelta del Uruguay again, the Tour do Rio, and was 2nd in the Vuelta a San Juan, before moving to race in Brazil from 2005, where he won a number of races including the Giro del Interior São Paulo. In 2007 he won the inaugural Tour de San Luís after winning the ITT, and also the nascent Tour de Perú, winning four of the race’s first five stages on the way. He would finish on the podium the following two years at San Luís, before his Brazilian team, Scott-Marcondés César, chose to go ProContinental for 2010. Financial problems beset them, however, and apart from an anonymous trip to the Tour of Turkey Giacinti remained confined to South America. From 2012 to 2015 the now ageing Giacinti rode for San Luís-Somos Todos and built his season around the team’s home race, but with the field attracted by the race now stronger and him being older and recovering less well than he had, it was a slow drift backward through the field for him and he was restricted to beating up on the domestic péloton in smaller races like the Vuelta a Mendoza and the Doble San Francisco-Miramar, a flat race between two of my stage hosts here. For the last two years Giacinti, now 45 years of age, has been racing in Uruguay, winning some of their smaller races, but it is starting to feel like he’s a kind of South American Davide Rebellin even despite the fact that unlike a number of his compatriots and contemporaries he actually hasn’t anything against his name.



Then, we start to head into the southernmost foothills of the Sierras Chicas, taking us to the town of Embalse, which literally translates as “reservoir”, and represents a further damming of the river slightly higher up, which has led to a large, well, reservoir forming, on the southern shores of which the Centro Nuclear Embalse was constructed from 1974 to 1983, and is now one of just two active nuclear power plants in Argentina.



The area is also of touristic importance, so the plant is kept away from the main body of the town itself (it’s not Springfield!). We therefore circumnavigate the north and east sides of the reservoir, travelling through a couple of other towns reliant on the tourist traffic that the outdoor pursuits available in the region in terms of watersports, hiking, fishing and cycling attracts. We then pass through Santa Rosa de Calamuchita (the valley is called the Calamuchita valley, and probably derives from a bastardisation of the name given to the Tercero river by the native populations). Located between mid-lying mountain ranges, the valley has a pleasant Mediterranean climate and is known for clean air, so makes for a popular getaway. Santa Rosa is a growing town - it had a population of 12.395 at the last census in 2010 but is estimated at nearly 20.000 today - which runs counter to the received wisdom that outlying towns and villages are dwindling in favour of large cities.

The next town we pass through as the road slowly rises through the valley is a famous one, and one of the most beloved small towns in Argentina. Villa General Belgrano was founded in 1930 because the Alpine climate and character with mountains and trees so different from that in the humid pampas attracted German speculators to set up a village for the kind of agriculture they were experienced in, and it swiftly attracted immigrants from elsewhere in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, along with the omnipresent Italians that made up such a large number of the Argentine immigrant population. After the Battle of the River Plate, an important WWII naval battle, the crew of the Admiral Graf Spee scuttled their ship and deserted, and settled on Villa General Belgrano as a place to live in relative isolation, thanks to its taste of home. The town has become a virtual exhibition piece, with microbreweries, chocolate shops, German bakeries, and bierkellers. Traditional German fare is served in restaurants and the Argentinischer Tageblatt recounts the Argentine news of the day in the mother tongue for the remaining German population, although as ever in isolated immigrant communities, the mother tongue is gradually being replaced by subsequent bilingual generations for whom Spanish is a more valuable tongue outside of the Villa General Belgrano bubble. Nevertheless, the spätzle, wurst, wheat beer and Bavarian-style architecture have made it a popular tourist destination, and for many years it held the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, after that of Munich. It is still third - Blumenau in Brazil, a larger city which was similarly created by German speculators, has passed it; Blumenau has held far less tenaciously to its German heritage than Villa General Belgrano has, but is a much larger city.


Yes, this is in Argentina

Here, however, although there is a meta volante in the town, the slice of Germany only serves as a gateway to our stage finish, at the resort village of La Cumbrecita. La Cumbrecita is another popular tourist getaway for the people of Córdoba, and lies around 35-40km from Villa General Belgrano, along a one-way dead-end road that climbs up the side of the Sierra de los Comechingones, lying beneath the Cerro Champaquí, the highest peak in the range, This is a very lopsided range, with steep, craggy precipices on the western side of the range and much more rolling hillside on the east, so the road from Villa General Belgrano to La Cumbrecita is far from the most brutal that the riders will ever use. In fact, as far as the village of Atos Pampa it’s just false flat, which is why it only gets cat.3 status despite 15km length - because the average is just 2% and in a lot of races this would not merit categorization, however remembering categorised climbs such as in this stage of the Tour de San Luís, we’ll go with it. It’s only cat.3 anyway. We then descend to cross the Río de Los Reartes, which later merges with the Río de Los Molinos to become the Río Segundo, which is a tributary of the Río Tercero, but was discovered sooner owing to closer proximity to Córdoba hence it ‘outranking’ Ctalamochita.

From here the course becomes more difficult and this will therefore make it an interesting challenge as there’s no real sustained climbing but lots of short digs that will make it a bit of a nuisance. I have categorised this second category despite only really being 6km at 4,2%, because it’s made up of several shorter climbs. There’s 1km at 7,7% to start, then a short downhill then 800m at 5,5%, then a brief flat before it jumps up to a short burst of 14%, then around a kilometre of flat before a final 2km at just over 6% into Villa Berne, where the categorisation finishes, 7km from the line - although there is a repecho of 600m at 8,5% closer to the line - around 4km out - which could make things interesting. This is likely to be duked out by the Michael Matthewses, the Matteo Trentins, the Sam Bennetts, the Edward Theunses, and so on. It’s a generous second category even by these races’ standards, but I also want to try to encourage a bit more activity seeing as there really isn’t any ‘nice’ sections to favour the chase in the run-in; I expect it will still be able to neutralise most attacks, but let’s try to make it difficult for them.



La Cumbrecita (“the little summit”) is an isolated mountain village that was inaugurated in the 1930s by speculators attracted to the scenic location and clean air. With no roads, everything was brought up to the village by donkey, but once the first tourists started to discover the secluded village, private homes started to be built, an access road was introduced, and the town took on its individual flavour. With people moving up the valley from Villa General Belgrano, it likewise has characteristics of an Alpine mountain village such as that you may find in Austria or Switzerland, and Gasthöfe of the kind you may find there, serving strudel, cake and tea, have become a calling card of La Cumbrecita. With clean air, mineral-rich waters and strong hiking possibilities to a multitude of nearby waterfalls and peaks, it has become a centre for outdoor eco-tourism, which it has then strengthened by forbidding cars - as a result, there is a large car park at the entrance to the town where these must be left, giving us ample room to host the trappings of a bike race. It’s not a proper mountaintop finish, and should be a reduced sprint - but it will have the characteristics of a mountain arrival, and the scenery of the final 35-40km should be beautiful.

 
Stage 5: Villa General Belgrano - Villa General Belgrano, 16,0km (CRI)





Stage 5, as we head into the second half of the race, is a short-to-medium-length ITT around the town of Villa General Belgrano, which we passed through during yesterday’s stage. This is, realistically, the best chance for the local riders to grasp a hold of the race; if we omit to include Gonzalo Najár’s victory in San Juan because of the doping suspension, then there’s only really the one example of one of the local races being won by an Argentine home rider on the strength of climbing - and we’ll discuss that later. The rest of the time, it has tended to be on the strength of the contrarreloj. As I discussed in my Vuelta del Uruguay, rioplatense cycling is its own world quite apart from what most of us in Europe and North America think of when we think of South American cycling; largely we think of climbers on the epic passes, influenced largely by the Colombians of the 80s and their second wave in the present day, now supplemented by the Venezuelans and, latterly, Ecuadorians who have developed a cycling scene in the north of the country, close to the Colombian border, and now have their own pioneering hero in Richard Carapaz. Rioplatense cycling, largely comprising fields of Brazilian, Uruguayan and Argentinian riders, largely race on the pampas, and so sprinters, time triallists, echelon hardmen and rouleurs are the order of the day. There are a few races with mountains in them, especially in Brazil, but by and large these tend to be dominated by a small number of riders, whereas the real stars tend to be those who make hay in the myriad flat stages. It’s why almost every major Argentine cyclist (including Juan António Flecha, who raced for Spain but was born in Argentina) has been a sprinter or rouleur - the Haedos, the Richezes etc. - and those that haven’t, such as Dani Díaz or Eduardo Sepúlveda, are riders who left for Europe young or are from the more mountainous north west.

In early years, the Tour de San Luís was no different; the Mirador del Sol or Mirador del Potrero might open up some gaps, but it never counterbalanced the time trial mileage, and so people like Jorge Giacinti and Martin Garrido, ITT specialists, would take the GC. 2009 was an exception, but largely because a break was allowed to go on the Mirador del Potrero stage which meant that Alfredo Lucero had a 2 minute lead over most of the field and with Magno Prado Nazaret, also in the break, having lost time on stage 1, all he needed to do was out-TT Lucas Sebastián Haedo. From 2010, the race becomes more mountainous, and as a consequence the GC becomes more international in character.

Long-time stalwarts of Argentine cycling like Matías Medici, Leandro Messineo and Jorge Giacinti are all lost to the sport, or all but (Giacinti was still racing as recently as last year, but is now 45 years of age and long past his best), and the new generation haven’t been as capable at using the Race of Truth as a weapon when brought up against the European péloton as their predecessors; top 10s in Vuelta a San Juan ITTs have been less bountiful than the old Tour de San Luís ones, but riders like German Tivani, Laureano Rosas and Sebastián Trillini have kept the flag flying for the local boys - while among Argentines competing internationally, Movistar’s Eduardo Sepúlveda has been the most likely to give the locals something to cheer.



Obviously I’ve already talked about Villa General Belgrano so I won’t go through its history again. For the most part, this is a simple, triangular-shaped TT course. Starting on the main valley road in east Villa General Belgrano, we head northward until the junction with the La Cumbrecita road. We turn toward La Cumbrecita as far as Parador Ramona, which signifies the entrance to the neighbouring village of Los Reartes, and then we turn left again to head down the road through the centre of Villa General Belgrano, through the cobbled streets and the German architecture, that we ascended through yesterday. This is before we get to the actual “climb” so while the terrain is rolling, the uphill and downhill are only really 1-2%; we climb around 80m in 9km, then descend them again in 7km. Far from threatening. The wind shouldn’t be a factor in these forested roads either, so this one will be all about the riders’ power meters and what they can sustain against the clock. There’s racing to be done yet, and after two punchy stages and two sprints, this should then set us up well for the coming stages.

Stage 6: Alta Gracia - Filo de Merlo (Sierra de los Comechingones), 221km





GPM:
Alto de Bosque Alegre (cat.2) 11,1km @ 4,8%
Alto del Condór (cat.1) 41,3km @ 3,0%
Alto de Los Hornillos (cat.3) 1,6km @ 5,2%
Alto de San Javier (cat.3) 6,6km @ 2,6%
Mirador del Sol (cat.1) 9,8km @ 6,2%
Filo de Merlo (Sierra de los Comechingones)(HC) 17,3km @ 7,7% / 7,5km @ 9,2%

Yep, it’s the queen stage - a long, long stage with a serious mountaintop finish. The start town is Alta Gracia, which sits back on the eastern side of the Sierras Chicas, along the main Ruta 5 from Villa General Belgrano back toward the provincial capital. As with the other religiously-named towns and cities here, it sprung up out of a Jesuit ranch, and is now a bustling town of 43.000. It is home to one of two autodromes in the province, the Autódromo Óscar Cabalén, which every season hosts round 1 of the TC2000 championships (this year’s went ahead with just 12 cars, as a result of the movement restrictions and withdrawals resulting from coronavirus). The city includes a replica of the Santuário de la Virgén de Lourdes for some reason, as well as a museum to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, who moved to the region after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s government offered him various enticements to return, as a prominent Spanish cultural figure, but Falla refused; he eventually died in self-imposed exile in Alta Gracia. Franco denied him his final request - that he be buried in the Sierras de Córdoba - and had him exhumed and brought back to Spain where he was interred in the cathedral cemetery in Cadíz; his old home in Argentina has become a museum to his life and work. The same can be said of another house in Alta Gracia, that was once home to the most famous political figure ever to come out of Argentina. No, not Galtieri. Not even Perón. Somebody that many people who have never stopped to find out any more about the man mightn’t even realise was an Argentine, at least until The Motorcycle Diaries came out; that’s because from the age of four to sixteen, Alta Gracia was the town that Ernesto Guevara called home, the man who would of course later become famous - and infamous - the world over as the man who led a revolution and graced several million students’ T-shirts the world over, a socialist boogeyman for the right and a cause célèbre for the left, under his nickname of “Che”. One only needs a silhouette or a stylised image of the wavy hair and the beret to recognise the image of a man who has risen to become one of the most iconic faces of the twentieth century, for better or for worse.



As with a number of other such icons, Che has been immortalised partly because of his premature death; he remains a symbol of the idealism and the positive force of revolution in a way that his co-conspirator, Fidel Castro, simply never could; Che’s ideological driving force has never had to be scrutinised in the face of practical application, because he never survived to have to implement it; after the Cuban Missile Crisis, he didn’t stay to run Cuba but instead was despatched around the globe in an attempt to foment further revolutions elsewhere. In much the same way as Lenin’s ideology is often given much more of a free pass than his successors because he died so soon after securing power that it is impossible to judge what he may or may not have done had he survived, Guevara’s revolutionary purity is assured forever, which has preserved him as a counter-culture icon for all time.



The stage begins almost straight away with a cat.2 climb, up to the Estación Astrofísica de Bosque Alegre. This is a 11km climb at just under 5%, although it gradually steepens, with the final 7km averaging 6,3%. The sinewy, twisty road serves as a great warmup for a long and difficult stage, reaching the shoulder of the hill which is topped by the Observatório (as you can see, the final little stretch from the pass up to the observatory is a dirt road, we only stick to the main road however). This is a lopsided climb as the Calamuchita valley by this stage is a good 500m higher than the Pampas plateau below, so it’s only a short descent before we turn onto route 34, to take on an epic but gradual ascent up and over the Alto del Condór, traversing the Sierras Grandes as we pass through the Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito, a protected landscape which has largely survived due to inaccessibility with the exception of the one cross-range road, the Camino de las Altas Cumbres.. This is a spectacular road which offers incredible views on both the ascent and the descent, with views through the mountains to the west, and with nothing to stop them but the curvature of the earth to the east.




The road’s not bad either.



Now, granted, this is not going to be the great destructive ascent that you might think from the profile if you hadn’t read the gradients. The Camino de las Altas Cumbres is a pretty new road, which has been constructed because of the need to modernise the old road which abounded in suspension bridges and was simply no longer suitable for the kind of traffic that was using the area - resources from Mendoza and San Juan with their mineral deposits and mountain resources were required in the major cities of the Pampas, and heavy freight was required to take incredibly lengthy detours, either going up northward to Cruz del Eje to come down to Córdoba and use the high speed freeway to Rosario and Buenos Aires that way, or take a long and slow route south of San Luís to Río Cuarto, cutting Córdoba from the route. The replacement route began work in the 60s, and was completed in sections; the summit was reached in 1972 from the west, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the full route was opened for business. At first it was unpaved, but by 1993 the whole route had been tarmacked, leaving us a modern road crossing the range and with an average gradient of just 3%. And we know what that means where cycling is concerned at least: a lot of tempo riding. But, there’s a reason this isn’t as bad a problem as it may seem. Firstly, we are cresting the climb over 100km from the finish so it isn’t supposed to be decisive (this isn’t a Big Bear Lake stage and I’m not Andrew Messick). And secondly, we’re well over 2200m at the summit - altitude is a key factor as we know, so this could well be interesting. For the record, the old hang suspension bridge road is now used as a key staging point in the Rally Argentina.

The descent into Mina Clavero is, if anything, even longer than the ascent - nearly 50km - and the feed zone has been placed in the town of Nono at the foot, a popular destination for mountain bikers. We are now in the valley to the west of the Sierras Grandes, and after a small climb into the village of Los Hornillos, we then descend once more as we navigate the western side of Cerro Champaquí, the highest peak in the Sierras de Córdoba. This part of the Sierras Grandes is known as the Sierra de los Comechingones, after the Comechingone native tribe that settled in this area prior to Spanish settlers’ arrival, and features the only part of the Sierras de Córdoba that are not in Córdoba province - the western side of the southernmost tip of the Sierra is in San Luís. Which is where we’re headed.



The road from the town of Merlo - the first town reached after crossing the provincial border into San Luís - that leads up to the Sierra de los Comechingones goes up to a summit called the Filo Serrano, or the Filo de Merlo. In some ways it is cheating to place a mountaintop finish on a climb outside of the province, but at the same time, the actual summit functions as the border between San Luís and Córdoba provinces, and the climb is very much part of the Sierras de Córdoba. The opposite side of the climb descends gradually downhill on a dirt path to Ruta 23 between Amboy and Villa Quillinzo, which forms a circuit around the Embalse Río Tercero, so you can see we’re still very much in the right kind of area, just the other side of it. I don’t see it as any different to, say, when the Vuelta al León used Pajáres/Brañillín as a mountaintop finish (the summit is in León, but almost the entire climb is in Asturias), or the Dauphiné using finishes like Champéry or Finhaut-Emosson (Col de la Gueulaz).

Merlo has a population of a little over 10.000, and is known to sports fans largely only because of its position at the base of this climb - Ruta 5 from Merlo up to the Filo Serrano is one of Argentina’s most savage climbs, at least from a European perspective. Obviously there are some of those climbs like Cristo Redentor, but those are more an issue for their extreme altitude than their difficulty from a gradient perspective. This is a nice compromise - 17km in length, over 7% in average gradient which steepens as the climb continues, and just over 2000m in altitude, which makes it an excellent analogue for a lot of major European climbs, including the Tourmalet from the east, the Col du Glandon from the north, Passo Giau from the south, and so on. It’s a real test alright.

Perhaps for that reason, the climb has not really been used much - the Tour de San Luís introduced Merlo as a stage town in 2008 but settled for a sprint in the town centre; 2009 saw the start of stages finishing at the Mirador del Sol, a stopping point just over halfway to the summit, as a sort of compromise - as a January race they didn’t want to make things too brutal, but at the same time they wanted the race to be more competitive rather than just a TT race as it had been in its first two editions. There was even some live coverage to enjoy the victory of Xavier Tondó after a well-timed late burst to catch and pass Jorge Giacinti and José Serpa. The Mirador del Sol became a staple of the race for several years, often proving the final battleground of the race after a stage to Cerro El Amago and the shorter, punchier ascent to Mirador del Potrero, closer to San Luís itself. In 2015 though, it was decided that as the time gaps these were generating were coming down as riders became used to them, it was time to tack on that final 7,5km at 9% that came between the Mirador del Sol and the summit of the Sierra de los Comechingones, and go for a real European style MTF. Surely there would be drama? Of course there would.



This iconic summit would play host to one of the most “interesting” performances of recent years, as the Brazilian Funvic-São José dos Campos team found themselves charged with the difficult task of trying to defend the leader’s jersey that team leader and home hero Dani Díaz had acquired when he won the Cerro El Amago stage, against opposition from the likes of Nairo Quintana, then the reigning Giro winner, Daniel Moreno, Rodolfo Torres, a not-yet-proven Ilnur Zakarin, Joe Dombrowski and others. Teammate Alex Diniz had come 2nd on El Amago, but he was on a bad day. It was up to Kleber Ramos to hold things together for the Argentine home hero. Could he do it? You bet he could. In fact, not only did the Funvic duo hold on to their rivals, but they put time into them at the summit, with Ramos winning the stage ahead of Rodolfo Torres and a relieved Díaz. It was a great “what am I watching?” moment, which had not been helped by Alex Diniz having a two year ban for EPO in his recent past.

That Funvic team had a lot of skeletons, in fact. Six of their riders have since been suspended - Diniz for bio passport violations in 2015 (his second suspension), Almeida for bio passport violations in 2016, Bulgarelli for tampering with samples in 2016, Gaspar for EPO at the 2016 Volta a Portugal, Kleber Ramos for CERA in an OOC just before the 2016 Volta a Portugal and Affonso for bio passport violations in 2017 - so it might come as no surprise to discover that while Díaz was able to parlay his win into a return to the European péloton with Delko, he struggled to make a significant impact and returned to Argentine domestic cycling soon after.

Here is a video taken by a motorcyclist with access to drone technology, to give a better impression of the climb, its scenery etc., if you’d rather watch a short 5 minute informational video than watch a full stage’s climbing from the Tour de San Luís (although since most of us are in quarantine / isolation right now thanks to Covid-19, what else are you going to do? We can all have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Funvic show, right?).


Mirador del Filo, summit
 
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Che Guevara 22 apparently experimented with motor-assistance (in italiano)
 
Stage 7: Villa Dolores - Anténas de Yoccina, 176km





GPM:
Alto de los Hornillos (cat.2) 14,4km @2,9%
Alto del Condór (cat.1) 45,8km @ 2,9%
Alto del Bosque Alegre (cat.3) 2,4km @ 7,3%
Anténas de Yoccina (cat.2) 3,9km @ 9,7%

The penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Córdoba sees us retrace our steps from yesterday to return to the outlying area around Córdoba itself, starting in the small city of Villa Dolores. With a population of just under 30.000, Villa Dolores is the westernmost main city in the province, and the largest lying to the west of all three Sierras de Córdoba. It is, however, crucial for several other areas in Argentina, as a large stop-off point in the transport of wine from the Mendoza region toward the major cities of the Pampas, and also because the land around Villa Dolores is highly suitable for growth of potatoes, a major staple for this part of the country. The most important town in the Traslasierra valley (officially Valle de San Javier), it is home to the actress Mercedes Morán, the rally driver Ernesto Soto and Olympic boxer Alberto Melián. Villa Dolores didn’t appear in stage 6, largely because of using the very straight, flat, dull Ruta 148 from here to the Aeropuerto del Valle del Conlara and then heading east to Merlo, we chose to instead take the rolling, less disruptive road along Ruta 14 through the various outlying villages and direct to Merlo.


The mountains loom large over Villa Dolores

The first thing we do is climb up to the village of Los Hornillos. We climbed the opposite side of this yesterday, but because of what I just mentioned, didn’t undertake the full descent. Here we climb the round about 14km of ascent - just as with the Alto del Condór, we’re only talking a 3% gradient here, so it’s only cat.2 despite the length. After the first kilometre or so of the descent, it’s back to rolling terrain through Nono to Mina Clvero, where we hold the first intermediate sprint. Mina Clavero is the western tip of the Camino de las Altas Cumbres, and hosts a special stage in the Rally Argentina, usually after the trip across the old hanging bridge road. It has a lot of natural beaches along the shores of the Río de los Sauces, and these features helped it earn designation among the “Siete Maravillas Naturales de la Argentina” (The Seven Natural Wonders of Argentina). Mina Clavero is also the home of the iconic Argentine rally driver Jorge Raúl Recalde, who was known as El Condór de Traslasierra and was a pioneer and a timeless champion of motorsport in his home region. Racing throughout the 80s and well into the 90s, Recalde won the Rally Argentina twice, and is the only Argentine to win it, as well as in the process becoming the only Argentinian to win a World Rally Championship event; his intricate and encyclopaedic knowledge of the roads of the Sierras de Córdoba meant he became a legend at home, also competing successfully in Turismo Carretera and being an instantly recognisable face in his milieu. He died at the wheel after suffering a heart attack during the Rally Villa Dolores in 2001, at the age of 49; such was his importance that the Argentine National Congress declared his hometown to be the national capital of rally sport (thus guaranteeing Rally Argentina could never leave the Sierras de Córdoba) and declaring his date of death the official national day of rally sport. I guess you could compare his importance to that of Dale Earnhardt in America or Peter Brock in Australia.


Natural landscapes of Mina Clavero

From here, we climb up the opposite side of the Camino de las Altas Cumbres, in order to return to the Calamuchita valley through which we previously travelled. Obviously I talked at length about the development of the road and its views on the stage 6 summary, so I’ll keep it short here, but this side is slightly longer and less steep than the other - although really not by enough to be significant - this is 45,7km @ 2,9% for the record. The ascent and descent of the Alto del Condór makes up around half of the total distance of the stage, in fact, meaning that the riders don’t get to the feed station until there’s only 46km remaining.

I guess, in effect this stage therefore becomes an easier version of 2009’s replacement Cuneo-Pinerolo stage, when the original plan, a repeat of Coppi’s legendary raid, was forced out of commission due to weather problems affecting radio signal. That looked like this and obviously the comparison points are harder climbs - Moncenisio is a bona fide cat.1 climb, not 15km at 3% as my lead-in climb is, for example, while the climb back over the summit at Bosque Alegre from this side is easier than, but still not that unreasonable an analogue for, Pra Martino. It is, however, a punchy climb which comes 39km from home, with a long descent into Falda del Carmén, a town with a population of under 200, but a number of automotive factories and also serving as the base of racing team PSG-16, which runs TC2000 and Súper TC2000 teams, winning the former with Matías Emmanuel Cáceres in 2015 and the former with José María López in 2012, and also been part of the career paths of Matías Rossi (now in Stock Car Brasil) and Facundo Ardusso. This will likely be a stage all about the finale, though, because most of the next 25km are dead flat and in a more or less straight line, before we cross the Ruta 20 Autovía and take a short uphill - around 1km at 5%, before descending back down, as we head opposite the towns of Yoccina and Malagueño, to reach our final climb.



We are climbing this profile - from basically the 3km mark. We arrive on the road by a different route so we join at around the 2,4km mark and as you can see it is then flat until the 3km mark. This means a total climb of 5,3km @ 7,8%, but more crucially, the last 3,9km average 9,7%. There should be some opportunities to gain and lose time here if the gaps from the Filo de Merlo aren’t too herculean, so we shall have to see how brave people feel like being. Ramps reach up to 19% and the final 1300m average 11,5%, so this will be like one of those Spanish garage ramps we’ve got used to seeing - it’s easier than La Camperona or Mas de la Costa - but it does fall into the kind of ballpark of Las Canteras de Cocentaína, the newer sides of Arrate or perhaps a slightly easier Les Praeres.
The road is very narrow near the top but it is at least usable - paved and since we’re not descending it, and the steepness plus the earlier climbs on the stage mean it shouldn’t be too much of a disaster as the lower parts aren’t as bad as this plus the road from the Autovía to the base of the climb is pretty narrow as well so riders will have had to sort out their placement already anyway. There’s even some video of riders descending it - Obviously it’s less of an issue because my riders here will be climbing, but I do think that there would need to be a bit of road trimming to get vegetation off the side of the road. Nevertheless, I think it’s achievable.



Stage 8: Villa Carlos Paz - Córdoba, 101km





Yes, we’re going to finish with a dull, flat circuit race, but then it’s a short stage race of the kind that usually does so. And we haven’t actually explored Córdoba itself yet, and the city isn’t exactly mountainous in and of itself, although as you can see from the profile, the stage isn’t quite as flat as those into Miramar or Villa María, despite the zero categorised climbs en route.

Before we get there, though, we depart from Villa Carlos Paz, the nearest city to Córdoba on the west of the Sierras Chicas, accessible via Ruta 20 or through the Río Primero (Suquia) valley. In the upper Punilla valley (which connects to the Calamuchita further south) and on the shores of Lago San Roque, this city of 75.000 people has become the de facto capital of the Punilla region, and sits at the eastern terminus of the old suspension bridge road to Traslasierra. As a result, it has been treated as a de facto base for the Rally Argentina for most of the last two decades, as well as appearing as a stage host in ASO’s pet loss-making project, the Dakar Rally, in 2015 and 2016. It was also the home of rising singer Agustín Briolini, who was tragically electrocuted on stage in Villa Carlos Paz in 2014 at the age of just 22, at a show convened to celebrate the release of his first album with his group Krebs.



We don’t head along the highway, because that would be dull. Instead we head down the road along the valley of the Río Primero, which undulates slowly downhill through the Sierras Chicas before emerging into the lowlands at La Calera, a town known as the “portal to the Sierras de Córdoba”. It is a home to the Museo de Bellas Artes Ricardo Pedroni, after the personal collection of a successful local artist, and administers the hamlets through the Sierras while the main road hugs the banks of the river. We continue to follow the river’s path north through Dumesnil before turning east again into Rivera Indarte, from which we make a beeline for the city centre. Apart from a detour around the Estádio Mario Alberto Kempes, which I mentioned on stage 1, we head directly towards the city on Avenida Rafael Núñez. This takes us through various outlying districts until we reach Estádio del Centro and Plaza de la Música, where we cross the Suquía and enter a 9km circuit, of which we will undertake five and a half circuits.

Where we join the circuit is perhaps the most important part of all, since this is as we head along the structure which is perhaps Córdoba’s defining characteristic, the embanked stream known as La Cañada, which runs through several of its landmarks and is in and of itself an emblematic piece of architecture that serves as the spine of the city, and carefully redirected the Río de La Cañada, which rises near Bosque Alegre, into the Suquía at the perfect location for the way the city was laid out.



After running alongside La Cañada for a while we redirect south east to head toward Plaza España, a large roundabout with no fewer than eight roads heading into it. To the east of Plaza España lies Parque Sarmiento, and so we head around some of the roads around the park, tracing some of the roads which were used in the Córdoba Street Circuit which hosted motor racing from 1958 to 1964 before the construction of the Autódromo Óscar Cabalén rendered it unnecessary. We ride around the curved southern path through the park on Avenida Governador Julio Argentino Roca, before turning left at the Monumento Dante Alighieri and onto Avenida Deodoro Roca, where the start/finish for the old street circuit was, and where our finishing line will be. There’s a bit of drone footage from the park you can view here which shows the route - we head along the curved road to the left and return on the start/finish straight on the right.



From here we return to Plaza España and head northward until we reach Avenida Sarmiento, from which we return to La Cañada.

Being as it is one of the largest cities in Argentina, naturally Córdoba itself has countless famous sons and daughters, in a variety of fields (and not all known as Argentines, such as the actress Cecilia Galliano and the businessman Carlos Ahumada, more known in Mexico). The status of Córdoba as a historic seat of learning in Argentina means that there are a lot of prominent literary figures, scientists and people from the arts who call the city home. To tie in with some of the people I’ve mentioned previously, Lalo Homer is from the city, one of the Trés por el Folklore alongside Luís Amaya, Facundo Chapur is a Súper TC2000 driver and Gabriel Pozzo is a prominent rally driver from the city, but perhaps the most relevant is Martin Garrido. After all, this is a bike race.



A relatively late bloomer, Martin Garrido came to Europe in his mid-20s and spent a decade bouncing between the Spanish and Portuguese domestic scenes. During that era, salaries were good in Portuguese domestic cycling and the teams were able to qualify for the Vuelta on occasion, so it wasn’t the exile that it is perceived as now; with a number of the top Spanish races now exclusively amateur being ‘open’ so to speak, there were plenty of races one could do, and Garrido’s skillset - a strong time trialist who had a fast finishing kick - meant he was able to get some good placements from this. When he first arrived in Europe, however, his best results were all back in South America, finishing 2nd in the Vuelta a Venezuela and 3rd in the Vuelta a la Argentina. For 2000 he moved from his small Portuguese team to the Relax-Fuenlabrada team, becoming an important worker for them which earns him, following stage wins in the Volta a Galiza, a start in the Vuelta a España, where his best stage finish was 4th, achieved three times, in stage 2 to Córdoba (the other one), stage 8 to Salou, and stage 12 to Zaragoza. Getting strong placements in the flatter stages in Spanish domestic races became his forte for a couple of seasons, with one win in the Vuelta a Murcia in 2001, but 2002 was less successful other than a couple of races in Portugal, and injuries kept him out of the entire 2003 season. He resurfaced in Portugal in 2004 with Barbot, winning a stage of the Volta ao Algarve, and then hit his stride the following season when he moved to the Tavira team, with five wins and countless podiums. He took a stage of the Volta a Portugal the following season, then had his career season in 2007 - finishing 2nd in the Volta a Santarem after winning the ITT, and he won the prologue of the Volta a Portugal, wearing the leader’s jersey for three days, losing it on Monte Assunção. A fourth place finish in the Tour of Britain capped his year, before in 2008 he won both the prologue and the full length ITT to win the Tour de San Luís, the biggest race in his homeland at the time, and followed that up with 5th in the Volta ao Algarve during the last era where the hometown guys could really threaten to win it (Héctor Guerra was 4th and Pedro Romero 7th). He had a much quieter 2009 season before retiring from professional cycling at his 35th birthday. He returned to Argentina where he continued to ride on for three seasons as an amateur, including some decent performances at the Tour de San Luís and Vuelta a San Juan, but his days of contesting at the top were done and he hung up the cleats once and for all in 2012.

However, Garrido could well be a useful man to have on hand to sell the race to the people of Córdoba. With there being a couple of gradual rolls uphill in the circuit - really not enough to stop it being a sprint, but you know, we’ll take what we can get - perhaps this might have been a stage of interest to him, especially if several of the Quaranta/Guardini type sprinters may have withdrawn before the two mountain stages (after all this will be very early season, and they’ll have had a couple of earlier stages to use to their advantage). It’s short and it’ll be fast.

The overall summary therefore is that we’ve had an ITT, three flat stages without a single climb to punctuate them, a punchy stage with a flattish finish, a punchy stage with an uphill finish, and two mountaintop finishes, one short and steep, and the other one an epic. This seems like a pretty good balance for an early season race. Climate in January in Córdoba suggests high 20s are likely, somewhat cooler in the stages in the Sierras. Good for warm weather training. And a bit more variety and interest than the current iteration of the Vuelta a San Juan…

 
Nordic Series #26: Forni Avoltri



If you think of Italian skiers, there’s a very good chance that you think of Alpine skiing. People like Alberto Tomba have grown to become synonymous with the sport, and the downhill variant of the sport has a bit wider currency than the Nordic disciplines, which are very popular but largely only in specific regions. This is also, perhaps, why so few of the Italian stars of these sports have what we would describe as immediately recognisably Italian names; the regions that have given the Nordic sports their top Italians have tended to be Südtirol and Valle d’Aosta, so lots of athletes with either French-sounding (Nicole Gontier, René-Laurent Vuillermoz) or German-sounding (Dorothea Wierer, Lukas Hofer, Karin Oberhofer, the entire Runggaldier family). There are obviously some big names who are more ‘typically’ Italian - even those from those regions (Federico Pellegrino is from the Valle d’Aosta, for example), and there does also remain some interest in those sports in Lombardia, Veneto and elsewhere, so there are some venues outside of the Südtiroler and Valdôtain homelands.

Due to high altitude in the Alps, the Italian Alpine venues also tend to be quite high on the list of most popular venues for three of the four Nordic disciplines (the quantity of snow required for ski jumping is somewhat less, so the ability to cover large areas of Loipe is less important), and so several survive pretty comfortably, hosting a variety of sports and introducing people to the sport even if they don’t have that much local interest. For example, over in Veneto, Forni Avoltri’s biathlon facility had been hosting a variety of levels of competition, long before it had a local hero/ine to attract people to it. In 1997, it hosted the Junior World Championships; in 2003 it hosted the European Championships as well as hosting the biathlon for the Universiade based around Tarvisio; in 2003 and 2013 it hosted the Summer Biathlon World Championships, with athletes racing on the tarmacked roller-ski trails around the stadium; and from 2000 to 2003, 2007 and 2012 it hosted the IBU Cup. Victors in races at Forni Avoltri include Markus Windisch (brother of 2019 Mass Start World Champion Dominik), Erik Lesser and Anna Frolina (while she was still representing Russia and called Anna Boulygina), as well as some remarkable junior races in 2007 - Germany doing a clean sweep of the top 5 in the sprint, with the likes of Simon Schempp and Daniel Böhm in their team, only to withdraw en masse and leave France to sweep the podium in the pursuit with Alexis Bœuf, Martin Fourcade and Jean-Guillaume Béatrix. Forni Avoltri also had its ticket punched to host the IBU Cup in 2012-13, but handed back the invite due to sponsor problems, considering they had to raise the money for the Summer World Championships too.

Which was kind of ironic, because 2012-13 also saw the Junior World Championships in Obertilliach, just across the Austrian border, in which a young Italian prospect, just turned 18, by the name of Lisa Vittozzi, from Pieve di Cadore and who had grown up as a sportswoman at the Forni Avoltri facility, took a silver medal in the youth sprint, and served notice that she was a prospect for the future. In the following year’s youth events, she won both sprint and pursuit as well as taking silver in the Individual, before stepping up into the World Cup in 2014-15. She went back to the Junior World Championships as a year one junior in Minsk that year, but not peaking as she was making her elite World Championships debut shortly afterward. By the time she was a year 2 junior, they weren’t even sending her to the Junior Worlds - it would have been a waste of time, with her hitting top 20s and top 30s in the World Cup comfortably by then. With a shooting-biased skillset, she took a while to start converting those top 20s into top 10s, the top 10s into podiums and the podiums into wins, but she became an essential part of Italy’s team, one of the best relay leadoffs in the world, and an almost ever-present in the upper end of the World Cup from consistency alone; as she’s got older and stronger, she’s become more competitive on the skis, and has gone from being a consistent fringe name to a regular threat to win, as well as retaining that consistency - Russian fans have nicknamed her “Tsvettozzi” after Tsvet’ “flower”, owing to the flowers awarded to athletes finishing 4th to 6th in World Cup races as part of the podium ceremony. As a result she had several top 10s before her first individual podium, at Kontiolahti late in the 2016-17 season, and she’d managed 21 of them before finally crossing the line first, in Oberhof’s sprint early in 2019. That was the year she became a legitimate crystal globe contender, feuding until the last with her compatriot and teammate Dorothea Wierer; Lisa managed just 2 wins all season, but until melting down with the World Cup on the line in Oslo, she had been in the top 10 in 18 out of 24 World Cup races (4 podiums and 2 wins) - and two of those other six had been 11th - and so she has become very much part of the scenery. In fact, she’s so well known around Sappada that, when RCS were looking at introducing Sorgenti di Piave to the Giro, it was not any legendary cyclist that was sent to investigate and advise on the climb, but Solowattaggio sent the rising star of biathlon instead.



Obviously a large part of the reason for the consideration of Sorgenti di Piave was that Forni Avoltri and its near-neighbour on the other side of the Cima Sappada, Sappada, were looking to host the Giro. The eventual stage that came from that was pretty good, of course - the 2018 stage that resulted from all of the hype about the actually-not-all-that-interesting Sorgenti di Piave climb was almost certainly better than any stage with that MTF would have been - with Simon Yates, already in the maglia rosa, showing more form and desire to capitalise on his superiority at the time with a swashbuckling win that, at the time, looked certain to safeguard a triumph in the Corsa Rosa (although of course we all know he had to wait a few months for his maiden GT victory after Froome, in the words of George Bennett, “did a Landis”).


What everybody thought would be the decisive stage of the 2018 Giro. It probably would have been, may even still be, but let’s face it, for a lot of people that would only be due to personal opinions thanks to Froome’s divisiveness.

Sappada has hosted the Giro more than once, though, of course - it also played host to another epic stage, which also went through Forni Avoltri.


Sappada ’87, the Fuente Dé of its day

On the face of it a pretty unthreatening stage considering the mountains nearby (although the worst of them would have to wait over a decade to be discovered, natch), this was the stage that saw Stephen Roche do a number on Visentini, after attacking on the descent of the Forcella di Monte Rest and then refuse to desist after his own teammates started chasing him down. They succeeded in putting Visentini back in the group, but at the expense of burning all his teammates, so when he turned out to be on a bad day, he had nobody to help him, and despite the eastern side of Cimasappada being a pretty unassuming climb (as we will find out), it cost Visentini some six minutes; Roche saved the maglia rosa from a not-yet-the-beast-he-would-become Tony Rominger by 5 seconds, but this was where the barely-disguised animosity became full on hatred. The following day, Roche was attacked by opponents and teammates alike, abused and spat at by fans, and it set into motion one of the most controversial and dramatic Grand Tour final weeks of all time.

The climb also appeared mid-stage in a day taking the péloton from Velden to Toblach/Dobbiaco in the 1990 Giro (Toblach/Dobbiaco of course also being a Nordic sports hotspot in northern Italy), but being so far from the finish, lightning couldn’t strike twice. However, the area has still managed to be part of other cycling events, most notably in 2018 hosting the Giro d’Italia Ciclocross, at the Piani di Luzza sports facility which is just across the road from the biathlon facility.

Not that lightning should have struck twice, mind. The Cima Sappada climb is a pretty tame one, all told, with the only steep parts being right at the very end. Complicating matters for the Nordic Series, the Forni Avoltri biathlon stadium is located before the final steep 3km of the east side of the climb, so really limiting the climb leading in to some fairly tame gradients - the cyclingcols profile starts all the way from Villa Santina, but it’s a one-route trip for the last 20km or so of this - so you’ll note there’s about 3km at 5,5%, then a few kilometres flat, then low gradients rising up to another 3km at 5,5% before the biathlon stadium and then the actual climb. From the other side, you’ll be familiar with this from the 2018 Sappada stage - just that there’s about 5km of rolling to false flat terrain between the town of Sappada and the summit of the pass. However, you will probably note on the profile of the east side that there are a couple of familiar names on it: arrows showing junctions for the Sella Valcalda (as per the 1987 stage) and for Tualis (which those of you with sharp memories should recall was intended for use in the 2011 Giro as a sop to those disappointed by the cancellation of Monte Crostis), and, perhaps most notably, at 24km from the summit, a town called Ovaro, which every cycling fan should know as the gateway to hell itself, Monte Zoncolan.



While this means that there are not going to be any stages that just leap up to the finish, there are ample opportunities to create a stage that forces people to race from afar, even if it’s just thanks to attrition - because this one is located close to some real beasts, beasts that even the greats fear. Most of these climbs would work best at the end of a mountain block or, better, as a final mountain stage full stop, because really if there’s no tomorrow to wait for, then why waste epic mountains on a mountaintop finish?

Proposal #1: Spilimbergo - Forni Avoltri, 170km



Who doesn’t love a bit of Mortirolo-Aprica action? That doublet has become the go-to example of the hard climb-easy climb theory which permeates so much of the idealised race design of the traceur; a tendency and a theory which, in all likelihood, has that very double act to thank for its very existence. Of course, other hard climb-easy climb pairings have sprung up in the time since the Mortirolo-Aprica unveiling, but perhaps only one - Finestre-Sestrières - has been taken to heart by the fanbase to anything even remotely resembling the same extent. The ease of the eastern side of the Cima Sappada climb does allow for certain possibilities here, however, and this loop-de-looping stage demonstrates this clearly with an as-yet-unused behemoth that is still, nevertheless, pretty familiar to the cycling fan, thanks to some suspense-building profiles and some misleadingly tilted photographs, along with some inopportune timing and a tinge of tragedy.



The Strada Panoramica delle Vette, otherwise known as the Monte Crostis summit road, was scheduled for inclusion in the 2011 Giro d’Italia, as a monster warmup climb for the legendary Zoncolan. The mooted stage would likely have become instantly the hardest double act of climbing in cycling history, given that Monte Crostis is a leg-shattering 14km at 10%. However, the 2011 Giro was of course tainted by tragedy, after the death of Wouter Weylandt on the comparatively innocuous descent of the Passo del Bocco, which marred what would otherwise probably have been seen as a pretty entertaining stage; as it was, the victory for Miguel Ángel Rubiano is a mere footnote, and the following day was neutralised, before Wouter’s Leopard Trek teammates, along with close personal friend Tyler Farrar, were allowed to cross the line together in unison before withdrawing from the race. With the tension high in the péloton, pictures such as this one emerging, purporting to be of the descent from Monte Crostis, meant that there was a great deal of concern about the climb, and the organisers bowed to the worries from riders and fans and removed Crostis from the race. It didn’t matter that this particular photo was in fact taken at an angle that made the climb look badly cambered, or that it was actually on the plateau rather than the actual descent. It didn’t even matter that some of the photos being shared weren’t even of Monte Crostis. Even some photos of the infamous Yungas Road in Bolivia were shared. However, some more tarmacking has gone on in the intervening period, and I believe we can do a loop de loop around Tualis and Monte Crostis, to be the Mortirolo to Cimasappada’s Aprica.

Such a stage would put the summit of. Monte Crostis at almost exactly 40km from the finish, with the plateau at the summit and then descent accounting for over half of that, and then the low gradient grinding up to the summit. I’ve approached from the south, with some similarities to the 1987 Sappada stage with Forcella di Monte Rest early on, but this is a much tougher stage, including the cat.1 Passo del Pura[/i] - which saw its first Giro d’Italia action in 2014, when it was part of the supposed-to-be-climactic stage 20 to Monte Zoncolan, along with the Sella di Razzo, which makes a very decent one-two punch of climbing. However, the GC was already in the hands of the strongest climber in the race, the mountain was left to the break, and to the eternal shame of the sport of cycling, Mick Rogers won the stage.



This stage also bears some resemblance to a [url=https://i2s4s4h3.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AIR2019-Profile-Stage-3.jpg]2019 Adriatica-Ionica stage
in which the Passo Rest and Passo del Pura are inexplicably uncategorised climbs - the latter therefore being possibly the hardest uncategorised climb of all time. Realistically, however, these are here for the break to score points, and simply in the hope that some legs will have been softened up ready for the brute that is Monte Crostis. As a result, despite 16km length, the final climb only merits cat.3 status - after all, we only ascend just under 500m, so this only averages 3%. How very Aprica!

Proposal #2: Pozza di Fassa - Forni Avoltri, 159km



Yes, this is my beefed up version of the 2018 Giro stage. I’ve put the start over at Pozza di Fassa which means we can put this off the back of a previous stage with Fedaia (Fedaia!), largely because in this stage we turn The Wrong Way At Caprile. Because finishing in Forni Avoltri essentially adds 9km to the finish from 2018, much of which is flat before a hard-fast 3km down to the line, I’ve had to make the first part of the stage tougher so as for that 9km to not disincentivise action, with riders more tired and therefore struggling more to respond to moves. As a result a rolling first half with the Passo di Mauria the only major obstacle has been replaced by the Passo Pordoi and then the monolithic Passo Giau. Bella tappa.

Proposal #3: Maniago - Forni Avoltri, 172km



This is the alternative option for approaching from the west - trying to change up the Sappada options. The initial part of the stage resembles proposal #1, coming over the Forcella di Monte Rest and the Passo della Pura before climbing up to the Sella di Razzo. Instead of descending down into Ovaro, though, we continue on along the plateau to the Sella di Ciampigiotto and descend westward to Cima Gogna. As a result this deposits us at the base of the Passo Sant’Antonio, and this therefore leaves us on the 2018 Giro stage route.

Instead of repeating this, though, this time I have a different look for the riders. Instead of climbing to Costalissoio, we have the Passo Costa - 3,9km @ 9,2% - which crests 41km from the line, and then after a little plateau we descend back down through Costalissoio, and then we descend the road that the riders climbed on their way to Costalissoio in the Giro. This then means we can put an intermediate sprint in Santo Stefano di Cadore, and then in Camplongo, we then go to ascend the Forcella di Zovo.



5,8km @ 9,8%. Brutal. The last 3km are at 12%. It’s proper Unipublic territory, this. However: it can’t be a finish. And it’s 23km from the line. This could create an amazing stage. The problem will be that the Forcella di Zovo is incredibly narrow, and there is a stretch of the first part of the descent which is on sterrato which would need to be paved before they could have a proper race down here. It’s not an easy one to sell in its current state, because the first kilometre of descent is downhill at around 11% and on sterrato.

After that, it’s just narrow until the Costa d’Antola parking lot. But even then, it’s kind of borderline acceptable. The sterrato is probably too much because of how steep it is.



The descent of the Forcella di Zovo takes up around 10km of the remaining distance, then there’s the last 4km of the west side of Cimasappada, then the flat rolling 6km before the descent into Forni Avoltri. If they can make Zovo passable, this could make a great finale.

Proposal #4: Tarvisio - Forni Avoltri, 158km



Now we start to get brutal. Really brutal. The reason for this one starting over in Tarvisio is to link the Universiade Nordic locations from 2003, but realistically this could be from anywhere that requires an approach from the east to get to the southeastern face of Cimasappada.

One thing I’ve started doing here, however, is taking a few liberties with what’s acceptable. After all, if we’re descending Monte Crostis in proposal #1, then we can give this a go. The first climb here is a genuine cat.1 climb in the Passo del Canon di Lanza, but the important part is once we arrive for what is effectively a nice loop of brutality, which starts actually at the summit of the second climb of the day. The second climb of the day is listed as Cappella della Madonna in Sutrio, but that doesn’t reveal what would be clear once I tell you the start point: Priola. Yes, this is basically the climb up to the point where the Priola and Sutrio roads to Monte Zoncolan join. The Priola route has been mooted but never used, but it’s usable.



I think that the Sutrio side of the climb is descendable. Certainly the section from Cappella della Madonna is, so the descent from this part of the Priola climb should be doable; the only difficult bit would be the very top, between where the two routes converge and the summit.

Here, we leave that for later. This is effectively 6km at a bone-crunching 13%, but it’s 80km from the line, so it won’t be too decisive. Instead, we descend into Sutrio, climb over Sella Valcalda, and we could go straight to Forni Avoltri, but why would we do that when we can ZONC? So instead we turn south into Ovaro and climb Monte Zoncolan, from the classic Ovaro side, and use that as our Mortirolo instead, with the summit coming 44km from the line. You see, I think this one would be really badly broken up here because Zoncolan will create gaps anyway; I don’t think that this would neuter Zoncolan because domestiques will be gone, as they always are. And even if they do come back together, as with Aprica, the next climb and the pain of trying to climb again after having had to do what it takes to get over Monte Zoncolan will break you for you. And that’s only the penultimate climb, because we’ve got Forni Avoltri still to come. Sella Valcalda sits in the middle, a less threatening 7,7km @ 5,5% with a kilometre of 10% just waiting for you to underestimate it when you’ve already been over Zoncolan.

Speaking of which, let’s take the nuclear option.

Proposal #5: Cortina d’Ampezzo - Forni Avoltri, 204km



I was writing up this proposal when I took a call from Angelo Zomegnan. Me and Angelo don’t get to speak often these days, I think the fact that I haven’t done much course designing in Italy for a long time has meant that he hasn’t had too much to say to me, and also I think the fact that there have been some races where I have taken easier options than there were available meant that he felt I’d disappointed him somewhat. In fact, my suggestion that having an unpaved descent at 11% would be potentially unacceptable had come to his attention, and he was not pleased. He got very animated and, well, Italian, and gesticulated wildly whilst accusing me of being in the back pocket of Christian Prudhomme, which as I’m sure you’re aware is about as brutal an insult as you can level at a race designer.

Keen to make amends to our long-fallen spirit father, however, I resolved that I would use the territory available around Forni Avoltri to create the kind of stage that Angelo would be proud of, something that would cause bicycles the world over to rise up in protest against the riders who themselves were protesting against the race organisers who forced them into this. It’s been a long time coming, but once the finished proposal was created, I was keen to placate Angelo and win back some favour. And finally, I had something he was proud of me for.



Well, to be honest, he wasn’t too keen on that first 38km, which he pointed out mournfully I could have put Passo Tre Croci into, but after that he was pleased. A genuine cat.1 climb in Sella di Ciampigiotto? Fine. But then placing Monte Crostis 100km from the finish in a stage where the plateau at the top of Monte Crostis is the longest flat section remaining? Well, that’s another question. The towns of Coneglians and Sutrio crop up repeatedly here, as we headed through Coneglians to climb Monte Crostis, but then once we descend through the Sella Valcalda we return to the town, from whence we head to Ovaro and climb Monte Zoncolan, which itself crests 63km from the line. What’s that? You didn’t want to attack so soon on the stage? Well, that’s fine because once you descend into Sutrio, you turn south to Priola and climb the 6km @ 13% part of Zoncolan that I had you climbing in the last stage. That crests 40km from the line so that’s much more achievable. And if you don’t really want to attack there, there’s always Sella Valcalda cresting 23km from the line, or the final ascent to Forni Avoltri, if you’re that cowardly.

This format of stage where there are monstrous climbs that get progressively smaller is rare, but often entertaining. The 2018 Sappada stage is a version of this, as is the Tour stage to Culoz in 2016, the Peyragudes stages over Balès and Peyresourde. I’ve been falling into this trap ever since the earliest days of this thread, when in my very first attempt at La Vuelta, the race I’ve had more attempts at than any other, I included a stage that finished on Monte Naranco after San Lorenzo, Cobertoria, Cordal etc. - each climb smaller than the last. This is an absolutely, absolutely roided-out version of the same format. When you’re doing climbs that (after the first one at least) progressively get smaller and easier… and the third climb in that chain is 6km at 13%… you know that this is brutal.

Is it particularly realistic? Nah, probably not. But then, this is the nuclear option. I think a couple of these options would be really viable. This is on the extreme side, definitely. Would I love to see it? Of course. Will I? Sadly, no. But we can but dream… we can but dream…

 
I'm using Cronoescalada, that and La Flamme Rouge are the best ones around at the moment. Cronoescalada was the best, but it's had to almost be recoded by its creators from scratch due to google switching off the good old maps and replacing them with the crappier new maps, and La Flamme Rouge usurped it somewhat. It is now pretty much back to where it was (they've recently coded in the ability to use highways and to switch off mapping to enable manual routing, which were disabled for some time as they were using an OSM builder with a google maps visual overlay), I still prefer it as I find it more intuitive, but others like railxmig prefer La Flamme Rouge.
 
Reactions: TourOfSardinia
Libertine, Zomegnan would really approve the last Cortina - Forni Avoltri stage, it's just awesome.
One small correction: Lisa was bron in Pieve di Cadore because there's the next hospital, but she's from Sappada/Plodn (no idea if she speaks Plodnerisch, the old German dialect that is spoken in Sappada). Stuff like that is really common in small mountain villages, just look at all the athletes that have been born in Bruneck, for most of them it's just the nearest hospital, not their hometown.
PS: Costa and Focella Zovo on the same stage, that looks lke one of my training rides, I love it.:)
 
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I'm using Cronoescalada, that and La Flamme Rouge are the best ones around at the moment. Cronoescalada was the best, but it's had to almost be recoded by its creators from scratch due to google switching off the good old maps and replacing them with the crappier new maps, and La Flamme Rouge usurped it somewhat. It is now pretty much back to where it was (they've recently coded in the ability to use highways and to switch off mapping to enable manual routing, which were disabled for some time as they were using an OSM builder with a google maps visual overlay), I still prefer it as I find it more intuitive, but others like railxmig prefer La Flamme Rouge.
Something must be different with Cronoescalada regarding the height profiles. Earlier the profiles looked "smoother". Now there are a lot of small "spikes" in the profile, especially when using the Giro function.
 
After a 2 week long hiatus i'm back.

Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 3: Kitzbühel – Mölltaler Gletscherbahn; 170km


Stage 3 of my Österreich-Rundfahrt is the only uphill finish of the race and at the same time it's also the stage that will crown the Glocknerkönig of this Österreich-Rundfahrt.
The stage starts in Kitzbühel, a skiing town that is famous all around the world, mainly because of the Streif, the legendary downhill slope that is used in the Alpine skiing World cup every year and comparable to a monument in clycling (I've always seen Wengen and Kitzbühel as the skiing version of RVV/Roubaix, while the GS in Adelboden is also on the same level as a monument).
After around 7km of flat the first climb of the day starts, Pass Thurn, 11km at 4%, nothing really hard, but enough to get a decent fight to enter the breakaway. The following descent is steeper, but not too technical and nothing special.

After 37 km of false flat the big one starts, Hochtor from Fusch, 23.6km at 6.9% with 13km that feature an average gradient of 9.6%, one hell of a climb.

After a long, and I mean really long descent to Heiligenblut we have 24km of (slightly downhill) false flat, then the next climb of the day starts. It's Sonnberg, 7.5km at 9.4%. The road looks pretty good, it's your typical steep road on the sun exposed side of an alpine valley. The climb tops with just under 25km to go and after the descent there's only 8.5km of false flat, so we could see attacks on this climbs. The final climb is the ascent to the Mölltaler Gletscherbahn, 8.8km at 5.5% not the hardest climb in the word, but irregular and with a few steep sections that shouldn't be underestimated.
it's this climb until 14.5km to go:
I know, this one would be an absolute monster MTF and there would be even enough space at the ski station with 2.5km to go, but it's a private road that belongs to the ski station (not a poblem if they are willing to pay for a stage) and I didn't want to have a monster MTF.

This could be a really interesting stage, an easier climb righ at the start and we could see attacks on the penultimat climb. It's a hard climb, there's not a ot of flat after i and you won't have a ton of domestiques around after the Glockner.
The finishing area:
 
So the next thing I have for this thread is a long, long-standing race I’ve wanted to do but never got around to. You’ll have noticed I’ve done a lot of races in Argentina, and not too long ago I did a Vuelta del Uruguay. But I always needed something to give me both the time and the inclination to really investigate the big country to their northeast. You see, I have something of a minor love affair with Brazil, or certain aspects of Brazil at least (it’s a very large country with a lot to love, but obviously there’s a huge flip side to it, from the absurd levels of inequality and rampant violence in the favelas so finely depicted in City of God through to the current nationalist right wing government and environmental policy). I’m not a beach person, but there’s something of a joie de vivre about that stereotype that you can’t help but admire; Brazil has some of the best food in the world (I could live on moqueca and peixada every day for life, as they connect several of my favourite flavours - coconut, lime, coriander - with fish and a hearty Latin style quite apart from the Asian cuisines that combine similar flavours), and one of the most vibrant musical histories in the world, which outstrips the entire rest of the Latin world for classic material. People like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Os Mutantes, Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges, Novos Baianos, Secos e Molhados, Tim Maia, Erasmo Carlos, Jorge Ben, Chico Buarque, Nara Leão, Raúl Seixas, Sérgio Sampaio, Gal Costa… you get the picture.

But much as its cultural and historic ties being to Portugal rather than Spain leave Brazil as something of an outsider in South American history, its cycling scene is somewhat distinct too. Half a continent away from the Andean climber-heavy scene in Colombia and Venezuela and also, in more recent times, Ecuador, Brazilian cycling links to a great extent to the neighbouring rioplatense scene of Uruguay and the Argentine pampas - and indeed these are the races overseas that the Brazilian teams are most likely to be found in; most of the country’s strongest riders have traditionally been sprinters and time trialists of the kind we have come to expect from that scene. But at the same time, Brazil is a colossal country, with a huge range and diversity of topography, and as a result there are more opportunities for difficult races than the Uruguayans have, and more interesting topography close to large population centres than the Argentines have. As a result, they have sometimes interested riders from all over South America and even Europe with some of their races, most notably the Tour do Rio, which in its professional years brought riders from Colombia, Spain and Portugal to contest it.

However, there is no Volta do Brasil. The race that has in recent years carried that title, or something approximating it, has in fact been the Volta de São Paulo, which carried “Tour do Brasil” as an appellation. Back in the 1980s, though, there were two races called the Volta Cyclist Internacional do Brasil. The first edition took place in March 1987, and was run over 12 stages, from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro and back. Gabriel Sabbião won the race, ahead of the Chilean Lino Aquea and the American Todd Gogulski, although Sabbião’s four year sojourn in Europe, largely with Reynolds, would be forgettable, compared to 4th placed finisher and king of the mountains Cássio Freitas, who would later finish 2nd in the Volta a Portugal while still racing on a Brazilian wildcard team, and parlay this into a decade-long career in Iberian cycling, the pinnacle of which was the overall GC win of the 1992 Volta a Portugal.



The following year, the race was in April, and it was reduced to 9 stages, between Goiânia and São Paulo via Brasilia. The European amateurs had discovered the race, and took many of the earlier, flatter stages, but the GC was won in the end by Venezuelan José Prada. Brazilians took just 3 stage wins and placed 2 riders in the top 10. Interest was waning, logistics were a struggle and the race was held no longer. Instead, various tours of provinces, and one-day races around motor racing circuits and highways became the staple of Brazilian cycling culture, which continued to churn out sprinters and time trialists. As we know, the most famous Brazilian cyclist of modern times is Murilo Fischer, who apart from a period of absurd dominance in the Italian semi-classic calendar in late 2005 largely carved out a pro niche as a leadout man.

Enter the Coronavirus.

In a world where the cycling world has gone almost a whole season without races, all of the major Brazilian stage races have been unable to be organised. With the lack of alternatives for racing, reaching the late season, as the world starts to move towards some level of normalcy and the death rate subsides (let’s be optimistic!), any race that goes ahead is drawing stronger start lists than might have otherwise been expected. With the help of major companies like Petrobras, the organisers of the major Brazilian races are persuaded to pool their resources, and the outcome is this: a major new race that combines the most prestigious Brazilian stage races into one coherent whole: a 21-stage Volta do Brasil.


Screw these guys, there’s a new game in town!

Obviously, a 21-stage Volta do Brasil is something a bit extreme for now, right? Well, I’ve worked quite hard on this one to maintain some parameters that make it more achievable. The average stage distance is just 140km because we are not talking a World Tour péloton here. I’m under no illusions that this will suddenly be a major player, because it won’t.

Race format

The next thing is the format: There will be 24 days - 21 stages and three rest days, starting on a Friday and ending on a Sunday, as per the Giro in recent years. However, the race will be broken up not in the usual 9-6-6 kind of format that we’re used to from European GTs, or even the 3-6-6-6 that we’re used to from the Giro. Instead, I’m going for a more even split of 6-4-5-6, to keep the riders relatively fresh and also to suit the logistics. Long transfers are only allowed on rest days, and all of the rest days will be in major cities. There will be some short stages, and some city circuits. There will be motor racing circuits, which enable the riders to not interfere too much with general traffic - although there will be a lot of racing on motorways, common to ‘new world’ stage racing; this will largely be restricted however to areas which are dual carriageway so that diversions and contra-flow systems can be set up to minimise disruption. The race will be largely arranged around the most cycling-supportive regions, so you can expect to see Santa Catarina and the area between the Serra do Mar and the inland mountains on the way from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.

Field

The other thing that we have to take into account is the startlist. A bit like when I went mental writing an alternative history of nearly 30 years of cycling had the Cold War never ended, I’ve got a bit in too deep with this one, working out who would race if they had an “Open” category Volta do Brasil. Hey, I’ve got more time to do this stuff at the moment. This race is scheduled to happen in November - heading into rainy season, admittedly, but this will be a hot race, which lasts 3 weeks and includes some serious racing over all terrains. However, plenty of people will have missed out on season’s targets. I had a look through the kind of teams that would want racing, and the kind of teams that might be interested in some South American racing at this point in time, teams that are desperate for UCI points, and came up with the following suggestions:

UCI Professional Continental Teams
Burgos-BH (Alex Molenaar, Diego Rubio, Nicolas Sessler, Ricardo Vilela)
Androni Giocattoli (Manuel Belletti, Miguel Eduardo Flórez, Jhonatan Restrepo)

UCI Continental Teams
Agrupación Virgén de Fátima-Saddledrunk (Nicolas Naranjo, Germán Tivani)
]Aviludo-Louletano (David de la Fuente, Vicente García de Mateos, Sergey Shilov)
Best PC Ecuador (Byron Guama, Anderson Paredes)
Colombia Tierra de Atletas-GW Bicicletas (Hernán Aguirre, Darwin Atapuma, Nelson Soto)
Efapel (Joni Brandão, Antônio Carvalho, Sérgio Paulinho, Tiago Machado)
São Francisco Saude-SME Ribeirão Preto (Rafael Andriatto, André Gohr, Alessandro Guimarães)
SEP San Juan (Magno Prado Nazaret, Juan Pablo Dotti, Héctor Lucero)
Team Illuminate (Félix Baron, Cameron Piper, Rodolfo Torres)
Team Medellín (Óscar Sevilla, Fábio Duarte, Robinson Chalapud, Weimar Roldán)
Transporte Puertas de Cuyo (Daniel Díaz, Leandro Messineo, Adrián Richeze, Mauro Richeze, Laureano Rosas)
W52-FC Porto (Amaro Antunes, Gustavo César Veloso, José João Mendes, Ricardo Mestre, Edgar Pinto, João Rodrigues)

National Teams
Chile National Team (Carlos Oyarzún, Pablo Alarcón, José Luís Rodríguez, Matías Arriagada, Nicolas Cabrera)
Kazakhstan National Team (Yevgeniy Fedorov, Ilya Davidenok, Matvey Nikitin, Artur Fedosseyev, Stepan Astafyev)
Russia National Team (Evgeny Shalunov, Artëm Ovechkin, Roman Maikin, Aleksandr Vdovin, Aleksandr Evtushenko, Matvey Mamykin) - alternatively labelled as “international representation from Russia” under neutral banner?
Uruguay National Team (Fabricio Ferrari, Mauricio Moreira, Federico Moreira, Richard Mascarañas)

Brazilian National Teams (non-UCI)
Avaí FC-FME Florianópolis (Matías Medici, Rodrigo Nascimento)
Funvic-Pindamonhangaba (Otávio Bulgarelli, Flavio Santos, Rodrigo Melo)
Memorial-Santos-Fupes (Francisco Chamorro)
São José Ciclismo-Instituto Athlon
Taubaté Team-Taruma (Cristian da Rosa)
Trinx-Guaratinguetá
UC Rio de Janeiro

There are also a few notable Brazilians who’ve moved teams - such as Alex Correia - who I haven’t been able to track down in terms of which team they’re now on as I’ve had to work from the start lists of the limited number of races that have successfully been held in 2020. I’m working on the basis that this is an “Open” startlist, however, so those 24 teams above might be the squads per se, but it’s not quite just that, so to speak. Notwithstanding that the following riders are currently suspended, but will be free to select by the time the race comes around:
BRA - Everson Camilo (34, suspension ends April 8th 2020)
BRA - João Gaspar (28, suspension ends 26th July 2020)
KAZ - Ilya Gorbushin (21, suspension ends 15th September 2020)
URU - Sixto Núñez (28 on March 6th, suspension ends 6th June 2020)
BRA - Kleber Ramos (34, suspension ends 9th August 2020)

I would expect at least Gaspar and Ramos, should they want to return, to find teams, and Sixto Núñez would be a fit for a Uruguayan national team if nobody picks him up too. I don’t know much about Camilo, and Gorbushin is probably on the young side to risk for a three week race, especially as the Kazakh national squad - they seem to like jetting them to rather random places as races that a Kazakh national team has done, such as the Sri Lanka T-Cup, Vuelta Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic, Black Sea Cycling Tour, Tour de Thailand, Vuelta México, and so on, hence why I included them here - has plenty to choose from.

Anyway, in addition to these, you have one of those interesting additional features to the startlist that you get in races away from the big World Tour and established professional Continental Tour environments - ringers. Otherwise known as mercenaries, these are established riders who will jump from scene to scene on a “have race licence, will travel” basis. Some will settle within a scene (take the collection of Spaniards making a living in Japanese racing, like Benjamí Prades, José Vicente Toribio, Óscar Pujol, Ion Aberasturi and Marcos García), while others will be nominally contracted to a UCI team in somewhere like Malaysia or China in order to do the .HC and .1 races there but largely race non-UCI races closer to home. Perhaps the ultimate mercenary in recent years has been Francisco “Paco” Mancebo, ostracised from the top level since Operación Puerto some fourteen years ago, but still making a living from cycling, riding for teams in Greece, the UAE, the USA, the Dominican Republic and Japan whilst simultaneously moonlighting for teams elsewhere, in a career that’s taken him to Mexico, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Egypt, Uruguay, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Gabon, Morocco, the Philippines and Guadeloupe.

As a result, in order to try to encourage a good mix of competition, I came up with the idea that the weakest / smallest teams in the race, so largely the national amateur and pseudo-amateur lineups, could be supplemented in this fashion. People interested in participating in the race as free agent “ringers” - riders either not with UCI teams or with freedom to negotiate release because they’re nominally-contracted mercenaries elsewhere - can declare their interest, and then each of the bottom 10 ranked teams in the race can ‘draft’ up to 2 supplementary riders as ringers.

It’s unlikely we’ll see any real top level pros wanting to take on a 3 week race in South America in November unless we’ve literally seen the whole season washed out and they’re in a contract year. I’m looking more at riders such as these guys, who fit the contractual criteria above, who could potentially be interested - especially if there was good prize money for primes, stages and summits - in coming to Brazil as mercenaries, or riders who have fallen from being at the top two levels recently and, having missed most of a season, are interested in trying to get noticed to win another chance at the higher levels - or riders no longer wanted at those top levels, trying to prove themselves worthy of a contract after being ostracised.

José Alarcón (VEN, 31, no UCI team)
Davide Apollonio (ITA, 30, contracted to Amore e Vita)
Jimmi Briceño (VEN, 33, no UCI team but has been a short term mercenary in China before)
Aristobulo Cala (COL, 29, no UCI team (Bicicletas Strongman not a UCI team this year))
Jonathan Camargo (VEN, 31, no UCI team)
Roniel Campos (VEN, 26, no UCI team but has been a short term mercenary in China before)
Jaime Castrillo (ESP, 24, contracted to Kern-Pharma. A bit of a point to prove after being punted down from Movistar back to the development team)
Danilo Celano (ITA, 30, contracted to Sapura Cycling in Malaysia)
Carlos Galviz (VEN, 31, no UCI team)
Marcos García (ESP, 33, contracted to Kinan Cycling Team in Japan)
Yonder Godoy (VEN, 26, contracted to Inteja in the Dominican Republic,
Juan António López-Cozar (ESP, 25, no UCI team)
Francisco Mancebo (ESP, 44, contracted to Matrix-Powertag in Japan)
Ralph Monsalve (VEN, 33, no UCI team - brother of Yonathan)
Fredy Montaña (COL, 37, contracted to EPM)
Enzo Josué Moyano (ARG, 31, no UCI team)
Xavier Quevedo (VEN, 29, no UCI team)
Rafael Reis (POR, 27, contracted to Tavira)
Jackson Rodríguez (VEN, 35, no UCI team, did moonlight in China short-term a few years ago)
Miguel Ángel Rubiano (COL, 35, no UCI team)
José Rujano Guillén (VEN, 38, no UCI team)
Yonathan Salinas (VEN, 29, no UCI team)
Efren Santos (MEX, 28, contracted to Canel’s)
Yecid Sierra (COL, 25, contracted to Qinghai Tianyoude Cycling in China, but raced back in Colombia for Colombia-Andina)
Joaquim Silva (POR, 28, contracted to Miranda-Mortágua)
Serghei Tvetcov (ROM, 31, contracted to Sapura Cycling in Malaysia, has spent years in North American cycling and raced in South America a few times with Androni)
Vitor Zucco Schizzi (BRA, 22, contracted to EvoPro. But the UK/Ireland season will be done by November due to weather and surely they’ll be willing to let the best young Brazilian cyclist be freed up to race in Brazil?)

I originally had Yonathan Monsalve down as one of the star attractions in this auction but realised he is suspended. One suspects people like Rubiano, Celano, Rujano and Mancebo to attract the most attention for their name value, but there’s always some surprises around - and might somebody dare give a go to Mr 63%? I’ve left out the Uruguayans, Chileans, Kazakhs and Russians as they are likely to ride with the national team and some of them are already mentioned above (Fabrício Ferrari is racing for Ssois-Miogee in China; Ilya Davidenok and Artur Fedosseyev are on Ningxia Sports Lottery team in China too; Roman Maikin and Matvey Mamykin are on Cambodia Cycling Academy, as mercenaries to race in Langkawi; Artëm Ovechkin is on Terengganu Cycling Team in Malaysia for the same reason; Aleksandr Evtushenko and Mamyr Stash are on Spor Toto in Turkey; Carlos Oyarzún is on BAI-Sicasal in Angola). There are quite a lot of Venezuelans, and I might consider adding them as a further national team in place of one of the smaller domestic teams depending on the political situation in Venezuela - while there’s only so many places on a Russian team so some of the overspill might be available as mercenaries, as might others in semi-exile on the Asia Tour but with some renown such as Youcef Reguigui and Vitaly Buts.

This list can also be supplemented by bigger names hunting future contract opportunities as teams with larger financial commitments collapse, obviously that’s a far from ideal situation but we know it is a possibility in the circumstances. Key omissions among home riders are Murilo Affonso, Alex Diniz, André Almeida and Caio Godoy, who are suspended, as are for other teams Héctor Águilar (Uruguay) plus a whole host of Colombian prospective wildcards, such as Alex Cano, Wilmar Paredes, Argiro Ospina, Juan Pablo Wilches and Wilson Rincón, and of course Gonzalo Najár. There’s a few others who are provisionally suspended - Jarlinson Pantano, Domingos Gonçalves, Raúl Alarcón, Edward Beltrán and Roman Villalobos, for example - who are provisionally suspended and therefore if anything is waived or under appeal could be available.

Obviously a 21-stage “open entry” race like this has limitations on its realism, but in order to give myself something to work with, I did a bit of research into the Brazilian cycling scene, supplementary to what I already knew and what I had found out when looking at things like my Vuelta del Uruguay. And that’s part of why I feel I know some of those dopers will be back - I’m afraid the scene doesn’t have the best of reputations, and it is somewhat well-earned, too. Obviously for most of us, our abiding memory of Brazilian cycling teams will be Dani Díaz, Alex Diniz and Kleber Ramos going nuts in the mountains of San Luís a few years ago, with Díaz the only one to escape the ban hammer since. Otavio Bulgarelli evaded the hit in 2017 by retiring, but is now back again riding for Funvic on a non-UCI basis, João Gaspar was looking promising before his positive at the Volta a Portugal, and even perhaps the most prominent local example of a rider in recent years, Magno Prado Nazaret, has a positive from back in 2007 as a 20-year-old - albeit a less serious offence (a relatively common diet suppressant), which I feel given the time and age probably puts it around Ilnur Zakarin’s or Simon Yates’ offences in level. However, we’re taking the Portuguese August machines, and we’re relocating them to South America to take on a crazy péloton of peaking South Americans, with a few European wildcard riders thrown in, so it’s going to be crazy.

Course

The next thing to consider was the route. Some features of the route are a bit odd - but are influenced by two things: existing Brazilian cycling structure, and Brazilian infrastructure. Often especially away from main road areas, roads are unpaved, so while there are some unsealed sections, I have tried to be comparatively realistic about what level of this is usable, even if the Tour du Faso looks insanely cool. As I mentioned above, the Brazilian domestic scene uses a surprisingly high amount of highways, which I thought would have been worse for closures and disruption than residential areas, but what do I know? Largely races take place in the morning, to avoid the worst of the heat, and that may also enable them to use the major highways with reduced impact using contraflow systems and similar. Brazilian domestic cycling also likes circuits, and especially motor racing circuits. Motor racing circuits are a useful resource for course designers because they have a lot of parking, fans can get to them, and they will always be wide enough for a safe finish. They also require hiring costs which may be more cost effective than the price of the rolling road closures. However, the number of feature-length circuits is now minimal, limiting their usefulness as stages in and of themselves. However, they do most definitely have value, and in Brazil, circuits have found hosting bike racing to be a valuable alternative revenue stream for when the circus of F1, FIA GT or Stock Car Brasil (which I implore anybody who is interested in car racing to watch, it is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine, second only to Super GT because I’m obviously too hipster for motorsport too) aren’t available to come to town. Plus of course, there are regular hosts of races, and specialist spots with cycling legacy in the country as well. Multi-mountain odysseys are rare, but there are opportunities for proper mountain stages, and these will be needed across a three week race.

After some deliberation, therefore, I finally have a Volta do Brasil that I am at least relatively happy with - three weeks of racing which is all in and of itself likely achievable. It’s not a ‘real’ Grand Tour, nor could it ever be, no. It’s only around 2800km in length so well shy of a typical GT (average stage length is just 135km, though that includes TTs). It is, to me, a worthwhile and conceived halfway house between the wild west carnage of South American cycling and the organised formats and order of European cycling; with enough nods to tradition and concessions to realism but simultaneously innovating and being a step above typical racing in the country (it’s not like Uruguay where the entire transport network is shut down for the Vuelta) in terms of infrastructural demand and in terms of challenge. And if nothing else, given some of the jerseys we will see, it will be perhaps the most colourful three-week race we’ve seen in years.

The jerseys

Obviously, the first thing we have is the General Classification. That’s pretty self-explanatory. It will be yellow (after all, this is the universally-accepted leader’s jersey symbol worldwide, due to the prominence of the Tour de France), but with green trim around collar and sleeves, inspired by the famous jerseys of what is probably Brazil’s most famous export, its national football team, affectionately known informally simply as Seleção (“the selection”). If you ask pretty much anybody (except debatably for somebody particularly high up in the MMA world) their first thought when asked to discuss Brazilian sport, then something relating to the famous yellow jerseys of the football team will come up, be it an individual player (Pelé, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Socrates, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar) or the concept of jogo bonito that has underpinned Brazilian football throughout most of its history. The connection was too easy to pass up. Stage wins/podiums carry bonus seconds of 10, 6 and 4; intermediate sprints carry bonus seconds of 3, 2 and 1.

Secondarily, we have the Points Classification. This will award a blue jersey with yellow trim. Points will be awarded for the first ten finishers on every stage, in line with the old Volta a Portugal points jersey system that ran until 2010. This put greater emphasis on stage wins/podiums ahead of minor placements, and I would like to incentivise taking risks to win in a péloton that may be unused to racing over this distance and over this many stages. Therefore the points awarded will be as follows:
Stage finish: 25 - 20 - 16 - 13 - 10 - 8 - 6 - 4 - 2 - 1
Intermediate sprints: 5 - 3 - 1

The Mountains Classification will award a green jersey with white polka dots. There is the full ASO gamut of climb categories here, from HC down to 4th category. Mountains points are a key consideration because in large parts of South America, there is still a residual importance for the classification similar to in Spain until the 70s, where the mountains classification was considered the next most important thing to the GC win. There will be some generous primes for mountains prizes and intermediate sprints to encourage attacking racing, given mountains don’t usually take pride of place in rioplatense cycling.
4th category: 3 - 2 - 1
3rd category: 5 - 3 - 2 - 1
2nd category: 8 - 5 - 3 - 2 - 1
1st category: 12 - 8 - 4 - 2 - 1
Hors catégorie: 20 - 15 - 10 - 6 - 4 - 2

Finally, I’m not going to bother with a young rider’s jersey, although it might actually be of more benefit here where a lot of the most likely challengers for the race are veterans; though I guess some of the ex-Manzana-Postobón guys could contest it. Instead, however, I’m going to add in a Metas Volantes jersey, which pays a white jersey with blue trim. Again, as with the mountains, there will be some generous primes to encourage attacking riding, and hopefully make this more than just a minor jersey as it is in many World Tour short stage races, where somebody from the break the first day just makes it their job to hold it start to finish - doing so for 21 stages is a much more daunting task. Back in the 80s, the Tour’s intermediate sprint classification changed hands a good few times per race, and I think we can look back at this (or perhaps more realistically the 90s) as a comparison point for where the South American péloton may be.
 
So, without any further ado!

Stage 1: Porto Alegre - Velopark (Nova Santa Rita), 26,7km (TTT)





I know, I know. And I’m not a big fan of Team Time Trials, you all know that. However, they are a common feature of South American racing, which has often been used as an early pacesetter for stage races. In UCI races in Brazil, admittedly, the last one was 2007, when stage 1 of the Volta a Santa Catarina was won by the old Scott-Marcondés César-São José dos Campos team (the progenitor of the São José team that currently exists, which is a phoenix after the original strong team collapsed midseason after overextending itself in its ProContinental ambitions in 2010 and collapsing from the financial implosion that ensued. The Tour de San Luís opened up with a TTT in 2016, and the Vuelta del Uruguay has run one regularly, most recently annually from 2016 to 2018, after a few years without (although it did crop up in the Rutas de América in the interim). Whenever the Vuelta de Chile has run, they’ve included them in the first two or three days; it used to be annual, but now runs sporadically. The Vuelta a Colombia regularly opens with a TTT - in the last dozen years they’ve started with one in 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017, as well as having one on stage 2 in 2011; the Tour Colombia or whatever they’re calling the early-season all-pro race there has also opened with one the last two seasons. They even had one all the way onto stage 10 (!) in 2006. Venezuela has largely phased the TTT out of its national calendar (an action which suggests it clearly is a model place to be held up as something to aspire to if its cycling scene is anything to go by: note potential irony alert), while Bolivia runs them too. The national non-UCI calendar includes a good few of them, so in order to maintain some level of reasonable accuracy, rather than a prologue, I’m going to start my three-week South American race with the TTT.



I’ve chosen to start the race in Porto Alegre, the capital of the Rio Grande do Sul province. It is Brazil’s tenth most populous city, tallying just shy of 1,5m inhabitants, but the extended urban area including the outlying towns and cities such as Canoas, Viamão and Alvaraí approximately triples this figure, making it the fifth largest urban area in Brazil, after São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasília. The city was started as a fishing village by Azorean missionaries, and became a provincial capital 20 years later. From the 1820s, it became a hub for immigration in southern Brazil, especially once the wars that led to the independence of Uruguay and the separation of Brazilian and Argentinian territorial claims affected the population of the area. The region had attempted to secede from Brazilian control, and has a strong gaucho culture in common with that of Uruguay (it is also Brazil’s traditional home of mate consumption); as a result there are also some cross-border workers in southern Rio Grande do Sul and a creolised transitional variety of Portuñol, a code-switching mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, is commonplace.

Porto Alegre is also one of the most varied climates in Brazil, owing to its comparatively temperate location and the vagaries of the wind. In November, when the race will be taking place, it has relatively low average rainfall, and an average temperature in the low 20s. The city has hosted the World Social Forum on multiple occasions, and is one of Brazil’s front-running cities in terms of recycling and green energy, which despite the recent construction near Porto Alegre of Brazil’s largest wind power form is an area which has of course only gone backwards since Bolsonaro’s assumption of power - which will surely please one of Porto Alegre’s other largest producers, the petroleum brand Ipiranga, which is Petrobras’ main competitor and is headquartered in the city.

The city also has a real connection to Brazil’s cultural life; with its strong gaucho culture mentioned above, in addition to mate, it is also the origin of the Brazilian variety of churrasco, the barbecued grilled meat which has become a staple of Brazilian food overseas; musically, it was the birthplace of the legendary singer Elis Regina, who became one of the country’s all-time greatest interpreters of popular, jazz and Bossa nova music, one of the originators of the MPB scene, and collaborated with a number of other greats, most notably Antônio Carlos Jobim. Her untimely demise due to a drug overdose at the age of 36 elevated her to icon status, and over 100.000 people followed her funeral procession through São Paulo. Sports-wise, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabrício Werdum is Portoalegrense, as is Daiane dos Santos, who in winning the 2003 World Championships in the floor exercise became the first South American - and first African-heritage - world champion gymnast; and of course, there’s always football; lots of famous players have come through Porto Alegre’s main teams, Grêmio and Internacional. Most recently, Luiz Adriano has been one of the many Brazilians who’ve made a name for themselves at Shakhtar Donetsk, where he is the all-time leading goalscorer with 128; he has since played for Milan and Spartak Moscow before returning to Brazil; but more notably, 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho is the city’s favourite son, having been a superstar at Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Milan before bouncing around domestic teams and playing futsal to complement his 97 international caps for the Seleção - with 33 goals. He has a World Cup, a Copa América, an Olympic bronze medal, a Ballon d’Or, a Champions League title, league titles in Spain and Italy and a Bola de Ouro (the Brazilian equivalent of the Ballon d’Or).



But it all got started at Grêmio. With one of the most iconic jerseys in Latin American football - that sky blue-black-white tricolour is fairly unique - the great rivals of Internacional have grown to become one of South America’s soccer powerhouses, with 2 national titles, 5 national cups and 3 Copa Libertadores titles to their name. They were the first non-Carioca team - in 1950 - to win in the Maracanã, and their capacity to outperform themselves in knockout football led to the nickname Rei de Copas, or “King of Cups”. They most recently won the Copa in 2016, and the Copa Libertadores in 2017 (followed by the Recopa the following season). They also got to the semi-final of the Libertadores in 2018, only to be knocked out in controversial fashion.

I have elected to start my stage at the Arena do Grêmio, the stadium used by the squad since its opening in 2012, replacing their traditional Estádio Olímpico Monumental which had been their home since 1954. It has a capacity of 55.000 and was inaugurated in the 2013 Copa Libertadores. It was overlooked in favour of fierce rivals Internacional’s stadium closer to the city centre for the 2014 World Cup, however it was selected as a venue for the 2019 Copa América and has also hosted a major charity game between selections made by perennial rivals and former teammates Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. The reason for choosing this as the départ is that the stadium is on the northern edge of town - thus not causing a huge amount of disruption at this point - especially as the airport is nearby to the east, so we would not be affecting air traffic or its access to the city either. Such things need to be considered from time to time! It also means the main routes in to the city from the south and west are unaffected. Plus, of course, Grêmio is an icon of Brazilian sport and a multi-sport club whose ground and its surroundings include all the space and facilities one could ever require. They can always hold the presentations in the city centre on the Thursday; this race is happening on the Friday because it’s a 21 stage race with three rest days.


Volta a Rio Grande do Sul. Note the use of highways and the traffic being kept back

So why Porto Alegre? Well, very little of my race is going to be in Rio Grande do Sul, but I do think it is a part of the country that has earned a nod; similarly, there are some locations I am going to use in the first week that I couldn’t logistically include otherwise without a large air transfer or a very obscure start/finish kind of town prior to a rest day transfer, and Porto Alegre makes a lot of sense as a host for the purpose of the direction of course I’m running. Porto Alegre also has cycling history - from 2004 to 2006 there was even a Volta a Porto Alegre which ran over five days - four stages and a prologue in 2004, then subsequently four road stages and a semitappe/ITT day. Andre Luiz, Jorge Giacinti and Armando Camargo won these races respectively. Typically, the race would start and end in Porto Alegre, but from 2007 the race relocated to become the Volta a Gravataí, to the north of the city. Two non-UCI editions were run before it was upped to 2.2 status in 2009; the Uruguayan Ramiro Cabrera won that year, followed by Jaime Castañeda for a Colombian estrangeiro team, and Renato Seabrá in 2011. After two years without a race, it was reborn in expanded fashion as the Volta Rio Grande do Sul in 2014, with Chilean youngster José Luís Rodríguez winning the inaugural edition, before Ecuadorian journeyman Byron Guama and Murilo Affonso won the subsequent editions; since 2016, however, the race has passed into the history books; and with the National Championships not having been in the region in years, there has therefore been no major racing in Rio Grande do Sul since.

Of the previous winners of these stage races, only Rodríguez and Guama are potentially on hand here - but both probably would be. Affonso would be too, if he weren’t suspended until 2022. Giacinti I guess could be a potential wildcard rider, he is still active, but he is also 45 years old. He’s a dab hand against the clock though, so I guess he could be potentially useful in the CRE.


Arena do Grêmio. We start outside the stadium and cross the roundabout and suspension bridge in the background.

The first half of the TTT is on the Rodovía do Parque. This enables us to pass the Liquigás factory - not to be confused with the former cycling sponsor from Italy, this is a subsidiary of Petrobras - and enables us to skirt alongside - thus minimising disruption to - the suburb of Niterói (not to be confused with the suburb of Rio de Janeiro by the same name) and the city of Canoas (not to be confused with the hill overlooking southern Rio de Janeiro and included in the 2016 Olympic Road Race). This Canoas was originally a commuter town but has become a major manufacturing city and grown rapidly after 1945; it has swollen to over 300.000 inhabitants and now has a higher GDP per capita than Porto Alegre. This includes an oil refinery, but generally speaking its commuter belt origins mean that it has wide, sprawling neighbourhoods as opposed to the densely-packed centres common to fast-growing cities.

At the halfway point we switch from the 448 to the 386, at a highway junction. We can contraflow the 386 to minimise the disruption, or alternatively re-route traffic - anyone coming from Triunfo can be redirected into Porto Alegre south of the Jacuí without too much difficulty, and anybody coming from Montenegro can head toward Novo Hamburgo on the RS-240 and then south on the 116. This takes us along and over a slight hill - very gradual so not enough to be even really considerable - through the town of Nova Santa Rita toward our destination, which is the potentially misleadingly-named Velopark.

The reason I say misleadingly-named is that I’m posting on a cycling board, and for most of us “Velo” is an abbreviation for “velocipede”, an antiquated term for bicycle, and we’re all familiar with its use in the sport - track cycling takes place at a velodrome, a popular sportive organiser is called Velothon, and so on. So you could be forgiven for thinking “Velopark” is Brazil’s answer to permanent cycling circuits like we’ve seen in a few European races - Kent Cyclopark in the Women’s Tour (of Britain), and the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park in Sittard-Geleen that has appeared in the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour and the Binck Bank Tour. But it isn’t; the “Velo” in “Velopark” is not related to “velocipede” but to “velocity”, for it is a motor racing venue. Though the pun doesn’t work quite as well as “Velo Città”, another motor racing venue in interior São Paulo province.



It’s quite a mad one too: its blockish design suggests that it was a former aerodrome, but it is in fact an entirely brand new facility, inaugurated in 2008; the long and wide straight with parallel super-wide pit lane is because it was built to also be able to accommodate drag racing, which retains a level of popularity in Brazil; in fact, it has one of the maddest pit lanes in existence, with the pit entrance being before turn 8 of a 12 turn layout, and the pit exit being after turn 3 - but the pit lane itself includes 7 turns, with two chicanes to slow cars down on their way along the top section leading into it, and then running along the drag strip and merging onto the circuit after a further two corners. The riders enter the complex crossing the bridge across the circuit onto the infield, whereby they cut through the paddock to enter the pit lane near the end of the actual boxes, from where they head through the pit exit and around for a lap of the Velopark to finish the TTT on the line. The complex also includes some unique features - it has three karting circuits, two of which are linked and can make the longest karting circuit in the world; the third is the only oval course for karts in the continent.

The circuit hosts a range of events and is open 7 days a week for testing when no racing is going on - including bike racing, obviously - but the annual visit of Stock Car Brasil is the year’s highlight for the circuit, with South America’s best racing series bringing a lot of spills and thrills with their 30-car fields packed around the 2,3km layout. It was even selected to host the 500th event of Stock Car Brasil’s history, and it was an incredible event with changeable weather conditions, accidents, overtaking galore and all of the good stuff that makes Stock Car Brasil such a great format for the motor racing enthusiast - it has all of the wheel to wheel action and banging of classic touring cars, but the cars are not true touring cars but silhouettes; it’s effectively a budget version of DTM - that was specifically what it was designed to be, to make it affordable enough to support a much larger field than the German series is able to sustain - and that reflects in the often stellar field of drivers, which includes myriad former F1 drivers such as Rubens Barrichello, Ricardo Zonta, Nelson Piquet Jr, Felipe Nasr and Lucas di Grassi battling against tin-top specialists like Augusto Farfus, Thiago Camilo and Daniel Serra. The field is largely Brazilian with the occasional Argentine, however it has in the past featured a few drivers from further afield, such as Jacques Villeneuve in 2011, Jaime Algersuari in 2015 and Jérôme d’Ambrosio in 2018.


Lined up and ready to go, the 2019 Stock Car Brasil field at Velopark.

Obviously the higher level teams will have a natural advantage for a TTT here, but there are some teams in my projected startlist which have some reasonable engines on board. SEP San Juan and W52 in particular could be of note here. As could Funvic, if they get some interesting guys in the wildcard draw.
 
Stage 2: Santo Antônio da Patrulha - Criciúma, 192km





GPM:
Morro Estevão (cat.4) 1,3km @ 6,8%

The riders will stay overnight either in Porto Alegre or, more likely, in Canoas. A transfer of around 60km in the morning will take them to Santo Antônio da Patrulha, from which the first Saturday stage, and the first road stage, will depart. Officially founded in 1811, the city grew out of an earlier garrison town and its buildings include some of the oldest in Rio Grande do Sul, now providing homes for just under 40.000 people. It is relatively quiet compared to the cities of the Porto Alegre conurbation, and hosts a running and cycling amateur event most years in April in recent times - though obviously not this year for reasons we are all too aware of. One of its co-founders was an Italian surgeon who had served in the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars, who was looking for a retreat away from his adoptive hometown of nearby Osório - ironically, however, the municipality of Osório was not created until 1857, when it was split away from that of Santo Antônio da Patrulha, the younger town.



The centre of Santo Antônio includes some old colonial architecture and cobbled roads, but by the time the neutral zone ends and we reach kilometre zero, we’ve left the town behind and will be on the highway that takes us from Rio Grande do Sul into Santa Catarina, the province in which much of the rest of the first part of the race will take place. Kilometre zero is on the shores of the Lagoa dos Barros, around halfway between the town and Osório. Originally called Conceição do Arroio, the town was renamed - much like Italian towns like Riese Pio X and Russian cities renamed in honour of major socialist/communist figures during the Soviet era - in honour of its most famous son, the 19th Century military commander Manuel Luís Osório, veteran of the Cisplatine and various other mid-19th Century wars, leading up to his crowning glory as one of the driving forces behind the victory of the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in the war against Paraguay from 1864 to 1870. I mentioned that Porto Alegre is near to South America’s largest wind energy farm - that is in Osório too.

This should tell you what to expect from the stage; a lot will depend on the direction of the wind. If a pampero is blowing from the east, then the Serra Gaúcha and the Serra Geral will protect the riders from its impact, and the race will be fairly simple to control; more commonly, however, the wind will either be heading down the coast from upper Santa Catarina - creating a cross-headwind from right to left for much of the stage before turning into a genuine crosswind late on - or it will be blowing inland from the southern Atlantic, in which case it will be a trial by echelon for much of the stage which then becomes a tailwind late on. Either way, it’s a flat stage, and we can therefore expect the rioplatense teams loaded with riders suited to this kind of racing, like Avaí, Virgén de Fátima, Puertas de Cuyo and the Uruguayans to want to put some pace down and try to frighten some of the Colombian and Ecuadorian teams who are likely to be loaded with featherweight climbers. Especially as this is one of the longest stages of the entire race (there are no 200km+ stages at all).


Rutas de América 2020. In this part of the world, the echelon is king.

For much of the stage we will be heading along the longest nodal highway in all of Brazil, the BR-101 Rodovía Governador Mário Covas. It is the second most important of all highways in Brazil, running from Rio Grande do Sul all the way up to Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte and one of Brazil’s easternmost points, passing through a further 10 state capitals between Porto Alegre and Natal. It is considered an offshoot of the Pan-American Highway, connected indirectly to Buenos Aires, the original terminus. Again, contraflow systems will probably be the best way to avoid too much disruption, although the BR-101 in this part of the country is largely left to the purpose of freight and long distance traffic; most of the actual towns lie on the isthmuses between the inland lakes and the ocean that are connected by the RS-389 which serves as an alternative for traffic to use; this would add too much mileage to be viable for the bike race, plus as I mentioned before, for some reason they seem to love using highways in bike races in this part of the world.



The largest and most significant of this chain of inland lakes along this part of the coastline is the Lagoa Itapeva (obviously none hold a candle to Lagoa dos Patos), which we skirt the western coast of, including a sprint in the small town of Três Cachoeiras, which means “three waterfalls” and tells you all you need to know about its touristic interest. This is the closest we get to the Serra Geral all day, which is the name of this particular part of the Serra do Mar, which forms so much of the southern edge of Brazil, separating the inland plateau from the sea level beach towns and river ports. Lagoa Itapeva takes its name from a Tupi-Guarani word meaning “crushed stone”, and is also the name of a nearby hill and a nearby beach - the latter being more stony than many in the region suggests this may be the source of the name for all three. At the north end of the lake lies the resort town of Torres, which swells to triple its size in holiday season, and is a popular town for balloonists, holding an annual festival in the hobby.

From here, however, we leave Rio Grande do Sul and enter Santa Catarina. We’re also now well away from the mountains and so the riders are exposed to the wind from all sides if it’s blowing. The key feature in this part of the stage is the intermediate sprint in the city of Araranguá, 37km from the finish. This city has an unusual microclimate, having recorded unseasonable tornadoes, as well as being very close to the landfall area of Cyclone Catarina, the only hurricane-strength tropical cyclone ever recorded in the South Atlantic - of such rarity that Brazilian meteorologists refused to classify it as a genuine hurricane until almost a year after the fact - despite… just LOOK AT IT, for crying out loud! Araranguá is also the hometown of the actor Gilberto Martinho, who starred in many films in the 1950s and went on to be a staple of Brazilian telenovelas through the 70s.

Soon after this we finally leave the BR-101, at the second of five exits that lead directly toward today’s stage town of Criciúma. I’ve chosen this particular road because it goes over the small hill Morro Estevão on the way to the city - in an original draft I had the much larger Morro Cechinel hill in a loop which started in Criciúma itself - that climb is around 2km at 9%, but at only 4km from the line it would have turned this into a puncheur stage which, even despite it being on a Saturday, I didn’t really want; especially if the wind blows and this turns into trial by echelon, I wanted this one to be for the rouleurs for the purpose of balance. Even as it is, a short climb cresting just over 10km from the line could generate some tension and offer opportunities for an attack to work, however I fully expect this to come down to a sprint of whichever hardmen are left at the front by the time we get to Criciúma. The most crucial part of the run-in will be a 180º left hander at 1,2km from the line as we switch from side to side of Avenida Centenário, but after that it’s more or less a perfectly straight road which gradually bears left shortly before the finish - very safe and should provide a straightforward drag race.


The finishing straight on the left. We turn right onto the Avenida on the right hand side of it near the green and white building in the background and head up there some way before a hairpin to return on the left hand side.

Criciúma is a city of 190.000 people and is well-known within Brazil for its industrial manufacturing of flooring materials and ceramics. It is also known for its football side, whose distinctive jerseys now only grace the state-level game, but who hold some residual fame for their cinderella run to glory in the 1991 Copa do Brasil, under the tutelage of a then-upcoming coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari (I wonder if he went on to achieve anything?). The city’s heritage is largely Italian; it was pseudo-colonised by Italian immigrants in the 1880s, largely from Vittorio Veneto with which it is now twinned, and the rapid industrial expansion caused it to outgrow Araranguá, in whose municipality it originally lay. It also became a strong coal town, which aided the speed of that industrial development, and it is still one of Brazil’s main centres for coal and mineral extraction. Even so, it is now some 800% larger than it was even in 1940, and the rich mineral reserves of the region mean that it is a city which is in an expansion period.

Criciúma has seen some cycling action in recent history, but not since 2006, when it hosted the start of the Tour de Santa Catarina, a race which dates back to 1987 and for a period was the most important in the country. From 1987 to 2002 it was known in Portuguese as Volta de Santa Catarina, but this was changed to the French affectation in 2003. In the early 90s it grew to 10 stages but shrank back down to being a week long race; in 2004, 2006 and 2007 it even reached 11 stages, run in mid to late November and operating the Volta a Portugal format, albeit with relatively short stages. The race did not run in 2008, and returned in 2009 in an abridged, five stage format. After 2010, though, the race was cancelled, although it has returned as a one-off, non-UCI event in 2013 and 2016, with Colombia’s Ramiro Rincón the last winner. Márcio May is the record winner, with four wins from 1997 to 2005, one ahead of Cássio Freitas, who won the inaugural edition in 1987, and then two during the twilight of his career after his sojourn in Europe was over, in 2000 and 2001. Still-active winners of the race are 44-year-old Matías Medici, who won in 2004 and is riding for the Brazilian amateur team Avaí, Edward Stiver Ortíz, who is now 39 and riding for Orgullo Paísa (possible wildcard rider?), and Otavio Bulgarelli, who is 35 and returned from retirement to ride for Funvic, who won the 2013 non-UCI edition. Alex Diniz and Ramiro Rincón would almost certainly still be active if they weren’t suspended until 2025 and 2024 respectively.

Anyway, Criciúma was not on the route in either of those editions so it remains that the last time the race rocked up to Criciúma was in 2006. Marcos Novello won the prologue, before specialist sprinter Nilceu Santos won a stage from Criciúma to Braço do Norte the following day. Santos went on to win three more stages - all sprints - and I believe this will be a day for the sprinters once more. Probably for the stronger, more powerful ones rather than the lightweight, acceleration-heavy riders like a Caleb Ewan, due to the potential trial-by-echelon nature of the race. I’m looking at people like Nicolás Naranjo (who won 5 stages of the 2019 Vuelta del Uruguay), Pablo Anchieri if the Uruguayans bring him (who won 3 stages of the 2020 Rutas de América) and Francisco Chamorro among the more local types. Or perhaps one of the Richezes.

 
Libertine, that's another wonderful race.
Once I'm done with my Österreich-Rundfahrt I'll join you in South America, I've got a Vuelta ciclistica de Jujuy y Salta and 2 versions of the Vuelta a Chile up my sleeves.
Brazil also has a special place in my heart, my cousin moved to Brazil a few months ago to be with his gf (still pregnant at that time) and his daughter.
 
Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 4: Lienz – Weitensfeld im Gurktal; 168km


The stage starts in Lienz, the main town of Osttirol. Cyclists know the city because it's surrounded by 4 Mortirolo-level climbs, but today we won't be using those.

After just 3.7km of flat the first climb of the day starts, the Iselsberg Pass, 8.3km at 6.6% with a steep central section, that means a hard start and a strong breakaway.

The following descent is rather easy and followed by a 77km long section of false flat, with a bit of rolling terrain durning the 2nd half.
After that the long Eisenthalhöhe starts, 17.9km at 6.1% rather long and with a steep central section.

The following descent is rather steep and right after it we have the next climb, Schiestlscharte, 6.6km at 7.7%.

The descent is 14km long and gets easier durning the 2nd half. Right afterwards the final climb of the day starts, Hochrindl, 9.3km at 6% with the steepest slopes coming early on before a section of false flat.

After a few climbs and with this stage coming right after the only uphill finish and before an easier stage there is a legit chance that this climb will do some serious damage. The following descent is steep and rather technical, the final 10km are slightly downhillish false flat and will bring the riders to Weitensfeld im Gurktal.
This one could be pretty interesting, it comes after the Glockner stage and before an easier stage, so the gc riders shouldn't be afraid to go all out.
Weitensfeld im Gurktal:

 
There's some nice connectivity there. I mean, sure Eisentalhöhe and Schiestelscharte are a natural pair, but I've always been distracted by going to Turracher Höhe from there, such that I've never really looked east at that point.

Stage 3: Criciúma - Serra do Rio do Rastro, 122km





GPM:
Alto da Taipa (cat.3) 6,0km @ 4,3%
Alto Cana da Ita (cat.4) 1,7km @ 6,4%
Mirante da Serra do Rio do Rastro (cat.1) 7,0km @ 9,2%

The third stage of the Volta do Brasil is the first which will really start to give a hint of how the GC will take shape, with an early mountaintop finish. But it’s one I couldn’t resist.



Straight from the bat it’s a more straightforward day for the riders logistically; they depart from Criciúma, so there’s absolutely no transfer required from the previous day, which I’m sure will have been welcome if the wind blew the race up and riders had to deal with echelons all day. This is a much shorter stage but it also comes with a sense of foreboding, so the riders will depart with a touch of trepidation. The first part of the stage is undulating, taking us through the wine-producing town of Urussanga, which is another Italian-settled area of Santa Catarina, before descending into the town or Orleans, named after the French city, or more specifically the royal house, from which Gaston of Orleans came; he was a French nobleman and military commander who married the daughter of Dom Pedro II, the last Emperor of Brazil. Gaston was a decorated hero of the Paraguayan War/War of the Triple Alliance, as with Manuel Luís Osório, mentioned in stage 2. It is also the hometown of the celebrated journalist and essayist Tito Carvalho. It is, in fact, only 38km from our stage finish, however we do not proceed straight to the climax of the stage but instead now take a triangular 52km loop around to the east of the city.

First, we head along the SC-390 down the banks of the Rio Hipolito for around 25km, which is mostly flat and will enable any break formed in the initial rolling terrain to consolidate. When the Hipolito merges with the Braço do Norte river to become the Tubarão, however, we cross it and head north upstream along the Braço do Norte. This takes us through the small town of Riacho, which was notoriously flooded following Cyclone Catarina; one of the recuperative measures taken was to repave the main road through the town. The entire length of the road that runs along the river from its confluence up to Divina Providência, the first bairro of São Ludgero we arrive in, is sterrato, save for the short stretch in Riacho… which is cobbled.



São Ludgero marks the effective halfway point of the stage, and also the end of the second side of the triangular loop around Orleans. The town was founded by immigrants from northwestern Germany, which explains the city being named for a comparatively obscure Saxon saint deep in staunchly Catholic and generally pious Brazil. Until as recently as the 1930s it was an almost entirely monolingual German town, but Portuguese has gradually encroached until such point as the former tongue has been rendered rare.

From here the riders will return to Orleans via a smallish ascent - a gradual climb of 6km at just over 4%; not especially steep and almost certain not to create anything divisive, but it’s a bump in the road for a race day like this. Orleans hosted an intermediate sprint the first time around, so it doesn’t get one on the way back, as now we’re headed westwards, directly towards the mountains.

The gateway to the Serra do Rio do Rastro, the name for this scenic part of the Serra do Mar, is the town of Lauro Müller. Named for a Brazilian politician and diplomat from Itajaí, who was twice the President of Santa Catarina, and was instrumental in the development of the region from the provincial level to the state level, as well as being one of the orchestrators of the Treaty of Petrópolis, in which Brazil won a diplomatic victory over Bolivia. Prior to its renaming to honour Müller, the town had already been renamed a couple of times since its founding by Italian settlers in the early 19th Century. It is 25km from the finish, and hosts the second intermediate sprint, after which there is a short, cat.4 climb before a plateau to the village of Guatá, then a gradual turning up of the wick as the riders take on a few kilometres of false flat until Verde Serra - and then, things get real, and get real fast.





The road from Lauro Müller to the Mirante da Serra do Rio do Rastro is an all time classic in Brazilian cycling. One of the most iconic summits there is. I mean, just look at it! It’s a pure beauty, of the kind that truly makes cycling one of the most romantic and jaw-dropping sports around. Who doesn’t love the helicam footage of the riders snaking their way up some god-forsaken piece of tarmac, that has been elegantly draped down a scenic gorge or up a dramatic mountainside? Sometimes it isn’t even just cycling, of course. The Col de Turini is more famous for its use in the Monte Carlo Rally than it is for its use in the Tour de France, but we still know it for the latter. The Passo dello Stelvio is as beloved of motorists as it is of cyclists, but it’s iconic to both. And then there are roads like Norway’s Trollstigen, that are just generally famous for their beauty. The Serra do Rio do Rastro road falls into all categories at once. It’s beloved by motorists; it’s one of the most iconic cycling spots for all Brazilians; and it’s renowned as a beauty spot by people who know nothing of motoring or cycling. But we’re going to be climbing it on bikes, so let’s look at it from that perspective.



The ‘main’ body of the climb is 7km at 9,2%, as you can see from that profile. When you take into account all of the false flat beforehand it tallies up at 15,4km at 6%, although I have preferred to only categorise the really tough part, which runs up until about a kilometre from the finish whereupon it flattens out a bit to the car park you can see in that photo above, where the Mirante (lookout/viewpoint) is. This kind of road that winds its way at gradual false flat inclines, before turning into a full-blown steep killer late on for this kind of medium length is not uncommon in Spain, of course, especially as this is a one-sided climb, ending on a plateau. That leaves its most obvious equivalents in Europe to be those Spanish climbs that never end stages nowadays - it’s comparable to the Urkiola in characteristics, but it’s 25% longer than the Basque Cathedral; its length is more akin to that of Orduña, but it’s 1,5% steeper on average. Probably the best avatar for it in Spain would therefore be the Puerto del Escudo, which is 7,6km at 8,4% once it starts to steepen.

Further analogues for the Serra do Rio do Rastro that we might be familiar with from European cycling would be Monte Jafferau - with obviously the 2013 stage a better comparison point, being a veritable one-climb stage won by a guy who was later busted for EPO, than the 2018 stage which was both an anomaly in modern cycling in terms of scale of time gaps and of course, climbing a climb like Jafferau after Finestre is very different to climbing it off a cold open - Santuari de Canolich in Andorra, or the north side of Lagunas de Neila, the one that was climbed in the Vuelta a Burgos annually until 2017, when the introduction of Picón Blanco meant they decided to take the more gradual old road direct from Salas de los Infantes, rather than climbing the Alto Collado and descending through Neila itself to climb the steeper side.
As I mentioned, the Serra do Rio do Rastro road is well-known throughout Brazilian cycling, and not just in Santa Catarina. There is an annual everyman hillclimb event - here is some footage from 2016’s edition - and it was the most iconic and famous stage of the Volta a / Tour de Santa Catarina, featuring almost every year and having the same central role in shaping the race, which lent it the somewhat inevitable nickname of being the “Alpe d’Huez Brasileiro”. There’s some footage here from the 2006 edition, with the stage being won by Renato Seabrá, after a relatively lengthy plateau into São Joaquim, around 50km from the summit of the climb.

Records for the 90s editions of the race are sparse, but more recent editions can be traced - Antônio Nascimento won in São Joaquim in 2002, before the finish was moved to Bom Jardim da Serra, the nearest actual town to the summit, 10-11km from the Mirante, after it, a year later - which only enabled Nascimento, the best Brazilian climber of the time, to win more convincingly. On that occasion it was on stage 1, after only a prologue, and this enabled Nascimento to hold the jersey almost coast to coast. He emphasised his status as the Rei da Serra do Rio do Rastro with a third straight win over the climb in 2004, outsprinting Matías Medici and Rogério Silva in Bom Jardim da Serra. In 2005, the finish was pushed back to São Joaquim, with Evandro Portela victorious, before Seabrá’s win a year later.


Antônio “Tonho” Nascimento, the king of this particular mountain.

In 2007, the race started putting the finish right at the summit, usually in ultra-short stages, along similar lines to the Blockhaus stage in the 2009 Giro - not quite Mount Fuji hillclimb short, but with that as an inspiration; the Volta a Santa Catarina often included some quite short stages. The 2007 stage was basically the final 51km from my race - starting in São Ludgero and finishing at the summit. A new guard was afoot in Brazilian cycling, however: 22-year-old Gregolry Panizo took the win, ahead of Alex Diniz, equally fresh-faced and young and not even yet suspended the first time. The top 4 were all 23 or under, in fact, and Nascimento was relegated to 10th place on the day. When the race returned in 2009, Cleberson Weber, who had been 4th two years earlier, won the stage ahead of Diniz, but both tested positive for EPO, handing the win to Douglas Moi Bueno, just ahead of the now veteran stager Nascimento. This also handed Bueno the GC win, by just 10” from Nascimento, when Diniz, who originally won the race by almost a minute, was disqualified.

In 2010, the Mirante finished twice, once from the opposite side when Cristian da Rosa won, and then the climactic MTF on the last day in a feature length stage (118km as opposed to 51 and 38 in the previous two editions!). However, the Colombian climbing specialists had rocked into town on this occasion, and EPM locked out the podium, with Giovanny Báez, Juan Pablo Suárez and eventual GC winner Edward Stiver Ortíz. The short stage from Orleans was back when the race was reborn in 2013, won by Otavio Bulgarelli, and then in 2016 in a stage of just under 100km, with the finish back in Bom Jardim da Serra, Ramiro Rincón took the win. He is fortunate the race had been moved back to April by this point - had it been in its traditional November home, he would have been suspended, as he tested positive at the Volta a Portugal in August that year.

Time gaps for MTFs on the Serra do Rio do Rastro seem to, other than in 2007 when the likes of Diniz went crazy, be within 30” for the first 5, but approaching 1’30” for the top 10. I think with the stronger field we are drawing here, we’re more likely talking around 45”-1’00” for the top 10. Again, I think the 2013 stage to Monte Jafferau is a good guide for the kind of gaps we’d be talking, as a more or less Unipuerto stage to a climb of similar characteristics. If we include Santambrogio, which we should since he was there and he doesn’t massively affect things anyway since he and Nibali finished on the same time, then 12 riders finished within a minute and 18 within a minute and a half. I think that’s a good indicator and a good level to aspire to for a “set the scene” kind of stage like this. It’s a Unipuerto stage, after all. It might be one of the toughest climbs, at least in terms of gradients sustained over a good distance, of the race, but it’s also stage 3. But hey - this is a Sunday stage, so this should at least get a good audience for what should be a pretty dramatic final climb. Here is video descending it. Now put that in reverse for some brutal climbing action. Helicam footage should be great.



So, who’s going to light it up and make a statement here? Hard to say, because there could be a lot of riders here. It’s the first chance for the climbers to show their stuff. Of the rioplatense péloton I guess Magno Nazaret should be up there if he has serious designs on the GC - which he should have - and if Dani Díaz can be liberated by being back in South America then he’s one to watch too. If João Gaspar is back to his pre-suspension level then he’s a potential, and the same goes for Kleber Ramos, only with less expectation that there might be that level in him. Nicolas Sessler may be the best home hope, though, he finished 17th in the Ötztal Pro Classic, however he was less good on the steeper climbs of Asturias and País Vasco so perhaps not. There’s a host of estrangeiros who could make this a bloodbath though, especially on the Colombian teams I have projected as attending - Óscar Sevilla, Darwin Atapuma - and the Portuguese ones, particularly on W52. Plus there’s always the question of who did show up as a wildcard, and what form are they in? People like Cala, Campos, Salinas and Sierra are no mugs, Mancebo needs no introduction, Celano won Langkawi now he’s liberated from the higher level, and who knows what Rujano will show up if somebody takes a flyer on him. Plus there’s always the question of who Androni takes on these South American legs - they’ve shown up with some level of regularity to races in Colombia and Venezuela, as well as being an annual attendee in the early season Argentine races. If they send a Jefferson Cepeda or a Kevin Rivera, then they might have a winner on their hands too. All I know is: it’s going to blow up big time on the Serra do Rio do Rastro and it’s very likely that the man in the camisola amarela at the start of the day will not be the man in the camisola amarela at the end of it…
 
Stage 4: Tubarão - Florianópolis, 165km





GPM:
Serra do Tabuleiro (cat.4) 1,9km @ 5,5%
Morro da Cruz (cat.3) 2,1km @ 9,9%
Morro da Cruz (cat.3) 2,1km @ 9,9%

After the summit finish at the Serra do Rio do Rastro, the riders’ transfer will see them retrace their steps to Orleans, and continue down the Rio Hipolito to its confluence with the Braço do Norte, then following the Tubarão river to the city of the same name, which totals around 70km; Tubarão will be the departure town for stage 4 as we return to the lowlands and continue to transition northward through Santa Catarina.



Tubarão is a city of just under 100.000 inhabitants which is the main port on the basin of the river of the same name. Its name is derived from the Guaraní word Tubanharô, “ferocious father”, which reflected the role the river played in the local culture there, but this has been folk-etymologised because Tubarão is Portuguese for “shark”. Ironically, the city named for fury and homonymous with sharks is one of the state’s least violent, and it is more a city known for culture, with its most famous exports being the painter Willy Zumblick and the Bossa nova guitarist Luiz Henrique who came to prominence in the USA in the latter half of the 1960s, before returning home to Brazil where he participated in occasional performance for the last decade of his life before his untimely death in a car accident at the age of 46. A number of footballers have come from Tubarão, like most towns in Brazil, though there are a couple who have gone on to wider recognition - Zenon got a few caps in the early 1980s, probably fewer than he deserved but the 1982 Brazil side has gone down in legend as arguably the greatest side not to win the World Cup; while Renan Bressan has 28 caps for Belarus since moving to play there in 2007. The city has most recently appeared in the Tour de Santa Catarina in the same year, when Patrique Azevedo won a short stage from Tubarão to San Ludgero. It was most recently a finish three years earlier, when the same Azevedo won a criterium in the city.

Much like stage 2, we spend much of today’s stage utilising the BR-101 highway, which shortly after Tubarão moves further toward the coast, avoiding the low-lying mountains that serve as a precursor to the Serra do Mar in this part of Santa Catarina - as well as most of the hilly terrain other than the Serra do Rio do Rastro in the Tour de Santa Catarina. After crossing the bridge toward Laguna, we spend a while along the narrow isthmus that separates Lagoa Imaruí from the Atlantic Ocean, before detouring from the BR-101 into the city of Imbituba, known previously as a whaling station and now as the site of the only privately-operated port in the country. It is also the hometown of the footballer Jorginho, who like Bressan who I mentioned earlier, represents a different country, in Jorginho’s case Italy, to which he moved at the age of 15.



For the most part the course is pan flat, with the occasional rolling section, until the second time we leave the main road, at around the 90km mark, for a detour loop around Enseada da Pinheira, a classic curved Brazilian alcoved beach which is one of the southernmost in the municipality of Palhoça, an outlying city of Florianópolis whose municipality also assumes possession of the majority of the Serra da Tabuleira State Park, a protected area which provides clean drinking water to much of the state. We only skate the easternmost edge of the park, and this includes a small climb where the highway passes through a low col just south of Enseada do Brito. This then takes us to our intermediate sprint in Palhoça itself, before passing through São José where we leave the highway, to travel across Ponte Pedro Ivo Campos into Florianópolis proper. Florianópolis has an offshoot on the mainland, but this is almost entirely encircled by the boundaries of São José, and the main body of the city is on the Ilha da Santa Catarina, the largest island of an archipelago almost entirely owned by the city of Florianópolis.



Florianópolis was a somewhat essential inclusion in a Volta do Brasil; as the capital of Santa Catarina, one of the most central areas of the country for cycling, it is an important city, although it most recently hosted racing at the UCI level in 2002. It is also the home of one of Brazil’s most enduring teams, Avaí; they are part of a multi-sport club based in Florianópolis, whose most important element is the football club, known as the Leão da Ilha, or the lion of the island. It took its name from the Battle of Avay, an important engagement of the Paraguayan War, to honour Manuel Luís Osório, who while he was born in Conceição do Arroio (now Osório) spent much of his life in Florianópolis. The most important part of Avaí FC other than football is its cycling team, which was set up in 1997 as part of an incentive by the club’s new owner to develop amateur sport and branch out beyond football. The team debuted in the Volta a Santa Catarina late that year and swiftly grew to become the best team in the region. After signing the Argentine Matías Medici from the Uruguayan Fénix team in 2005, they rose to become one of the strongest in the country, and branched out internationally, also signing Ramiro Cabrera, and contesting races in Uruguay and Argentina. Their peak period was the late 2000s with Rodrigo Nascimento, Medici, Marcelo Moser and Cabrera, but they were gradually squeezed from the top of the leaderboard as the Pindamonhangaba (Funvic) team, Scott-Marcondés César and DataRo started to dominate Brazilian cycling. Nevertheless, Avaí are survivors if nothing else; Nascimento is still only 34 and has been a staple of the national péloton for a decade, now back with the team that helped him make his name, and likewise they’ve brought Medici back for his experience to guide the next generation. They were welcomed as old friends by the Rutas de América and are also prominent in Brazilian women’s cycling, with their main star being the young time trialist Tamires Radatz.



The other reason to put a stage finish in Florianópolis is that it is the home to one of the oldest continuous races in the country, the Subida do Morro da Cruz. Starting on the northern coast road along the corniche, this is a very simple race which bears the same hallmarks as the classic mass start hillclimbs in Japan; it is a mere 7km in length, effectively being 3km flat back and forth along the corniche, a couple of kilometres of false flat, and then the final 2km of steep, punchy climbing of the kind that, back when the race was first conceived in 1976, just didn’t exist in Brazilian cycling. As a result, it became a prestigious and respected race despite its brevity throughout the 70s and 80s, and attracted competitors not just from fellow rioplatense cycling teams, but also from Chile and Venezuela. Riders are set off in waves according to level and to category, so it becomes a morning’s racing with hundreds of riders taking on the local Mur de Huy.

However, I’m not going to be so nice as to use the conventional course of the Subida do Morro da Cruz. That would be too easy.



Instead, therefore, I’m turning south upon crossing the bridge onto the Ilha da Santa Catarina, and approaching Morro da Cruz from the unknown southwestern side. And it’s not very nice at all - 2,1km @ 9,9%, including gradients up to 23%.



It’s also inconsistent as all hell, which helps make it a threat. There’s 400m at 13% early on, then an easier stretch, then 500m averaging nearly 16%, a short flat to the Igreja Pentecostal Povo de Deus, then we turn off of the main road onto a short, narrow stretch that links to the main Morro da Cruz road. This is 200m at 16% again, before we reach the junction with that main road, just beneath the Mirante do Morro da Cruz which serves as the finish of the hillclimb race.

For us, however, 16km remain, for we are descending to the coast by doing the course from the hillclimb in reverse, but cutting out the loop along the coastal corniche - so it’s straight down to the coast and then onto the finishing straight, which is just over a kilometre in length and takes us to the line 3,6km from the summit of the climb.



But you know what the best thing is? We’re not done yet. There’s a further 12km lap to do to get to the finish, so we’re doing it again. Ain’t that just the best? As a result, this stage rather resembles a few Vuelta stages from recent memory, most notably this stage to Murcía from 2015, which climbed Cresta del Gallo twice. I have chosen to keep Morro da Cruz at cat.3, despite the steep gradients meaning the coeficiente APM suggests it might justify cat.2, presumably along the Vuelta al País Vasco kind of lines, seeing as this is so short and inconsistent. It’s one for the Puritos of course, and the puncheur is a type of rider we don’t really get to see much of in South American cycling - it’s either long and drawn out climbing for the genuine escaladores, or it’s toughmen, sprinters and time trialists from the River Plate - while plenty of South Americans have puncheur skills - Rigoberto Urán and Sérgio Henao spring to mind immediately, for example, while Esteban Chaves is a monument winner of course - most of the time these are riders who’ve moved to Europe at a relatively early period in their development, and they’ve had a level of explosiveness as climbers that has enabled them to hone this skill for shorter climbs.


Avenida Beira Mar Norte, the finishing straight

Florianópolis is a city of just under half a million, although considering it is essentially contiguous with São José and therefore by proxy with Palhoça and Biguaçu, the metropolitan area reaches just over a million. It is a well-developed city for cycling infrastructure - the cycloroute Beira Mar Norte is a scenic section of corniche exclusively for cyclists, for example - and is also a very desirable part of Brazil for development - it has the third highest Human Development Index score and the second lowest rate of violent crime in the country. It is a very modern city, as well, being highly reliant on information technology and service industries, which makes it more resilient than a lot of the more traditional manufacturing towns inland; Newsweek even ranked it among the “top 10 most dynamic cities in the world” in 2006. It is also popular with hedonistic tourists, becoming a fast-rising party destination as well as being renowned for the best surfing in Brazil, which has led to it becoming a host of the World Cup in that sport - I know literally nothing about surfing, however, so don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing. I do know more about tennis, though, so I can point out the late 90s/early 00s tennis star Gustavo Kuerten, or “Guga”, who calls the city home, a three-time winner of the Roland Garros tournament, or French Open, one of the sport’s Grand Slam events, in 1997, 2000 and 2001. It is also home to the swimmer Fernando Scherer, who won bronze medals at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics, and the host of the annual Ironman Brasil, which has found a home in Florianópolis since 1998. Its maritime location makes it Brazil’s most prominent city for rowing, as well, and one of the country’s most prominent rowers, 2011 Individual Scull World Champion Fabiana Beltrame, was born and raised here.

As the capital of one of Brazil’s most cycling-supportive regions, as a city which has sporting roots across multiple disciplines, and as a city which is home to one of the country’s most enduring cycling squads, Florianópolis was a must-have on the route; as a result, therefore, the Morro da Cruz finish was an ideal way to best use what the city has to offer; puncheur finishes are at a premium in this race, so yes, perhaps I could have moved the finish to the summit, but let’s be honest… we want the finishes in the city to attract the crowds, and with a climb like this just 3,6km from the finish but a straight, wide open final kilometre… it’s actually kind of more interesting to see if the attacks on the climb last to the line, no? Clásica San Sebastián is less interesting since they decided to introduce the muros to the west of the city, but even so it would be infinitely less interesting still if they moved the finish to the summit and made it into Flèche-lite, no? The other thing will be that this will be wide open given the paucity of puncheur stages throughout South American cycling. There are a few riders I think could do well here, but not that I necessarily know would - some of those from the Portuguese péloton like Vicente García de Mateos, Amaro Antunes, and Edgar Pinto; Carlos Quintero went well over El Violeo in Asturias, he could be a wildcard (he rides for Terengganu at present in Malaysia); Brazilian ITT champion André Gohr is just 23 and won the Subida do Morro da Cruz in 2019; Rodolfo Torres has been top 10 in Milano-Torino; Miguel Ángel Rubiano, if he is a wildcard, won the Colombian national championships on a course around Cartagena including the Cerro de la Popa in 2014 and podium the Giro dell’Apennino; plus there’s always Óscar Sevilla…
 
Stage 3: San Francisco - Villa María, 154km


La Cumbrecita (“the little summit”) is an isolated mountain village that was inaugurated in the 1930s by speculators attracted to the scenic location and clean air. With no roads, everything was brought up to the village by donkey, but once the first tourists started to discover the secluded village, private homes started to be built, an access road was introduced, and the town took on its individual flavour. With people moving up the valley from Villa General Belgrano, it likewise has characteristics of an Alpine mountain village such as that you may find in Austria or Switzerland, and Gasthöfe of the kind you may find there, serving strudel, cake and tea, have become a calling card of La Cumbrecita. With clean air, mineral-rich waters and strong hiking possibilities to a multitude of nearby waterfalls and peaks, it has become a centre for outdoor eco-tourism, which it has then strengthened by forbidding cars - as a result, there is a large car park at the entrance to the town where these must be left, giving us ample room to host the trappings of a bike race. It’s not a proper mountaintop finish, and should be a reduced sprint - but it will have the characteristics of a mountain arrival, and the scenery of the final 35-40km should be beautiful.

That picture is the wrong La Cumbrecita, though. The one pictured is a viewpoint on the island of La Palma. http://www.sanmarkotravel.com/en/Vacations/Canary_islands/La_Palma/La_Cumbrecita.aspx
 

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