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

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.

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

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

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

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…