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Race Design Thread

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Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 5: Feldkirchen in Kärnten – Deutschlandsberg; 185km


After 3 consecutive gc stages we have an easier stage that shouldn't have a big impact on the gc. That said, the pure sprinters will still have to suffer, but it's Austria, a land that is filled with awesome climbs, what do you expect?
The stage starts in Feldkirchen in Kärnten.

The first 82km are false flat, then we have a legit HC climb, Koglereck, 10.5km at 9.5%, so it's pretty much in the same league as the Colle San Carlo, but around 600m lower.The following descent is long and irregular, after that we have 50 km of false flat.

With 14km to go we have the short Mitterlimberg climb, 500m at 9% and the rest of the stage takes place on rolling terrain, so the sprinters will have to earn it, a late attacker has a shot.
The stage ends on a large finishing straight in Deutschlandsberg.

Other than that I'd favour a classics sprinter who climbs pretty well, Sagan, Matthews, Trentin or Colbrelli for example, the final could be a bit too hard for the pure sprinters after having to climb such a brute in the middle of the stage and if the teammates of the more durable sprinters set a decent pace on that climb most of them will struggle. Guys like Bennett or Ewan would probably still be able to contest the sprint at the end of the stage, but it's the Österreich-Rundfahrt, so the sprinters field won't be exactly the best of the best.
Stage 5: Florianópolis - Blumenau, 168km



Rua Hasselfelde (cat.4) 1,3km @ 10,4%
Rua Regente Feijó (cat.4) 0,9km @ 7,1%
Alto da Capela (cat.4) 0,9km @ 9,2%

Once more I’ve been rather kind to the riders, with no transfer at all from yesterday’s finish, although the departure today is from the continental side of Florianópolis rather than on the island. This enables us to quickly locate the BR-101 once more, and move onto the coastal highway before reaching kilometre zero in the municipality of Biguaçu.


Florianópolis once more, giving if anything a better look at the final descent from yesterday’s stage

This is very much a stage of two halves. The first half follows the same pattern as yesterday, largely sticking to the main highway, although it is far less exposed to the wind than in stages 2 and 4 owing to the hilly terrain to the west and a few peninsulas with some hills on them to our east which will make the wind coming in from the Atlantic patchy too. We do divert from the BR-101 to take a detour through various towns, including Porto Belo and Itapema, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Santa Catarina with its pristine coastline and its culture of ultralight aircraft flight. Just through a small collection of hills is the larger city of Balneario Cambóriu, twinned to neighbouring Cambóriu from which it takes its name, one of the biggest resort cities on the continent. The full-time population of the city is around 120.000, but in high tourist season this swells to in excess of 1.000.000. The city has developed a number of skyscrapers and luxury hotels, which have earned it the (possibly derogatory) nickname of “Dubai Brasileiro”; it has developed a vibe of a “happening” city, and has become Brazil’s spiritual home of electronic music, with two of the country’s most prominent nightclubs based there. It has its own clone of the Cristo Redentor, the Cristo Luz, who stands on a small hill called - as with Florianópolis - Morro da Cruz, and may be a contender for a hilltop finish if I ever do a second version of this race. One particularly notable feature, however, is the - unique in the world - beach cable car, which exits the main city beach, and climbs over the port channel and estuary, as well as the nearby hill, and down to the secluded Praia Das Laranjeiras.


We then leave the BR-101, never to return. Instead taking the parallel, bumpy coastal round, around 10km north of Balneario Cambóriu is the city of Itajaí, which the highway bypasses; it comes just before the halfway point, and hosts our first meta volante. One of the oldest cities in Santa Catarina literally speaking, its colonisation started in the 17th Century, although it did not officially see its founding as a city until nearly 200 years later. It became a prominent place for Portuguese settlers until the late 19th Century, when it became a major arrival point for German settlers, although many of them gravitated inland - more on them later. Itajaí is one of the highest per capita GDP cities in the country and also hosts a busy container port. It has been a stage host in The Ocean Race, the round-the-world yachting event, and was the hometown of Lauro Müller, who went on to give his name to the town of - well, obviously - the same name that we passed through in stage 3. It is also the home of Olympic Falconière da Cunha, one of the commanders of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, who fought in the Mediterranean and most notably in the Italian Campaign of World War II on the side of the Allies.


We then head inland on some absolutely pan-flat roads on the SC-412, which follows the south bank of the Itajaí-Açu river. The most notable city we pass through en route to our stage town is Gaspar, a city of 70.000 which is an important centre for rice-growing in Santa Catarina. The main body of the important parts of this stage, however, all happen once we arrive in our host city, the 350.000-strong metropole of Blumenau.

Founded in 1850, Blumenau was the product of German settlers speculating inland for land that would suit their strengths, and this spot, at a bend in the Itajaí-Açu, was selected by Dr. Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, who - obviously - gave the city its name. Early settlers included the prominent evolutionary biologist Fritz Müller, and the city retains its heritage to this day, with the primary ethnic makeup of the city being German, with a smattering of largely northern Italian. The German tongue has practically ceased to be here, the city is far too big and economically powerful to remain the kind of island that Villa General Belgrano, which I covered in my Vuelta a Córdoba, has become, however there remains a heritage that the city attempts to protect, including building styles that mimic 19th Century European timber-framed buildings, and Blumenau’s Oktoberfest has rapidly swelled to become the second biggest in the world - superseding that of the much smaller, but much more tenaciously defensive of its Teutonic identity, Argentinian town.


A little slice of the Alps in Santa Catarina

The Oktoberfest may attract a million people to Blumenau, but the fact the local area’s main cash crops include feijão and cassava means it hasn’t been quite so suited to traditional German fare - other than beer, which is flourishing, especially the newer styles, such as the Eisenbahn brewery, which adheres to the German purity laws despite not being subject to them, as an affectation or a search for authenticity; they make a range of German-styled beers, from a Pilsener to a classic Weizen. That hasn’t stopped it serving as an attractive town to Germans needing to get away from their homeland well into the 20th Century - Luftwaffe flying ace Martin Drewes relocated to Brazil following his release from British captivity in 1947 and remained there until his death as recently as 2013. The connection remains up to the present day between Blumenau and its spiritual forefathers; many of its famous sporting sons and daughters bear German surnames, and some, such as Christian Maicon Hennig, forge their entire careers in Germany. The other flaw for the settlers of Blumenau has been that, well, the Brazilian rainy season can be quite fierce, and this particular part of the Itajaí-Açu is liable to burst its banks. Across New Year’s in 1984, the city was cut off for weeks by flooding, and its most recent incident of this nature took place in 2008, when over 100 people died in a dramatic flood that saw thousands evacuated.

As a result, Blumenau is a strangely multi-concentric city; the ‘main’ centre remains in place, but a number of supplementary centres have grown up around the multitude of hills that surround the city. And something that is particularly appealing about some of them is that they bear some relation to the European towns that many of these settlers came from…


Ignore the burnt out car and focus on the beauty that is behind it: yes. They have cobbled hills in Brazil, and we’re going to enjoy a bit of that Belgian-style fun in the Volta do Brasil because, well, it would be rude not to, right?

The route for the final 45km around Blumenau is fairly complex, so I’ll try and put it basically - we do a little loop de loop that includes the finish, but instead of a circuit there’s an extension to that circuit that rejoins the circuit before the finish. Anybody who knows motorsport may understand if I said that it’s like joining Watkins Glen at the Bus Stop, going to the finish on the NASCAR circuit (so excluding the Boot), and then doing a lap of the full circuit. We arrive from the east and immediately pass the Museu da Cerveja and the Museu da Família Colonial, then through the Bom Retiro bairro on Rua Hermann Hering, which is a bumpy one which includes a small uphill, though not one that I have elected to categorise. The “descent” takes us to Parque Vila Germánica, which is the chocolate box part of town, with the timber frames and outdoor cafes shown above. It also takes us to our first iconic German arched town entrance.


We don’t actually pass through here; we’re approaching from alongside and we turn northeastward as we arrive at the gate so we don’t pass through it (yet). We then have a left and a sweeping right onto our finishing straight, Rua Antônio da Veiga, where we have a second intermediate sprint at 36km from home. We then cross the iconic Ponte de Ferro, which leads through a tunnel after arriving on the north bank of the river, then two sharp right-handers take us onto a brute of a cobbled climb - 1300m at around 10% on those cobbles you can see in the picture of the burnt-out car above. The reason for the slightly odd circuits is because I didn’t want this to be the last climb as it would kill earlier racing. As things stand, however, there are 32km remaining at the top of this climb, and so we could see things start to hot up. The descent into the Ponte Aguda part of town is fairly steep but it is paved, and then we return south of the river on the Ponte dos Arcos, from which we return to the Museum da Cerveja, Bom Retiro and the Rua Hermann Hering, this time 13km closer to the finish.

This time, however, we instead turn left when we arrive at the German arch, and pass underneath it to head on a loop around the western edge of town. This includes some stretches of false flat and a couple of short ramps along a cobbled stretch through the Água Verde part of town; there’s about a 2,5km section of cobblestone here that is more-or-less continuous, before 7km or so of normal paved roads around the riverbank. There’s then another short stretch of cobbles on Rua Gustavo Salinger, before a more sustained 900m at 7% cobbled climb on Rua Regente Feijó, which is somewhat worn city cobbles - so worse than the usual city centre cobbles, but not a true Belgian pavé monstrosity either. 9 kilometres remain at this point, a short descent and loop around to the northwest follows, ending with the 900m ascent at just over 9% to the Capela Nossa Senhora Aparecida.


For the most part, this is on that kind of smoother, hexagonal cobble that you’ll have likely seen if you’ve ever used street view in South America. I got this picture from an article about reparation of the tarmac on Rua Norberto Seará, which is the road which then becomes Run Nicolau Reiter, so I fear the nasty cobbles above may be a thing of the past. However, even without them, it’s a short sharp ascent on those blockish hexagonal cobbles, that comes straight off the back of another ascent which is and remains cobbled; the climb to Nossa Senhora Aparecida crests just 5km from the line, from which it’s a technical and twisty 1500m descent, then a wider, sweeping section to Parque Ramiro Ruediger, and then to the German arch, from which we turn back the way we came when we first arrived, to take the stage to a finish.

Who would win here? Who truly knows? I mean, cobbled classic riding is not something that many South Americans are renowned for. Juan António Flecha excepted - I mean, he didn’t even represent a South American country, racing for Spain despite being born in Argentina - who is even a South American with reasonable results in them? I mean, Murilo Fischer had some top 20s, even a top 10 in Dwars; Andrey Amador isn’t actually South American but we’re having to reach here - he managed 10th in Gent-Wevelgem one year. The occasional guy like Fernando Gaviria might go well in some of the flatter ones that end in sprints from time to time. But apart from that, powerhouse riders are few in South America. I’m thinking this definitely favours the rioplatense over the Andean riders, and yes, maybe some of the Europeans. If Androni send somebody like Manuel Belletti or Francesco Gavazzi, they could have an advantage. Maybe even Jhonatan Restrepo. São Francisco Saúde have Rafael Andriatto who might be Brazil’s best home opportunity; he got some top 10s in races like Paris-Bruxelles, GP Impanis-Van Petegem and the GP Fourmies back in his days with Luca Scinto’s teams. There’s also the tough guys of Uruguay, from those with European experience like Mauricio Moreira, to those who ride strong in the races there like Nicolas Naranjo and Pablo Anchieri.

I’d love to see a few more cobbled races down in the southern hemisphere. It could definitely be done, and also if we did have them, we might see a bit more transference from the rioplatense scene, from which almost exclusively sprinters seem to make it out.

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Stage 6: Joinville - Curitiba, 130km



Alto do Itararé (cat.2) 13,5km @ 4,8%

Wednesday brings us the final stage before the first rest day, after a transfer of just under 100km northwards to the city of Joinville, a city which has been populated for over 7000 years thanks to a long history in the region of the Tupi people. Its name is drawn from honouring François d’Orléans, prince of Joinville, who married the Brazilian Princess Dona Francisca in the days of the Brazilian empire - its French namesake hosted the Tour de France in 2003 - however the French prince was going through a financial crisis and sold most of his South Brazilian holdings to German speculators, as a result, despite the French name, this is a largely German-Brazilian city, albeit not to the same extent as Blumenau or Timbó. The official city population is 575.000, with that figure as ever doubling or so once the extended urban sprawl is taken in to consideration. This means it just pips Florianópolis for the title of the most populous metropolitan area in Santa Catarina. It is a city which is renowned for a high standard of living - one of the best on the continent - and has a vibrant artistic culture, even hosting the only official Bolshoi Ballet school outside of Russia. Joinville is renowned as an affluent city with some of the best public education facilities in Brazil, and this has helped a similarly young and progressive culture to similarly ‘happening’ locations in Europe and North America. This has - in common with many hip developing cities elsewhere - led to a massive upsurge in cycling and cycling infrastructure, that has helped it to develop the title of ‘city of bicycles’, which is why it was an essential addition to my Volta do Brasil course.


Joinville is also a city prominent for its tech sector, but it is also growing as a manufacturing hotspot for the automotive industry, with General Motors moving in in 2012, and BMW having a manufacturing plant in a neighbouring town which is administered from Joinville. With a high standard of living and high quality facilities, it is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of Joinville’s famous sons and daughters have been from sporting endeavours - swimmer Eduardo Fischer, who won a bronze medal at the Short Course World Championships in 2002, former Formula 1 driver Maurício Gugelmin, a personal friend of Ayrton Senna who was a staple of the midfield in the late 80s/early 90s golden era of F1 before spending several years in Champ Car/Indycar, former K-1 kickboxer and UFC fighter Vitor Miranda, Pan-American marathon champion Márcia Narloch, and Tiago Splitter, who became the first Brazilian to win an NBA championship, as part of the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, although he had switched his allegiance to represent Spain by that point.

Joinville, perhaps because of its role as a city of bicycles, was a staple host of the Volta da/Tour de Santa Catarina, with the race often ending there or nearby. In 2002, Rodrigo Silva won a stage into Joinville on the penultimate day before the race finished with a crit in the city won by Jean Carlo Coloca. The same format was followed a year later, with Silva winning both stages this time. Patrique Azevedo won the stage to Joinville and Marcio Pinto won the crit the following year; in 2005, the final stage was changed to a short stage from Joinville to a circuit in São Francisco do Sul, but the city still hosted the finish of the penultimate stage as in previous years; MacDonald Fernandes and Nilceu Santos won in Joinville in 2005 and 2006 respectively, before the city moved to be the start, rather than the end, of the reborn, shorter version of the race in 2009. The Argentinian Edgardo Simon won the stage from Joinville to Timbó in 2009, and José Rodrigues did the same a year later. The city hasn’t featured in the 2013 or 2016 editions of the race, but it did host the Brazilian national championships in 2016, when Rodrigo Nascimento won the ITT and Flávio Santos outsprinted Kleber Silva as part of a Funvic 1-2-3-4 in the road race.


This is a relatively short stage which includes a notable climb mid-stage, but is largely expected to be one for the sprinters. It also sees our only incursion into Paraná in the whole race, a region which hosted its own race sporadically until 2015, although. Largely in the west of the province, a long way from where we are going, around cities like Londrina and Ibipora, which I found too difficult logistically to crowbar into the race. Maybe another time. But first, we must exit Santa Catarina for the final time, so it’s back to the Rodovía General Mário Covas, at least as far as the city of Garuva, a small city which serves as the gateway to this part of the Serra do Mar, and is one of the northernmost municipalities of Santa Catarina, known for colourful buildings and serves as the introduction to the one serious climb of the stage, as we leave the BR-101 for the 376, which will take us up through the valleys onto the high inland plateau.


The road up to the plateau is wide (it’s a dual carriageway although for reasons of continuity and maintaining gradual ascent and not creating too much construction chaos, the two carriageways often part from one another) and the gradient is gradual - just under 5%. It’s reasonably long - nearly 15km - but the consistent gradient and the fact it’s 75km from the finish means that although some of the more miserable climbers may get dropped, they have ample time to come back and it is highly likely that as a result unless there are some real Quarantas out there - always a possibility given the scene on the pampas in the rioplatense cycling world - the finish will be disputed in a bunch gallop, albeit potentially favouring more durable types than the stage 2 sprint.

At the summit lies one of the natural wonders of the area, the Cachoeira do Itararé, a large and impressive waterfall, one of several through this and the neighbouring valley where the Rio São João’s different branches have their sources. Brazil is a land teeming with gorgeous waterfalls, and this is fairly tame by their standards, but nevertheless makes for a nice sight. Here's some video.


Now we’re across the state borderline into Paraná and we’ve climbed the main obstacle of the day, it’s time for the sprinters’ trains to take over controlling whatever breakaway has elected to push on on the climb. After all, there’s a rest day tomorrow, so they may feel emboldened to try something. However, this one will almost certainly favour the chasers; there’s about 35km in an absolute ramrod straight line from about the 75km mark to 110km, as we travel toward the outlying towns to Curitiba. The main one is São José dos Pinhais, part of the metropolitan area of Curitiba, which is growing rapidly - from under 200.000 in 2000 to 280.000 just 8 years later. It is a major industrial hub, with automotive plants for four marques under two major automotive umbrellas - Volkswagen/Audi, and Renault/Nissan. It also is the home of Curitiba Airport.

After leaving the highway in São José, the final 20km or so are around the urban sprawl of Curitiba, which at 1,9m city, 3,2m metropolitan is the eighth largest city in Brazil. It sprung out of a staging post due to its favourable location between the cattle-breeding cities of the plateaus and the population centres of the coast, before a subsequent growth following successful colonisation and development of the internal parts of Paraná, and then a subsequent expansion following specialised urban planning in the post-WWII era to ensure the city retained its character during a period of almost unprecedented population growth. In fact, the innovative solutions instigated in Curitiba during this period were recommended by UNESCO as a model for rebuilding Afghan cities following the recent wars. Many of the defining features of the city and a number of its cultural centres were designed by Oscar Niemeyer, who also was busying himself at the time with the various civic centres of Brasília, and for this reason Curitiba is the home of the Oscar Niemeyer museum. It also hosted the second Bus Rapid Transit system of the world - sometimes considered the first due to being a fully integrated system as opposed to a single line as Ottawa’s, which opened the previous year to Curitiba’s, was at the time (since expanded). It enabled the city to pedestrianise large parts of the city centre, and the installation of the innovative, space-age Estação Tubo-design bus station to serve RIT (the name for the network) in a number of locations around the city has gone on to become an icon of Curitiba, some of which now include free libraries designed to improve literacy around the city.

It was one of the host cities selected both times the Brazilians have hosted the football World Cup, in 1950 and 2014, and its location in close proximity to a number of lakes and rivers (six different river basins are found in the Curitiba area) have given a continuous source of clean fresh water that have enabled economic development and to sustain a growing population - the areas of greenery, parkland, lakeland etc. in Curitiba total up to an area which matches that of several other large cities’ total area! It also has a relatively unusual history of immigration that includes an expatriate Ukrainian community which has developed a few generations later into a small Ukrainian-Brazilian minority which generally speaks Portuguese but retains Orthodox faith - around 300.000 Ukrainians reside in Paraná - which may help explain the fast track that Ukrainian soccer teams like Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv have had in bringing Brazilian talents to Europe.


The city has three top level football teams - Coritiba (no typo), Athlético Paranaense and Paraná Clube - but although Athlético have won the Brazilian championship before, the main sporting reason for people outside of Curitiba to have heard of the city is the Autodrome, which hosted World Series by Renault/Nissan and WTCC events until recently. As a result of being a city with a prominent motor racing circuit, which is located in the outlying district of Pinhais, a number of famous Curitiba natives have come from motorsport. Three have gone on to enter Formula 1. The first of these is Raul Boesel, who spent two seasons in the early 80s in F1 before carving out a niche for himself in Indycar and becoming World Sportscar Champion in 1987; in the late 90s he was followed by Ricardo Zonta, who won the FIA GT Championship in 1998 and entered 38 Grand Prix over two stints in midfield teams, and is still active in Stock Car Brasil to this day. Finally, Enrique Bernoldi spent two years at back markers Arrows in the early 2000s before racing in Indycar for a few years. As a result, the highest profile driver to come from Curitiba might actually be one that never made it to Formula 1 - that being touring car star and stalwart Augusto Farfus, who spent over a decade as a factory driver for BMW, regularly contending for the WTCC championship, winning 15 races across 6 seasons in the championship, along with 2 class victories in the 24h Daytona, 4 wins in DTM and also appearing as a ringer in various endurance formats where a second or additional driver is required for particular events, such as the 200km Goiânia in Stock Car Brasil or the 1000km Suzuka in Super GT.

Curitiba has also developed something of a reputation for mixed martial arts - with no fewer than five prominent fighters coming from the city. Among women’s MMA, there’s probably the most famous of all female fighters not named Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Justino Venâncio - but don’t worry if you think that makes a negative connotation in that you’ve never heard of her, because the wider world largely knows her by her ring name, Cris Cyborg. There are the Rua brothers, Murilo and Mauricio, but more prominent are the (unrelated) two Silvas - Anderson and Wanderlei, who have both gone down as absolute legends of the sport since its early days and are both still technically active well into their 40s. Wanderlei is known as the Axe Murderer for his brutal kicks and knee strikes, and his record in PRIDE leaves him with the longest winning streak, most wins, most knockouts and most title defences in the organisation’s history.


Wanderlei and Anderson, one of their few appearances together

In less mainstream sports, the city has given Brazil a few Olympic medals thanks to beach volleyballers Emanuel Rigo (gold in 2004, silver in 2012, bronze in 2008) and Agatha Bednarczuk (silver in 2016) as well as a Pan-American basketball gold thanks to Rolando Ferreira.

The final part of the stage features a loop around the city, heading northward to take in some of the sights and looping around Estádio Couto Pereira, home of Coritiba, before passing the Museu do Expedicionário - interestingly and somewhat unusually, because of its multicultural immigration heritage, Curitiba contributed important aviators to both sides’ WWII efforts - adoptive Frenchman Pierre Clostermann for the Allies, and Ritterkreuz recipient Egon Albrecht for the Axis - and memorabilia from their exploits is on display at the museum - on our way back to the Jardim Botánico district, where we finish the stage - there’s a lopsided roundabout to negotiate at approximately 1100m from the line, but after that it’s effectively a long straight with two shallow left-hand kinks to the line, to finish actually AT the Jardim Botánico, at the Curitiba velodrome.


Now, as you can see here, unlike Roubaix, or my last South American exploits in Montevideo, you can’t actually get onto the velodrome, so we’ll have to finish on the road outside. Which is fine, because a bunch sprint on a velodrome could be an absolute disaster.

So, who’s going to contend? Well, I look back at my sprinting field. So long as they can make it over the Alto do Itararé, Pablo Anchieri and Nicolás Naranjo are obvious contenders. Germán Tivani is pretty quick, winning two stage of the Vuelta del Uruguay, and durable, finishing 11th in the Vuelta a San Juan. Nelson Soto is probably one to look for - he’s pretty durable - Jhonatán Restrepo, Rafa Andriatto, and Samuel Caldeira potentially?


After this, Thursday is a rest day, well-earned by the péloton.
Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 6: Voitsberg – Deutschfeistritz; 186km


This one is the last chance for the climbers before an easy sprint stage and the final ITT, so they better make this one count. The stage starts in Voitsberg, the hometown of Bernie Eisel.

The riders will ride towards the outskirts of Graz, the capital of Styria, then the stage goes even further eastwards.The first 108 km are on rolling terrain, a lot of ups and downs. After that we have the first climb of the day, Nechnitz, 3km at 9.7%.

The following descent consists of 2 parts, the first one is rather steep, the 2nd one more of a false flat. Then the Rechberghöhe starts, 7.7km at 5.9%.

After the descent we only have3 km of false flat, then the next climb is already waiting for the riders. It's the Schöcklkreuz, 10.2km at 5.2%, but this one is rather irregular and has the steepest slopes at the start. The following descent is km long, after that we have km of false flat.

Then the real highlight of the day starts, the ungodly steep Leberstraße. 1.5km at 16% with a max. gradient of 28%, it's pretty much a Styrian version of the Muro di Sormano. One could say that the whole stage is a Styrian mini-Lombardia.

The following descent isn't that steep, but shouldn't be underestimated. Right afterwards the final climb of the day starts, Am Hiening, 2.2km at 9% and the climb tops with 7.8km to go, while only the finale 3 km are flat. The 2km longt section of false flat/rolling terrain on top of the climb is also interesting, here the gaps that will be made on the final climb could get even bigger.
The stage ends in the town Deutschfeistritz, a small, beautyful town in the styrian hills. Back in the day it was mainly known as a mining city, mainly silver and lead, then for having the last Sensenwerk in Styria, at it's peak it was producing up to 84,000 scythes per year. It closed doors in 1984, but it has become a museum that you can visit.


The Sensenwerk:

This one should be interesting, a mini-Lombardia, the final stage for the climbers, an easy stage afterwards and the final ITT still to come, we should get a hard race and the favourites will probably attack eachother on the ungodly steep Leberstraße.
I have honestly never heard of Leberstraße. This is therefore fascinating to me - do you have any more info on it? How to access, a profile etc.?

Stage 7: São Paulo - Mogi das Cruzes, 183km



Alto da Nossa Senhora das Neves (cat.4) 1,8km @ 7,8%
Alto da Serra do Mar (Biritiba)(cat.1) 14,2km @ 5,7%
Château Ma Vie (Sul)(cat.3) 3,3km @ 6,4%
Château Ma Vie (Norte)(cat.3) 3,0km @ 5,8%

On the Thursday rest day, the péloton is transferred northeast from Curitiba to São Paulo, around which the second phase of the race will be based. Immortalised as a sacred city by the legendary tropicalista Tom Zé in his classic São São Paulo, obviously doing a rundown of the potted history of, the places engulfed by, the events held in, and the people to come from, a city of over 12 million - with over 30 million in the extended metropolitan area - is going to be ridiculous - after all, Greater São Paulo, the main metropolitan area, is so densely packed that it ranks as the 12th most populous city on earth.


It’s a colossus, with the largest economy in the southern hemisphere, and represents over 10% of Brazil’s entire economic output. Which is a long way from its humble beginnings as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, as a village whose surround region was once one of the poorest in the Portuguese Empire. For many years it was one of very few Portuguese outposts above the Serra do Mar, as the region was difficult to access - until the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais made travelling inland expedient, and São Paulo grew as a staging post, and the town became a hub for the bandeirantes, speculators and hustlers looking for expansion of territory and the glory associated therewith. The city grew rich from sugar cane, and then grew enormously following the abolition of slavery, with ex-slaves and a large number of immigrants, who the country advertised to in the aim of replacing the workforce liberated from slavery, settling in the cities. Nowadays the city has converted itself to be more of a service-based economy, but its expansion from its industrial days has left it a towering colossus in the Brazilian psyche.

São Paulo is the most multicultural city in Brazil, too, with immigration from all over the world, which has left it an ethnic melting pot and fed into its unique culture, as well as influencing its popular gastronomical culture. The largest group were Italians, but Germans and Japanese are also highly represented as well as the ever-present Portuguese. However, since the 1930s immigration has been replaced by internal migration as the city swelled up enormously under the influx of new inhabitants from elsewhere in Brazil. More recently, the manufacturing sector has been replenished by immigrants from Bolivia, and the city has also seen a large influx from East Asia. It remains a city with deep class divides, but the policies implemented to reduce violent crime have largely been effective, with a significant downturn in the homicide rate - albeit from “terrifying” to only “fairly scary”. São Paulo is a city which is radically improving its image, however - from the huge downturn in the murder rate to the edict removing hundreds of billboards and adverts from the city, to the transition from an industrial manufacturing to a service economy and the associated environmental improvements, the city is proving itself progressive, at least in the centre; some of the existing problems remain so in the favelas.

The city also is far less reliant on tourism than Rio de Janeiro; its tourist interest focuses primarily on the business traveler. Three quarters of the largest business fairs in Brazil take place in São Paulo, and likewise it looks at international economic fora as a target area, relying on the associated travel and income rather than selling its natural assets, an area where the Paulistanos are obviously at a disadvantage. The city follows an unusual pattern thanks to generational changes in urban planning - as the rich and middle classes have moved away from the centre, rather than pushing the poorer classes out, they have been moved into adjacent communities, often segregated by walls and with various security features, in a sort of checkerboard. This has also seen more regulation of construction in the outlying areas, which had previously seen a lot of makeshift dwellings that had become permanent through a range of ingenious solutions as is common in a lot of favelas.


As in the rest of Brazil, football is king from a sporting point of view in São Paulo, with Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo FC being the main teams vying for the city’s affection, plus myriad smaller teams. São Paulo actually has a deeper connection with the sport than the rest of the city, however, as the birthplace of Charles William Miller, the son of a Scottish businessman who emigrated to Brazil, who was educated in England and, upon his return, set up football, rugby and cricket clubs in São Paulo, which in turn led to the first organised football league in Brazil and was instrumental in kickstarting its popularity. São Paulo FC is the legacy of his cricket club (much as myriad other teams such as Peñarol and AC Milan are derived from cricket teams set up by ex-pat Brits), while Corinthians take their name from the public school Miller attended in the UK. Subsequent footballing heroes from the city include some of the country’s true legends - Arthur Friedenreich, the best player of Brazil’s amateur era; Filó Guarisi, a child of Italian immigrants who returned to Europe and won the 1934 World Cup for Italy; Vicente Feola, who was the manager of Brazil’s 1958 World Cup-winning team; Waldemar de Brito, a star of the 1930s who scored 18 goals in 18 games for Brazil before WWII but is most remembered as the man who discovered Pelé; Djalma Santos, who won two World Cups and is one of only three players - and the first and only Brazilian - to be selected in FIFA’s All-Star team in three consecutive World Cups; the legendary Rivelino, who was part of that golden 1970 team often hailed as the best ever, along with Félix, also a member of that team; Ronaldão, part of the 1994 World Cup winning team; Cafú, widely regarded as one of the greatest right-backs of all time, a two time World Cup winner and captain of Brazil’s most recent triumph in 2002; Zé Roberto who missed that triumph but played in 1998 and 2006; Ricardinho who was part of the 2002 squad; Cacau who was part of Germany’s 2010 World Cup squad, and current players Paulinho, Lucas Moura, Rafinha, Marquinhos, Gabriel Jesus and Malcom.

São Paulo was never necessarily the origin of it, with several of its key components being from Salvador, Bahia, but it does have a crucial role in the development of the “tropicalismo” movement, with counter-culture poets such as Torquato Neto coming into contact with avant-garde musicians running counter to the path of Bossa nova, or taking risks with the format in a way that irked the purists; the Baiano group of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Tom Zé moved to São Paulo and met with Paulistano like-minded individuals such as Rogério Duprat, the mad scientist record producer, and the musicians Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias, who went on to fame as Os Mutantes, and the fruits of this collaboration led to the release of the iconic “Tropicália, ou, Panis et Circensis” collaboration/compilation album which blended all of the above along with the patronage of progressive bossa artist Nara Leão, who had already been interpreting the songs of Gil and Veloso, and went on to shape alternative music and rock and roll in Brazil for a generation.


The men and women who revolutionised Brazilian music, and possibly the most important album in Brazilian history. Top row: Arnaldo Baptista, Caetano Veloso (holding picture of Nara Leão), Rita Lee, Sérgio Dias, Tom Zé. Middle row: Rogério Duprat, Gal Costa, Torquato Neto. Front: Gilberto Gil (holding picture of Capinam)

The city was also home to post-tropicalista Toquinho, whose collaborations with Jorge Ben, Vinicius de Moraes and Chico Buarque have immortalised his position in Brazilian musical history; the city was also the centre of Brazil’s post-punk scene in the 1980s, documented in the Não Wave compilation album that centres around acts like Fellini, As Mercenárias and my favourites of them, the short-lived cult synth-rockers Agentss.

There is another area of sporting heritage in which São Paulo truly excels, but I shall leave that for another time (it will come up again). However, we should perhaps offer a word to Rafael Andriato, who has been flying the flag for Brazilian cycling in Europe until recently and remains one of the country’s most prominent cyclists. He became a force in Brazil in 2007 as a 20-year-old and earnt himself a ticket to amateur cycling in Italy, gaining a number of wins and podiums in 2010 and 11 and earning himself a pro ride with Luca Scinto’s Farnese Vini team for 2012. He largely rode smaller races, winning the Châteauroux Classic de l’Indre and the Jurmala GP, and making the top 10 of Paris-Bruxelles and the GP Impanis-van Petegem. He rode the Giro in 2013, but after this, wins were generally restricted to South America (winning stages of the Vuelta a Venezuela and Tour do Rio) and smaller races like the Tour of Sibiu. He wasn’t renewed for 2016, but was back with the team mid-season, winning a stage of the Tour of Hainan, but when the team downsized for 2018 he was one of the victims, and returned to South America where he lines up for São Francisco Saúde-Ribeirão Preto, and I presume will be a key protagonist in this race.

When the riders arrive in São Paulo, we will have a presentation in the Sambadromo Anhembi - one of the largest outdoor event venues in Brazil with a capacity of 103.200. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, it opened in the early 1990s and has been increased in capacity significantly since due to the attractions during the carnaval. It consists of stands alongside a long exhibition parade mall, which riders can pass down en bloc as teams to enable an atmosphere. Around 30 events are held a year at Anhembi, not counting the separate water polo facility which is also part of the construction. In addition to this, the Indycar Series ran a series of races on a street circuit set up around the Sambadrome from 2010 to 2013 after Interlagos proved too difficult to organise for them; the street circuit featured an unconventional layout with the start/finish straight in the sambadrome, thus necessitating a pit lane far removed from the start/finish.


Because of the problems of traffic congestion in São Paulo, however, closing down the city centre for racing is likely to prove difficult, which is why in many years when it is based in São Paulo the Copa América do Ciclismo has based itself in Interlagos. The stage start will therefore be in Parque Ibirapuera, a few kilometres south of the centre, but a popular retreat for Paulistas inspired by English landscape parks and the pioneering city park planning of Roberto Burle Marx. It is one of the biggest urban parks in Latin America and its cultural relevance to São Paulo is similar to that of Central Park in New York. However, it also has such a multitude of access points that having the départ at the south of the park would not impede its use or access for much of the city while still allowing us to set off from interior São Paulo city on our day’s odyssey.


We begin the stage by heading southward on the SP-160, but leaving the main road at the Alto da Serra junction - this is as to descend down to sea level on this particular road would entail passing through a series of tunnels as well as potentially taking the entire péloton - this is early in the stage and with no climbing - down a descent with some potentially dangerous drops. Instead, we branch eastwards to take the parallel route down on the SP-050, which is a much safer route on a two-lane road (and again because of this contraflow can ease the traffic burden) that takes us towards Cubatão. The descent is around 13km in length at just over 5%. There’s an alternative, steeper road on the SP-148 but that doesn’t link up well so I’ve avoided it on this occasion.

Cubatão is not one of Brazil’s nice places. You won’t see it in many tourist guidebooks - and with good reason. It is an ugly heavy industrial and manufacturing city specialising in fertilisers, steel and oil production which is close to the Seaport of Santos, but without any of the positive impacts that the seafront has on desirability. A further problem is that the presence of the Serra do Mar and the prevailing wind direction in from the Atlantic means that often chemicals belched into the air by the manufacturing plants don’t make it past the mountains and are dumped back down onto the city and kill the surrounding forest. In the 1980s it was one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, and was nicknamed the Valley of Death. Contamination with Persistent Organic Pollutants meant that the Rhodia polymer processing plant in Cubatão was highlighted by Greenpeace as one of the worst corporate crimes, while a shantytown was set ablaze by an oil fire in 1984. These incidents along with several-times-higher-than-normal incidences of endocrine and respiratory diseases among infants, anencephalic babies and the environmental impact on the surrounding forest area and fear that the pollution from Cubatão could spread to São Paulo led to a level of notoriety; since 1990, over $1bn has been plunged into saving the city. It was name checked by Brazil’s most famous metal band, Sepultura, in their environmental activist hardcore track Biotech is Godzilla (I believe this one was actually written by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra, but is about specifically Brazilian issues hence becoming a Sepultura track).


I really wanted to include the city of Santos in this, largely because of its iconic football club which has come to be the embodiment of jogo bonito, through its legendary 60s team led by Pelé and also featuring the likes of Carlos Alberto, Edu, Zito and Pepe, but also partly because it was founded by the nobleman and explorer Brás Cubas, whose name was used for a fictitious small-town diplomat who serves as the rather-too-reliable narrator of one of my favourite books, Joaquim María Machado de Assis’ The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas - the premise of which is that Brás Cubas is narrating his life story from beyond the grave, and, being already dead, he therefore is unencumbered by pride or honour, and so gives a warts and all (and frequently hilarious) story of how he failed as a human, in dozens of bite-sized chapters (including two which are entirely blank, since the narrator feels them self-explanatory in view of the previous chapter’s events). Early drafts of this race featured a Santos-Cubatão stage featuring the climbs of the Serra do Mar here, but this was not feasible with the direction I was taking the race and also the descents would mean the climbs were too far from the finish to realistically be a differentiator, making the stage a bit redundant, so this was the compromise solution. However, as Santos is essentially the head of a peninsula and is only linked to Guarujá by car ferry, this would have led to a 230km+ stage which is simply not realistic for a race of this kind.

Instead therefore we head over a small climb, leaving the main road briefly for a short trip over the old road through the hills, and then turn left to wind our way along the base of the mountains along the Canal de Bertioga, part of the delta of the river complex around this part of the mountains, including the Rio Santana and the Rio Pedreira, of which this is an offshoot. Bertioga hosts the first intermediate sprint, and has its main worldwide fame/infamy as the place where the “Angel of Death”, the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, died in 1979 after over 30 years of evading capture following flight to South America with assistance from former SS members. The notorious war criminal spent time in Argentina and Paraguay before finding his way to Brazil in 1960 using a series of false names to evade the West German and Israeli intelligence operations. He used an identity card acquired from a Nazi sympathiser called Wolfgang Gerhard, who had assisted him in arriving in Brazil, and when he died suffering a stroke during a swim in Bertioga he was buried under this identity, which among others he had been using since 1971 - however he was disinterred and formally identified six years later.

We head along the beaches of Bertioga for a few kilometres before turning inland and including the main climb of the day, a 14km cat.1 challenge to the summit of the Serra do Mar close to the town of Biritiba. Here's some drone footage of the climb - a classic cycling ascent if ever there was one. It’s also famous for Três Cachoeiras, because there are three major waterfalls back to back on the way down from the summit close to the road - the Cachoeira do Limo, the Cachoeira Véu da Noiva and the Cachoeira do Elefante.


Here's video of part of the climb, being descended by motorcyclists, as far as the Mirante Cachoeira do Elefante. As you can see, it’s part of a 3-part video, so you can see the whole thing across all of them.

The summit of the climb is 28km from Mogi das Cruzes, or actually slightly less, but 28km from where we’re putting the finish. As there is no descent at all - we’ve simply ascended onto a plateau, not even a lopsided one like most of the Spanish climbs onto the meseta like Urkiola, Escudo, Pajáres, Somiedo or San Glório - that might have been enough. But I had something else in mind, largely because of the coming stages potentially discouraging aggression on this stage. Therefore, in fact when we cross the summit of the Serra do Mar ascent and head toward Biritiba, we are actually 48km from home, as I have appended a 20km circuit to the stage after arrival in Mogi das Cruzes.

In fact, this was due to a piece of inspiration from a most unlikely of sources: the Tour of Oman. No, really.

You see, cycling has obviously had plenty of racing around circuits in its time, and sometimes those circuits involve highways, or dual carriageways, where circuits include using both sides of the same road. It’s time honoured. Things like the 1974 Tour stage in Plympton, where the UK authorities’ reluctance to close roads and misunderstanding of bike racing led to a stage up and down a stretch of a city bypass, might be unusual, but there are lots of races which utilise this format. In recent memory you have things like the 2009 Tour of Turkey Istanbul circuit, back and forth along the corniche but then a short stretch inland to finish at the Blue Mosque before descending back to the corniche; the 2005 World Championships in Madrid featured a 180º hairpin bend in the closing stretches as most of the interesting parts of the circuit were a good way north of where the finish was; plus of course there is the Tristar Madrid circuit and the iconic Champs Elysées finish in the Tour de France. What the Tour of Oman offered us that interested me, however, was this:


Spotted it? Why of course: those climbs of Bousher al Amerat are not all alike! The first and third climbs are different - shorter - than the second! Why could that be?


Ah-ha!!! Yes, the climb of Bousher al Amerat is on a dual carriageway road. So the riders climbed it from the east, travelled down a junction on the road, switched to the other side of the road and climbed it from the west, then turned back to climb it from the east again to the finish. While these stages tended to finish in sprints, the presence of these climbs added a bit of intrigue. Also: those stages didn’t have a 14km @ 5,7% climb 30km earlier with no descent at all.

The actual finish I’ve used in Mogi das Cruzes is outside the Clube Naútico, in the northern bairro of Vila Mogilar. From here we head north on the SP-088 Rodovia Pedro Eroles, a dual carriageway which heads over a small range of hills in the direction of Arujá, an outlying town near the edge of the São Paulo megalopolis. At the top of one such hill lies the Château ma Vie, a French-themed events venue and, well, château, right on the line demarcating the municipalities of Mogi and Dutra, popular for hosting performances, concerts and events such as weddings and dinners.


The climb from the Mogi side is slightly tougher than the one from the Dutra side, but both are not especially threatening - a little over 3km at 6,5% from the south and 3km at just under 6% from the north. No super steep gradients. But definitely a bit of a potential fulcrum for an attack, especially if there are a lot of riders who have suffered for the long climb earlier. Some teams’ sprinters may have been durable enough to last this long, and will want to encourage a sprint, but others will not, and so it could become very tactical here as stage hunters seek their opportunities. The south side of the climb is crested just over 16km from home, then the riders descend, exit the highway at the Aruã junction, re-enter it on the opposite side and crest the north side of the climb at 7,2km from the line. The descent being wide does enable things to favour the chase a bit, which is a shame, but there is a final sting in the tail - I didn’t want to cross the line in the wrong direction originally, so rather than head directly back to the finish, we have a slightly longer detour around the northern parts of Mogi das Cruzes, featuring several corners and some cobbled streets to try to allow attackers to get out of sight and out of mind before the last couple of kilometres on safer wider roads to allow a safe sprint train. I know another loop of the final circuit would only have the course be 203-204km and not be unreasonable, but that would also move the cat.1 climb to being 70km from home, which means it might be less interesting than it will be here, and give less chance to the sprintier riders to make it back in time before the finish if they’re dropped.


Mogi das Cruzes is another city which was founded by the Bandeirantes, around 40km east of São Paulo. It doesn’t have a major football team, but it does have an impressive résumé of footballers to have come out of its camps in recent years; the rugged defender Felipe, who moved to Portugal with Porto and then on to Atlético Madrid, and the storied Edmar Halovskyi are both from the city (Edmar spent most of his career in Ukraine with Simferopol and then Metalist Kharkiv, marrying a Ukrainian woman and taking her surname, as well as appearing for Ukraine), as are Lecheva and Maikon Leite who ply their trade in Brazil. The most famous footballer - and by proxy given his status in Brazil probably the most famous outright - to come from Mogi das Cruzes is the controversial, mercurial but infuriating Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, known typically either as Neymar Jr or, more typically, mononymically as Neymar. One of the most divisive figures in football, Neymar is a prodigiously talented player, who is now Brazil’s third highest goalscorer of all time, behind only Pelé and Ronaldo. However, because of his prodigious talent, he was highly molly-coddled by the Santos youth academy and treated as a golden child, which has instilled in him an equally prodigious sense of entitlement which has engendered severe attitude problems; the man has a horrendous reputation for diving, simulating injury and demanding referee decisions go his way - but if they don’t, of spitting, arguing, and not really understanding that one reaps what one sows, and if you go around clattering and shoving people you can’t expect them to just accept it and allow you free reign to dive and roll around unchecked. Somebody once timed a particularly egregious game which showed that Neymar spent over 17 minutes of Brazil’s World Cup fixture with Mexico on the floor feigning injuries. Off the field he’s not much better, with an entourage of agents, hangers-on and yes men that have left him in disputes with teammates and arguments with coaches. At the same time, however, people are largely prepared to put up with his antics because he remains one of the sport’s best players - to the extent where his absence from the Brazilian team in the 2014 humiliation against Germany after being injured in the quarter-final against Colombia was treated in the pre-match period like a wake, with players holding up his jersey like he had died.

The city is also home, perhaps more interestingly, to Sérgio Correa, an important member of the Communist guerrilla group Ação Libertadora Nacional, that fought against the military dictatorship in the late 1960s with the same kind of terroristic fervour as similar groups in Europe such as the Rote Armee Faktion. Correa was killed when the car bomb he was transporting to the Nestlé headquarters building in São Paulo detonated prematurely, probably due to the vehicle being jolted by potholes in the roads. Because of how badly charred his remains were (as opposed to his accomplice, who was thrown from the vehicle), it took several days to ascertain that the remains were Correa, and his body was never formally identified, so despite having already been dead for six years he was sentenced in absentia to 40 months in prison in 1975, and added to the list of Politically Dead and Missing Persons upon the overthrow of the military dictatorship in 1985.

This is one of the hardest stages to predict of all of them in the Volta do Brasil. It’s a relatively long one, but there are elements of it to interest all types of rider. A sprinter mightn’t like the climbing, but a durable one that can get over the main climb will have opportunities given the final pair of climbs are on wide road and not too steep. However, there’s no descent after the big climb for them to gain time back or recover, so other types of rider will want to keep the fast men at arm’s length. Puncheurs will like there being two short climbs in the run-in, although they’re not especially steep, and baroudeurs will look to take advantage of indecision among other types of rider in terms of how to approach this finale. Climbers will like the long climb here but will need to be a bit more versatile, Lombardia style, to best take advantage of this day. And with a potentially important weekend for the GC coming up, stage hunters of all stripes will likely have their eyes on the potential that this one offers.
Stage 8: São José dos Campos - São José dos Campos, 35,2km (ITT)



The second Saturday of the race sees us in the Paraíba valley, setting the riders apart in the Race of Truth. São José dos Campos was another of those “must have” cities on the route, as one of the most cycling-supportive cities in the country.

It is 80km east of São Paulo, so a short 40km transfer from yesterday’s finish in Mogi das Cruzes, and with a population of 880.000 it is the second largest city in Brazil not to have state capital status (again, more on that later in the race). It is a major technological centre, and major international players in technology such as Ericsson, Panasonic and Philips have bases in the city, as well as its most important contribution to Brazilian international economics, the aerospace conglomerate Embraer, the world’s third largest producer of commercial aircraft after Boeing and Airbus. They are not the only major transport manufacturer in town either, as General Motors have a large manufacturing plant in São José dos Campos too. It was originally set up as a farming village which was ostensibly a front for a Jesuit outpost, but after the order was expelled from the Portuguese Empire, its lands and holdings were seized and the settlement was renamed Vila do São José da Paraíba, before acquiring its current name in 1871. It became a sanatorium town in the late 19th Century which helped it to expand, and then the arrival of major manufacturers brought the city to its current status.


São José dos Campos is a long-standing home of cycling in Brazil. One of the country’s longest-standing teams is the city’s São José Ciclismo setup, which originated all the way back in 1997, although the current version is a phoenix. After building up results through 2005 and 2006, especially with sprinter Nilceu Santos, the team acquired sponsorship from bicycle manufacturer Scott and the Marcondes César company, and made forays into Continental cycling, signing up people like Matías Medici and also taking first dibs on all the young promising Brazilians like Alex Diniz and Magno Nazaret. While Memorial-Santos-Fupes had also turned pro in 2007, in 2008 it was a lone furrow for São José dos Campos and eventually they returned to the aficionado non-UCI status for 2009. They wouldn’t be gone for long, however, and came back with the most ambitious project yet in 2010 - they would go Professional Continental. With Argentine sprinter Francisco Chamorro, time trial/stage race specialists Jorge Giacinti and Matías Medici, upcoming Magno Nazaret and Luciano Pagliarini, with a decade of pro experience to his name, they spared no expense in trying to build a competitive team. In some respects, though, their lasting legacy is to have indirectly helped the development of GreenEdge - while they had numerous successes in South America, winning the Copa América do Ciclisma, the Prova 9 Julho, winning stages of the Giro do Interior do São Paulo, the Volta a Paraná and the Rutas de América, doing a 1-2 in both the Brazilian and Argentine national TT championships, they came along before the collapse of Spanish and Italian domestic cycling and there were still a number of strong ProContinental teams at the time that meant that, apart from the Tour of Turkey, they didn’t get any opportunities to race in Europe at all; it turned out that to a large extent the funding for ProContinental status had been contingent on invites that they never received, and the bank guarantee turned out to be a complete washout; the team collapsed at the end of August and lost several key riders.

After a couple of years back at the aficionado level, the other local powerhouse team, Funvic-Pindamonhangaba, decided to pool its resources with the São José dos Campos team for another go at stepping up a level, and from 2013 to 2017 the two traditional rivals existed in a sort of uneasy truce, running at the Continental level for three seasons and then ProContinental for two, before a lack of invites and limited success in Europe led the team to withdraw a level again, and this led the two teams to part ways again, with Funvic staying with the Pindamonhangaba squad, and São José dos Campos setting up individually with Instituto Athlon as new secondary sponsor.


Scott-Marcondes César-São José dos Campos in 2009

The GP São José dos Campos has, like the team, run since 1997 - you can see footage online from 2008, 2010, 2012, 2019 and 2020. It’s very much a sprinter’s race, typically, and that is a product of the course which is used, which is a 17,5km tri-star circuit using major thoroughfares in the city starting and finishing outside the Câmara Municipal.


Maicke Monteiro wins the 2020 GP São José dos Campos

Here is a picture of the course of the GP São José dos Campos. Does it look a bit like the map of the TT course above? Why of course - as it should. Seeing as the people of São José are used to these particular roads being closed for a day for a bike race, this should be less of a challenge to get them closed to run an ITT - and seeing as that is a circuit race, rolling road closures are not a possibility, therefore there is little difference in the road requirements between the ITT and a circuit racing stage, so we can do something to impact the GC.

Ah, but the course is only 17,5km in length! Yes - we’re doing something that is such a rarity as to be almost completely non-existent in conventional European stage racing, but something that many riders will be familiar with even at the very top level: an ITT which involves laps with an on- and off-ramp from the course for the start and finish. This used to be a very conventional option used in World Championships courses. A couple of recent examples are the Madrid Worlds in 2005, when the TT used circuits of a course in Casa del Campo, and Mendrisio in 2009, where the same loop was undertaken three times - in fact that’s largely how Gustav Erik Larsson got his medal, getting himself into a position to ride with Fabian Cancellara for two of the laps. This style has gone out of vogue in recent years, possibly for that reason, but was resurrected in 2016 for the Rio Olympic ITT - won again by that same Fabian Cancellara, though admittedly not as dominating as he was in 2009 - but then again that was probably the second most dominant time trial of all time, after Indurain in Luxembourg ’92.

I am resurrecting it for this, however. After all, in South American cycling you have all kinds of madness around the road closures, and open road ITTs are not uncommon in some parts of rioplatense cycling, so doing two laps of the same circuit is absolutely nothing by comparison. The course, as noted, is lifted almost wholesale from the GP São José dos Campos, except that because the riders have to finish lap 1 on the highway, we can’t put the start/finish on it. Instead, we use the junction around the Câmara Municipal - where the teams park and set up, and the podiums are etc. when the real race comes to town - to set up the race.


Start area: on the on-ramp to the highway here. Riders completing lap 1 will be heading down the highway from top to bottom.


Finish area: exiting the highway and into the gap between the Prefeitura Municipal (the large blue building) and the Câmara Municipal behind it.

35,2km is the perfect length for an ITT in a race like this, I feel. The mountain stages are not as brutal as they could be in, say, Colombia, and I have had to take into account the relative strength of the péloton. There are two decent length ITTs in the race, hoewer, so the racers of truth can have another chance later. They put ITTs of the same kind of length into the much less mountainous Vuelta del Uruguay, after all! Also worth noting is the fact that rioplatense cycling generates a lot of strong time trialists, so this could be a pretty dramatic stage for the GC, as well as a really tense competition. This is a fairly typical length of ITTs, so I had a look at a few races I could use for comparison in the last 3 years over the same kind of distance (so no 45km Pan-American Championships or the 22km TT from Uruguay in 2018):

2019 Pan-American Games ITT (37km)
1 Daniel Martínez 44’23
2 Magno Nazaret +1’55
3 José Luís Rodríguez +2’03
4 Óscar Rivera +2’26
5 Cristofer Jurado +2’39
(Obviously Dani Martínez rides for a World Tour team so is more than unlikely to be here)

2019 Argentina National Championships (39km)
1 Juan Pablo Dotti 54’30
2 Emiliano Ibarra +36
3 Alejandro Durán +54
4 Laureano Rosas +1’36
5 Guillermo Brunetta +1’54
(Dotti and Durán are with San Juan; Ibarra and Rosas with Puertas de Cuyo. All potential attendees)

2019 Brazil National Championships (29,6km)
1 André Gohr 37’30
2 Cristian Rosa +25
3 Rodrigo Nascimento +30
4 Endrigo Rosa +36
5 Lauro Chaman +56
(no Nazaret. Still, would expect all of these in attendance)

2019 Portugal National Championships (32,3km)
1 José Gonçalves 42’46
2 Domingos Gonçalves +21
3 Antônio Carvalho +1’03
4 José Fernandes +1’06
5 Amaro Antunes +1’16
(Domingos is suspended and Zé is on the World Tour. Positions 3-5 are all potential attendees)

2019 Uruguay National Championships (34,8km)
1 Jorge Soto 45’52
2 Nicolás Raríz +1’08
3 Agustín Alonso +1’09
4 Pablo Troncoso +1’15
(Soto is a strong possibility. Alonso is very young, might be worth keeping an eye on)

2019 Vuelta del Uruguay, stage 6 (33,6km)
1 Walter Vargas 42’35
2 Cristian Rosa +59
3 Robigzon Oyola +1’56
4 André Gohr +2’02
5 Flávio Santos (+2’08
(I could imagine all 5 of these being present. Vargas & Oyola are on Medellín, Rosa and Gohr on São Francisco Saúde, and Santos on Funvic)

2018 Vuelta a Venezuela, stage 5 (34,5km)
1 Matteo Spreafico 45’41
2 Carlos Galviz +17
3 Clever Martínez +30
4 José Alarcón +1’44
5 Carlos Linares +1’59
(Spreafico could well be here, as one of Androni’s main protagonists in their South American trips. Galviz and Alarcón are both very likely mercenaries).

2017 Vuelta del Uruguay, stage 6 (34,2km)
1 Magno Nazaret 46’16
2 Juan Javier Melivilo +2’02
3 Alan Presa +2’15
4 Murilo Affonso +2’16
5 Federico Moreira +2’34
(Presa and Affonso are suspended. Nazaret now rides for San Juan and I’d expect them to come. Moreira is a top Uruguayan so I’d expect him to come. Melivilo is still at Pocito so as they’re a smaller Argentine squad he might need a wildcard).

2017 Vuelta a Colombia, stage 8 (36,5km)
1 Alex Cano 48’12
2 Pedro Herrero +16
3 Óscar Sevilla +32
4 José Serpa +43
5 Carlos Ramírez +49
(Sevilla will likely be here. Cano is suspended and Serpa retired this past offseason. Herrero and Ramírez are potentially available as wildcards - Herrero spent two years as a mercenary in Taiwan)

I think we’re going to see people like Nazaret, Vargas, Rosa, Gohr (he’s a year or two older now), Dotti, Sevilla, and a couple of the Portuguese like José Fernandes and Tiago Machado to be big contenders here. José Luís Rodríguez is a good wildcard because he’s pretty young. This will set us up well for a major showdown on Sunday.
The first time I heard about the Leberstraße/the Auf der Leber climb was in a German cycling magazine, then I did some research and found it mentioned on a German cycling website . The hill and the small village Leber that lies nearby share the same name.
The hill lies between the Hoher Rannach and Schöckl.
Here's the profile of the climb that I made on Cronoescalada, with the easier part at the start and the climb easing up towards the top we still get 1.98km at 12.9%, so an average gradient of 16% for the steep section seems pretty realistic.
Stage 9: Pindamonhangaba - Campos do Jordão, 164km



Alto da Brasa (HC) 19,7km @ 5,8%
Alto dos Campos do Jordão (cat.1) 13,0km @ 5,3%
Alto da Serra do Paiol (HC) 7,3km @ 10,8%
Alto de Imbiry (cat.3) 6,3km @ 5,0%

The second Sunday of the race sees the first of two potential candidates for the title of ‘queen stage’ in the Volta do Brasil, and what is probably just about the hardest stage for me to settle on - I was tinkering with it all the way until this morning due to the number of potential ways to move around Campos do Jordão and its offshoot climbs and side streets, because Campos do Jordão itself sits in a little miniature altiplano between a group of mountains, but a lot of the climbs are lopsided, so finding an approach which is both plausible and allows us to connect the difficult climbs is a challenge. The other thing was distance - a 200km multi-mountain odyssey would be something that is maybe a possibility for the Vuelta a Colombia or Vuelta a Venezuela, but it’s not really something that would work in less developed cycling scenes like Ecuador, or in rioplatense cycling where mountains are fewer in number and so genuine queen stages tend to be shorter as a result. However, this was arguably the most obvious “must have” stage of the entire race in terms of the essential locations to include in a real homage to Brazilian cycling (there are three such locations - Serra do Rio do Rastro, and another yet to come).


Before we get there, however, we need to set off from the beginning of the stage. Pindamonhangaba is the town I’ve chosen for the départ, a short way up the Vale do Paraíba from yesterday’s stage town of São José dos Campos. Between the two cities lies the city of Taubaté, which also hosts a prominent Brazilian domestic team, and Pindamonhangaba itself is the home of what has been, in recent years, Brazil’s most successful and most widely-known cycling team worldwide.

About 170.000 people live in Pindamonhangaba, which is an old city established in the 17th Century. Its most famous export of recent years is the footballer Luiz Gustavo, who has nearly 50 caps for O Seleção and has spent much of his career in Germany. It sits on the easternmost tip of São Paulo province, but it is for cycling that we will know the city, as it is one of Brazil’s cycling hubs. The Volta do São Paulo / Tour de Brasil came into Pindamonhangaba three consecutive years from 2010 to 2012 in the same format - first, on the third from final day, a sprint stage from Atibaia to Pindamonhangaba, then on the penultimate day, a very short mountain stage from Pindamonhangaba to Campos do Jordão; in 2010, it was Argentine sprinter Edgardo Simón that won the former with Gregory Panizo winning the latter to take the race lead off of Flávio Santos; a year later Roberto Silva won a sprint from a reduced group ahead of Simón, then Diego Ares won the mountain stage ahead of Ecuador’s Jorge Luís Montenegro; finally in 2012 Marcos Crespo won a two-up ahead of Murilo Affonso in Pindamonhangaba with the bunch narrowly failing to catch them, then Alex Diniz won the mountain stage from Magno Nazaret and Flávio Santos. Between suspensions (Silva, Diniz, Affonso) and retirements (Simón, Crespo, Panizo) many of these would not be on hand, but Montenegro is a potential ringer.

However, the main legacy of Pindamonhangaba is as the home of Team Cycling Funvic Pindamonhangaba, the most globally renowned Brazilian cycling team of the last decade. With ongoing and continuous support from the Fundação Universitária Vida Cristã (hence F.Un.Vi.C.), this team was one of the most prominent in Brazilian cycling throughout the 2000s and made the step up to become a Continental team at the same time as São José dos Campos, their perennial rivals for supremacy (along with at various times Avaí and Memorial-Santos-Fupes), made their doomed bid for ProContinental.

Originally with a jersey awash with minor sponsors and a design akin to that other team renowned for that, Savio’s mob (then called Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, but known to most of us now as Androni Giocattoli) with green and orange accents on a white background, the team largely focused on sprints with Roberto Silva and Edgardo Simón, but the withdrawal of São José dos Campos’ pro licence in August offered them an opportunity they couldn’t refuse; having already acquired Chilean veteran Marco Arriagada’s services after he won the Volta a Paraná in June, they took on a full GC arm by hiring the now-contractless Matías Medici and Magno Nazaret, moves which also encouraged the Marcondes César company previously with São José to come on board as secondary sponsor. In the next few years they solidified their position as the strongest team in Brazil, and nearly every major talent of Brazilian cycling came through their doors at some point - Otávio Bulgarelli, Alex Diniz, Murilo Affonso, João Gaspar, Antônio Nascimento, Flávio Santos, Kleber Ramos, Magno Nazaret, Gregory Panizo - plus some from further afield - Héctor Águilar from Uruguay, Francisco Chamorro, Edgardo Simón, Matías Medici, Daniel Díaz and Marcos Crespo from Argentina, and also in 2014 some mercenaries from Colombia - Juan Sebastián Tamayo, Óscar Sánchez and Wilson Rincón. 2015 was obviously their biggest year of success, with Daniel Díaz winning the Tour de San Luís along with the team doing a 1-2 with Díaz and Diniz on the Cerro El Amago and a 1-3 with Kleber Ramos winning atop the Filo de Merlo, as well as putting two riders - Ramos and Diniz - on the podium of the Tour do Rio.


At this point, like São José dos Campos before them, they rather overstretched themselves. Díaz’s success saw him hired to Europe, despite the team’s attempts to keep him. They acquired a Pro Continental licence and even hired some riders from well beyond their traditional limitations - former Caja Rural rider António Piedra, former Euskaltel fastman Pablo Urtasun, Portuguese prospect Luis Mendonça, veteran Portuguese Daniel Silva and Spanish journeyman Jordi Simón. However, in news that will not shock you if you’ve read this far, they were unable to replicate that kind of success - they had more success than São José’s foray at the level, even getting some good invites in Europe - but results outside of home were increasingly hard to achieve; Alex Diniz managed a couple of stage placings in breakaways in the Volta a Portugal, but the best results outside Brazil were achieved in far-flung races - Diniz in the Tour of Taihu Lake, and Piedra in the Tour de Langkawi. Worse: João Gaspar tested positive for CERA at the Volta a Portugal, and then Kleber Ramos did the same in an out of competition test four days later. Alex Diniz then was revealed to have dubious values in 2015 and saw his season wiped, and so while the team made it through the year to a second ProContinental year in 2017, the fact that the only World Tour races they got to do were Catalunya and Turkey, and that their best results were achieved once more in South America (the 1-2-3 in the Vuelta del Uruguay is particularly notable) or in end-of-season Asia Tour races - and almost exclusively by Magno Nazaret - along with further doping issues resulting in a temporary suspension of licence, they dropped down to the aficionado level once more. However, they do still hold a lot of sway in Brazilian cycling thanks to that history, and they still have a number of strong and prominent, if now ageing, riders at their disposal, such as Otávio Bulgarelli and Flávio Santos. This is one stage they’ll really want to deliver in.


Back in the “glory” days

So… that’s the start town. What about the finish? I know, I normally leave the finish til last. But there’s only about 35km between Pindamonhangaba and Campos do Jordão and the stage largely loops around the latter to maximise difficulty.

Campos do Jordão is a very popular resort and spa town in the Serra da Mantiqueira, which has a population of around 50.000, and at an altitude of over 1600m is the highest city in Brazil. The population is a bit of a misnomer, however, as like many resort towns it tends to fluctuate, with a high proportion of second homes for people living and working in São Paulo and other outlying cities in the Vale do Paraíba. It serves as the access point to a state park and to many peaks in the nearby area, and has become a centre for health tourism. It also has a theme park-like adherence to central European architecture, thanks to an influx of German, Swiss and north Italian immigrants that have given it a flavour of the mountain settlements closer to home. Although it isn’t really a German city so to speak, the way that Blumenau or Timbó are, the fact German and Swiss immigrants knew how to maximise resources to build towns and cities in the mountains has greatly influenced the town planning, and it has a railroad from Pindamonhangaba regarded as one of Brazil’s most scenic, a chocolate box town centre inspired by Alpine architecture, and another classic German gate. Not for nothing is the region around Campos do Jordão known as the “Brazilian Switzerland”. Perhaps this is more the town to compare to Colonia Tovar.



Being as it is a reasonably sized town surrounded on all sides by mountains, it is no surprise that bicycle race organisers were drawn to Campos do Jordão. The road from Pindamonhangaba to Campos do Jordão, at least as far as Ribeirão Grande, appeared in the old version of the Volta do São Paulo back in the 60s and early 70s, when people like Martín Emílio “Cochise” Rodríguez and Joaquim Agostinho were competing, but never near stage finishes. It was rediscovered in 2010 as mentioned above and became a staple of the Volta do São Paulo until its demise. Those stages were typically a 62km headlong charge from Pindamonhangaba, so we’re going for something a bit more in depth than that.

Theoretically, one could go directly from Pindamonohangaba to Campos do Jordão; however, taking the 383/SP-123 all the way to the top means a relatively gradual finale; a Unipuerto stage may not work for that reason. The first 9km of the climb, up to Ribeirão Grande, are at 6,4%, however the next 11km are only at 4%, so that may hamper its decisiveness. As a result, the Volta do São Paulo would then take the gradual descent to Vila Nova and Rosas, and then climb the old road, the SP-050, into Campos do Jordão from the west, which is around 13km at a little over 5%. This created a 60km or so mini-stage, so I suspect they may have added a punchy little dig in Campos itself to increase gaps, especially looking at the 2012 stage where 8 riders finish within 9 seconds.

This western side on the SP-050 is the one used in l’Étape Brasil, ASO’s sportive in the Serra da Mantiqueira (profile here, course here). You can see some brief highlights here. Because a large portion of the Brazilian péloton are, while to all intents and purposes professionals, not registered at the UCI, you can therefore see a number of riders who have been on pro teams in the results at l’Étape, although many don’t treat it as a serious competition; Otávio Bulgarelli “won” it in 2018, however. Tiago Forilli, Diego Ares, Ricardo Pichetta and Antônio Garnero all appear near the top of the list of fastest completions of the full course - which is nearly double the length of the old professional race into the town, albeit with only the one serious climb instead of two.


What neither the Volta do São Paulo nor l’Étape Brasil take into account, however, is there is a better way to get from Pindamonhangaba to Campos do Jordão if you want to make a selective bike race. A short way after Ribeirão Grande, so only a kilometre or so into the easier second half of the main road int Campos do Jordão, there’s a sharp right onto the Estrada Municipal do Toriba, and this climbs almost 200m higher than the main road, in a similar if not actually slightly shorter amount of time. Here's a motorcyclist’s video of the road (we do it in the opposite direction) crossing the summit at around 1:30 then the rest of the video is the descent. As you can see: perfectly passable for road bikes. So why they’ve never utilised it is beyond me, because I make it an overall climb of 19,7km @ 5,8% - ignore those kilometres at 12%, it’s not quite that bad - more like 9% max for a stretch as long as that - but still, a more than worthy major climb, fairly consistent but still justifying a tag as our first HC mountain of the Volta do Brasil - comparable in nature to Izoard north (19km @ 6,0%), Cormet de Roseland east (19,4km @ 5,9%), or Aitana (22km @ 5,7%). So it’s a borderline cat.1/HC in Europe (Izoard north gets the nod because of its altitude, while Aitana gets it because the Vuelta tends to be a little more generous in its classifications. Cormet de Roseland is usually cat.1). Col d’Allos north (19,5km @ 5,7%) and Falzarego west (19,4km @ 5,7%) are perhaps the closest avatars, and I think both would be cat.1. However, I think given the difference in mountains between the countries, I think A Brasa, cresting just before the Fazendinha Toriba, deserves HC status in the Volta do Brasil.


Of course this is also straight off the bat: first climb of the day. And I’m putting an intermediate sprint in Campos do Jordão (not at the finish, which we do not yet cross) just 5km after the summit, because this is a lopsided climb. We then descend down the main road from Pindamonhangaba to Campos do Jordão - so yes, we actually when we get close to Ribeirão Grande manage to go down a stretch of road we already climbed. But if you’re such a rotten climber that you can’t get to the turnoff for A Brasa 14km into the first climb of the day before the leaders have climbed over the remaining 6km or so to the summit, down the short descent, around the 5km or so flat to the Vista Chinesa lookout and then down another 4,3km of descent, then you stand no chance whatsoever of making the timecut over the rest of the stage anyway, so we may as well cull you now.

Once we get to Ribeirão Grande, though, the descent into Santo Antônio do Pinhal is very gradual and basically false flat as we head into the Sapucaí Mirim protected area, which forms part of the borderlands between São Paulo state and Minas Gerais. There’s a short uncategorised dig just after the town as we leave the main road for the smaller road to Vila Nova, which takes us past the Cachoeira do Cassununga, another of the billion or so scenic waterfalls in this race (if there’s one thing my taste in climbs and my posts in this thread should tell you, I like a good scenic waterfall). Then we have the classic side of Campos do Jordão (plus a little bit at the top as we go past the Jardim Panorama) which totals 13km @ 5,3% - with the main part being 12,3km @ 5,0%. You can see some footage of climbing it here (as a bonus, that ride gives you the chance to see what the profile would be of the 62km stages in the Volta do São Paulo as he climbs Ribeirão Grande followed by the old road to Campos do Jordão).


The climb to Campos do Jordão in l’Étape Brasil

This time, the 5km flat through Campos do Jordão itself hosts the feed zone, before we repeat the same descent through Vista Chinesa and Santo Antônio do Pinhal that we did previously. Before the waterfall, however, we diverge for another valley road past the Pedra do Peão and across the state borderline into Minas Gerais at Sapucaí-Mirim. About 15km of flat take us to the town of São Bento do Sapucaí, another bandeirante outpost in the Serra da Mantiqueira on their way to the gold-filled hills of Minas Gerais. This small town’s main claim to fame is the natural beauty that the municipality contains, in particular the Cachoeira do Toldi, a well-known waterfall that plunges some 200m at its full extent.

We’re heading straight for it, and that means taking a monstrous road onto the Serra do Paiol which crests 23km from the finish and, despite its short length, is also given the HC classification. That’s because this is the steepest road in the Serra da Mantiqueira, as once we get past the holiday camp at Paiol Grande, the road turns uphill for nosebleed-generating ascent, averaging almost 11% for just over 7km. This puts it in the realms of some seriously brutal ascents; Santuário del Acebo from Villarino de Limes (6,8km @ 11,7%), Alpe di Pampeago (7,8km @ 9,9%), Ermita de Alba (6,8km @ 11,1%), Kitzbüheler Horn-Alpenhaus (7,4km @ 11,7%) and the last part of Mont du Chat west (8,0km @ 10,4%). There’s a stretch of 3km averaging 13,5% in the middle of this, which is Bola del Mundo level. This might just be the hardest climb of the entire race.



The best thing? It’s totally ridable, as evidenced by this amateur tourist event. That basically shows you the final 30-35km of my stage, and a LOT of people walking most of the way up this brute, weaving side to side. As you can see, there’s a short plateau where road widens out then a further ascent to the true summit of the road (uncategorised but around 2km at 6,5% - just a little hidden bump with no respite having been had since the summit of the more difficult ascent - I guess this shape can give it something in common with Los Machucos, though it’s a little bit longer than that, and the traceur favourite Collfred - when descending from the Serra do Paiol to the village of Campinas, before we have a secondary ascent, on a narrower but well-paved road - 6,3km @ 5,0% in an inconsistent set of ramps to a Mirante overlooking Campos do Jordão not far from the Pico do Imbiri; this part of town is called Parque Imbiry as there is a park of that name (the difference between Imbiri and Imbiry as spellings is historic) so that’s the name I’ve given the climb.

It is my Aprica. Especially for a péloton such as you will find in many South American races, this will really be tough - 7km at 11% is no fun in anybody’s language, so having another uncategorised climb after that, then a mere 5,5km of respite before climbing again means that even though the climb is not that difficult, it could open unexpectedly large gaps, especially as it is inconsistent and includes a steepest kilometre at 10%. After all, that’s why Aprica works so well - after how far you have to go into the red just to survive on Mortirolo, trying to get the legs going to climb again even at those shallow gradients is harder than it ordinarily would be and so the climb opens up bigger gaps than it has any right to - I mean, just look at the 2015 Giro Rosa stage there, finishing at Aprica without Mortirolo. It’s basically an uphill sprint among the women’s péloton, which has smaller teams and fewer real climbers owing to a paucity of mountainous races! And just as Aprica produces more gaps than it has any right to, I would expect Imbiry to have similar potential to create gaps because of the brutality of the climb before. This is how to take advantage of weekend scheduling, ASO.

But… we’re still not done. The Alto de Imbiry is not the finish either - instead we’re still 5,3km from home, the first 3 of which are a descent into Campos do Jordão’s easternmost bairro. I could have put a couple of ramps in town here, but I think we’ve done enough for today on the climbing front - so it’s a 2km final ride with shallow turns along the Sapucaí river to finish by the Praça da Bandeira. I’m hoping for some Vuelta a Guatemala style chaos of cheering and confetti along a scenic semi-pedestrianised street like this.


This will be a day when the climbers really come out to play. The Colombians and potentially Venezuelans too should make their presence felt, especially as this will really be better suited to a featherweight who is adept at changing up and down the paces, because of the inconsistencies and the steepness of the penultimate climb. Grinding climbers like Magno Nazaret, Ilya Davidenok and Ricardo Mestre will be at a disadvantage - even perhaps the likes of Darwin Atapuma, whose best results are on longer and more consistent climbs - while the kind of riders who should be in their element - Amaro Antunes, Rodolfo Torres (2nd to Ermita de Alba, 5th to Neila, 9th to Camperona in his time), plus potentially some wildcard possibilities from Colombia and Venezuela - looking at Janier Acevedo, Aristobulo Cala, Roniel Campos, and Yecid Sierra. Plus we can wonder what kind of Kleber Ramos or João Gaspar we may see after their suspensions, should they choose to return, and there’s always Dani Díaz.

We should have a solid look at the shape of the GC after this one. We’ve had a couple of rouleur stages to break things up, a puncheur stage, a Unipuerto MTF to set the scene, a TTT, and now a good length ITT and a real decisive mountain stage. With only one day left until the second rest day, riders don’t need to worry too much about leaving something in reserve here - not that they should need to as a 7km @ 11% climb should be separating the men from the boys and the women from the girls in and of itself.

Stage 10: Interlagos (Autódromo José Carlos Pace) - Interlagos (Autódromo José Carlos Pace), 86km



Now this is something a bit out there for a stage race, but it’s something that was basically an essential. Somewhat ironically given its purpose being for motor racing, the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in the southern São Paulo metropolitan area, in the district of Interlagos (which is what it is known as to the wider world) is one of the most frequently utilised locations for Brazilian cycling, possibly due to the ease of access, being in the wider São Paulo urban sprawl, and also being able to be accessed and utilised at any time of day without major disruption - the hiring costs for the circuit likely make this more cost beneficial than attempting to create a similar scale circuit on public roads (unless just using a single dual-carriageway road, like the Carioca version of the Copa América do Ciclismo, which didn’t last long) or the cost of the policing of a rolling roadblock across a lengthy point-to-point race. As a result, Interlagos frequently comes up in Brazilian cycling. This is a short potential banana skin of a stage with no mountains points at all, and a sub-100km length - we will undertake 20 laps of the 4,3km circuit for a total distance of 86km, with intermediate sprints coming after 10 and 15 laps and the feed zone after 12.


Originally purchased to be a housing development, the 1929 stock market crash led to the land being used for the instigation of a racetrack instead. Inspired by the Roosevelt Raceway layout, eventually more complex layouts rolling back on themselves were added until we had an 8km circuit with various sweeping corners and fast spoon-shaped curves which became a driver favourite after hosting its first Formula 1 event in 1972; this was a non-World Championship race won by Carlos Reutemann of Argentina; the event was successful and it was added to the World Championship calendar from 1973 onward, where it has remained ever since; initially it was part of the early season flyaway races, along with Buenos Aires, but since the early 2000s it has become one of the climactic end of season races - until the last few years when Abu Dhabi paid for the privilege - and as a result it has been responsible for some key championship-settling races, such as in 2007 where the internal strife at McLaren caused Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton to both throw the title away to Kimi Räikkönen, but the most famous would undoubtedly be 2008, when a battle between Brazil’s own Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton was thrown into chaos late on - Hamilton was in a comfortable position to win the title, only for weather conditions to worsen late on; changing to intermediate tyres, Hamilton struggled and was passed with fewer than 5 laps to go by rookie phenom Sebastian Vettel and, with the Toyota team gambling on the conditions holding off until the end of the race and staying on slicks, suddenly Massa was going to be the champion. Massa won the race, and his entourage, family and team were all celebrating, when the heavens opened causing the Toyotas to have to slow dramatically on the final lap; with the slick-shod cars having no grip at all trying to climb up the hill of the Subida dos Boxes, Lewis Hamilton passed the ailing Toyota of Timo Glock on the final corner to take 5th place and, with it, snatch the World Championship title. Back in the 1970s it was practically unique in Formula 1 for having an anticlockwise layout (several of the modern Tilkedromes share this feature, but back then Imola was the only other major circuit run that way), but it became popular with drivers and has since been a staple of the F1 calendar. In 1990 the course had to be revised into something approximating its modern form as the speed of the cars was becoming too much for it to be run safely anymore, with the layout meaning cars crashing at full speed could theoretically vault barriers and arrive on other parts of the circuit. The distance was halved and though there have been tweaks to the layout since, it has largely remained unchanged since.

Because of the presence of Interlagos, Brazil’s premier motor racing facility, so close at hand, São Paulo and its neighbouring bairros have given Brazil the majority of its great motorsport history - with one notable exception. While a few prospects had come from Brazil to compete at the highest level in its early days (Fritz d’Orey, for example), the late 60s and early 70s were the first golden age for them, and why Brazil came to host a Grand Prix in the first place. The first major champion was Emerson Fittipaldi, who followed his older brother Wilson into racing, and came into F1 in 1970 as an ersatz bonus driver with Lotus; he became a permanent driver after the death of team leader Jochen Rindt in Monza, and when he took a maiden race win at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, this secured the title for Rindt, the only man to be crowned world champion posthumously. In 1972 Fittipaldi became the World Champion, and for over 30 years remained the youngest ever - a record which has since been broken by Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and most recently Sebastian Vettel. In 1973 he felt that he was being usurped at Lotus by Ronnie Peterson, widely renowned as one of the greatest drivers to never win a championship, and moved to McLaren for 1974, where he took his second title. The following year he finished 2nd in the title race, before, in a shock move, suddenly jumping across to his brother’s Copersucar-sponsored vanity project team, and he sank into the midfield before retiring in 1980 to move to a management role. This couldn’t satisfy “Emmo” long, however, especially with such a poor car - Keke Rosberg was the team leader in 1981 and struggled to qualify; he became world champion when placed in a more competitive vehicle in 1982 - albeit that really is an outlier of a season in F1 history, with Villeneuve’s death, Pironi’s career ending injury, Paletti’s death, feuds between turbo and NA teams, rule changes mid-season, races boycotted and all manner of intrigue. Anyway: Fittipaldi moved to the states and had a career renaissance, racing with Roger Penske and being successful well into his 40s, winning the championship in 1989 and the Indy 500 in 1989 and 1993 - a very well-followed season globally, thanks to the surprise defection of Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell - before being forced to retirement by a light aircraft accident at the age of 50.


At the same time as Emerson and his less successful brother Wilson (who did manage three F1 seasons, two with Brabham and one with his vanity project) came another pioneer of Brazilian motorsport, José Carlos Pace. He came from Italian stock, and his family moved back to Italy for several years before returning to Brazil, meaning he had a lot of trouble adapting as he had never had to learn Portuguese - his parents spoke Italian in the home and they had returned to Italy by the time he was in school. After dominating the Brazilian formula racing scene he followed the Fittipaldis to British F3, before coming under the wing of Frank Williams, who guided him through F2 to F1. After a couple of years of sporadic promise with Williams and Surtees, he found his home at Brabham, scoring a few podiums and taking a maiden race victory at his home race at the Autódromo de Interlagos, as it was then known. He started the 1977 season strongly, but became another of the sport’s “what might have been” stories, as he was killed in a plane crash just outside São Paulo in March. three races into the season at the age of 32. The Interlagos circuit was renamed in his honour in 1985, and carries that name to this day.


While some further F1 drivers came out of the era, such as Ingo Hoffmann and Chico Serra, these were largely backmarkers, taking drives in the Brazilian-backed Copersucar/Fittipaldi Automotive enterprise, and the one major success story, Nelson Piquet, did not cut his teeth in São Paulo but instead at Jacarepaguá, the Rio-based circuit, for he was a Carioca, not a Paulista. Realistically, you all know where I’m going from here, and it’s arguably Brazil’s greatest non-footballing sports icon, a name and face known throughout the world, part of the greatest era of Formula 1 history in many historians’ eyes and its most recent “golden age”, and renowned by some, maybe many, as the greatest racing driver of all time: Ayrton Senna.

Starting to race at Interlagos on a homemade go-kart at the age of 13, Senna qualified on pole and led most of his very first race, ahead of others on much more professional machinery and several years older. After dominating karting he moved into single-seaters and followed the Fittipaldis’ path via British formula racing in 1981, swiftly graduating through the levels, including winning the inaugural Macau Grand Prix, which helped establish that race’s role as the F3 equivalent of Indianapolis, Daytona, Bathurst or Monaco in terms of its prestige in that championship. A bidding war began for his services in 1984, but sponsor demands hurt his opportunities, with Brabham’s sponsors demanding an Italian driver and Lotus’ sponsors demanding a British one. Despite being in an absolutely woeful Toleman vehicle, Senna took the car kicking and screaming to three podiums, including one at a wet Monaco Grand Prix where he demonstrated his mastery of wet weather racing, moving from 13th on the grid to the podium on the notoriously narrow and hard-to-pass-on circuit, overtaking legends like Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda on the way, and was catching race leader Prost at 4 seconds a lap when the race was red flagged for safety reasons. After moving to Lotus, he became a race winner - including one in the closest ever F1 finish, with Nigel Mansell, eating up the sweltering tarmac on fresh tyres, in the process of overtaking Senna when they crossed the line, but just too late. Moving to McLaren for 1988, one of the most iconic rivalries of Formula 1 history broke out as Senna and Prost feuded dramatically over supremacy; Prost, “the professor”, calculating, possibly (case could definitely be made for Schumacher) the “smartest” driver of all time in terms of isolating problems, working ways around them, and maximising his strategic opportunities, vs. Senna, the savant, capable of doing race length simulations and then telling the mechanics “on lap 34, on this corner, the car did this”, recalling precise details about car behaviour, and their battles became one of the cornerstones of the sport’s golden era.

The relationship between the two drivers fell apart very quickly. The 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix saw a series of early events that led to Senna nearly driving Prost into the pit wall at 180mph, but this was smoothed off as the dominant McLaren won 15/16 races that year - and the one they didn’t, it was because Williams’ substitute driver Jean-Louis Schlesser collected Senna when the latter was lapping him. Senna won the 1988 title, and in 1989 the relationship soured badly. Senna’s relationship with Honda that had been fostered at Lotus led to Prost and even team manager Ron Dennis to accuse the manufacturer of providing favourable engines to Senna, which the latter argued was not the case and if he had better vehicles it was likely to be due to his set-up feedback. He fought tooth and nail with Prost for the title coming up to Suzuka, when Prost made modifications to the car to make it faster off the start and in a straight line, knowing that Suzuka is a narrow circuit and hard to pass on. An increasingly desperate Senna tried to pass Prost into the last chicane, the Frenchman held firm, and the two teammates collided, coming to a halt side by side in the escape road, an iconic moment in F1 history. Senna was bump-started and re-entered the course, but was later disqualified because the escape road - part of the old Suzuka course - was not considered part of the track. Senna blamed FIA chief Jean-Marie Balestre of pressuring the stewards’ decision in order to favour fellow Frenchman Prost, with whom he had good relations, and Prost left the team for Ferrari the next year. Senna also claimed Balestre changed which side of the grid pole position was on, meaning Senna, the pole-sitter, was on the dirty, less grippy side of the track, thus aiding Prost’s start that moved him ahead.

With a new, less threatening teammate for 1990 in Gerhard Berger, Senna was the undisputed team leader, and he got on with the job of winning the title, which he duly did for the next two seasons. He even came to some rapprochement with Balestre (awarding him a race helmet at a gala), although the rift with Prost remained deep, even as the Frenchman retired after the 1991 season and the poor quality of early 90s Ferrari vehicles meant that it was no longer Prost but Nigel Mansell that was his greatest rival. In 1992, the Williams car was unstoppable, while Senna also found a new driver to be suspicious of - Benetton’s prodigiously gifted, but ruthless, young German Michael Schumacher. But while Senna’s talent meant he had always had a level of popularity, his relationship with Prost and the attitude it fostered meant that there was always a level of wariness with him. 1992, freed from the toxicity of his rivalry with Prost, is when this started to change and he went from being popular to beloved to iconic. Perhaps the biggest moment of that was in qualifying at Spa, when his incredible natural ear for car behaviour came to the rescue and he recognised in an instant that, after a bad accident at the blind left hander at Blanchimont, Erik Comas’ foot was still pressed hard to the floor, meaning the Belgian must have been unconscious at the wheel as the engine was being pumped with fuel. The reigning world champion got out of his car and ran through the path of other cars coming around the incident to shut the engine off and support Comas’ head in case of spinal injury.

In 1993, Senna was supposed to have moved to Williams, even volunteering to drive for free, but Prost’s returning to the sport and signing with the team put the kibosh on that; he instead stayed with McLaren, teamed with Michael Andretti, who came to F1 swapping places with Mansell. Andretti’s F1 tenure is regarded as one of the all-time flops, but posterity has been kinder, as it has been shown that the 1993 McLaren was an absolute dog of a car, which Senna dragged kicking and screaming to places it had no right to be. Nowhere was this more self-evident than at the European Grand Prix in Donington Park, where in changeable conditions, he caught and passed Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Alain Prost on a single lap - drivers who have 12 World Championships between them (Wendlinger obviously didn’t win one, but he was a big prospect at the time, having been paired with Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Sauber C9 sportscars and being actually the fastest of the three much of the time; he didn’t adapt to F1 quite as well as Schumacher, and then his career was blighted by injuries). With no intermediate tyres back then, some drivers were changing up to 7 times to change from slicks to wets and back; Senna made fewer stops than anybody, set the fastest lap, and dominated the race throughout.

The following year many of the driver aids that had contributed to Williams’ dominance were banned, which Senna presciently suggested would cause accidents - the vehicles were too powerful and too reliant on electronics to not have risk attached when many of those management facilities were taken away. Senna noted after retiring from one GP that Benetton appeared to have a novel way of getting around this - their car sounded different and Senna concluded with his intuition that they must have traction control - and indeed later it was proven that Benetton had “overridden” traction control by moving it up the list of options until it was out of sight, but that it could still be engaged if a driver knew the code. It was just one of the ways Schumacher’s ’94 Benetton was suspicious (such as the removal of the fuel rig filter that meant pit stops were faster, but risked torching the driver, as later happened to Jos Verstappen), but here it just further explained Senna’s savant-like level of knowledge about the racing cars. And so we come to Imola 1994. The blackest weekend of modern F1 history, it could have been oh so much worse had Rubens Barrichello’s car not come to rest on top of the tyre wall on the Friday - if it hadn’t it would have gone into the fans. A day later, in a race to set a qualifying time, Roland Ratzenberger set off for one last Hail Mary in a car whose wing was more damaged by a previous off than expected, and it failed, torpedoing him into the concrete retaining wall at Villeneuve corner at 190mph and killing him instantly. Senna was keenly aware of the danger in the sport at the time and seemed highly concerned; Barrichello confirmed Senna was the first person he saw when he regained consciousness after the crash, and after news filtered round of Ratzenberger’s accident, the Brazilian commandeered an official vehicle to assess the scene. He even approached former mortal rival Prost about reforming the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association to fight for safety concerns, like Jackie Stewart had in the 70s. Ratzenberger’s death was the first since Elio de Angelis in 1986, and the first in a race since Ricardo Paletti in 1982; Formula One had been thought to now be pretty safe.

But while death had been raised as a spectre once more, Barrichello and Ratzenberger were both rookies, the latter in a low-budget team. That feeling of security was taken away once and for all on lap 7 of the ensuing Sammarinese Grand Prix when the same thing happened to the man widely regarded as the best driver on the grid, driving for the best team on it. Senna’s car bottomed out into Tamburello while leading the race, leaving him a helpless passenger as he stamped on the brakes, firing him into the concrete retaining wall at 145mph. Initial treatment took place by the side of the car due to the urgency of the situation, and he was airlifted to Bologna hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 18:40 CET. A furled Austrian flag was found in the car, which Senna had intended to raise to honour Ratzenberger at the end of the race. Within two days, Formula 1 had gone from feeling everybody was safe to realising nobody was.


Senna’s death produced shockwaves through the sport in a way that I can’t recollect there being an equivalent of anywhere else in sport in my lifetime. Here we had a man who was almost universally regarded as the best on the current grid, one of the best of his or any other era, driving in an era where death wasn’t the constant spectre it had been when that fate befell the likes of Jim Clark or even Ronnie Peterson or Gilles Villeneuve. If it could happen to Senna, it could happen to anybody, was the feeling, and while obviously action would have been taken anyway following Ratzenberger’s death, the fact that of all people Ayrton Senna could be killed showed the sport that actually, things were not as safe as they seemed. Senna himself had said before the season that there would be a lot of accidents and that they would be lucky to escape without serious incident. Given what we know now, yes, those 1994 cars were death traps. The great tragedy is that it took people to actually die for that to be recognised.

As a national and global icon, Senna’s coffin was allowed to travel in the passenger cabin when escorted by his brother back to Brazil; 200.000 people went to pay their respects while his body lay in state, and over 3 million gathered to mourn the star. Pallbearers included almost every teammate he had had in Formula One - including, as a final act of respect and conciliation, Alain Prost - along with personal friends from the paddock. After his death it became public knowledge that he had - quietly and often under assumed names - donated millions of his personal fortune to aid poor children in São Paulo and created the framework for a charity which now bears his name. Main highways in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro bear his name, and several sections of race circuits have been named for him - including Jerez, Melbourne, Adelaide, the old Hockenheimring layout, Montréal, and three autodromes in Brazil, in Londrina, Caruaru and Goiânia. The karting circuit at Interlagos is named for him, as is perhaps the most famous Senna legacy corner, the Senna S which forms the first 2 corners of the Grand Prix layout.


Further racing drivers to come from São Paulo and cut their teeth here at Interlagos include 90s mid-grid stalwart Pedro Diniz, who was a reasonable driver who got a longer career than he perhaps merited due to personal sponsorships, but was better than the average ‘pay driver’ of 90s repute (there were some absolute stinkers out there, like Giovanni Lavaggi or Jean-Denis Délétraz); Christian Fittipaldi, son of Wilson and nephew of Emerson and now an established sportscar veteran; Rubens Barrichello, the man who has started more F1 Grand Prix than anybody else in history, is perhaps the most iconic “#2 driver” of all time, finished 2nd in the championship on several occasions and remains active to this day in Stock Car Brasil and really deserves more than a cursory mention, but given I’ve run into eight paragraphs on Senna, I’ve probably bored you all with motor racing now - plus in fairness, I followed F1 avidly in my childhood, but by the time we got to Schumacher’s reign of terror I’d switched off - Luciano Burti, a journeyman driver who had a cup of coffee in F1 and is now Brazilian TV’s main analyst on motorsport; Hélio Castro Neves, an Indycar veteran and three-time Indy 500 winner; former Champ Car racer Mário Haberfeld; Stock Car specialist Ricardo Maurício; Felipe Massa, who like Barrichello probably deserves a bit more than a cursory mention, having missed out on the title in front of his home fans and family in such dramatic circumstances mentioned above, and is a long-standing stalwart of F1 still active in Formula E; J.P. Oliveira, who won SuperFormula in Japan in 2010 and is an ever-present in Super GT (the best motor racing format in my opinion); Tuka Rocha, a Stock Car Brasil veteran who was tragically killed in a light aircraft crash last year; Gustavo Sondermann, another Stock Car Brasil driver who died young, this time in an accident at Interlagos in 2011; former F1 test driver Danilo Dirani; ex-F1 star Lucas di Grassi; former A1GP competitor Sérgio Jiménez; Bia Figueiredo, sports- and Stock Car pilot who spent four years in Indycar under her forenames Ana Beatriz; sports car specialist Pipo Derani, and of course Ayrton’s nephew, Bruno Senna, who was a highly-touted prospect but who gave up the sport after his uncle’s death; while he went back into the sport and has had a reasonable level of success - 3 years of F1 and 2 seasons of Formula E - the family connection has always been both a blessing and a curse for him, although he has settled to a decent role in endurance racing. For a nice bit of symmetry Rebellion Racing placed him in the same car as Alain Prost’s son Nicolas in 2017 - just a shame they couldn’t get Nelson Piquet Jr to complete the lineup.


“Libertine, for crying out loud, this is a bike racing site. We want to hear about bikes, not eulogies to long-dead racing drivers!” I get it. But Interlagos needs the scene setting, and it’s hard to not talk about motor racing when your circuit is, in fact, a motor racing circuit. And I got a bit carried away talking about Ayrton Senna, I know. I was a child when he died. I cared far too much about motor racing at that age. I don’t remember the crash. I remember the wreckage of the car and them trying to treat him by the side of it. I remember the helicopter coming in. I remember my mum breaking the news to me. That’s “my era” so to speak.

But back to bike racing: Interlagos is very, very popular with Brazilian cycling. The Copa América do Ciclismo was instituted in 2001, and a year later moved to Interlagos; it stayed there, save for one year on an out-and-back course in the Flamengo district of Rio, until 2011. Nilceu Santos won four on the spin from 2005 to 2008. From 2002 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2013, the Prova Ciclística 9 Julho also took place on the circuit - over an 86km distance with 20 laps of the circuit exactly as I am doing here. It has also at various times in the past taken place at the circuit, as you can see from events back in 1984, on the old 8km circuit. Here's a short piece on the history of the event. Since they brought the race to the reprofiled 4,3km circuit in 2002, the otherwise dominator of Interlagos Nilceu Santos only managed the one win, but Francisco Chamorro has 2 wins at Interlagos (+ another Prova 9 Julho win on a different course more recently) in this race to go with one in the Copa América. Rafa Andriato also won in 2007 at the age of 20. Roberto Pinheiro is also an active rider to have won the Prova here at Interlagos. From 2012 to 2014 we also had the GP São Paulo (this was while it was UCI-registered, as the elite riders ran separately from the amateurs in the Prova 9 Julho), with Chamorro, Pinheiro and Flávio Cardoso the winners. In 2008, the Autódromo also hosted stage 1 of the Volta do São Paulo, with Edgardo Simón winning the stage.

Outside of pro races, Interlagos also hosts a timed 3 hour race as part of the Bike Series of amateur events, there is a Red Bull Ride event there, and the Oakley Challenge is another l’Étape-like pro/am sportive type race. Strangely enough, the 3hr race in 2018 was raced in the opposite direction to normal as you can see from this video, but ordinarily it’s run the same way as the cars - see this video from 2009, which lets you see how steep the initial downhill through the Senna S and the climb from Junção to Curva do Café is.

So, what makes it work? Well, actually it’s a… pretty interesting circuit from an altimetry point of view.



There are no climbs at Interlagos that are worth putting categorisation on, not at this point in the race anyway. If this was stage 1 I might do one of those deals where “on lap 15, there will be a KOM sprint at this point” or what have you, but at this stage, there’s just no need. As you can see from the elevation map and from the picture of the Senna S above, at the end of the home straight there’s a downhill sweep and then the Reta Oposta straight is all downhill to the small lake at the bottom of the hill. As a result these two corners are called “Descida” and “Subida” do Lago, because they mark the end of the downhill and the start of the uphill respectively. Up to Ferradura and Curva do Laranjinha is uphill, making around 500m at 4,5-5%, although this still sits beneath the pit wall. Then there’s a short downhill and a false flat to Bico do Pato, then sweeping downhill through Mergulho toward Junção, where the road turns uphill again, as you can see from this onboard lap.


The “Subida dos Boxes,” sometimes also called “Subida do Café” as the fast left-hander near the pit entry is known as the Curva do Café, is about 450m long with 250m at around 7,5% in the middle. It ends just before the finish - around 400m or so - so gives the opportunity to try to steal a march on the sprinters, just as in 2010’s Copa América do Ciclismo, when Geraldo Souza stole a march on the sprinters with an attack on the latter part of the climb and held off to the line, but there’s also the likelihood of a level of bunch sprint akin to in 2008, when Nilceu Santos and Francisco Chamorro did the less-than-friendly 1-2 for the São José dos Campos team.

With this being a stage race, there will be breakaways and the likes, and a 4,3km circuit is very short for the kind of circuit we see in modern stage racing - circuits of this length tend to happen only in one-day races where pulling people out for being lapped is less impactful. The Women’s Tour had a circuit race on a 2,5km circuit in 2019, but even then only a couple of riders who had had crashes or injuries got lapped and were allowed to continue to complete the stage. I am going to operate on a principle of each lap not completed bringing a 10 minute penalty, subject to staying within the total time limit. So you will be pulled from the course if you get lapped and sent up the pit lane with a 10’ time limit if you were lapped on lap 19, 20’ if it was lap 18, and so on. 2006’s Prova 9 Julho was 86 km over 20 laps of Interlagos with a winning time of 2’04’21; 2008’s was 1’58’47 with the same distance; 2’01’15 in 2009, and 1’58’32 in 2010. So that’s the kind of time we’re talking, maybe tending toward the latter as this is the fourth consecutive day of racing, and the brutal mountain stage yesterday. Even so, if we assume a nice round 2 hours, this suggests 6 minutes per circuit, so you’d need to be over 6 minutes down before we get to the final circuit (after which you can take it easy) to be eligible for the time penalty anyway, so I think this will be of minimal importance.

Although the stage will have 20x up those small climbs, I don’t think this is a circuit which is likely to turn this out of the hands of the more durable sprinters. Nelson Soto, Nicolás Naranjo, Pablo Anchieri and their ilk should be happy enough with this, but there is the possibility that like that 2010 race, there’s a split in the group and it ends with only 30-40 contesting at the front, in which case it comes down to survival. I see this as being like a sprinter’s Worlds course, only obviously the laps are much, much shorter. More Madrid or Geelong than Zolder or Copenhagen.

And there’s a rest day tomorrow anyway. Given that we’ve had three straight GC-relevant days, though, I feel it fair to offer up something that is both a Brazilian cycling staple and will ease the pain in the legs of the lower level riders in the race. This is a way to give a fast 2 hours of racing that doesn’t involve Hammer branding, and honours tradition when it comes to cycling in Brazil.

Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 7: Graz – Eisenstadt; 163km


Before the final ITT we have a rather easy stage for the sprinters. The stage starts in Graz, the capital of Styria and the 2nd largest city in Austria. The stage features a lot of rolling terrain, but only one real climb, Kalteneck, 2.8km at 9.4%, that comes after 99.8km and tops with just a bit over 60km to go, so the sprinters will have all the time in the world to catch back up to the breakaway and to recover after the climb. The stage finishes in Eisenstadt, the capital of the Burgenland, the youngest Bundesland of Austria. Durning the Austro-Hungiarian Empire it was a part of the Hungarian half, Transleithania, after 1866 because, well it lies east of the Leitha, to make things a bit more simple. It only became a part of Austria after WWI and the treaties of Saint-German (for Austria) and Trianon (for Hungary).
Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 8: Oggau am Neusiedlersee – Neusiedln am See; 28.1km


The final stage of the race is a flat ITT around the Neusiedlersee. The lake is pretty popular among windsurfers, so the wind could actually be a big factor in this mid length ITT.
There's not much left to say about this one, it's the ITT that will (hopefully) fore the climbers to attack on the mountain stages.

Oggau am Neusiedlersee:
You're going faster than me!!!

Thanks for the info about Leberstraße. How that one has evaded traceurs for so long I'll never know. Looks awesome! I guess the problem is: it's in Austria. As I said a while back, Austria is one of those countries where I really struggle to come up with good races. I can never balance them. I always get too bleary-eyed like Eshnar's all-mountain Giri. But a lot of Austria's most interesting climbs are Sackgassen, and so it either becomes MTF city, or you end up leaving out stuff you want to include. Switzerland is similar but at least has a multitude of monolithic passes, whereas especially in the narrow parts of Austria through Osttirol and Vorarlberg you're kind of limited to a few major passes like Bielerhöhe and Arlbergpass until you get to the relatively well-trodden Innsbruck area.

Stage 11: Campinas - Águas de Lindóia, 143km



Pico das Cabras (cat.3) 4,0km @ 5,6%
Alto de Santa Aghata (cat.3) 8,0km @ 3,7%
Fazenda Santa Esther (cat.4) 1,4km @ 7,7%
Alto da Serra Negra (cat.2) 5,0km @ 5,7%
Alto do Bairro do Barreiro (cat.2) 2,8km @ 7,8%
Alto do Bairro do Barreiro (cat.2) 2,8km @ 7,8%
Alto do Bairro do Barreiro (cat.2) 2,8km @ 7,8%

Back in action after the second rest day, it’s now Wednesday, and the mid-point of the race. The riders get to spend the rest day in São Paulo, as they don’t need to travel far for the depart for this third section of the race. We’re just under 100km from São Paulo, in a city with a population of just over a million, which is the 14th most populous in Brazil, and you know how I mentioned São José dos Campos as the second biggest city not to have state capital status in the country? Campinas is the first.


Campinas was settled like many of the inland settlements in this region by the bandeirantes, but after a terrible outbreak of yellow fever, the city population had to be rebuilt. It swiftly became a centre for growing coffee, sugar cane and cotton, and then key moments in its expansion were the extension to Campinas of the São Paulo-Santos railway, and the influx of immigrants that followed the need to replace the workforce after the abolition of slavery. As the population continued to swell, increasing amounts of green land were destroyed to make room for the population boom, and the city now is trying to take corrective steps to minimise pollution and increase green space in and around the city, which is largely restricted to the Parque Portugal area.

The heavy pollution is largely due to the city’s position of prominence in metallurgical work and petrochemical work; Petrobras’ largest plant - and the largest oil refinery in the country full stop - is based in Campinas, and many other major petroleum companies such as Shell, Ipiranga and Chevron also locate plants in the area. Probably related to this, the automotive industry also has a hub in Campinas, although there is an increase in the focus away from heavy manufacturing and processing of pollutant industries toward electronics and the tech sector, with many companies like IBM and Dell being introduced and several high-tech research centres being developed in the city and its extended metropolitan area. The city has also found itself attracting negative attention for its heavy manufacturing and lack of green spaces compared to other towns in the outer reaches of the São Paulo megalopolis, and has launched various tourism incentives to make the most of the city’s offering. This led to the “Seven Wonders of Campinas” initiative highlighting interesting colonial architecture and natural beauty spots.

From a sporting perspective, as ever football rules the roost - the most famous son of Campinas is the legendary Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa, known for being one of the last international goalkeepers to not wear gloves, and also for his role in the Maracanazo, Brazil’s shock defeat to Uruguay at home in the final group game of the 1950 World Cup, which had a round robin format and essentially served as a de facto final. Moacir had helped shepherd Brazil to the 1949 Copa América, but when he was tricked at the near post by Alcides Ghiggia, it turned his world on its head. As the match became such a crucial part of Brazilian history, he was turned into a pariah overnight; 43 years later, the head of the Brazilian football federation banned him from appearing as a guest commentator, and he was turned away from team training over 30 years after retiring, in case his presence jinx the team. More recently, Liverpool midfielder Fabinho is another Campinas native, as is prolific striker Luís Fabiano. The city also has an unusual line in pole vaulters, with 2007 Pan American gold medallist Fábio Gomes, and even more prominently 2011 World Champion and 2010 World Indoor Champion Fabiana Murer calling the city home. Elsewhere, child pop stars Sandy & Junior, and CSS frontwoman Lovefoxxx are also Campinistas.


However, Campinas has plenty of cycling heritage - until Campos do Jordão was introduced, it was traditionally the penultimate stage finish of the Volta do São Paulo (with the final stage being typically from Campinas to São Paulo). Even when Campos do Jordão was introduced, it was simply moved to the middle of the race. Probably the best known winners in the city would be Magno Nazaret in 2006 and Otávio Bulgarelli in 2008, although both were very early in their careers at the time.

For the most part, this is a stage through the hills and low-lying mountains of eastern São Paulo state, through towards the borders with Minas Gerais and those gold-filled hills that fuelled speculators in the bandeirante era, largely headed northeastwards out of the city. Throughout this eastern part off the province, there are a series of six towns known as the Circuito das Águas Paulista, a group of spa towns and cities known for their clear water for drinking and bathing, which have grown as de facto sanatorium-type getaways for Paulistanos seeking clear air and water, including such far-flung figures as former F1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone, who had a house in the city of Amparo, the first of these towns that we pass through, and our first intermediate sprint. This comes after a series of small climbs, none of which are particularly threatening. The town is also home to the footballer Luisão, an icon at Benfica where he spent fifteen seasons winning seven league titles, three cups, seven league cups and four Supertaças. He also was part of Brazil’s Copa América team in 2009.

From Amparo we have a 5km at 6% type of climb - I’ve given it cat.2 as I’ve been surprisingly generous in this stage - onto the plateau da Serra Negra, in which the eponymous town lies, underneath the peak of the mini-range’s highest summit, the Alto da Serra (I know, imaginative). Now back into the Serra da Mantiqueira, this town of 25.000 inhabitants is a popular tourist destination, but ’twas not always thus; initially this was a poor settlement on the route from São Paulo to Minas Gerais, which subsisted on coffee plantations and largely survived thanks originally to slave labour, and then to cheap immigrant labour from Italy. In 1928 however, Luiz Rielli discovered mineral water sources and established a hydrotherapy pavilion next to the city’s grand fountain. President Washington Luís declared the city the “Cidade da Saúde” and its reputation was sealed; it is now officially the Estância Hidromineral de Serra Negra, in recognition of its status, and mineral waters of Serra Negra are highly sought after and have driven the city to such a state that tourism is now its primary economic driver. Luxuriant hotels and spas have opened and made the city into one of the Estado do São Paulo’s most prized attractions.


From Serra Negra we descend into the town of Lindóia, another spa town which hosts the feed zone. While Serra Negra might be the most prestigious mineral water in this part of Brazil, Lindóia has it smoked when it comes to the sheer quantity - Lindóia is responsible for 40% of all off Brazil’s bottled water, and is where we enter a circuit which we do two and a half laps of.

The first part of the circuit is a gradual, false flat uphill, before a sudden leap up to over 10% for the last 2km of an ascent to the Bairro do Barreiro. The overall gradient is not that bad - 2,8km @ 7,8% - but some of the gradients are up past 18% and this makes it into one that is to me borderline cat.2/3 at this race, and I’ve decided to be generous on this stage, because I was a bit stingier in Florianópolis.


After the summit of the climb, there’s a couple more short uncategorised ramps in the middle of a slight descent into Águas de Lindóia. The first is about 500m at 8%, then there’s another of about 800m at 6%. Both are interrupting part of the run-in from the summit to the Bairro do Barreiro climb (also with the two uncategorised climbs, this is part of my reason for the cat.2 instead of cat.3 here - it’s the only categorised climb on the circuit but there’s actually four uphills). There’s 5,8km from the crest of the ascent down to the finishing line in Águas de Lindóia, including the 1300m of ascent; there’s then about a kilometre of flat in the city before a 350m ascent, and then a 7km or so descent into Lindóia.

Águas de Lindóia is also part of the Circuito das Águas, and came to become a major attraction as a health resort and spa after travellers and bandeirantes returning from Minas Gerais and elsewhere in the internal parts of the country found that there were health benefits of the warm spas and springs of the region. There’s about 17.000 inhabitants in the city permanently, but there’s a huge amount of turnover of tourists consistently enhancing the population of the city. It has appeared once in cycling, in the 2014 Volta do São Paulo. Fancy seeing a bit? Of course you do! It’s not like we can do much else when most of the world is in lockdown. Here you go - a seven minute summary for you. They were actually more savage than me, climbing into Águas de Lindóia by the more gradual route that we descend, but then continuing up to the Morro Pelado at 1177m, around 200m higher than my climb, let alone my finish.


From that video you can see the use of highways, that characterises cycling in this part of the world, which seems strange with it being a minority sport and all. However it enables contraflow traffic to continue to run minimising disruption so it can be understood. Back then, 22-year-old sensation for Ironage-Colner João Gaspar won the stage in the polka dots, defeating a veritable parade of Funvic riders including Alex Diniz, Kleber Ramos and race leader Magno Prado. For once, the Brazilians were taking on the imported Colombian and Venezuelans in the mountains and winining.

Obviously, Gaspar, Diniz and Ramos have since been suspended, but first in after Magno was Óscar Sevilla; the rest of the top 10 has nothing against their name though. The following day, neighbouring Lindóia hosted the start of a stage to Atibaia which was won by Ironage once more, doing a 1-2 in fact as they put two riders in a break and finished a minute ahead of the field.


Águas de Lindóia is a beauty spot in the scenic part of the Serra da Mantiqueira, This stage is my Mende, if you like - it’s somewhere between a hilly stage and an intermediate one. There’s a 20km circuit that the riders do two laps of - but the bonus sprint is two laps from the finish, so there’s 40km remaining at the time. The first 3 of the four climbs on the circuit are done an extra time on the way to the circuit, and overall 25% of the circuit’s distance is spent climbing, and only really about 2km of it are flat - about one heading through Águas de Lindóia at the top of the hill, and about one heading through Lindóia at the bottom of it. The main climb crests at 47,4km, 26,6km and 5,8km from the line and with its steepness and the tendency for the Brazilian cycling scene to work around very short ramps or Unipuerto climbing, this will be a very interesting one to watch, to see who has it for a race like this and who doesn’t. It’s not a long stage - it’s sort of medium length for this race, but it’s a little bit shorter than the usual average at the top levels - and it’s the first day after the rest day, so how people react to the rest day will definitely be a key factor. There’s also little reason not to take risks as the riders (spoiler) shouldn’t be too fearful of the coming stage, so we shall see who dares to take risks with their fresh post-rest day legs. I’ve certainly given them enough rope.
Stage 12: Pouso Alegre - Três Pontas, 137km



Serra das Torres (cat.4) 1,9km @ 5,0%

The reason for the riders to not be too concerned about taking risks in the Águas de Lindóia stage becomes clear, as stage 12 is a short and mostly flat stage that transitions us northeastwards after we leave the Estado do São Paulo once and for all, and Minas Gerais takes over as the focus for the next few days. The riders will most likely stay in Águas de Lindoia as it is a resort town which has ample hotel space, and then take the 90km journey or so to Pouso Alegre the following day, but at just under 150.000 inhabitants Pouso Alegre can easily handle the load - it’s just that it’s probably more pleasant after a tough stage to be able to stay in an attractive healing resort, no?


Pouso Alegre is a rapidly-expanding industrial centre - the population has increased by 50% since 1996 - which got its name, referring to its being a pleasant overnighting spot for the travelling speculators, possibly apocryphally, from a description by a travelling governor in the 18th century. It now less justifies the tag, with large plants for companies like Unilever dominating its economy. That said, if you get the right place - including high up in many of the skyscrapers that now dominate its centre - you can still get some spectacular views of the Serra da Mantiqueira, seeing as we’re no further from Campos do Jordão than we are from Águas de Lindóia, and we are still in the foothills of the Sierra, even though actual mountain-sized elevation is rather limited now. Perhaps its most famous son is the basketballer Cristiano Felício, who has bounced between the Chicago Bulls and their minor league affiliates for the last few seasons.

The city lays on the BR-381 highway, which we use for the first part of this stage. The first half of the stage is a rolling, relatively unthreatening sprawl through Minas Gerais’ elevated flatlands. When we leave the highway though, it is somewhere near and dear to many Brazilians’ hearts - so much so, in fact, that hearts are an integral part of its name. Three of them, in fact.


Três Corações is actually just-about bypassed by the stage, because the highway passes to its west, but we do reach its outer sprawl; at the highway junction lies the statue you can see above, the monument to a man who is recognised throughout the world, a true global icon, and a Brazilian national hero to surpass even Ayrton Senna, who I eulogised at length a couple of stages ago. Três Corações took its name from the chapel that it was built around, which was in the name of the sacred hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The town was connected to the Minas-Rio railroad and visited by Dom Pedro II in the 1880s, which led it to become a city and attracted commuters and industry. It largely subsists on the spoils of the farming in the nearby plains, but its great claim to fame stems from the 23rd of October 1940, when the local footballer Dondinho, who had just signed for Atlético Mineiro but been badly injured in his first game, and his wife Celeste Arantes, had a young baby boy, who they named Edson. The family moved to Bauru, in São Paulo province, following Dondinho’s career in lower-level Brazilian football, where young Edson became a fan of Vasco da Gama FC. His favourite player was the goalkeeper, Bilé, but due to a youthful speech impediment he was often teased by classmates and friends for his awkward pronunciation of the player’s name, leading to a somewhat nonsensical nickname that not only stuck, but has become a name recognised and revered throughout the world: Pelé.


Has there ever been a more iconic, more legendary player in soccer history than Pelé? I’ll answer that for you: no, there hasn’t. You can say what you want about Maradona, but his personal demons and his behaviour on the field mean he doesn’t have the same reverence. Players of that era like Cruyff, Best, Muller, they were all great, but they don’t have the palmarès. And while we can look at the increased competitiveness of the game nowadays and wax lyrical about today’s heroes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the fact of the matter is that the sport is different now than it was then. Today’s attacking players have the benefit of balls that are designed to move dramatically in the air and increase the difficulty for goalkeepers, of boots that are paper thin to give delicacy of touch, and of pitches that are pristine, perfectly flat, regular and perfectly maintained. Not to mention that defenders can’t touch you now. Run in the vague vicinity of a defender, stick your own leg out trailing in a completely unnatural position and make the merest touch before executing a triple salto, and you get a free kick. If the defender actually initiates the contact themselves (you know: actually fouls the attacker, rather than the attacker initiating the contact, which should count as fouling the defender you’d think) then they get carded. That didn’t happen back in the 50s and 60s. Some pitches were great, and others were like an arthritic Polish grandmother’s cabbage patch. Boots were thick and heavy because your feet and ankles needed protecting from the bone-crunching tackles coming in from defenders who were able to tackle from behind and needn’t worry about catching the man as if they got the ball at any point, it was fair game.

Pelé was truly from another era to today’s footballers; he learnt to play using a sock stuffed with torn up newspapers. He started playing Futebol de Salão, now abbreviated to Futsal, and excelled to such an extent as a child that he was signed to a professional contract as a 15 year old, making his debut soon after for Santos and scoring as well. The following year he became a first team regular and became top scorer in the Campeonato Paulista (it was before the current Serie A was formed), leading him to be brought into the national team ahead of the 1958 World Cup. Alongside this he set a Campeonato Paulista goalscoring record never surpassed to this day (and probably never to be surpassed) with 58 goals in a truncated season. Several wealthy European clubs tried to prise the superstar away from Brazil, but such was his popularity in Brazil that even when he did sign overseas, with Internazionale in Italy, the Santos chairman was forced by supporter riots to tear the contract up; later in order to prevent his from being allowed to be transferred away from Brazil he was declared an official national treasure, like a commodity or heirloom.

His list of achievements is practically endless, but his unique status as a three-time World Cup winner is obviously the standout; while he started out as an orthodox striker, he later moved to a less fixed role and dropped back into midfield more as he became less exuberant and relied on experience and positioning as much as pure pace and skill. He is the man that made the #10 shirt the most prized for any forward player (other than an old fashioned centre forward) and pioneered the position that we now think of when we think of players with that number, of a second striker or player ‘in the hole’ who will drop in the midfield to collect the ball or take a free role. As part of the Santásticos he won six Brazilian championships, ten Campeonatos Paulistas, two Copa del Libertadores titles, more golden boot type awards than you can shake a leg at, was voted not just FIFA’s player of the century but one of TIME magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th Century. In some countries, the overhead, or bicycle, kick is known as the Pelé, much like the Cruyff turn or how in some circles of Russian fans a back heel pass is still a Streltsov.

Pelé’s record is almost, and certainly by modern standards, jaw-dropping in its sheer ridiculousness. The man’s career goal tally is 1281. That’s a four-figure number and a Guinness World Record. Nearly 1300. Wayne Gretzky has 894, and that’s being a man who stands out as an outlier in a sport which sees more goals than soccer too. He holds the record for most goals in a calendar year, scoring over 120 goals in 1959 alone. There is a caveat to that, however, and much like other outlying superstars of his era the figure is a little misleading. Just as Eddy Merckx’s oft-cited career win figure includes every little kermesse, fixed crit and exhibition race that the great Cannibal, that 1281 goals scored by Pelé includes a large number of goals scored in foreign tours (which were once a lucrative means by which South American teams would obtain income, back in the days when transfers between leagues on opposite sides of the planet were few and far between), exhibition matches and friendlies for various celebrations, inaugurations and similar. But, at the same time, his record in competitive matches is still absurd; he scored 643 goals in 656 competitive games for Santos, and 77 in 92 games for Brazil, which still stands as a record (including unofficial friendlies this tally increases to 95). According to the RSSSF, taking into account competitive matches only, his record is still 767 goals in 831 games, in a sport where anything above .500 is a phenomenal record. Not for nothing does he hold the status he does.


Pelé’s not the only legend of Brazil being honoured here, but before we get to that we must pass through the largest stop-off town on the route, Varginha. This is a major coffee exporting hub of 130.000 inhabitants famous for an alleged UFO incident which has led the town to capitalise on peoples’ paranoia and conspiratorial tendencies and make itself a centre for UFO tourism. This is about 30km from home and, while it hardly becomes a challenging stage, it gets a bit more undulating in the final stretch, starting with an uphill of around 1500m at 5% into the town itself. Lots of digs of 750-800m at 4-5% so this could be a bit more selective as the pace will go up and down a fair bit here, meaning the sprinters’ trains could be off their game in terms of keeping tight control. The only categorised climb of the day is very close to the finish - in fact only about 5-6km out - but I really don’t see this one as being anything to prevent a sprint; the full gradual slight uphill to the Serra das Torres, neighbour to the Serra de Três Pontas, overlooking the city of Três Pontas, is around 9km in length and is uphill at slightly below 3%. There’s 1km of around 5% then a flattening out, and then the categorised part - 1,9km at 5,0%. And it’s almost dead straight and on a main highway - when you consider that things like that Tour of Oman stage with Bousher al Amerat, and the Volta a Catalunya stages with the Alt de Lilla right next to the finish, tended to end in sprints, with the possible exception of a baroudeur group surviving. So here, what I’m expecting is a few of the more rotten climbers among the sprinters to struggle a bit, but there will still be a péloton of 80-90 to settle this one when we get to Três Pontas.


Três Pontas is a city of 54.000 inhabitants which is largely wealthy due to its favourable climate for coffee. There’s even a museum of the history of coffee-growing culture there. The city was formed originally as a quindombo, a refuge for escaped Afro-Brazilian slaves, who used the nearby three-tipped mountain from which the city takes its name as an orientation point and remains popular with hikers to this day. I would be lying, though, if I didn’t pick Três Pontas for another musical reason - for it is the childhood home of the legendary musician Milton Nascimento.

Born to servant parents in Rio de Janeiro, Milton Nascimento was adopted by his mother’s former employers after her premature death when he was eighteen months old. They relocated to Três Pontas, where he grew up and learnt about music from working at a radio station his father owned, and occasionally getting to play some tracks; his career really started when he relocated to Belo Horizonte in young adulthood; he quickly began a friendship with the much younger Lô Borges around their shared musical interests, and he became a longtime collaborator, with the two’s circle of friends and musical colleagues including Beto Guedes, Wagner Tiso and Toninho Horta becoming known as the Clube da Esquina. This translates as “club on the corner” and became a sort of Minas Gerais answer to tropicália, which also meshed national music and sounds of Brazil with the music that was being brought across the Atlantic from the UK and south from the US, but where tropicália brought joie de vivre and psychedelia, Clube da Esquina were more introspective and jazzy.

Nascimento’s big break was the song Canção da Sal, which Elis Regina turned into a hit, giving Nascimento a chance to appear on TV with her, and he then moved on to what is probably his most famous composition, “Travessia” which I have linked above; translated into English in 1969, it has become a popular track to interpret and has been performed by artists such as Tony Bennett, while the original version has become a standard in Brazil and has even travelled across the world, being covered in the original Portuguese by artists as far removed from the Clube da Esquina as Björk. Coração de Estudante, about the killing of a peaceful protester by the police in 1968, became the running theme for the Diretas Já movement and was played at the funeral of Tancredo Neves, who was elected President following the fall of the junta, but died before taking office. The 1972 collaborative album by the Clube da Esquina movement which bears their name is regarded as one of the best and most important Brazilian albums of all time, and is a sprawling double album which is to all intents and purposes a Milton Nascimento/Lô Borges collaborative record, with them contributing almost all of the vocals (Beto Guedes appears on three, and Alaíde Costa on one) and dominating the songwriting credits. It is a beautiful album, with several tracks being classics, from Nascimento’s “Tudo que Você Podia Ser” and “Os Povos” to Borges’ “O Trem Azul” and “Paisagem da Janela”, and one of the absolute standout highlights of the album, the instrumental collaboration “Clube da Esquina #2”. My personal favourite track, however, is Nascimento’s haunting, spiritual “San Vicente”. But I couldn’t pick a song to sum up the album, so I thought I’d just give you the whole thing.

The album originally divided audiences and was widely panned by traditionalists; it was neither archetypal Brazilian music, nor was it the vibrant, bouncing tropicália that had come to appeal to more forward-thinking fans either. It was a much more restrained, contemplative album, it was an album for quiet days in the shade or relaxed playing, rather than the counter-culture iconoclasm that Tropicália, ou Panis et Circensis had been; this was borne out by the sleeve, which featured two boys clearly meant to represent Nascimento and Borges playing on the beach, notwithstanding that with Milton not having moved to Belo Horizonte until already in his 20s meant he could not have met Borges at such an age, and there being an 11 year age difference between them regardless. Notwithstanding that, by this time having been exiled to London and returned, the original tropicalistas had largely moved on, with Caetano Veloso having released the sprawling Transa and Gilberto Gil releasing the progressive rock-inspired Expresso 2222, as well as bands like Novos Baianos arriving melding MPB to the psychedelia learned from the previous generation, so it wasn’t like the Clube da Esquina was emerging into a world unchanged from when Tropicália had first hit four years prior (or, more realistically, the previous year’s Brazilian Popular Music Festival, when Veloso performed Alegría Alegría, and Gilberto Gil enlisted Os Mutantes to be his backing band and sang Domingo no Parque, a seemingly formulaic upbeat Brazilian song that suddenly shifts gears and leaves its happy couple meeting a grisly end, causing rampant unrest among the traditionalists).

Nascimento appeared as a collaborator on jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s album Native Dancer and from there, this served as a springboard to wider knowledge of his works in the Western world; he has since gone on to collaborate with the likes of Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Herbie Hancock, Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, Jon Anderson and even Duran Duran (!). He is now one of Brazil’s most revered and recognisable musical faces, and of course the Clube da Esquina has retrospectively been hailed as the masterpiece it really is.

Oh yea, the stage.

There will probably be a sprint of 80-90 riders, as I say. It’s a short stage, and the climb isn’t really steep enough to drop all but the most rotten of climbers, and I’d say that a good few of those might not have made it past the Campos do Jordão stage.
Stage 13: Lavras - Divinópolis, 156km



Alto Carmo da Mata (cat.4) 1,3km @ 6,4%

As we continue our trip through Minas Gerais, we have a second consecutive transitional stage which will be for the durable sprinters, with a lot of rolling, undulating terrain but nothing that should trouble anybody other than Ivan Quaranta. Lavras, from which we depart, is a short drive from Três Pontas and is part of Minas Gerais’ green valley touristic circuit, having grown out of a staging post that was set up not during the speculation era but to connect to the Góias mines once gold was successfully found by said speculators. It is a well-known education centre that is also home to the 1980s footballer Alemão, whose name was taken from his blonde hair and fair complexion - his actual name was Ricardo Rogério de Brito, but Alemão is Portuguese for “German”. The city is also home to Ana Paula Connelly, a volleyball player who was part of Brazil’s bronze-medal-winning team at the Atlanta Olympics, one of four Olympiads in which she took part, two as a beach volleyballer and two as a conventional volleyballer - unusually, the beach appearances came afterward.


This is probably the least noteworthy stage of the whole race; we don’t pass the birthplaces of any Brazilian icons of the stature of a Senna or a Pelé; it’s not overly long, it’s not overly short, and there’s only one categorisation-worthy climb, and that’s a lowly cat.4 ascent. But it’s not a straightforward super-easy stage; it’s constantly rolling. It’s a transitional stage, which will be one of those annoying ones to control for the sprinters’ teams, because there’s always some undulation going on. The first part of the stage into Bom Successo includes a little ramp before we turn northwest to rejoin the 381 highway which heads towards Belo Horizonte, in the small town of Santo Antônio do Amparo, a very young city - just 80 years of age - in which the former governor of Minas Gerais, Hélio Castro, was born.

The next 20km or so are slightly uphill, largely at false flat levels, until we reach our stage’s high point, some 150m above the start but crucially nearly 300 above Macaia, the first town we passed through early on. From here the stage generally tends to saunter downhill, with the finish in Divinópolis nearly 400m below this point. After the feed zone in Curral de Minas, there’s a two-stepped uphill which is probably worthy of categorization or would have been earlier in the race, being a couple of kilometres at about 4-5%, but divided into two stretches of steeper ramps. This marks where we leave the 381 and head into the city of Oliveira, which has just 40.000 inhabitants but an illustrious history.


You wouldn’t know it today, but Oliveira once held immensely strong regional importance, not just as a staging post on the way from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte, but because unlike neighbouring cities which largely relied on gold and diamond speculation, it was built on agriculture, and became an important centre for supplying foodstuffs and supplies to said speculators and their settlements. It is also tied to disease in two ways; the city was first settled after relocation by settlers looking to escape an epidemic in a neighbouring province, and it is where Nobel laureate Carlos Chagas undertook his pioneering research into protozoa-led diseases, including the discovery of one that bears his name. It’s also an affluent city, which also reflects in two of the main issues which have been less common in the rapidly-developing Brazil but are well known in most developed countries - the brain drain as young progressive people are attracted to bigger and brighter cities, and an ageing population as the birth rate slows. It also moved toward the services sector sooner than most of Minas Gerais, and fostered a more progressive and leftist politic, seen in its most extreme iteration in the form of Oliveirense José Oiticica, a prominent anarchist and iconoclast in 20th Century South American politics.

After a slow and gradual downhill for around 20km we arrive in a small town called Carmo da Mata, and just after leaving it the BR-484 turns uphill for around 1300m onto a small crest; this is our only categorised climb of the day. There are few categorisation worthy ascents but precious little flat, so it would seem wrong not to give any mountains points out. The stage remains fairly undulating but without relevant climbs until we arrive in the outskirts of Divinópolis at 10km to go. The southern part of Divinópolis is on a small plateau, so we do head slightly uphill towards it, but this really isn’t anything too damaging especially seeing as we’re on a wide open road; there’s just under 2km at 3%, then a slight drop away, then around 1,5km at 4% (Cronoescalada exaggerates the drop). The hilltop part of town is called Ville Royalle, in possibly accidental erroneous French. From there we sweep right toward Praça da Bíblia, where we take a left and begin a nearly 4km long straight into the heart of Divinópolis, with only one right at 2km to go and a left at a kilometre remaining to take us to the finish at the Mercado Central.


Home to 235.000 people, Divinópolis is one of the most important cities in Minas Gerais outside of Belo Horizonte and its urban sprawl. Originally settled on the Itapecerica river, it was known as Espírito Santo, a name it paid homage to when it was expanded into a city in 1912 and adopted its present title. Away from the main trunk routes from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte, however, it had to wait until the arrival of the railroad to western Minas to develop, and swiftly became a prominent steel city - however economic problems toward the end of the junta led to these hitting economic difficulties and the city economy switched more toward textiles and clothing factories. It is also the home and birthplace of popular poet Adélia Prado, one of Brazilian’s foremost and a recipient of a Griffin Lifetime Recognition award.

Again: this is a Friday stage in the middle of week 2 that is transitioning us through the flatlands of inner Minas Gerais. It’s not going to be the most exciting, but at the same time it’s not just a straight up “nothing will happen” sprinter’s day; there’s a lot to be concerned about with false flats, drags and ramps and repechos here. This could sap some legs regardless; perhaps along the lines of stage 6 of the 2011 Giro, won by Francisco Ventoso, or Frascati in 2018. Or maybe one of those “flat stages” in the Vuelta al País Vasco that finish somewhere like Güeñes or Vitória-Gasteiz. Something like the 2010 Viana stage, for example. This will be a sprinter’s stage, but it’s not one for the Quarantas. It’s one that you’ve got to have some rouleur chops for. The Androni “sprinters” will come into their own here, one would expect, as might the likes of Nelson Soto.
Stage 14: Betim - Santuário Basílica Nossa Senhora da Piedade, 168km



Alto da Conquista (cat.2) 7,6km @ 4,1%
Serra Moeda (cat.1) 5,6km @ 10,1%
Morro do Cruzeiro (cat.3) 2,9km @ 6,5%
Caçambinha (cat.3) 6,2km @ 4,9%
Santuário Basílica Nossa Senhora da Piedade (HC) 14,5km @ 5,5%

Heading into the penultimate Saturday of the race, we are now circling around the urban sprawl of Belo Horizonte, often regarded as Brazil’s third city. In terms of its actual size as a city it’s only 6th, with Brasília, Salvador and Fortaleza surpassing it in addition to the big two, but as an urban agglomeration it remains the third largest, with over five million people spread across 34 municipalities.

One of the outer municipalities on the west of the conurbation is today’s stage host, Betim, which is itself host to over 400.000 people, many of whom commute into Belo Horizonte, but many of whom do not, as the city has plenty of industry of its own, including a Petrobras refinery and the largest Fiat automotive factory in the world. It is a strong centre for volleyball in Brazil, and has hosted the FIVB World Club Championships in Men’s volleyball several times in the last decade, serving as the host in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019, with local team Sada Cruzeiro (officially from Contagem since merging with Cruzeiro, the Contagem team, but playing most of their home games in Betim) winning in 2013, 2015 and 2016. It was also a de facto host of some games when Belo Horizonte hosted the championship in 2014.


For the most part this is a mountainous stage that works its way around the Serra do Curral, and the outlying ranges that spread south from it, which protect Belo Horizonte and its outlying cities from weather fronts coming in from the Atlantic. North of the Serra do Curral there are a number of cities, but to its south there is Atlantic subtropical forest, national parks, clean water, and interesting cycling terrain, so that’s where we’re going.

The first port of call is to take the BR-381 highway out of the urban area, via Igarapé, and crossing the Serra do Curral via the highway up to the small town of Conquista. This is a mid-length ascent which gets steeper as it continues; it’s not a real challenge so to speak, but apart from a small plateau the last 4km or so are at around 6%. Leaving the highway there’s a twisty road over a secondary climb on a newly-paved road - I haven’t categorised this but that’s a large part of the generous categorisation of Conquista. There may be a couple of red road stretches higher up, I’m not sure because the google satellite images there are a few years old. Either way, the descent is a tarmac road own to Brumadinho. Brumadinho is an interesting city for its size in Brazilian context; it is a gateway to the Parque Estadal da Serra da Rola-Moça, at least from the west (it’s easier to get to from Belo Horizonte), a natural park with scenic terrain, and is also host to one of Latin America’s largest contemporary art centres, the Inhotim Institute. This is a former cattle ranch which was converted into a botanical garden and landscape park, which was then used as a site for experimental and creative sculpture with exhibits and installations from artists from all around the world.


Brumadinho is also a city undergoing reparations after being ravaged by a collapsed tailings dam, which made worldwide news in January 2019, killing 259 with a further 11 pronounced missing presumed dead, largely at the neighbouring Córrego do Feijão mine. A huge mudflow raced through the river in the town, damaging buildings in nearby villages and destroying many agricultural areas. Local union representatives accused Vale, operators of the mine, of knowing of the dam’s structural failings and not doing anything about them; they denied this vociferously just one day before being hit with a R$250m fine for breaches of their duty of care.

We head upriver and past the site of the disaster, however, towards our second climb of the day, probably the most severe, though not given the same categorisation as the finish more because the finish is the finish than anything else as that will impact the racing on it more. There are three passes that take us from here - two onto the Serra Moeda and one onto the Serra da Rola-Moça. We take the first of these; the second onto the Serra Moeda is partly on hexagonal cobbling, while the Rola-Moça climb is around 5km at 7,6%. The climb we’re doing is just that bit nastier…


Yup. This is a really, really nasty one. The Parapente Topo do Mundo Serra Moeda has a road which runs just beneath it and it’s a severe ascent, which averages just over 10% for 5,6km. And it’s one of those continually steepening climbs as well, to the point where the last third of it - 1800m or so - average 15%. Fifteen! This is a Vuelta MTF masquerading as a mid-stage leg-softener in Brazil. You know, since it’s 100km from the finish and all. I wanted at one point to move the finish over here, but I couldn’t descend on cobbles on the neighbouring ascent, and I couldn’t descend 1800m at 15% with twists and turns here safely, so I was only left with a super-short Unipuerto stage as an option, which I didn’t like the idea of having already done that with Serra do Rio do Rastro. So instead, this is a bit of a surprise for the riders, since it’s a climb that belongs in the same kind of file as Rifugio Gardeccia, Sella Carnizza or the Matxaria side of Arrate for difficulty.

The Serra Moeda is a popular site for extreme sports thrillseekers, with paragliding, base jumping and other such pastimes being popular thanks to its abrupt drops and one-sided formation.


Topo do Mundo. Note the last km or so of the climb on the left hand side.

After a brief descent to the edges of the reservoir, we ride along the plateau to the east of the crests of the Serra Moeda until it conjoins with the Rola-Moça park, and at the town of the same name we start to gradually descend in a multi-stepped drop away into Nova Lima, where the first intermediate sprint takes place. Nova Lima is one of the places those old 18th and early 19th Century speculators were searching for, a town of nearly 90.000 which has grown up out of its mining tradition, with iron ore and gold both found in nearby hills, most notably Morro Velho, an exceedingly deep - nearly 3km - gold mine overlooking the city. Once gold was discovered, mining companies from Britain travelled to administer and operate the mine, which led to a British expatriate community and the establishment - very rare in South America - of the Anglican faith, but similar to other unusual outlying communities such as the Welsh community of Esquel, in Patagonia, or the Cornish communities of Real del Monte and Pachuca. It is also home to the Villa Nova Athletic Clube, one of the oldest football teams in Minas Gerais, whose most famous local alumnus is Luizinho, a full-back who was nominated to the team of the tournament for the 1982 World Cup as a defensive force in the team that was regarded by many as the best team to have played a World Cup without winning it.


Nova Lima is also the gateway to the Serra do Gandarela national park, a beauty spot southeast of Belo Horizonte in which wild jaguars reside and the urban agglomeration obtains over half of its drinking water. We have other fish to fry, though, for this is a bike race, not a travelogue (despite my best intentions sometimes). We therefore head northward on Rua Augusto Bernardino instead of southeast into the park, which means taking a small cat.3 climb to a little crest of a hill neighbouring the Morro do Cruzeiro peak, from which I’ve taken the climb name. Here begins, at 56km from the stripe, eight and a half kilometres of sterrato (sadly, the Mura de Pedro climb would have entailed descending on sterrato; here it’s downhill false flat which is perhaps pushing the bounds of reasonability slightly, but it’s no worse than Sector 4 in Strade Bianche, so I think we’ll be OK here. This is the road in question - you can see it’s wide, it’s compacted, there is safe run-off, it’s not like descending the Yungas Road or anything, so I think this is fine to put the riders through. The last few kilometres of downhill, from Estância Real to Sabará, are tarmacked.

Sabará hosts the second intermediate sprint, an old colonial-era town that serves as the final gateway through the mountains to Belo Horizonte, being located at an opening between two mountain ridges, a bit like Puertollano in Spain (the joke being that it neither has a Puerto (port), nor is it llano (flat) - however its name comes from the fact that its location on a lower lying piece of land between two mountain ridges looks like a Puerto (col), but it is on the lowland (llano)). It has expanded to 125.000 inhabitants, but these are largely either commuters into the industries of Belo Horizonte, or into the mining towns nearby. 41km remain at this stage, and the first few of these are a gradual but unthreatening ascent - another cat.3 - on the 262 between Sabará and Caeté. The steepest part is a 1500m tramo at 7,5%. There’s then about 15km of rolling terrain - including an uncategorised ascent that looks to be around 1200m at 6-7% - before we reach Caeté, the base of the final climb of the day and our second mountaintop finish of the race.


The Santuário Basílica Nossa Senhora da Piedade sits at the summit of the Serra da Piedade, the easternmost and highest of the ranges that make up this mountain system. At just over 1700m in altitude, this is also the fourth highest summit of the race, and the highest point in the race outside of the Campos do Jordão stage. It’s a beautiful, scenic spot offering wonderful panoramas down to eastern Minas Gerais and south to the Serra do Gandarela park. Built in 1797, and then expanded into a full complex in the mid-19th Century, this quickly became a place of pilgrimage first for the people of Minas, and then for the whole of Brazil. More recently, an astronomical observatory has been added to the complex due to the clarity of the skies from this elevated vantage point. As well as being a popular pilgrimage point it has, as you would probably expect of a sweeping road to the skies like this, become a popular site for hobby cyclists and motorcyclists alike.

Here’s a video of the last 5km, after leaving the main road (the motorcyclist here approaches from the north so we’d be turning left through the gates to the Serra da Piedade, but everything after 20 seconds in would be part of the stage.

To be honest, a large part of why I gave this one the rather generous HC rating was after seeing a profile that credited it at 14km @ 7,0%. I think this was a mountain bike path, however, which starts some way beneath Caeté. The actual climb is a little over 14km, but averaging 5,5%, which is probably cat.1 in most major races, and would leave it a borderline HC/cat.1 here I would say. The fact that it’s only the second mountaintop finish of the race means I’ve given it the nod here. There’s a slight error in Cronoescalada here, and that 3rd from last kilometre, though steep, does not reach the 14% claimed. However, the last 4,5km average 7,8% and the climb does gradually steepen; the first part of the climb alternates between false flat and ramps of 7% or so, then there’s a middle section of around 4km at 4%, then another couple of ramps before that final 4,5km where you would expect much of the action to be.

This one is likely to see a burst high up the climb to produce the gaps, and I think it will be something akin to what we see from Senhora da Graça/Monte Farinha in the Volta a Portugal in terms of the kind of move that wins the stage here. As a result, I’m thinking we are probably likely looking at the people who are those August machines - Joni Brandão, Vicente García de Mateos, Amaro Antunes - along with a few of the combative types from the higher level teams that are here, such as Ángel Madrazo and, if he’s brought, Kevin Rivera; also there would then be some of the people like Óscar Sevilla, climbers with strong sprint burst, then maybe Dani Díaz or post-suspension João Gaspar if he’s at anything like his previous level, and maybe Nicolás Sessler, plus a few wildcard riders and people like Darwin Atapuma with something to prove. As a result, pace is likely to be high and there will be some serious W/kg for the pushing on the lower parts of this climb, leading to brutality in the final 5km, as we head toward the final week.

There is a Subida a Piedade bike race - but it’s a mountain bike event so unfortunately we can’t use it to compare. However, this is definitely an interesting one and not to be underestimated.

Stage 15: Belo Horizonte - Belo Horizonte, 125km



Alto do São Bento x5 (cat.3) 1,2km @ 9,8%
Alto de Mangabeiras x5 (cat.2) 3,6km @ 8,2%
Cascatinha x5 (cat.4) 1,1km @ 8,1%

The final stage before the third and final rest day, on the penultimate Sunday of the race, is a short circuit race in Belo Horizonte, over five laps of a 25km circuit in the southern and central parts of the city. This takes the form of a definite potential ambush stage, with pretty much constant up-and-down around the city on the circuit, which means that despite its short length it’s a genuine medium mountain stage that could have some serious GC implications, especially coming off the back of yesterday’s mountaintop finish.


As mentioned yesterday, the Belo Horizonte metropolitan area is the third largest in Brazil, though the city itself is only the sixth most populous in the country, having been a then-relatively-unknown-as-a-concept planned city in the late 19th Century, when the Brazilian Empire was brought to a close and a republic declared; the largely liberal, metropolitan and progressive elite of Minas Gerais therefore stayed true to the ideals of the century-earlier Inconfidência Mineira group that had opposed the replacement of one Empire with another, and therefore wanted for symbolic reasons to move the capital away from Ouro Preto, the traditional capital of the state. A former bandeirante outpost that had grown into a small farming village by the name of Curral d’el Rey (in obsolete and highly dialectal Portuguese) was selected as the site of the new capital due to its favourable soil, climactic and geographic status, and Cidade de Minas was constructed, and inaugurated in 1897 despite being far from complete - largely due to government imposed timescales. In 1906 the now-completed city was given its present name, with a modification of the typical American regular grid pattern, with added diagonals, as its layout. Specialist areas were designated in certain ways, and a section bounded by Avenida do Brasil and Avenida Contornos was deliberately priced in such a way as to prevent workers living there, as it was high-level government functionaries only (hence the name of the district, Funcionários). Of course, such elitism would struggle to last, especially with the rapid expansion of the city meaning the functionaries quickly outgrew the small district built to house them and created more design headaches. Óscar Niemeyer designed some of the outlying areas as the city continued to grow and develop, and thereby received commission from Juscelino Kubitschek to redesign large parts of the city - the most famous part is Pampulha, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Unlike most cities of its kind, therefore, thanks to its planned nature, Belo Horizonte does not have the traditional issue of Brazilian cities of being “rich people on the flatlands, poor people in favelas on the hills”, because, being built into the hillsides anyway, the hills provided a natural boundary for some of the well-to-do areas. Therefore we will actually largely, despite the steep hills and tricky topography of the stage, actually be largely travelling through pretty well-off areas in this stage. The city is also characterised by some very progressive and largely successful measures taken to improve quality of life in poorer areas, including creating farmer’s markets and then publishing their rates across several markets to keep prices competitive; favela areas have been strongly targeted for development, including paving of roads to give police and postal services access, and relocation of at-risk families whose houses are susceptible to floods, landslides etc. to less dangerous parts of the neighbourhood, reconstruction of properties using newer techniques and stronger foundations, and using a minimum of 80% local labour to undertake these tasks in order to ease unemployment.


Belo Horizonte remains very much in the shadow of its bigger brethren in the world scene, and is largely seen as an albeit upscale industrial city, thanks to a lot of processing of the metals found in the nearby hills - it is a large steel producer - and the automotive industry. It isn’t just that kind of metal that is a major export from the city either: the city is known as Brazil’s capital of heavy metal music, with a number of major acts based there, likely under the influence of the first Brazilian metal band to become global stars within the genre, Sepultura, who initially started out as a thrash band, before increasing interest in the music of the native population of Brazil on the part of singer Max Cavalera and his drummer brother Igor led to a unique, minimalist, tribal-infused style. But really, the main musical export of Belo Horizonte is the Clube da Esquina movement that I already mentioned in stage 12 - apart from Nascimento, all of its main exponents are natives of the city - Lô Borges, 14bis, Beto Guedes, and so on.

Like a lot of Brazilian cities, footballers are also high-profile exports; Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro are the local teams par excellence, and they have been the first port of call for a number of football stars. This includes Bigode, a defender who played in the Maracanazo in 1950 and is perhaps more reasonably responsible for the loss than Moacir, having been beaten by Ghiggia for both Uruguayan goals; legendary left-sided forward Tostão, whose partnership with Pelé helped underpin the 1970 World Cup win; Toninho Cerezo, one of Brazil’s best defensive midfielders and part of the 1978 and 1982 World Cup squads; fellow 1982 squad member Paulo Isidoro; former Bundesliga standout Dedé; current EPL stars Bernard and Fred; national women’s team goalkeeper Luciana; Shakhtar prospect Fernándo; and perhaps the luckiest man in football today, Demerson. “Why is he so lucky?” you ask. Demerson was a member of the Chapecoense team who was unable to play in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, so he did not travel with the team to Colombia to play Atlético Nacional; that was of course the infamous LaMia 2933 flight that came down due largely to reckless measures by the airline, killing all but three of his teammates - Alan Ruschel (now team captain, largely due to his folk hero status within the club), Neto (who took almost a year to return to playing and retired shortly afterward due to the pain) and Jakson Follmann (whose career was ended and who had to have a leg amputated). Motor racing drivers also form part of the city’s sporting legacy, in the form of former F1 back markers Christian da Matta and Alex Ribeiro, and former Indycar drivers Raphael Matos and Bruno Junqueira (a former F3000 champion who narrowly missed out on an F1 seat to Jenson Button back in 2000), as well as Red Bull Young Driver Project alumnus Sérgio Sette Câmara.

There are also a few cyclists to mention. Jacqueline Mourão is of particular interest to me because she’s a multi-time Olympian in both summer and winter games, racing in mountain bike before taking up cross-country skiing and subsequently biathlon. There’s also Cláudia Carceroni-Saintagne, who came from triathlon to compete in the road race in Barcelona and Sydney. But most of all, and most prominently by far, there’s Cássio Freitas.


Until Murilo Fischer came on, Cássio da Paiva Freitas was the best Brazilian road cyclist of all time. He might still be, but at least now there can be a debate. Born in Belo Horizonte in 1965, he rode for the Pirelli club in Brazil during the expansion of Brazilian cycling in the 80s and was the definitive breakout star of it. 1987 was when he really blew up, with the 21-year-old Freitas winning the inaugural edition of the Torneo do Verão, a short stage race in the São Paulo region, before going to the Volta do Brasil in its original incarnation and winning two stages - the MTT to Cristo Redentor, the legendary statue on Mount Corcovado overlooking Rio de Janeiro (such a stage was something I was sorely tempted to do, believe me) as well as a mountain stage to São Lourenço in southern Minas Gerais, going via the Alto de Itatiaia (I also included this in an earlier draft, but without the 40km or so rolling terrain into São Lourenço afterward, I did a double-climb with the summit higher up the second side, similar to the Bola del Mundo stage in 2010 which included both sides of Navacerrada. However, there just weren’t enough ways to crowbar it in). He eventually finished 4th, but won both the points and mountains classifications to signal his intent, which he then followed up later in the year by winning the Volta a Santa Catarina. 1988’s edition of the Volta do Brasil was more inland and much less topographically interesting; as a result Freitas was quieter, though he did win the Vuelta a Mendoza in Argentina, and compete in the Seoul Olympics as Brazil’s representative.

This brought him to the attention of Louletano, when Caloi, a different and more famous Brazilian team was invited to the Volta a Portugal in 1989. Louletano had had some success with mid-season pickups before - acquiring Cayn Theakston as a pre-Volta signing in 1987 and then winning the race outright with him a year later - and brought Freitas in. He excelled with the pros, even acquiring the camisola amarela after the stage 12 ITT in Loulé. He held it through the Gouveia stage in which he was 4th, over the Alto da Torre and through the mountainous stage from Mangualde to Lamego where he was 2nd, but three days from the finish, the stage to Senhora da Graça cracked him, and Joaquim Gomes’ 50 second advantage was enough to take the lead which he then extended on the final day’s ITT in Porto, with Freitas finishing 2nd, 2’34” adrift over the three weeks. Gomes’ Sicasal-Torreense team quickly secured the Brazilian’s signature and he turned pro, heading to Europe full-time from 1990.

His first pro year was quiet, as the workload became notable for him, but he did manage a top 10 in the Tour of Luxembourg and his first pro win, a stage of the Vuelta a la Rioja. In 1991 he won the final stage and the GC of the GP a Capital, or GP Lisboa, and finished on the GC podium of both the GP Jornal de Noticias and the GP do Minho. 1992 was his year, though - he won the GP Jornal de Noticias, and now with Recer-Boavista, he headed to the Volta a Portugal as team leader; now reduced to two weeks, he had to play second fiddle, as three years earlier, to Gomes on the Alto da Torre, but this time Senhora da Graça made him rather than broke him, with the Brazilian winning the stage and taking the GC lead, which he held to the finish in Vila Nova de Gaia, becoming only the fourth estrangeiro to win the Volta (after Houbrechts in 1967, Manzaneque in 1973 and Theakston in 1988).

After this he would not contend for the GC again, however; he won a series of Portuguese short stage races, including the Volta ao Algarve in 1993, the GP a Capital, the GP O Jogo and other sponsor-name short-stage events. His most notable win after this was in the epic Porto-Lisboa one day race, a 343km slog that was, after the abandonment of Bordeaux-Paris, the longest race on the calendar at the time. With results declining into the late 90s, Cássio Freitas bounced from Portuguese team to Portuguese team for a few years before returning home to Brazil in 2000, where he won the Volta a Santa Catarina, back where it all began thirteen years earlier. He also won his first national title, the TT championships, in 2001, before bouncing around quietly as an aficionado cyclist for a few years and retiring in the mid-2000s.

This stage will be the Troféu Cássio Freitask in his honour.


The actual circuit is a pretty challenging one, which Cássio would have liked. Not one for the bunch sprinters or anything here: you’ve got to have some climbing legs and despite the 125km duration you also need some durability. There are three climbs on the circuit and they all have their own individual challenges.


Yes - three climbs, with the steepest climb first, the longest climb second, and the shortest climb last, to offer maximum opportunity to make something of the circuit - the most likely to cause splits is the one furthest from the finish. The start/finish line is on Praça da Liberdade (I’m putting the actual start/finish line on the bit just after a slight right hand curve, on the top right of that image travelling towards the camera). We then head up to Praça Raul Soares, and then head due south, avoiding the main road’s ascent onto Monte de São José. Instead we follow Avenida Arthur Bernardes, down the valleyway between two hills, into Vila Paris, from which we turn into a very steep uphill into São Bento where we rejoin the main road over the Serra do Curral which is our first climb of the day, 1300m at 9,8% which is continually steepening - the last 500m are a straight line but they average 15,3%, before we reach the Avenida Raja Gabáglia which flattens out then ascends in an uncategorised ascent before the major motorway junction with the 356 at Lagoa Seca/Belvedere, on which the BH Shopping mall has been erected. The first part of the gradual descent is sweeping through some wide curves - think like the Col d’Èze descent in Paris-Nice - before a long straight section back to Avenida Contorno, a dual carriageway in the centre that hems in the Funcionários district but also, here, that we use both sides of, for a short stretch, as this part serves as the beginning of the second climb of the circuit, up to Parque Mangabeiras, a sprawling area in a natural bowl on the hillside to the south of the city centre.


This picture allows you to see most of it - the climb is largely ramrod straight, à la Cumbres Verdes, on Avenida Agulhas Negras. Upon reaching that large circular Praça from the city, we turn right onto the road you can visually see is a steep one on the left of picture - that gives us a last 600m of the climb at just over 10%. The 1,5km before that average 8,8% on the road up into the hills. We then sweep back down to the big square from the road at the bottom of shot, and descend the same way - but only as far as Praça da Bandeira, where we turn right, past Minas Ténis Clube and circle around to the entrance into the municipal park Mangabeiras on Rua Caraça, where we start the final climb of the circuit, the shortest, and least steep, but with a secret weapon. It’s a park road, and it is cobbled. Buses use it (!) so it can’t be too narrow for a bike race, right?


This road leads to Cascatinha, or “little cascade”, a scenic water feature within the park, but we depart it after 1100m at 8%, in order to re-exit the park and descend down to Praça Milton Campos, from which it’s a little over 1km to the line on Avenida Contorno and then bearing a fast right onto Avenida Cristovão Colombo back to Praça da Liberdade.

This means that the climbs are as follows:
São Bento: at 119, 94, 69, 44 and 19km from the line
Mangabeiras: at 108, 83, 58, 33 and 8km from the line
Cascatinha: at 104, 79, 54, 29 and 4km from the line


Mangabeiras climb looming large in front of us

I’m aware that there are steeper roads I could have used in Belo Horizonte. There are some very nasty roads in some of the favelas, although most of these are too narrow to realistically be feasible. There’s a lot of options, but I decided to try to stick to wide open enough roads that this could be a feasible circuit, with the cobbled ascent as a bit of a wildcard because it will suit a completely different type of rider to São Bento and Mangabeiras. Each climb suits different specialisms which will make this a really interesting challenge I feel; the São Bento climb’s steep ramps suit a featherweight puncheur, Mangabeiras’ long, drawn out straights favour a tempo climber except for that final 600m which could create an opportunity for a sprint-atop-the-climb type, while Cascatinha being on cobbles means a bit more power is required to push the tempo through there. And then the finish is on wide open avenues that give hope to a chase because it’s hard to get out of sight and out of mind. It’s going to be really hard to predict. And that’s what we want most, right? I’m expecting small groups settling this, like a tough Worlds course such as Mendrisio or Firenze. I think this will favour the veterans of dealing with small groups in tough courses, and therefore we could well see the Óscar Sevillas and Paco Mancebos of this world coming to the fore, especially those with decent finishes. Sérgio Paulinho and Vicente García de Mateos must be considered, as should Davidenok, Fedosseyev, Shalunov, Maikin and Evtushenko. Magno Prado, most definitely. Probably it is too tough for Andriato but with the descents from the first two climbs and the final run-in being wide open, could some guys like him make their way back? After all, he’s finished 4th in the Memorial Marco Pantani and top 10 in Azerbaijan on the hilly Baku circuit from the 2015 European Games in the Tour d’Azerbaidjan. However, with no fewer than 80 mountain points available, it’s also a very important stage for the GPM which could impact racing as well. This one could be fascinating, and I’ve also tried to maximise it in two other ways: not only is it an ideal stage for a Sunday with maximum potential television audience, but it’s also in a city centre with circuits, thus maximising the fans-by-the-road impact if only for curio value. The out-and-back nature of the Mangabeiras climb means that fans could well congregate there as they can not only see the riders on the way up but also on the way down.

I’ve always maintained that a large part of making a race a big deal is to make it feel like a big deal, and if you tune in to see riders spread out all over the road with fans all along the side of the road, it’ll leave you with the impression that a) the race is difficult, and b) the race is popular. By virtue of these things, it leaves the race with prestige; winning it confers a rider fame and recognition because people are paying attention to it; and winning it is an achievement because the race is demonstrated to be challenging. Establishing new races is about perception. That’s where my point about the Women’s Tour came in - they established that the new race was a big deal through its presentation and its popularity with fans making the women bigger names with more recognition than at a lot of other races - however until they resolved the parcours issue, the race did not fulfil the second part of that; it became popular as who doesn’t want to race in front of the most fans they’ll see for a standalone event all season, but took a little longer to become prestigious. Here I’m looking to kill two birds with one stone; the stage should be difficult, it should be entertaining, and it should hopefully help establish the race.
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Stage 16: São João de Meriti - Angra dos Reis, 139km



Alto das Pedras (cat.4) 1,4km @ 7,9%
Serra do Leste (cat.4) 2,9km @ 5,1%

The final rest day - a Monday - sees the riders transfer from Belo Horizonte to Rio de Janeiro, around which the final leg of our journey around Brazil, or more accurately, around its southern seaboard, will travel. After all, while São Paulo may have the history and the teams, Rio has had the stronger fields for its local race in recent years, drawing good fields of professional teams from Portugal, North America and Colombia to join the rioplatense péloton as well as amateur and pro-am teams from Spain; as well as that, there has been the set-up and execution of the 2016 Olympic Road Race, which will have undoubtedly been a motivating factor for running cycling in the area. The Tour do Rio ran off and on from 2000 to 2008 but from 2009 to 2015 it was a pretty strong race with good international participation. It was a casualty of the Olympic focus in 2016, and sadly hasn’t returned since at the professional level. It initially ran as a one-day race and then as a mostly flat stage race, either won in the TT (2004, 2007) or from escaping the bunch’s clutches on a day that didn’t go to a sprint (2009). From 2010 to 2015 it was a much more representative race, although there were a couple of “win the mountain stage win the race” editions, which isn’t a massive change from “win the TT win the race”. Nevertheless, the list of winners includes well known names to regional cycling like Matías Medici as well as more well-renowned international names like Óscar Sevilla and Gustavo César Veloso.

Every year from 2010 to 2015, the first stage in the Tour do Rio ran to Angra dos Reis. But before we get there, we set off on Tuesday morning for stage 16, departing from the commuter city of São João de Meriti.


Just under 600.000 people call São João de Meriti, a city to the northern end of the extended Rio de Janeiro metropolis, their home. It was originally a farming village that became a small town, based around crops such as feijão and cassava, and it was from this stock that the man who is probably the city’s most important inhabitant came. João Cândido Felisberto, known throughout the world as many Brazilians are simply by his given names of João Cândido, was a child of poor Afro-Brazilian parents who had been freed slaves, but who struggled to make ends meet, and João Cândido joined the navy at the age of 13. When he was stationed briefly in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Great Britain waiting for the commission of the new Minas Geraes (sic) ship, he experienced a world which, although far from equality, was nevertheless far more liberating compared to conditions in the Brazilian navy. He became the unofficial spokesmen to the sailors as they sought to stand up to corporal punishment imposed by the navy; in November 1910, sailors mutinied in what became known as the Revolta da Chibata, and João Cândido was the figurehead of the movement, acquiring the nickname “Almirante Negro”, or “The Black Admiral”. He became a folk hero for both anti-racist and anti-authoritarian movements, but he was imprisoned for his troubles, tortured, and sank into destitution and became a poor stevedore for many years. He eventually sought solace in the integralist movement, a proto-fascist (but unusually, not racist) right wing movement which was eventually outlawed. He spent most of his remaining life in São João de Meriti as a perennial outsider, however his image has been rehabilitated somewhat since his death, with his later-life integralism somewhat dismissed, and he has been reclaimed as an example of the worker’s struggle, with a statue erected in Rio de Janeiro.


This particular stage is of a kind that ought to be relatively familiar to a lot of riders who have taken part in the Tour do Rio. A very similar stage, as mentioned, has opened the race every year from 2010 to 2015. We start further inland, and cut off the section which goes through the cobbles and over the Grumari climb from the 2016 Olympic Road Race, but apart from that, this will be very similar.


A typical opening stage in the Tour do Rio

Before we get to the shared stretches, though, we set off through urban sprawl, via towns like Bangu, known as a large textile exporting town until recently, when the premises of the Fábrica de Tecidos Bangu were relocated to cheaper real estate further from the centre of Rio, and replaced by a shopping mall, and Campo Grande, not to be confused with the province, a former orange-growing town which has swollen to become a 300.000+ suburb of Rio some 50km from its centre, and held some of the indoor games at the 2007 Pan-American Games when Rio hosted them, at the Centro Esportivo Miécimo da Silva; the games were effectively a dress rehearsal for the Olympics, but before most of the big venues had been constructed. Campo Grande is now officially regarded as a city in its own right, but it remains part of Rio de Janeiro as a whole. We then pass through Santa Cruz, the final one of the official parts of Rio de Janeiro and home to the most important soccer player in Brazil’s recent history, Thiago Silva. What’s that, you say? Didn’t I already talk about Neymar in the Mogi das Cruzes stage? Why yes, I did. But Thiago Silva is more important. Neymar may be the one that puts the asses in seats, but Thiago Silva is the one that wins you matches. No ifs, no buts. Don’t want to hear them. The attacking focus is a large part of what makes Brazilian football so revered and beloved - but it also manifests in strange ways. The 2014 Mineirazo may have seen Neymar absent after injury in the Colombia game, but the absence of Thiago Silva, suspended after being carded in that same game, was more crucial (also, he was partially responsible for the injury to Neymar, because if the referee had been willing to card one of the Brazilians when they were kicking James Rodríguez around in the first half, the Colombians mightn’t have reacted in kind, resulting in the injury, but that’s by the by). The new centre-back pairing of David Luiz and Dante did not mesh, and obviously we know the story by now. But after the 5th German goal, the Brazilian fans turned on the team, and who was singled out for opprobrium? Fred.

Because, you know, when you’re 5-0 down after half an hour, it’s obviously the fault of your centre-forward.

Anyway, Thiago Silva was the captain back then, and his absence both took away any semblance of leadership in the team as well as the calming factor that kept David Luiz focused on his job, because when he isn’t trying to be the lionheart and single-handedly win the game with reckless abandon, he can actually be pretty good, you know?


Anyway: now we’re out of the conurbation, our next stop is Itaguaí, which serves both as an important export port for the ore mined in internal Brazil, and as a gateway to the more scenic, rocky coastline of western Rio de Janeiro province, with views to scenic islands. It hosts an intermediate sprint while things are still absolutely Netherlands-level flat. From here, the road gets a bit bumpier, however, as we start to take a winding coast road that rumbles through the twisting turns of the rocky outcrops that tumble into the sea in this part of the coast, a bit like the second half of Milano-Sanremo. The second intermediate sprint comes about 2/3 the way through the stage, in the town of Mangaratiba; this is a luxurious port town which was featured recently in star-studded action movie The Expendables.

While there are a lot of bumps in the road for the next 40km or so, I largely haven’t found them categorization-worthy; they are either too short, or too gradual, to justify. I did, however, give cat.4 status to two ascents backing into one another shortly after the beautiful beach village of Conceição de Jacareí, the first because it is steep enough - around 8% - and the second because, at 3km in length across two separate ramps, it’s sustained enough. These are not likely to dislodge any but the worst climbers among the sprinters, and especially as this might be the fast men’s final chance to have a say in this race, they will not want to pass this one up, in a short and fast stage. Unless the echelons happen with a strong wind coming in from the Atlantic, this will be one for those sprinters itching to get one last chance before either retiring to five days’ chilling in Rio while the rest of the team complete the race, or settling in for the long struggle through the stages to come. 22km remain at the top of the climb, as I haven’t bothered with any loops around Angra dos Reis or anything; for the sake of balance I thought this should be one for the sprinters when they finally get there.


Finishing straight on the right

Angra dos Reis is one of the older settlements in Brazil, having been first documented in the early 1500s, and settled since the mid-16th Century. It was actually fairly rare in that it fell in population in the 19th Century, because its importance declined with the coming of the railroad; however, when the railroad was extended in the 1920s, its value as a port and its connection to places like Góias and Minas Gerais meant it expanded again, and it now is home to around 200.000. It is split through two economic strengths: firstly, the port, and secondly, tourism, due to the scenic nature of this area of coastland, and that several idyllic offshore islands that are highly sought after holiday destinations belong to the Angra dos Reis municipality. It is now a very popular tourist destination for people throughout Brazil, as well as being a common day-tripping getaway for the Carioca population. In recent years, this industry has been supplemented by Angra I and Angra II, Brazil’s only nuclear power facility. The updated Angra III reactor has been delayed repeatedly but is currently scheduled for construction during the 2020s.

Angra is also relatively well known in South American cycling because of that role in the Tour do Rio; it had actually been involved in the race earlier, appearing in the early 2000s, when the race was still called the Giro do Rio, in an attempt to cash in on the country’s Italian expat / immigrant descendant population and also as part of a brief affectation on the part of races to try to ape well known races from Europe but not the Tour, because we’re all familiar with the dozens of French affectations in cycling such as Tour de Pologne, Tour de Slovénie, Tour de Yorkshire and so on - but along with things like the Giro del Capo, there was a brief change in the 2000s where Giri and Vueltas came along. Márcio May won a two-up sprint in 2002, and Heberth Gutiérrez soloed in ahead of the bunch a year later, but from 2010 it was set up with the usual format for the Tour do Rio, and the field got stronger, and for a few years it was a pretty good race.

In 2010, the bunch miscalculated the breakaway, and young Italian prospect Tomas Alberio, who had a brief cup of coffee with the pro level with Geox, ahead of Team Type 1’s Christopher Jones, Renato Santos and Mauricio Morandi. In 2011, the sprinters made sure not to make that mistake again, with Edgardo Simón outsprinting Rafael Andriato; Simón at the time was the strongest sprinter in Brazil, and he proved it by repeating his stage 1 win in 2012. But in 2013, EPM-UNE came and wrecked the race. Weimar Roldán and Stiver Ortíz broke away and won the stage by over a minute, and then Jaime Castañeda won the sprint for 3rd place for good measure, giving them a total lockout of the podium. A two-man break of Óscar Sevilla and Gustavo César Veloso later settled the GC, meaning EPM put people 1st, 3rd and 4th overall. Sevilla and Veloso then both broke away to settle stage 1 in Angra dos Reis a year later, with Babyface triumphing; the same duo did exactly the same thing again a year later, with the two-time Volta winner getting his revenge - only to then be relegated for irregular sprinting.

While this is the last chance of the race for the sprinters, so there’s more reason to chase and make sure the same doesn’t happen again, both Sevilla and Veloso are on my projected potential startlist - just saying…
Stage 17: Volta Redonda - Teresópolis (Alto do Soberbo), 164km




Alto do Soberbo (HC) 15,2km @ 5,9%

A transfer inland on the BR-494 takes us to the host of Wednesday’s stage start, Volta Redonda, as the Volta do Brasil starts to hit its climax. No easy GC days left for anybody, and so no time to take it easy… at least after a while anyway. Volta Redonda is a city named for a bend in the Paraíba do Sul river that passes through it, and has since swollen into a city of nearly 300.000 inhabitants just under 150km northwest of Rio de Janeiro. It is an important staging point between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo on the path through the other major trading hubs such as São José dos Campos, Pindamonhangaba and Taubaté. We’re therefore back on terrain close to the core of Brazil’s cycling traditions, but also, because of the Serra dos Órgãos blocking the direct route and making this circuitous route more convenient, a strong staging point for goods transported from Juiz de Fora and onward into Minas Gerais toward São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or the ports in between.

Despite this, development of Volta Redonda only began in the 1040s, when it was chosen as the site of a large state-run steel mill and became a symbol of rapid Brazilian industrialisation. While the 1980s may have brought an end to the Latin American drive to reduce its dependency on imports, the steel mill in Volta Redonda has swollen to immense proportions and remains a hugely important one throughout South America, and as a result Volta Redonda has the same reputation as a steel city (its nickname in Portuguese is Cidade de Aço, which literally has that meaning) as, say, Pittsburgh, Sheffield, or Toledo. As a pretty young city, its population has doubled since 1970, and multiplied a hundred times since the inauguration of the steel mill; as a result, it has few famous sons and daughters, as most are of a young age. The most famous would either be footballer Felipe Melo, with 22 caps for Brazil, or, more likely, Olympic silver medalist swimmer Thiago Pereira, who took 2nd in the Individual Medley at the point at which Michael Phelps was breaking all the records.


Volta Redonda’s defining feature, that gives it its name

From 2010 to 2013 Volta Redonda hosted the start of stage 2 in the Tour do Rio, as well as the start of stage 3 in 2014 - this was as it hosted the finish of stage 2 that year, when the race had an extra stage. As a result there’s only one prominent name to take a win in the city, and it’s Rafael Andriato. The names of winners of the stages out of Volta Redonda, usually to Três Rios, are much like those in Angra dos Reis in fact; Andriato twice, Edgardo Simón, Tomas Alberio, and, most recently, Cristián Clavero.

Those guys are not likely to feature today.

Instead, we have a Javier Guillén special. The initial part of the stage is on a higher plateau, but after passing the town of Piraí and its scenic lakes and reservoirs, we descend into the grand basin of the Meriti, Iguaçu and Saratoga rivers, from which we take the 116 Highway across the northern bairros of the Rio suburbs, through Queimados to our first intermediate sprint in Nova Iguaçu.


Until recently, Nova Iguaçu was the second largest city in the province; it didn’t get smaller, it’s just that one of its districts grew too large to be a suburb of Nova Iguaçu and had to become a city in its own right. 800.000 people live in the city not counting those in Mesquita, and it is a bit more self-sufficient than many of the other outlying Rio suburbs, meaning it is less of a commuter town and has a number of attractions and developments of its own. However, this is a fairly recent development; in fact, a number of the cities in the expanded Rio de Janeiro conurbation are offshoots from Nova Iguaçu - this includes Duque de Caxias and Nilópolis, which both split away from Nova Iguaçu in the 1940s, and Belford Roxo, Japeri, Queimados and Mesquita in the early 1990s; before this period of culls, Nova Iguaçu had over 1,7 million inhabitants and was officially the sixth biggest city in the country, although almost all of its industrial capabilities lay in Queimados, so it was economically pummelled by the partitions. It was the hometown of a couple of prominent football figures - 1994 World Cup winning left-midfielder Zinho, who spent almost his whole career in Brazil save for two short stints in money leagues like the initial late 80s/early 90s J-League and the early MLS, and former national team manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo, whose middle name was in honour of German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg.

After travelling through Belford Roxo, one of the suburbs of Nova Iguaçu that became a city in its own right recently, which is renowned for its samba school, one of the best and biggest in the Rio area, we escape the conurbation via the northernmost outlying districts of Duque de Caxias. We swap the 493/116 for a less prominent highway, although it’s still largely suburban land that we’re passing through until we reach Guapimirim, a city that is part of an environmentally protected area and sits between a coastal marine preservation area and the Serra dos Órgãos, which is where we’re going now - right underneath that famous icon of the range, O Dede do Deus (“the Finger of God”).


The stage might be a Unipuerto one, but it’s going to be interesting nonetheless. This is not an uncommon format in areas where the cycling scene is not built around climbing; a lot of the mountain stages in Brazilian cycling are either Unipuerto (such as the Águas de Lindóia stage I linked to in my stage there), exceedingly short (such as the Campos do Jordão and Serra do Rio do Rastro stages I compared my stages to). Perhaps that’s to conserve some of the péloton given they typically only race rolling races along coastal areas outside of the bigger tours in Brazil, or maybe it’s to avoid them being absolutely raked over the coals by the Colombians and Venezuelans that come to visit periodically. But whatever the reason, I felt like a proper hillclimb stage, a true Unipuerto, would have to feature in the race at some point (even the Serra do Rio do Rastro stage of mine wasn’t truly Unipuerto, although obviously the climb would be the only major decisive part of it). And if there’s one point at which a Unipublic special can work, it’s at the start of a stretch of difficult stages, where the climb can’t cause anybody any fear, and any inherent negativity of saving legs can’t be a factor as there aren’t any climbs to waste in anticipation. This is a ‘pure’ Unipuerto, at a not-super-steep-but-enough-to-create-noteworthy-gaps-in-this-péloton climb; it is with stages like 2014's Montecampione stage in the Giro, 2015's Tour stage to Pierre Saint-Martin, 2008's Paris-Nice stage to Mont-Serein and 2016's Volta a Catalunya Lo Port stage in mind that I look at this one. So here we are - climbing to a power-meter-breaking frenzy at the Alto do Soberbo, the gateway to Teresópolis.


Mirante do Soberbo, the summit and the stage finish

Would you believe it, though, the Tour do Rio never climbed this. Even when they had mountain stages that finished in Teresópolis. Remarkable really. Instead, they came from the west and would climb over the mountain that railxmig found and used in their stage from Nova Friburgo to Petrópolis and named Pedra do Carneiro after a local peak; I found some profiles from the Tour do Rio and found that the climb is known as Escalada da Itaipava, which is after a neighbouring town - this name is erroneously on some sites given instead to the Serra Velha da Estrela road from Pau Grande to Petrópolis, which railxmig also used.

For the Germanophones among you, Quäl dich has a nice summary of the climb here along with a cool gallery. There is, however, a typo in the stats there - I think that’s more likely to be meant to be 15km with 900m ascent (6% average) than 15km with 1050m (7%), simply because the summit is at 990m above sea level and I don’t think there are any Dead Sea clones so close to the Atlantic in Brazil. The description suggests that the climb gets steeper as you get above the forest line, with gradients up to 11%, then there’s a long stretch higher up which alternates between 8 and 9%. On railxmig’s stage profile the climb looks to be fairly regular, however when I traced it, it seems to start off with the first half being consistent, then a slight easing off for a couple of kilometres down at around 3-4%, and then a 4km stretch averaging around 8,3% before an easier final kilometre - this would seem to better match up with the description at Quäl dich but given Cronoescalada is now using the OSM builder and a Google maps overlay, there’s always the opportunity for the occasional anomaly. This was the profile I was able to get, however, for whatever it is worth.



Alternatively, you can watch this video starting at about the 6:45 mark to see the climb, which like a few major climbs in South and Central America is a wide open road but not a dual carriageway, on concrete block surfaces. As a result, there is a crawler lane for heavy goods vehicles travelling along the road, and a number of lookout posts and stopping points to allow vehicles to cool down and drivers to get a cool drink and a snack. They arrive in that video at the Alto do Soberbo at the 28 minute mark.

So, who’s going to win? Well, this one will be good for driving the team onto the front and absolutely ragging the pace to try to turn others to jelly. We know that climbing at race-to-the-finish tempo off of a complete cold open is a different story to warming up over several climbs and descents first, and some riders prefer the former and some prefer the latter. That might be the point of those stages in Brazil, to favour the home riders over the Colombians who will typically be riding roads which aren’t flat even when they’re “flat”, a bit like the infamous “flat” Spanish roads that have sometimes created some carnage in the Vuelta. I don’t know. But we have some different stages to come; this one is going to be a pure power meter breaker. Maybe because we have some of the South American wild west climbers out here, we can get somebody trying to set the records like in another classic Unipuerto stage over 20 years ago. Who knows? Either way, this péloton will largely be in unproven territory here in week 3, as not too many of them will have done a full Grand Tour length race before. Obviously some of the riders for teams like Burgos and Androni will, and obviously there are a good few former World Tour vets in the Colombian teams such as Rodolfo Torres, Fábio Duarte, Óscar Sevilla and Darwin Atapuma, plus a couple like Gustavo César Veloso, David de la Fuente and Tiago Machado on the Portuguese teams, and Rafael Andriato did a couple of Giri in his time riding for Scinto. And there are of course some notable names in the potential wildcards who have entered them, not least Rujano and Rubiano. But for some of them, that’s a long time ago. Duarte last saw a third week in the 2015 Vuelta. De la Fuente’s - and César’s - last GT was the 2012 Vuelta; Andriato’s the 2013 Giro. Operación Puerto meant that Óscar Sevilla was held out of GTs in 2006, and he was then persona non grata with Relax-GAM in 2007. He - and if he starts, Mancebo, for identical reasons - haven’t entered a race this length since 2005!

So, how the legs respond will be very, very interesting. Especially with some hard days still to come.

Stage 18: Magé - Petrópolis, 195km



Alto do Soberbo (HC) 15,2km @ 5,9%
Escalada do Itaipava (cat.1) 9,0km @ 6,3%
Alto do Parque Municipal (cat.4) 2,0km @ 6,1%
Alto de Quitandinha (cat.1) 19,7km @ 4,7%
Alto da Serra de Petrópolis (HC) 13,5km @ 6,2%

This is our second Queen stage (along with stage 9, the Campos do Jordão stage), and features two HC climbs and two cat.1s along its 195km duration, which makes it the joint longest stage in the race also. This is kind of why yesterday’s stage was a Unipuerto one. There is a whiff of repetition here, but that’s also part of the fun. I mean, the Tour does this too, right?

The stage starts down in the river basin, on the Magé river, which gives the city its name, replacing its original name of Magepe-Mirim when it was first set up by Portuguese sailors in the 16th Century. It’s a relatively nondescript city by the standards of many of the cities around the Rio de Janeiro megalopolis, but it’s on the Caminho do Ouro and has over 200.000 inhabitants, so it’s also a pretty decently-sized commuter town. It has one real famous alumnus, but we’ll get to him later, because it’s a fairly sizeable municipality.


The next part of the stage will be very familiar to the riders, because it’s the exact same climb as they raced yesterday as an MTF, only here it’s the very first climb of the day, nearly 170km from the finish. It’s going to be a very long day for the sprinters, mark my words. The Alto do Soberbo, as discussed on stage 17, is 15km at 6%, and there’s also a secondary, uncategorised summit just afterwards, but that’s only 1750m or so - but at nearly 8% so in other stages it might have been categorised - before the short and relatively unthreatening drop into the city of Teresópolis. Teresópolis is a fairly major city with a population of 180.000 which sits in the Serra dos Órgãos and has grown out of various neighbouring settlements including a well-known quilombo along the hillside. It also has one of Brazil’s mildest climates, which has influenced the Brazilian football authority to set up their main training camp facilities in the city, lending it great “cultural importance”.


Teresópolis’ geography has also been its downfall; in 2011, a series of landslides led to over 400 people being killed in what is, officially speaking at least, Brazil’s worst natural disaster. The geography has also seen it find its way into cycling, featuring as a stage finish in the Tour do Rio every year from 2011 to 2015, in the stage designated as the main mountain stage of the race. The gulf in climbing between the Brazilians and the Colombians was really brought home to roost in the inaugural such stage, with Juan Pablo Suárez winning the stage ahead of a group of 7, including no fewer than 4 fellow EPM riders, along with two from Jamis-Sutter Home and - I kid you not - Rafa Andriato. The following year, the Brazilians were back to defend national honour, likely via the medium of EPO, since it was a three-man battle for the win, with Real Cycling team’s duo of Kleber Ramos and Alex Diniz (both of whom are currently suspended, though Ramos’ suspension ends before my projected race start date) beating break mate Byron Guama; they were followed home by three EPM riders within 30 seconds. The Colombian team defended their honour with Jorge Camilo Castiblanco coming in a few seconds ahead of a group led by Ramos and João Gaspar, and also including Sevilla, Veloso and Alejandro Marque (plus former Ag2r stalwart and Dauphiné stage winner Ludovic Turpin). In 2014 José Rodrigues won the stage by a clear five minutes after his break was allowed to go, with Gustavo César and Óscar Sevilla bothered only with their own internal battles having already opened up a significant advantage on the field; in 2015 the same pair were the protagonists, but they were competing at the front for the stage win at this stage, albeit being beaten to the punch by Ramos and Gaspar once more. The race has been gone since, coinciding with Ramos’ and Gaspar’s suspensions in fact.

The main climb of those stages was the Escalada do Itaipava, climbed from its western face. Here we’re climbing the shorter, but less gradual eastern side of it, which is 9km at a little over 6%. It’s an ok climb to offer cat.1 status in a race like this; after all, it’s comparable to eastern Asturian climbs like the Collado Arnicio and La Colladiella, which the Vuelta awards cat.1 status to, and a damn sight harder than the Côte des Chevrères, which the Tour awards it to. It’s a good bit narrower than the climb up to Teresópolis via the Alto do Soberbo, but it’s no less scenic, as now rather than looking into the Serra dos Órgãos, we’re in the heart of it.


The descent takes us into the small town of Itaipava, from which the climb name comes. The name is fairly well known in Brazil as it is a popular brand of beer which is manufactured in nearby Petrópolis, as the flagship brand of Cervejeria Petrópolis, a brewery conglomerate which competes in Brazil, Paraguay and the neighbouring area with the big multinational brewers like Heineken and the Anheuser-Busch owned Brazilian company AmBev. The name has been appended as sponsor to two major football stadia, in Salvador and in Pernambuco, as well as being the title sponsor of the São Paulo Indy 300 Indycar race mentioned on stage 8.

Thus far you’ve probably noticed quite some similarities between my stage and Railxmig’s stage from Nova Friburgo to Petrópolis, and there would be a good reason for that - we race designers often think alike. I mentioned a couple of the climbs of this stage way back when, as was mentioned when railxmig did that stage; however, they managed to formulate an actual stage around them, and while I won’t say “oh but I was there first”, this is indeed an old stage design and, much like the Berchtesgadener Land or Collado de las Sabinas, any traceur that has set their eyes on the area around Rio de Janeiro has probably seen the connectivity of Teresópolis and Petrópolis, and the climbs onto their respective plateaus, and had their eyes light up. I have at least deviated a little from what railxmig did by adding a little climb within the outlying suburbs of Petrópolis (making absolutely sure not to actually touch the stage finish on this first pass through!!!) to the stage before a plateau over toward the Universidad Católica de Petrópolis, which leads into a crest from which we set off on the long descent back into the lowlands on the Rodovia Washington Luiz.

Now I could, had I wanted to, have gone straight to the final categorised climb of the day from here, and shaven 45km off the stage length. However, that wouldn’t have been too much fun. I know this stage is likely to come down to the last climb, but I didn’t want it to be two climbs and then a long, long pause before the last and, besides, I had to do something so I wasn’t totally cloning the stage from railxmig! So there are two things which set it apart. The second one comes later, but the first comes now, as we do a little loop de loop to climb back up to the plateau on the other carriageway of the BR-040 - rather than have the dual carriageway result in broad, wide roads up and down the side of the Serra dos Órgãos, the Brazilians instead chose to have two separate roads that meet at the top and bottom; therefore this is a climb from the same base (Vila Bonança) and the same summit (the highway junction at the Capella Nossa Senhora Auxiliadora), but a completely separate climb of similar but not identical length and provenance.

The climb is 19,7km @ 4,7% and it reaches its summit at a tunnel (I’ve put the end of climb marker before the tunnel to ensure the profile is not rendered artificial), up to the Portal Cidade Imperial. I have named the climb Quitandinha, after the bairro of Petrópolis in which we arrive at the summit, which itself is named for the Palácio Quitandinha, a luxury resort constructed in the 1940s and was where the Rio Treaty, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance or TIAR, was signed in 1947. It became for many years one of the most famous hotels and resorts in the country, with its decadence including an artificial lake in the shape of Brazil. In its golden era, it hosted big name stars such as Bing Crosby, Orson Welles, Greta Garbo and Eva Perón. However, after gambling was outlawed in Brazil its attraction waned somewhat and eventually its luxuriant rooms were converted into apartments and converted into private residences. However, the grounds of the former hotel keep up appearances and it remains a tourist attraction to the present day.


56km remain at the summit of the climb, and the riders get a second go at the long and winding descent before going past where we turned back uphill before, and having a second intermediate sprint in Santa Cruz da Serra. Another 10km flat takes us towards Fragoso and finally to the outlying district of Pau Grande, whose main claim to fame - other than being the start of today’s final climb - is that this small, marginal part of Magé’s municipality - yes we’ve come full circle - is the home of the great footballer Manuel Francisco dos Santos, better known as Mané Garrincha, or more commonly just Garrincha.

You could definitely make a case that Garrincha is football’s Luís Ocaña. The magician of Botafogo was renowned as one of the best dribblers of all time and even by some contemporaries as a better player than Pelé, although his goalscoring record obviously doesn’t even remotely compare to that of his younger teammate. He is the only player to have ever won the Golden Ball, Golden Boot and the World Cup in the same tournament, and Brazil never lost a game when both he and Pelé played. He was an unusual player, born with one leg shorter than the other and walking with an unusual gait due to legs that weren’t straight; also being undersized, he took his nickname from the Portuguese for the wren. He nutmegged a Brazilian international in his very first training session and scored a hat-trick on debut, and his partnership with Pelé helped shepherd the team to its first World Cup win in 1958, although he was somewhat overshadowed by his junior compatriot. A further comparison to Ocaña is that his moment of glory was in 1962, when Pelé was injured mid-tournament; Garrincha became the team’s driving force, leading to the feat mentioned above. Several teams in Europe tried to sign him, but apart from a brief stint in Colombia during their first footballing ‘money’ phase, he never left Brazil. He’s also the man that brought the “olé!” chants to soccer, after a game in which he tormented River Plate’s defender Vairo so badly that it resembled a bullfight as he dodged the raging, charging Argentine. His retirement match featured many Brazil legends vs. a world team made up largely of fellow South Americans, and was watched by 131.000 people. However, retirement was not kind to Garrincha, as it was not kind to Ocaña. His father had been an alcoholic, and Mané had been a chip off the old block in that respect too; he separated from his second wife, the also divorced singer Elsa Soares, after a domestic dispute that ended in blows; and he suffered a series of personal problems and fell into financial ruin and bitterness. His habit went from a destructive one to an ultimately destructive one, seeing him hospitalised nine separate times including the final, terminal visit with liver damage as he literally drank himself to death at the age of 49, like Ocaña a romantic hero to the last. Forgotten and embittered though Garrincha may have become, as Gore Vidal once said, “death is a good career move”; his funeral procession drew millions of fans to the streets to pay their respects to the man that had been part of so many of Brazil’s greatest triumphs. He was posthumously elected to FIFA’s all time World Cup XI and to their Team of the Century, and voted the 8th greatest player of the 20th Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. His granddaughter still lived in his old family house in Pau Grande as of recently, occasionally fielding interviewers and journalists interested in her grandfather’s achievements and his background.


But from one of the men that put the beauty into the beautiful game, to one of the things that put the ugly into cycling; why cycling has always been seen as a hard man’s sport until more recently when it has become more bourgeois; of agrarian fighters or wispy young men battling in a winner takes all fight against their own endurance. It’s time for us to climb mountains, but we’re combining two of the great dividers of races in cycling history, because the Estrada Velha da Estrela, the road that we’re taking up to Petropolis here, is 13,5km in length, averages over 6% as a gradient, and of that 13,5 kilometre duration, approximately 13,5 kilometres is cobbled.

Yes, that’s 100% of it. A full on cat.1 mountain, rendered HC by the addition of cobbles.

Sure, some of it is pretty nice, comfortable, well-aligned cobbles, akin to those on the Sankt Gotthardpass in the Tour de Suisse:

However, other parts are less well-aligned, and will be more of a problem to navigate.


I originally wanted this in the Olympic Road Race in Rio, because I am sometimes a terrible person. I mentioned it on the forum back in 2012 for that very purpose. It’s actually a fairly consistent climb, but the fact that it’s now the middle of the third week of the race, it’s the final MTF, or at least something approaching it (4km remain at the summit)(spoiler), and that it’s a sustained climb at a reasonable gradient on a surface that will often separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls on an ascent twenty times shorter than this one, means that I can readily see bodies spread all over the road here.

Here is a short video from a Brazilian cycling enthusiast - and here is another - Below is a video which covers the majority of the second half of the ascent, done on a motorbike, but I wanted to show these videos partly because Mauricio does an interesting job showing climbs and cycling terrain in areas that are far from ‘traditional’ cycling zones (he’s also done things like Cuesta de Lipán) and deserved a shout out, and partly because going at cycling speed, you can appreciate some of the rougher, less even cobbled stretches and rampant patchwork repair jobs more to see that this will not be an easy ride.

You weren’t using that spine, were you?

The summit takes us into Petrópolis, a city of 300.000 which is the largest city in the Mesorregião Serrana, and was the summer residence of the Brazilian Emperors; its name derives from its role as Dom Pedro II’s summer palace and final resting place. Even after the Republic, its proximity to Rio de Janeiro and its cooler climate meant it retained the summer rule, with several Brazilian presidents choosing to over-summer there. It briefly served as capital of Rio State, and in addition to the aforementioned Rio Treaty, the Treaty of Petrópolis was also (of course) signed there, settling the dispute between Brazil and Bolivia over the contested Acre region. More recently, it has lost some of its lustre as a place of regal beauty and stately grandeur thanks to a 1970s house of torture established by the military dictatorship. Its most famous son, outside of those in the royal bloodline, would undoubtedly be Rodrigo Santoro, an actor who got his start in telenovelas and voice dubbing in Brazilian Portuguese versions of popular Hollywood films before raising eyebrows with his cinematic debut in Brazil in the film Bicho de Sete Cabeças; Robert Allan Ackerman was smitten by his performance and brought him to perform in North America, from which his career has kicked off in Hollywood, where he is best known as Persian King Xerxes in the 300.

As mentioned before, railxmig has taken one to the house using this climb in similar fashion before. In my race I think some of the more diesel type climbers you get from Brazil and Argentina might like this more than some of the other climbs like the Serra do Paiol, especially as the rough and uneven cobbles forcing them back into the saddle may not be good for some of the featherweights of the Colombian and Venezuelan bunch. It should be a good balance. But that will also force them to attack early, because much of the worst roads are earlier on as the closer you get to Petrópolis, the more you have outlying suburbs, houses and the likes, so the better maintained the roads are.

But I also have a secret weapon that I have included that differentiates my stage from railxmig’s. Well, I say secret weapon, I’m literally telling you what it is, so it’s a long way from secret.

That is: when we arrive in Petrópolis at the summit of the climb, there are 4,3km remaining to the line. This, however, is no Vuelta-like climb à la Xorret del Catí or Arrate where it’s a mountaintop finish that isn’t actually a mountaintop finish because there’s a bit of a drop away. No, not at all. We could just ride into the city (we could have done that in Teresópolis yesterday too, but that would have removed the MTF), but I had something more interesting in mind. Shortly after the end of the cobbles, instead of staying on Rua Teresa into the middle of the city, we turn left into the Castellânea bairro, and then turn right onto Rua Primeiro do Maio, through a small bairro known as Alto da Serra.


When recently a road in Wales took the title of steepest street in the world (its average isn’t super bad, but it has the steepest verified gradient repecho on record), O Globo published a number of Brazilian streets to contend with it. Rua Primeiro do Maio was on that list. According to cronoescalada it is 600m in length, and it averages over 16%. And it isn’t categorised, just to see if we can surprise some people with it, not that that spike in the profile isn’t a dead giveaway. But some might write it off as a tunnel, like on that Tour of Croatia profile a couple of years ago. Anyway, this is a narrow and inconsistent little piece of nastiness, just to finish the day on a sour note. With almost no recovery time since 13,5km of cobbled climbing, having to suddenly adapt to an absolutely opposite style of climbing, with instead of seated power, tempo and grit this one favouring punchy, light and explosive riders, this could have a surprisingly large impact, cresting 1,5km from the line, before the fast descent back to Rua Teresa and then the finish on Rodovia Washington Luiz in the city centre. I see this as being a bit like the Alto de la Antigua in Zumarraga stages in the Vuelta al País Vasco, with the very short trip in to the city, however with a bunch that’s already been split up big time by a 13,5km @ 6,2% climb.

You know, on cobbles.

Stage 19: Petrópolis - Nova Friburgo, 155km



Escalada do Itaipava (cat.1) 13,5km @ 5,3%
Alto do Morro Grande (cat.3) 1,7km @ 8,8%
Alto de Vieira (cat.3) 3,1km @ 6,0%
Alto do Campo do Coelho (cat.4) 1,2km @ 8,6%
Alto da Granja Spinelli (cat.3) 4,2km @ 6,0%
Alto da Granja Spinelli (cat.3) 4,2km @ 6,0%

As we head towards the climax of the race, we have a medium-length stage that features no transfer and rumbles through the Serra dos Órgãos on a hilly route which may be something of a day for the break but still features potential GC banana skin impact.


The riders will no doubt be glad to have no lengthy transfer after yesterday’s brutal stage, and instead enjoy some relative grandeur and high quality hospitality and pampering in one of Brazil’s most decadent cities. Rest isn’t that long, though, before they need to be back on the bike, and heading along the tops of the sierras, for although the range isn’t especially high, and the stage doesn’t exactly feature anything to compete with Serra do Paiol or the Alto da Brasa, the 700m or so altitude of the valley roads near Petrópolis are the lowest altitude we see all day.

The first 20km or so are flat, before we retrace our steps from the day before to climb the Escalada do Itaipava from its two-stepped western face, which should be familiar to many of the veterans in the péloton from the 2010-15 iteration of the Tour do Rio. Although its average gradient is meagre, this climb proved a very decisive one in the race back then, and it is perhaps underestimated as rather than being a consistent climb, it is essentially two climbs of 6km at just over 6% linked by a kilometre and a half of flat and descent. We have some brief Tour do Rio highlights as well as some clips from the Copa Rio de Janeiro do Ciclismo, an amateur sportive-cum-proper-race which is essentially Itaipava to the summit and back. As mentioned on the previous stage, this one often proved decisive and opened some serious gaps in the Tour do Rio, but I don’t expect those here; we’re well into the race, over 100km from the finish, and after an MTF on stage 17 and then the hard Petrópolis stage yesterday, with the final weekend looming, the riders at the sharp end will probably be glad to soft-pedal this one and allow the break to build its lead here. Riders who will have been here in the Tour do Rio who may still be around to compete in my Volta do Brasil would be Rafa Andriato, Magno Prado, Thiago Nardin, Rodrigo Melo, Kleber Ramos and João Gaspar (return from suspension notwithstanding) among home talents, and Óscar Sevilla, Gustavo César Veloso, Samuel Caldeira, Weimar Roldán, Rui Vinhas, Jorge Castiblanco, Alejandro Marque, Ribogzon Oyola Oyola, Byron Guama, Juan Pablo Suárez and Rafael Infantino (return from suspension notwithstanding) among estrangeiros.


Once we’re done with the big climb of the day, we settle down into a series of smaller ones. The descent takes us into the northern outskirts of Teresópolis, where we have an early intermediate sprint. The next major part of the stage is through the Vale de Bonsucesso, which takes us through a short and genuinely pretty steep climb to the Estância do Morro Grande and then into Bom Sucesso, and then there’s basically no flat terrain until we get to Nova Friburgo, but only a couple of categorisation-worthy climbs.

When we arrive in Nova Friburgo, 33km remain, and we have two laps of a 16,5km circuit designed to give the riders a chance to make something of the stage; the GC men will likely leave this to the break - but this final 33km give the break a lot of options for how to make a move for the win amongst themselves - as well as there being some prospects for a GC rider if they want to do something with this.


Nova Friburgo is “a Swiss city in the heart of Brazil”. Although it’s not really in the heart of Brazil since it’s pretty close to the coast (albeit 800m up in the Serra dos Órgãos), and it’s long since become more of a melting pot than its origins as a genuine New Fribourg (named for the Canton of Fribourg in Romandie, from which its original settlers came, rather than Freiburg in western Germany, as a cycling fan may immediately be drawn toward), as part of diplomatic moves by João VI of Portugal to curry favour with the various German micro- and macro-states. A few years later they were joined by German and Spanish immigrants and then eventually Italians. The railroad brought economic success to the town in the 1870s, and has then become a textile hub, specialising in hosiery. It now hosts 190.000 people, far beyond its original immigrant community. Despite this, it remained something of a backwater - put it this way, in Brazil of all places it didn’t have a football team until 1980!

It has, however, got some cycling history. In 2003, the Volta do Rio de Janeiro, as it was called back then, had a 108km stage from Teresópolis to Nova Friburgo which matches up very closely to the distance from Teresópolis to Nova Friburgo including the circuits in this stage - I cannot say however whether the stage was the same as my google-fu is letting me down and stage profiles for the race prior to the 2010 reboot are eluding me. Eventual GC winner Heberth Gutiérrez soloed in 1’41” ahead of the field to extend an already sizeable advantage from stage 1. The following stage also started in the city and was won in a sprint by the Chilean Richard Rodríguez. The following year the city was back, with Matej Mugerli, at the time a youngster not yet picked up by Liquigas, being victorious. After four years as a worker ant with the Italian team he drifted back through the levels and has become a successful journeyman pro in Eastern European and west Asian racing, still active to this day. Since the reboot of the race, it has only appeared once, in the first edition of the Tour do Rio in 2010; this was in lieu of the decisive mountain stage to Teresópolis that followed in later editions. Spanish amateur stalwart Sérgio Casanova won the stage a few seconds ahead of a large group led by Cristian Rosa.

Pleasingly, for me, when railxmig did their Tour do Rio route, they had a stage finish in Nova Friburgo but were approaching the city from the east, meaning there’s no repetition here! The stage in question is here, partly for comparison purposes and partly because railxmig is a badass and makes even more detailed stage summaries than me with a wealth of pictures and information that seem to be better at sketching out the actual route whereas I take things on a bit of a cultural travelogue, since I am a sucker for finishes honouring famous riders, stages and races from history and so forth. Oh, and cross-country skiing. I love me some cross-country skiing.

The above short video is a number of photos of the ascent from Nova Friburgo up to Granja Spinelli, which sits on the crest of a col between the main city and the RJ-130 on which we have travelled into town. So yes, we could have ascended the other side to put the climb backing into the finish, but then it would be a) less interesting as a run-in, and b) a less potentially tricky climb. After arriving in Nova Friburgo via a short uphill dig into the bairro of Duas Pedras (it’s only about 500m at 7%, the profile makes it look like more than that), we head into the city centre for a finish on the banks of the Bengalas.


Finishing straight on the right, heading away from camera

But of course, as mentioned, this isn’t the finish because there’s two laps of the 16,5km circuit to come, and after a couple of kilometres negotiating the city of Nova Friburgo, it’s time for the 4,2km at 6% of the Granja Spinelli climb, which is a bit of a nasty little inconsistent mess for a cat.3. It doesn’t have the nasty gradients of the Alto do Bairro do Barreiro on stage 11, so I haven’t bumped it up a category, but there’s plenty of opportunity to do something here - the first 750m are at 6%, then it descends slightly, then there’s a kilometre at just over 10% where most of the moves will be made, before a mostly gradual second half interrupted by one ramp of 11%. Coming with 27 and 11 kilometres remaining, this could be an interesting finale; the chances are, as I say, the breakaway will take this, but how will be the question? This could be reminiscent of, say, a Córdoba stage in the Vuelta like in 2009 when Lars Boom soloed in from distance, or even the 2019 Tour stage to St-Etienne won by Thomas de Gendt. Or maybe one of those easier stages in País Vasco. Not quite a Zaldiarán stage to Vitória-Gasteiz, but maybe something like Amurrio in 2010 or Güeñes in 2012? Or the Catalunya early stages near the coast that include climbs like Collformic but an easy last climb and gradual finish?

It’s also, of course, the last chance for a baroudeur, with the final weekend looming, and with the GC men likely to hold a truce after two major stages and with two big stages at the weekend, you can bet there will be a battle Royale to get into that breakaway - and the early climb of the Escalada da Itaipava will ensure that it’s a strong one too.

Stage 20: Recreio dos Bandeirantes - Recreio dos Bandeirantes, 27,0km (ITT)



Grumari (cat.4) 1,2km @ 8,0%
Grota Funda (cat.4) 2,1km @ 6,8%

The final Saturday of the race, and we’re back on the coast, just to the west of Rio de Janeiro, for a course that could well be familiar to a few guys in the péloton - not many, admittedly, but if they enter/are entered by their teams, then Kleber Ramos, Byron Guama and José Luís Rodríguez will remember it - this is the Grumari circuit which was part of the Olympic Road Race in 2016, and served as the basic course of the ITT.

I basically cloned the design of it so I’m not sure as to why my circuit is different in length to the women’s ITT from those Olympics - the circuit for the men did two loops of the Grumari circuit with a shoot run to the start and to the finish, whereas the women did just one. Either way, this is a mid-length test against the clock, which will set us up for the final day, and since the first ITT was pan-flat and on highways, this one’s a bit more technical and tricky, as anybody who watched the Olympic TT will know, with a couple of short hills and a stretch of cobbles along the seafront included.

Annoyingly, the IOC are pretty good at shutting down any copies of broadcasts of their events, so the best we can do is this 2-3 minute summary of the event.


The race starts and finishes in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, and therefore that is the locale which will be listed in the race stage hosts guide, although the vast majority of the course is outside the town of course. Obviously the last part of the name is in honour of the speculators and explorers who characterised and embodied Brazilian expansionism. Its name actually means “recreation of the Bandeirantes”, and has competing theories about its origin, with probably-apocryphal suggestions including the name of a real estate company, and the settlement of the area by a number of rich Paulistanos (the city most associated with the departing Bandeirantes) looking for a seaside getaway, and also being the first (for east-west) and last (west-east) freshwater resting place for travellers between the country’s two main cities. It has only really been developed in the last 50-60 years, before which it was a fairly sleepy outlying town. However, its popularity with surfers and its comparatively clean and peaceful nature compared to crowded Rio beaches had led it to be a popular getaway and it has now swollen to 80.000 inhabitants in its own right.

Of course, all of you will be familiar with the challenges posed on this circuit; the first is, after a few twists and turns along the coast, the cobbles along the often-windswept beach of Grumari. These were one of the calling cards of the Olympic time trial, and one of its selling points: cobbles AND hills - but separately, just to mix up who the race would suit as it would need to be a proper all-rounder to excel in all three, so therefore providing ample challenge for all. Although for the most part the riders were able to cheat by riding alongside the cobbles, and with it being windy and wet, that was obviously the smart thing to do bearing in mind there were a few crashes - Ellen van Dijk lost out on a medal thanks to an off-course excursion in the women’s race, while Brent Bookwalter was more Froome 2006 than Froome 2016 to his disgust, crashing at the very first corner.


First part of the TT, the coast road from Recreio dos Bandeirantes


Oh and yes, we know the two punchy climbs that are part of the circuit too - Garganta do Grumari is 1,2 kilometres at 8%, while, after turning inland, Grota Funda (on the Avenida das Américas) is 2,1km @ 6,8%. From here it’s a twisty descent on Estrada do Pontal and then back to the start/finish.

The position of this stage on the final Saturday is largely why I think there will be a break allowed to take stage 19, after the two mountain stages on stages 17 and 18. Only the truly desperate GC man will sacrifice themselves for the few seconds they can take here and there on the Granja Spinelli climb to risk losing a couple of minutes in the time trial the following day. Here is a clip of the Grota Funda road - although obviously it’s had a coat of shiny new tarmac since then to avoid injuring too many people in the Olympics - bad for publicity!!!

So, let’s talk a bit about those Olympics. The winning time was 1 hour, 12 minutes, 45 seconds for 54,5km. So let’s half that; probably add a little bit more if the weather is bad like it was in 2016, just because Fabian Cancellara, Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome are a slightly higher calibre of rider than I’d expect here, and they also didn’t have 19 days’ racing already in their legs. The women’s race was a very tense affair with 8 riders inside a minute of the winning time, set by Anna van der BreggenI really need to stop taking my race reports from social media… Kristin Armstrong. Yes, a lot of nepotism and politics (plus a deliberately very friendly race route to the only US-based Women’s World Tour event designed to ensure she got the qualification points - I think the defending champion should get an automatic invitation, truth be told) played into her return, and a lot of heads were shaken at the result, including many from a somewhat emboldened women’s péloton (a week earlier we’d learnt just what much of the péloton thought of Lizzie Deignan, and it wasn’t pretty) who were distinctly unimpressed at another TT mayfly (this was the era of people like her, Neben and Villumsen staying off top level teams, doing very little racing, then showing up at the championships to win the TTs) and a 42-year-old who had retired twice and returned showing up and taking the gold medal - an issue compounded by the silver going to Olga Zabelinskaya, who had a suspension in her back pocket and with the investigations into the Sochi doping going on, a lot of “will they/won’t they” about whether the Russians would even be allowed to compete. Several basically decided the TT should be swept under the carpet and forgotten about forevermore, others voiced their opinions about the issues raised by the fact that these mayflies could turn up - especially in a period where out of competition testing was infrequent - and take championships ahead of riders who were the day in, day out best time trialists in the péloton. Especially when the US declined to bring their national champion time trialist, who had defeated self-same Armstrong comfortably a couple of months earlier, but wasn’t coached by the head of selectors. One team owner (I won’t name them, but people who follow women’s cycling will probably know, even if they don’t remember the comments) even went so far as to publicly congratulate bronze medalist van der Breggen for her double gold - hence my struck-through comment above.


What’s in a name, anyway? The less controversial Armstrong - but that’s a relative measure

Controversy or no controversy, Kristin’s winning time was 44’26. Usually we can find that you should take around 10-15% off the top women’s time as compared to the men’s if the old Solvang TTs in the Tour of California are anything to go by, so we should be expecting upper 30 minute markers here, maybe slightly less if the weather is good. After winning, Armstrong promptly retired for a third time, making like some kind of more successful Brett Favre, and has yet to announce any plans for a third comeback around Tokyo even before the Coronavirus moved it yet further away from her peak years and turning any Armstrong comeback into a Jeannie Longo-esque tempting of fate.

The winner of the men’s race similarly was on a career swansong, although it hadn’t been necessarily intended that way. After his disappointing Paris-Roubaix, Fabian Cancellara’s 2016 season had been very, very “bleh”. Having won Strade Bianche, podiumed de Ronde, and won TTs at Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico, things seemed good, but that disastrous final time at l’Enfer du Nord sent his season into a tailspin, with only a prologue win in a weak field at the Tour de Suisse breaking up a string of disappointments, including being over 3 minutes down in the main ITT at the Tour de France. For a man that used to win World Championships almost as dominantly as Indurain at Luxembourg ’92, this was difficult to take. But in Rio, the 35-year-old Cancellara put down one final marker, setting a time over a minute faster than the time-to-beat at the time, and one by one his rivals failed to beat it. For all the impression that my stage-by-stage GT reviews of a few years ago may have left, I don’t hate Fabian Cancellara. I don’t even dislike him. However, we should point out his absurd hypocrisy in the 2010 Tour de France about what constitutes an acceptable time to attack. Anyway: he won, and Tom Dumoulin, very much the coming man at the time, finished 47 seconds behind him; unlike the women’s race, they were the only riders inside a minute. A very close battle for third place broke out, but Cancellara and Dumoulin held firm. The ever-divisive Chris Froome eventually took that bronze, to clone his 2012 achievement, with Jonathan Castroviejo just 4 seconds behind him and Rohan Dennis 4 seconds behind that, with the Australian having been cruelly denied a medal by an inopportune equipment malfunction, his handlebars disintegrating beneath him and costing him valuable, nay, crucial time.


Fabian Cancellara says goodbye the best way possible.

There’s only half the time for things to go wrong here, however. Hopefully it won’t. Favourites will be more turned toward the GC men than the first time trial, because often at this point in a stage race it is anyway, but also because with the hills and everything it’s less of a pure wattage test than the São José dos Campos time trial. Magno Prado will probably win the stage. He tends to win everything this kind of length in this part of the world, and he likes this kind of terrain. But where is he regarding the GC? Who will be in the driving seat with just one stage remaining?
Stage 21: Rio de Janeiro - Rio de Janeiro, 121km



Vista Chinesa x3 (cat.1) 5,3km @ 9,6%
Alto das Canoas x3 (cat.3) 1,0km @ 11,0%
Rocinha x3 (cat.3) 2,3km @ 7,6%

So, the evil grin comes out. Nobody was expecting an… an… an actually GC-relevant and potentially dramatic final stage of a three week race!!! Short though it may be, stage 21 is potentially one that could create some of the biggest time gaps of the entire race, because I am a cruel race organiser and I’ve thrown the riders enough bones - the only one they get today is that the stage is short, meaning they’ve got to throw caution to the wind early on. Because I thought about a nice little flat Flamengo circuit, like when they moved the Copa América do Ciclismo away from Interlagos… but decided I could do better. I thought about a parade stage along the Copacabana beach… but decided there were better options. I thought about doing an homage to the Olympic Road Race on stage 20… but then realised the ITT would have to be stage 21 and Recreio dos Bandeirantes, a quiet outlying suburb, would not be the ideal place to finish a race of this magnitude. I thought about doing an homage to the Olympic Road Race on stage 21… but then I took another look at the road race profile, and remembered something I’d wanted all the way back when Rio was first announced as hosting the Games, and it was something climber and nastier than the route they chose. So I had a look at how that would work… made some amendments taking into account things that I know now that I didn’t know then… played about with it a bit… decided that actually the people at the very finish deserved to see the riders a good few times (plus also moving the obstacles further apart from one another brings another type of rider into the frame)… and voilà! The kind of final stage we never get from long-form stage racing anymore - but should.


Having had São Paulo and Belo Horizonte already on the course, there was no more logical place for the race to finish than Brazil’s, if not largest then at least most iconic, city. With seven million in the municipality and over 12 million in the extended urban area, it’s the sixth biggest city in the Americas and a top 30 global economy. Having originally been settled by the Portuguese in the mid-16th Century and named for its discovery on 1st January, it became the capital of Portugal’s overseas dominion, and was also part of a situation almost unique in history and certainly unique in the age of Empires, when in 1808 Dona Maria I relocated the Portuguese royal court to Rio de Janeiro with Lisboa under threat from Napoleon; seven years later Brazil was given the status of a Kingdom as it became included in the official title of Portugal under a similar title to today’s United Kingdom’s official name; this remained the case until the Brazilian War of Independence, and so for thirteen years until the Portuguese crown returned to Lisbon in 1821, a colonist relocated their capital city to their colonies - and this remains the only instance of a European capital city being outside of Europe (depending on your stance on Reykjavík following Icelandic independence from Denmark, as it is west of the divide between the European and North American tectonic plates but remains on the island of Iceland which is conventionally considered part of Europe).

Rio was not originally the cultural and industrial behemoth that it became, but after the discovery of gold in the Minas Gerais area, it was a much more convenient port to export the colony’s mineral and precious metal wealth than the original administrative centre, Salvador. As a result, it swiftly grew to outrank the Baiano capital, and became a city of major contrasts; it saw the first fine arts academy in Brazil, the first military academy, the establishment of the largest library in Latin America, and several other such education-oriented institutions - but it was also a city of slaves, being the largest slave port in the continent, as the Portuguese relocated black Africans from their other colonies - especially Angola - to Brazil to work the coffee and sugar plantations. As the capital of the Kingdom of Brazil within the Portuguese Empire, it was a natural fit for capital of the Brazilian Empire when independence was achieved, and as the main slave port and example of inequality in the continent, it was also a natural fit for the background of progressive revolutions, both the abolitionist movement in the 1870s and the subsequent republican revolution that led to Braziil’s short-lived Imperial monarchy being dissolved. The city remained as capital of the Republic until the inauguration of Óscar Niemeyer’s planned city, Brasília, in 1960.


The city rapidly expanded in the early 20th Century, as the public transit system was electrified, and tunnels enabled the connection of the Zone Sul to the historic centre and Botafogo area. Rio was a city-state within Brazil, a hang-on from its long-time role as the capital, at the time of the military coup, and remained the last place in Brazil to oppose military rule; in 1975 the city and state were merged to symbolise the final vestiges of its origins as capital being removed. However, that history as a slave city also means that it symbolises most of almost anywhere the inequalities within Brazil, sometimes even described as social apartheid, with 763 different favelas, housing nearly a quarter of the city’s population. The word favela has passed into unanimous recognition worldwide as something peculiarly Brazilian as opposed to more generic terms for slums, owing to their positions often on hillsides, and the sometimes ingenious ways by which these ramshackle dwellings have sprung up; many have now been formed into genuine out-of-town districts with all manner of amenities, but their unregulated development and crowded, underdeveloped economies have left them rife with crime and gang activity.

However, despite these heady social problems, the city’s position as a major metropole within Brazil and its importance historically and culturally relative to the relatively young and uninspiring Brasília mean that Rio remains more or less at the centre of international impressions of Brazil; ask somebody to describe a place in Brazil and the chances are Rio is the place that will come to mind for most people - from the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, to Corcovado, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the iconic Cristo Redentor statue, this is the image that Brazil evokes to a lot of people globally. And it remains at the centre of Brazil’s presentation of itself to the world; in 1950, when the football World Cup came to town for the first time, Rio got to host the final as the capital of the city, but when the competition returned in 2014, it was once again the Maracaná stadium that hosted the event, a somewhat subdued affair in which Brazil’s most hated rivals, Argentina, succumbed by that most dour of football scorelines - 1-0 after extra time - to Germany, the team that had inflicted upon Brazil its most humiliating ever defeat just a few days before.

Nearly every other major international sporting event to come through Brazil in recent times has been focused on Rio, hosting the 2007 Pan-American Games, the 2011 Military World Games, and then, in 2016, becoming the first South American host of the Olympic Games.


Away from sport, Rio also hosted two environmental summits, in 1992 and 2012, though with Jair Bolsonaro in charge one can’t envision a third happening any time soon… it is, however, Brazil’s tourist destination par excellence, with 3 million overseas tourists annually, the most of any city in South America.

Being such a sprawling city with so much heritage, Rio obviously has hundreds of worthwhile sons and daughters to draw attention to, so we can only cover a small fraction. Though I would like to pay some homage to a few. Being the home of the national library and hosting a Europeanised bourgeois society in the 19th Century, a hanger-on from its colonial days, it is perhaps inevitable that it would become a literary city, and Joaquim Manuel de Macedo released the first successful Brazilian novel out of Rio, A Moreninha. The romantic themes gave way to more realistic tomes, until Brazil’s greatest ever literary figure, Joaquim María Machado de Assis, often just known as Machado de Assis, came along in the late 19th Century, with his explosive sarcasm and ironic wit allayed with grounded, realistic tales of life in contemporary Rio de Janeiro. Mixing a bureaucratic career with a fledgling career as a playwright, Machado de Assis found that his works were unsuccessful because they were too laced with interpretive ambiguity that made them more suited to reading as a medium; he wrote romantic novels in the 1870s, but they were not his calling and the style did not suit him. Embittered by these failures and depressed by the loss of both his father and his mentor José de Alencar in short order, he wrote what turned out to be his magnum opus, Memórias Postúmas de Brás Cubas in 1881, and went on to national fame thanks to its bite-sized chapters, its acerbic, cynical tone, and its warts-and-all depiction of society at the time - the distinctive feature of the book is its too reliable narrator, the idea being that anybody who writes their memoirs has pride at stake, so will always prove an unreliable narrator as they will need to justify themselves. Brás Cubas, the fictionalised petit-bourgeois in the novel, is narrating his life story from beyond the grave, and therefore has no compunction in admitting his own failings and calling out his own lack of success in his lifetime.

Having a very distinctive and unique, wry style, Machado’s works are widely respected but they have caused much dispute among academics in how to classify them. Much as, say, celebrated fantasy author Terry Pratchett would also write works that savaged the cliches of the genre, Machado’s works were both realist and critical of realism at the time - but then he was a man of contradictions; he was not a good student, but he was a voracious absorber of knowledge who learnt several languages in order to absorb their literature, which informed his style. He was a child of freed slaves within a bourgeois arena, leading to an internal conflict where he opposed slavery but would not denounce it publicly; he was a liberal who pushed for various social reforms, but opposed the overthrow of the monarchy. He frequently broke the fourth wall in his writings, and was unafraid to use blank verse - and here I mean literally blank, as opposed to the actual style known by that name. He is regarded as one of the finest black writers of all time, but his literary style does not characterise “black literature” in the slightest, either localised or post-colonial - but then nor does it truly epitomise “western literature” either.


Rio de Janeiro was also the birthplace of Brazil’s most iconic style of music, the Bossa Nova. Fusing western jazz with Brazilian samba and other latin rhythms, it swiftly became the focal point of all Brazilian popular music, and names like Antônio Carlos Jobim (often abbreviated to Tom Jobim), Astrud Gilberto, Nara Leão, João Gilberto, Elis Regina, Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes have gone down in musical history, many of whom recognised throughout the world. After some waves made beyond Brazil for some of the new styles brought through from Bossa Nova, with Mendes appearing on American TV in 1963, and Stan Getz having a hit with “The Girl from Ipanema” the following year, the future pseudo-tropicalista Jorge Ben released his first album and Sérgio Mendes brought the track Mas que Nada to a global audience following his permanent relocation to the US shortly afterward. Its cultural importance is such that one of Rio’s main airports is named for Tom Jobim; Bossa Nova held almost total sway over Brazilian music for several years, to the point where performances of non-Bossa pieces by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil at the MPB festival in 1967 caused near-riots and it was only with the patronage of celebrated Bossa artist Nara Leão, who had covered some of Gil’s earlier, less iconoclastic compositions, that the Tropicália project was able to get off the ground. More recently, Funk Carioca, known locally often as Baile Funk, has become the sound of the favelas, blending American funk and hip-hop with influences from electronica, Afrobeat and also Latin genres utilising techno-hop beats as a basis for a style unique to Rio, and which has faced social backlash for all the same reasons as similar genres throughout the world - misogyny, promotion of drugs and violence, and so on - as well as simple elitism on the part of many who felt that exporting Funk Carioca to the world as the symbol of Brazilian music left a far less positive impression than Bossa Nova, Samba, Tropicália or MPB.

As you might expect, many classic Brazilian musicians call the city home, and this includes early progenitors of Brazilian music such as Pixinguinha, the father of choro music, and samba pioneer Noel Rosa, as well as the later populariser of the genre Cartola, the bossa nova/MPB - and later very effective protest - singer/songwriter Chico Buarque (plus his alter ego Julinho de Adelaide, created when performances of his songs were frowned upon by the military dictatorship after some very thinly-veiled pieces. Not that this deterred Chico, for “Calíce”, a play-on-words collaboration with Milton Nascimento protesting censorship, postdates this, while Construção was voted the best Brazilian song of all time, and it’s difficult to argue - such a complex construction with such twists and turns, and an absolute lyrical triumph), the multi-genre icon of Brazilian popular music Marcos Valle, specialist lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, multiple award winning singer-songwriter and interpreter Marisa Monte, rock songwriter Cazuza, whose public struggles with AIDS and premature death due to same played a large role in awareness of it in Brazil, the legendary Jorge Ben, also known as Jorge Ben Jor, who composed Mas que Nada and went on to great fame running parallel to the tropicalistas and then introducing African rhythms to his style to great effect; and even beyond the boundaries of Brazilian music, it is the birthplace of Fabrizio “Fab” Moretti, the drummer of none-more-trendy retro revivalists The Strokes. Most important, though, would of course be national musical icon Antônio Carlos Jobim.

As with most cities in Brazil, football is the dominant sport, and there are four top level teams in the city who are icons of Brazilian sport - Flamengo, Vasco da Gama, Botafogo and Fluminense, all of whose shirts are recognised throughout South America as iconic, classic strips. There are a number of other teams at lower levels, and this includes Bangu, where the first ever football game in Brazil was played - the team gets its name from the Fábrica Bangu, where Thomas Donohoe, a British factory worker, brought a ball for his fellow expat employees to play football and taught it to the locals. Cariocans have been an important part of Brazilian football history throughout its golden days, beginning with Leonidas, inspiration to a generation and a man who had almost a goal a game at the international level before World War II.

The 1970 Brazilian soccer team is regarded by many pundits to be the greatest of all time; that final goal in the World Cup final, regarded as possibly the best World Cup goal of all time is almost underscoring the point. Two Cariocans were instrumental in it - first Jairzinho, a stylish right winger from Botafogo who took the place of his idol Garrincha at both club and country after serving an apprenticeship either as understudy or on the opposite flank, causing him to learn to use both feet. He scored goals in every game at the 1970 World Cup, and was voted 27th best player of the 20th Century. He also had a hand in a later Brazilian triumph, indirectly. In the goal above, he appears on the left hand side, dragging defenders out of position and creating space on the right hand side that he has just vacated. He plays the ball across to Pelé, who holds it, freezing the defenders in place before laying the ball to his captain, another Cariocan superstar, Carlos Alberto, who sprints up at a rate of knots and leathers the ball into the opposite corner from an acute angle. Carlos Alberto was a cross-town rival of Jairzinho’s at club level, playing for Fluminense originally, before several years alongside Pelé at Santos. He is one of the men to revolutionise the fullback position, utilising excellent technical and attacking skills to make it more than a defensive role, and also pioneering the concept of the wingback in the early 70s when the sweeper came into vogue giving him greater freedom to move forward. He was voted into the FIFA World Team, one of four Brazilians, alongside Pelé, Garrincha and Niltón Santos.

Obviously after 1970 Brazil entered a bit of a drought in World Cup winning terms, though their 1982 side is regarded as one of the, if not the outright, best teams to not win the World Cup. Their catalyst was another Cariocan, Zico. Spending most of his career at Fluminense, the early 80s Brazilian team is sometimes known as the “Zico era” because of the extent to which the play flowed through him and with 48 goals in 71 games for O Seleção, he’s also one of its most prolific goalscorers as well as a two-time (1981 and 1983) World Player of the Year. When Brazil finally returned to what they saw as their rightful place in the sport, on top of the world, in 1994 with their record breaking 4th World Cup win, it was with another Rio native, Romário, as their creative spark, for which he won himself a Golden Ball and the World Player of the Year title - although he was long gone from Brazil, this being the first era where the Brazilian stars would move to Europe not as a late-career cash grab, but as an early career move for fame and glory. Nevertheless, Romário had no fewer than four spells at his home club, Vasco da Gama, and remains third on the all time list of scorers in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, behind only Roberto Dinamite and having recently been overtaken by Fred, and the fourth highest national team goalscorer - having been second behind Pelé but since surpassed by Ronaldo and Neymar. He’s done fairly well for himself though, and is currently an incumbent Senator for Rio de Janeiro for Podemos, the former Labour Party. Also in that 1994 World Cup squad, though not playing, was that same 17-year-old kid who had been discovered by Jairzinho three years earlier that I mentioned earlier - and who has then gone on to be one of the faces of a footballing generation: Ronaldo. A three-time World Player of the Year, two-time Ballon d’Or winner and a record transfer fee in world history at the time, Ronaldo’s accomplishments are enormous; he was the beating heart of the late 90s Brazilian team to the extent that his controversial fit before the 1998 World Cup final resulting in a below-par Brazilian performance and a popular home win for the French has passed into conspiracy theory lore, while his partnership with Ronaldinho underpinned the team’s 2002 World Cup triumph, albeit in a pretty lacklustre tournament thanks to some very suspicious refereeing on the other side of the draw…

The city also used to have the Jacarepaguá Circuit, a permanent motor racing facility built in the 70s and inaugurated in 1977 on the site of a former street circuit on reclaimed land, and held the Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix in 1978, and then through most of the 80s after the old 8km layout of Interlagos had been outgrown by the formula and reprofiling was required. Being largely flat, it was dominated by turbo cars, and was regarded as a fairly average track; when Interlagos’ reprofiling was completed for 1990, the Grand Prix left Jacarepaguá never to return. In the mid-to-late 90s, the outer perimeter was converted into a trapezium-shaped oval, and CART held five races on it, with the back straight of the F1 course converted into the main straight of the oval, with a new pit complex constructed. The circuit was named for local hero Nelson Piquet after he won his third World Championship in 1987, but as it grew increasingly obsolete and the chances of F1 returning fell away, the land on which the circuit was built grew increasingly coveted for other sports; it was shortened heavily to make room for the 2007 Pan American Games venues, before F1 circuit architect du jour and ruiner of all things good in motorsport Hermann Tilke was tasked with putting together a part-permanent, part-temporary car park circuit to allow for other venues. Thankfully, having seen the abortion of a track he came up with in Sochi, this was abandoned and the track breathed once more… briefly - as it was then dismantled to make room for the 2016 Olympic park.

A new circuit is being constructed on the other side of the city, however, which will also honour Piquet, the most famous driver to come from the city and often the forgotten fourth wheel of those classic 1980s battles with Prost, Senna and to a lesser extent Mansell. Perhaps it is that his initial success as a young star in the early 1980s meant that although he wasn’t that old (only one older than Mansell, for example) he was seen as yesterday’s man by their heyday, having won two of his three titles while Prost was still finding his feet, Mansell was in mid-field teams and before Senna arrived on the scene. His fratricidal battle with Mansell in 1986 and 1987 was a key factor in those championships, and although he won the latter title, the two tripping over one another meant that three drivers were still in contention for the title come the final race in Adelaide. Obviously Mansell’s tyre blowout at 190mph is the most famous thing in that race and settled things in Prost’s favour (ironically, had Mansell not done such a great job of steering the car down the escape road and the race had to be red flagged, half points would have been awarded and he’d have won the title, but at the risk of joining Rindt as a posthumous champion). With Senna jumping to the top teams for 1988, Piquet moved to Lotus and seemed below his best, although a late career flourish with Benetton in 1990-91 suggested he still had a spark; however the team moving heaven and earth to bring in the young Michael Schumacher late that season told him his time had passed and he retired. He attempted to enter the Indy 500, but after an injury in practice on his first attempt, his second was blighted by engine problems; he has occasionally participated in endurance races since, but after winning the Mil Milhas Brasileira at Interlagos in 2006, alongside Christophe Bouchut, Hélio Castroneves and his son Nelson Piquet Jr., he announced that at 54 the experience had been exhausting, and he would never race again, instead plunging his resources into supporting his son’s career. Although a lavish high liver and a popular racer in his time, Piquet is also famous for his short fuse and he sits somewhere between a James Hunt-esque playboy character and a Schumacher-like conniver in posterity - he’s now, despite three world championship titles, probably more famous for starting a fight at the roadside after being punted out of the 1982 German GP while lapping inexperienced Chilean Eliseo Salazar, or possibly his less-than-cultured tongue, famously calling Mansell’s wife ugly and calling Ayrton Senna gay. He also admitted that he had a bad crash in Imola in 1987 that had permanently affected his eyesight and had long-lasting psychological effects that he tried to disguise in case it impacted his career.


Piquet with his buddies in ‘the big four’ of the era. Note how despite being teammates, Mansell and Piquet are in different coloured outfits, to match the “red 5/white 6” to make the cars distinct from a distance.

Other motor racing drivers to call Rio home are Roberto Moreno, a journeyman F1 back marker who managed a single podium in his career, with Benetton before being axed for Schumacher, but otherwise drove mainly in underfunded teams and then forged a name for himself in the US; Touring car specialist Tommy Erdos; and Cacá Bueno, five-time Stock Car Brasil champion and a national level motorsport superstar.

Away from those sports, another sport that Brazil has become a major international player is mixed martial arts, and Rio de Janeiro is a large part of that. Largely because, from its second generation, Rio was the main home and base for the Gracie family dynasty that has played an instrumental role in the popularisation of the sport, from its early days of cage fighting pay per views to its modern iteration as an accepted mainstream sport. Carlson, Robson, Reyson, Carlos Jr., Rolls, Rorion, Rickson, Royce, Royler, Relson, Renzo, Ralph, Ryan, Rodrigo, Roger, Rolles Jr., Kron, Kyra and Neiman Gracie were all born in Rio de Janeiro, and have gone on to basically be the first family of martial arts. By hook or by crook, of course; Rorion Gracie was one of the co-creators of UFC, and there was a lot of carnie BS in the early days designed to keep the Gracies at the top with clear conflicts of interest between the promoters and their family connection, as Ken Shamrock (not somebody who takes losing well, admittedly) pointed out - as a notable example from the early days of the format, he was forbidden from wearing wrestling shoes because Rorion claimed they didn’t want a fighter’s outfit to be able to be used as a weapon, before losing to Rorion’s half-brother Royce via gi choke, in which Gracie quite demonstrably used his outfit as a weapon. Nevertheless, even without favourable rules and regulations, the Gracies have long been a revered name and dynasty within martial arts, and have won countless accolades; Royce will forever be down in history as the winner of what has retrospectively become the first UFC event, the initial Ultimate Fighter pay-per-view.


Part of the clan

As well as the Gracies, another MMA legend, Vitor Belfort, is a Cariocan, as is UFC7 champion Marco Ruas, and Jorge Santiago as well as Ricardo Arona. A number of the people we’ve met along our way through Brazil have also been Cariocan - I’ve mentioned the visual artist Hélio Oiticica, many of whose works are in the Brumadinho open air art space mentioned in stage 14, and the architect Óscar Niemeyer, whose works have permeated the race from start to finish, as well as his city planning factoring into some of the cities visited as well, including areas of Belo Horizonte. So, enough of the pre-amble, let’s talk about the stage, as I’m sure you’re already bored of my eulogising various footballers and fighters.

The final stage is effectively three laps of a 40km circuit, which includes a long flat section, and a very tricky climbing section. The start/finish straight is on Copacabana beach, in fact exactly as per the Road Races in the 2016 Olympics. The original finish was planned to be up in the Botafogo area but they - correctly in may opinion - moved the finish back to the Copacabana to shorten the flat run-in (although I’m sure Mara Abbott may disagree, as that might have made the heartbreak a bit more bearable had she been caught a few kilometres from the line rather than in the dying metres - Annemiek’s heartbreak for her horror crash on the descent can remain, because Mara is a horrible time trialist, so if the trio only just caught Mara, there’s no way they catch Annemiek, especially as van der Breggen wouldn’t have collaborated in that case). However, this means that unless we switch the finish to the opposite side of the carriageway, we can’t climb the exact same circuit as in that Road Race because we’d be having to cross over ourselves.

That’s fine by me, though.


This is the start/finish: the riders will finish riding away from the camera, then there’s a 180º bend at the Hilton, and we retrace our steps coming in the opposite direction, enabling us to pass both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, two of Brazil’s - and the world’s - most famous shorelines. We then leave the coast before the Olympic Road Race did - that travelled along the coast all the way to Grumari of course, but on the latter climbing circuit, they were descending back to the coastline at this point. So we travel up between the Parque Natural Municipal de Cidade hills and the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, which hosted the canoeing and kayaking events in the 2016 Olympics. We head past the hippodrome into the Jardim Botánico area… and then things get real.


Vista Chinesa was of course the key climb of the Olympic road race, a two-stepped ascent via Canoas that proved most decisive in the racing. It was around 5,2% on average, but split into two climbs of 3,9km @ 8% and 3,6km @ 5,5%, which a short descent in the middle.

The descent, on the other hand, was a very dramatic one, with guttering in the road, and very fast, and very steep. It makes for a tougher climb - which is fine by me of course! - with the official profile that I found being 6,4km @ 7,4%, however with the first kilometre averaging just 1%, I’ve excised this false flat and only categorised the final 5,3km, which average a punishing 9,6% with 3km at 11% in the middle - I’ve decided it just justifies cat.1 status because of that steepness, like a Peña Cabarga type climb I guess. The Cronoescalada profile exaggerates the inconsistency by putting a bit of a descent that doesn’t exist into it, but it is brutal.



The Mirante da Vista Chinesa above serves actually as a precursor to the real summit a couple of hundred metres later; we then descend the final climb from the Olympic Road Race, which means that the descent is broken up by a steep climb of 1km @ 11%, which was accepted in the Road Race as a descent because it was mostly straight; here it is a (maybe slightly over-categorised) cat.3 ascent which follows after just 4km of descent after the super steep climb - hopefully the style of road will be less dangerous descending in this direction, although it’s quite technical with a few switchbacks near the top so this should be before the pace has increased too much. We don’t need any repeats of Annemiek van Vleuten’s horror crash and hopefully descending a shallower gradient will help in that respect.

This means that, with three loops, the difficult, longer, steep climb of Vista Chinesa comes at approximately 105, 65 and 24 kilometres from the line (the 40km is not exact!) while the short, steep secondary dig to Canoas comes at around 100, 59 and 19. Far enough out to not make it a straightforward finish, but close enough to tempt plenty of moves - and with it being a short stage, especially as it’s the final day of the race, nobody should be leaving anything to the last minute here. It should be pure carnage if there is even any remote chance of any GC movement. I also have an additional weapon in my arsenal in the form of the final climb of the circuit, and therefore of the race. Annoyingly, because it wasn’t in the Olympics there are no formal profiles, and an altimetry glitch on Cronoescalada means I can’t get a proper profile, as both google’s and OSM’s altimetry readings suggest the summit is around 190m and that’s what the original stage map finds, but I struggle to get a reading above 153m when I try to find the end of the climb on the climb profiler. I have found this route map for a running race which shows the climb as being almost 200m altitude gain in 2,1km. The best I managed was this which I believe to be an accurate reading in terms of start/end points, but is unreliable mid-climb as it’s not a road that suddenly leaps up to 20% for the final 300m or anything. What it is, however, is a quick trip through one of Brazil’s most notorious districts.


View down to the coast at São Conrado - where the Canoas climb started in 2016 and where we climb from after descending that same Canoas climb - from Rocinha

Cresting at roughly 91, 50 and 10km from the line, the ascent and climb through Rocinha is a completely different type of climb from Vista Chinesa and Canoas, which are forested climbs through a natural park. The Rocinha climb is urban, with housing spilling out to the roadside and, as you will likely have guessed if you didn’t already know the name, Rocinha is, like most parts of Rio built into steep hillside, a favela. In fact, one of the biggest and baddest favelas of them all. Strictly speaking. Rocinha is no longer a favela; some 100.000 people live in it, in an area of just 1 square kilometre, in a range of pastel-coloured makeshift tower blocks, and it has been converted through the establishment of permanent housing and the extension of various amenities systems to the district, into a legitimate neighbourhood, albeit a relatively impoverished and slum-heavy one. It has a full infrastructure and hundreds of businesses have set up in Rocinha, including banks and pharmacies, various cultural institutions, schools and libraries have been established to help its inhabitants develop upward social mobility, and it appears on Rio’s transport network etc.. It suffers with a lot of the same legal problems as many favelas, but it has also, thanks to its relative gentrification (again: relative) developed a point of minor interest for tourism, often with tourists looking to seek a more ‘authentic’ Brazilian experience than just the beaches and carnivals. It is nevertheless still largely controlled and operated by a criminal gang, with drug dealers common, although Brazilian security forces have reduced this by significant amounts and caught some of the most notorious kingpins of the area. However, it was safe enough for Mikhail Gorbachev to visit, and for the television series City of Men to film several episodes in the bairro, while it has been mapped by computer games companies for multiplayer maps with the favela theme, and the instigation of various businesses has meant that there is a perfectly accessible road through it, which you can see here with both the ascent and descent shown.


The steep road winding its way through less salubrious surroundings

Areas like this are not uncommon in South American cycling; we’ve seen plenty of roads through poorer barrios in the Vuelta a Colombia over the years, for example, while the Vuelta al Táchira and Vuelta a Venezuela continued to run throughout the country’s disastrous recent economic turmoil. Rocinha is nothing like as dangerous as it used to be, although obviously it’s still not exactly the first place one would want to visit upon arrival in Brazil. And fortunately it will not be the last impression that we give the world of Brazil - for when we arrive at the base of the Rocinha through road, we turn south into Leblon district and then follow the same ride along the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches as the Olympic Road Race. Because we’re going to make the riders race to the last, but we also need an iconic finish, similar to the Champs Elysées or the Paseo del Prado… and where better than the Copacabana? Having visited somewhere that showcases the negative side of Brazilian stereotypes, we can then finish somewhere nearby that showcases the other side - the glamour, the glitz, the sunshine and the joie-de-vivre.


So over three weeks of racing, we’ve had 3 mountaintop finishes (Serra do Rio do Rastro, Senhora da Piedade, Soberbo) and one near-mountaintop finish (Petrópolis). We’ve had cobbles, climbs and cobbled climbs. We’ve had three time trials, two individual and one team. We’ve had short circuit races and circuits of all kind - from the mixed “some climbing some flat” of this stage to the “no flat all day” of Belo Horizonte to the “borderline crit” of Interlagos. We’ve covered three of Brazil’s biggest cities and their surrounding area, stopping off at several cycling-supportive cities and regions on the way. We’ve paid tribute to the biggest cycling events Brazil has ever seen as well as other elements of its sporting culture with football and motorsports - and even MMA - getting shouts out over the course of its three weeks. We’ve forced the riders to fight to the last, and I’ve tried to produce something that will balance things between the specialists in rioplatense cycling typical of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, and the climbing specialists of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador - with rouleur challenges to make the latter suffer, and more multi-climb stages than the former would usually face in their own domestic scenes. I’ve tried to be mindful of the typical issues of South American cycling for stage length as well, so I’ve included a good few shorter stages of the kind that they regularly race in the at-least-partially-amateur world down there rather than just go all out Grand Tour on them, so we’re talking only 2825km across the whole race, so averaging just 134,5km a stage - very low for a Grand Tour, but more than reasonable I feel for a race with the kind of péloton that would be attracted here. We’ve been through rich lands, poor lands, and everything in between. From highlands to lowlands, and everything from flat TTs to 11% average climbs. Hopefully we can crown a real champion of South American-style cycling.

That was my Volta do Brasil.
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