Race Design Thread

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That would also be a much more interesting profile for the Memorial Marco Pantani, which generally doesn't suit the kind of rider he was in the slightest. Though I always thought it should have been a Cesena/Cesenatico to Cippo di Carpegna for a couple of ascents and then back.

Stage 3: San Pedro de Macorís - San Francisco de Macorís, 190km





Yes, there’s a typo in the place names on the profile. My mistake.

The longest stage of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional is also the flattest, which might come as a disappointment to some, but it serves an important purpose in this race. Firstly, as a challenge to endurance, seeing as stages up in the >200km region are rare in Caribbean and Central American cycling, and secondly because its distance will serve as a challenge while simultaneously its flat parcours will not serve as an impediment to racing in the previous stage. We travel back from the inland of the eastern peninsula to the southern coast of the Republic for the stage start in San Pedro de Macorís, which was passed through in the initial semitappe in stage 1a.



As mentioned in that summary, San Pedro de Macorís merits a bit more than a cursory passing mention, but that was all it got because it was appearing as a stage start here. Now one of the biggest cities in the Dominican Republic with nearly 200.000 inhabitants, San Pedro was originally part of the El Seibo province, and eventually in the early 19th Century grew to the status of a town due to an influx of settlers setting up in the region from the rapidly-expanding Santo Domingo urban sprawl. After the rate of settlement accelerated to the extent that the city moved to encompass the eastern shores of the Higuamo, the city came to be seen as an independent entity of its own, under the name of Macorís de los Plátanos, renamed in 1858 to the present name in conjunction with its patron saint. As a relative new-town, the city has had two major waves of immigration, first from Cubans escaping their war of independence at the end of the 19th Century, and then Afro-Caribbeans from the Lesser Antillles; this latter group in particular have become a major part of the city’s culture and self-identity, comprising the majority in the city centre and resulting in a vibrant “Cocolo” culture of the city’s own (“Cocolo” is a term used in the Hispanic Caribbean generally for black Caribbeans and in particular those of Anglophone Caribbean islands, but also has grown to be something entirely Dominican in respect of San Pedro de Macorís, and is often worn with pride by Afro-Latino groups within their own community, if not when used as an epithet by other groups).

The city is also home to former Poeta Nacional Pedro Mir, an important member of the 1940s “Independent Poets” movement (hence a good person to honour for a Vuelta a la Independencia, no?) who was a social poet respected and championed by Juan Bosch, a fact which led him to spend 16 years in exile in Cuba before returning after the end of the Trujillo dictatorship. His words have been translated into many languages and immortalised all over the Dominican Republic, as well as in the US, in the memorial to those killed in the Belle Harbor disaster in 2001, when a plane bound for Santo Domingo crashed shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport after taking off too soon after a larger plane causing heavy wake turbulence, which the crew overcompensated for, placing undue stress on the rudders until they broke, destabilising the craft.

While I know I said I would largely circle around baseball without too much of a deep dive due to my own personal ignorance of the sport, San Pedro de Macorís deserves a bit of a mention for this because of its disproportionate prominence in the sport. Despite being less than 1/10th the size of Santo Domingo, San Pedro de Macorís has produced almost as many Major League Baseball players as the capital, and it is particularly prominent when it comes to developing players in the position of shortstop. Baseball was not the original sport here and in fact it originally lagged well behind other Dominican cities in taking up the sport; because of the large influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants, the main sport in the city was cricket, which had been brought from the Anglophone Caribbean islands, and there was a vibrant cricket scene in the city and surrounding area. However, with the city’s moving toward an economy based on sugar production, large-scale plantation and estate owners largely came from the USA, and for prestige purposes offered financial incentives to the cricket teams, already expert in many skills convertible to baseball as a result, to switch sports and establish the area as a centre of excellence for baseball prospects. Despite this, their local team, Estrellas Orientales, are a struggling team with only four championships in the Dominican League, and none in over 60 years.

Due to its proximity to Santo Domingo and other towns which are common hosts of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, such as La Romana, San Pedro de Macorís is not a common stage town - it did however host a stage start in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008, usually a short stage back to Santo Domingo after a preceding stage to La Romana. This stage maintains that tradition of only using the city as a stage start, and begins heading westwards on Autovía number 4, before turning north on the 78 toward San José de los Llanos. We turn west once more onto Ruta 66 just west of El Gerónimo, for an intermediate sprint in Bayaguana, an inland city which was established as a direct consequence of the Devastaciones de Osorio, when Felipe II forcibly re-settled colonists from northern and western Hispaniola closer to Santo Domingo in order to better police the burgeoning black market and trade in contraband from the island’s Atlantic coast, and named for the governor of the Hispaniola colony of the time, António Osorio y Villegas. This is followed 20km later by a second intermediate sprint in the capital of this inland province, Monte Plata.



Monte Plata is one of those classically misleadingly named cities, like Puertollano in southern Spain. It is neither a mountain (it is on flatlands) nor does it have any connection with silver (plata). The city was also created from the Devastaciones de Osorio, and its name is in fact derived from that it was a town created to settle the people of two towns that Osorio had destroyed, Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata, with Monte Plata settled upon as a portmanteau of the two. It is the hometown of the taekwondo practitioner Gabriel Mercedes, who took an Olympic silver in Beijing, two world championship bronzes and two Pan-American gold medals in the flyweight category. It hosted a couple of Vueltas a la Independencia Nacional in the 80s and 90s, but from 2001 until 2019 it was a forgotten town for the race; however with its proximity to some small climbs in the Las Colinas range, it was brought in as a stage host. 2019’s stage had to be annulled due to an inability to guarantee the security of the riders - it appears there was an issue with the road closure measures - but in 2020 the stage took place, with Inteja’s Joel García winning the sprint from the breakaway as the long (and ultimately unsuccessful) quest on the part of rival teams to win back that time lost to Ismael Sánchez on stage 1 began in earnest.

We don’t go through Las Colinas, at least not like that, anyway; instead we continue past Monte Plata and head north again through the range on Ruta 11, which means nothing more than some rolling terrain in the middle of the stage’s distance, with around 30km of undulations, ramps and repechos after the feedzone. There’s very little that counts as more than a bit of false flat, though, with some light gradients and rumbling up and down before things settle down to flatter terrain again after the town of Cevicos with just over 50km remaining. There will probably be some tired legs in the Central American/Caribbean péloton by the time we get to the final intermediate sprint, in Cotui, a city famous for its literary tradition and book festival, where we rejoin highway roads until the finish.



Famous for its ore-rich deposits which make it an important mining centre, and also for the largest man-made lake in the Caribbean, Cotui is the capital of the eastern part of the Cibao region (other than the Samana Peninsula), and is named, like El Seibo, after the Taíno chief that ruled this part of the island when the Spanish discovered it. From here, it’s highways all the way until we reach San Francisco de Macorís, the finishing town for the day, home to 188.000 people, and the capital of the Duarte province.

As the 6th largest city in the Dominican Republic, SFM is the world’s capital of organic cocoa, with the city’s municipality and outlying region being the biggest producer of the popular foodstuff in the world. It sits on the southern edges of the Cordillera Septentrional, otherwise known as the Sierra de Montecristi, so while these mountains can sit there looking threatening to the péloton they won’t have to face up to them just yet. Like Cotui, it has grown out of mineral wealth, having originally been an outlying part of La Vega founded in the early 16th Century. 200 years later, the area was developed due to the foreign investment of Europeans as they developed a taste for cocoa, and the fertile, supportive climate for the growth of this particular crop became a major economic boost for the area, and the previously secluded Monastério de Santa Ana quickly grew a community, which in turn became a transport hub for exporting the cocoa, which became the city of San Francisco de Macorís.





San Francisco de Macorís is also the hometown of former president José Rafael Molina Ureña and Hilma Contreras, another writer inspired and championed by Juan Bosch, as well as pioneering Dominican musician Félix del Rosario, who introduced Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms and percussion to merengue, but as with most Dominican cities, its main legacy is in baseball; the city was chosen to house an expansion franchise as the Dominican Winter League sought to increase its reach and add further teams, leading to the creation of the Gigantes del Cibao team, who serve as rivals to the more established Águilas Cibaeñas in nearby Santiago de los Caballeros. Their home stadium (Gigantes, not Águilas) is named for former star Julián Javier, who carved out a successful career in MLB with Pittsburgh, St Louis and Cincinnati before moving into baseball administration, helping found a local league in the Cibao region, the Dominican Summer League (subordinate to the more famous Winter League) and the Gigantes del Cibao team, and is a member of the Dominican Baseball and the Triple-A hall of fame. Away from Dominicans’ favourite pastime, the city is also home to another sporting son, former NBA swingman Francisco García, who spent a decade with the Sacramento Kings, before moving down the hierarchies to finish his career back at home - the city is arguably the Dominican Republic’s basketball capital, hosting a tournament since the 1980s annually and serving as the home of García’s final team, and the current reigning champions in the Liga Nacional, Índios de San Francisco de Macorís.

I am expecting this stage to end with a sprint in the city, but the abnormal length of the stage for the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional will mean that we may find a few more riders burnt off than may be expected of a stage with this profile. There hasn’t been a stage of this kind of length in 3 years at the race, with 2017’s stage 5, from Santo Domingo to Samana, the last to exceed this one in duration (Ludovic Turpin took the win after 196km on that occasion). 2018’s race included two stages of around 180km around Santo Domingo, but the longest stages the last two years have only been around the 160-165km mark. Nevertheless, a lot of riders will find the finish in San Francisco de Macorís familiar, even if the duration is something a bit out of the ordinary for them; it is a regular stage host which was introduced to the race in 1980. At first breakaways often survived, and I believe that the stage would sometimes be through the Cordilla Septentrional, or leaving the Cordillera Central, such as with the 2001 stage from Jarabacoa with some serious climbing in the first half then a flat second half, or the semitappes from Bonao, which followed some hilly semitappes in the morning. Nowadays, sprints are more common, however, with five of the seven stages to finish in the town in the last decade ending in that way, plus a sixth, in 2017, ending with Alberto Ramos just holding off the péloton by a mere three seconds after a late attack. Winners in San Francisco de Macorís in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional include the Cuban Iván Domínguez, who was a stalwart of the US domestic scene who naturalised to US citizenship in 2009 and had a six-month flirt with the top level with Fuji-Servetto in 2009 before ending his career with Rock Racing and Colavita - he won from a break including Maxim Iglinskiy, Miguel Ubeto and Wendy Cruz, three of the bigger names to have been prominent in the race - Dominican veteran Deivy Cabellán, still in the péloton today at 39; Cuban-born and later naturalised Venezuelan sprinter Gil Cordovés, pre-naturalisation Diego Milán, when he was racing as a guest across from Spain; former CarmioOro, Team Type 1 and late-period Euskaltel points purchase Jure Kocjan (who later lost the result thanks to a retrospective retest of his pre-Euskaltel samples, and most recently in 2019, the Panamanian prospect Cristofer Jurado. Will it be another sprint in San Francisco de Macorís? I’d bet so, but you never know… you just never know.
 
Stage 4: Langnau im Emmental - Grächen, 217.7 km





It's stage 4 and it's Switzerland, so about time for a mountain stage. This is the queen stage, the longest in the race, and ending on the only MTF.

We start from Langnau im Emmental, the second-largest town in the valley famous for its cheese. It hosted the race start in 2008 and again in 2019, and is the birthplace of former pro Marcel Wyss.


Luis Leon Sanchez won the second stage in Langnau last year.

The opening stages are characterised by a lot of false flat, both uphill and downhill. This continues as we head south towards the Glaubenbielen Pass, the first climb of the day. I've only categorised the final 12 kilometers, which average 5.4%, but the main body of the climb comes in the final 4.5 kilometers at 8.2%, just after Sörenberg, the finish of the 2012 edition.



We then descend the hard side of the climb, sadly unused in 2012 (they ended with the first two-thirds of the profile above), into Giswil. The road instantly heads up again, as we climb up to the two-stepped Brünigpass, the easiest of today's five categorised climbs. It's a shame that coverage won't have started yet, as the landscape is scenic, but then again that applies to most of the rest of the stage. An uncomplicated descent leads into Meiringen, where the first intermediate sprint is located, from where the route heads uphill around the Aareschlucht.

A short descent forms a brief respite as we enter Innertkirchen. Pretty much every climb in this area is hors catégorie, and today's offer - the mighty Grimselpass - is no exception. The climb is 26.6 kilometers at a fairly inconsistent 5.8% - enough to separate the climbers from the rest of the peloton, but there's a long valley to come. Even so, it should really add to the attrition.



After the descent into the Goms area (last year's finish), there's forty kilometers' worth of respite, with mostly flat and easy downhill. On a rare, brief rise, there's another intermediate sprint, in Münster-Geschinen. Otherwise, it's very much the calm before the storm, as the next climb is not only HC, it's also probably the hardest in the race.



18 kilometers at just under 8% is properly hard, and there's quite a few steeper sections along the way. The Moosalp is one of my favourite climbs in Switzerland, as it links up naturally to quite a few logical stage hosts, often atop a much easier climb. Today, we're not heading for Zermatt, Saas-Fee or Visp though, instead, we finish in a more mid-sized ski resort.



After a technical descent, we join the profile above between Stalden and the junction to Saas-Fee, for a climb of 15.4 kilometers at 4.9%. Once we leave the valley, the final 7.4 kilometers average 7.2%, with the steepest stuff early on in that section. If the riders have played the waiting game on the Moosalp, this is where the race explodes. However, as said previously, this is the queen stage, so only taking 30 seconds here is a missed opportunity...

Grächen is yet to see the national race, although it did host the MTB Marathon WC last year. In the past, a one-day race from Visp finished here, with Lucien van Impe as the most famous winner.


Grächen, as seen from the Moosalp.
 
Reactions: Pantani_lives
Grächen did in fact host the Tour de Suisse - in 1973 and 1978. José Manuel Fuente won the former, and Giovanni Battaglin the latter. I guess Simplon was the leadin in 1973 as they were coming from Locarno, while in 1978 it was from Bulle so probably from the north or maybe the Valais.
 
That would also be a much more interesting profile for the Memorial Marco Pantani, which generally doesn't suit the kind of rider he was in the slightest. Though I always thought it should have been a Cesena/Cesenatico to Cippo di Carpegna for a couple of ascents and then back.
I had often long ago tried different versions of the 2008 Giro stage to Cesena, I think it was following the 2014 Giro's revisit to Monte Carpegna. I hadn't thought of it as a route for Memorial Marco Pantani, but that is quite obviously well suited to a route like that. Here's a route that mimics the 2008 stage quite a bit, but revamped and with a Monte Carpegna circuit added. I think I'd prefer it to be climbed just once, but approached from the south instead of east (like in 2014) - the distance would be similar if the detour into San Marino would be skipped as well. I've just added a single lap of the Cesena circuit, but I'd prefer at least two laps for Memorial Marco Pantani (example), while it can be skipped entirely for a Giro stage.
 
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Stage 12: Bibbiena - La Spezia; 214km


Stage 12 starts in Bibbiena a stunning smaller town in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany. It's meainly known for the nearby sanctuary Santa Maria del Sasso that features one of the most important Renaissance churchs in that area and was comissioned by Lorenzo de Medici himself.
The town:

The sanctuary:

After only 8km the first climb of the day starts, Passo della Consuma, 16.9km at 4.2%.

Not a super hard climb, but decent length and right at the start of the stage, so we should at least get a strong breakaway.
After the following descent the next 142km are rather uneventful, flat with a bit of rolling terrain here and there, we're leaving Tuscany and entering Liguria.
After around 203km the next (and final climb of the day starts, the ascent to Monti di Arcola on a really narrow road, 1.4km at 9.8%.
The climb tops with a bit under 9km to go, the final 7.5km of the stage are flat and will bring the riders to La Spezia, a town mainly known for it's harbour and having a major Italian Naval base.

This one could go to the breakaway, the climb near the start should help with getting a strong breakaway and the pure sprinters and their teams probably won't fancy there chances with such a steep climb topping with less than 10km to go. Maybe a team is going to be willing to keep the breakaway in check if they have a fast one day racer on their Giro team, but it won't be that easy to control and if that happens a late attack by a stagehunter could also be an interesting option.
With the stage finishing in Liguria and this being my version of the 2009 Giro you can probably guess what's gonna come next, it won't be easy...;)
 
Stage 13: Sestri Levante - Riomaggiore; 60.6km


Yes, it's the one thing that everyone likes about the 2009 Giro, the crazy ITT with over 600 corners and over one hour of climbing overall.
It took the winner of the actual ITT, Menchov 1hr 34min 29sec, Leipheimer finished 20 seconds behind him, Garzelli finished 3rd, 1min 3sec behind him.
Most of the top guys used road bikes with TT bikes for this one, Di Luca didn't and still managed to finish 6th, 1:54 behind, so yes, this is an ITT for the gc specialists.
It also comes right before 2 mountain stages, so some riders will pay for their effort durning the next 2 day.
 
Stage 4: Moca - Puerto Plata (Alto de Isabel de Torres), 140km





GPM:
Altos de Moca (cat.2) 8,4km @ 6,5%
Cupey (cat.3) 4,6km @ 7,0%
Alto de Isabel de Torres (cat.2) 5,7km @ 12,5%

Yes, the mountains are here in earnest, with the toughest summit finish the race has ever seen (harder climbs have been seen - on occasion - but never as summits). Summit finishes at genuine challenge MTFs are a rarity in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, but there are a couple of reasonable options, and this is mine.

Before we get to the climbing, however, there’s a stage at hand. We start in Moca, which is now the tenth-largest city in the Dominican Republic with a population of just below 175.000, but originally it was just an outlying village from La Vega. However, it was raised to the status of “Villa Heroica” for its contribution to the coup ousting Buenaventura Báez from power for the third of five times - Báez had been a central figure to the independence of the country and its separation from Haiti, but he undid much of that popularity by repeatedly trying to entice larger foreign powers to annex the country, most notably Spain (where he enjoyed lavish treatment in exile) and the United States. This reputation was strengthened when Ramón Cáceres, the son of a former president, assassinated the dictator Ulises Heureaux, known as Lilís, in Moca, due to his regime bankrupting the country and relied on vote-stuffing and a bribe system to seize power and install puppet governments. Lilís had effectively subjugated the country to the US through secret loans and private enrichment deals, while printing unsecured money and ruining traders and merchants within the country, so his death was not an impediment to Cáceres later becoming president himself - although he, like Heureaux, would meet an untimely grisly end at the hand of political opponents. Moca maintained its position as the cradle of anti-authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic into the 20th Century - António de la Maza, one of the principle co-conspirators in the assassination of Rafael Trujillo and one of the central figures of opposition in the later years of the latter’s dictatorship, was also born in Moca.



As well as being known for freedom fighters, Moca is also known for its Sagrada Corazón de Jesús cathedral and as one of the coffee exporting capitals of the entire world. A lot of the coffee is grown in the mountains of the Cordillera Septentrional which overlook the city, which is just over halfway between San Francisco de Macorís and Santiago de los Caballeros, the country’s second city. This line of cities - including Mao, the furthest along to the west - are very important to the country’s economy as they provide the coffee-growing axis thanks to the fertile soils and the shelter afforded by the inland side of the Cordillera. Moca seldom hosts stage finishes in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, however it has been a regular host of stage starts - usually the race’s most important mountain stage starts in the city in fact, usually finishing in either Constanza or Jarabacoa in the Cordillera Central - here we’re going into an entirely different mountain range, albeit the stage has a similar role within the race.

That role becomes clear almost directly from kilometre zero, as we have an early-stage climb which is a pretty severe ascent to the Altos de Moca, a pass on Ruta 21 from the village of San Victor which consists of 1800m at 5% (albeit including a couple of nasty ramps at the start and end, then just over a kilometre and a half at rolling gradients including a short false-flat descent, before a ramping up to 5km at 9,2% to reach the summit, with a steepest kilometre of 10,5% and a toughest repecho - in the middle of that kilometre at 10,5% - of 350m at 15%. As a result of this, we should see a strong breakaway and a few of the non-climbers will be removed from contention immediately and need to work on the middle part of the stage just to survive. This is a very strong climb which gains cat.2 status, and its overall stats of 8,4km @ 6,5% rather give the lie to that challenging second half. There’s video covering the entire climb here.


View from the parador at the summit

The descent is much more gradual - from a height of just over 850m to sea level takes around 20km, so averaging just over 4%. It’s not super twisty, but it’s definitely sinuous, with a good few sweeping corners enabling a group to get out of sight and thereby out of mind before the second part of the stage. The middle part of the stage is 70km of pan flat racing along the northern coast of the island, including the first intermediate sprint in Sosúa, a beach town located just to the east of Puerto Plata airport. Sosúa is a very unusual town in that its history stretches back less than 80 years; after Rafael Trujillo agreed in the 1938 Évian Agreement to accept Jewish refugees (potentially an act to try to curry some of the favour lost in the massacre of ethnic Haitians a couple of years earlier), land in the Sosúa Bay was set aside to house them; around 800 German and Austrian Jews who had been issued with Dominican passports settled in the ares during World War II - apparently around six times that figure were actually issued but because of issues with escaping occupied Europe and the difficulty of accessibility of the Dominican Republic without going through transit countries which were also viable points of settlement, only a fraction wound up settling in Sosúa. These were mainly Ashkenazic Jews, whereas to that point due to the Spanish settlement, only Sephardic Jews had been found in the country, although with the establishment of synagogues, yeshivas and other items of Jewish cultural life, many of the existing Sephardic community gravitated toward Sosúa too. The new community established dairies to maintain kosher food, and the town swiftly grew. In the early 1980s, now becoming a burgeoning town, with its pristine and secluded beaches and proximity to the airport, the touristic potential of Sosúa was noticed, and the town was redeveloped to this end. Many of the Jewish settlers sold much of the land that had been granted them by the Dominican government to speculators or established hotels and inns; while the town has grown to such end as the Jews are once more a small minority within the town, it still remains the second largest concentration of Jewish-origin, and by far the largest concentration of Ashkenazic-origin, people in the Republic, after Santo Domingo - which is pretty remarkable for a city of just 50.000.

After heading past the airport, we turn inland to Montellano and then back to the coast to the second intermediate sprint in Puerto Plata. This is nominally our stage host, seeing as the summit finish is at Puerto Plata’s Hausberg. Officially known as San Felipe de Puerto Plata, this is the Dominican Republic’s 9th largest city and its most important trading port on the north coast. Being a trading post which serves as the most important Atlantic port on the second largest island in the Caribbean, Puerto Plata has had a chequered history tied in to all of the positives and negatives that such a location and tradition entails.


Puerto Plata from the summit of Isabel de Torres

After Columbus’ first settlement on the north of Hispaniola was destroyed by the Taíno before his return, and his second, La Isabela, was ravaged by disease and hurricanes, he changed his focus toward the south of the island and established the city now known as Santo Domingo. The secluded natural bay around where Puerto Plata sits, however, made it a much more natural location, and a port on the north coast was still of real interest to Spain at this point. Accounts vary, but Puerto Plata was established at some point between 1496 and 1506. However, its history becomes murkier in the second half of the 16th century, as Spain started to look southward for its colonial interests, and the western Atlantic became increasingly frequented by pirates and opportunistic privateers. Worse, still, Puerto Plata was where English maverick (and grade A terrible human being) Sir John Hawkins managed to initiate the Triangle Trade, paving the way for a huge increase in slave trading - he hi-jacked a Portuguese slave ship from Sierra Leone bound for their colonies (slave trading was already going on of course, but was largely insular, intra-colony trading by the Portuguese and Spanish at this point), and sold the Africans as slaves in Puerto Plata in exchange for a variety of products considered luxuries in England. While this incident did enrage the Spanish and lead to them banning British vessels from their harbours for some time, the profitability of Hawkins’ triangle trade led him to repeat his work, this time with the encouragement of Queen Elizabeth, and after conducting his business in a less, well, piratic fashion in Venezuela, he was granted a certificate enabling him to conduct commerce, which the slave trade was considered, and thus paving the way for Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, which added a third major player to the market and greatly accelerated the rate of acquisition of slaves.

Before long, however, Puerto Plata’s distance from Santo Domingo itself, and the presence of a mountain range or two between them, meant administering Puerto Plata was proving difficult and the amount of illicit trade was becoming a major concern to the Spanish, and when the establishment of the city’s icon, the Fortaleza San Felipe, failed to serve as sufficient deterrent, action was demanded from Madrid, leading to the razing of the city and the resettlement of its population in Monte Plata, as mentioned a couple of stages back. The town was repopulated with settlers from Las Canarias a century later, when the golden age of piracy had subsided. The tumultuous history of the city continued with an all-too-rare land battle in the Quasi-War between France and the fledgling USA in 1800, and its position as an important seaport made it a strategic point in the tug of love over Hispaniola between France and Spain that is reflected in the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to this day. After the Dominican Republic won its independence from Haiti in 1844 and Bonaventura Báez’ dictatorship was toppled, Pedro Santana, the leader of the forces favouring reintegration into Spain, assumed control of the country and imprisoned Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the country’s founding fathers, in the Fortaleza San Felipe, and eventually, after the Spanish reconquista de Santo Domingo and the Guerra de la Restauración Dominicana, the city was razed once more and rebuilt in its present form. It had a brief spell of returning to its former notoriety when Trujillo used the Fortaleza as a prison once more, but nowadays it’s more famous for housing the largest dolphinarium in the world than its role in the slave trade or dictatorial prisons. It is the cradle of presidents of all stripes though - four Dominican presidents have been born in the city - Gregorio Luperón, Ulises Heureaux, Carlos Felipe Morales, and António Imbert.

This serves as the beginning of a 35km circuit which includes a pretty severe climb; Puerto Plata is overlooked by Pico Isabel de Torres, a large free-standing mountain to the north of the Cordillera Septentrional, and it is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, bearing a statue of Christ the Redeemer and offering incredible views over the city. It is accessed primarily by a Teleférico, which is the first and one of the biggest in the Caribbean region.



Of course, you can also get there by road, which entails a not-especially-long, but especially steep, ascent from the village of San Marcos Arriba. At first, however, we’re not quite doing that. Instead we’re ascending the first, very steep part of the climb, before bearing right into the hilltop village of Cupey - you can see a short clip of the climb here. It’s officially around 4km at 8%, but the first 2,5km of that are up at the 13% mark, the rest is false flat kind of terrain. This summit is with 36km remaining, because we then have a gradual descent through the Star Hill resort which takes us back toward Puerto Plata Airport. After this, we pass through Puerto Plata once more for a third intermediate sprint, which comes with 13km remaining on the odometer, before heading up to Isabel de Torres for real. This one really, really isn’t pleasant.



Yes, look at that monstrosity of a climb, with ramps up to 22-23% and a two kilometre stretch averaging 18,5% near the end. A kilometre of which averages around 15%, which tells you how steep the stretch just before and just after that must be. 5,7km @ 12,5% is one of those things that makes Javier Guillén respond like that Vince McMahon meme. No wonder most of the people going to the summit take the cable car.

It’s difficult to find an avatar from racing that we’d be familiar with for the Isabel de Torres climb. Statistically I guess Los Machucos is similar, but is more inconsistent and wears its toughest gradients at the bottom. La Camperona’s steepest section is more like it, but it isn’t sustained for long enough. It’s not too dissimilar to Más de la Costa, but it’s a bit longer than that; ditto Tre Time di Lavaredo. It’s not quite Angliru-tough, but the tough part of Angliru is only about 6km long - however it averages something approaching 14% so a bit tougher than Isabel de Torres. The climb is too steep to truly compare to the climbs of the right length - at 12,5% it’s a similar length to, but around 33% steeper than, Peña Cabarga, Urkiola, Planche des Belles Filles, Las Allanadas and Rifugio Gardeccia - but there are some climbs which are comparable in steepness but longer, like Zoncolan or Kitzbüheler Horn, or shorter, like La Camperona.

Either way, I think we can safely say a climber is going to win this one. And time gaps should be massive. And it should look incredible on the coverage even if FEDOCI can’t give us any helicams either - you can see some drone footage showcasing the scenery at the summit of Pico Isabel de Torres here and here which shows you there’s a car park and some good, well-paved roads up to the summit. This could be the right royal centrepiece of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, and it’s almost a crying shame that it isn’t.



 
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Stage 14: Rapallo - Prato Nevoso; 201.4km


The stage starts in Rapallo, a town that is known (among Historians) for the massacre of 1494, when the troops of King Charles VIII of France (Swiss mercenaries), commanded Louis of Orléans, conquered the city and killed all the civilians that they could find).

Right after the start we have the first climb of the day, the ascent to Santa Maria di Noceto, 4.3km at 6.7%, a decent short climb that has one function, we should get a strong breakaway and there could be a bit of a fight to enter the breakaway.
After that we have around 71km of false flat alongside the Ligurian coast, maybe a bit of rolling terrain here and there, until we reach Savona.
From here onwards we have around 54km that consist of rolling terrain, no proper climbs, but lots of up short up and downs and shallow ascents that are followed by false flat before a decent on shallow gradients.
Then the next ascent of the day starts, Battifollo, 9.4km at 5.1%. Sadly there are no profiles for this side of the scent, only for the other ones, but the road looks pretty nice, so no problem here.
After a shrt descent we have 7km of slightly downhill false flat, then the next climb already begins. It's the ascent to San Gree, 8km at 6.1%, a bit irregular and with more than one section at 9%.

On top of the climb you have 3km of rolling terrain, the a short, but rather steep descent that leads right into the next climb, San Giácomo de Robure, 5.6km at 5.1%, but with a section of false flat in the middle of the climb.

After the 8km long descent we have 8km of 2-3% false flat before the actual MTF starts.
Now the final ascent to Prato Nevoso starts, but here comes the twist: It's the other side of the climb that is a) by all accounts more stunning because it's a smaller, road and b) more interesting because it's more irregular and features harder sections, 12km at 7.09% with 1km at 10.7% and 1km at 11.3% and a short descent near the top, it should be a lot more interesting than the usual ascent.

This one is gonna be a lot harder than it looks, a +200km stage with a bit over 4,000m of altitude gain and an irregular final climb as the MTF, right after a plus 90min ITT, some potential contenders could loose minutes right here.
The stage finishes in the southern part of the Piemonte region, so you can probably guess what's up next, long range attacks will probably only happen on stage 15, not on stage 14.
 
Stage 5: Puerto Plata - Santiago de los Caballeros, 136km





GPM:
Paso de Loma de Guayacanes (cat.3) 6,1km @ 5,6%

We follow the big mountaintop finish with a short transitional stage back inland, and no real transfer, given that we’re starting from Puerto Plata, which was the nominal host at least of the previous stage finish, being the town at the base of the Pico de Isabel de Torres. I’ve obviously already gone in-depth on Puerto Plata, so we set off quickly in a westerly direction, with our first landmark being the cruise port at Amber Cove.



We then head inland to the town of Imbert. This is a name which has cropped up a few times and follows the fortunes of a family who have been integral to the Dominicans’ national history; the town was named for General José María Bartolomé Imbert du Plessis, who was born Joseph-Marie Barthélemy Imbert in France in 1798, and emigrated to Hispaniola, where he settled in Moca and became an important figure in the Dominican war against the Haitians which established the independence of the Republic; he was the winner of the Battle of Santiago, along with other victories including one on the site of the future town that bore his name. He had six children, the second of which, creatively known as Segundo, was a military figure a generation later who went on to become Vice-President of the Republic; two generations later comes António Imbert, who drove the car that ambushed dictator Rafael Trujillo and was one of the competing rulers in 1965, fighting against Caamaño’s constitutionalists. António’s brother Segundo Manuel married the granddaughter of rum magnate Andrés Brugal, and their daughter Carmen is an important jurist and legal figure in the Dominican Republic also; António’s son Oscar is an architect who designed Punta Cana airport, and his illicit son Manuel António is chief of the Special Police Corps for State Banks.

Come to think of it, maybe the town should have been called Macondo.

The next phase of the stage is an inland western roll along the base of the Cordillera Septentrional, until we reach Villa Isabela, a small town built inland from the site of La Isabela, Columbus’ first Dominican outpost.



La Isabela was the first city of the New World, founded in 1493 as a permanent settlement, after the initial planned settlement further west was destroyed by native Taínos before Columbus could return. Perhaps because of this, when the initial aim of La Isabela, to find gold and other precious metals to curry favour with Queen Isabela (for whom the settlement had been named), failed, the settlement was instead set to work on a new goal: the enslavement of the local Taíno population. Columbus set the colony up with over 1000 people spread across 17 ships, including women and Africans (not noted in records but presumably as slaves), craftsmen, tradesmen and a priest. However, the successive blights of disease brought from Europe and the first European experience of a hurricane (indeed, the word is believed to have originated in Taíno) with the colonists remaining on the coasts while the Taíno escaped to the hills left the colonists struuggling; they responded by enslaving and taxing the natives, resulting in conflict, so when the introduced crops brought from Europe failed in the new climate, it was catastrophic for both populations; the Europeans suffered malnutrition and scurvy, and the natives were introduced to smallpox and typhoid, two illnesses they had never previously encountered, and their population was decimated. The colony was abandoned in 1498 with several of its inhabitants joining rebel alliances against the Columbus family’s control of the new world colonies, and with Santo Domingo proving significantly more prosperous and sustainable, and less susceptible to hurricanes. When gold was discovered in the Cordillera Central, rather than the Cordillera Septentrional where all of the La Isabela mining work had been concentrated, it signalled the death knell for the north coast outpost, and it was soon abandoned.

Villa Isabela, by contrast, has grown into a comparatively prosperous town of 15.000, some 9km inland. It has benefited from shelter from the coastal tropical storms and also from being built several hundred years later when the Spanish settlers had learnt how to adapt their diets to the crops available in the Caribbean colonies, but still, these are trivialities! Here, we turn south and we cross the Cordillera Septentrional via the stage’s only categorised climb, the cat.3 ascent to Loma de Guayacanes.



A low summit looked over by the Finca La Protectora watchtower on a nearby mountain, this is a clear drop in the mountain ridge that is the western tip of the Cordillera, where the mountains are notably lower than they are on the eastern edge such as in the previous stage’s crossings. It’s hardly a significant ascent in terms of being decisive for the stage, but at 6km at 5,6% it is at least more than just a speed bump, so sprinters will potentially have to do a bit of work to catch back on to earn the right to sprint out the finale.

The area to the west of Santiago de los Caballeros on the plateau bounded by the Septentrional and Central Cordilleras and the Haitian border is largely an agricultural area, save for the city of Mao. We don’t travel quite as far south as Mao, however, and take a left turn to head east again into the city of Esperanza, home to 70.000 people despite being barely a century old. It is one of the largest cities remaining to have never hosted the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional - so I’ll give it an intermediate sprint to make up for it. From here it’s highways all the way to the finishing city, passing through Bisonó, often known as Navarrete, on the way, for our final meta volante. Bisonó was named for the land owner who first settled it, and only granted town status as recently as 1956, but has rapidly expanded to over 100.000 settlers as it becomes a primary satellite or commuter town for Santiago de los Caballeros. The latter, with an official population of 700.000, a metropolitan population of just under 1,2 million and an overall urban population of 1,5 million, is after all the second biggest city in the country, and the fourth biggest in the Caribbean overall, outsized only by Santo Domingo, Havana and Port-au-Prince.



The second half of the stage is flat as we roll towards a finish in the Dominican Republic’s second city, and a major economic hub. Santiago only postdates La Isabela by two years, but the fact that it was protected from hurricanes by the Cordillera Septentrional meant it was much hardier, and once gold was discovered in the nearby Cordillera Central, it swiftly grew in importance and size, stunted periodically by earthquake damage until the French domination following their revolution in the late 18th Century saw the city transferred to their hands and modern French architecture and urban planning was introduced. With its central location, Santiago was known as “Ciudad Corazón”, and held an important position both as a strategic location in the subsequent war of Dominican Independence and as a key to the hearts and minds of Hispaniola’s Spanish, criollo, and other Hispanophone populations. In fact, for many years it was the capital, either in actuality or de facto. Its name is probably apocryphal - the appellation “de los Caballeros” reputedly refers to 30 knights who had escaped the beleaguered La Isabela colony to Santiago and written a formal complaint about their treatment at the hands of Columbus’ brothers Diego and Bartolomé, to be presented to the king upon arrival in Spain, after being horrified at seeing the treatment they had endured in La Isabela compared to the affluent Santiago colony, which enjoyed fertile soil, easy access to fresh water, and a range of fruit crops that balanced the diet considerably compared to the poor coastal colony from whence they had come.

For many years, however, Santiago was a city divided; there was no way to cross the Yaque del Norte without taking a watercraft of some kind until as recently as 1962, when a bridge was constructed in honour of the five Patiño brothers, who had been killed continuing their father’s work of protesting and opposing the Trujillo dictatorship. Soon afterward, Trujillo’s enormous, monolithic Monument to Peace was renamed the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in honour of those who had ended the autocrat’s regime, in a similar denunciation of the man who had reigned supreme over the Republic for the last 40 years.



As ever, baseball is the dominant sport in Santiago de los Caballeros, but football is catching up, after Cibao FC, a 2014 expansion team, won the Liga Dominicana de Fútbol in 2018. However, much like the cycling teams in scenes like this, it’s very much a case of a local base supplanted by a few journeyman pros from more successful countries in the region, in this case mostly Colombians, Costa Ricans and the occasional Brazilian. Again, as ever, I’ll skirt by the baseballers and probably miss a real important player out of pure ignorance (if so, sorry about that) but it’s worth noting Luís Felipe López, just for being the first Dominican to be drafted in the first round. It is also home to a somewhat less-known but no less trailblazing star, tennis player Victor Estrella Burgos, the first Dominican to reach the top 100 and the first Dominican to play in all four Grand Slams. At the age of 34, in winning the 2015 Ecuador Open, he also became not just the first Dominican but the oldest player anywhere to become a first-time ATP ranking tournament winner since the Open Era began. Santiago is also home to boxing’s Cruz brothers, two of the Republic’s finest, Carlos Teófilo “Teo” Cruz and Leonardo “Leo” Cruz, who both won world titles. Teo, 16 years older than his brother, won the World Lightweight Championship in 1968, holding it for a year before losing it to Mando Ramos in the latter’s second attempt at the belt. Tragically, however, he was killed soon after losing the title in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of several members of António Imbert Barrera’s family, leading to suspected terrorist involvement - however it was proven that the engine failures had been due to water ingress and foul play was ruled out. Leo was just a child when his brother died, but went on to follow him to great success in boxing, holding the WBA World Junior Featherweight Title for two years in the early 80s - although most of his career was spent representing Puerto Rico, the country his brother had been travelling to on that fateful trip in 1970.

Santiago is also the hometown of Joaquín Balaguer, one of the most notorious Dominican politicians, who learned and honed his craft under Trujillo and used many of the latter’s methods to perpetuate his position of power, winning elections in dubious fashion and conducting autocratic, authoritarian rule over the population. He had been hand-picked by Trujillo as a successor, and when Trujillo was assassinated, Balaguer was a puppet president who suddenly had to learn to be a real one. Initially caught in the middle, not relaxing restrictions enough for an emboldened opposition but pushing through change too quickly for the conservative Trujillistas, he managed to benefit from the carnage that followed the military coup to replace Juan Bosch, by becoming that right-wing dictator that the Americans could trust not to let the country fall into Communist hands, and so with the backing of the US, he re-took control of the country in 1966 and embarked upon twelve years of rebuilding the country, using US support to back infrastructure projects and bring much-needed stability. But at the same time, large numbers of politicians in his inner circle became millionaires thanks to bribes, back-handers, insider deals and other corrupt activities, and despite significant economic improvement, the lot of the average Dominican had scarcely improved thanks to Balaguer and his supporters pocketing the benefits. The military intervened in the 1978 election when it looked like Balaguer was losing, refusing to count, but in the end he became the first president in the country’s history to voluntarily cede power to an opposition politician; until that point the only peaceful transitions of power had been from puppet to puppet during Trujillo’s reign. He continued to be active in politics well into his 80s, although age seemed to have mellowed him during his later period, including even a further stint as president; that was proven false at the last, however, running a campaign laced with xenophobia against José Francisco Peña, who had some Haitian ancestry. Many Peña supporters turned up to polling stations to find they’d been erased from the ballot, and when Balaguer was announced as the winner, this led to general strikes and accusations of fraud, at which point Balaguer was forced to call another election, in which he would not stand. Several other Dominican Presidents have grown up in Santiago, including António Guzmán, who handed Balaguer that first defeat in 1978, Jorge Blanco, who succeeded him and was then defeated by Balaguer in 1986; and Hipólito Mejía, who held office from 2000 to 2004, handing Balaguer his final election defeat when he ran yet again at the age of 93.

Being the second biggest city in the country, it’s probably no surprise to anybody that Santiago de los Caballeros has been pretty much an annual fixture in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, all the way back to 1979 when Marco López, a Mexican who would have two separate cups of coffee with the European pro scene in the coming years, took the win there. It frequently hosts stage starts in those years it doesn’t host finishes, and sometimes it hosts both. In 2002 it even hosted the Grand Départ, in an unusual departure from the usual format, with little-heralded German André Kalfack winning. GC winner Richard Ochoa, a Venezuelan who usually specialised in endurance track disciplines, won here in 2006, Bruno Langlois in 2012, and Jaime Castañeda in 2015. The National Championships were also held here in 2014, over 160km with Diego Milán winning solo to take his second consecutive title, with a small gap over pursuant Adderlyn Cruz.

Here, it should be a sprint. I’ve taken extra-special care to make it suitable to sprinters, extending the stage by around 5km as we loop around the town; passing the Monument a los Heroes de la Restauración, then turning back north, past the famous Casino Gran Almirante and then turning left to loop around and enter the western end of the Parque Central de Santiago.



A controversial project, the Parque Central de Santiago is the former lands of the now-defunct municipal airport, which has been superseded by the new Cibao airport southeast of the city. Sought as a solution to a lack of green spaces in the city, effectively new pathways and forests have been planted through the apron and the perimeter area, while the former runway has been converted into a series of basketball and tennis courts along one side, with a 1500m long bike path running alongside along several lanes. So we’re going to give the project a bit of attention by looping around onto it and having a long, fast, safe drag race of a finish. It’s been a short stage and it sits between mountains, so surely the big guns will be happy to let the sprinters have this one?
 
Stage 15: Cuneo - Pinerolo; 230km


This is what a modern proper version of Cuneo-Pinerolo should look like. I even prefer this version to the classic Coppi stage plus Colle di Pra Martino near the end, because this way the Cima Coppi would still be in Italy/on the Italian border.

"Un uomo solo al comando, la sua maglia è bianco-celeste, il suo nome è Fausto Coppi"

This stage is all about being a tribute to the 17th stage of the 1949 Giro d'Italia, when Coppi won 11min 52sec ahead on Bartali, but it's not the only time that this climb added to his legend. In 1951 he also won the first TdF MTF outside of France right there in Sestriere. That Tour was the first one to feature MTFs and Coppi won all 3 of them on Alpe d'Huez, Sestriere and Puy-de-Dôme (in that order), so Coppi managed to win the first, 2nd and 3rd ever MTF in the Tour, the first one over 2,000m and the first TDF MTF outside of France, pretty awesome.
Sestriere is also a legendary climb, it was the first pass above 2,000m ever used by the 3rd Giro, in 1911. That stage was 302 km long, Mondovì - Torino and won by Lucien Petit-Breton, one of the iconic figures of pre-WWI cycling, winner of the first ever MSR in 1907 and also won the TdF durning the same year. He defended his Tour title one year later. The first rider on top of the Sestriere climb in 1911 was however Carlo Oriani, who managed to win the Giro 2 years later.
It is also worth mentioning that the road over the Sestriere was opened in 1814 under Napoleon Bonaparte.
This stage will be death and destruction, over 5,000m of altitude gain, 230km long and the 3rd consecutive hard stage, after a +90min ITT and a +200km long stage with a MTF.
I don't want to think about bad weather alternatives, but if everything goes wrong even the version that we ended up getting in 2009 would do a lot of damage and create big gaps under these circumstances.
Afterwards the riders will have a well deserved rest day and the only really big transfer (probably via airplane) of my Giro.
 
Stage 6: Santiago de los Caballeros - Constanza (Monumento Divino Niño), 112km





GPM:
Alto de la Virgén (cat.1) 14,7km @ 7,9%
Alto Gracia (cat.4) 1,1km @ 6,9%
Monumento Divino Niño (cat.3) 3,8km @ 9,1%

The second half of the race begins with the de facto etapa reina, which despite its short length is likely to be one of the, if not the, most decisive stages of the race. It features the Dominican Republic’s most famous cycling peak, which has an almost certainly decisive role in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional almost every time it is included, thanks to its sheer difficulty and prominence as one of the only genuine HC climbs that is accessible and usable for the race (fully paved, decent sized towns at each end, central location close to cycling heartlands etc.). It is, if you like, an equivalent to, say, Genting Highlands in the Tour de Langkawi, Brasstown Bald in the Tour of Georgia, Ijen Crater in the Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen, or Mont Faron in the Tour Méditerranéen; you know that this is the decisive day, and it delivers on that. Especially as the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional often uses a lot of highways and flat to rolling terrain, so sticking this genuine HC monolith in the middle of the race tends to stand out and have a disproportionate effect on the GC.



That’s not to say we won’t see plenty of traditional Dominican cycling highway action. The first part of the stage very much follows that template, as we leave Santiago de los Caballeros via the Autopista Duarte, which is highway #1 between Santo Domingo and Santiago, linking the country’s two biggest cities. Bizarrely, though, this is not virgin territory for the race, as its standing in the nation is such that it quite frequently gets to use this most important of highways as part of its course. The first half of the stage, therefore, follows the path of Autopista Duarte (we will presumably set up contraflows on the other side of the road as opposed to simply roadblocking the southbound carriageway while the race is going on, which is the usual plan of action in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional). The exception is for a detour into the city of La Vega, which hosts an intermediate sprint. Because of its geographical location and its agricultural capital, La Vega Real (as it is officially known) is an interesting city which I’ll explore in more depth later, because really we’re just passing through on this stage, and having been the birthplace of two of the Dominican Republic’s most important politicians as well as one of its most important cyclists, it merits a deeper dive.

Instead, today we shall just have an intermediate sprint and move on (sorry, La Vega!). Instead, we return to the highway and pass over a small rolling stretch which takes us from the Provincia de La Vega to Monseñor Nouel, named for a former archbishop of Santo Domingo. Over 3/4 the population of the province live in its capital, Bonao, which is the next major stop-off point for the Autopista, but before we get there, we’re exiting the highway at the small town - just 1300 inhabitants - of Sabana del Puerto. Here, we turn right, and we no longer skirt the edges of the Cordillera Central. No, instead, we take an apprehensive look at the mountains looming in front of us, take a deep breath, and plunge straight for them.



The Alto de la Virgén is a worthy HC climb. I’ve scaled down the mountains classification in my race, à la the Giro, where they typically would offer cat.1 to climbs the Tour or Vuelta would call HC/ESP and harder cat.1s, cat.2 to easier cat.1s and harder cat.2s, cat.3 to easier cat.2s and 3s, and cat.4 to easier cat.3s and cat.4s, plus of course the Giro doesn’t half love some uncategorised climbs, taken to a further extreme by smaller stage races, such as Adriatica-Ionica not categorising Forcella di Monte Rest or even Passo della Pura, both of which would be at least cat.2 in the Tour de France, the latter almost certainly cat.1 or even HC depending on where it was used. Either way, I digress. The Alto de la Virgén in the Dominican Republic is a climb which ascends straight from plateau to a sizeable peak, with a high mountain pass at over 1300m, climbing a little under 1200m in a little under 15km for an average of around 8%. It’s a real brute, with statistics that match up to a few more familiar climbs to us.

Probably its most immediate avatar would be the Port de Pailhères (15,3km, 7,9%) - this is 600m longer at the same average - but Pailhères is more consistent (well, for a Pyrenean climb). The real closest comparison for La Virgén would be Col du Grand Colombier from the eastern side via Anglefort - the side descended in the 2016 Tour de France. The reason I highlight this particular side is that the climb begins with a long section above its average, which is then dragged down by a milder closing phase, much as La Virgén is. La Virgén opens up with 8,6km @ 9,1%; Grand Colombier from Anglefort opens up with 9,5km @ 9,2%. La Virgén then has a flat kilometre before 4,9km @ 7,5% to finish; Grand Colombier has a short lesser ramp, then a kilometre or so of flat, then 3,5km @ 6,5% to finish with a final ramp up to 10%. They really do match up to one another well. And both can be climbed, as the Alto de la Virgén is here, off of a complete cold open.



It’s difficult to underestimate how decisive this ascent has been in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional; there is no option to finish at the summit, and so stages have tended to follow one of two formats from here. They will either continue the rolling 35km or so into Constanza (similar to what I’m doing here, with one key difference) over a couple of smaller ascents at lower gradient, offering the riders little respite and letting the freshness over the mountain make the difference… or they will descend via the two (or three from the summit) stepped road down to Jarabacoa for the finish.

The ascent was introduced during the era when Colombians and Venezuelans dominated the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, which is probably not a surprise. Sometimes they would climb that multi-stepped side instead of this brutal one, which is a shame, especially in the early 2000s when the stage to Jarabacoa would be a semitappe in the afternoon after a morning time trial. The classic side was restored in 2008, however, with Carlos José Ochoa, riding for Savio’s Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli team, took the win, with teammate Jackson Rodríguez in 2nd. The following year, Victor Niño won by over 4 minutes, while behind a parade of Dominicans tried and failed to take the time they needed out of Chilean race leader Luís Fernando Sepúlveda. In 2010, Nelson Ismael Sánchez took the win as he and his namesake Augusto tried to drop José Flober Peña, while Byron Guama and 20-year-old Kazakh Yevgeny Pelyaikin also played roles in that front group. The latter is a strange one - looked like a really good climber in 2010 riding for the Kazakh national teams around the world, then apart from the 2011 nationals does absolutely no more UCI road racing ever. He just… disappears. 2011 saw a quartet of Marco Arriagada and three Venezuelans, including Ochoa but also Manuel Medina and Tomas Gil, the latter of which would have a most unlikely pro career when he was picked up by Androni when they got the Venezuelan hookup in 2012, having a five-season pro career in Italy that didn’t start until he was already 34. Anyway: Arriagada tested positive during the race for stanazolol, so Medina inherited the stage and the retrospective race lead. A year later, Segundo Navarrete and Adderlyn Cruz were allowed to escape owing to time lost, with the Ecuadorian proving stronger than the home star, then race leader Nelson Ismael Sánchez rode in as part of a quartet with three riders from the EPM team, Isaac Bolivár, Edward Beltrán and Javier Gómez. The Colombian team put the rest to the sword, in what would not be the last time.


Alto de la Virgén snaking through the mountains

The climb was omitted in 2013, but returned in 2014, when the finish was moved from the descent into Jarabacoa to Constanza, and former Movistar América and future Androni rider Carlos Galvíz gave everybody a lesson, with a trio of Colombians including Felix the Cat coming in a minute behind him, a quartet of North American stalwart Rob Britton, best local rider Adderlyn Cruz (again proving the best Dominican climber) and two more Colombians three minutes back, and nobody else inside 7 minutes. Roadblocks meant the queen stage had to be annulled in 2015, but 2016 saw the riders make up for lost time with brutality, as Diego Ochoa won as the Boyacá Raza de Campeones team dominated - he and teammate Heiner Parra did a number on Ismael Sánchez from the front trio in the latter part of the stage to ensure the victory for their team; Sérgio Godoy and former Caja Rural man Fernando Grijalba were the next pair in, over 4 minutes behind (the latter, though being Spanish, was also defending local honour, riding for Inteja), and then the next group was over 6 minutes back. The Colombian teams were making a habit of this. With no frontline Colombian squad, Ismael Sánchez proved his dominance in 2017 with Adderlyn Cruz his nearest rival as the Dominicans fought out their own summit for once, leaving the Venezuelans and the Mexican climber Miguel Álvarez in their wake. 2018 skipped the climb due to issues with the race organisation (possibly tied to needing to close up Autopista Duarte to access it?), but in 2019 we got a brutal, brutal exhibition from the Medellín team.


Just watch that for a beatdown so savage it gave the opposition post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a team annihilation more than any Sky train. This was LA-MSS in the 2008 Vuelta a Asturias, this was Tabriz Petrochemical Team in the UCI Asia Tour circa 2013-14. The climb starts at about the 25 minute mark, and the Medellín team bided their time, waited for some of the more tactically naïve riders to make their moves, get drawn back, push on and so on… and then they hit the front and they shredded the field. They dropped everyone. They pulled back Yonder Godoy, a very reasonable climber in his own right, like he was David Arroyo in that 2008 Tour stage when Riccardo Riccò attacked on the Col d’Aspin. Four Medellín riders rode on serenely, reducing those trailing in their wake to single figures, to three, and then to one solitary rider chasing - Miguel Álvarez. They had a minute over the Mexican at the summit of the Alto de la Virgén, but a four-on-one time trial over the last 35km extended their advantage to an insurmountable five minutes. For the record, the quartet were race leader Robinson Chalapud (obviously pretty well known to many of us after spending several years on Colombia-Coldeportes and riding the Giro; eventual stage winner Óscar Sevilla (who really ought need no introduction); Cristhian Montoya (who also finished top 10 in the Volta a Portugal last year), and finally young prospect Harold Tejada, who just turned 23 last month and is now riding for Astana as a Neo-pro. 2020’s stage was the same route, but a little less brutal as, reduced to a .NE event, the big Continental teams didn’t show up and the Colombians and Venezuelans in the 2020 edition were not of the kind of level of riders who’ve previously been doing the Grand Tours. Ismael Sánchez attacked despite already being in the maillot jaune. Many of his nearest rivals damaged their chances by blowing up trying to chase him and Diego Milán - not known as a superstar climber - took second place on the day nearly 5 minutes back, with Clever Martínez of the Venezuelan representation outsprinting the American GC protagonists for 3rd in a group at 7 minutes.


So, I guess what I’m saying is: this one could be a bloodbath. Because after cresting the Alto de la Virgén, there’s only a short descent because we’re now on the nearest thing the Dominican Republic has to the Altiplano, this elevated plateau at circa 1000-1200m in the Cordillera Central. I have been kind enough to place the feed zone immediately after the descent (that’s nice of me, hey?) to allow the riders to replenish their personal energy stocks after the difficulties of the climb, but the plateau isn’t truly flat, it’s all either uphill or downhill false flat, gradually turning uphill until reaching a kilometre at 7% at the Rancho de Alta Gracia, so I’ve awarded some mountains points for that. There’s a second, but easier, crest at the Mirador Constanza, before we arrive in the city which ordinarily plays host to the finish of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional’s queen stage, Constanza.


Twisty road from Arroyo Frio to Constanza


Mirador de Constanza and the view down into the city

Constanza is the biggest town in the heart of the Cordillera Central, sitting at an altitude in excess of 1150m and being the economic centre of the Valle de Constanza. Around 60.000 people live in the city, experiencing and enjoying its agricultural wealth as well as a climate more temperate than that in much of the country. The peaks around Constanza occasionally even see snow, although this is very much a rarity. As a result, it tends to actually get the majority of its tourist attention during the winter, as well as for adventure tourists looking to access Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean at 3098m, or, slightly to the south, the Salto de Aguas Blancas, the highest waterfall in the Caribbean. The more temperate climate means that a range of fruit and vegetables not as common to tropical countries thrive, and as a result, immigrants have been attracted to the valley from a number of different areas in order to best cultivate these, encouraged in particular during the Trujillo dictatorship. As a result, Constanza has a disproportionate population of Japanese origin, for example. It was also the site of a two-month rebellion and guerrilla war against Trujillo in 1959, owing to its secluded location meaning it was difficult to access via road with only the steep climb from Bonao or the inconsistent climb from Jarabacoa being available, and so flight was the main means by which the valley was accessed until recently, especially in times of bad weather.

I have a little flourish planned for the riders, however. Rather than ride over the line in Constanza and congratulate themselves on a job well done, in surviving the Alto de la Virgén stage, actually, that line marks the final intermediate sprint, as we’re still four and a half kilometres from the finish. Instead, we ride through the town to its west, for a short while, and then we start to climb. After about a kilometre, we turn right, and the climbing gets more severe. You see, we’re in fact climbing to Constanza’s loyal protector, the Monumento Divino Niño, which sits on a nearby peak and watches over the town much as Cristo Redentor does over Puerto Plata. Except he’s kind of turning his back on the city instead.



The climb is one that gets steeper as it goes, so riders may not realise how much they’re suffering until the very end. The first kilometre, before turning onto the specific road to the statue, is only at around 4%, and very straight, so just pure tempo. Then the gradient moves up to 7% for 800m before easing up again, then it heads up to 10% for a kilometre, before the final 750m are out of Javier Guillén’s Book of Things I Love, as they ramp up to 18% including a couple of stretches in excess of 20% into the car park that marks our stage finish. It’ll be interesting to see if anybody loses some of the advantages or mitigates some of their disadvantages from the Alto de la Virgén here. This should have people all over the road, it really should. Gaps will be monolithic here. This is a short stage, but it’s a very, very unforgiving one too.
 
Very nice stages by all again. I sooo much want to design races again but have to wait until my finals end.
@Mayomaniac Given that it is stage 15 and riders may be a bit cautious, perhaps Sampeyre may be needed or you think it would be unnecessarily difficult?
I mean, we have a 60km long ITT that's gonna take over 90min 2 days before this one and it's followed by a decent MTF, if you add the 20km long ITT on stage 1 there should be enough gaps and with this one being the 3rd consecutive hard stage after an ITT it shouldn't be a huge problem.
Adding Sampeyre would give us +6,000m of altitude gain, that could be a bit of an overkill, I think Sampeyre-Angello-Izoard work better with a finish in Briancon (the 1995 Giro was supposed to have a finish there after that combination, but an avalanche on the Angello on that day prevented that) or on Montgenevre.
 
Reactions: Forever The Best
Stage 7: La Vega - San José de Ocoa, 108km





GPM:
La Peñita del Rancho Arriba (cat.2) 7,1km @ 8,9%
Firme de los Gatos (cat.4) 1,2km @ 8,0%
Alto del Cruce de la Esperanza (cat.4) 3,1km @ 7,6%

The second consecutive short stage in a row starts back at the base of the Cordillera Central and heads through the valleys of the southern Cordillera to finish a little to the west of Santo Domingo. Part of the stage at the beginning of the day includes a bit of retracing our steps from yesterday’s stage, as we start in the city of La Vega, the third largest city in the country, with a population of just over 100.000 in the city proper and 200.000 in its urban agglomeration. As mentioned in yesterday’s stage, this is quite a significant city and therefore merits a deeper dive than the cursory mention it was given previously; it sprung up around a fort built by Columbus in 1494 to protect Spanish interests in the Cibao valley, and this expanded particularly rapidly following the discovery of gold in the Cordillera Central, and when new, larger reserves were found in 1508, La Vega became a boom town, and because of the wealth those gold reserves afforded it, it became one of the most important cities in the New World for a time. However, this growth was stunted by an earthquake in 1562 which destroyed much of the city and forced the relocation a few kilometres down the road to the banks of the Río Camú. The ruins of Concepción de la Vega, as the old city was known, and its associated mine, are now a national park and is on UNESCO’s tentative list for inscription as a cultural heritage site.

While the city stabilised and re-started its economy, its pre-eminent position never truly recovered, and nowadays its wealth and prominence is based not on gold, but on agricultural produce, largely cacao and coffee but also various vegetables, tobacco and rice. It also has a strong cultural capital in the form of a book fair which takes place every September, celebrating the best of Dominican literature and with guests from abroad; stalls and stands are ordered by geographic locations and showcases regional and national pride. Speakers and guests of honour have included Dominican presidents of strong literary tradition (both Juan Bosch and Joaquín Balaguer were novelists as well as statesmen) as well as high-profile authors from overseas such as Gabriel García Márquez.



One of those presidents of literary origin, Juan Bosch, was born in La Vega. His reign as president was extremely brief, as has been covered in previous stages; he had been jailed by Trujillo for anti-government ideas espoused in his literary works and public speeches, and by 1938 he was effectively leading the opposition to Trujillo’s dictatorship from exile, having used his mother’s contacts (his father was a Spaniard and his mother a criollo from Puerto Rico) to relocate to Puerto Rico, where he founded the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). He attempted a failed putsch on Trujillo’s dictatorship with Cuban backing in 1947, and became a force for social reform - which led to his being imprisoned by Fulgencio Batista. 1959 changed everything though. Bosch, while undeniably left of centre, never claimed himself a Communist, while he was one of many leftist oppositionists acquiring funding from the JM Kaplan fund, an indirect CIA fund designed to support opposition to dictators in Latin America. With the US’ direct opposition to Castro, they had to be seen to oppose all dictatorships, and Trujillo, previously a nominal ally, was expendable.

But, far from being the firebrand socialist that many such opposition members were, Bosch was kind enough to actually write to Trujillo to warn him that his political life was coming to an end - as we know, Trujillo refused to heed the warning and was eventually assassinated. Bosch was finally able to return to his homeland, and his manner of speaking had broad appeal; he was viewed with suspicion by many higher up in the hierarchy because of his past in Cuba, but in 1962 he won the first free election ever held in the Dominican Republic. However, Bosch tried to change too much too soon in his quest to unpick the corruption of Trujillo’s dictatorship, and he made enemies of major landowners, the church, and conservatives, as he broke up large property empires acquired through palm-greasing, made guarantees for the working classes, and secularised education. Many military powers, allowed to run rampant under Trujillo, were curtailed. The USA decided that, actually, maybe compared to this kind of leftist politics, a right-wing dictator was not so bad (remember this was just after the Cuban Revolution and with the spectre of McCarthyism still very strong in American minds). A military coup took place and removed Bosch from power just seven months into his reign. After a period in exile and then being defeated by Trujillista Joaquín Balaguer in the 1966 presidential election after running a muted campaign under threat of the military, then, ironically, the USA’s action in not backing a social-democratic Juan Bosch drove him further to the left, where he immersed himself in the works of Marx, but he remained steadfastly in thrall to the belief that Socialism would be the result when Capitalism reached its logical conclusion, per Das Kapital, and did not believe in the prescriptive top-down enforcement of the form required in most Marxist-Leninist states. Nevertheless, after growing disillusioned with the PRD’s moderate policies in attempts to make itself more electable, he resigned from the party in 1973 and set up the Dominican Liberation Party, or PLD, considerably further left than the PRD had become. He continued to run unsuccessfully for president, though in 1990 he lost very narrowly in a very dubious election to Balaguer before retiring from politics. Bosch is remembered fondly by many, as a politician who remained true to his principles; while his personal political leanings varied across time, he was thought of as a politician with integrity, a prolific and talented writer, and UNESCO award the “Juan Bosch Prize” for promotion of social science research in Latin America and the Caribbean.



The other President to call La Vega home at least got to see out his term; once more, opposition to dictatorship and autocracy was their calling card. António Guzmán was an early member of the PRD and even, thanks to his ties to the fruit trade, was selected to be Minister for Agriculture in Juan Bosch’s government; he was then vice-presidential candidate for Bosch’s unsuccessful 1966 campaign. He ran in his own right in 1974, but withdrew after last-minute changes were made to the election rules by Balaguer that were felt to be undemocratic and imposing unfair restrictions on opposition candidates. He ran again in 1978, however, in one of the most famous Dominican elections of all time - this was the one where the military stopped counting after it was becoming clear that Guzmán was likely to have won. With protests abounding in the Dominican Republic and overseas pressure being applied, Balaguer however instructed the count to resume and sealed his own fate, choosing future potential re-election opportunities over holding power at the expense of potential sanctions or becoming an international pariah.

Mindful of the issues that had doomed Bosch’s government to fail, Guzmán launched a slower pace of reform, and opened up dialogue with the military to keep them on-side. A key legacy of his rule was the instigation of a formal officer training program for the military, which aided in this. He also had the issue of a split congress, so he avoided rocking the boat too much, and Balaguer’s supporters regularly vetoed economic reforms proposed by the President and his men, which allied with the damage caused by Hurricane David led to public scepticism that Guzmán had not brought about the promised change (i.e. he was trying to respond to economic decline, but the opposition would not allow him to make any economic changes, then accused him of failing to respond to economic decline. The classic problem of a bicameral bipartite system where no party has a strong enough majority to ensure support for its bills: “I will stop you from doing good, because I don’t want you to be able to point to it as an achievement in the next election”. Having built his reputation on a strong personality and presenting himself as a strong, unwavering leader, however, the fact that he was being watching his country spiral into economic turmoil, and not being allowed to do anything about it, and seeing his reputation suffer as a result of something completely out of his control, preyed heavily on him, and Guzmán began to suffer from depression, which he hid from everybody as part of his bid to remain a stoic face to the public. Behind the scenes, however, Guzmán was a man broken by Balaguer’s cronies, and six weeks before his term in office was scheduled to conclude, António Guzmán shot himself in his office in Santo Domingo.



Away from politics, La Vega is also home to a pair of successful boxers, Juan Carlos Payano (a former IBO bantamweight champion) and Victoriano Sosa, who took Floyd Mayweather Jr the distance back in 2003 en route to compiling a 42-4 record. There’s even a baseball player that I know about in the city’s repertoire - Marlins’ shortstop and second baseman Jonathan Villar. Why I know of him above many others more famous? Stolen bases. I have watched a good few compilation videos of stolen bases and other such clever plays - if more baseball was about balls in play and base running I’d be a big fan, unfortunately the endless cycle of balls and strikes grinds me down (and considering how much Americans bag on soccer for the lack of scoring, baseball has some real low-scoring stinkers). As a result, I could name you people like Ricky Henderson and Ichiro Suzuki but would know nothing of people who are far more successful, influential or notorious, I’d wager.

But the other sporting son of La Vega that should be mentioned here is Nelsón Ismael Sánchez, one of the best ever cyclists in the history of the Dominican Republic (and probably with Wendy Cruz’ testing positive late in his career, arguably the best) and the record winner of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, with four titles to his name.



Born in La Vega in 1982 - in contrast to the testimony of our former Latin American cycling oracle Ryo Hazuki:
nelson sanchez was simly the best rider this vuelta independencia. he is a born colombian but naturlized dominican. this happens more often in latin america
Nelsón Ismael Sánchez has gone on to become a central figure in the Dominican cycling scene, having never really moved beyond his local scene and become a main protagonist of it and a figure of public recognition synonymous with the sport in much the same way as, say, Cândido Barbosa in Portugal or the Rojas brothers in Costa Rica. He rose to prominence with a number of stage wins in Caribbean races in 2005, and finished on the podium of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, impressing people with his climbing capability, winning the Jarabacoa stage and finishing second the following year. He took his first national title in 2007, and managed his second GC podium at his national tour in 2008, while also expanding his portfolio of wins to include stages at the Tour de Guadeloupe, Vuelta a Costa Rica and Vuelta a Ecuador. Once more he won the Jarabacoa stage in 2010, as well as a number of smaller Dominican races, and the following year he completed his collection of these so that the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional remained the only Dominican race outside of his list of victories. He stopped racing as much internationally and focused purely on this goal, succeeding in 2012 in becoming the third Dominican to win their home race, assuming the lead by being the one man to stick with the EPM trio when the Colombians [cecilie]PUT THE HAMMER DOWN[/cecilie] in the stage over the Alto de la Virgén, and then finishing 2nd in the race-closing ITT.

As the calibre of international stars riding the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional has waned slightly in the last few years, and as he’s grown less interested in riding overseas, Sánchez’ success in his home race has become greater. This has also been significantly assisted by the Aero Cycling Team setup, which has been the strongest Dominican team on home soil since 2014 - as Inteja is based around development they have tended to horde the promising younger riders, while Aero have based themselves around the veteran Sánchez pairing of Augusto and Ismael. The latter took his second Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional in 2016, winning the two hilly stages to El Seibo and Samana, and finishing 3rd - again the only local to stay with the Colombians - in the etapa reina. With no top level Colombian competitors he won the queen stage to take his third GC a year later, and while he’s now grown older and is now 37 years of age, he was taken to task by the Medellín guys last year, but in 2020 he opened up a big GC lead on the first stage after some indecision behind and a large break which included representation from all the biggest teams in the race, and then put an exclamation point on it with his exhibition of climbing in the Constanza stage, showing that he remains by far the best local climber in the Dominican scene.

Oh yea. The stage.

We retrace our steps from yesterday from La Vega on the Autopista Duarte, but continue past Sabana del Puerto to an intermediate sprint in Bonao. We continue south to the city of Piedra Blanca, just before the halfway point in the stage, where we leave the Autopista to instead wind a path on highway 201 through the southern Cordillera Central. This is a very short stage but it’s also a transitional stage, not suited to the sprinters in the slightest and most likely, because of where it sits in the race, the best opportunity for the baroudeurs to make something happen. The GC guys might be tempted to do something if the gaps between the best are such that it’s worth an attack so far from home here, but realistically the difference maker here will be the climb to La Peñita del Rancho Arriba, which crests 40km from home. As a result this will suit a strong climber, but likely will need to be one that’s lost time to be given the freedom to be in the break here.



You can see the full climb in this video - the second half is the steep part, after passing through Juan Adrián. Being a wide major road the steepness is sometimes hard to ascertain but at times you can see that it really isn’t a walk in the park - its overall status of 7km at about 9% makes it a close comparison to traceur favourite Cruz de Linares in Asturias, or perhaps, given the long false flat lead-in and lopsided climb (it accesses a high plateau so there isn’t much of a descent to speak of), the Puerto del Escudo is a better comparison. Either way, this is a very tough climb of medium length, so it gets the cat.2 status and very much merits it.

The agricultural town of Rancho Arriba, with its 12.000 inhabitants, sits in the basin underneath La Peñita and gives it part of its name (to differentiate it from La Peñita on the Punta Cana coast). This gives us our final intermediate sprint, 28km from the line, before some rolling terrain on the highway that leads us first to Sabana Larga and then to our finishing town of San José de Ocoa. This entails a couple of small climbs, firstly the short but moderately steep Firme de los Gatos and then the longer, but more consistent Alto del Cruce de la Esperanza, where most of the decisive moves from the breakaway are likely to be made. Ignore the drop in the middle of the latter - it’s a mapping issue where there are some switchbacks.

Partway through the descent we go through the village of Sabana Larga - after this the descending is gradual and not particularly threatening, but there is a short repecho in the run-in - the final 1800m average 3,5% so hardly a dangerous ascent, but a potential option for the breakaway, if still in a group, to make a bid for home rather than take it to a sprint of whoever is left; the key point will be a ramp at around 900m from the line, where it ramps up to 6-7% for 250-300m before easing off again. I found this video of some motorcyclists taking on the final few kilometres of my stage - the final gradual ascent begins after crossing the river at around 4:30, the actual climbing starts at around 5:15, and the steeper ramp at circa 5:40 to the petrol station at 6:30. They finish their video at the Parque Libertad, whereas I continue on another block and turn right for a final straight 350m to finish at the Palácio Justicia de Ocoa



Until 2002 part of the Peravia province, San José de Ocoa, often abbreviated just to Ocoa, has been its own province of the Dominican Republic since then. Before that, it had been an outpost town; the road from Sabana Larga to Rancho Arriba had been in a poor state until recently, meaning that the latter was best accessed from Bonao, and the former was only accessible from the south coast via Ocoa, and so it was an inland isolate, being on an elevated plateau making it useful for agricultural purposes and then selling its wares southward to the cities of the Caribbean seaboard. It was originally settled as a refuge by people from nearby Baní, and became a magnet to settlers from the Canary Islands, who still make up the largest ethnic group in the city today. It also developed a small but significant population from San Pedro de Macorís, the majority of whom were Afro-Caribbean settlers from elsewhere in the West Indies. As the population of Ocoa - and indeed the Dominican Republic as a whole - has grown, it has shifted administrative hands a number of times as the country is further subdivided - first from Santo Domingo province, then in 1895 to Azua; then in 1944 to Peravia and finally as above to its own province in 2002.

Ocoa’s relatively late surge in population means it has a relatively limited number of famous sons and daughters, but the baseball player José Paniagua is worthy of mention simply because this is a bike race and his name is Paniagua, a slang term for riding clean. More famous, most likely, would be Rafaél Sánchez, known by most by his wrestling name, Jack Veneno. Veneno basically is wrestling in the Dominican Republic, a comparative wrestling backwater but with a dedicated audience for his company, Dominicana de Espectaculos, with which he was the star and a national hero who would vanquish the foreign menace in much the same way as Hulk Hogan in the USA, Rikidozan in Japan or Carlos Colón in Puerto Rico, would, Veneno did come to a wider audience through a working relationship with Puerto Rican companies, but he is most famous for being an unrecognised world champion in the days of the travelling NWA World Champion, after Ric Flair called an audible to lose to Veneno in a disputable finish, because he feared recriminations and riots from a boisterous, aggressively partisan Dominican crowd.

Perhaps because of the issues with the road from Sabana Larga to Rancho Arriba and its only just being repaved, San José de Ocoa has only hosted the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional once, and that was in 2019, on the first day of the race with a gradual uphill finish from the coast. Robinson Chalapud won the uphill sprint finish ahead of team-mate Óscar Sevilla and Peruvian national champion Alonso Gamero. Hopefully the route I propose here and the repaving of that transitory route gives the town reason to have the race come back.

 
Stage 8: Baní - Polo, 139km





GPM:
Alto del Fondo Negro (cat.4) 2,8km @ 5,6%
Paso del Monte Sacro (cat.1) 14,4km @ 7,0 %

So, we’re now back to the south of the country, near to Santo Domingo on its western side, three days from the end of the race. But no rest for the riders just yet. I have one more quick test of their GC legs because we don’t want a tame finale, now, do we? So here we have the final mountain stage of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional. You see, we’re going to see a proper climber win this race, and if Dominican cycling wants to break out of its isolation as has been the plan in setting up and developing the Inteja team, then it will be a good thing to ensure that they are able to withstand the climbing challenges of overseas racing, so it’s imperative that they learn to deal with that before they head overseas to be led to the slaughter in Spanish or Colombian races.

I am merciless, it seems.

Anyway, this 8th stage is the last real climbing the riders will have to do, so they can thank me later. We start off in the city of Baní, a city of 60.000 west of Santo Domingo that makes its economic wealth on the bananas and coffee of its outlying small towns and villages, most of which converge upon Baní for trade. Like many of the towns we have met, it is named for the Taíno leader who presided over the area in the age of exploration, although an actual town was not constructed on the site until the 18th Century. Its most famous son (at least for those who aren’t big baseball enthusiasts, somebody can correct me if one of these is some top level legend I should be aware of) is the military commander Máximo Gómez y Báez, who initially fought campaigns for the Dominicans in asserting their independence from Haiti, but subsequently fought alongside the Spanish forces after the country was re-colonised, being on the losing side in the Guerra de la Restauración when Queen Isabela demanded the withdrawal of Spanish troops. Following on from this, he relocated to Cuba, having fled his homeland after being branded a traitor for fighting for the Annexationists, where he retired from the Spanish forces in despondence. He couldn’t be kept from military life for long, however, and in 1868 he joined the Cuban rebel forces, subsequently reinventing military tactics in the Caribbean with the famous machete charge and implementing controversial scorched-earth policies; he assumed command of the Cuban nationalist forces in their entirety from 1873, but his being Dominican rather than Cuban was used as a pretext to remove him from command three years later - in reality it was because some of his tactics caused great concern to the revolutionary command in terms of likely retribution as well as the potential economic consequences even if they won the war that would come from his repeated burning of plantations and freeing the enslaved workforces. However, due to his expertise and successful campaigns elsewhere in the Caribbean and Central America between the two Cuban Wars of Independence, he rose to become a Generalíssimo, developing a wide range of codified guerrilla warfare tactics. He is honoured all over the country to this day for his role in the independence of the country - nevertheless after he retired from military life in 1898, he refused the presidency on the basis that he was not qualified as a Dominican to be a leader of the Cuban people (!).



Baní is a semi-regular host of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, and was particularly en vogue a few years ago, hosting a stage finish in 2005 (won by Cuban - and later American - sprint star Iván Domínguez), 2006 (won by Benino de la Cruz, 2007 (won by Miguel Ubeto), 2009 (won by Alex González), 2010 (won by Deivy Capellán), 2011 (won by Jaime Castañeda), 2012 (won by Arman Kamyshev), 2013 (won by Diego Milán) and then after a few years’ layoff, in 2020 when it hosted the first stage, a surprisingly decisive one where a breakaway including representatives of all the main teams got away, so the péloton sat up allowing it to gain several minutes, and then Nelsón Ismael Sánchez took advantage of its lack of cohesion to escape solo to win by a few seconds from a chasing group, just over a minute from the remainder of the escape, and the péloton rolled in already over 7 minutes down.

Early on in the stage we pass Cruce de Ocoa, a pretty self-explanatory town that marks the junction up to San José de Ocoa that we will have transferred down from. We cross the Río Ocoa, and continue to head westward through Azua, the poorest province of the Valdesia region, toward our first intermediate sprint, which takes place in the town of Azua, which is another early settlement, having been established in 1504. The actual city of Azua is officially known as Azua de Compostela, although nobody actually calls it that. It’s set a little way inland from the Bahía de Ocoa, but the Puerto de Azua is actually further south, on the neighbouring Puertecito bay. It is perhaps best known for the 1844 battle in which Pedro Santana, leading the Dominican Army of the South, defeated a Haitian Army numbering five times as many men as his, one of the crucial victories in the Dominican War of Independence. It will host our first meta volante.


War memorial in Azua de Compostela

After this, we head inland via Sabana Yegua and Tabara Abajo into some rolling terrain. At the latter, highway #2, which we are on, bears northward and by continuing straight on we move onto highway #44, which will take us most of the remaining distance in the stage. No real climbing to be done on this stretch of the course per se, but we do ascend to approximately 200m above sea level at one point in the low-lying Cerros de los Portezuelos hills, at which we move from Azua province to Barahona province. At Quita Coraza the road starts to bear southwards, and it becomes an outright southern route after Fondo Negro, whereupon the road also turns uphill for a legitimate climb of just under 3km at 5,5%, not worthy of more than cat.4 but still a brief appetiser for what is to come. The road then continues for a long, very gradual downhill back down to the floodplain of the Yaque del Sur river, which is at more or less sea level. Our second intermediate sprint is in the small town (4.000 inhabitants) of Jaquimeyes with 32km remaining, before we leave highway #44 in the next village, Palo Alto, so as not to turn towards Barahona and the Aeropuerto Internacional María Montez. Instead, we hang a sharp right, cross the Yaque del Sur and then take an immediate left to follow its path through El Peñón and along the shores of the Laguna del Rincón, a large freshwater lake with a mountain ridge on its far side. We then cross the 46 autovía at the town which hosts our final intermediate sprint, with 20km remaining, the town of Cabral. This town of 15.000 or so serves as our gateway to the Sierra de Bahoruco, in which we will only undertake one climb, but it’s a biggie.

The Sierra de Bahoruco is effectively an extension of the Massif de la Selle, which forms a large part of Haiti’s southern edges and continues on into other ranges to create the Tiburon peninsula, the lengthy southern protrusion in Haiti including Les Cayes and other destinations which are tourist hotspots for Haitian standards (for obvious reasons, due to natural disasters, political turmoil and economic isolation and underdevelopment, Haiti lags well behind its neighbours in the Dominican Republic in terms of development of its tourist industry); we are only going into it briefly, but it will be a potentially severe GC-settling challenge, as we are taking the Polo Magnético road on highway 533 from Cabral to the small town of Polo, which is nestled in a valley in the Sierra de Bahoruco. And that means we’re going up a serious, serious climb.

Polo, hidden in the valley surrounded by dramatic green scenery

The road from Cabral to Polo is most famous for a fictitious ‘magnetic pole’. I’ve covered one of these before, in a mountain road in northern Finland, and there are a few other such phenomena worldwide including one in Kenya, one in Poland (at the old Peace Race staple of Karpacz) and one in Scotland; essentially, due to a trick of perspective, you roll to a certain point and stop the car, take off the handbrake, and the car will appear to be ‘pulled’ up the hill. In reality, obviously, gravity resolutely remains A Thing, and therefore the car is not actually being pulled up the hill; it just feels like it. In reality, it’s a slight downhill but due to the appearances of certain landscapes behind, it gives the optical illusion that the road you’re rolling down is in fact slightly uphill. The same effect of course will not help the cyclists going in the other direction - the optical illusion would therefore mean they feel they are going slightly downhill, only to still be having to climb - no fun! Here is a video to demonstrate the phenomenon.

The road continues long above the Polo Magnético, though; it is a real physical slog of a climb that reaches the kind of typical size of a borderline cat.1/HC climb in Le Tour - it’s over 14km and averages 7%, which is a pretty decent sized ascent, you would say. Annoyingly, because the Polo Magnético completely dominates the reasons anybody would access this area, and because Polo is both the name of the town at the end of the road and means ‘pole’ as in ‘magnetic pole’, trying to find any pictures or coverage of any part of the road other than the magnetic hill is nigh on impossible. Those that are possible to find are of the next section after the Polo Magnético, which is known as “El Túnel Ecológico de Polo”, because the very straight, steep road is lined with trees who provide an extensive green canopy, lending the illusion during certain times of the year of driving through a tunnel, with narrow shafts of light through heavy foliage, as you can see here. However, while I can’t show you too much of the climb outside of these two areas, I do at least have a profile for the closing part of the stage, from Cabral to the town of Polo.



As you can see, the climb starts off benign and slowly steps up its difficulty, as many climbs entering a range do. The first three kilometres are, in effect, just false flat that slowly ramps up to 4-5% before a flattening out briefly, at which point the real climb begins. From here, the final 11,3km of ascent average just under 8%, putting this at around the same kind of level as Kandel in Germany, arguably Germany’s hardest major pass outside of the Berchtesgadener Land, and matching up to ascents such as Mont Bisanne, up to the point at which it can be connected to Les Saisies and therefore used as a pass. This is most definitely a potential difference maker - not least with 7km averaging 9% in the middle there, the last 3 of which push the percentage up into double figures. With only 5,2km from the summit of the climb to the finishing line, and no more real climbing to come in the race, this will most definitely be a scene of drama if the GC is still alive (obviously if somebody’s gone all Medellín 2019 on the Alto de la Virgén, then it really won’t be so dramatic I guess, a bit like the damp squibs that last chance mega-MTFs have often been lately in Grand Tours, such as Ventoux 2009 and Zoncolan 2014, if the best climber is already in the jersey, as opposed to, say, Quintana’s quest to win the race on Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate day a few years back, or for other reasons such as Contador’s romantic final win on Angliru. Either way, the Paso del Monte Sacro (named for a smaller peak adjacent to the pass) is a dramatic ascent which should hopefully see some serious action en route to the small town of Polo.

The settlement of Polo sits at 750m above sea level, protected on all sides by the Sierra de Bahoruco. The municipality’s total population is 12.000, of which 2/3 live in the town itself, and the majority of the remainder in neighbouring Las Auyámas. It is partly an agricultural outpost, as with Constanza and other plateau towns, but mostly it’s a hidden retreat town, best known for its access via a steep, winding path to the Balneario Mata de Maíz, a scenic wellness and beauty spot known for its mineral-rich turquoise waters and beautiful setting. Maybe a bit like the women in the Giro Rosa a few years ago enjoying Lago Maggiore after their stage, perhaps some of the riders may want to take advantage before the final two stages of the race?

 
Stage 16: Avellino - Ercolaneo; 205.4km


The stage after the final rest day and a long transfer starts in Avellino, the capital of the region that shares the same name.

Pretty much right after the start we have the ascent to Ospedaletto d'Alpinolo, 7.4km at 4.7% pretty much the flatter section before the infamous Montevergine di Mercogliano climb (bad as a MTF, but I wouldn't mind seeing that one in a MTT with a bit of flat before the climb).
The next 20km are always slightly downhill, after that we have around 100km of false flat and rolling terrain, always moving southwestwards until we reach the Amalfi coast. Here the next climb starts, Picco San't Angelo, 8.5km at 5.6%, the climb was used on the actual Vesuvio stage in 2009.
The following descent isn't too steep, but still features a few technical hairpins and shouldn't be underestimated. After that we have around 40km of false flat/rolling terrain before the final climb of the day starts.
It's a rather obscure one, the Vesuvio ascent on a secondary road, the Strada Matrone, 9.6km at 9.2%.

The road was opened in 1955, nowadays it's closed for public traffic, it's used as a hiking track, but there's also a shuttle service with offroad cars. The road is paved, even if some parts need to be repaved before being used in a cycling race.

The twist comes once we reach 800m of altitude, the final 2km or so of the road are cobbled. first it's more gentle, urban cobbles, but towards the top of the climb they get rather nasty.


The following descent is the "normal" Vesuvio ascent that was used in the actual 2009 Giro.
know, those cobbles on a climb are a bit over the top, but it would be pretty interesting to see. We've seen sterrato climbs in the Giro before, back in the 90ies the Giro del Lazio actually used the brutal cobbles of the Via Appia Antica that make most of the sectors in Paris-Roubaix look like gentle urban cobbles, so it's not out of the blue and it wouldn't pose any danger to the riders and their health, so why not? I'm sure Zomegnan would agree with me on this one.

The stage finishes in Ercolaneo, near the excavations of Herculaneum. Most people only know it as "Pompeii's little brother", but from an archeological standpoints it's much more interesting than the later. The pyroclastic material that covered the town carbonized (pretty fast), so a lot more organic objects, wood, but even foods and papyrus, were preserved, Archeologists really love this town.

This one could have a big impact and is something that the 2009 Giro actually lacked, a downhill finish right after a hard climb. The stage also comes after a rest day and with the next stage not being a big gc stage we could see some action pretty early on the final climb, the bad descenders could try to get a headstart before the final descent.
 
Mayomaniac, that looks like a goat trail. It might need some work before any race takes place.

That profile looks weird. Like a lot of spikes back and forth. I don't understand why that is.
Yes, Cronoescalada seems to work a lot better with Tour profiles, this always happens when you switch to the Giro profile option. That's one of the main reasons why I've posted most of the Giro stages with Tour profiles.
 
I always presumed this occurs due to minuscule differences between OSM and Google Maps with regard to terrain, which has created these over-sensitive waypoints especially on the seemingly more sensitive Giro and Vuelta (2015 version) style profiles.

Stage 9: Barahona - San Cristóbal, 166km





GPM:
Alto del Fondo Negro (cat.4) 8,5km @ 3,0%
Loma Escondida (cat.4) 2,1km @ 7,6%
Castillo El Cerro (cat.4) 1,1km @ 6,2%

The penultimate stage of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional sees us largely retrace our steps from yesterday as we head towards our grand finale in Santo Domingo (no real spoiler there, I did say I would stick to the traditional format of starting and finishing in the capital!). We descend back down past the magnetic pole to spend the evening in Barahona, the capital of the province in which Polo can be found, and from which we depart in the morning on a longer stage than we’ve had since day 3 of the race as we head back toward the Distrito Nacional.



The city at the heart of Barahona province is officially named Santa Cruz de Barahona, but as with so many of these cities, it is universally known simply as Barahona, and serves as the gateway to the Sierra Mahoruco and the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic. This city of 140.000 inhabitants is probably the most successful legacy that Toussaint l’Overture left in the eastern half of Hispaniola during French/Haitian occupation; it was he who ordered the city’s founding in 1802, to take advantage of the shallow bays that led to fishermen using it as a landing port to procure wood and supplies. Its position as a port on the edges of the mountain range that the two disparate halves of the island shared meant it had great strategic importance when the Dominicans won their independence, and it became a military outpost. The proximity of the Port of Barahona and the immediacy of the eastern Sierra Mahoruco means that the area has grown in prominence from import and export, with coffee the main export, but also textiles and sugar, both of which have manufacturing and refining facilities in the city.

Barahona’s most successful export is the one that gave her name to its airport, the film star María Montez, a superstar of the early technicolor era, such that it became her nickname (“the Queen of Technicolor”). Montez was known for portraying fiery, dramatic, glamorous Latin women bedecked in jewels; despite her Caribbean origins, she was ethnically more criollo and thus did not have problems breaking colour or ethnicity barriers as many contemporaries did; however she did largely make her name playing exotic characters from distant lands, making her name in films like Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Her career floundered post-war with many unfinished ideas and plans, a relocation to Europe with her second husband, and a tragically premature death, having a heart attack in the bath and drowning at the age of 39. Like so many who flame out and die young, she has retained a level of curiosity and mystique to this day, with real veneration in her homeland, and many nods in fact and fiction from the likes of Gore Vidal and Jack Smith. Again, there’s also some baseball players, of whom Edinson Vólquez is somebody I am at least familiar with, having won a World Series and been selected to an All-Star game.

Perhaps more importantly, at least for us, is that it is the home of Augusto Sánchez, who in 2010 became only the second Dominican to win the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional. He emerged with a stage win in the Tour de Martinique in 2004, and was part of the Dominican assault on the only ever UCI-level Vuelta a Puerto Rico in 2005, finishing 3rd behind national cycling hero Wendy Cruz. He collected stages all over the Caribbean, in Guadeloupe, Cuba and at home, and finished 2nd in his home race in 2008 as well as being in the winning move at the Pan-American Championships, from which he finished 8th. In 2010, though, he got his first stage win at the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, winning from a three-man break in the semitappe to La Romana, before finishing 2nd behind his namesake Nelsón Ismael Sánchez on the queen stage, enabling him to acquire the maillot jaune. With a comfortable lead over Bruno Langlois and the other Sánchez out of contention from earlier in the race, he therefore kept the jersey to the end, securing a place forever in the hearts of Dominican cycling fans. While over time his achievements may have been eclipsed by Nelsón Ismael Sánchez, Augusto has nevertheless carved out a good niche for himself with three more top 10s in the race - 4th in 2011, 4th in 2016 and a surprising GC win in 2018, after the race, run at the 2.NE level that year, skipped the Alto de la Virgén due to issues with the organisation, enabling him to hold on after taking a solo win over a minute and a half up in the stage to Rancho Arriba (using the climb you can see in my stage 7) and holding on to the finish. Augusto even got a brief sojourn in Europe, riding for Team Differdange for half of 2014, potentially at the behest of Diego Milán. He didn’t adapt too well to European racing however and returned home, where he has become part of the Aero Cycling Team’s juggernaut in the national races. He has won four national ITT jerseys plus some endurance track titles, a number of smaller Dominican races like the Vuelta a Barahona and the Prevuelta Independencia, and has taken wins in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama, as well as some anomalous results in Ecuador, Venezuela and the USA. Now 37, Augusto Sánchez is one of the grand old men of Dominican cycling, but he’s shown with his performances in the last couple of years he still has some life in the legs yet.



Barahona has featured in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional frequently in recent years, with Miguel Ubeto (2002), Wendy Cruz (2005, 2007, 2008), Richard Ochoa (2006), and Cristian Torres (2016) among those to win win the town. It also hosted the national championships in 2010, which were won by 20-year-old José Payano, who sadly has rather disappeared into the ether after that early promise.

Anyway, once we’ve left Barahona, we ride toward Palo Alto and turn left into Jaquimeyes, where we left the highway yesterday, and retrace our steps; the next 110km (allowing for the neutral zone in the previous stage) effectively are a repeat of yesterday’s stage, only undertaken in the opposite direction (of course). As a result we travel over familiar terrain; the Alto del Fondo Negro is longer from this side, but it only averages 3%, so it doesn’t merit any higher a categorisation. Before arriving in Cruce de Ocoa, just after the halfway stage, there is another climb, however, as the Loma Escondida climb from Hatillo is much, much more significant from the west (just over 2km at 7,5%) than from the east (where it’s just false flat), so that gives some mountains points too - not that they’re likely to be especially decisive in the battle for the GPM, which should be all but sewn up by now with only cat.4 ascents in this stage. After we arrive back in Baní, which hosts our second intermediate sprint (the first, as with yesterday, was in Azua de Compostela), just under 50km remain. Soon after this sprint we head into the Provincia de San Cristóbal, a province which was split off from Santo Domingo in 1932, and originally named Provincia de Trujillo after the dictator (modesty is, of course, a common trait among dictators, as we know), being officially renamed after its capital and largest city in 1961 almost before the guy was even buried following his assassination.

The final meta volante takes place with 25km remaining in San Gregorio de Yaguate, a city which looks small from maps but is quite sprawling in extent as it includes a number of outlying areas within its boundaries. The total population of the municipality is over 90.000, believe it or not - the most famous of which - yet again - are two baseball players, Michael Pineda and Jeurys Familia, both born in 1989, both specialist pitchers, and both All-Stars, Pineda in his rookie year in 2011 and Familia five years later after developing a specialism as a closer. However, the urban population is much, much smaller, believed to be around a fifth that size. Here, it’s just a run-in toward San Cristóbal, which serves as our stage host. We actually leave the highway with 13km remaining, largely because we take a somewhat circuitous route around the town, deliberately so in order to incorporate the final categorised climb of the race, a small rise on the southwestern side of town to the Castillo del Cerro, about an 1100m ascent at a little over 6%, a max of 11%, and the last opportunity to break away. The Castillo del Cerro itself is one of many major architectural sites in San Cristóbal that previously belonged to the most famous of all men to call San Cristóbal their home, and somebody we’ve met many a time already in this journey around the island… Rafael Trujillo.



El Jefe, as Trujillo was affectionately - or disparagingly - known, was born in San Cristóbal in 1891, and presided over one of the bloodiest, most damaging regimes in the history of the Americas. The longevity of his regime - stretching almost half his lifetime - means that he remains a polarising figure to this day in the Dominican Republic and now, 59 years on from his death, impacts of his policies and his cult of personality remain fresh in the memory, at least in part because of the longevity of the last of his puppet presidents, Joaquín Balaguer, who continued to fly the flag for Trujillistas until almost 40 years from the death of the dictator. Ever the opportunist, Trujillo trained with the US National Guard and Marines when the Americans occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916, and used this to rise dramatically through the ranks of the military to become the Republic’s commander in chief. He cut a deal with rebel leader Estrella that led to the coup against Horacio Vásquez in 1930; in return for allowing Estrella to seize power in the coup, Estrella would allow Trujillo to run for President in subsequent elections. Trujillo claimed “neutrality” prevented him using military force to protect Vásquez, and then the military brutally suppressed and agitated against all tickets other than Trujillo-Estrella in the upcoming elections, resulting in a classic sham election where Trujillo actually received more votes than there were registered voters in the Dominican Republic at the time. Soon after the election a hurricane ravaged Santo Domingo and rather than see it as a sign, El Jefe saw an opportunity, proclaiming martial law to rebuild the city, renaming it Ciudad Trujillo in his own honour, and hounding all opposition to the extent that come 1934, he was the only name on the ballot.

The cult of personality continued to build, with statues of himself erected all over the country, and even churches were obliged to praise the dictator. However, although his popularity at home was high, the international recriminations from the 1937 Haitian massacre - one of his first acts showing his true colours - meant that he stood aside for the 1938 elections, on the pretence at home that the system should follow the US style of two terms presidencies. However, the only nominee was from the party which Trujillo remained the leader of and it was fully understood that Peynado was just a puppet and who was really running things. When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a third term in office due to the exceptional circumstances of, oh, I don’t know, a World War, Trujillo sensed an opportunity - as ever - to further his own position and did the same, returning to office in 1942, and served two more terms, lengthening the period between elections to five years and turning many of his stronger family business ties into monopolies to increase his personal wealth and turn the Dominican Republic into his personal fiefdom. To the point where he minted coins and held grand celebrations of the 25th anniversary of his own rule even though he wasn’t officially in office at the time.

Trujillo’s rule was politically difficult to really categorise, with him being flexible around various populist currents of the time and, with the tacit if not explicit support of the United States, he acted with impunity. The laundry list of villainy is very, very long, however. Special opprobrium was reserved for the Haitians, whose border with the Dominican Republic was not fixed when El Jefe took office. Between 20 and 30.000 Haitians were brutally murdered in the Parsley Massacres of 1937, and then tried to install a puppet President in Haiti too; when his hand-picked puppet, former ambassador to Santo Domingo Élie Lescot, refused to comply with Trujillo’s demands, he tried to have him assassinated. He tried to support Fulgéncio Batista in Cuba, after having already armed the rebels to keep Batista subservient to him following the Dominican Republic’s extensive militarisation in the WWII period; he then imprisoned Batista under house arrest when he fled to Santo Domingo, only allowing him passage to Portugal upon the payment of a sizeable bribe. A very uneasy peace maintained between Castro, Trujillo and Duvalier for the last two years of Trujillo’s life. As opposition to the regime grew at home, state terrorism was increasingly used both at home and abroad in order to keep the peace, including kidnapping the prominent Basque nationalist writer Jesús Galíndez and an attempt on the life of Venezuelan president Rómulo Betancourt.

The latter was the beginning of the end, though; Betancourt had denounced Trujillo as a dictator (which he was) and a tyrant (which he also was) and accused him of using illicit and terroristic means to control his population (which he did). Trujillo didn’t like this and developed a deep-seated hatred of Betancourt, funding and supporting several rebellions and exiled opposition groups against the Venezuelan leader. Then, Betancourt did something unthinkable to Trujillo: rather than respond to violence with violence, as Trujillo was both used to and desired, Betancourt explored diplomacy, taking his grievances to the Organization of American States. This was too much for El Jefe, who had his henchmen plant a car bomb which badly burnt but did not kill his intended victim; this act of unwarranted, uncalled-for aggression was the final straw for Trujillo in international eyes, and he was no longer a useful ally or a stabilising force for his defenders; instead, the world watched as he was gunned down in his car on May 30, 1961. Although the family tried to hold on to power, installing Ramfis Trujillo as replacement leader and launching a huge manhunt on the assassins of which António Imbert was the only survivor, the control was lost, the public were unwilling to submit to further dictatorship, and the era was brought to a swift euthanasia, leading many to confront the brutal acts of the former leader for the first time.

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the industrialised rape, where Trujillo would have henchmen scour the streets for young girls that met his ‘type’ and people trying to curry favour with him would try to do so using gifts of young girls to be used for sexual favours. He even had a member of staff paid to organise and schedule sessions. In the grand scheme of 20th Century villains worldwide, Rafael Trujillo does not get the amount of notoriety he deserves.

I’d love to move on to happier things, but afraid I don’t really know enough about baseball, since every non-dictator famous son of San Cristóbal is a baseballer. Raúl Mondesi - a former Golden Glove outfielder - was even mayor of the city for six years from 2010 to 2016. And it’s also clear that Trujillo’s legacy hangs large over the city too. While his name may have been etched out of the province’s name and veneration of him is at an all-time low (pleasingly), his former residences and luxurious grounds remain prominent sites in the city, even if the majority have now fallen into disrepair, with only a few die-hard Trujillistas willing to maintain them. With 275.000 people living in San Cristóbal, it is the third largest city in the country. After passing the final summit of the race with 9km remaining we loop around the outlying suburbs to re-enter the city by the cemetery (Trujillo was originally to be buried there but his son Ramfis was granted permission to take his body to Paris, and then subsequently to Madrid, over fears that his burial site would become both a site of pilgrimage for supporters of his militaristic dictatorship and a magnet for vandals following his fall from grace and demise) and then sweeping left toward the baseball stadium. We cross the Río Yubazo and do a loop on the east of the river, before turning back on ourselves, to cross the river in the middle of our 1km long final straight, finishing at the Monumento a los Constituyentes, which enables San Cristóbal to celebrate a part of its history which is less contentious in retrospect.



Being relatively local to Santo Domingo - around 30km to its west - people lived in the area of Santo Domingo from the early 16th Century, although it only formally became a town much later. Its origins have been retrospectively attributed to Bartolomé Colón, brother of Cristóbal, but this remains disputed. Its main claim to fame that doesn’t involve El Jefe, however, was that in 1844, this was where the Haitians’ final retreat was reported and the first Constitution of an independent Dominican Republic was signed. While the monuments to Trujillo and his era lay dilapidated and crumbling, the legacy of democracy in the city is vibrant and healthy, with a brand new sculpture to celebrate its importance to the modern world.

That is the better legacy for San Cristóbal and the face that the city should want to promote to the world, so I shall allow them with the stage finish at the monument. The city only periodically hosts the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, and when it does it’s often a stage start, not a stage finish. In fact, 2009 was the last time a stage in the national race finished in the city, with Costa Rican Eddier Godínez taking the win in a circuit race. The city has, however, hosted the national championships more recently, with Diego Milán taking his first Dominican national title here in 2013. Stages in the opposite direction to mine, from San Cristóbal to Barahona, have been fairly frequent, however, many of which were mentioned earlier. This one ought to be a sprint unless the break is allowed to go, as with the grand finale tomorrow, I can’t see any GC men willing to chance their arms.

 
Stage 10: Santo Domingo - Santo Domingo, 22km (ITT)





And so we come full circle, to finish the race where it started, with a closing ITT in the nation’s erstwhile capital. Not a great deal to say about this one, as we’ve already been introduced to Santo Domingo itself at the start of the race, and obviously when it comes to famous Dominicans, more of them call Santo Domingo home than anywhere else, for reasons which are just straightforward common sense given its colossal population in comparison to elsewhere on the island. We have had discussion of its UNESCO-inscribed Zona Colonial, its time spent under the name of Ciudad Trujillo, walked back almost the second the bullet hit El Jefe, and its tumultuous history. I thought I might have one final touch of baseball before we leave the Republica Dominicana for good, however, because here we have a baseball player of high enough repute and profile that I can’t be ignorant of him - Albert Pujols.



Now competing into his 40s, Pujols has amassed a lengthy career since he was National League rookie of the year in 2001. After a decade with the Cardinals and now most of a decade with the Angels, he’s long been one of the game’s most recognisable faces, a six-time Silver Slugger who has led the National League in home runs twice, and once in RBI, doubles and with all manner of top level stats in fields a paltry non-American non-Dominican non-Cuban like me can’t hope to comprehend. He is one of the elite club of 3000 hit men, becoming the 32nd to do so. But what he has largely become known for now is the failure to hit - largely because, now into his 40s, bless the guy but he was never blessed with the greatest turn of pace, and now his declining agility is robbing him of hits at a rate of knots, so much so that a 17-minute video was produced about how he may now be too slow to play at the top level. Being one of only 4 players all-time to amass 3000 hits and 600 home runs, however, it is believed that unless he decides to do something like Pete Rose to get himself black-balled, there is no way on earth that Albert Pujols will not go into the Hall of Fame.

Like many of his fellow countrymen who have gone on to big-time careers in the MLB and other international leagues of baseball, Albert got his start playing on the many stadia around Santo Domingo, and no fewer than five diamonds constructed for baseball and softball are dotted around the Centro Olímpico Juan Pablo Duarte, amongst the venues which were used in the hosting of the Pan-American Games.



As you can see from the above picture, the Olympic Park includes a number of different sporting venues. The most significant is the combined athletics stadium and soccer pitch, but there’s also two Olympic-sized pools in the centre, to their right is the national centre for martial arts and the national centre for volleyball, behind which are a number of tennis and basketball courts, and then the baseball diamonds in the back corner. Between the diamonds and the soccer stadium is another, smaller athletics track and soccer stadium, and in the foreground is the Palácio de los Deportes Virgilio Travieso Soto, built for the 1974 Central American and Caribbean Games and most prominently holding basketball, though also used for futsal, handball, netball, concerts, the Miss Dominican Republic beauty pageant, and even on occasion WWE wrestling. Its characteristic design has given it the unflattering nickname La Media Naranja, or half-orange. And, in the middle, the velodrome, with the bicicross course next to it (more a BMX track than what you or I would recognise as cyclocross).

The time trial begins at the soccer/athletics stadium and swiftly exits the complex onto the major thoroughfare you can see left of centre in that image. From there we follow around to the right and leave the picture at the bottom left, as we begin a lengthy out-and-back course which takes us along closed lanes (à la Los Angeles in the 2010 Tour of California) of Expressway 27. February. This stretch would eventually take us. All the way to Plaza de la Bandera, however we take a left at the intersection where the Expressway meets the troncal which is Avenida Winston Churchill to the north, and Avenida Enrique Jiménez Moya to the south. We travel a few blocks south, before turning right and entering Parque Mirador del Sur.



The most famous green space in Santo Domingo, Mirador Sur is a long, thin area of green land that covers a strip of the southwest corner of the city, and is traversed by a long dual carriageway. The park is approximately 5km in length, meaning an out-and-back along this road is around 10km. This has become a go-to site for designing time trial races in Santo Domingo, in fact, owing to the ease with which it can be circumvented by taking alternative routes, and the more scenic surroundings than had the riders been subjected to riding around the city streets the whole time. Mirador Sur has therefore been used in a number of races in recent years, often in the time trial format, where laps of the 10km circuit are used to make up longer distances.

In the early 2000s, the ITT in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional used to be held in Mao, in the north of the country, before longer ITTs passed out of vogue in favour of the 1km kilo TT at the velodrome in Santo Domingo being used as a prologue. In 2007, a 14km ITT took place in the city’s streets, but in 2008 the Mirador del Sur roads took centre stage for the first time in a climactic ITT. Yellow jersey Carlos José Ochoa defended his jersey by winning the time trial, 6 seconds ahead of Augusto Sánchez and Álex Gonzálex Peña. Adam Pierzga won a similar time trial a year later, and the Pole backed up his triumph with another success a year later. Simultaneously, the Mirador del Sur park also hosted the national ITT championships in 2010, over four laps of the circuit; Augusto Sánchez took the win, with Rafael Germán and Benigno de la Cruz at around 30” deficit, and nobody else within two and a half minutes. Tomás Aurelio Gil won the Mirador del Sur ITT stage in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional in 2011, taking the lead in the GC en route, and Bruno Langlois secured the podium with his win in the stage a year later. The TT distance was bumped up by a second lap of the circuit for 2013, Langlois again taking the win, while Wilson Marentes led a Colombian invasion in 2014, with the South American nation taking 4 of the top 5 spots in the stage.

In 2015 there was no ITT stage in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, but the following year the race opened with a TTT over the same circuit, with Aero Cycling Team defeating the upstarts Inteja-MMR, and San Luís-Somos Todos - and then the race ended with a road stage up and down the same circuit, with Mauro Richeze winning in a sprint. The TTT was brought back the following year - with the same result across the top two at least - but since then has been dormant with the last three editions of the national race being all road stages. The course has, however, moved on to a new niche, hosting the last five national ITT championships on the same 40km circuit, comprising four laps of the circuit. This also gives us the opportunity to compare speeds longitudinally - the winning times are as follows:

2010: Augusto Sánchez in 54’44
2015: Rafaél Germán in 52’47
2016: William Guzmán in 52’02
2017: Augusto Sánchez in 53’33
2018: William Guzmán in 52’52
2019: Rafaél Germán in 53’43

Either way, our course isn’t quite complete yet; we exit Parque Mirador del Sur from whence we came, and turn right for a short downhill to Fuente Centro de los Heroes, the low point on the course from which it is a slightly uphill drag to return to the Expressway.



From there it’s pretty straightforward really - we retrace our steps all the way back to the sporting complex where we finish on the velodrome, as a nice place for symmetry to award whoever has proven themselves over the best and most varied terrain that the Dominican Republic has to offer.

I know this wasn’t the most obvious race to have a go at. I know a lot of you will never have seen or perhaps even heard of the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, and given its relative backwater status, haven’t been tempted to take a look at the possibilities it offers for the budding traceur. But then, for a long time this race was a mere footnote in my mind too; there’s a whole cycling history unique and personal to the country, and nobody ever accused the Caribbean islands of being ugly - in these times of quarantine and lockdown I have been flicking through a lot of what I hadn’t already seen, and I watched a bit of the videos on the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, as it was one of the few races to have taken place in 2020, and found that it was really interesting, like a window into another world of cycling that I had yet to discover. Sure, the coverage was lo-fi and low budget, and the road closures were sketchy and the standard was variable, but something about it piqued my interest; we always associate cycling in Latin America with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and maybe the rioplatense scene. We’re aware of those mostly self-contained but enthusiastic scenes in Costa Rica and Guatemala. But the Dominican Republic is kind of lost on us, perhaps because every sport gets sacrificed at the altar of the national pastime of baseball, which obviously dominates public conscience and attention both internally and externally. Yet this race is over 40 years old, with a variety of different teams and winners in attendance, and seemed to make nary a blip on the radar for cycling outside of the country - making it a great target for me to take a look at because it was just as much a voyage of discovery for me, into both Dominican history and geography, in making the race as it was a route designing exercise.
 
If you haven't already created the climbs themselves, first you have to save a route including the climb (the more waypoints on the climb the better), then go into it, hit the pencil sign (edit) then tick "I do this track, count it in my statistics". You can hide it later if you don't want it in there. Then go to "cols", "create from my tracks", highlight the track you want, drop the start/finish icons at the beginning and end of the climb and then create. From this you get a screen which gives you the basic profile (like the one I've shown for Alto de la Virgén above), but you also have the option to go to Profiles Editor, which gives you more options, and a basic outline will come out like the Polo one in my stage above; you can add all manner of features, pavé, sterrato, and measure particular ramps and repechos.

Alternatively, if the climbs have already been mapped by somebody, then if you tick 'show cols', an icon will show up on the stage map with the relevant climbs that are already mapped on Cronoescalada displayed, you can click on them to view the profiles already there.
 

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