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Race Design Thread

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Stage 2: Délémont - Nyon, 183km



Col des Pontins (cat.3) 4,1km @ 8,3%

There’s very little transfer required for the riders after stage 1 before we travel along the northern edges of Francophone Switzerland for our one and only transitional stage of the race. After all there aren’t likely to be too many top level elite sprinters turning up to Romandie in its current guise, especially now in this particular fictitious edition where I am in charge of course design. I’ve never really gone easy on the fast men, but that’s because by and large they are to be considered less than other cyclists. They get more than enough chances to win and there are a lot of races where geography deigns that they will be able to pad their stats; Switzerland, if you look at a topographical map of it, is absolutely not one of these places. By and large, it’s actually more work finding scope for a pan flat stage than it is a worthy GT queen stage here, so the climbers get more chances than the sprinters, so what minimal sprinting field has deemed it worth their time had better make use of today; realistically I’m expecting the sprinting field here to be more for riders like Michael Matthews, Edu Prades, Matteo Trentin, Sam Bennett in style, but maybe not all of that level. Even so, at least they have one chance, with this decently-long stage which heads down from the Jura to the shores of Lac Léman.


As mentioned in the last stage, Delémont is the capital of the Canton of Jura since its split from the Bernese Jura in the 1970s, besting its historical superior, Porrentruy, in the battle for that role. It is an older city, attested back to the 8th Century, but has for much of its existence played a subordinate role to that city, especially since the late 15th Century when much of the city was destroyed in a fire. It had been under the control of a Bürgergemeinde until Napoleonic intervention but was then passed into Bernese control following liberation from the French and a power struggle between the council and the populace. The city rapidly grew following the Industrial Revolution thanks to its position at a rail crossroads (the Paris-Belfort-Delle line intersects the Bienne-Basel line in Delémont), however, and even had a period of brief bilingualism when this drove a rapid influx of Germanophone settlers, but French has since reasserted itself as the dominant tongue. It now is twice the size of Porrentruy at 12-13.000, and as mentioned above, took the role as capital when the Jura separated from Bern. It is perhaps best known as the birthplace of aviation pioneer and entrepreneur Alfred Comte, providing passenger flights from Zürich to London and participating in stunt shows as well as designing a number of light aircraft. The city has cropped up on the route of the Tour de Suisse in 2014, with a bumpy stage won by Matteo Trentin, and the Tour de Romandie in 2018, with a hilly stage won by Omar Fraile. Both stages were reduced bunch kicks of 50-60 riders, and both were followed by a stage out of the city the following day.

This particular stage follows the pattern of the 2018 Romandie stage, an undulating stage which moves from the higher Jura plateaus to the lower ones down by the lakes in the north Swiss plateau. This stage is easier than that one, mind; we don’t climb the Col des Rangiers early, instead we have the much more rolling start via Moutier, and an uncategorised climb of 3,3km at 4% through the scenic Gorges de Court.


From here we head across to Tavannes, and descend through the Col de Pierre-Pertuis that we ascended in yesterday’s stage - there’s only a very brief crossover. Where we could continue down to Biel-Bienne to continue to run yesterday’s stage in reverse, we instead hang a left, and head along the Saint-Imier Valley until arriving in the valley’s namesake city. Saint-Imier appeared on the route of the Tour de Romandie in 2015, with Michael Albasini winning once more from a reduced sprint after descending from the climb of La Vue-des-Alpes. The stage was perhaps misleading as one can descend direct from La Vue-des-Alpes to La Chaux-de-Fonds which would have made the climb more attractive as a proposition to attack from, and simultaneously they could also have used Mont Chasseral as an alternative - this would give just 11km from the summit of the Col du Chasseral to the finish. We, however, are not considering either La Vue-des-Alpes or Chasseral as an option for descending into the plains; there is an easier way, and this is the nearest thing to a full on flat stage I’m offering. Instead, you can see on the profile of the northern side of the Chasseral climb from Saint-Imier that there is a stopping point a little way up the climb called the Col des Pontins; we are going to stop there and then descend through this side, going right to let from the junction to Saint-Imier at the 8,5km mark. This climb is not much easier than the climbs given cat.2 yesterday, admittedly, but it’s the only climb of the day and comes at 130km from the finish, so it isn’t going to be taken at pace, shall we say. The descent takes us to our next staging point en route, the city of Neuchâtel.


A beautiful lakefront city which is one of Switzerland’s most popular cities with tourists, Neuchâtel can also be considered like a lower-scale Francophone Como, with a number of sporting celebrities and cinematic names taking up residence in and around the city taking advantage of advantageous (ahem) tax regulation. We then spend the next 30km skirting the edges of Lac Neuchâtel before our first intermediate sprint, which takes place in the common stage town of Yverdon-les-Bains, a popular spa town (hence the name) with some tendrils in unexpected places and all over the spectrum of economics and ideology; two of its favourite sons are Robert Piguet, a fashion designer specialising in glamorous and opulent designs whose disciples included Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy; and Benno Besson, a theatrical director who was beloved of Bertolt Brecht, and disavowed capitalism to become one of the leading lights of cultural entertainment in the DDR. Perhaps of more value however is its place as the home of Marcel Lequatre, one of Swiss cycling’s founding fathers, a multiple winner of Bern-Genève and a participant in the very first Tour de France.

After passing through Orbe, the terrain gets a bit more rolling, but there are only a couple of real sustained ascents and I haven’t deemed either to be worthy of categorisation; these consist of 1,3km at circa 5% from Orbe to Arnex-sur-Orbe, then around 2,5km at just under 4% from La Sarraz to the plateau leading into Cossonay. From there we ride the shoulders of the low lying hills that rise out of Lac Léman for a little over 20km before descending from Aubonne to the shores of the lake at Rolle. From there it’s a short flat run to Nyon, the day’s stage host.


Nyon hasn’t seen stage racing since 2003, when Robbie McEwen won a sprint in the Tour de Suisse, however it has seen both the national championships and European championships since; in 2009 Fabian Cancellara won the road race, to ensure that his epic 2010 classics season would take place in a gorgeous national champion’s jersey (though Elmiger’s just after was better imo), but he didn’t start the ITT, leaving Rubens Bertogliati to take the title. Jennifer Hohl and Karin Thürig took the respective women’s races. Five years later, the same courses were used for the European U23 championships; Mieke Kröger and Stefan Küng won the ITTs, while Sabrina Stultiens won the road race, with Küng doubling up.

Unfortunately, Nyon’s shape does not lend itself to convenient finishes from this direction other than at the Patinoire de Nyon, as it’s a case of either finish on the waterfront, or turn inland for a complex, twisty finish which is potentially dangerous with a couple of sharp corners in the last couple of kilometres. But if you finish at the Patinoire from this direction you barely touch the city. So instead, we continue past the city to put the finish at the Centre Sportif de Colovray-Nyon, where the local football and rugby teams play but, more crucially, directly opposite UEFA’s headquarters. This gives us a second intermediate sprint as we then have a lap of a 12km circuit around Nyon that is slightly different from that used in 2009 and 2014.

The objective of this circuit is simple: give an opportunity for it to not be a sprint if somebody dares. It will be a sprint, most likely, but given there’s usually a weak sprinting field in Romandie, there’s more chance of somebody taking a flyer on an attack - the circuit consists of turning inland for 750m at 7% - the best opportunity for an attack - then heading into a sweeping plateau toward the village of Eysins, which has largely been swallowed up by Nyon. There’s then a series of technical corners through an industrial estate that will require the trains to be on their guard and enable attackers to get out of sight of the chase for a short while. There’s then a few sweeping corners in Nyon itself including two roundabouts, with a sharp right hander at 2,8km from the line, then a 90º right-hander with 2,2km remaining that takes us back onto the shoreline boulevard; after this it’s an easy run-in with only slight sweeping corners that shouldn’t detract from the leadouts; there’s a roundabout at 1200m from the line, but this is visible from a long way away so should be able to be negotiated safely. After this the hardest challenge is around a 10º left hander on a wide road, so this really, really ought not cause anybody any trouble. We then have a wide open finishing straight with ample room and a pan-flat run to the line so this should be about as safe a final kilometre as you can get. Will it be a good stage? Probably not, but given it’s the only flat stage, we mightn’t have too many sprinters on hand (good) so it mightn’t be quite as dull as it seems!
Grand San Bernando > San Carlo > Petit San Bernardo leggooooo
Gran San Bernardo/Grand Bernard is a legit Monster with +1,850m of altitude gain from the Italian side, but far from the only great pass between Italy and Switzerland. In 2017 we finally saw the Umbrailpass, the Stelvio's little brother in the Giro, so I'm not gonna talk a lot about that one.
Forcola di Livigno and Berninapass/Passo Bernina are both legit monsters with +1,900m of altitude gain.


The former was used early on in the final mountain stage of the 2010 Giro, but it would be a great climb to use before a Downhill finish in Livigno or an uphill finish on Passo d'Eira, maybe with the Mortirolo (Recta Contador side) before it.
the later would be great as a monster MTF.
Splügenpass/Passo della Spluga is another legit monster with over 1,800m of altitude gain.

This year the U23 Giro has a MTF in Montespluga, so maybe we'll see it in the real Giro in 2 or 3 years (the climb hasn't beeen used in the Giro since 1965).
The easier Swiss side of the climb is known for it's many Hairpins, so a downhill finish in Splügen on the Swiss side of the Pass would be tempting.

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Stage 3: Satigny - Satigny, 18,4km (ITT)



Stage 3 is the proper length ITT, as we go back to one of the two classic formats of the last 30 years or so of Romandie with a prologue and a mid-race medium length time trial (the other is the Lausanne TT on the final day, of course). This is to set us up with some good moves for the weekend’s GC stages, as there should be some gaps set up by the chrono, because, spoiler alert, that’s what the chrono is for. And also, the nature of Romandie, especially a few years ago, has meant that we get the occasional surprise that gives us a glimpse of the future. An example would be Richie Porte’s first career win, in the 2010 edition’s ITT. Of course he then lost 2 minutes in the main mountain stage, but held on for a GC top 10 and carried that form into his breakout Giro, albeit then giving people unrealistic expectations of his ability to convert his skill over 1 week into Grand Tour ambitions for a decade to come. 2006’s bizarre top 10 including both Leif Hoste and Alberto Contador is also worth a mention.

The main ITT at the Tour de Romandie tends to be in this kind of mid-length range, and is often quite a rolling to hilly time trial, which lends itself to a different type of rider and often means that the GC guys are more to the fore than the pure power engines, such as Andreas Klöden’s 2008 win, 2014 with Chris Froome nudging out Tony Martin by less than a second, Thibaut Pinot winning in 2016. Primož Roglič has won the Romandie ITT twice, in 2017 and 2019. Other times, though, the pure powerhouses can have their say, such as Dave Zabriskie in 2013 and Tony Martin in 2015. A couple of exceptional cases are 2012 (Crans-Montana) and 2018 (Villars-sur-Ollon) when the ITT was an effective mountain time trial. The lengths of the Romandie ITT since the move away from the traditional Lausanne course in 2008 have been as follows:
2008 - Sion, 18,8km
2009 - TTT, ignore this as it’s worthless
2010 - Moudon, 23,4km
2011 - Aubonne - Signal de Bougy, 20,1km
2012 - Crans Montana, 16,5km
2013 - Genève, 18,7km
2014 - Neuchâtel, 18,5km
2015 - Lausanne, 17,3km
2016 - Sion, 15,1km
2017 - Lausanne, 18,3km
2018 - Villars-sur-Ollon, 9,9km
2019 - Genève, 16,9km

As you can see, there is a slight, but not overly significant, reduction in mileage here, especially when considering the traditional Lausanne chrono was 20,4km in length, so slightly longer than either Lausanne route used since. Nevertheless, they are generally as a rule fitting into the upper teens, with occasional exceptions in the low 20s. 2 of the 3 shortest routes are MTTs so are a bit of an outlier too; for comparison, the winning times have been traditionally somewhere in the 20 minute mark, and in fact Bernal’s winning time in 2018 was around 25 minutes and Wiggins’ in 2012 was in fact the second longest winning time (after 2010, which is to be expected, being the longest of these ITTs). Rogla’s time on the 2019 course, 7 kilometres longer than the previous year’s, was 5’12 faster to give you an idea. Of course, this is partly because the Genève courses tend to be the flattest and go at the fastest speeds. I’m at the western tip of Lac Léman here, but I’ve found a way to make a time trial around here a bit more decisive, and for that I’ve picked out the town of Satigny, close to the French border at the westernmost tip of Switzerland.


Satigny, with the French Jura in the background

Satigny’s population is a little under 5.000, so it is far from a major population centre, however it does have a weapon in its cultural arsenal to attract an event like Romandie - it is Switzerland’s #1 wine-producing municipality, with over a quarter of the land in the municipality given over to viticulture. In fact, Satigny hosted the national championships in 2013, its main association with cycling in recent times; both road races finished with two-up sprints, with Michael Schär outsprinting Martin Elmiger to take the men’s race, and Doris Schweizer, the appropriately named champion, defeating Sandra Weiss in the women’s. The women’s ITT was a tense and very close affair, with just two seconds separating Schweizer from a double title, only for Patricia Schwager to deny her at the last. The men’s TT was… well, Fabian Cancellara showed up, so he left with the jersey, with a surprisingly mortal winning margin of just 59” over Elmiger, though I’m sure Fäbu did not always need to go 100% to win the national title in those days.

This is a really rolling, bumpy time trial. It is based on the road race course from the 2013 nationals, but it is a bit longer. There are no sustained climbs nor are there any major gradients, apart from 400m descending at 6,5%. Lots of it is just 3-4% kind of rumbling which will be fine for the power guys. The TT starts at the top part of Satigny, at the upper part of Rampe de Choully. There’s then around 1200m of slight uphill before flat downhill of the same kind of distance, then the descent to the French border. There’s then some flat to the Allondon river, then 1700m of slight uphill false flat into the village of Dardagny. There are the occasional ramps of up to 6%, but it’s no real climb. We then start to descend but where the original national course continued into Russin, we turn to the right for a sharp turn, into the small town of La Plaine. This is home to a perfume factory and sits on the banks of the Rhône. There is then 2,500m of slight uphill at just under 3%, this also includes the steepest ramp of the course, 250m at 8%. The rest is just flat to false flat into Cartigny.

The next village is Aire-la-Ville, where we rejoin the 2013 nationals course. That wound upwards from crossing the Rhône near the village so we are extending the course relative to the national championships road race route, but also taking out the most sustained real climb, in favour of a longer but less significant drag. We then cross the Pont de Peney to return to the north bank of the Rhône, and then it’s 1,6km at 2,5% uphill to the car park on Rue de la Gare de Satigny at the bottom end of the village.


Satigny. Départ at top, Arrivée at the car park area on the right hand side.

This is a time trial which is all about setting the scene for the final weekend’s action. Which hopefully there will be plenty of, as I’ve gone out of my way to enforce it.
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Stage 4: Genève - Les Pléiades, 184km



Les Giettes (cat.1) 9,9km @ 7,4%
Sonchaux (cat.1) 8,6km @ 10,4%
Cergniaulaz-Orgevaux (cat.1) 11,5km @ 8,0%
Les Pléiades (cat.1) 13,7km @ 6,0%

Well, here we are. The mountains are back with a vengeance for the only mountaintop finish of the race, and a worthy queen stage of any race in fact, as we put the climbers through their paces on a range of climbs of different styles to see who exactly has the legs to take this edition of Romandie, across a selection of lesser-known ascents that perhaps ought to be a bit wider recognised than they are given their proximity to population centres.

Before we do the nasty stuff, though, we have to get there. And that means setting off from one of Switzerland’s most famous cities, probably its most discussed worldwide, and the de facto centre for Romandie, the biggest city in Francophone Switzerland and, with 200.000 in its official city centre, 500.000 in the metropolitan area and a shade under 950.000 in the urban agglomeration, the second biggest in the country as a whole, Geneva.


Geneva is a large global city which has passed between the Holy Roman Empire and the House of Savoy before becoming part of the Swiss Confederation in the 16th Century, fuelled by the Reformation, as the prominent theologian John Calvin established the Republic of Geneva as an independent entity from Savoy and preached his protestant reformist ideology from the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. Calvin’s ideology wouldn’t last, as in the 19th Century Geneva transitioned back to Catholicism, and Calvin would become something of a footnote, most renowned for being the inspiration behind the name of the greatest comic strip in the history of the universe, Calvin and Hobbes. However, Calvin’s lasting legacy in Geneva was that, in choosing to align the city-state with the Swiss Confederation, he altered its destiny forevermore, and after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Canton of Geneva was officially absorbed into the entity that is now Switzerland.

A consequence of the defection from Catholicism is that Geneva is not a city with any natural boundaries and is instead a strange protrusion of Switzerland into French terrain, surrounded on three sides by France and isolating a number of communities such as Gex, trapped between Swiss territory and the Jura and Savoy Alps mountain ranges. Its low altitude and the fact that the mountains surrounding it are not on Swiss territory means that, somewhat unusually, its winter sport of choice is ice hockey, and HC Genève-Servette are one of Switzerland’s most successful teams, and have notable alumni such as Logan Couture and Yannick Weber, who played for them during the 2012-13 abridged season lockout, while they’ve also become a useful retirement home for veterans too old for the NHL and unwilling to commit to the painful travel schedule of the KHL, and their current squad includes the likes of journeyman Daniel Winnik, former star prospect turned KHL regular Linus Omark, and former Stanley Cup-winning Penguin Eric Fehr. Servette FC, the city’s football team, counts the likes of World Cup and European Championships winner Christian Karembeu, along with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Jean Beausejour, Kubilay Türkyilmaz, Alexander Frei, Martin Chivers, Rainer Hasler, Lucien Favre, Kevin Mbabu, Viorel Moldovan, Håkan Mild, Oliver Neuville, Philippe Senderos and Martin Petrov.

Geneva has been home to more people than I care to mention, being as it is one of the biggest cities in a major central European country. These include Henri Dunant, the ideological leader and one of the founders of the International Red Cross; his colleague and cohort Gustave Moynier; former Swiss President and Red Cross Council leader Gustave Ador; Élie Ducommun, who founded the world’s first non-governmental organisation for peace and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work; women’s suffrage campaigner Émilie Gourd; the profound and revered thinker and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and important linguistic savant and theorist Ferdinand de Saussure. In less lofty worlds like sport and the arts, there’s David Aebischer, the first Swiss to win the Stanley Cup, and some of the footballers mentioned above, as well as Olympic medalists such as sports shooter Gustave Amoudruz, skier Renée Colliard and bobsledder Cédric Grand.

Geneva’s proximity to France means a few prominent French people have connections there, either by it being the nearest city to their French hometowns, or by mixed marriages; it is also the hometown of prominent French sportspeople such as Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean, Grand Slam-winning tennis pro Marion Bartoli, and a bit closer to home, the cyclist Mickaël Buffaz, a baroudeur who spent several years at Cofidis, and whose biggest wins were the GC of Paris-Corrèze and a stage of the Tour de l’Ain.


Geneva has a long, long history of cycling. It all dates back to the Tour du Lac Léman, a one-day race which was incepted all the way back in 1879, and running, with interruptions, all the way to 2005. This makes it older even than Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Doyenne and the oldest of the extant Classics. Most of the Swiss pioneers of the sport, such as Georges Rösch and Marcel Lequatre, won it in the early days, and starting in the 1920s it became more international, though the biggest winners remained usually Swiss riders, such as Heiri Suter - though the 1922 trumps of Costante Girardengo is worth a mention. The highest profile edition is probably 1952, when Ferdi Kübler edged out Gino Bartali for the win, but after the late 50s the race really tailed away, having a period of revival in the 70s, then not running until the mid-90s when a rebooted version with some very average fields made up primarily of youngsters spluttered on until 2005, with the biggest name to win this version of the race being Filippo Pozzato. Geneva was also the first overseas stage host in the Tour de France, when Marcel Buysse won a 325km stage from Grenoble in the 1913 Tour; it was a hit, and the finish was repeated the following year, with Gustave Garrigou triumphant. It stayed on the route every year that the race ran until 1923, with the biggest name winner that year, Henri Pélissier. At this point, Évian-les-Bains took over as the host in this part of the route, and by the time Geneva next appeared in Le Tour, in 1935, the Tour de Suisse had been established, with Max Bulla winning the Geneva stage and the GC in the first edition in 1933.

Although in later times the races have steered clear of major city centre finishes, there have still been plenty of races crop up in Geneva in the post-war era; Hugo Koblet won a TDF ITT there in 1951, Massimo Ghirotto won a transitional Tour stage in 1990; the list of Tour de Suisse stage winners in the city includes Fausto Coppi, Frank Hoste, Olaf Ludwig and Erik Zabel. However, it became rarer in the race after the establishment of the Tour de Romandie in 1947, where it has been an almost annual staple. In recent years winners in Geneva include Mario Cipollini, Óscar Freire and Pascal Ackermann in road stages, and a stretch of hosting a prologue in the early 2000s led to a very diverse winners’ list including GT winners like Óscar Pereiro and Paolo Savoldelli alongside chrono specialists like Fabian Cancellara and pure sprinters like Mark Cavendish. It’s even cropped up in the Dauphiné in 2002, when José Enrique “Búfalo” Gutiérrez won from the break.

We actually leave Switzerland early in the stage, as we hug the southern coast of Lac Léman to avoid retracing our steps from stage 2, although we do not stop - I think it’s not since Montbéliard in 2012 that there’s actually been a stage host in Romandie that has been in France. Instead we head along flat roads through picturesque spa towns like Thônon-les-Bains and Évian-les-Bains for around 50km before returning to Switzerland for all the important parts of the stage. No border crossing passes here - the only viable choices in this part of the border would be Pas de Morgins and the Col de la Forclaz, both of which are lopsided climbs where the Swiss side of the climb is much more difficult, so given the difficulties we’re cramming in later in the stage, there really isn’t the need for it. So instead we’ll just go for some helicam scenery to put into the “the stage so far” highlights package when they come on air.


Évian-les-Bains and the south side of Lac Léman

Upon arrival back in Switzerland, we turn south into the Rhône basin between the Chablais Alps and the Bernese Alps, in familiar terrain for the Tour de Romandie. The climbs ascending out of this valley are, for the most part, well known to aficionados - Leysin, Villars-sur-Ollon, Torgon and Champéry are all ski resorts which are known as race hosts, while Les Diablerets is not far either. The Col de la Croix, Col du Pillon and Col des Mosses are all well known, while in recent years there have been further additions to the repertoire.

One of these additions is our first climb of the day, the 10km at 7,3% ascent to Les Giettes (that profile until the marker for Les Giettes itself). With the exception of a slight easing off into Choëx, it’s continual and at that kind of length it’s a worthy cat.1. It’s pretty easy compared to what’s to come, and it comes with just under 100km remaining and a fairly hefty stretch of valley roads to follow, so here it’s just going to sap some strength for later or maybe cost a domestique. The descent is quite technical and gets steep towards the end so there will undoubtedly be some circumspect riding from a few prominent names here that will ensure that there’s not enough of a gap to prevent things reconvening in the valley upon the riders’ return to it in Massongex, before riding on to Bex and then, of course, to the UCI headquarters in Aigle, because what Tour de Romandie is complete without a visit to the World Cycling Centre?


A lot of the decisions that have been dangerous to the very fabric of our sport have been taken in this building. Still, in a war between Aigle and Velon, I’m camp UCI on evidence to date.

From here we ride on back towards Lac Léman, and a series of towns which have been part of Romandie’s history throughout - the lakeside line of towns from Lausanne down to the southeastern tip of the lake at Villeneuve. But we don’t have anything traditional in mind. Oh no. We’re going for something a bit more severe. Rather than continuing down the lakeside to Château de Chillon, we’re turning inland, and setting off up the road which ultimately leads to the Col de Chaude. We’re not going all the way there, of course - there’s nothing at the top, it’s very narrow higher up and there’s no paved way down - but we are climbing the first part of it, before hanging a left to climb up to the Auberge de Sonchaux. Never used in professional cycling that I can trace, this climb crests with 54km remaining and it’s… well, it’s a bit of a Mortirolo.


View from the Auberge de Sonchaux


Yes, this is going to be nasty. Very nasty indeed. With the first kilometre averaging over 10%, the next 4km average 9,2%, before 2,5km at 10,8% takes us to La Taluse, where the Sonchaux and Col de Chaude roads go their separate ways. The final 1200m to the Auberge de Sonchaux average over 13% and are going to create some serious, serious suffering. It’s remarkable how little known this one is. I’ve only been able to find it on a couple of other traceurs’ routes since drawing up this stage and finding a profile took a bit of effort, albeit largely as salite.ch's website is now fairly dated and its climb records aren’t as intuitive to search as those with interactive maps like Quäl dich, 39x28 or cyclingcols.

The descent from Sonchaux is divided into two parts. A gradual, narrow part, and then, once arriving in Haut-de-Caux, a steep part (the Caux climb is pretty steep in its own right, averaging over 9%, but it is on a wide and well-maintained road) that takes us back down to the lake. Caux is a former farming community that briefly became one of the most desirable luxury locations in Europe, after the construction in the late 19th and early 20th Century of a number of decadent hotels, culminating in Eugène Jost’s Caux Palace Hotel. World War I dried up the stream of rich guests, however, and despite attempts to bail out the holiday industry, Caux became a forgotten resort and by World War II the hotels were all bankrupt. Nowadays they have been shorn up as cultural heritage sites, but Caux is now better known for hosting the first ever Bobsleigh World Championships and for the network of cross-country ski trails that provide urban dwellers on the shores of Lake Geneva with their Nordic fix if they don’t want to travel as far as Champex or Les Diablerets.

At the base of the descent we arrive in Montreux, a city on the shore of Lac Léman that was established during Roman times at the fork in the road from Italy to Aventicum (Avenches) and into Gaul via modern day Besançon, and changed hands a few times until the end of the 18th Century, when Napoleon liberated it from Bern; following the end of the Napoleonic Wars it became a popular tourist destination, and in the 20th Century it became a major attraction for its musical heritage, hosting a number of prominent music festivals, the largest of which is the Montreux Jazz Festival, an annual July tradition that sees the town swell to several times its usual size to accommodate the visitors, and attracts performers from around the globe. Literally hundreds of “Live at Montreux” albums have been released, from the legendary likes of Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Elis Regina, João Gilberto, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, to less jazz-based acts like Yes, Deep Purple, Nile Rodgers, Quincy Jones, Van Morrison, Alice Cooper and even nu-metal pioneers Korn. The town has a strong legacy with hard rock; Deep Purple’s Machine Head album was recorded in Montreux, in the band’s second choice of venue, after their initial choice of the Montreux Casino fell through thanks to the building catching fire; the resultant viewing experience, however, inspired the composition of the band’s pension, and literally the most recognisable guitar riff in rock history. The city’s main rock legacy outside of that riff, however, is Mountain Studios, which was owned by the band Queen for many years, and used by acts like the Rolling Stones, Yes, AC/DC, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Favourable tax situations and the proximity of the studios have led many such musicians to take up residence in Montreux for a period of their life, the most prominent being Freddie Mercury, whose statue stands prominently in the city centre. But for us, Laurent Dufaux is probably more interesting.


Look, it was the 90s, OK? I don’t think we need to elaborate further. Dufaux was 4th in the most jet-fuelled of all Tours de France in 1996, the same year he achieved his sole Grand Tour podium in the Vuelta. The day that Indurain capitulated and rode into his hometown a broken man? Laurent Dufaux was the stage winner that day. He was a specialist in the preparation races, though. He won the Vuelta a Burgos once, the GP du Midi-Libre once, and the Dauphiné twice as well as finishing top 5 in the Tour de Suisse on several occasions. However… he saved the best for his home race in Romandie. His last great results, in 2003, were here. And so was his crowning glory, in 1998, when he took three stages and the GC in a farcical display of power, winning the prologue and the second stage, an intermediate stage to Saignelégier, before then winning the mountaintop finish at Veysonnaz and managing his rivals the rest of the way with comical ease before finishing second, just a few short seconds behind Zülle, in the final ITT to settle things.

The course now does a bit of a loop-de-loop as we ascend away from the lake into the mountains; there’s a bit of a crossover as we cross the train lines at Chamby, as we climb towards Alliaz on a steep ascent. Before we get to Alliaz, however, we turn right and start to loop around back toward Chamby, and it’s a very inconsistent ascent which is divided into three sections.


The first part of the climb, from Montreux to Chamby, is 5,1km @ 6,8% and starts very much the same as the popular climb to Les Avants, a favourite training ride of cyclists in the region and the favoured training ascent of 1996 Olympic champion Pascal Richard. In the middle of this there is 1,6km at 9,2% before it eases off. Heading through Chamby is a tough ramp of 2,9km @ 8% which was included as part of the penultimate stage of the 2003 edition of the Tour de Romandie, and was won by Francisco Pérez Sánchez; things then ease off toward the Les Prévondes ski lifts, but instead of heading straight on towards Alliaz, we then turn right up a very steep and tricky road to the car park at the top of Route d’Adversan, just above the Auberge de la Cergniaulaz-Orgevaux. This last part is brutal - the final 2,6km average 11% and includes ramps of up to 18%. The summit here is 30km from the finish so this is a very reasonable platform for an attack. There is a tougher variation of the part into Chamby but, given how steep the final part is, this isn’t really necessary. The overall total is 11,5km at 8% which puts it in around the same kind of bracket as Kandel, the Collada de la Gallina in Andorra, Santuário del Acebo, and very slightly easier than Joux-Plane, but less consistent. It’s pretty serious and could break the race apart.



The start of the descent, from Orgevaux to Sonloup, is pretty steep too, in fairness; after this there’s a couple of technical corners that take us back into Les Avants. I have the first 7,1km of the descent, through Sonloup and Les Avants back to Chamby, as averaging 8,2%, but luckily the roads here are wider and in better condition than I had been expecting, leading me to wonder why the race so seldom heads through here other than the pure embarrassment of riches that Switzerland has to offer in terms of climbing. This profile of the nearby Col de Jaman gives us a bit of context; the first part of it - from the start of the climb to the junction marked <railway> - is the first part of the climb to Cergniaulaz-Orgevaux; the next section, from the railway junction through Les Avants to the junction marked >Sonloup, is descended partway down the climb. After a very brief criss-cross with the course from earlier - literally only as long as it takes us to cross the railway lines as we cross the junction from southeast to northwest ascending the climb, and northeast to southwest descending it - we descend through Chaulin on that difficult steep ramp I mentioned earlier. After that the ramps ease off as we arrive in urban roads to the shores of Lac Léman in the town of Clarens, a popular suburb of Montreux with Russian émigrés; Tchaikovsky briefly lived here, as did Stravinsky, while Vladimir Nabokov settled after moving from the United States to Switzerland, and is buried in Clarens.

There is a brief respite - just 3-4 kilometres - along the shores of Lake Geneva as we head into La Tour-de-Peilz, a small town that is part of the Vevey-Montreux urban agglomeration, whose inhabitants were massacred when the Bernese assumed control of the region in the 15th Century. Its most famous attraction is the Musée du Jeu, housed in an old castle rebuilt in the 18th Century, and boasting the world’s oldest collection of games with over 10.000 exhibits, dating from antiquity to the present day. The second intermediate sprint - with bonus seconds to incentivise earlier moves - is located outside the museum, before we turn uphill once and for all with 14km to go, heading to the one and only mountaintop finish of the race.


Les Pléiades is a mountain on the edges of the Prealps, sitting under the Dent de Lys and looking across to Mont Pèlerin. It is plural in name because there are a group of summits, the highest of which is just under 1400m in height. There is a rack railway that climbs from Vevey to a shoulder summit of Les Pléiades, however, by ascending from La Tour-de-Peilz instead of Vevey, we cut some of the flat out and also we make the start of the climb slightly more tricky. There is also a small ski station at Les Pléiades, and there is a sizable car park at Parking Les Motalles, which is the trailhead for the nordic skiing trails at the station, and that’s just over 1200m, so that is the summit which we will use as a stage finish.

There are a few different ways of getting to Les Pléiades, and yet despite the number of us who have designed versions of the Tour de Romandie or the Tour de Suisse, or have found ourselves on this side of Lac Léman in experimental Tour de France or maybe at a push Giro d’Italia routes, or in fictitious races like Gigs’ DACH-Rundfahrt, literally the only mention of any of these ascents that I could find in the annals of this thread was using the Col d’Alliaz as a transitional mid-stage climb in this stage from Lemon Cheese Cake back in 2016. This includes the Romandie edition authored by railxmig, a poster who was nothing if not fastidiously dedicated to innovation and probably even more thorough than me in their descriptions. The way that I have chosen to ascend to Les Pléiades goes via the Col d’Alliaz as in that stage of Lemon Cheese Cake’s, a climb which is on its shoulder, albeit I approach it from a different way as far as Blonay, where we meet the rack railway line.


The climb to Les Pléiades via Alliaz is a three part ascent, really. The first 4km are only at about 4,5%, on wide open roads, save for a 300m at 10% repecho. The next 5,5km average 7,5% and these take us to Alliaz, as well as including a couple of the steepest ramps on the climb. It then eases down to about 5% for 1500m. Here we bear right onto the Route des Pautex, which leads to a small car park literally called Parking des Pautex, which is another steeper, narrower ramp at 1600m averaging 7,4%, before a short plateau, then a final 500m that gradually increases in steepness to hit 8% just before the line. The total stats of the final climb are 13,7km at 6% - a worthy cat.1 climb, but also, notably, an easier ascent than the preceding climbs in this stage. At the same time, this is the only mountaintop finish of the race and takes place on the penultimate stage, so surely that will count for something too. If nothing else, a high pace on the Sonchaux and Cergniaulaz climbs should guaran-damn-tee that the trains are undermanned for the final run up to Les Pléiades and give more opportunity to the climbers to fight Mano a Mano. Plus, another factor is that the final climb will surely suit a different type of climber than the high gradient sufferfests of earlier in the stage, so that’s another factor for them to take into account with the tactics.

Tomorrow may still neuter some of the racing, but again, this is the only MTF of the race, so here’s hoping.
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Stage 5: Saint-Maurice - Martigny, 162km



Anzère (cat.1) 12,9km @ 8,1%
Ovronnaz (cat.1) 9,2km @ 9,3%
Col du Lein (cat.1) 12,9km @ 9,4%
Col de la Petite-Forclaz (cat.2) 4,0km @ 10,2%

For the final stage of the race, we’re heading into the Valais, because nothing says “Romandie mountain stage” quite like the climbs of the Valais. So many classic ascents take place out of this valley, rather like the Valle d’Aosta or the Haute-Maurienne it’s just a flat valley through the middle with a veritable smorgasbord of climbing options out of it. So we’re going to spend much of the day climbing out of it, of course. This is a more conventional mountain stage than yesterday’s on the basis that the riders will know, or at least know of, all of these ascents, but I’ve thrown a little twist in to keep things interesting.

The stage start is in the small town of Saint-Maurice, south of Monthey and Bex, close to the southernmost point of yesterday’s stage, so a relatively short transfer considering it is most likely most of the péloton will have stayed in Lausanne, Vevey or Montreux overnight. It has a population of around 5.000 and has recently (2013) swallowed the neighbouring village of Mex to expand its population and municipality size. It owes its origins to the Romans, who set up the staging post of Agaunum on this site as a spot for weary travellers descending from the Poeninus Pass (today’s Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard). It was renamed Saint-Maurice after its 3rd-Century namesake shortly after the turn of the second millennium, and held strategic importance because of its position relative to the Pas de Morgins and the access from Lac Léman to the upper Rhône valley. Its most famous feature is its castle and bridge overlooking the river, the latter of which dates from the 12th Century. The castle has been rebuilt a few times since, most notably after being ravaged by fire in the late 17th Century. Another famous site in the town is the medieval abbey, which is the oldest abbey in the Alps, but has since been repurposed as one of Switzerland’s most prestigious colleges. Although the name “Saint-Maurice” is a common staple of mountain stages in recent years, this typically refers to the French towns of Saint-Maurice-l’Exil and Bourg-Saint-Maurice; despite its favourable location, this Saint-Maurice has only hosted one race in the last 20 years, that being a stage start in the 2013 Tour de Romandie, a sprint stage which was won by Gianni Meersman, largely because of the 150/166 riders who made it to the finish on the same time as the winner, none of them was Mark Cavendish, comfortably the on-paper best sprinter in the race, who was on poor form and instead among the 16 that weren’t.


Though this stage is far from a long one, I am going to be nice enough to give the riders an easy lead-in, as the first 45km of the stage are perfectly flat. As mentioned, the Valais essentially consists of an L-shaped, perfectly flat valley, with a number of climbs above it, and a couple of other valleys which branch off of it, such as that leading to the Grand-Saint-Bernard, the Turtmanntal, the Mattertal and so forth. The valley itself does ascend notably once we head towards the Obergoms, but none of that is taking place in the part that remains within Francophone Switzerland; it’s only once you get past Leuk and into Germanophone Switzerland that the altitude starts to ramp up, so even the most hopeless of climbers will be able to still be with the bunch for the first part of the stage. They might climb off after that, though.

The route crosses to the east side of the Rhône just before the bend in the river, crossing to the narrow side (at this point the river is hugging the mountains to its east and the entire floodplain is to its west) meaning we avoid Martigny for the time being and continue on to Fully. When we reach Leytron we hang a right and cross the river from north to south, on a stretch of road of around 2km in length that we will see again later, as the course takes a (very stylised) loop-de-loop with a circuit of approximately 80km in length. No, this would not make a good World Championships circuit. The end of this stretch comes in Riddes, the base of Mayens-de-Riddes/La Tzoumaz, a small ski station and downhill mountain bike park that is on the opposite side of the Croix de Cœur to Verbier, which I have debated with railxmig as to whether it could reasonably host the trappings of a race, with me arguing it can and railxmig suggesting there is insufficient space for parking. That is probably true for Le Tour, however I felt Romandie and the Tour de Suisse could probably manage; however, I feel a little vindicated as my research ahead of this race shows that, in 1994, there was a Tour de Romandie MTF at Mayens-de-Riddes, which was won by Pascal Richard. However, we aren’t climbing that today; as previously mentioned there is only one MTF in the race, and Croix de Cœur is not safe to climb AND descend what with several unpaved sections and precipices. Instead, we head along the valley road, passing some old Romandie traditions like Les Agettes and Veysonnaz, passing through the south-of-the-river outlying suburbs of Sion, before turning north and crossing the river to head into Saint-Léonard, a smaller town between the more famous cities of Sion and Sierre, and then, se armó un zapatiesto.


Now, the climbing begins. There are a number of resort towns overlooking Sion and Sierre, and because of their accessibility and popularity, both have a number of different access routes. The larger of the two, Crans-Montana, is a staple of cycling, appearing regularly in the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie, as well as once, in 1984, appearing in the Tour de France, on this stage deep into week 3, which was won by Laurent Fignon ahead of two mountain specialists - Ángel Arroyo representing Spain, the traditional home of wispy, unreliable climbers, and Pablo Wilches representing Colombia, the new kids on the block who would redefine the wispy, unreliable climber. They used the Lens side of the climb, followed by the flat through the town and then the short punchy ascent to the resort, as is typically used in these stages, save for 2009 where they tried to make things as unselective as possible in order that Fabian Cancellara might win his national Tour. Of more note was the 2011 stage, which featured a spectacular return win from Juan Mauricio Soler after some serious injury problems, a real return to form for the former Tour KOM which had people enthused that he could rescue the beleaguered Movistar team’s season after a run of terrible fortune that season including Rubén Plaza nearly shearing his leg in half, Andrey Amador being mugged and left for dead in a Costa Rican riverbed, and Xavier Tondó dying in the arms of teammate Beñat Intxausti. It also featured a speculative late attack from a pretty unspectacular domestique for the Sky team, showing his first real notable performance in over 2 years, to try belatedly to make good on his promise to become a useful part of the mountain train that he had shown back in his Barloworld days. A week later, Soler would never cycle again and was lucky to be alive after a hideous crash that gave him a brain injury, while Chris Froome would go on to win 6 Grand Tours, and then acquire a 7th through disqualification of the original winner later. Funny how life is sometimes.

The neighbouring station of Anzère is much less common, however. Although it has been seen from time to time in Romandie or the Tour de Suisse, it’s usually a mid-stage climb, and the last time it hosted any kind of finish was 2005, which you can see here. They climbed this side of the climb, seemingly a fairly mundane side with a middling average but with the last 6,5km averaging a more serious 8,8%. The stage climbed the first 8,5km of the Crans Montana profile I’ve linked above, descended briefly to join the last 6,5km of this side of Anzère, then descended into Sion by the same route I am using, before climbing the side I’ve linked here. Damiano Cunego, at the time reigning Giro winner and a bona fide superstar, took the stage ahead of Denis Menchov and Santiago Botero; keep an eye on the lower end of the top 10 for a young escalador from Liberty Seguros though - wonder if he went on to become anything?


2005 stage profile

I, however, am not climbing Anzère by the same side. I sort of am - this side shares the final 6,5km, so all of the steep part - but starting in Saint-Léonard rather than Sion enables us to skip that false flat around Grimisuat, instead extending the steep part out to a climb which could realistically be a genuine HC, along similar lines to Alpe d’Huez. I rather borrowed this one from railxmig, who used it as a mountaintop finish in their Tour de Suisse here. This also gives us a full profile of the ascent in ASO-style, as railxmig uses La Flamme Rouge.


We now descend via the more consistent and traditional side of Anzère (this side was that climbed in 2010, for example) into Sion, a city which is a traditional staple of the Tour de Romandie which features most years on its route. Short mountain stages are usually the order of the day here, with recent winners such as Fabian Jeker (2004), Alejandro Valverde (2006, 2010 before being declassified with his backdated ban), Igor Antón (2010 after Valverde was declassified), and Jakob Fuglsang (2018). Other times, less mountainous stages have been won by the likes of Luís León Sánchez and Michael Albasini, while there have also been a number of ITTs here, usually hilly, with Andreas Klöden (2008) and Thibaut Pinot (2016) winning stages around the city and Lance Armstrong winning a Tour de Suisse TT from Sion to Crans-Montana in 2001. It also occasionally serves as the départ for a mountain stage, such as the hilarious Zinal stage in 2008 where Francesco de Bonis pulls off one of the most absurd breakout wins you’ll ever see, in the kind of fashion that would have Mustafa Sayar and Ivaïlo Gabrovski shaking their heads and laughing.

It’s a scenic city of 35.000 inhabitants, and the typical stage finish near the railway station will instead be repurposed as an intermediate sprint. The city is an important prehistoric site for archaeologists and historians as the area around Sion appears to have been settled continuously since 6000BC. It’s also, unlike much of Romandie, a city where football holds sway over ice hockey, with FC Sion, formerly known as Olympique des Alpes, having won the Swiss League twice. They have even gone on a run of European football, though this was curtailed due to a transfer ban saga and a suspension from European competition for fielding ineligible players, whose status was under dispute at the time. It is the hometown of aviation pioneer Hermann Geiger, who helped develop techniques for landing on glaciers and became known as one of the very first mountain rescue operatives, modifying his plane with retractable skis and completing over 600 successful rescues of trapped, lost or stranded mountaineers. He was killed in an air crash at the age 51 while training apprentices to follow in his mountain rescue footsteps, when his aircraft collided with a glider in mid-air above Sion airport. Elsewhere, famous children of Sion include the footballers Berto, Marco Pascolo and Edimilson Fernandes, the Olympic fencers Tiffany Géroudet and Sophie Lamon - the latter being notable for winning a silver medal in Sydney 2000 at the age of just 15 - and the world champion snowboarder Estelle Balet, killed in an avalanche at the age of 21.


From here we continue for a brief flat period before coming across the next ascent, which will crest with 68km remaining. This is the climb to Ovronnaz, a very nasty ascent indeed. Both sides of Ovronnaz are pretty nasty in fairness; this one is a bit shorter and not necessarily any worse from an average gradient point of view, but it includes the clear steepest ramps on the climb. This whole next sequence actually takes inspiration from a Giro route I never completed. The end sequence of the race was going to be a remarkably unusual one, featuring a somewhat bizarre conclusion through Switzerland late on. Stage 19 was to be from Domodossola to Verbier - yes, Verbier, of all places - going over Simplonpass, then Ovronnaz, Col du Lein and an MTF at Verbier, before Stage 20 was the super-short ASO special mountain stage that cycling had been recently going nuts for, a 110km or so stage from Martigny to the very easy summit finish of Cogne, but going over the Grand-Saint-Bernard in the middle of it - which would also have been the Cima Coppi, to add some intrigue, and then a stage 21 “parade” from Aosta to Torino including the Basilica di Supergà just for the hell of it. There were some differences but we’ll get to them later. Ovronnaz was the decisive climb in the 2010 stage won by Valverde and then subsequently by Antón, which you can see here. On that day, they climbed from Leytron, this is the side we will be descending, and then they descended the side we will be climbing, however as you can see from the video, while the roads are steep they are wide, well paved and safe, or at least as safe as a mountain road at this kind of average can be. The overall average of this one being around the 9km @ 9% mark suggests this is a bit like the Col de Menté west; however worth noting is that the final 5km are at no less than 11,3%, so this is more one to file with, say, Ancares east or the last part of Tre Cime di Lavaredo.


Climb and descent next to each other. We are only climbing to Ovronnaz village, not doing the last 2km up to what’s marked as Odonne on that profile, where the tarmac stops.

The descent takes us into Leytron, where we join that short stretch of road towards Riddes that we did earlier. However, where we turned left in the town to take the main highway through the Valais before, we turn right here, move on into the town of Saxon, and then things get really, really serious.

Long-time followers of the forum will be well aware that I am an adherent of the Col du Lein. I like this ascent a lot and would like to see more of it. The Col du Lein is a bit of what railxmig used to call “a Kardashian”, that is to say, a climb that is very much en vogue with the traceur community and elevated to a mythical status before racing had ever taken place on it, named after the Kardashians because it acquires fame and fandom without ever actually having achieved something; the concept of it is more famous than the object itself. Looking back through the forum we can see posts by myself, Forever_The_Best, OlavEH, rghysens, Maaaaaaaarten, MikeTichondrius, BigMac, Gigs98, And sometimes traceurs do get a bit of tunnel vision and get blinded by romanticism about climbs that are forgotten or unused, it’s true; Jitu d’Escarandí is a great example, which PRC and others had been raving about for years, and then finally made its debut in the 2015 Vuelta and was a bit of a damp squib, with everybody ignoring the steep part at the bottom and sleepwalking through the lower gradient middle of the climb to leave everything to the last few kilometres. But I don’t really think that will be possible with the Col du Lein. I don’t think this is a Kardashian that will disappoint like that, because, especially with its little brother the Col des Planches adjacent and the proximity of resort MTFs like Verbier, other known MTFs like Champex-Lac and Finhaut-Emosson (Col de la Gueulaz), and so many potential connecting climbs, possibilities are practically limitless here.

The traditional side (well, as traditional as an almost never-used climb can be - this is the side most renowned and talked about by traceurs) of the Col du Lein is 13,5km @ 8,3%. That includes some parts of the final kilometre on sterrato. This is Alpe d’Huez territory, of course. And while there is about 800m of descent which is on sterrato also, which has largely been the reason for its lack of use in pro races, there are no major drops or technical challenges on this section, and it’s in a wide open area so I feel it could potentially be done safely, especially with sufficiently difficult preceding climbs to thin out the bunch so we don’t have huge groups taking it on together. In my stage we’ve had two real cat.1/HC borderline climbs, before we get to the Col du Lein, which should split things up further itself, and crests 39km from home. I’m also obviously not the only one that thinks this way, because the Giro della Valle d’Aosta included this masterpiece of a stage in its 2019 route, utilising both of those traceur favourites alongside an MTF at Champex-Lac. An organisational omnishambles earlier in the race had left the number of contenders very limited, though, which blunted the impact of the stage, however it was still very decisive, with Juan Pedro López emerging victorious from an earlier attack with the Ethiopian Mulukinfe Hailemichael, only just holding off Bahrain-Merida prospect Santiago Buitrago who attacked from the rapidly-closing favourites group, while Mauri Vansevenant defended the race lead with 6th place. And while the Col du Lein may remain unknown to it, this problem of short sterrato stretches certainly can’t be a problem for the real Tour de Romandie organisers either, as they have twice used the neighbouring Col des Planches in major mountain stages, albeit well away from decisive parts of the stage, as a first climb of the day. This was in the 2014 Aigle stage where Simon Špilak and Chris Froome put a minute into the field, and the 2016 Villars-sur-Ollon stagewon by self-same Chris Froome. So if they’re happy that the Col des Planches is safe to ride, the Col du Lein should be able to pass the test on the same basis, meaning this popularly-demanded epic can finally be seen in full!

Except… I’m not going by that side mentioned above. Because I have harnessed my inner railxmig and done a bit of snooping around and made things even harder for the riders. At the top of Saxon village, I have re-routed the riders up a short Stichstraße, the Chemin de la Tour, that takes riders up to and past the Tour de Saxon. It is narrow, twisty, and it is País Vasco-tastic, averaging a menacing 14,5% for 1100m. Taking this route subtracts 600m from the climb’s total distance, but it also punts the average gradient up above 9% with its savage first 2km averaging 13%. After that it’s as per the standard climb, but the fight for position here will be brutal, and hopefully a lot of domestiques will be turfed out right at the start of the climb leaving the leaders Mano a mano for the duration.



Col du Lein, from Alps Insight

From the summit, we descend towards Martigny. There are three ways to do this; two go via the Col du Tronc to the Col des Planches, and then descend two different sides of that climb, one the steep sides direct into Martigny, the other via Vens into Sembrancher and then down route 21, the Grand Saint Bernard road, into the city. We take neither of these, however, instead heading directly down the mountainside toward Vollèges, which connects to both Sembrancher (to the west) and La Châble (to the east), allowing connectivity to further climbs; from Sembrancher you can climb Planches south (as was the choice in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta), or from Orsières you can do Champex-Lac southeast (the easier side) or Grand-Saint-Bernard north. From La Châble you can climb to Verbier or the under-utilised Mauvoisin. We instead continue from Sembrancher on gradual descent through towards Martigny, which means we are taking the least complex of all sides of the Col du Lein in order to return to the stage host city.

You may have noticed, however, that there are 39km remaining from the Col du Lein to the finishing line, and that profile takes us almost into Martigny itself in just 22km. Before you start to fear that I might have caught a bit of Foix-2012 disease, though, you may also have noticed that there is an arrow at the start of that profile noting that it starts at a junction which also sends you toward the Col de la Forclaz. Now, obviously there are many climbs of that name, but this is the biggest and most famous, from Martigny towards Chamonix, and lopsided. From its Swiss side, it’s a real challenge; its traditional side is just under 13km at just under 8%, so sitting on the cat.1/HC borderline, though I’d argue for cat.1 on the basis that it is fairly consistent and has few real monster ramps. It was used a few times in the 1960s and 70s in the Tour de France, with Federico Bahamontes and Roger Pingeon the most prominent to take its summit, but it then had a 39 year layoff until the 2016 Tour stage to Finhaut-Emosson; this was itself a retread from a successful trial in the Dauphiné two years earlier. Both stages used the traditional side. That it is a border climb with little possibility to serve as a MTF and few options other than to head into France from it meant it was not that common to see in the Tour de Romandie or the Tour de Suisse, while the connectivity with Chamonix made it more busy with traffic than many other such passes. Not long ago, however, organisers of different races discovered that they could reinvigorate this climb through the use of a side-street through suburbs of Martigny; heading through the villages of Les Rappes, Cergneux and Fays, this Stichstraße was christened “Petite-Forclaz” and has been discussed on occasion, but came to prominence in the last few years, especially since being included in the 2015 Tour de Romandie stage to Champex-Lac, where its short length but steep gradient made it something akin to, say, the Alto del Cordal before Angliru, or the Côte des Chevrères before Planche des Belles Filles - it’s not as big a climb, but it’s still a well-worthy introductory climb thanks to some unpleasant gradients. It also cropped up as an early-stage ascent in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta Champex-Lac stage, and its most prominent use to date is in fact a usage that we won’t actually see - that is in the proposed 2020 World Championships route.


Proposed final circuit in the 2020 Worlds, before Aigle ceded the right to host. Also, profile of the final climb, 4km @ 10,2%.

When it was announced that the World Championships had to relocate, there was some talk about where to go to adequately reflect the same kind of course as the proposed Aigle/Martigny course with the Petite-Forclaz climb. Climbs of similar characteristics are hard to find that can be done as a circuit. But as a couple of examples I put forward, Supergà near Torino and the Azitain side of the Alto de Arrate near Eibar are two such ascents; that should tell you the sort of thing we’re dealing with here. The summit of the Petite-Forclaz is just 11km from the line, following a slightly abridged version of the circuit proposed for the Worlds (because we’re only climbing it once, we don’t need to worry about riders being lapped or criss-crossing themselves, so we can afford a shorter run-in). The finish is in the same place, however we only have 1km straight to the finish, rather than 3km in the UCI’s route as they travel all the way to the far end of Martigny before looping back, whereas I circumnavigate the centre.


Twisting roads of the Petite-Forclaz

This is the final climb of the day on the final day of the race. This stage should hopefully be brutal for the last 50km or so, once the domestiques are forced to the rear by the steep stretch at the start of the Col du Lein. I think placement will be so important there that team leaders will force themselves to the fore, and therefore it will be harder to get a train going as they will need to work their way back to the group after that ramp, then take up the pacing again, which should hopefully blow them up enough that the leaders are isolated sooner and we get some real tactical action on both the Col du Lein and the Petite-Forclaz. After all, there’s no tomorrow to wait for anymore, as when they get into the centre of Martigny, the race is over.

I chose Martigny as the final destination of the race because of this option; I’ve traditionally gone Lein-Planches or Lein-Verbier when designing using this climb, but instead this time thought I’d do something else with it to offer something a bit different that fits in with the current vogue of cycling as well as giving us a spectacular new climb to be the focal point - with it not being an MTF, the Col du Lein will be the central part of this stage from a GC point of view, so I’m optimistic of a good 45-50k of action. Martigny is the largest town in this area, with a population of 18.000 or so, so apart from Sion it is the only really logical finishing town here in the Valais that can suitably be the final stop-off for the stage that is sizeable enough to host the finish of the race, as this is a city that functions as a gateway to numerous ski resorts, from Verbier to Champex, to Les Marécottes, Bruson and La Tzoumaz. Like Saint-Maurice, it dates back to Roman times as a staging post descending from the Poeninus Pass, when it was known as Octodurus. It is the site of a famous battle between the Romans and the Gauls, and retains a restored Roman amphitheatre to this day, which is used to host annual bull fights. Yes, two words. Not bullfights like the Spanish tradition, but two bulls fighting one another. Not sure whether that makes it any better or worse, but go figure.

Outside of that Martigny is not a strong sporting town. Its football team is in Switzerland’s second league, and its hockey team merged with neighbouring Verbier early in the 2000s, then folded due to bankruptcy in 2017. It is more famous as the hometown of former President of the Swiss Confederation Pascal Couchepin - but it does have some sporting heritage. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the geography of the area this is largely in mountain-running, climbing, orienteering and skiing, but the most prominent is probably two-time world champion figure skater Stéphane Lambiel. Of more interest to us - and especially to Carlton Kirby - would be the city’s most prominent cycling son, Sébastien Reichenbach.


For most people, the name “Reichenbach” conjures images of the famous waterfall, especially for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. For cycling fans, it is a Swiss climbing domestique who has been one of Thibaut Pinot’s right hand men for the last few years, and a personal favourite and minor obsession of Eurosport International’s oft-derided lead commentator. For many, Reichenbach is a bit of a throwback to the likes of Oliver Zaugg and Sylwester Szmyd, true diesel climbing domestiques who never really get the results but who are indispensable help for their leaders and world class riders in their own right. He is usually the last man left with Pinot, and although he only has two pro wins (one national championship, and the Trofeo Matteotti in 2013), he is all over the mountainous races as a helper, and has a surprisingly explosive kick which he has used to reach the top 10 of races like Milano-Torino and the Giro dell’Emilia. He will perhaps forever be most famous for being the only domestique anybody had in the 2018 Monte Jafferau stage when Chris Froome, to quote George Bennett, “did a Landis”; in reality, there is a good chance that Froome’s victory there is owed to Reichenbach’s poor descending skills, as Dumoulin and Pinot hesitated far too long over whether to wait for the Swiss in the valley, causing Froome’s gap to increase far beyond what it could have been pegged at. Séb then emptied the tank for his team leader only for it of course to all be for naught, with Pinot abandoning with the podium in sight after exploding on stage 20 even more spectacularly than Yates had the previous day.

Martigny is also a not infrequent stop-off for several races. The most common, you will no doubt not be surprised to hear, is the Tour de Romandie, but it has also cropped up frequently in the Tour de Suisse, and has also been a stage host in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, playing stage start in a stage to Les Marécottes won by Manuel Senni; and also the Tour de France, most recently in 2009, when the stage after the Verbier MTF ran from Martigny to Bourg-Saint-Maurice over the two Bernards; it was an absolute waste of a day because, you know, it was the 2009 Tour which was the sorriest excuse for a Grand Tour ever devised. It did include perhaps the most impressive ride of Lance Armstrong’s Comeback 2.0, when he was caught in group 3 and stomped on the pedals, forcing his way across to the group with the Schlecks and Contador in it with impressive ease. However, once he got there all impetus was lost, everybody sat up and waited for that vaunted grimpeur Dave Zabriskie to lead them over the Petit-Saint-Bernard, and the only worthwhile thing about the stage was that Mikel Astarloza, one of the race’s most combative riders and somebody who had been without a win in almost a decade, took the stage, celebrating in animated fashion. He of course then had the stage taken away because he forgot that stage winners would be drug tested after the stage, and filled his blood with EPO beforehand. Martigny hosted the national championships in 2016, with Jonathan Fumeaux winning the men’s race and Doris Schweizer the women’s. The city is usually a stage start rather than a finish, however, and therefore there aren’t many who’ve taken wins in Martigny itself; Jonathan Castroviejo is the last winner of an International race finishing in the city, when it hosted the 2011 Tour de Romandie prologue. It has been in the race a few times, though, starting in 1952 when Wout Wagtmans won stage 1 of the race here. Since then, the city has seen the likes of Louison Bobet (1953), André Darrigade (1957), Alf Segersall (1981) and Mario Cipollini (1996) raise their hands in victory in its streets; I would suspect that in terms of rider abilities, my stage winner here is more likely to tend toward the first of those rather than the last, after this stage. It was not introduced to the Tour de Suisse until 1967, when after a colossal transfer from Locarno, Gerben Karstens won a long stage to Emmenbrücken.

Here, it has a chance to play a focal role in the race, and provide us with a potential stage for the ages. Don’t let me down, Martigny.

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So here we are again...
La Vuelta a Espana v5
First of all, the reason why I'm posting this is because I wanted to use a sterrato stage in the Vuelta and I think I have found a way to fit that stage into the route. Bare in mind that I have not planned the second week yet, so this may take more time than usual.
Stage 1 Tarragona-Vilafranca del Penedes 101 Km Hilly

Alto del Rat Penat ( cat.2 ) 4.7 Km @ %9.7
Can Grau ( cat.3 )1.5 Km @ %8

A short, hilly stage. Attacker or a small bunch sprint. Suited for someone like Vinokourov or Alaphilippe. If there is a hard pace the riders who are off-pace can be shelled out the back and it can quickly turn out to be a chaotic one.
Rat Penat:

Can Grau: https://www.cronoescalada.com/index.php/puertos/view/9301


Vilafranca del Penedes:
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Stage 3 Vic-Rassos de Peguera 162.5 Km Mountain

Gurb - St. Bartomeu ( cat.3 ) 9.4 km @ %3.9
Collada de Sant Isidre ( cat.2 ) 6.3 km @ %7.2
Coll de Pradell ( cat. ESP ) 14.6 km @ %6.8
Coll de Fumanya ( cat.2 ) 5.7 km @ %8.6
Rassos de Peguera ( cat.ESP ) 16.5 km @ %7.4

A tough first mountain stage. Hopefully some proper gaps?
Could not find a profile for this version of Sant Isidre but it shares the last 3 km with this: https://hosting.photobucket.com/albums/x47/viskovitz/vinyoolessanisidre.png

Coll de Pradell:

Coll de Fumanya ( the part from Vallcebre to Coll de Fumanya - 5.7 km at %8.6 )

Rassos de Peguera

I also could have gone directly to Rassos de Peguera after tackling Fumanya ( continuing all the way to km 22.3 in the Fumanya profile ). This way the stage would be 132 km but we would have Pradell only 34 km from the line. Though I can also make the stage distance longer if I change this stage to the alternative version. Any thoughts?


Rassos de Peguera:
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Theoretically the direct route is better, but the gravel road would need a lot of work for the race to pass, and regardless of that, action on Pradell would still be unlikely given that this is only the third stage. In any case, Fumanya plus the main road to Rassos de Peguera alone would make a hard first mountain stage.
Stage 4 Guardiola de Bergueda-Andorra la Vella 207.4 KM Mountain

Collada Sant Isidre ( cat.2 ) 4.8 km @ %8.9
Coll de la Batallola ( cat.2 ) 17.2 km @ %3
Coll de la Creuta ( cat. 1 ) 20.5 km @ %5.2
Coll de la Rabassa ( cat.1 ) 13.6 km @ %6.8
Coll de la Gallina ( cat. ESP ) 11.8 km @ %8.1

Another tough mountain stage, but this time ends with the descent of Gallina. Given that I used Gallina from south in my Vuelta v1, it is only fair that I use it from the north this time. Hoping for proper action and time gaps.

Sant Isidre:

Batallola: https://www.cronoescalada.com/index.php/puertos/view/2731


Rabassa ( until the Sant Julia de Loria intersection at km 4 ):


Guardiola de Bergueda:

Andorra la Vella:
Theoretically the direct route is better, but the gravel road would need a lot of work for the race to pass, and regardless of that, action on Pradell would still be unlikely given that this is only the third stage. In any case, Fumanya plus the main road to Rassos de Peguera alone would make a hard first mountain stage.
Yeah, that's why I thought about the alternative one because it would create a killer combo but the gravel road needs work, and as you say it is very likely that they hold back on Pradell even in the alternative route.
Stage 5 Andorra la Vella-Barbastro 193 Km Hilly/Transitional

Coll de Boixols ( cat.2 ) 16.4 km @ %4.8
Alt de Montllobar ( cat.2 ) 14.4 km @4.0
Viacamp ( cat.3 ) 7.2 km @ %4.0

A transitional stage that has a good chance of being won by a break. However some sprinters who can get over the climbs will be eyeing this too given the last climb is more than 50 kms from the finish.

Coll de Boixols:

Alt de Montllobar:

Stage 7 Pamplona-Puerto de Goni 52.3 Km Hilly ITT

Mirador de Etxauri ( cat.2 ) 6.5 km @ %6.3
Guembe ( cat.3 ) 5.8 km @ %5.7

A hilly ITT from Pamplona to Puerto de Goni. The last 3kms are also uphill but only at around %3. Someone like Dumoulin or Roglic should gain massively.


Guembe: https://www.cronoescalada.com/index.php/puertos/view/162

Puerto de Goni ( Goni ) ( photo taken from: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPerfilusu.asp?id=1204 ) :
Firstly, I want to say that this stage is probably not realistic due to the narrow descents. Maybe I can do an alternative version if I am in the mood for it but since I liked this I want to post it as the original stage 8:
Stage 8 Lumbier - Saint Jean Pied de Port 207.8 Km Mountain

Puerto de Larrau ( cat.1 ) 10.2 km @ %6.5
Col de Bagargui ( cat.1 ) 9.7 km @ %8.6
Col de Errozate ( cat.2 ) 6.0 km @ %6.6
Col de Arnostegi ( cat.ESP ) 14.3 km @ %6.5
Col de Beilurti ( cat.1 ) 5.7 km @ %12
Col de Behicaro ( cat.2 ) 4.8 km @ %9.8
Col de Irei ( cat.1 ) 5.7 km @ %9.4
Col de Bilgossa ( cat.2 ) 2.3 km @ %13.1

A very tough mountain stage directly after a long TT. Given that it is still relatively early in the race I used steep climbs to make a selection.

Larrau: https://www.cyclingcols.com/profiles/LarrauS.gif
Bagargui ( from the Pto. de Larrau intersection ): https://www.altimetrias.net/Francia/Pirineos/Bagargi.gif
Errozate: https://www.altimetrias.net/usuarios/graficos/Errozate77.gif
Arnostegi ( from the Col de Artaburu intersection ): https://www.altimetrias.net/Francia/Pirineos/Arnostegi.gif
Beilurti ( until km 6 ): http://www.rakpirineos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/beillurti-por-arnegi.jpg
Behicaro: I couldn't find any profiles.
Irei: https://www.cronoescalada.com/index.php/puertos/view/17728
Bilgossa: https://lesbaroudeursenvadrouille.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/profil-bilgossa.png


Saint Jean Pied de Port:
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Very interesting - your run-in is very similar to one in my very first Tour long back in the annals of this thread, only I skipped Arnostegi and did Bilgossa and Irei in the opposite direction, and as it was the Tour I didn't come from Spain. I believe my stage was Soudet - Bostmendieta - Bagargi - Bilgossa - Irei only.

The climb you have as unnamed is a stopping point on the route up to the Col d'Arnostegi, at the Table d'Orientation Orisson. I'd venture to suggest Orisson is the name you're looking for as the Auberge d'Orisson is not far south of there too. The climb goes through Honto, so it's the section from Etchebestea to the plateau just before Auberge d'Orisson on this side of Arnostegi. I checked it against Altimetrias.net and they both concur this is the side that your mini-climb is culled from.


"Donibane" comes from the name of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Basque, Donibane Garazi (Don = Saint, Iban = Jean), as seen elsewhere with Saint-Jean-de-Luz ("Donibane Lohitzun").
Yeah, it looks like the part between km 14.5 and km 11.5 or so on that profile as the last 3 km of Donibane-Orisson. I checked it via APM but there was not a name for this climb and I could not finda profilethat covers all of my climb ( that's why the first 2 km or so of Donibane-Orisson seems different from that profile ).
I also did not know Donibane was the Basque name of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Thanks for the info as usual.

My hope is basically that the accumulated climbing and gradients do the job and with some attacks there can be big gaps. Surely someone will make a move, especially after a long TT, right? Also the next stage is not a mountain stage ( though can still be a stage for GC riders ), so the riders should not be afraid of attacking.