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Race Design Thread

Page 327 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
If there is to be a competition, I recommend a word limit on posts for the very reason Mayo suggests. My posts have grown longer, crazier and more detailed in time, but since the pandemic drove me stir crazy it's hit ridiculous heights and while I have a handful of projects under way which have some typically long writeups involved/required, I also know that getting contributions lost among my walls of text probably dissuades people from participating in the thread, plus the length of time it takes me to put together some of these posts dissuades me from posting a lot of my ideas, so am trying to consciously rein myself in with these.

Plus, posting a race design post with a word limit on it would be a challenge in and of itself for me!
 
It's fairly easy using the proper tool. La Flamme Rouge is popular and probably offers most options (like sterrato markings in stage profiles), but I mostly use Cronoescalada. It's really easy to use and requires very little practice to create good stages profiles.
I prefer ridewithgps for mapping the routes, but LFR is probably the best for creating the profiles.

From what I gather, I think there's no mapping software with elevation data from google, so there's far more noise than there used to be. While one can smooth it when creating the profiles, it's imprecise and distorts especially hilly routes which are more sensitive to such corrections.

An example where I've mapped my Giro d'Elba route with Cronoescalada:

Raw track:
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Profile with minimal smoothing (=1):
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Profile with more smoothing (=5):
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Notice how the same hill repeated three times looks quite different.
 
While I don't mind hard, mountainous stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, I'd prefer the format where the hardest climb would be farther from the finish, and preferably no MTF. Like how Sassotetto has been used in stages to Colmurano and Camerino, or likewise for Lanciano. So for Carpegna I'd prefer something similar to its use in the 2008 Giro rather than the 2014 Giro, with the most mountainous you could feasibly do in March being something like this:
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Editions like that of 2019 are more than welcome too, where the most selective stages only featured hills. But as long as the race avoids MTFs in general and climbs like Prati di Tivo and Terminillo in particular, I'd like to see climbs like Monte Catria, Alpe di Poti, Monte San Vicino in the race.
 
While I don't mind hard, mountainous stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, I'd prefer the format where the hardest climb would be farther from the finish, and preferably no MTF. Like how Sassotetto has been used in stages to Colmurano and Camerino, or likewise for Lanciano. So for Carpegna I'd prefer something similar to its use in the 2008 Giro rather than the 2014 Giro, with the most mountainous you could feasibly do in March being something like this:
EPCFi3L.png


Editions like that of 2019 are more than welcome too, where the most selective stages only featured hills. But as long as the race avoids MTFs in general and climbs like Prati di Tivo and Terminillo in particular, I'd like to see climbs like Monte Catria, Alpe di Poti, Monte San Vicino in the race.
Totally agree on this. Same applies for PN. The toughest MTF/HTF there shouldn't be longer and tougher than Faron, Bouqet or Mende. Hell, they could even do only a stage like the 2016 Fayence stage as the only HTF.

The ideal PN route on the other hand would be a short MTF like Mende or Faron, a Tirreno-ish stage with a loop including muritos and a the last classic Nice-Nice stage as the main difficulties.
 
While I've often played the "same start and finish, but different route"-game, particularly for the 2017 Giro, I've actually never considered using Carpegna there. I think it definitely works for Tirreno:

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(https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38767579)

It also results in the best ascent of Fumaiolo, and then it's a free choice whether to pick the same descent and approach as in 2017 or as in above to go for the most direct route to the finish line.

EDIT: After thinking about it, I don't think Tirreno has ever had a stage finish in Emilia-Romagna, and probably not in San Marino either. Does anyone know if it has, or if the race has crossed over there at any time in its history?
EDIT2: So after checking all stage finishes of all editions (or rather quickly skimming them), I see that not only was the Carpegna stage Saturday the most northeastern stage finish in its history, but that for most of its history, the race has started much further south, near Rome, and even all the way down to Sorrento. I guess economic pull was the reason for the more northern start of the race in recent years?
 
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Problem with that is that the first 4 were on either Mapmyride or Tracks4bikers and are now lost to time, I have all of Vueltas 5 through 10, plus at least 2 complete (and another incomplete) not yet posted editions, and other Spanish stage races I’ve done, so remembering what goes with what is an undertaking.

But while I might not give you a repost of some dead links for some of my favourite of my Spanish stage designs (or I might)…for all the criticism that the Vuelta route has rightly received, we currently have another Spanish stage race going on right now which is an even bigger misuse of terrain. Digging back through my morass of unposted races (which accelerated big-time in 2020 during the pandemic lockdowns) one of the biggest issues has been that I’ve fallen way behind on actually clearing the backlog, and so taking the time to do a proper write-up of stages I’ve designed long ago becomes harder and so there’s a big graveyard of dead designs and half-completed write-ups that I need to actually get round to completing and posting. I’ve kind of made a rod for my own back in that the write-ups have swollen to an extreme level so writing up the design is a time-consuming undertaking in and of itself, so while lengthy write-ups already started will stay that way, I’m going to experiment with reducing down the length of these, especially where races in areas saturated with racing and where much of the history is kind of well known are concerned.

But, this horrible, horrible Volta a Catalunya route did remind me that I had my own Volta a Catalunya - a race I’ve never actually attempted in this thread - prepared and put together, Cronoescalada tells me this was in August 2020, so at that point I was in the middle of finishing up my Tour of Taiwan and then posting my Tour de Romandie; after that, however, I did a Women’s Tour de France ahead of ASO’s suggestion of same, and then after a couple of races through well-trodden areas, I went on the epic undertaking that is a GT-length race by doing the HTV Cycling Cup, and by the time I’d finished posting that, the Catalan race had been buried under an avalanche of other ideas. However, my race also had the same standout unusual point - a trip into French Catalunya - that the awful 2022 race has, so this might be a good time to post it.

Stage 1: Barcelona - Mirador de Siurana, 185km

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GPM:
Alt de la Pineda de Santa Cristina (cat.3) 3,2km @ 4,8%
Alt d’Escornalbou (cat.2) 4,1km @ 7,2%
Coll de la Teixeta (cat.3) 7,0km @ 4,2%
Mur de Porrera (cat.3) 3,3km @ 7,1%
Collet des Colls (cat.2) 2,6km @ 9,0%
Mur de Siurana (cat.3) 6,0km @ 4,6%

My route starts and finishes in Barcelona, so stage 1 begins by heading down the coast through well known race spots like Sitges and Vilanova I la Geltrú, before turning inland towards Valls, the hometown of sadly-departed Catalan cult favourite Xavier Tondó, who I was a big fan of as many a post through this forum can attest. There is a hilly race in the hills to the west of Valls in his memory on the Spanish amateur calendar since 2016, I am using some of the same range, but a separate part further southwest.

Although the first part of the stage is very flat, the second half has a lot of up-and-down as we seek to have an interesting start to the race for the GC men, offering a different type of riding - and climbing - to that which we usually see in the Volta since its move to March, which frequently includes a lot of tempo climbing on ascents like La Molina, VallTer2000 or the Andorran ascents. Short, steep ascents may be the bread and butter of Spanish cycling, but there aren’t that many to be found in Catalunya, so we’re breaking from tradition and looking for some here.

First up, after a warmup climb, is the Alt d’Escornalbou, which matches up to the first 4km of this profile - note the middle part with 2km at almost 10%. It’s been a mid-stage obstacles a couple of times in the Volta but never anything too decisive. Here, there’s around 60km remaining, and most of it is up and down constantly.

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Castell d’Escornalbou, looking out from above the summit of the pass below

After descending the easier side of Escornalbou to Duesaigües, we have the somewhat easier, more consistent Coll de La Teixeta, mostly at a consistent 5% or so before dropping to false flat toward the summit. This then leads into a similarly wide and unthreatening descent before the Mur de Porrera, also known as the Coll de les Marades - a progressively steepening 3km at 7,5% kind of climb with a max of 12%. Not as deserving of the “mur” appellation as many, but it has it so we go from there. 35km remain at the summit.

We then have a long looping section that sees us loop around the Siurana dam and mirador that functions as the finish; before arriving in the town of Cornudella de Montsant, a scenic small town overlooked by enormous escarpments from the Roca Corbatera, we instead hang a right to ascend up to Arbolí, one of those classic Spanish double summits - we are categorising the first summit, Collet des Colls, because, you know, that’s the proper actual climbing, with the first kilometre averaging over 11% and a maximum gradient of 16%.

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The GPM at the end of this is at 25km from home, but we do have the rolling terrain and false flat into and around Arbolí still to come before we loop around on the valley road parallel to this to the south, which winds its way via the Coll d’Alforja back to where we left it, so that we can, this time, head all the way to Cornudella de Montsant for an intermediate sprint before the frustrating, multi-stepped, inconsistent final few kilometres up to the Mirador de Siurana. This climb is inconsistent as all hell, with a fairly unthreatening average gradient that makes you think it’s an uphill sprint, although the actual finish is about a kilometre further down the road than the summit, as this functions like a sort of mini-Arrate, only far less tough as this is one for the puncheurs, with so many ups and downs in the final kilometres, ranging from 1km at 9% digs to false flats and even descents.

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Approaching the summit

Siurana is a small village but it is very popular with rock climbers, with challenging vertical and overhanging escarpments up from the reservoir. As a result there is a decent amount of parking in the village and it is in a beautifully scenic location that should give us an ideal finish to stage 1, and it will be interesting to see if the puncheurs hold sway, or if this is enough for the climbers, or if this is somewhere between and a fast finisher among climbers, like a Diego Ulissi type, will take the jersey and have to figure out what to do with it in the coming days.

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Stage 2: Tarragona - Lleida, 165km

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GPM:
Alt de La Pineda de Santa Cristina (cat.3) 3,2km @ 4,8%
Alt de la Bassa de Forès (cat.3) 9,2km @ 4,0%

Stage 2 is the obligatory “flat stage” for the few sprinter types that bother to turn up to Catalunya. It starts in Tarragona, a fairly common host of both the Volta and the Vuelta, most recently hosting a stage start in 2021, in a stage which was won by Peter Sagan in that classic Volta a Catalunya “who’s the most adept sprinter that’s bothered to show up” kind of stage (not one for his supporters to point to when promoting his aggressive racing style, as this was the poster child for that type of Tour of California stage he got so many wins in, where the stage featured enough obstacles to get rid of any sprint competition for him, but was nothing like hard enough to drop a rider as versatile as Sagan, so he was well served letting the race be boring as he was the obvious favourite in the sprint). It was most recently a stage finish in 2017, with Matteo Trentin victorious, and was last seen in the Vuelta a España in 2013 when Philippe Gilbert won a reduced sprint in the city. It also hosted the Mediterranean Games in 2018, when a fairly nondescript field saw Edoardo Affini win the ITT, while unheralded Italian Jalel Duranti won the road race ahead of a small bunch whose most recognisable names were Drone Hopper domestique Filippo Tagliani, Volta a Portugal stalwarts João Rodrigues, Frederico Figueiredo and Joni Brandão, BikeExchange’s Matteo Sobrero and Movistar’s Íñigo Elosegui, both espoirs at the time, and some Slovene kid called Tadej Pogačar, although as he was beaten soundly by Cyprus’ Alexandros Agrotis (who is the same age as him), I’m sure he probably won’t pan out.

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Central Tarragona

We start by backing up down the coast and heading inland via El Vendrell and the same opening climb as stage 1, before taking a right in Vilardida to continue inland rather than continue on to Valls, taking us over some false flat uphill to Cabra del Camp - around 8km at 2,5% - and then after Sarral some more extensive climbing, 9km at 4% to Bassa de Forès.

After this, however, there’s not a great deal worth reporting - it's basically nothing but false flat sauntering back down to lower altitude with a very fast, very straight and very wide road accounting for the majority of the rest of the stage into Lleida. The issue with Lleida as a stage host is wanting to get in some of the sights while still having a safe sprint - not too helpful then that the city’s main site, the Seu Vella Cathedral, is located in a part of town rife with narrow streets, twisty corners and repechos.

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Fortunately, I had a solution for this - entering a 9,5km finishing circuit just before Seu Vella, so that we can then put the finish near the end of the circuit, at the Camp d’Esports, which includes the city’s football stadium and a velodrome, and still enable safety in that the repecho around the cathedral and the winding roads around the Castell dels Templers come a good few kilometres out, giving the opportunity to try to escape, before things become wide, smooth and with few real corners for the trains to get derailed in the closing stages.

Lleida last saw racing in 2018, as the stage start for the La Rabassa MTF stage in the Vuelta, which was won by Thibaut Pinot and saw Simon Yates extend his GC lead, the day after Jelle Wallays won another of those “which sprinters have bothered to show up/haven’t gone home to prepare for the Worlds yet” sprint stages the Vuelta is famous for. I mean, there were no categorised climbs at all. Danny van Poppel won a more well-attended sprint stage in 2015, and Mark Cavendish an even better attended one in 2010, while in the regional race, the last time the city played host was 2013, where François Parisien was the fastest man in the bunch gallop, which tells you everything about the sprinting depth in the Volta a Catalunya.

Since my race doesn’t exactly incentivise pure sprinters turning up, this may well be one for the Wallays and Parisien types to get a win - or it could simultaneously just be van Aert/Sagan territory if somebody of that ilk decides to show.
 
Stage 3: Tàrrega - Solsona, 172km

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GPM:
Alt Solsonès (cat.2) 14,1km @ 2,8%
Coll de Jou (cat.1) 10,4km @ 6,2%
Alt de Serra-Seca (cat.1) 10,6km @ 5,8%
Cap del Pla (cat.2) 4,4km @ 6,6%

Stage 3, and it’s medium mountain time, with a combination of tempo climbing and some surprisingly difficult stuff. Once one of Spain’s most vibrant economic centres, Tàrrega was decimated by plague and struggled to regain its former glory. The plague also led to one of the earliest attested pogroms against the Jewish population, in 1348, but nowadays it is best known as the hometown of World Cup and European Championship winning footballer Joan Capdevila. For us it is perhaps more reasonable to think of Jaime Vilamajó, a veteran of the Spanish domestic scene in the 1980s who finished 8th overall in the 1982 Vuelta and won a stage of the race in 1987 during stints with almost every major Spanish team of the era - Kelme, Reynolds/Banesto, Seat-Orbea and Caja Rural.

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Jaime Vilamajó

Tàrrega is not a major cycling town and the last time it saw racing action was 2007, when Allan Davis won a sprint in the city before the race departed for Andorra the following day, Babyface Óscar Sevilla winning in Arinsal for Relax-GAM before the beginning of his exile in Colombia. Tàrrega has a similar role to that day here, only I have removed the MTF nature in favour of a more tricky medium mountain stage, to save the high mountains for the climactic finale.

Instead, we have about 30km of rolling terrain before the endless false flats and lower ramps of Alt Solsonès. Much of the remainder of the stage consists of two loops around the city of Solsona, but in order to not see any confusion we nudge into town on our first trip through but do not cross over or join the circuits from later. This is as we are facing the other direction and the first loop is to the east of the second, beginning with an uncategorised climb (just under 2km at 7%) to the dam that begins our loop around the Llosa del Cavall.

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Llosa del Cavall

This leads us to Sant Llorenç de Morunys and the first cat.1 climb of the race, the fairly consistent Coll de Jou. At over 10km at over 6% it’s a worthy cat.1 at this level, but, cresting at almost exactly the halfway point in the stage, it is unlikely to create too much trouble since 86km remain at the summit. It’s more about the endurance and the GPM.

The descent into Solsona matches up with [urlhttps://3.bp.blogspot.com/-G5cAr_IO_Vk/XJ6ES2uLEOI/AAAAAAABSCE/TOIuzApBnE4ionlAOzS9zn5V-ya_nwllgCLcBGAs/s1600/port%2Bdel%2Bcomte.PNG]this profile[/url] as far as the Coll de Jou (obviously) - this also shows you the uncategorised 1,8km @ 7,7% to the Coll de Portell which features shortly after the summit as part of the descent; when we get to Solsona we have our first intermediate sprint, before we move onto our second and final circuit which is 62km long. The first part is undulating terrain until Pont del Clop, and then we get to the Alt de Serra-Seca, an unusual climb which isn’t especially difficult, but is just about a cat.1 - the overall stats are not that threatening, but it does have a kilometre and a half at approaching 10% into Montpol and a kilometre or so of nearly 12% at one point before easing up for a final 2-3km which are very low gradient. It has strangely never been seen in the Vuelta, but has managed to put in an appearance at the Tour de France, in this stage to Arcalis which… I kid you not… was the BEST Pyrenean mountain stage in that year’s edition. Christ.

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Alt de Serra-Seca, 36km from the finish

The next section is rolling, thanks to the high ridge that connects Serra-Seca to the Coll de Jou via Montnou and Port del Comte. I have also snuck the second intermediate sprint in there, in Cambrils, in the hope that it might tempt a bit of movement on Serra-Seca, but realistically I think the main moves will come on the narrow section from Cambrils to Cap del Pla. This consists of some very tough - and steep - descending; see this profile with the first 8km being descended from right to left. At the bottom, we then cross over the bridge over the Río Canada, and start ascending to Hostal del Cap del Pla, a staging point on the road from Solsona to the Coll de Jou (which we descended earlier). This is a little before the Coll Portell, but the crucial thing is that the climb, though its overall stats aren’t too imposing, includes a 2,3km @ 10,5% section of steep and narrow punchy ascent in the middle of its 4km length, so with this cresting 14km from the line, most of which is a fast and wide descent, the potential for action here is high.

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Cap del Pla

Solsona is not a frequent host of bike races - in fact it was last seen in a pro race all the way back in 2004 when the Setmana Catalana was still a thing. It is perhaps better known as the home of Cayetano Ripoll, whose legacy was cemented forever as the last ever victim of the Spanish Inquisition, via the Junta de Fé in Valencia. With 9.000 inhabitants and its fortifications intact, it’s a scenic town which is shrinking since the completion of alternative routes meant it was no longer on the main staging route from Barcelona to Vielha and Andorra. So it needs a bit of a boost to its economy - let’s give them some advertising and bring in a bike race!

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I have a couple of projects that are kind of on hold right now that I would love to finish at some point but I would absolutely love to take part in a bit of a competition. While a word limit might be a good idea, I don't think it's absolutely necessary. As much as I love LS' writeups, not everyone has to write as long and detail rich posts; there is nothing wrong with shorter and denser writeups. Putting your own style into the writing and deciding what to bring to light would be wonderful and I don't think it would be necessary to limit someone, although self-imposed limits might be of use.
 
Problem with that is that the first 4 were on either Mapmyride or Tracks4bikers and are now lost to time, I have all of Vueltas 5 through 10, plus at least 2 complete (and another incomplete) not yet posted editions, and other Spanish stage races I’ve done, so remembering what goes with what is an undertaking.
Okay. I've noticed that many of the links/pictures of your previous profiles are dead, and I though perhaps you had an archive somehow, making it easy to re-create these stages. I've personally saved pictures of all the maps and profiles I've posted here in a Dropbox folder, giving me better overview and easier access than login to the mapping engines.

Otherwise, nice initiative with the Volta a Catalunya. Even though it's not the most popular stage race, it's strange that it hasn't been used more here earlier.
 
Okay. I've noticed that many of the links/pictures of your previous profiles are dead, and I though perhaps you had an archive somehow, making it easy to re-create these stages. I've personally saved pictures of all the maps and profiles I've posted here in a Dropbox folder, giving me better overview and easier access than login to the mapping engines.

Otherwise, nice initiative with the Volta a Catalunya. Even though it's not the most popular stage race, it's strange that it hasn't been used more here earlier.
I can likely recreate the majority of the earlier ones based on the information I have, but because I never imagined the thread would take off like it has and the limitations of the forum back then meant the kind of posts that the thread is filled with now are no longer possible. A lot of the writeups were kept but the fact Tracks4bikers was nerfed completely by the change to google maps killed off all of those. I think I might still have the images of the profiles that I saved onto an old laptop, but the actual GPX files etc. will have gone belly-up as has everything from T4B sadly - you'll even see in PRC links which don't work to profiles created in T4B. Most of the stuff since 2015 or so I have in full however.
 
Stage 4: La Seu d’Urgell - Perpinyà, 163km

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GPM:
Alt de Font-Romeu (cat.2) 12,4km @ 5,1%
Montée d’Arbussols (cat.2) 4,3km @ 7,0%

And here it is, the stage that inspired this to be posted, seeing as, like the real life Volta a Catalunya, I’m taking a detour into French Catalan territory, seldom seen in the race but still very much Catalan terrain.

For somebody who hates Peter Sagan as much as I do, I don’t half design a bunch of stages that suit him. However, this type of stage, a sprint finish in a stage which will be too tough for the pure sprinters that aren’t adept enough (you know the types, Po floodplain specialists like Mareczko, Pelucchi and the oft-derided Guardini for example) but still retain the obstacles far enough from the finish that a sprint is the almost certain outcome, is pretty common in the Volta a Catalunya especially in recent years. Take for example the following:
Stage 6 in the 2022 edition
Stage 1 in 2021
Stage 6 in 2016
Stage 6 in 2015
Stage 5 in 2013

…you get the picture. There’s a reason why the sprint fields in Catalunya are traditionally pretty thin. I mean, one year there were so few sprinters in attendance that José Joaquín Rojas, known primarily for finishing 4th no matter how poor the field and for being the kind of guy that objects to the race being called the Volta a Catalunya instead of the Vuelta a Cataluña, managed to win a stage. That was back in 2011, and it was a couple of days after another sprint stage which departed from today’s stage host, La Seu d’Urgell, the last time it hosted the race in fact. Manuel Cardoso won that day, riding for Radioshack at the time. Of more interest is the last time the race finished in the city, in 2010 when a race-deciding break of two local heroes escaped, with Joaquím Rodríguez and Xavier Tondó dropping break mate Óscar Pereiro and evading the solo chase of Luís León Sánchez. Tondó took the stage win and Purito got the leader’s jersey which he kept until the finish of the race. It hosted the canoe and kayak events in the Barcelona Olympics and has hosted the World Championships three times since. It also has some fame in recent years since the short-runway airfield in the town was opened as a public airport and has become a major entry point for nearby Andorra which usually requires lengthy transfers from Barcelona (which would invariably pass through La Seu d’Urgell en route), Toulouse or Perpignan, although the limited amount of aircraft able to handle the short runway and tricky Pyrenean descent has meant little take-up.

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We start by riding along the Cerdanya valley, so familiar terrain to the Volta, but no climbing of La Molina here. Instead we do some border-hopping, crossing into France, then back into Spain for the exclave of Llíria, then back into France for a climb of the Col du Calvaire-Alt de Font Romeu, home to the French Pyrenees’ easternmost major ski resort. This has only been climbed once - from the opposite side - in a major race, when it was used in the 1993 Tour de France en route to Andorra Vallnord Sector Pal. This side is a fairly gradual, unthreatening 12,4km @ 5,1%, with the first half steeper than the second, and culminating at the col between the resort town and the actual ski runs which are higher up.

While the resort is best known for Alpine skiing, of course, there is a small shooting range just above the Col du Calvaire, and the most famous descendant of the area would be the legendary biathlete Martin Fourcade, one of the most decorated icons in the history of the sport, and a man who, at his peak, contributed enormously to the development and popularity of women’s biathlon, chiefly by making men’s biathlon so boring and one-sided that the women’s races couldn’t help but outshine them for spectacle. He won the overall World Cup seven times in a row - even the year he had mononucleosis - along with five Olympic gold medals and no fewer than thirteen World titles. For many years he dominated, periodically Emil Hegle Svendsen, Simon Schempp or Anton Shipulin may threaten him, but a bad day for Fourcade usually still left him on a lower step of the podium. Finally in the late 2010s the emergence of Johannes Thingnes Bø started to threaten the Frenchman’s dominance, but after only a season or two of this, Fourcade decided to step back, with little left to achieve in the sport but to chase Ole Einar Bjørndalen’s records; with Bø coming to his best these records seemed less touchable, and he stepped away while still at his best, winning his final race.

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The weird thing was that Martin was never that strong as a youth/junior, largely as he didn’t really come to the sport as his first love, more doing it to follow his brother Simon. Simon is the ultimate when it comes to poor luck as a sibling. He was no Prudencio Indurain or Juraj Sagan, more a Fränk Schleck type - except while his younger brother racked up wins by the bucketload, Simon would frequently go way too hard at the start of the race and then capitulate, ending up retiring with 0 career individual victories to his name despite a raft of podiums. The one time he was unquestionably the best athlete on a day was a windy, snowy sprint in Hochfilzen back in 2011, when he skied a top time and hit all 10 targets in appalling conditions… only for these to completely clear up later and result in him being the only early starter to be even remotely competitive, but not even getting the podium out of his work.

The next 50km are descent through Mont-Louis and Odeille before it turns to downhill false flat, through all that terrain that the riders climbed in the La Molina stage in the 2022 Volta. After a sprint in Prades, home of current French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was previously mayor of the town, we have our final climb of the day, the Montée d’Arboussols. Coming with over 45km remaining it is unlikely to create worthwhile gaps especially with the stages to come, but it largely averages around 8% as you can see from this profile (the categorised climbing ends at Arboussols). Rolling terrain and descent then follows into Ille-sur-Têt, which is home to Jean Galia, a man who helped give French Catalonia one of its defining characteristics…

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The south and south west of France are rugby country. This is the sport’s French heartland, and one of the only areas outside of the former British Empire where the game holds major sway of course. There are a couple of teams which hold hard to regional identities beyond their borders, however; Biarritz are one, with their ikurriña jerseys and hard Basque identity, and USA Perpignan are the other, traditionally wearing Catalan red and yellow stripes and even holding some games in Barcelona in major competitions.

However, rugby is kind of a two-pronged sport; there are two separate ‘codes’ of rugby. France has a long and glorious history in the more famous and well known format, “rugby union” - and outside of a particular part of northern England and coastal Australia, this is what is meant when somebody just says “rugby” - but has very little tradition or history in “rugby league”, its counterpart which turned professional much earlier and features simpler rules but faster pace; after a brief period of illegality in Vichy France, Rugby League lost all momentum in France and despite a recovery in the 60s and 70s, in the 80s the French fell completely off the map and poured all their attention into Union, save for a small corner of French Catalonia where a level of popularity was retained. For the most part, however, French rugby league teams with ambitions have to apply to join the English league system - largely at lower levels - and until 2021, when Toulouse’s league partner (the union team is one of the most decorated in European history) was promoted to the Super League, the “Catalans Dragons” team based out of Perpignan were France’s sole representatives at the highest level of the 13-man game, making Perpignan one of only three cities (now four with Toulouse) to be home to a top tier team in both codes of rugby.

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Of course, we’re here to talk about cycling in the gateway to Iberia, not rugby. This old Roman town, known as Perpinyà in Catalan, has been the capital of Roussillon, Septimania and the mainland territories of the Kingdom of Mallorca, but became a French possession in the Thirty Years’ War and has remained that way since. As French Catalan loyalists would be keen to remind you, Salvador Dali once described its train station as “the centre of the universe”. It has a long, long cycling history, going back to the 1910 Tour de France, with several years’ consecutively finishing in the area in the early days of the race.

However, with the Pyrenees being more involved in the race - and largely focusing around certain areas in the middle with the easternmost area being little seen, especially after the failures of many of the ski resorts other than Font-Romeu in the area meaning few viable mountain stage hosts in the region, it has become seldom seen, last appearing in the Tour in 2009 when Thomas Voeckler fooled the sprinters’ teams to much amusement to come in a few seconds ahead of the péloton. The last Pyrenean mountain stage to use Perpignan as a host was back in 2001, when Félix ‘el Gato’ Cardenas won at the Plateau de Bonascre, before the Port de Pailhères was introduced to the race. Of course, Kaden Groves has literally just won a race here in the Volta a Catalunya, so that’s the best proxy for the outcome. The run-in here is the same, I had a play about with my stage to mimic its real life counterpart.

Strangely, the 1968 Tour de France also had a stage from La Seu d’Urgell to Perpignan with an ensuing depart at Font-Romeu, but this went further east and didn’t cross the border at Font-Romeu like we do, crossing the border over the Col d’Ares mid-stage instead before a long flat run-in.
 
Stage 5: Argelès-sur-Mer - Santuari de Bellmunt, 161km

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GPM:
Coll des Ares (cat.1) 19,0km @ 5,2%
Pla d’en Plata (cat.2) 5,7km @ 7,9%
Coll de Santigosa (cat.3) 4,0km @ 5,6%
Coll de Bracons (cat.1) 8,4km @ 7,8%
Santuari de Bellmunt (cat.1) 6,8km @ 9,4%

Now the real mountains come, as we return to Spanish soil on stage 5 via a long-forgotten climb in racing history. We start still in France, in Argelès-sur-Mer, often known simply as Argelès, a town on the Côte Vermeille just south of Perpignan which is most famous for its concentration camp which housed up to 100.000 refugees and soldiers from the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, as the French would not allow the retreating Republicans to then relocate into the Republican-held territories after entering French soil; it is also the home of Marc Lièvremont, a French international rugby player in the 90s who later went on to manage the national team, both playing in and managing a World Cup final - though curiously for a rugby player in this rugby-mad area, he wasn’t actually French-Catalan, but had been born in Senegal to French parents and relocated in his youth, somewhat similar to Chris Froome’s background. It is now rebranding itself as a beach retreat, to take advantage of its pristine location and erase a bit of the miserable history of the concentration camp. And, if nothing else, it at least looks the part.

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We head west south west to begin, through the valleys and floodplains that take us to Céret, birthplace of Martin Fourcade who I previously mentioned (his brother was born in Perpignan), and the départ of a disgusting travesty of a mountain stage in the 2021 Tour; it was actually pretty well designed and raced, but it was won by Sepp Kuss, so it should be thrown in a trash can and that trash can lit on fire to cleanse us of its memory. I instead travel through this to head over a long-forgotten summit, the Coll des Ares, or Col d’Ares, a long and arduous mountain slog that crosses the border at over 1500m altitude.

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Not to be confused with the traceur favourite of the same name which is further southwest and closer to Lleida, this climb was seen once in the Tour de France, back in 1968, when Franco Bitossi took the summit in that transitional stage to Perpignan I mentioned before. This is an all-up-and-down stage with five categorised climbs, and though they’re not all queen stage type climbs at the higher level, this is nevertheless a genuine cat.1, a long and painful drag which is actually ascending for over 30km; I have categorised the final 19km, but the last 13km are at almost 6% average including some stretches of over 8% and a max of 12%.

The second climb is perhaps a bit of a gamble - it could easily be excised from the race if it isn’t considered suitable however. Pla d’en Plata, also known as Collada Burgarés, is a mid-length but relatively steep cat.2 ascent which is kind of hidden away largely because of pretty narrow roads. It seems usable though.

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After descending the sometimes steep and narrow route to Sant Joan de les Abadesses, we head over the cat.3 Coll de Santigosa before descending down into Olot, in the volcanic Garrotxa valley which is a scenic landscape beloved of enough painters to become an entire school of landscape painting style in the 19th Century. Valls may have been Xavi Tondó’s birthplace but Olot was his home; the Memorial Xavier Tondó race may take place in Valls, but the Marxa 100x100 Tondó sportive takes place around Olot (and finishes at the VallTer2000 ski resort, which was a key catalyst in introducing this climb to the Volta a Catalunya in the mid-2010s). Olot also has been a host of the Volta on a couple of occasions in recent years, both times with transitional stages ending in large groups contesting the finish with Alejandro Valverde winning in the city in 2015, and Nacer Bouhanni a year later. I pay some level of tribute to this with an intermediate sprint, but there’s still 36km remaining and two serious ascents to come when we pass through the city.

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Then, things get serious.

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Plataforma Recorridos Ciclistas, pioneers and legends of the traceur art that they are, did a long and detailed post on the Coll de Bracons all the way back in 2014, which you can view here. This post includes comparisons to other climbs (showing it to be a good analogue for the Coll de Portillón from its (harder) French side, or a longer version of the Mirador del Fito, along with five stage suggestions. Apart from the last option, which focuses on another traceur favourite nearby, the borderline HC-category Collfred, these all focus on the same side that we are climbing, an approximately 8km @ 8% ascent which has the last 3km or so averaging nearly 10% and crests at just 21km from the line.

The old Coll de Bracons road is in relatively good condition, but sees far less traffic now thanks to a new tunnel which connects Torelló and Olot and bypasses it. Interestingly, the last time the Volta a Catalunya went around here was in 2010, when Sant Esteve en Bas hosted a stage start, and the péloton went through the tunnel rather than over the pass. The last time the pass was used in racing was all the way back in 1990, when it was the key climb around 25km from the line in a stage to Manlleu, when race leader Laudelino Cubino held on despite numerous attacks from a star-studded trio of Íñaki Gastón, Pedro Delgado and Marino Lejarreta, with the Basque winning the sprint afterward.

Here, however, it is not the finish, but the warm-up act for another mid-length and steep climb, which I’m hoping will form a nice double act of similar ascents, as instead we are going for a climb up to the Santuari de Bellmunt, just under 7km in length, but over 9% in average gradient with the final 4km averaging a gut-busting 11%.

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I believe that we may reasonably have to finish at the parking area around 500m before the actual sanctuary, due to reasons of space, but that final 400m, with its gradients in excess of 20%, is also on hormigón. Even without that, however, the final 3,4km average 10,3% and have a maximum gradient of 17%, so it's still more than useful enough as a climb (totalling 6,4km at 9,0%, which puts it in similar realm - slightly harder in fact - to Santuário de Urkiola, Peña Cabarga, Super Planche and Rifugio Gardeccia, or a harder version of Superga). Of course, one thing to bear in mind is how out of character this is for the Volta a Catalunya. With the exception of a couple of times in the 80s and 90s and then in 2017 when Mont Carò was used as a summit finish, for the most part the race has dealt with grinding climbing, usually lower and middling gradients on long climbs that sap strength rather than this kind of steep obliteration that is in vogue. Many an edition has built its mountain stages around Andorra, where Catalan is the dominant language, for example, and apart from a brief stretch from 1999 to 2003 where Els Cortals d’Encamp would frequently host (Heras and Chava the first two winners there!), that usually means tempo grinders like Pal, La Rabassa and Arcalis, and indeed the race often used MTTs to try to wring some life out of those climbs. Places like VallTer2000 and Port-Ainé are decent enough, but usually only gradual climbs can lead into them. Places like Boï-Taúll and La Molina, as we’ve seen this year, don’t exactly open up big gaps.

Santuari de Bellmunt can.

The refuge on the summit of the Sierra de Bellmunt has been in existence for the best part of a millennium. Originally a castle was built on this site, but after the loss of its strategic value it fell into disrepair. The origins of the sanctuary are unclear; records in 1219 attest a church to the Mare de Déu de Bellmunt, but the sanctuary does not appear in records until over 20 years later. In 1557 it was expanded from a simple sanctuary and chapel to a full hostel and refuge, but landslip and environmental damage have resulted in successive reconstructions, rebuilds and renovations, with the current, larger complex dating back only to 1982 and includes a restaurant and visitor centre. The paved road to the sanctuary was constructed as part of these renovations as well and was opened in 1985 - yet sadly has yet to host professional bike racing, because this would be a great little climb to open up some GC gaps.

This video from a motorbike group shows them descending the road that we will be climbing, so you can see it’s nothing like as implausible as it seems, and that there’s a car park with a decent amount of space at the top too. With Javier Guillén at the helm and these gradients it’s almost shocking the Vuelta hasn’t come to town, but maybe the Volta can give him some ideas.


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Stage 6: Girona - Sant Hilari Sacalm, 176km

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GPM:
Alt de Santa Fe (cat. ESP) 23,8km @ 4,8%
Collformic (cat.2) 9,5km @ 5,1%
Alt de Santa Helena (cat.1) 13,0km @ 6,3%
Alt de Font Vella (cat.1) 10,1km @ 5,5%

After the doublette of Javier Guillén gradients to finish stage 5 which would be more at home in the Vuelta a Asturias or the Euskal Herriko Itzulia, it’s time to go back to the meat and drink of the Volta a Catalunya, with a stage full to the brim with tempo climbing on long, arduous but relatively low gradient stompers. The featherweights will have enjoyed yesterday, but today it’s time to warm up the diesels and get those engines loosened up for action as we grind our way through the Macizo de Montseny, but attempting something infinitely more GC-relevant than those usual stages we get around Calella, like this one or this one, both of which have some real serious climbs but not used in such a way to make them relevant. And really, how Santa Fe de Montseny can be a cat.1 climb there when freaking Pedraforca was an ESP back in 2010, I simply do not know.

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If you’re posting on a cycling forum, chances are you really don’t need Girona introducing to you. A “rest day in Girona” became a long-term part of cycling parlance and in-jokery thanks to Lance Armstrong, while countless pros from all over the world have made the city their home - as have a number of dubious soigneurs, doctors, mechanics and similar as a result. Realistically the prime reason for choosing Girona is a pleasing climate with a range of training climbs, a good cycling infrastructure and the proximity of a budget airline, but don’t let that distract you from jumping to conclusions, after all its reputation is well established. The city appears in many a race, the Vuelta most recently in 2005 as the start of an Arcalis MTF stage, and the Tour most recently in 2009 when Thor Hushovd won the stage into Barcelona, a rare Tour stage including not one single kilometre in France but not part of an overseas départ. The most recent stage finish in the Volta a Catalunya in the city was in 2015, when Domenico Pozzovivo won a stage over Els Angels, the legendary Hausberg of Girona which is not a particularly threatening climb, but its proximity to such a popular training area has lent it a level of legend, similar to Los Patios in Bogotá or the Col de la Madone near Monaco and Nice.

But to save me the time of producing a tourist information brochure on Girona, I found that there was already a cyclists’ guide to Girona, with the tour provided by none other than Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. And as we know, Cille content is always welcome. Did you know there are people out there that don’t love Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig? Those people are, of course, idiots.


We start by heading southwest to head into the Macizo de Montseny, a mountain range which is both well-trodden and completely under-utilised by the Volta a Catalunya simultaneously. Almost every year there is a stage through the range, usually using Calella or Lloret de Mar as start and finish, as per those stages linked a couple of paragraphs ago. However, as PRC proved, there are plenty of options to make a genuinely serious mountain stage here, and the race has never even come remotely close to using the area to its best. While you can argue that there isn’t really enough room at the area’s one HC climb, Turó de l’Home, for a mountaintop finish, there are still a lot of things you can do without ending at the summit. PRC in fact did a two-step investigation into the area, one post focusing on the Turó de l’Home MTF possibilities, and the second, more appropriate to what I’m trying to do, focusing on other possibilities.

Macizo del Montseny I - Turó de l’Home
Macizo del Montseny II - Otros finales

My stage does have a long and wide loop but I tried to minimise that. I could have gone up to Santa Helena on the first visit to the Massif too, but instead I went for the eternal grind of the 24km climb to the Alt de Santa Fe del Montseny, which gets to be a somewhat generous cat.ESP, but more just because the race always seems to give one even in editions that don’t merit it than because of anything else. And at almost 25km in length it is a serious climb - however it is worth noting that it is still called a cat.1 in the Calella stages it has been used in, although these have always been when it is cresting in the first part of the stage.

We then have the multi-stepped descent before the easy side of Collformic - a very common climb in the area which is a popular training climb, appears frequently in the Volta, and was a regular in the Vuelta a España in the early 70s, usually from its harder southern side which we will be descending - this summit was crested by a few specialist climbers but the highest profile winner of the climb would be Bernard Thevenet in the 1973 stage from Empuriabrava to Manresa. It hasn’t been seen in the Vuelta since the 80s, however, so has been the preserve of the Volta only since then. Nevertheless we then take this climb and descend the harder side of the claim as we circumnavigate the Turó de l’Home summit taking in multiple climbs - for the moment we are still on the same circuit as is usually seen in the intermediate stages of the real life race… but we’re about to turn things up a notch.

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Turó de l’Home from above

Essentially the stage takes influence from proposal #3 on that second PRC link, as the final 60km of my stage are culled right out of that stage (without the optional extension), albeit with a slight tweak. The PRC stage (not sure which of their admins is responsible for this particular offering but it looks like Visko’s style) uses the full extent of the Alt de Santa Fe, all the way down to Sant Celoni and then up via Mosqueroles, which they tally at 18,7km @ 5,8%. I have however elected to shorten the stage a bit by descending to the Puente del Riu Tordera and then climbing through La Costa del Montseny, which opens us up with 2km at 8% and means we skip a lot of false flat and tempo riding in favour of a cold open with some steeper gradients and a higher average, albeit still hardly Zoncolan-tastic. It’s the first 13km of this profile, and crests with 47km to go.

After a short downhill - 2km at about 5% - we rejoin the route from Sant Celoni up to the Alt de Santa Fe that we ascended earlier, only this time there are no points available at the summit. There’s a short flat to join the road in the village of Santa Fe de Montseny, then there’s the final 3km of that climb, which average 5,6%, before a long and multi-stepped descent through the Coll de Revell. This amounts to the section from the summit to km14 of this profile, before another short dig (this one wouldn’t be categorised at all, whereas you can argue that Santa Fe justifies a cat.3 ordinarily) and then descending this profile into Arbuciés.

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With around 6.000 inhabitants, the hilltop town of Sant Hilari Sacalm is an attractive option for traceurs looking for something to do other than a Turó de l’Home MTF in the Macizo de Montseny. It doesn’t have history when it comes to pro racing, however, when it comes to being a finish - it has seen the Volta, the Setmana Catalana and on one occasion the Vuelta (in 1972) pass through, but has never had a finishing line. However, its proximity to these under-utilised mountains has made it a useful prospect for proposals.

Generally, however, these proposals tend to either descend into the town from Collesplanes, or take the main road which amounts to a 11,2km @ 5% tempo grinder. As you can see though, close to the summit there is a link to another road which goes to Font Vella, a little above the town, a mountain stream which gives its name to a popular brand of mineral water manufactured in Sant Hilari. This is the climb used as a slight variation in that PRC stage and as the final part of the climb is a bit steeper - the last 3,3km of it average 7,3% - it could be a bit more likely to create some action rather than tame tempo riding after the steep MTF on stage 5, but isn’t hard enough to not mean that if you really need to make up time then you need to be thinking about going on the Alt de Santa Helena. The change to the climb makes it a little bit shorter but finishes higher up, reducing the distance to a little over 10km but the average up to 5,5%. I thought that this would be a little more interesting from a racing point of view and even though it’s a perfectly usable road and no goat track, and that PRC post is over eight years old, the climb still hadn’t been mapped when I came to post this, let alone when I drew up the stage 18 months earlier.

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Of course, this is another of those not-quite-MTF-MTFs that Spain does well - like Arrate or Xorret del Catí, but nothing like as hard as either of those obviously - and the summit comes with 2,8km remaining, which is mostly fast and non-technical with a final straight kilometre (broken up with a couple of roundabouts) in the town centre, so on the same road as had we gone up the normal road into town, just now facing the opposite direction. It's not a climb that will make considerable differences on its own, so you need to gun it from further out to take advantage. Let's see what our péloton has.
 
Pla d’en Plata, also known as Collada Burgarés, is a mid-length but relatively steep cat.2 ascent which is kind of hidden away largely because of pretty narrow roads. It seems usable though.
It looks really narrow on Streetview, too narrow for a race for me, especially given that climb and descent are equally bad.

Enjoying this Volta, although it's a bit depressing that you can design multiple versions of this standard without any repeat climbs in spite of what the real race is like.
 
Stage 7: Blanes - Barcelona, 145km

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GPM:
Coll d’Alella/Coll de Font de Cera (cat.3) 5,7km @ 4,7%
Forat del Vent (cat.3) 6,9km @ 4,0%
Coll del Portell (cat.3) 1,1km @ 8,3%
Parc Montjuïc (cat.3) 2,1km @ 3,1% + 0,9km @ 7,4% + 0,7km @ 7,3%
Parc Montjuïc (cat.3) 2,1km @ 3,1% + 0,9km @ 7,4% + 0,7km @ 7,3%
Parc Montjuïc (cat.3) 2,1km @ 3,1% + 0,9km @ 7,4% + 0,7km @ 7,3%
Parc Montjuïc (cat.3) 2,1km @ 3,1% + 0,9km @ 7,4% + 0,7km @ 7,3%

And so the traditional final stage, updated and upgraded to fit the type of design I’ve gone for, as we return to Barcelona to finish where we started, several days hopefully of action later. This is a hilly stage to finish, which could create as many or as few time gaps as necessary. Considering all the tourist potential and popularity of Catalunya, this is perhaps the only stage that starts in a genuine touristic centre (other than Barcelona itself), as Blanes markets itself as the gateway to the Costa Brava, a popular line of beach resort towns that stretches from Blanes up to the French border, through places like Lloret de Mar, Platja d’Aro, Palamós, Palafrugell, Roses and Empuriabrava. Largely overshadowed for cycling by its neighbouring resorts, especially as Calella and Lloret de Mar have hosted the start of the race frequently in recent years, Blanes was last on the menu in the early 2000s with two sprint stages, won by Max van Heeswijk in 2001 and Danilo Hondo in 2004 respectively.

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The first 50km or so of the stage are flat, taking in the scenic coastal roads, before we head inland via a fairly benign climb to Alella, also known as Font de Cera, which coincidentally (I didn’t notice this until beginning the write-up) is also the first climb in the PRC stage that inspired my Sant Hilari Sacalm finish variation. A brief descent takes us into an inland plateau and takes us past Montmeló, which is home to the Circuit de Catalunya, a well-established motor racing venue that is home to one of the less interesting Grand Prix of the season, seeing as it is the most popular testing venue on the circuit and so every driver knows it like the back of their hand. It was opened in the 90s as the Spanish GP searched for a new home after the much-loved street circuit at Parc Montjuïc proved unable to meet improving safety requirements in the 70s, and won out long-term over Jarama and Jerez. It hosted stage finishes in the Volta a Catalunya in 2008 and 2009, but since the race moved from late May to its present calendar spot, this has been too close to the date of the Spanish GP and so the race has moved back into the city, which is really a good thing largely because it means a more interesting final stage with the Montjuïc circuit, which is similarly an improvement for cycling as it is for car racing (although Montmeló did give us Pastor Maldonado, GP winner, so it does have something going for it, he was always a beacon of unpredictability in a largely tepid and dull era that has been going on for… well, a long time now).

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In reality, I’m more interested in the next stopoff, Montcada I Reixac. If I’d been thinking right I’d have put an intermediate sprint here, as it is the hometown of one of Spain’s only true fast men, Miquel Poblet (sometimes spelled Miguel due to the vagaries of the time, with the Catalan spelling phased out under Franco). Spanish cycling has forever focused on the climber, a legacy of that the main hubs of the sport in the country are in “España Verde” up on the north coast in their jagged terrain, where flat land is at a premium. Asturias, Cantabria, País Vasco and Navarra account for a large percentage of the oldest and most traditional Spanish races, with Catalunya and Valencia also contributing. As a result, waifish climbers and tough men able to deal with the gradients of the likes of Urkiola, Escudo, Pajáres and their likes were the favourite sons, and come Vuelta time, the northern Europeans would bully the tactically naïve Spaniards all over the flat stages. Very few home grown athletes could compete in these stages, and although Tarzán Sáez tried gamely, Poblet was the only one to really make it big time as a sprint finisher all the way until Óscar Freire in the 2000s. He won Milano-Sanremo twice, and no fewer than 26 Grand Tour stages (20 of which were at the Giro, as he spent most of his heyday with the Italian Ignis squad), which enabled him to become the first Spaniard to lead the Tour de France, and the first ever rider to win stages of all 3 Grand Tours in the same year, a feat which has only been replicated twice. He also managed two podiums in Paris-Roubaix, being the only Spaniard to achieve that until Juan António Flecha in the mid 2000s. He was more than just a sprinter though, also making the podium of the Giro di Lombardia and winning Milano-Torino as well as the GC of his home race late in his career. He remained a popular figure in the sport in Catalunya up until his death in 2014.

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Poblet also was known for preparing for San Remo by designing and riding his own facsimile of the route using Catalan towns and climbs to simulate the route of La Primavera; hopefully he would enjoy the remainder of my race, with a couple of light climbs to return to Barcelona, first the Poggio-like low gradients of Forat del Vent and then a short, sharp ramp in the Parc Güell area of Barcelona which PRC records as being 1,1km @ 8,3% in its Clásica de Barcelona recap - however as they mapped that using Tracks4Bikers I cannot show the profile. I can, however, show a bit of the street that forms the first half of the climb, Carrer del Llobregos, before we hang a left and head up to the Santuari de de Nostra Senyora de Mont Carmel.

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The whole Mont Carmel barrio, Gràcia and Parc Güell and the hillside to its north, is known as a bohemian and counter-culture area which features, other than Parc Güell itself, few tourist attraction. It has however become a very cosmopolitan area in time; for several generations it was a hotbed of Gitano culture, with a vibrant rumbero scene that helped establish the genre and was the biggest localised scene for this type of music outside of Andalucía at the time, as well as making the district an attractive destination not just for immigrant and internal migrant populations due to comparatively low rents and melting pot population, but also for bohemians, hipsters and similar.

After cresting that summit we cross the main body of the city and head for the 1992 Olympic complex and the traditional Montjuïc circuit. Except I’ve got a somewhat different Montjuïc circuit in mind, as after all there have been several over the years. Recent years have focused on a couple of circuits. Since the Montjuïc finale was reinstated around ten years ago the majority have been using this circuit, which climbs up to the castle, has a steep descent and then a short rise up to the Olympic stadium:

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Whereas recent editions have toughened up that first climb by going all the way up to the castle, similar to this proposition from PRC:

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These are tough enough to create some interesting stages, and winners of these stages have included Simon Yates, Alejandro Valverde, and Thomas de Gendt, the latter two on multiple occasions. In 2009, the Tour de France also finished in Parc Montjuïc, but they climbed up to the Olympic stadium from Fonts Montjuïc, so essentially climbing these profiles from right to left as far as the stadium; Thor Hushovd won the sprint in what was something between a sprinter’s and a puncheur’s finish - Óscar Freire was 2nd, but the top 10 also featured the likes of Franco Pellizotti and Cadel Evans, and the sight of Andy Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali outsprinting Mark Cavendish is something of a collector’s item. This finish was to ape the 1973 World Championships which included this finish and was won by Felice Gimondi.

The current course design, with the harder ascent to the castle, is based on an old traditional race, the Escalada a Montjuïc, which ran from the mid-60s until 2007 as a pro race and was a bit like the Frankfurt Maitagrennen where the main pro race was part of a day-long schedule of races. It was often a one-day stage race, with a short ITT and a circuit race, and was created to capitalise on an upswing in cycling in Catalunya following the successes of local favourite José Pérez-Francés. After Bahamontes won the first edition, it settled on an end of season calendar slot which made it popular as a season closer or, with its hilly parcours, as a preparation for Lombardia, and was dominated by Raymond Poulidor and Eddy Merckx for a decade, before it came to be more of an event for the domestic péloton, either Spanish riders or riders on Spanish teams (especially during the Swiss invasion in the 90s) winning most editions. High profile winners include Bernard Thevenet, Joop Zoetemelk, Marino Lejarreta (with 5 wins second only to Merckx), Alex Zülle, Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert. But really, even in its latter days its winners tended to be high profile, the likes of Samuel Sánchez and Dani Moreno winning in its final days before its format meant that it no longer fit in the pro calendar as a competitive event.

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I decided I wanted to combine all of these along with another famous thing about Montjuïc, which is its GP circuit, alluded to earlier. This was a popular street circuit with challenging inclines and curves, beloved by both drivers and fans, but with the increasing speeds of cars and the demand for greater safety, by 1975 it was obsolete and an appalling accident where Rolf Stommelen’s rear wing failed and the bumpy surface and hilly nature of the circuit resulted in his car flying into the crowd and killing five people sealed the fate of the course once and for all. It is still fondly remembered for its driving challenge to this day - watch short highlights from 1973 here.

The racetrack followed the orientation of the 1973 Worlds circuit / 2009 Tour stage, and I have put the finish in the same place. Looking at the profile of the more recent circuits, however, you will note that there is a steep descent. I have elected to start my circuit by essentially doing that 2013 profile above from right to left, that descent of 800m at 9,2% was too much to resist using as a climb instead. However, instead of heading straight across to the castle like the new version or descending onto Carrer Doctor Font I Quer which was climbed in the earlier version, I then hang a left on to Carrer dels Tres Pins to return to the Olympic stadium only one block away from where we started the descent before the previous ramp, and turn right at the Jardins de Laribal. This then returns me to the 1973 World Championships course, and at the base station for the Telefèric de Montjuïc, we turn right again for a final ascent which Cronoescalada tells me is 800m at 6,6% and follows the cable car up the hill, but of most note is that the last 400m averages 8,4% when we rejoin Passeig del Migdia. You can see a few views from the cable car that show the road here.

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Castell Montjuïc

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The uphill part of my circuit, from Font Mágica to the Olympic park, then to the Alt de Montjuïc, then the final climb along the Telefèric. GPM points will only be given out at the final climb even though the summit for the second ascent is the high point of the circuit.

This then enables us to rejoin the 2022 version of the Montjuïc circuit partway up that 13% ramp to the castle, around halfway between the castle and Tir Olimpic on the profile, essentially at the 3km mark, and then we descend it to the start and then climb from right to left as far as the Olympic stadium once more.

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Detail of the final circuit

There are four laps of this circuit, which totals 9,5km in length, so longer than the usual circuits used but then, I think most years, other than when they climbed Lo Port, the time gaps in the Volta a Catalunya tend not to be as big as they may be likely to be in my version of the race, so this might be better off to avoid too many lapped riders climbing off, although this isn’t a particularly hard stage prior to the final circuit. I could have really gone off on one akin to the PRC guys’ Clásica Barcelona, but felt that the final circuit was enough given the rest of the course - it gives it a bit of an Amstel Gold finale type flavour with endless short but not especially challenging climbs in the last 50km I think.

So that was my Volta a Catalunya. I think it’s pretty different from the real life counterpart, which focuses on tempo climbing and gradual to medium gradient ascents. There’s only one ‘true’ MTF but two mountain stages that are sort of MTFs, both of which are very different in characteristics. I think the Siurana stage is the kind of stage we never seem to get from the Volta, all about punchy ascents, while apart from Rat Penat, we don’t tend to see anything of the kind of steep gradients that usually characterise Spanish cycling short stage races in the Volta; part of that is to do with what is on hand, of course, there are far fewer such climbs in Catalunya than in País Vasco, Asturias, Galicia or Comunitat Valenciana, but nevertheless we still see such ascents in the Ruta del Sol and Castilla y León which are not too dissimilar to Catalunya in terms of variety and options. The stage 3 medium mountain stage I am particularly happy with, I see this as a significant improvement on the typical Montserrat type stages that the Volta gives us where that climb is over categorised as first category and then has a 25km, not particularly challenging descent, plus the hilly stages are tougher than the Valls ones with the Alt de Lilla, which though not too bad on paper is a three-lane highway with a very consistent gradient at around the 5% mark, so never threatens any but the most rotten of all climbing sprinters - and that type of sprinter typically doesn’t bother with the Volta a Catalunya for obvious reasons.

Hopefully you enjoyed and got to see a bit more of what this - Spain’s oldest and most traditional stage race - could offer us even without too much tweaking.
 
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