Race Design Thread

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It's time for the grand finale to my Euskaltel-Euskadi Itzulia, and for this we return to the Basque Country for a hilly 268 km race which will finish in Getxo.
Getxo has been chosen because it was the scene of the last victory of the orginal E-E team; the 2013 Circuito de Getxo, won by the Wolf, Juan José Lobato. Lobato is of course also a part of the current team so that builds a nice bridge to the present and the future as well.

In 2009 it was Koldo Fernandez who was victorious in Getxo, but the profile of the race was easier in those days. Since then more climbing has been added to the course, and in recent years the steep Pike Bidea has been the major key point on the final lap, which has made the race more of a battle between well climbing sprinters, puncheurs and climbers.

In my race I've replaced the Pike Bidea with the Berriz/Bagatza side of Artxanda, which is a narrower road with worse surface than Bidea, but it still has percentages of well above 10% over 1.75 km. From the top the race has the same final as the current Circuito de Getxo, but the descent into town is a little bit shorter.

On the way to Getxo to race goes through/comes close to the hometowns and birth places of many people who have played a part in the nearly 30 year history of the Fundación Euskadi. Here are some of them:

Leitza: Mikel Nieve
Ormaiztegi: Ion and Gorka Izagirre
Zumárraga: Aitor Gonzalez
Oñati: Markel Irizar
Mondragón: Iván Velasco
Bergara: Mikel Aristi
Ermua: Aitor Galdós, Aitor Hernández, Peio Goikoetxea
Zaldibar: Rubén Pérez
Abadiño: David Etxebarria
Mañaria: Mikel Bizkarra, Julián and Rubén Gorospe
Vitoria-Gasteiz: Joseba Beloki (Beasain/Lazkao), Alberto López de Munain, Igor and Álvaro González de Galdeano, Koldo Fernandez, Jon Aberasturi
Murgia: Mikel Landa
Orozko: Gotzon Martín
Igorre: Iban Mayo
Amorebieta-Etxano: Beñat Intxausti
Galdakao: Igor Antón, also briefly home for Samuel Sánchez during his first year with the Olarra development team before he settled in Güeñes, south-west of Bilbao
Bilbao: David Herrero, Txema del Olmo, Iban Mayoz, Miguel Mínguez
Lemoiz: Miguel Madariaga
Getxo: Jonathan Castroviejo, Íñigo Landaluze

The race also features roads and climbs which have been used in races such as Gipuzkoa Klasikoa, Klasika Primavera, Subida a Urkiola, Euskal Bizikleta, Prueba Villafranca - Ordiziako Klasika, Gran Premio de Llodio, Vuelta al País Vasco/Itzulia, Vuelta a España and Circuito de Getxo. All races where E-E riders have showed their colours over the years.

Race 9 (8), 268 km, 4700m



The major climbs are these:
Altzo: https://www.cronoescalada.com/puertos/view/914
Eizaga: https://www.cronoescalada.com/puertos/view/9537
Arrate-Usartza (Krabelin): https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=767
Areitio: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=406
Urkiola: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=221
Bikotx-Gane: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=161
El Vivero: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=70
Artxanda (Berriz/Bagatza): https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=19
Txomintxu: https://cyclingpro.net/spaziociclismo/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Circuito-Getxo-2020-UKM.png



Race 9b, 255 km, 4800-5000m

I wasn't a big fan of the flat section after Urkiola, which was required in order to get to Murgia, or the later visit to Amorebieta-Etxano, so I've also made a few other versions of the race. The first one is a little shorter, but also harder. It features most of the climbs from version one, but also has these other ones (plus it crosses the finish line twice):

Larraitz: https://www.cronoescalada.com/puertos/view/19539
Sustatxa: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=568
Isuskiza: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=125
Andraka: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=2
Unbe: https://www.altimetrias.net/aspbk/verPuerto.asp?id=28





My two last versions are both modifications of 9b, where either Isuskiza and Andraka are cut (9c, 238 km, 4400m) or those two plus Unbe are left out (9d, 227 km, 4200m).

I hope you have enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. But even if you haven't, I've cetainly had a blast, and I could easily have written longer posts and have added more pictures and videos, but I have tried to restrain myself a bit.


I have ideas for some one-day races in Austria as well as a vision for a Deutschland Tour, which I can now devote some of my time to.
I forgot to mention one little detail. I've deliberately said very little about a certain someone during this series in order to pay tribute to most of his career, but I think he deserves a shout out this week. On Sunday the Alto de Altzo and Larraiz are two of the climbs which will feature in the 150 km long HZ Klasikoa with the start and finish being in his hometown of Zarautz.
 
I forgot to mention one little detail. I've deliberately said very little about a certain someone during this series in order to pay tribute to most of his career, but I think he deserves a shout out this week. On Sunday the Alto de Altzo and Larraiz are two of the climbs which will feature in the 150 km long HZ Klasikoa with the start and finish being in his hometown of Zarautz.
In tribute, there should be a broadcast dead zone through the town in case he comes to see the race. A bit like how San Sebastián was the only race he'd be caught on camera all year.
 
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Tour of Northern Thailand stage 4: Chiang Mai - Chiang Mai; 1668km


https://www.cronoescalada.com/tracks/viewTour/799455/717032

The climbs:
(Doi) Samoeng cat. 1, km 39.7 & km 122.4; 17.9kms at 4.4%
cat. 2, km 48 & km 130.6; 1.2kms at 8.2%
Tambon Ban Pong cat. 2, km 56 & km 138.5; 2.2kms at 11.2%
Doi Kawm cat. 4; km 71 & km 154.4; 1.1kms at 5.3%

Here we have it, the final stage of the race, 2 long lap around the mountains of Chaing Mai.
The first 22kms are false flat, then the longest climb of the day starts, (Doi) Samoeng, 17.9kms at 4.4%, but it's an irregular climb with multiple flat sections.

After that we have a 7km long descent that isn't too steep, but features enough twists and turns to be considered a bit tricky. It leads right into the next climb and as far as I know it doesn't have it's own name. It's just a short uphill section on the Doi Samoeng descent, 1.2kms at 8.2%, your typical puncheurs climb.
Then we have a 5.5km long steeper descent that leads us right into the steepest climb of the day. It's Tambon Ban Pong, 2.2kms at 11.2% with 15% steep ramps, this one is a proper murito that hurts yourr legs.. Afterwards we have a 9km long descent with some flater sections, followed by 4.4kms of false flat before the next climb. It's Doi Kawm, a short kicker of 1.1kms at 5.3%.
After a short descent we have 33.2kms of flat before hitting Doi Samoeng (and later all the other climbs) for the 2nd time, the final climb tops with 13.6kms to go at the final 12kms of the stage are flat.
This is an interesting one, a strong breakaway should form on the first climb of the day. The gc riders will probably attack properly on the 2nd ascent of Tambon Ban Pong, after having their team set a hard pace on Doi Samoeng. Having a teammate up the road at that point could be crucial, if you wanna turn the whole race on it's head. The final short kicker will probably only increase the gaps and the flat run in could make us see some ineresting tactical games.
 
My first attempt at a proper stage race will be a Deutschland Tour. It will run from north to south (I might do a second version later which will go in the opposite direction) and will go through places I’ve visited or have thought about visiting in the past. I’ve spent quite a lot of time Germany during family holidays, both as a child as an adult, but my grasp at the language could still be a whole lot better.

My DT will remain a ProSeries race for now. According to the UCI regulations such a race can’t last longer than six days, but they also say that an existing race can retain its historic length. I’m going to interpret that in a way that allows me to make it at least seven days long, which most of the different versions of the real race have been. I’m still not sure if this edition will have 7 or 8 stages.

Many interesting areas won’t be visited, but at least I’ll cover more of the country than the existing race does. It won’t necessarily be a climber’s paradise, but there should be hills enough to make it hard for the heaviest riders to win the race. Unlike other posters’ DTs, mine probably won’t feature an awful lot of cobbles, but there might still be some here and there. Because of the unavailability of Google street view for Germany, I’m probably using some roads that would be unlikely to be seen in an actual race, but hopefully not too many.


The race features 8 different classifications/jerseys, which are described below:

The yellow Deutsche Post/DHL leader’s jersey

The blue Ritter Sport points jersey

Flat stages: 25, 20, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point available at the finish line
Other stages: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point

The purple Milka mountains jersey
Cat. 4: 4, 2 and 1 point
Cat. 3: 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point
Cat. 2: 16, 12, 8, 4, 2 and 1 point
Cat. 1: 32, 24, 20, 16, 12, 10, 8, 4, 2 and 1 point
No double points for M/HTFs.

The white Kinder youth jersey for riders aged 24 or younger

The Deutsche Telekom team classification with pink bib numbers

The multicoloured Haribo Goldbären sprint jersey (not worn during stages)

Haribo Goldbären sprints will have 10, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point on offer

The black Hugo Boss jersey for the best German rider (not worn during stages)

The brown/grey Volkswagen jersey for riders aged 35 or older (not worn during stages)


4, 2 and 1 bonus seconds will be handed out at the finish lines. That goes against the UCI regulations, but I don’t care. There won’t be any bonus seconds available in the intermediate sprints.


Because the race takes place in Germany, as a little bonus I’m going to highlight a specific beer or brewery on each stage, inspired by other posters’ focus on wine and food in the past.

The first stage will be presented tomorrow, and then I hope to publish one every other day until it’s finished.

I hope you'll enjoy it!
 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 1: Flensburg - Friedrichstadt, 165.4 km, approx. 5-600m of total elevation gain


Looking at other posters’ German races it appeared to me that there was at least one part of the country that was a bit overlooked. While some have explored areas in and around the metropole of Hamburg as well as Kiel and Lübeck in the former duchy of Holstein, the German part of Schleswig hasn’t featured much.

There are some logical explanations for this: the landscape is quite flat and uninspiring, and you probably want to get to the hillier regions as soon as possible after a northern start, so adding another flat stage wouldn’t exactly be tempting. And if you do, you might find Mecklenburg-Vorpommern better fit to the purpose. Schleswig doesn’t have a big cycling history either to justify its inclusion in a larger bike race, but I’m giving it the honour of hosting the Deutschland Tour nonetheless.

The queen stage to Vejle in the 2020 Tour of Denmark was supposed to have started in Flensburg, in order to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the reunification between Denmark and Northern Schleswig/Sønderjylland after WWI, but when the race returned in 2021, Covid restrictions meant it never left Danish soil.

Flensburg was seen as a mostly Danish minded city prior to the war in 1864 (at least in the eyes of Danish royals and politicians) and it also elected Danes to the German Reichstag in the first elections following the war. It was hoped that the city would return to Danish rule after WWI (and again for some after WWII), but that never happened. About a fifth of the inhabitants in Flensburg view themselves as Danish/Danish-minded today.

The Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, which represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in Schleswig-Holstein, held the mayorship in the city between 2011 and 2017 and has generally been on a rise during the last decades, which resulted in them winning a seat in the Bundestag in last year’s general election. Due to the Bonn-Copenhagen declarations from 1955, the minority parties on both sides of the Danish/German border don’t have to pass the official vote thresholds in order to win seats in national and/or local/state elections.

Slesvigsk Parti, the German minority party in Denmark, has not held parliament seats since 1964, but it has also experienced good fortunes in recent years. It’s been in contention for the mayorship of Sønderborg a few times, and from the beginning of this year it’s held the post in Tønder, after an internal battle had divided the local branch of the liberal party, Venstre, in the run up to last year’s election.

When it comes to sports, Flensburg is mainly known for its handball club, SG Flensburg-Handewitt, which, just like local rivals TSV Kiel, has been one of the most successful clubs in Europe for years. The Danish rider Carl William “Charles” Meyer, who finished second behind Josef Fischer in the first ever Paris-Roubaix, was born in the city. Among his successes was also a victory in the prestigious 600 km Bordeaux-Paris in 1895. He later gained French citizenship and died in Dieppe in Normandie in 1932, aged 62.




Map of the Flensburg circuit. At least Nordergraben, Rathausstraße and Wrangelstraße also feature cobbles

The neutralised start will be right on the border before the riders will pass some of the border shops that Danish people love to visit. The flag will be dropped after 5 km where 3.6 laps of 7.5 km through the city will make up the first part of the stage. This circuit contains two climbs, Toosbüystraße (500m, 6.5% avg., 9% max) and Friesische Straße (approx., 600m, 4.5% avg., cobbled), and I think it has a total of 2 km of cobbles in it. These cobbles are so called Naturstein, and they are not meant to decide the race at all. There will be mountain sprints on Toosbüystraße on lap 3 and on Friesische Straße on lap 4.




Rote Straße, which leads into Friesische Straße on the right hand picture

After the city circuit the race heads west towards the North Sea coast. The first Haribo Goldbären sprint is located in Niebüll after 69 km. You’ll find at least two interesting things in this town. One is a museum with the works of the expressionist painter Emil Nolde (who was a Nazi sympathiser, though his works was ridiculed by them), the other is the train that transports passengers and vehicles to the island of Sylt. From here the riders will continue west until Dagebüll from where they will stay close to the coast line for most of the remaining 85 km of the stage.

The train to Sylt (Sild in Danish and Söl in the local North Friesian dialect)

I’m hoping for crosswinds here, cause otherwise it might just be your average sprint stage. Schleswig-Holstein is a quite windy region and is the German state with the fourth highest number of wind turbines. The coastal area between the border and the Eider River is called Nordfriesland and it’s quite reminiscent of areas in the Netherlands. You'll also be likely to spot some Holstein Friesian cattle, which are known for being the world's highest-producing dairy animals.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUXjFvyAXFE


The third mountain sprint of the day is the Stollberg (approx. 2 km, 1.5%, 5% max), where the telecommunication tower of Bredstedt is located. The fourth and final mountain sprint is in Schobüll (400 metres, 3.7%, 5.1% max) and a few kilometres later the riders reach the city of Husum for the final intermediate sprint with 22 km to go. In spring, an annual Crocus festival takes place in the Husum castle gardens.


Stollberg


Schloß vor Husum

Friedrichstadt is a small and picturesque town with 2500 inhabitants, situated where the Eider and Treene rivers meet. It was built in the 17th century by Dutch Mennonites and Remonstrants, who were given religious freedom by duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorp in the hope that they could bring more trade to the region. Other religious minorities came to the town later. The town itself looks like a Dutch city with its small canals, cobbled streets and renaissance architecture. Dutch was also the official language in the first years of its existence. Today it’s a popular destination for Danes, who want to use the opportunity to shop at the border, as well as for Germans and Dutch people

Aerial shot of the town and the B-202

The finish line will be on the B-202 outside the town, but the victory ceremony will take place at the main square, Am Markt. When that is over, the riders will do a 90 minute transfer before they reach their beds for the night.


The Holländerhäuser at Am Markt



 
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I totally forgot the beer of the day in my long post (which was originally even longer), and we can't have that.

During or after watching the stage, why not cool down with one of the beers from the Flensburger Brauerei?
The brewery opened in 1888 and is famous for its flip-top bottles.
I personally enjoy a beer with a darker colour, so my recommendation is the Flensburger Dunkel (4.8%).

 
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It took a little longer to finish the second stage, because I was a bit indecisive.

Initially I wanted to make a flat transitional stage with a short hill or two followed by an expected bunch sprint. Since it will take place on a Monday or Tuesday, that wouldn't have been so bad. But if no echelon action were to happen on stage 1, then it would also be quite boring to have a another bunch sprint the next day. A time trial could have been a possibility, but since I already have one planned for later in the race, that option wasn't too appealing either.

I had also ruled out any potential cobbled stages, because I didn't really think I could come up with something original. But then I found one sector which had some cycling history, and then I managed to find a few more as well. But then I experienced some new problems, because I wasn't fully sure about the conditions of the roads I wanted to use, and I couldn't find decent pictures of all of them. I also wanted to keep the original start and finish, and it proved to be difficult to work out the right run-in to the line. In the end I somewhat succeeded, though I'm still not fully satisfied. It might actually be a better template for a one-day race. Despite this I'm going to leave it as it is and not do any further redesigning for now (though I did end up redesigning it a few times while riding this post).


Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 2: Seevetal - Wolfsburg, 247 km, approx. somewhere between 1242 and 1800m of total elevation gain


As you might have expected, the riders have made their way to Hamburg after stage 1. They will head out from the HH suburb of Harburg, where they'll complete a neutralised route of 10 km before the racing starts in Seevetal. From here they'll continue east through Winsen (Luhe) towards Lüneburg. They won't visit the old salt city though, cause they'll turn left when they reach the town of Bardowick. After about 35 km the'll meet the first obstacle of the day; the cobbled sector from Kirchgellersen to Putensen, which is about 4 km in length.

After 52 km they'll reach Egestorf, from where they'll ride over a short cobbled or gravel road to Sudermühlen on the way to Undeloh, where the fun really starts. They'll ride the well known sectors between Undeloh and Wilsede and Wilsede and Döhle, which are both about 4 km long. When they return to proper tarmac, there's still nearly 180 km left, so it won't be over just because you suffer or have a mechanical here, but it won't be ideal.

The next 20 km are easy, but then things get interesting again. The next sector starts in the small town of Tellmer where they'll turn right and head into the forest of Süsing. This 6 km stretch of road leads to Hanstedt and features both gravel, dirt and cobbles.


You can read more about the forest here

After another 15-20 km they'll reach Bad Bevensen, where the stage's first Haribo sprint is located. The next sector begins after 121 km and features 3 km of gravel/dirt followed by 1 km of cobbles between Haaßel and Vorwerk.


The road to Vorwerk

People in this thread have heard about the "Hölle des Ostens", a cobbled race which is held annually in the area around Halle (Saale), but they might not know about a defunct race actually called the "Hölle des Nordens", which ran from 2007 to 2014. It had a 6.5 km circuit which was ridden five times. Didi "The Devil" Senft was a regular attendee, but that was apparently not enough to keep it alive. Its main feature was a 1.5 km cobbled road from Röbel to Masbrock, which I'm using in the opposite direction after 132 km.



The next 60 km heads south through the city of Uelzen, known for its train station designed by Friedrich Hundertwasser, to the town of Steinhorst. Here it's time ride thourgh yet another forest. The first two kilometers are on gravel, followed by 1 km of cobbles and 800 metres of gravel before a narrow paved stretch at the end.


Steinhorst

193 km will have been ridden at this point of the race. The next 30 km are on fully paved roads and will lead the riders through Gifhorn, where the day's second Haribo sprint will be ridden. The final sector starts in Isenbüttel after 225 km, and once again it's a mix of cobbles and gravel. It ends after about 2 km in the town of Gravenhorst. If a rider don't fancy his chances in a sprint, this might be his final chance to get away on his own.


I believe these pictures are from the first 700 metres, because they turn left onto what I think is a gravel road after that

The final 20 kilometres of the stage take the riders to the city of Wolfsburg. First they ride through the suburb of Fallersleben, which dates back to the year 942.

The finish of today's stage will be just after the Berliner Brücke, with the Autostadt on the left, the football stadium on the right and 'the Wolfsburg Castle on the horizon.
In total we have 247 km with about 29 km of unpaved roads (it might be more). Most of it is in the first 135 km though, so they might not make a big difference in the end, but if anyone wants to take advantage there is definitely a chance to create chaos, especially if the weather is bad. But even if nothing happens, the riders should still be feeling length. And you also can't really soft pedal the cobbles like you can with climbs either.


It think the finish line a little further from the castle than this, though this wouldn't make a bad finish either





I haven't finished the profile yet, but it will be added soon


Some rambling about Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg itself was originally called Stadt des KdF-Wagens bei Fallersleben when it was built to house the workers of the Volkswagen factory in 1938. In 1945 it got its current name from the Wolfsburg Castle, which was named after the wolf on the coat of arms of the family that had it built in the 13th century. Today the city has 125.00 inhabitants, which is about twice the total number of employees of the VW plant.

Apart from the VW headquaters and its visitor center, Autostadt (there's also another VW museum not that far from it, which is definitely also worth a visit), you might also have ehard of the city's football club, VFL Wolfsburg. Like other football clubs it was originally set up as a club for the factory workers. Unlike the Bayer clubs in Leverkusen and Uerdingen, it didn't enjoy a whole lot of success before it surprisingly achieved promotion to the Bundesliga in 1997. It was predicted to be a short stint in the top flight, but they've managed to stay there ever since, though they've also been backed a lot more by the parent company than during the previous 50 years. Under the management of the appropriately named Wolfgang Wolf, the team managed a then record 6th place in the 1998/99 season.

The clubs biggest achievement was secured after it hired Felix Magath, who had previously won the Bundesliga twice with Bayern München. Magath, a man known for his brutal training regime and lackluster tactics and man management was able to win the club the league title in 2009, with good help from a one-of-a-kind season from Brazilian striker Grafite as well as from a young Edin Džeko and the sublime playmaker Zvjezdan Misimović. Magath later returned to the club with less success, and you would have thought his days in major league football would be over after his catastrophic stint at English club Fulham 8 years ago, but earlier this year Hertha Berlin saw no other option than to hire the old geezer in a desperat attempt to avoid relegation. In the end they jsut about succeeded after beating Hamburger SV in the relegation play offs. Fortunately for the players, Magath was only hired till the end of the season.

Today the club also has a very successful women's team, which has won the league title seven times since 2012 and the Champions League twice as well as nine cup titles. In 2020 it received a world record fee of 350.00 Euros for the transfer of Danish star Pernille Harder to Chelsea.


The beer of the day

I had riginally planned to start the stage in Altona. Since I only visited Schleswig on stage 1, I though it would only be appropriate to go through some of Holstein, too. Altona was a part of the duchy before it was included in the City of Hamburg in 1937.
Since 1879 it's been the home of the Holsten-Brauerei, which has been owned by the Carlsberg Group since 2004. From the 1980s until the early 2000s the companywas famously a sponsor for football club Tottenham Hotspur.

Although the riders won't visit Altona after all, I'll still honour the brewery by making the Export, frisch vom fass, the beer of the day.
 
In the end I didn't bother making a profile on Cronoescalada, so here is the Ride with GPS version instead. As you can see, it would have been a better stage, if it had either been ridden in reverse or finished in Uelzen after 150 km, but I wanted the finish to be in Wolfsburg.

 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 3: Braunschweig - Wurmberg, 173 km, approx. 3100 m of total elevation gain


After the long second stage, the riders will be happy to learn that the next won't be a potential six hour crash fest. But as the finish location might tell you, it won't be pure relaxation either.

The peloton have taken a 30 minute drive either directly after stage 2 or in the morning in order to get to the start in Braunschweig. I delved into some football trivia the other day, so let's continue with some more of that. Eintracht Braunschweig was a regular member of the Bundesliga from its inaugural season in 1963 until 1985, only spending two seasons outside the top flight in that time frame. In 1967 it even managed to win a surprising league title with coach Helmuth Johannsen. The club returned to the Bundesliga for one season in 2013 and has been yo-yoing between the second and the third tier since then.

The club is also known for having circumvented a ban on jersey sponsors by changing its logo to one which resembled local liquor company Jägermeister's. The company also made it possible for the club to buy the at times controversial Paul Breitner in Real Madrid in 1977. Their involvement with the club ended in 1987.

The city might also have some kind of Danish link. Thr island of Fyn/Fuhnen is famous for its cakes called "Brunsviger", which may or may not have been based on a recipe brought home from the city in the 19th century.


Breitner in his Braunschweig days. Eintracht sold him to his former club Bayern München after just one season


The day will start at the Staatstheater, and racing will commence after a 5 km neutralised zone, which passes the city's cathedral among other things. The first climb comes shortly after they've passed through Salzgitter at km 26. Burgberg (2 km, 4.6%) has some stretches at around 10% and might help in getting a breakaway formed. The next climb, Jägerhaus (2.3 km, 5.3%), starts in Sehlde after 42 km, followed by the shorter Bodenstein (1 km, 4.1%) at km 57.

Schäder (2.6 km, 4%) awaits the riders after they've ridden through Langelsheim. After a desent, which has portions of 10% at the start, comes the first cat. 3 climb of the race; Sternplatz (2.7 km, 7.9%). The top is reached after 82 km. A Haribo sprint is placed in Seesen on the other side of the climb.

The next cat. 3 climb is the Taternplatz (7.9 km, 4.2%). The road continues to rise and leads to a cat. 4 outside Clausthal-Zellerfeld (2.8 km, 3.9%) after 112 km. After the descent to Osterode a 20 km fasle flat section follows. There are Haribo sprints in Osterode (km 123) and in Herzberg (km 134). The road gets steeper from Herzberg, but the next climb doesn't really start before km 145. Sieberberg (2.4 km, 4.9%) is the last cat. 4 of the stage. It's quite regular at 4-6% to the top.

The final starts in Sankt Andreasberg after 150 km. The climb to Sonnenberg can be devided in to two sections (or three if you include Sieberberg). The first part is 4 km with an average of 6% to Jordanshöhe. The final part (2.3 km, 5.3%) begins after a short false flat section. I've made the climb a cat. 2. I could have included Sieberhütte and made the whole stretch a cat. 1, but I'm giving that honour to Wurmberg and didn't want two of them in the stage. 16 km remain from the top of Sonnenberg. I didn't want a nearly 200 km stage after the long second stage, since I also have a long one planned for day 4, otherwise I would have included Torfhaus/Steile Wand in-between Sonnenberg and Wurmberg.

I was surprised to learn that Wurmberg hadn't been included in any German races in this thread (as far as I could see. Some might have been deleted over the years). I've never ridden it myself (I have ridden other climbs in the Harz area, but none of them made it in in the end), but a steep climb finishing on sterrato, what's not to like?
And there's even a ski jumping hill, the Wurmbergschanze, there as well.








The beer of the day
Today's beer is courtesy of the Hasseröder Brauerei in Wernigerode. Once again it's from a place that didn't make the final cut of the stage. And it isn't actually a beer, but a radler with lemon instead. But to make up for the low alcohol content, you're encouraged to serve it with a shot of Jägermeister on the side. Prost!

 
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Subtraction of style points for not getting derailed completely to talk about biathlon when going through Clausthal-Zellerfeld :p
I did actually consider either linking to or quoting one of your detailed posts, but then I reckoned that any serious reader would surely have spent hours studying your work already ;)

I've also deliberately decided not to focus all that much on winter sports in this race, but it will visit a place later on where it'll be an unavoidable topic.
 
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I've now decided that my race will only have 7 stages. Stages 4 and 7 will be as I have originally planned, but I had to change the other two to get rid of one very large transfer.
I think my second version might end up having 8 or 9 stages.

Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 4: Friedland - Gersfeld, 239 km, approx. 4500-4700 m of total elevation gain


After the finish on stage 3, the riders will have spent the night i Göttingen, formm where they'll complete a neutralised zone of 17 km before the race gets underway. In oder to get the lenght under 240 km, it's necessary to do this. I already have one stage that's too long, and I can't have two in a seven day race. This stage is the queen stage, and it isn't exactly ideal that it's placed on a Thursday, but that's how it'll be.

The first part of the stage will pay tribute to the summer holidays of my childhood and beyond by following the B27 for 43 kilometres. Just like on many other German roads you'll easily be able to find some companionship for the night along this one, if your looking for that kind of thing, but that isn't why I've included it. Instead it's because of the local fruit vendors/farmers who sell their products at the side of this road, and my family has bought a lot of cherries from the "Kirschenland" over the years.


If you like to cherry-pick, this might be the place for you!

The B27 also used to make up the border between East and West Germany near Braunlage, where the race finished on stage 3. On this stage the route comes close to the border at times as well, but never crosses it. The East won't be visited in this edition of the race, which is obviously a shame, but I promise to correct it in my next attempt.

The first Haribo sprint is located in Bad Sooden-Allendorf after 21 km and the second is in Heringen after 72 km. There are some climbs in the first 120 km, but none of them are categorised. Fuldauer Haus (5.5 km, 4.3%) is the first longer challenge and signifies a change in the terrain. From here on it's pretty much just up and down for the rest of the stage.
In Poppenhausen after 131 km starts the climb to the well known Wasserkuppe (950 m), the highest peak in the Rhön mountains and in the state of Hessen.


Order a drink or two at the airfield café and enjoy the action or perhaps fly a plane yourself and take a look at the area from up above



We won't go all the way to the radar station at the top (but I have done it once). Instead we'll go past the air field before descending down to the B284. When the riders get there, they'll enter the finishing curcuit. It's 52 km long, but they'll only ride 46 of them the first time around and then one full lap before the finish on the outskirts of Gersfeld.

The curcuit consists of four climbs: the B284 from Gersfeld (5.8 km, 5.2%), Hochrhön from Wüstensachsen (4.2 km, 6.1%), Hochrhön from Ginolfs (4.2 km, 7.9%) and finally the Schwedenwall from Bischofsheim (5.3 km, 6%). Only the last three climbs are ridden twice. After Schwedenwall awaits a five kilometer descent to the finish. You'll need good legs on this stage, and if you're a Remco type of rider, you might fancy an early attack if you've lost time during the first stages or if you simply can't help yourself.




Map of the last 120 km


Hochrhön 2 also hosts a mountain sprint on lap 2


The Beer of the day
Rother Bräu from Hausen serves you with a Öko Urtrunk, which you might like to enjoy with some kind of Schnitzel. Guten Appetit!

 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 5: Randersacker/Würzburg - Nördlingen, 172 km. approx. 2000-2200m of total elevation gain

Stage 5 will start at the square in front of the Würzburger Residenz palace. The racing begins in Randersacker after a 6 km neutralised zone. There are apparently 17 winemakers in the town.


Residenz Würzburg

The route will follow the Romantische Straße, a 400 km scenic route between Würzburg and Füssen, for most of the stage. This means there will be a lot of nice castles and ruins to look at throughout the stage. The medieval towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl with their cobbled streets, picturesque houses and impressive city walls will be visited (the riders will have to take care when they ride through the city gates). Nördlingen also has an intact city wall, but the finish line is outside of the old town.


Dinkelsbühl


The night watchman in Rothenburg


Schloss Baldern


Aerial shot of Nördlingen with the city wall surrounding it


Nördlingen has not only been chosen because of its pretty architecture, but also because of its arguably best-known son; Der Bomber (des Nations), Gerd Müller. Müller started his football career at age 12 with local club TSV 1861 Nördlingen (who renamed their stadium to honour him in 2008). After his first full senior season, then second tier team Bayern München gave him a contract in 1964. Rainer Ohlhauser was the club’s league top scorer five seasons in a row, including Müllers first with them, which resulted in promotion to the Bundesliga, but for the next 13 years Müller was the undisputed king.

He was Bundesliga top scorer 7 times, won the European Golden Shoe twice and was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1970. His scoring abilities helped the club win four league titles, four cup titles, four European Cups and one European Cup Winners Cup title. For the national team he scored more than one goal per match o average and won both the World Cup and European Championships and became top scorer at both tournaments. His 14 World Cup goals was the record for 32 years until Ronaldo broke it 2006 (Miroslav Klose then bettered both of them in 2014).

After the club began to struggle and he himself was plagued by injuries and loss of form; Müller officially retired in 1979. But money lured him to the United Sates, where he was still very much able to find the net. In 1984 he quit football for good and tried to make it as a steakhouse owner in Florida, but it didn’t suit him and it also started his heavy drinking that would later bring him into rehab back home in Germany. The steakhouse was handed over to some local friends and still exist today.

After the rehab program proved successful, he became a part of the coaching staff at Bayern München, where he worked for 22 years, until Alzheimer’s disease made it impossible for him to do his duties. He ultimately died in August of last year, aged 75, but his legacy as one of the bests strikers in football history will live on.


Müller scoring the winning goal against the Dutch in the 1974 World Cup final


The stage will be the last possible opportunity for the sprinters, but the profile is not completely flat, so it might not be easy for them. There are three categorised climbs in the final 40 kilometres, the short and steep Kapfenburg. Michelfeld with a steep second half and Ohrenberg with 8-10% for more than a kilomtre. The top of the last one is just 10 km from the finish. A breakaway win will therefore not be completely out of the question, but it could also make way for a Sagan like sprinter to get rid of/tire out faster riders. Or perhaps a late attack from the peloton could become the decisive move.





The Beer of the Day
Today's beer comes from the town of Oettingen, 15 km northwest of Nördlingen, and is wheat beer. Cheers!

 
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We’ve covered a lot of the globe in this thread over the years, and certainly since the pandemic began I’ve kind of branched out a lot and checked out opportunities in parts of the world that I hadn’t previously investigated in too much detail. One such area was Asia; I had done next to no designs in the largest continent of the world before 2020, but since then I’ve done a Tour of Sichuan, a Tour de Langkawi, an HTV Cup, a Tour de Taiwan, and there’s more that hasn’t been posted too. One of the key developments was that with Cronoescalada moving from using Google Maps as its client to OSM; as I mentioned during my Tour of Sichuan, mapping in China has always been problematic due to them using a different co-ordinates system to the rest of the world, meaning where roads are stated to be on Google not mapping correctly to where they appear on satellite data. However, OSM being Open-Source, a lot of diligent corrections have been made to rectify these discrepancies in co-ordinates, rendering the most populous nation on earth actually feasible for mapping in tools like Cronoescalada.

China hosts a lot of bike races, or at least did until the pandemic hit, and a lot of them, to be blunt, were not the most exciting. They did, however, have a lot of .HC and .1 stage races, which meant that there was a UCI point bonanza at the end of the season for teams willing to travel. These stage races frequently would feature 100-130km sprint stages, circuit races and similar, sometimes with a more interesting, hilly type stage to break things up. China, however, is also one of the most geographically diverse nations on earth (how could it not be, at its size and where it is), too big to create a coherent single race that would cover it (in similar vein to the USA) but just ripe for re-building that domestic calendar to take advantage of so much more of its geography than the real life equivalents do.

Of course, going straight up European-style queen stages in a three week race is not going to fit in with the idiosyncratic world of Chinese pro cycling, but we could show a bit more of what the race could be, as the country has what it takes to create a powerful impression on world cycling, and riders like Lyu Xianjing deserve the chance to see if they can make it against the stronger world of pro cycling out there, from what he showed as a prospect. People like Hao Ran are also decently promising and people like Nazaerbieke Bieken and Liu Jiankun are still young enough to do OK against those that would compete should the Chinese pro calendar get up and running again.

While I could look at the World Tour excursions into China, the Tour of Beijing and the Tour of Guangxi, or create some races through the most diverse areas like I did with my Tour of Sichuan (which included climbs of up to 4400m, a bit unrealistically), I chose to start by revamping some of the existing races there, starting with perhaps the most geographically interesting for cycling, the Tour of Fuzhou.



Centred around the southern Chinese city of Fuzhou (hence the name), capital and largest city of Fujian Province, the Tour of Fuzhou was introduced in 2012 as a three-stage race in fairly typical Chinese stage race style, with stages between 80 and 130km in length and mostly starting and finishing in the same place. However, it swiftly developed into one of the most climber-friendly races in China, with the 2013 edition introducing a mountaintop finish at Yunding. This summit finish was hardly the most threatening - 13km at 4,6% according to PCS - but it passed through a Scenic Area close to the finish and was tougher than most of the stage races on the Chinese calendar. This format continued until 2015, with the three editions after the introduction of the mountaintop finish all being won, as was customary on the Asia Tour in that era, by Iranian motorbikes, with Rahim Emami winning two, riding first for the Taiwanese RTS-Santic team and then for Pishgaman Yazd, and eternal frenemy Mirsamad Pourseyedi winning the other for Tabriz Petrochemical. The two riders were suspended at the same race, returned together at Qinghai Lake in 2013 and were locked in a battle for supremacy on the Asia Tour for three and a half years until Emami tested positive a second time.

This meant that when the race upgraded to a 2.1 for 2016 and extended to five stages, Emami had to cede leadership of the team to Arvin Moazemi, who duly won the ensuing edition. This edition also saw the introduction of a new summit finish on stage 1, at Guling (or Ku Liang as it has been called in later editions, based on the local Min Chinese pronunciation rather than the national standard of Mandarin). In 2017, the Iranians were scrubbed as the UCI started to tighten the screws on their unchecked domination of the Asia Tour by taking such liberties as testing riders for doping, and so the race saw its international participation made up more of Eastern European teams who often race in Asia, like Minsk Cycling Club and Kolss, and Australian domestic teams warming up for their season since the Tour of Fuzhou takes place in November. 2017’s edition was won by a guy called Jai Hindley; this would remain his biggest stage race win until the 2022 Giro d’Italia (he also won the Herald Sun Tour in 2020, which is at the same status, and admittedly did have a stronger field), while Stanislau Bazhkou climbed onto the podium, who I have a soft spot for mainly because of his relationship with biathlete Hanna Sola.

For 2018, the dominant overseas presence became Kazakhs, with Ilya Davidenok and Artur Fedosseyev dominating the next two editions, ahead of other CT Sputniks like Benji Dyball and Artëm Ovechkin, although Lyu Xianjing winning the MTF at Ku Liang in 2018 at age 20 did give home fans something to cheer, and he was 2nd the following year in the same stage. He would go on to podium both editions, albeit in 2019 only after Davidenok tested positive after the Ku Liang stage and was excised from the GC. This edition saw the race, which was quickly attracting some attention as one of the most interesting of the Chinese races and a useful learning ground for prospects as well due to relatively short (100-150km) stage lengths and two MTFs, extend to 7 stages and even obtain some television coverage.



As the terrain all around Fuzhou is pretty useful, and as well as being a large city with an established bike race, it is close to an area which is trying to sell itself as a cycling location (more on that when we get there), I thought I’d try to shake up the Tour of Fuzhou, as its format is fairly standardised, and increase the difficulty in order to help improve the level of the riders in the domestic péloton while simultaneously not making it so hard they can’t compete, so this is an attempt at a fairly realistically possible step forward for the race once, post-pandemic, the Chinese calendar gets back up and running. And the Chinese domestic teams can start hiring random mercenaries for their mini-season again; these have typically historically been Kazakhs, Colombians and Venezuelans and sometimes Iranians, but I suspect we may see a few Russians and Belarusians if their teams remain shut out from world cycling.

Stage 1: Fuzhou - Ningde, 172km





GPM:
Huanxi (cat.2) 7,6km @ 5,8%
Dazhang Reservoir (cat.2) 5,4km @ 6,3%
Youcheling (cat.3) 6,4km @ 4,5%

Although I didn’t want to start with a mountaintop finish, I nevertheless wanted to start with a reasonably challenging stage in line with the race’s tendency to be one of the toughest on the Chinese calendar. Also in line with the real-life race, we’re starting in its home city of Fuzhou. 福州
is the official name of the city, this is usually anglicised via the pinyin interpretation we are using, but is also Foochow in Wade-Giles, and is sometimes known as Hokchew after the local linguistic variety’s interpretation of those two characters. Officially home to around 7,700,000 people, the actual city of Fuzhou is host to 4,600,000 and is the 10th fastest-growing urban area in the world. Originally known simply as Ye (冶), after several renamings the city eventually took a name based on Futo, a local mountain, and the -zhou suffix which refers to a prefecture or settlement (see also Guangzhou, Hangzhou and so forth) in the 10th century. It is particularly renowned for its banyan trees, and is sometimes known poetically as “Rongcheng” (榕城) or “Banyan City” in the same way as we might refer to Detroit as “Motor City” or New York as “The Big Apple”.

Population is attested in Fuzhou since around 5000BC, but written records begin in the Warring States Period, where it is believed the settlers were of Yue origin. When the Yue Kingdom fell to the Chu, retreating kings of the former settled in this area with their followers and this led to a gradual mixing of the populations and the “Min Yue” (閩越) culture developed in the territories of modern Fujian.


Sanfang Qixiang (三坊七巷), a preserved historic and cultural area which translates as “three lanes and seven alleys”, a tourist attraction in Fuzhou which doubles as both a culturally preserved area of historic and scenic architecture and a lavish district popular with the rich and famous

I will go into the city of Fuzhou in greater detail later in the race, so for now we will move on with the stage. Essentially the valley of the Min Jiang river (閩江 - “Jiang” in this context, with tone 1, just means ‘river’ so realistically it’s just the Min) in the area in which Fuzhou sits is surrounded on almost all sides by mountains of varying heights, so I undertake a bit of a favourite of the real race; I didn’t want to go straight to a serious climb straight off the bat, but the flip side is that it means I’m making the riders handle a 170km stage, which is longer than most stages in the real life Tour of Fuzhou, so instead we have around a 40km loop before an early intermediate sprint back in the centre of town.

After this, the real climbing commences, as we depart northwards, towards Tongle Yuan, before hanging a northeastward right towards the Ao river (Aojiang) and the Xishan Hot Spring Resort. This entails going over a classically cat.2 ascent, just under 8km at just under 6% - nothing that will scare the best climbers but enough that it will certainly have an impact toward the end of the day.


Xishan Hot Spring Resort

The descent here takes us past Gui’an and then we leave the Ao river to cross another band of hills and head toward the coastline where we meet Luoyuan (泺源) Bay, an inlet of the East China Sea. This climb is somewhat shorter than the first of the day but a little steeper at 6,3%, and this means we are also offering cat.2 for this summit, at 74km from the line. The actual summit comes at a small reservoir, before we descend to the shores of the much larger Caixi reservoir, and then pass the Sushan Palace on our way to the coast. Luoyuan Bay is famous for the largest of China’s “floating cities”, these incredible feats of aquaculture featuring mobile, moored fish farms for the cultivation of seafood and other marine products, both plant and animal, with extensive floating structures including sizeable buildings and industrial facilities.


Floating city of Luoyuan Bay



Sanduao is the name of the largest such village in this area, and we will pass it on our way to Ningde, in whose province many such villages, contributors to an industry worth over $30bn and providing 2/3 of the world’s seafood, lie. To get to Ningde from the Luoyuan Bay, however, is not so straightforward, since the coastline is too rocky for roads and Ningde itself lies on Sansha Bay rather than Luoyuan, Two routes go through long tunnels and the other over a mountain pass, so obviously we’re doing the latter. It’s not a tough mountain pass, though - just 4,5% average for 6km. Cresting around 25km from home, however, the intention is to make it a bit too difficult for the occasional European team bringing a complete flat track bully like Andrea Guardini, Theo Bos, Jakub Mareczko, Matteo Pelucchi or others who have come to the Asia Tour to fill their boots in the past. They will have their chances, but day 1 in Fuzhou tends not to be for them so I’m trying to keep it that way - so I’m expecting either a breakaway (probably around 15-20 strong) on the final climb, or a reduced sprint of 50-60 riders with those non-climbing types dropped, once we get into Ningde. This also takes us across a large tea planting area so there should be some good scenery there as well.

Níngdé (宁德) is a prefecture-level city with a population of around 350.000 (about 600.000 in the overall metropolitan area and 2,8 million in the overall prefecture) and dates back to the 海印紋陶文化系統, or “Stamped Pottery Culture” of 10-20.000 years ago. Current Chinese premier Xi Jinping was the party chief in Ningde from 1988 to 1990 before becoming President of the Party School in Fuzhou, and the city is also seen as one of the main bastions of the She culture across Fujian and Zhejiang. The She Ethnic Minority Cultural Palace is located just outside the city’s centre and is the most popular tourist attraction of the city itself.



We however are not finishing at the cultural palace, instead we will be heading into the centre of town. There are three 90º corners in the run-in, but the last is at 1900m from the line. The remainder is on wide roads that will favour the chase and help the sprinters if a break has a small advantage, although there is a 30º right-hand curve at about 500m to go, the only corner after the 1900m mark. The finish is on a wide open thoroughfare just south of the 15.000-capacity stadium which plays host to the local football team, albeit at a level some way below China’s top tier.


Finish on the left hand side of this picture

The objective here is to get the maillot jaune onto the shoulders of somebody who isn’t going to instantly fall away in the tougher stages, but isn’t necessarily likely to be an overall threat either. Also, to set up some battling for the GPM, of course, as I wanted to create a battle between the break and the main GC contenders over this jersey. The more versatile type of sprinter may still contest this; Moreno Hofland, Orluís Aular, Marko Kump, Juan José Lobato and others of their ilk have also picked up some results in sprints in these Chinese races. Or it could be a baroudeur that takes it, making the next few days a bit more interesting. Let’s see.
 
Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 6: Ulmer Münster - Festung Wilhelmsburg, 27.5 km ITT, approx. 300m of total elevation gain


I wasn’t completely sure how long this ITT should be, because it shouldn’t make it impossible for a lighter rider to win the GC. On the other hand, it should also inspire them to attack on the harder stages in order to try and gain time before it. In the end I’ve gone with this one, which will at least take more than 30 minutes to complete, which I feel should always be the bare minimum for a non-prologue outside flatter countries like Belgium, Denmark or the Netherlands.

The riders have travelled south to Ulm, a city with 250.000 inhabitants, situated at the Donau river. On the other side of Donau, you’ll find Neu-Ulm. The two cities were split from each other in 1810, when the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bayern agreed to make Donau the border between them.


The Einstein well in Ulm

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm in 1879, but his childhood home got destroyed by British bombs during WWII. The same happened to the home of the Scholl family, but by then Sophie and Hans had already been executed by the Nazis for their involvement in the Weiße Rose resistance group. All bridges across Donau were also bombed by RAF, as well as 80% of the old town, during December of 1944.


Mug shots of Hans and Sophie Scholl taken by the Gestapo after their arrest in 1943

German entertainer Mike Krüger is also an Ulm native, and so are the footballing brothers Uli and Dieter Hoeneß, the sons of a local butcher. Robert Bosch was born north of the city, but later studied there. The German general Erwin Rommel died in Herrlingen west of the city. My father’s cousin also lived in Ulm for many years, before she moved to Hamburg with her late Bavarian husband.

The young German talent Felix Engelhardt of Tirol KTM, who recently finished 6th in the Baby Giro, is also from Ulm. The city apparently hosted both an Opel Deutschland Rundfahrt stage and a one-day race in 1931, which both started in Freiburg and were won by the Luxembourgish star Nicolas Frantz.


Felix Engelhardt when he won the sprint classification in the 2021 Tour of the Alps



The ITT will start in front of the Ulmer Münster cathedral. Its 161.5-meter-tall tower makes it the tallest church in the world. The route first goes over the Donau to Neu-Ulm before it heads south-west to Wiblingen, where they’ll ride past the old Benedictine abbey. A 5 km stretch with some climbing and false flat in it follows, with the intermediate check point being at highest point in Ermingen after 16.5 km. The riders will then make their way back down and into the city, where they’ll face the toughest challenge of the day; the 1.2 km road to the Wilhelmsburg fortress with the last 500 m being at well over 10% gradient.


Kloster Wiblingen


Wilhelmsburg






The Beer of the Day
Today’s beer is the Ulmer Gold Ochsen Kellerbier Dunkel, which I haven’t tasted, but everything about it looks great. The brewery dates back to 1597 and has been owned by the Leibinger family since 1867. Today it has more than 200 employees.

 
Stage 2: Lianjiang - Pingtan Island National Forest Park, 115km





Now, when you think of the flat stages of the Asia Tour, this is what you think of. This is why Andrea Guardini had such a peerless record over there, why people like Mareczko keep making the trip, and in all honesty part of why the races are held in pretty low esteem, and there has been precious little luck in breaking talented Asian riders through to the top level of the sport. Li Fuyu’s sojourn with Discovery Channel and Radioshack was brief and interrupted by periods of relative quietness back at home, and Ji Cheng spent a decade at Skil-Shimano and its successors (today’s DSM of course) and though he was obviously a decent enough rider (he did complete all three Grand Tours), apart from 16 points acquired in the team’s ProContinental days entirely from Asian races, every single CQ point accrued in his career is simply for managing to finish a World Tour event. If riders had the chance to develop in deeper fields or in more challenging routes, perhaps they wouldn’t be in that position, as there are a number of sponsors, manufacturers and so forth based out of China that you’d imagine would want to see a home presence, especially as they continue to press for a presence in the World Tour with the Tour of Beijing and subsequently the Tour of Guangxi.

However, for the time being, races do have a lot of 100-120km flat stages, so that’s what we’re providing here. In 2019, the last time we had a full competitive calendar of races in China, we saw 4 stages of the Tour of Taiyuan (126, 83, 134 and 100km), 4 stages of the Tour of Qinghai Lake (119, 116, 111 and 117km), 3 stages of the Tour of China I (96, 139 and 116km), 2 stages of the Tour of China II (128 & 91km), ALL SIX road stages of the Tour of Taihu Lake (89, 101, 117, 116, 129 and 74km), 1 stage of the Tour of Quanzhou Bay (109km), 4 stages of the Tour of Fuzhou (118, 107, 123 and 117km) and even one stage of the World Tour level Tour of Guangxi (136km) being sub-140km stages that ended in sprints. That’s 25 stages out of a total of 58 race days (including the national championship - around 43%!!! Therefore, much as such stages are not the most interesting, they kind of are a necessity around here, albeit kept to a minimum as much as possible, which is what I have done. This is the only such stage in the Tour of Fuzhou à la Libertine.

Lianjiang (连江) is a sub-prefecture-level city which represents a county within Fuzhou itself, with a population of 560.000. It lies on the Aojiang, just south of where we passed for the second of the three climbs in stage 1. Originally established as the town of Wenma (溫麻), the Tang Dynasty saw the town’s name changed and the previous market town given its own county seat. Known as Lienkong to westerners for some time owing to use of the local vernacular, interestingly it is an anomaly in that the county also includes a number of offshore islands, called the Matsu Islands, however these remain possessions of the Republic of China, i.e. Taiwan, and are administered from Taipei as Lienchiang County; this is also rendered 连江 and refers to the city on the mainland, it’s just that, as is common, Taiwan continues to use the Wade-Giles transcription to the Latin alphabet rather than the pinyin system favoured by the People’s Republic.

The town has also been a host to the Tour of Fuzhou in previous years, with Irishman Rory Townsend winning a stage which looped around the town in 2019’s edition, and Kaden Groves - then with the St. George Continental Team - winning a sprint in 2017. Between these two, Ivar Slik held on from a breakaway ahead of two notorious Asia Tour CT Sptuniks, Ilya Davidenok and Benjamin Dyball in the 2018 race.



The geography of the stage obviously isn’t too exciting. We head southwards and through Changle, which hosts the first intermediate sprint. This is an “urban district” of Fuzhou, but is about 30km from the centre of Fuzhou and home to over 600.000 people in its own right. It is a strangely prominent hometown for emigrant Chinese, with more people claiming Changle as their family hometown or place of origin among overseas Chinese than presently live in the city, with “Little Fuzhou”, a subsection of Manhattan’s Chinatown, being a notable community of largely Changle natives. It is also the long time hometown of naval pioneer and maritime explorer Zheng He, who led exploratory trading missions around southern and western Asia as well as to the Middle East and to Eastern Africa. The largest ships in his fleet are almost twice as large as any comparable ships for centuries after his lifetime, and while the sizes may be somewhat exaggerated, the accounts of legendary travellers Ibn Battouta and Marco Polo tend to back up the legend.

Perhaps the most notable part of the stage is the long stretch along the recently-completed bridge that extends the Jingtai Expressway to Pingtan Island. This near 20km feat of civil engineering connects a number of smaller islands on its way from the mainland - Renyu Islet, Changyu Island, Xiaolian Island and Dalian Island - as part of the super-ambitious project to run a highway all the way from Beijing to Taipei. Obviously the Taiwan Strait is enough of a problem before you get to politics, but extending as far as Pingtan is already a feat, so there will be plenty of reason to bring the race over this and celebrate the new-found accessibility of the island, also known as Haitan Island sometimes due to the ancient city on its site, which is one of its most famous sites for tourism, which Pingtan somewhat depends on economically, as a very popular destination for visitors from both the rest of the Chinese mainland and abroad.


Haitan Ancient City, a large cultural building around which a thematic cultural park with restaurants, hotels and other such attractions have been constructed


Vargula hilgendorfii (“Sea Firefly”) plankton bloom, another major attraction of Pingtan Island

China is in the process of developing Pingtan Island as a sports destination, taking advantage of its location for sailing (at the confluence of the East China and South China seas) and other watersports, hosting international events in sports like kiteboarding and open-water swimming. But crucially, it is also developing itself as a location for cycling. The island is largely flat, and so it is designed around cycling tourism, as well as hosting an everyman race called the Ocean Cup China Pingtan International Cycling Open (catchy, I’m sure you’ll agree). It has not hosted the Tour of Fuzhou, so this would be an opportunity to introduce it - it has, however, sponsored its own team, Pingtan International Tourism Island Cycling Team, which came into being for 2022 and, ironically enough, hasn’t been able to do any international racing due to the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The team has, however, taken on as many of the big names of Chinese domestic cycling as it could, missing out on Lyu Xianjing to China Glory, but if you look at the more difficult stage races in China across 2017 through 2019, after Lyu the best Chinese domestic riders tend to be the likes of Liu Jiankun, Hao Ran and Chen Mingrun, all of whom are on board for the Pingtan-based team. Obviously the impact of the pandemic is keenly felt in China so it remains to be seen whether those riders are still at such a level when international racing eventually returns to China.


Pingtan team

My stage finishes in the central urban area of Pingtan, except not quite, as encroaching into it is the Pingtan Island Natural Forest Park, another of its tourist hotbeds. This backs onto the coast, so we can have a perfect mix of seafront, urban hotbed and natural tourist location, thus satisfying everybody in the organisation, no? Prospects and plans are afoot to build a gaudy, ostentatious tourist resort off the coast of Pingtan in a similar fashion to those we see in the Tours of the UAE, so best to get in while we can.


Pingtan Island Natural Forest Park

The stage will be a sprint, inevitably.
 
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Stage 3: Fuqing - Yongtai, 130km





GPM:
Guihua Hill (cat.3) 4,8km @ 5,1%
Yunding Pass (cat.3) 2,5km @ 6,2%

Stage 3 is the end of the opening gambit of the race, another relatively short (sub-140km) stage which takes us away from the coastal counties and into the large mountainous massif that characterises most of the Chinese defences from the sea from Ningbo all the way down to Hong Kong. This is just a quiet day where we wave hello to them from a distance however, barely dipping our toes in the frigid waters of climbing, as we head past, but not up to, one of the race’s real life summit finishes.


Fuqing

Before that, however, we are getting started in the county-level city of Fuqing (福清). Fuqing is also sometimes romanised as Hokchia after the local Min dialect pronunciation, and the first character, you’ve probably noticed, is the same as that in Fuzhou, referring to the geographic mountains of the area. 1,38 million people live in Fuqing County, around about a third of that in the city of the same name. The city’s administrative possessions basically include the whole peninsula that separates Fuqing Bay, in which Haikou Port (not to be confused with its namesake in Hainan) lies, from Donggang Harbour, but the main city lies at the northern extremity of the county, on the Longjiang river. The city has some sporting credentials in recent times - two of the country’s victorious women’s volleyball team from the 2016 Rio Olympics are from Fuqing - but its most notorious inhabitant in recent times is the activist Wu Gan (吴淦), sometimes known as “Butcher Wu” or “Super Vulgar Butcher”, a human rights activist and protester known for subverting state intentions and provocative T-shirts and slogans that draw attention to perceived injustices. After seven years of activism, starting with the Deng Yujiao Incident, where a female pedicurist stabbed a local official pressing her for sexual favours, and ending with his arrest, Wu was imprisoned for eight years for subversion of state power, in one of the most high profile cases since the Chinese government started to clamp down on similar agitants. Wu is considered part of the “709 Crackdown” although his arrest actually took place before the date usually used to signify those dissidents who were detained at the time.

Fuqing has only appeared once in the Tour of Fuzhou, in the most recent (2019) edition, when stage 5 was an out-and-back circuit along a highway on the shores of the bay, which was won by Lev Gonov as the Russian national team did a 1-2 with two teenagers, Gonov beating teammate Gleb Suritsa and Australian sprint prospect Blake Quick while the Shenzhen Xidesheng team (Xidesheng being the full name of Chinese bike brand XDS) controlled things for their Kazakh lead duo of Davidenok and Fedosseyev. In similar fashion I am starting with an easy route by the shores of some water, but instead of just going up and down a highway near the bay, I am slightly inland, with a circuit linking Fuqing city centre with the Dongzhang Reservoir, the second largest man-made water-form in China.



After two laps of this 17,4km circuit we have an intermediate sprint back in Fuqing, and then we head up to the reservoir once more before we finally head off on our journey from A to B, setting off towards Yongtai, which entails climbing a two-stepped tempo climb to Guihua Hill, just under 5km in length and averaging 5%, with a short flat in the middle. The stage is lengthened by a diversion to the south, this also means that rather than being just the last couple of kilometres, we have some ramps and false flats to lead into our final climb too, to try to make this one a bit trickier for the sprinters and mean there’s more chance of a) riders trying something, and b) what those riders try succeeding, on our final climb of the day.

This means heading southward and taking a second intermediate sprint in the small town of Zhuangbian, just after joining the road to Yongtai in Baisha. This means circumnavigating Ruiyunshan Forest Park before we head, headlong, through the foothills and then, after a couple of short uphill hops, into Yunding Park. Yunding (云顶), sometimes even called China Yunding (中国云顶, Zhongguo Yunding), is a scenic area and mountain around 90km west of Fuzhou, which is a popular getaway for suburbanites in the Fujian province, and tourists from all over China. It’s one of the must-dos for tourists on the trail in Fuzhou, and features tea plantations, scenic waterfalls, forests and lakes in mountain scenery, hiking trails, cable cars and all that other assorted scenery goodness.





Annoyingly, trying to locate images of the road for cycling is a minefield, as the same two characters are used in the dialect used by the Chinese population in Malaysia for Genting Highlands. This road, however, has been used since the start of the Tour of Fuzhou. Except… the part that we’re climbing has not. Because, you see, normally the race approaches from the north, goes over the secondary summit at Qingyun, then climbs up the side of the Yunding pass that we are descending, before continuing beyond the pass up to the summit, which comes at 836m, well above the 480m of so that we top out at. This southern side of the climb is at least a bit steeper, averaging 6,2% for 2,5km - though this is preceded by a 750m at 5,6% climb, some flat, a 1,4km @ 4,4% climb, then a short descent and the climb which has a steepest section of around 250m at 10%. It crests at 22km from home, so close enough to tempt some moves but not so close sprinters don’t fancy their chances of getting back on as the descent is - as you can see from the climbing done in the past stages here - not especially steep or threatening, as the average of the overall climb used in the real life race is only 4,6% and the steepest parts are after the pass!


PCS’ approximation of 2019 Yunding stage, a fairly typical such route

The Yunding mountain stage is never the most decisive mountain stage in the world, but the Tour of Fuzhou actually has in some respects smart pacing; the harder summit finish comes earlier in the race, meaning there are already time gaps before the ascent of this more gradual climb. Back in the early days, though, this was the decisive stage. Rahim Emami won solo 28” ahead of a group of four which was trailing others off in 2013, but 2014 was a thing of beauty, as Tabriz Petrochemical Team were at their most Tabriz, their most Petrochemical, and on this day, their most Team too, as Mirsamad Pourseyedi soloed in over a minute ahead of his leadout climbers Amir Kohladouz and Ghader Mizbani, who were a further 30 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack. Ahad Kazemi won the stage for Tabriz in 2015 but Emami took 2nd and the GC as Iranian motorbikes took 7 of the top 9 places on the stage, until Askari was removed for doping. The top 5 was a group all the way to the line and, for once, Pourseyedi was even dropped, allowing Emami to for once best him in both stage AND GC in their eternal war.

After Ku Liang was introduced in 2016, the first edition was as-you-were, two Iranians - Hamid Pourhashemi and Arvin Moazemi, both of Pishgaman Yazd - riding away and finishing 28” ahead of a six man group including three further Iranians. It was more ridiculous than that though, as Emami had won the stage - also for Pishgaman - and Ahad Kazemi of Tabriz had won the sprint ahead of the aforementioned duo for 2nd, but both were bounced from the results for doping as the UCI came to poop the party of Pishgaman Yazd, Tabriz Petrochemical and all of those who enjoyed a good laugh. In 2017, therefore, the Farsi Assassins were nowhere to be seen, and Jai Hindley took what was his first victory in a pro race (he had won some U23 races before this) after beating Hong Kong’s Fung Ka Hoo in a two-up sprint around 30” ahead of Stanislau Bazhkou. 2018 saw a 13-man sprint at the top of the climb, a result more typical of using this kind of climb in a western pro race (à la Montevergine di Mercogliano, San Martino di Castrozza or other such tempo grinders), and Ukrainian journeyman Mykhaylo Kononenko, who has been ploughing this odd furrow of Balkan, Turkish and Asia Tour races on third tier teams for fifteen years, was victorious. 2019 was similar - 12 riders this time, and the top 20 split by just over 40 seconds - with Mongolian hero Jambaljamts Sainbayar, who came to prominence from his World Championships exploits last year but is actually a pretty talented rider, taking the win with a late attack in the fog.

Please excuse the music

The descent into Yongtai more or less resembles the final 28km of the PCS profile above (minus the last few kilometres of climbing), but run in reverse. Our finish is in the county of Yongtai, which is a town in and of itself dating back to the Tang Dynasty which has 350.000 inhabitants. It has hosted the Tour of Fuzhou on a number of occasions; nowadays it tends to only appear on the route as the start of the Yunding mountain stage, but the Xiaotangshan Cultural Centre, which hosted circuit races as the final stage of the race in 2018 and 2019, is in Yongtai County so we can count those. In fact, Yongtai has appeared in every edition of the race. Back in 2012, before there were any hills whatsoever, Milan Kadlec won the final stage of the race for Dukla Praha, beating Choi Ki-Ho in a two-up sprint, ahead of David McCann and the péloton; he was the only one with nothing to play for as the other two had held off the bunch the previous day and were battling over the GC. In 2013, the first stage was from Fuzhou to Yongtai won by Boris Shpilevskiy, Asia Tour sprint dominator in extremis, the second stage was the Yongtai to Yunding stage mentioned earlier, and the last was a circuit race in Yongtai won by Jiří Hochmann. 2014 saw only the latter two of those three stages replicated, so Mattia Gavazzi, here between his second and third cocaine bans, was victorious. Eamon Lucas Frank won the Yongtai circuit race in 2016, this time solo however, holding off the bunch with Wang Meiyin and Wang Xin also just evading the péloton’s clutches, while Maris Bogdanovics won the sprint in 2017. Since moving the finish to Xiaotangshan Cultural Centre, both stages have been sprints, won by Kaden Groves and Aliaksei Shnyrko respectively.

This stage is a bit tougher than those so it may not be as nailed on a sprint as recent years. However, the sprinters do need to take their chances when they get them, since I’m not as forgiving as the typical organisational committee in the Chinese cycling federation in these late-season races in recent years, I’m afraid. This run-in takes us through the foothills of the Yunding massif, including the Qingyunshan Scenic Area, and past the development of a new sustainable scenic town, Vanke Yongtai (I believe this is the use of “v” as a surrogate for “ü” instead of the often-used “yu”, this is more common in East and South China), and then into the regular town for the finish.


Vanke Yongtai


Yongtai
 
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Stage 4: Yongtai - Shiniu Mountain Scenic Area, 147km





GPM:
Banshan Pass (cat.3) 3,6km @ 5,6%
Shiniushan Resort (cat.1) 16,2km @ 6,5%
Shiniu Mountain Scenic Area (cat.ESP) 20,2km @ 6,6%

Alert! Alert! Genuine queen stage time! And weirdly, there isn’t much to say about it!

There is absolutely no transfer from stage 3, which the riders will likely be pleased about, since they can get an early night and hopefully some shut-eye ahead of this, the toughest stage of the race. They depart from Yongtai, as they typically would on a mountain stage in the Tour of Fuzhou, but this time, although we head westward the same as we do in the real life race’s Yunding stages, we do not turn back after heading through Leizhaiyu, and instead press on travelling along the G355, which diverges from the Fuzhao Expressway at Tongguan Village, known for the Jiaozhong Temple, and thereafter runs parallel to the newer Puyan Expressway which has only been completed in the last couple of years and is a key part of integrating development in eastern China.


Puyan Expressway above the valley

At about the 50km mark in the stage, we divert westward once more, and leave the expressways behind, in favour of a more regular highway travelling through the valley which leads toward Dehua (德化), the next major inland city of Fujian.

We don’t get far along this road before we have our first categorised climb of the day, a cat.3 ascent up to Banshan Pass, which is 3,6km at a fairly steady 5,6%, not a major threat but sustained enough to merit points even though there are much sterner challenges to come. The altitude is steadily rising, even after the descent, as we take on 20km or so of uphill false flat along the G355 before things start to take a much more serious turn.

In recent years, the Chinese government, or at least the Fujian provincial government, have decided to take advantage of some of the remarkable scenery at their disposal and generate more attractions in these pristine locations to be marketed as retreats for the increasingly urban-focused population of the most populous country on the planet. For the people of the area surrounding Fuzhou, one such location is Shiniu Mountain Scenic Area, or Shiniushan (石牛山). Its most well-known attraction is the mighty Daishan Pubu (岱山瀑布) waterfall, which has become the site of a major attraction in that strange Chinese phenomenon of “vertical tourism”, a glass-bottomed walkway hundreds of metres up which stretches out over a canyon and above the top of the massive waterfall’s summit. The Chinese have built a number of these extremely high miradors, bridges and viewing platforms, and these have become something of a haven for thrill seekers and nightmares of acrophobia sufferers worldwide.


Salto del Nervión was more than enough for me, thanks

However, while the waterfall is passed only a short way up the climb, the viewing platform, you may notice, is considerably higher up, and so getting there entails taking mountainous roads. A little to the south of the waterfall, but snaking up a long and difficult road up the hillside, is the Shiniu Mountain Resort (石牛山度假村). After all, if you’re going to attract people to a scenic spot at the top of a mountain, you will probably want to provide some amenities, since they’re going to have to go out of their way to get there. And if you’re going to provide amenities, then you’re probably going to have to find a way to make them accessible. And of course if you’re providing amenities at the top of a mountain with incredible views that is time-consuming to get to, you probably need hotels and resort facilities for people to stay in on the mountain.


Shiniushan Resort village, lower campus. Daishan Pubu in background

And if you’re climbing up a mountain to a resort, you need to stock that resort with food, drink, and maintenance. Which means you need an access road or two. Which is where, of course, we come in. Because cycling is heavily influenced by these types of location. Admittedly in many places the norm is for these mountaintop resort towns to be for skiing, such as in the Alps and Pyrenees, but over in the Asia Tour, more commonly it is Hill Stations, set up by the European colonial powers at altitude with more temperate, suitable climates to those raised in European conditions, which fulfil this kind of function. Even now, long after the end of the European colonial ambitions in China, at least beyond the long-held anomalies of Hong Kong and Macau, this principle continues despite that for the most part China never fell to European influence; nevertheless the building of resorts, sanatoria and retreats on mountaintops has accelerated in recent years and Shiniushan is one of the more recent developments that creates an alternative option for bicycle races.

And it also gives us the opportunity, with a fully paved back route, to do what I am doing here, a double climb in that classic Spanish style, going up much of the climb the first time, only to then loop back and complete the job the second, along similar lines to classic Lagunas de Neila stages in the Vuelta a Burgos, before the introduction of Picón Blanco meant they stopped using the cool sides of the climb and instead stuck to the least interesting, which they descended in the old, better versions of the stage; the same principal is behind traditional Arrate stages which climb Ixua before descending into Etxeberria, going over Urkaregi or Trabakua to return to Eibar, before going all the way to Usartza the second time.

Only this is a much bigger climb than those, so it should be really, really decisive for the péloton that will be taking this on, because the final climb is a bona fide HC, and the initial climb is only just shy of this, being an almost certain HC for Asia Tour standards but being scaled down to cat.1 because of being easier than the final summit, which is essentially the same climb with a 3km at 8,5% kicker at the top on top of the 17km of climbing already undertaken. This is more like climbing up to Saint-François-Lonchamp 1650, then descending the other road back to La Chambre and climbing through it to the Col de la Madeleine.


The last 60km of the stage, with double ascent of Shiniushan, first to the resort village and then all the way to the summit

Stages this tough are a real rarity on the UCI Asia Tour. Even though it is below 150km in length, the fact there are two such brutal climbs makes this stand out, if not against the UCI-baiting altitude-athon that was my Tour of Sichuan queen stage. Hell, if there are too many issues, then we just move this to be Unipuerto with only the one ascent of Shiniushan, a stage length at around 106km and a comparable profile to e.g. a Genting Highlands stage in the Tour de Langkawi or the classic Ijen Crater stage in the Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen. However there are stages like this or this in Qinghai Lake, easier climbs but at 2000m higher altitude, this in the Tour of Indonesia and this in the Tour de Singkarak, so I think we can work with this. The climb is comparable in stats to something like La Plagne, Passo del Vivione, Arc 2000 or Courchevel Altiport, so definitely a bona fide HC.

Opening up with such severity, hopefully we will have seen an explosion of the race on the first ascent of Shiniushan such that we don’t get a hyper controlled race on the second, not that that’s typical on the Asia Tour, at least since the UCI decided to clamp down on Pishgaman Yazd, Tabriz Petrochemical Team and the insane dominance of the Iranian motorbikes. There could be some serious CT Sputnik action going on here, but I’m hoping my man Lyu Xianjing doesn’t let me down on the only HC-categorised climb of the race.


At the very summit
 
Some serious CT Sputnik action? Celano, Earle, Dyball and Frolov (who has recently been training in South Tyrol, sadly in the Vinschgau and not in the Dolomites, so I can't say that "I've seen him training hard in the Dolomites") have entered the chat.
 
Stage 5: Dehua - Putian, 129km





GPM:
Quanshun (cat.3) 6,6km @ 4,5%

After the brutal summit finish on stage 4, riders will be glad for a somewhat easier fifth day, which ought to be for the sprinters. After a transfer back down the mountain we head across to Déhuà (德化), a city which boasts around 300.000 in its extended county and is officially under the administration of Quanzhou rather than Fuzhou, but remains immediately accessible from the race’s central hub. It has never hosted a pro bike race, despite its proximity not just to the territory of the Tour of Fuzhou but also the Tour of Quanzhou Bay as well.


I’m not expecting you to watch through 50 minutes of street view footage in Dehua, however just getting a decent photograph of the city was quite a chore. This is because if you just search for the city, whether by its pinyin name or its Chinese characters, you will struggle to find any pictures of just the city itself. Instead, you will see countless examples of what the city found fame for. As you can see, the city is mostly filled with modernist architecture and city planning, wide boulevards, and the kind of green spaces that characterise modern cities, set against a backdrop of mountains. It’s not the prettiest or most traditional of Chinese cities, but it’s also far from the ugliest too, it isn’t too crowded and its urban planning offering plenty of space and amenities.

Déhuà however is known to the wider world for its specific brand of porcelain, however, known through much of the western world by its French name of Blanc de Chine, or China White. The heyday of porcelain production in the city began during the Ming dynasty, and the historic and cultural value of the fine earthenware in Chinese history have led to the kilns of Dehua being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021, the eldest of which being Qudougong (屈斗宫) and Wanpinglun (碗坪仑), both of which date back to the Song Dynasty. The proximity of Fujian Province to a number of major maritime trading ports during the age of exploration - Hong Kong, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Wenzhou, Taizhou and Shanghai, as well as Taipei and Tainan during the age of Formosan colonial possession - led to Dehua porcelain being spread throughout the world from the 16th Century onwards, initially largely via Korea to Japan where various Buddhist sacred images were imported, and then especially from the 18th Century when Chinese artefacts became a must-have among the western European aristocracy.

Dehua porcelain continues to be made to this day, and is often hard to date due to artistic conservatism and puritanism meaning that changes to style are rare and deviations from classical norms are frowned upon. A low iron concentration in the porcelain resulting in a much purer white sheen led to the Dehua style becoming particularly prized, and mechanical means of production have resulted in increased output, although the kilns are nowadays also used to produce replicas of Jian style pottery.


Déhuà earthenware

Déhuà is also at over 500m elevation, and the first 10km of the stage includes an uncategorised climb of around 2km at 4,5%, before a flat stretch and a relatively shallow incline, and then a more sustained descent into Yongchun (永春), which for many years was the home and practice of the British missionary and obstetrician John Preston Maxwell, but is perhaps best known worldwide as the centre of origin of the White Crane, a particular branch of kung fu. A long flat stretch past the Shanmei Reservoir ensues, before at around the halfway point in the stage we climb over the foothills of the mountains that separate Quanzhou from Putian province. And kind of that the entirety of non-coastal Fujian Province is in. This is relatively long - nearly 7km of climbing - but only averages a fairly consistent 4,5%, so I am giving it cat.3 status only. An argument could be made that this would be worth cat.2 in a lot of the real life Chinese Asia Tour races, but I’ve scaled up the difficulties so I’m scaling down the categories, sue me.

This is approximately the halfway point in the stage, the descent leads us to Jinsha, from whence we head to our second sprint of the day, this time in Xianyou Xiàn (仙游县), at around 40km from the finish. This city is the westernmost outpost of Putian municipality, and is host to around 900.000 people (yes, this is how populous China is, even sub prefectures of cities that are subjugated to others within provinces are million-dweller cities).



From here, it’s just a flat run into Putian (莆田, Póchéng in native vernacular), capital of its own province which is forever in the shadow of that of Fuzhou. This prefecture-level city was established all the way back in the 6th Century, and per the 2020 census is host to 3,2 million inhabitants in the prefecture, of whom 2,3 million live across its four urban areas. For many centuries early in its existence it was a military billet town, before it was established as the prefecture of Xinghua (兴化 in simplified, traditionally 興化), after the historic name for the city. The prefecture was briefly abolished during the Yuan Dynasty, but under the Ming, its proximity to Déhuà brought it great importance as a trading outpost and port, and Xinghua, i.e. the future Putian, swiftly flourished. Despite its reputation being built on high quality luxury goods, its reputation now is somewhat tarnished, with its main claim to fame being its reputation as the international capital of counterfeit sneakers. It is also heavily involved in the private healthcare sector, a comparative rarity in the Chinese market.

Putian’s main claim to fame, however, comes due to its ownership of the offshore Meizhou Island, which is according to legend, the birthplace of the sea goddess Mazu (妈祖, translating as “maternal ancestor”), the deified form of Lin Moniang, a 10th-Century Fujianese shamaness whose feats led to reverie and subsequent deification as the guardian of fishermen, sailors and other seafaring groups. Her cult remains strong among Min ethnicities and especially on Taiwan, where her festival day is widely celebrated. Lin Moniang is a real, attested figure, but little is known of her from contemporary sources and the exploits that led to her deification are likely handed down over generations orally, through folk histories, as these are largely attested from the 12th Century onwards only, and this was during a period of extensive Sinification of the Min culture, so the adoption of the cult of Mazu is considered to have been something of a merger of the religious practices of the native Min and of the larger Chinese melting pot of northern groups moving in at the time. In more recent times, her life as a mortal has been depicted through film and television.


Statue of the Goddess Mazu at Nansha Tianhou Palace in Guangzhou

This will be a sprint; it’s a long way - over 60km - from the sole categorised climb of the day to the finish, and the run-in is very flat with only a few corners, largely on wide open boulevards which will be safe and trouble-free for the péloton. Putian is a city which synthesises the old and new and offers up our best chance to get in some traditional architecture and style, so that’s what we will do, with a scenic presentation site at the finish planned. There are options for some hills on the loop around Putian but I chose against it for the sake of balance. This is only a short sprint stage - perfect for the Chinese races on the extant UCI Asia Tour I felt.


Putian


Meifeng Guangxiao Temple (梅峰光孝寺), outside which we will finish[/media]
 
Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca

Stage 7: Kempten im Allgäu - Ifen Talstation/Auenhütte, 193 km, 3750-4000m of total elevation gain


The final stage of my Deutschland Tour features something unoriginal; a trip over the border to Austria, but more about that later.

The stage is partially based on an idea I had for a one-day race called the Allgäuer Grand Prix or something similar, which was supposed to have had both a men’s and a women’s route.

The départ fictif will be in front of the German headquarters of Ceratizit, a manufacturer of cutting tools and hard metal products. People with an interest in women’s cycling will know the company for its sponsorship of races such as the Elsy Jacobs Festival, Tour de Bretagne, GP de Plouay and the Vuelta Challenge, but also as the title sponsor of the Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team (WNT is owned by Ceratizit). One of the team’s star riders is the former ITT world champion Lisa Brennauer, who was born in Kempten and now lives Durach just outside it, which will also be visited on this stage. Michael Schwarzmann of Lotto Soudal is also from Kempten. The city has previously hosted stages of the now defunct Bayern Rundfahrt.


Gold medalists Lisa Brennauer and Franziska Brauße (team pursuit), silver medalist Julie Leth (madison), bronze medalist Kirsten Wild (omnium) and Marta Lach (18th in the RR) were honoured in Kempten for their achievements during the Tokyo Olympics



The riders will ride over two climbs in the first 32 kilometres (the last 7 km of this and the short Schmidsreute) before returning to Kempten for a Haribo sprint. The next 75 kilometres feature two climbs (Ellegg, minus the last 700 m, and Diepolz) before the second sprint in Oberstaufen. Dreiländerblick is next on the menu, with percentages over 10% and a 10% descent afterwards, before the riders cross the Austrian border. They’ll then take on the well-known Riedbergpass from the easier side in order to get back to Germany.

The final Haribo sprint of the race is located in Oberstdorf. A town best known of hosting the first competition of the annual Four Hills Tournament in ski jumping. Ski jumpers Karl Geiger, Michael Neumayer and Katharina Althaus, Nordic combined athletes Vinzenz Geiger (distant relative of Karl) and Johannes Rydzek, alpine skiers Christina Ackermann (born Geiger, but not related to the other Geigers) and Alexander Schmid and cross-country skiers Katrin Zeller and Nicole Fessel are some of the athletes who are either from or lives in the area around the town. Oberstdorf is also a regular host of stages in the Tour de Ski and the 2021 Nordic World Ski Championships took place there as well.

Primož Roglič also participated in competitions in Oberstdorf during his ski jumping career. He came 2nd in a junior race there in 2006 behind his compatriot Jurij Tepeš, but he did beat the now retired, former star Severin Freund that day.

Ryōyū Kobayashi won the Four Hills opener in Oberstdorf for the third time last year on his way to his second FH title
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y25cmqOCydY


The road goes uphill again after Oberstdorf. The first kilometres have an average gradient of about 5%, but there are sections at up to 9%. The next 6-7 km are mostly false flat. They will lead the riders across the Austrian border once again, to the Austrian exclave of Kleinwalsertal, which is only accessible from Germany. The Walser people relocated from the Swiss canton of Valais in 1270 and settled in both Klein- and in Groß(es)walsertal on the Austrian side. It used to be a tax-free area, like Samnaun in Switzerland, but that changed when Austria joined the EU in the 1990s. About 5000 people live in the area today. Former head coach of the German ski jumping team Werner Schuster is form the town of Hirschegg. Schuster also holds the record for the longest jump (82.5m) on the Kleine Olympiaschanze in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.


Werner Schuster during his attempt to save the career of the injury-plagued phenomenon Gregor Schlierenzauer

When the riders have passed through the town of Riezlern, the final obstacle of the race awaits; 1.8 km at 10% on the Schwarzwassertalstrasse to Fuchsalm. This is the last place to make a difference, if you have the legs.There are under 2 km left at the top, which includes a short descent before a last uphill drag to the line at the valley station for the cable car to Hoher Ifen and the Auenhütte hotel. It’s possible to reach the next cable car station on a steep gravel road, but there isn’t space enough to have the finish there.

It might not be fitting to finish a German tour in Austria, but since I opted out of starting the race in Denmark, and considering that Kleinwalsertal is only accessible from Germany, I've decided to do it anyway. And at least it's more original than the Kitzbüheler Horn.


Photo of the finish area





The Beer of the Day
The last beer of the race is brewed by the Allgäuer Brauhaus in Kempten, which has an over 600 year long history. I'll let you pick your own favourite from their fine selection. Zum Wohl!

 
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Reactions: lemon cheese cake
Nice and unusual finish. I am usually tempted by Skistation Grasgehren, above Riedbergpass, so climb it from the Oberstdorf side, but that really restricts what you can do before it far more than in your stage.
That actually looks like a great finish, with some additional steep sections on top of Riedbergpass. There are of course other steep roads in the area, like the Hörnerbahn, which looks absolutely dreadful, but they wouldn't be as usable for an actual race.
 

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