Race Design Thread

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Stage 6: Hanjiang - Fuzhou, 178km





GPM:
Yingrong Line (cat.3) 2,3km @ 6,5%
Ku Liang (cat.1) 13,0km @ 6,0%
Ku Liang (cat.1) 13,0km @ 6,0%

The second and final mountain stage of the week’s racing is back on more familiar grounds for the péloton, yet strangely not on familiar grounds at the same time. The stage starts in Hanjiang (涵江), a district of Putian for administrative reasons which is in and of itself a separate city with over 400.000 inhabitants. Established as the town of Hantou, from its location at the head of a sluice, it was renamed Hanjiang during the Song Dynasty and has retained this identity ever since. It grew in importance due to an abundance of clay and granite reserves in the surrounding area which made it essential for the manufacture of bricks and tiles, and its having a harbour meant that before the expansion of the port facilities of Putian, it could compete in its own right as an export town. Despite this maritime history, nowadays its biggest landmark is the monumental railway station, a major junction on the route from Fuzhou to Xiamen. I can’t see that it has ever hosted professional cycling.


Post-Revolution development in Hanjiang

This may be the longest stage of the race, but it is not as brutal as stage 4 will have been for the riders and so the length is only part of the story (and part of how we compensate for the difficulties not being as severe). The main purpose of the first half of the stage is simply to approach Fuzhou, the race’s hub, once more, because all of the important parts of the stage are in the immediate vicinity of the capital of Fujian. This means we head along the edges of Xinghua Bay early in the stage, the natural bay which Putian uses, and then head through Fuqing, which we met in stage 3, for an early intermediate sprint. Everything so far has been absolutely flat. We could continue due north here to keep the flat going on by following highways, but instead we head through Fuqing City once more, then over a small cat.3 climb before reaching the Min river, the crossing of the southern path of which (the Min splits in two around Fuzhou, one path bisecting the city to the north, and one marking its southern boundary at the south) at Xinjian after 86km essentially marks the transition of this from a flat stage to a GC day.

We are heading for a period through the southern suburbs of Fuzhou, before crossing the other branch of the Min just before the 100km mark. This takes us into Fuzhou proper, crossing Aofeng Bridge (the Third Min River Bridge), a large transport structure completed in 1993 which connected the southern districts to the Central Business District more directly than ever before, and is now one of the monuments of the city.


Aofeng Bridge at sunset

From here we head eastwards, and make a beeline towards the Hausberg of Fuzhou, the mountain of Guling, or Ku Liang in local Fuzhounese dialect, 鼓岭 in simplified Chinese characters. Established in the late 19th Century by an American missionary named S.F. Woodin, Ku Liang’s settlement was initially created to replicate the Hill Stations of the British, French and Dutch in South East Asia (and the Spaniards in the Philippines, though the Americans were soon to join in on that), a retreat for colonists and merchants from the nebulous concept of the West (of course the Americans would be arriving from the East by this point), free from the most obtrusive of weather (at the summit of Ku Liang, the temperature tends not to exceed 30º, whereas in Fuzhou city it can get far hotter in summer months). It came to some prominence when it became a favoured vacation spot for the innovative poet and essayist Yu Dafu (郁達夫) in the 1930s, whose works influenced romanticism in Chinese literature for the decades to come until the revolution. It is also popular among eastern Christians after missionaries continued to build religious dwellings around the summit from 1907 onwards, originally largely to the expatriate community, but today most permanent residents of the hill station are Christians - although many of the houses and facilities of Ku Liang are occupied only seasonally.


Ku Liang Road


Ku Liang hill station

As mentioned in previous stages, the Ku Liang MTF was introduced in the 2016 race and was kept as the summit finish of stage 1 in each edition through to 2019. When it was introduced in 2016, the Iranians were still at the tail end of their stretch of domination in the UCI Asia Tour, with journeyman Dutch Continental Pro Peter Schulting finishing 3rd to make the only rider not from Pishgaman-Giant in the top 6, as Rahim Emami, Arvin Moazemi, Hamid Pourhashemi, Reza Hosseini and our old friend Amir Kohladouz laid the smack down on everybody, Emami eventually winning the stage but later being disqualified for doping, passing the victory down to teammate Moazemi. The Iranians were gone by 2017, however, and instead it was the Eastern Bloc riders and Aussies who reined down haymakers on the domestic péloton, with Mykhaylo Kononenko winning the stage ahead of Stanislau Bazhkou and Drew Morey, with two Hong Kong Sports Institute riders in 5th and 9th being the only domestic presence in the top 20. By 2018, though, the domestic bunch was ready, with this being the time that four men escaped, with home favourite and China’s greatest talent in a long time if not ever, Lyu Xianjing (吕先景), winning ahead of Asia Tour (and doping suspension) veteran Ilya Davidenok, short-lived Eritrean prospect Hanibal Tesfay (who retired while still an espoir despite top 5s in both the Tour of Indonesia and Tour of Fuzhou) and well-known CT Sputnik Benji Dyball. Unfortunately for him, however, his Hengxiang Cycling Team colleagues were unable to control the break in the third stage, and as both Davidenok and Dyball gained 15 seconds on him, this dropped the Yunnan native off the GC podium.

The following year, Davidenok and his Shenzhen Xidesheng team were not so keen to leave things to chance, signing his running buddy Artur Fedosseyev, another talented Kazakh with tainted history unwanted at the higher level, and the two of them decided to leave Lyu laying, with the two of them coming in like vintage Saunier Duval 45” ahead of the home favourite and a small group including former Coldeportes and Manzana-Postobon man Carlos Quintero and longtime RusVelo man Artëm Ovechkin. However, Davidenok forgot riders who won stages would be drug tested, and probably ought to have gifted the win to Fedosseyev who eventually beat him in the GC anyway - as his sample after stage 1 came back piping hot with EPO and, having already served two years back in 2014 for anabolic steroids at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, he got slapped with an eight year trip to the shelf.

A typical Tour of Fuzhou Ku Liang stage is fairly predictable - 2016’s was slightly different, but 2017 through 2019 had an identical Unipuerto 107,4km stage featuring four laps of a back and forth route along the highway at Ma Wei, before heading north through the eastern edges of the city and then climbing the northeastern face of the mountain.


2017-19 stage profile

Here, however, I don’t do that. Despite the clever attempt to disguise the difficulty of the climb by breaking the unbroken ascent into two climbs, this is in fact just the one climb. By taking the altitude at the start of the ascent by back-calculating that this is 47m from the figures provided by PCS and the altitude of the stage finish, I can calculate that this is 12,0km @ 5,6%. The ‘real’ ascent, i.e. until the cat.1 GPM, is 9,1km @ 6,4%. A pretty easy cat.1 by European pro standards, but tough enough.

The weird thing is, though… that the real life races literally cycle past the base of the much tougher southern side of the climb, which amounts to 13km at 6%. This goes immediately from Ma Wei rather than having to head up through the city, and heads up through the Gushan Resort before steepening significantly in the second half of the climb. I suspect this may be the reason for the choice of the other side of the mountain, that that is a more sustained climb rather than opening with 7km at 4,5% before 3,5km at 8,5%, before easing off again and then a final 2km at 7,5%. This also crests at a higher summit, meaning we can descend in to the finish used from 2016 to 2019.



But you don’t need me to tell you that; you can see from the profile. Why can you see from the profile? Because we’re not doing a Unipuerto stage, and instead we’re descending the side that is climbed, so you can see there’s a short downhill and plateau before the sustained descent, so you can surmise that that is the summit from the real life race’s Ku Liang stages. And of course you would thereby be right.

As a result we therefore kind of do the final part of the real life stages backwards, following the same road along the eastern suburbs of Fuzhou, before taking on the climb again, because I’m a terrible person. Now, in reality they may wish to say that given what came before, a single climb of the Ku Liang ascent will be sufficient - not unreasonable - and therefore reduce the stage length by 34-5km to just 143-4km. That doesn’t seem unfair for an Asia Tour race, but I’m going for the jugular. The GC should have some big gaps after Shiniushan on stage four, so I want the riders to have sufficient time and obstacles to redress that balance. The first cresting of Ku Liang therefore comes with 59km remaining, and the second - and final - with 24km remaining. This consists of the same descent the riders have already seen - with the intermediate sprint placed between the climbs to hopefully incentivise some aggression (if not in the Yves Lampaert way of course) - before a seven kilometre run-in through the city streets of Fuzhou. The last 4,4km are mostly very straight and will favour a chase on wide roads, the last corner coming at 1,7km from home too, however I don’t anticipate a bunch finish here (at least not with two ascents).

The finish is located at Wuyi Square (五一广场), a large square in Gulou District which is often a meeting place and used for political presentations and gatherings. Opposite it sits Yushan Hall, a monumental piece of Communist architecture which sits imposingly over the square. As you have probably guessed from my rather rose-tinted paeans to the former DDR, my fixation with the Peace Race and the way the HTV Cup’s idiosyncrasies captivated me during the pandemic, I have a bit of a fascination with the imagery and pageantry side of Communism, so I couldn’t let this one slide.





So, the GC should be pretty much set, but there’s one last chance tomorrow.
 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca summary post

My overall plan was to create a medium mountain/hilly course that could potentially suit both climbers, puncheurs and classics riders, depending on the strength and depth of the peloton, without using too many of the well-known climbs and/or locations. I also wanted there to be a possibility of GC action happening on most stages, if the opportunities should present themselves, though they probably wouldn't in real life.

I have used areas like Harz and Rhön and towns like Oberstdorf, which are frequently incorporated in to races on here, for good reason (a WC course in the Rhön Mountains could be awesome), but there were at least some originality to those stages. While I did use Wasserkuppe, though not as a deciding climb, I avoided Brocken, and therefore didn't go above 1000 metres of altitude before the last stage (Wurmberg is of course a harder climb than Brocken. Even my mother made it to the top of Brocken once on a heavy bike, though she did have to walk up the steep part at the end).

The route offers something for different kind of riders. The cobbled stage is far from being perfect, and some of the cobbled and gravelled roads might actually be unusable for a major race. The stage is also too long, because I forgot the limit was 240 km instead of 250, but I guess you could increase the neutralised zone if the UCI were to reject it. The race still stays inside the 180 km daily average, so hopefully they wouldn't intervene.

My decision to cut the bonus seconds to 4, 2 and 1, because I didn't want to give the faster riders too much of an advantage, if many stage were to end in some kind of sprint, could potentially lead to more breakaway wins, but the fact that it's a .Pro race will hopefully make it more unpredictable than if it had been a WT race.

In a seven day race, it would always be impossible to cover the whole country, but you still easily have visited more than I achieved here. In the end, it's pretty much become a race straight down the middle of the country along the Autobahn 7, but that does at least describe some of my childhood holidays in Austria and Italy. Pretty much every stage either passes through or close to at least one campsite or Autobahn rest area where I've spend nights.

More of the country will be covered in my upcoming 10 day version, and the increased length should also make it possible to avoid the daily transfers of this version, where no location hosted both a start and a finish. I will also try to include some more climbs and roads, I've actually ridden on myself, though my research has really opened my eyes to how many great rides I could have done, if I had only chosen some other routes and/or been in better shape at the time. I'll have to take my revenge one day.




Seevetal - Wolfsburg












Honoured breweries
Flensburger Brauerei, Holsten Brauerei, Hasseröder Brauerei, Rother Bräu, Oettinger Brauerei, Ulmer Brauerei Gold Ochsen and Allgäuer Brauhaus.
 
Considering that it has never actually been used in this thread, because Bavarianrider ended up cancelling his Nebelhorn MTT, it would probably be in order to give it a long awaited comeback :D And if they ever build a road all the way to the top of Zugspitze, I'd definitely use that one!
You're not allowed to escape a 1000 word wintersport summary if they do that, though.
 
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You're not allowed to escape a 1000 word wintersport summary if they do that, though.
Of course not.

This has definitely given me a want to finish off making at least one of the two Deutschland tours I started ages ago. They both had starts across the border in the Netherlands or Switzerland but I don't think one actually made it out of Switzerland!
Well it's not the first time someone has tried to move the German borders ;)


My next edition has some new, but familiar sponsors.

The Bianchi points jersey


The Gerolsteiner youth jersey


The Milram mountain jersey


The Akud/Arnolds Sicherheit yellow jersey


The Thüringer Energie Team Classification
 
Stage 7: Fuzhou - Fuzhou, 108km





GPM:
Gaogaishan Park (cat.3) 2,4km @ 6,3%
Gaogaishan Park (cat.3) 2,4km @ 6,3%
Gaogaishan Park (cat.3) 2,4km @ 6,3%
Gaogaishan Park (cat.3) 2,4km @ 6,3%

Yes, let this be a lesson to the race organisers for the majority of the races on the UCI Asia Tour, particularly the Chinese and Korean races: if you’re going to make your race saturated with 100-120km circuit races, at least make the circuit moderately interesting!

We are finishing where we started, in the city that gives the race its name and identity. As I mentioned in my recap of stage 1, there is evidence of settlement in the Fuzhou area dating back to 5000BC, however the city itself dates back to the Warring States period. During this period it was home to a fusion of Min and Yue cultures, as while it nowadays has come simply to represent Chinese ethnicities and linguistic groups in the south, Yue was previously used to denote a wide range of non-Chinese groups inhabiting the southern parts of the modern empire. When the State of Chu (楚) overran the Yue Kingdom in modern Zhejiang, they fled south to modern Fujian and established a major city which became home to a fusion of Min and Yue cultures. This city is considered the predecessor of modern Fuzhou, but is actually further up the river than the present city at Wuyishan Shì (武夷山市), between Fuzhou and Nanping. When under the Han Dynasty, both Minyue and neighbouring Nanyue (another southern province populated by the Yue peoples, including modern Hong Kong, Macau, Hainan, Guangdong, Guangxi and much of northern Vietnam) were integrated into the Empire, the construction of the city of Lya (modern reflection: Ye, 冶) was ordered in order to administrate these vassal kingdoms, and this is the official founding of the city of Fuzhou. The Han defeated the Yue and they became assimilated, and their city became rather than the backbone of its own culture it became an imperial outpost town.


The mix of traditional and modern in Fuzhou

The city rebounded during the Three Kingdoms era, however, and thrived around its shipyards, with two no longer extant artificial lakes along with the Min River serving as its backbone, with a canal system built to connect these bodies of water which helped the city develop. Ye was first renamed Fuzhou in 725, although it only settled on this on a permanent basis some 250 years later. It became a location of some prestige for its education and culture, producing ten Zhuàngyúan (狀元) scholars, a prize for the highest score in the Imperial examination, making the town by far the smallest settlement to achieve this level of accolade. It became a city of the finest poets and thinkers of the Song Dynasty, with the great philosopher Zhu Xi (朱熹) and the poet Xin Qiji (辛棄疾) among its inhabitants; it was therefore one of the important destinations for Marco Polo on his voyages, and also it became a departure point from which the Chinese explored the globe, with three voyages across the Indian Ocean discovering East Africa, and the city establishing a monopoly on trade with the Philippines, a state of affairs which prevailed until the advent of the European powers in East Asia a few centuries later.

Following the First Opium War, Fuzhou became one of five Chinese ‘treaty ports’ under the Treaty of Nanjing, and so resulted in a large number of Western merchants and missionaries (as seen in the Christian community on Ku Liang). The Chinese attempts to reassert some level of power in their own backyard failed when the French Navy destroyed one of the Chinese fleets in the Battle of Fuzhou in 1884, and the state of affairs remained until the city was home to an uprising in the initial Chinese revolution in 1911. It was briefly the scene of an independent republic, as former Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Youren (陳友仁), often referred to in the West as Eugene Chen, after the name used while growing up in Trinidad, attempted with the help of his military group to set up the Fujian People’s Government; however this introduction of a third force to the Chinese political mix at the time - Chen was nominally fighting on the side of the Kuomintang but was ostracised from them and ostensibly against them, but as a result could not count on Soviet or Communist backing either - was short-lived, and after a blockade the city fell back to the Kuomintang, at least until 1938 when the Japanese marched into the city. However, the Japanese were far more interested in exerting control over the port at Mawei than the city of Fuzhou itself, and so the latter was reasserted under Chinese control by 1941. It was recaptured in late 1944 in a desperate final roll of the dice by the Japanese war effort during Operation Ichi-Go, but this was eventually to fall as the invaders surrendered the following year.

Fuzhou was not out of the woods yet, however. As it is close to Taiwan, it was one of the last strongholds of the Kuomintang’s ROC government on the mainland, and in 1955 the city was heavily bombed by the Communists; as a result much of modern Fuzhou was built in the wake of these consecutive invasions and destructions during the 30s, 40s and 50s, but the establishment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs, 经济特区) has been really beneficial to Fuzhou which grew quickly from the 1970s onwards. High-speed ferries take passengers to and from Taiwan, and the city is one of the most connected places in all of China to the ROC - perhaps only Hong Kong, with its historical ties from British rule, being closer linked - and a new metro has been constructed to connect people within the city. Fuzhou is also one of the less polluted Metropoli in China, as it has historically been a commercial and trading hub rather than an industrial city, and much of its power is produced by the Gutian Hydroelectric Scheme. With so much of its previous identity destroyed in the conflicts of the 20th Century and the rapid development since, only a few traces of its history remain, and it is very much a modern metropolis.



So, my final stage. Well, we’re starting and finishing in the southern part of the city, with the stage taking place entirely south of at least the northern part of the Min River, on Shangsan Road (上三路).


Finishing straight on Shangsan Road

We traverse the southern - and in this part of its course the main - branch of the Min; the stage is divided neatly into two parts. The first half is a 56km, pan-flat loop around to the south of the city, while the second half is four laps of a 13km circuit which takes in Gaogai Mountain (Gaogaishan), the largest mountain within the specific urban boundaries of Fuzhou (as opposed to Ku Liang which obviously dwarfs it).

Is Gaogaishan a particularly imposing climb? Definitely not. At 2,4km @ 6,3% with a maximum gradient of 12% it isn’t going to be super decisive - but that’s part of the fun of it. There are four ascents of it, so if time gaps are such that there’s the option to gain time on it, you are going to have to get creative and/or go from afar; it’s a short - sub 110km - stage and there’s no tomorrow to wait for, plus I’ve put both metas volantes after the first two ascents of it so there are bonus seconds up for grabs - this should give incentives if the GC is close enough, especially given the mixed depth that typically makes up the UCI Asia Tour, with the kind of top-down strength we see on the World Tour and from Pro Series teams in Europe very uncommon, meaning a fair few domestiques will have struggled to make it to this stage at all, let alone control breaks in the final 40km.


Gaogaishan Park altimetry


Temple at summit


The ascent to Gaogaishan

The ecological park on Gaogaishan (高盖山公园) is a little remote getaway within the city, its green parkland, olive groves and fruit orchards standing in direct contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. The winding road up to the temple at the summit is scenic, and the views down into the city[/i] are renowned. This is the last chance to make things happen in the race, and the four crestings of the punchy climb to Gaogaishan come at 47, 34, 21 and 8 kilometres from the finish, with the intermediate sprints at 39 and 26km from home on the second and third passings of the finish line. Hopefully the finale - even if the GC is settled and it’s only a battle for the stage win - can be a bit more enthralling than the real life race’s typical final stage; with only two exceptions, 2012 and 2016, these stages have ended in a sprint, and typically with little relevance to the final GC too.

Those stages have typically taken place, however, not in Fuzhou but in Yongtai; Fuzhou stages have been the backbone of the start of the race more frequently, back to the very first stage of the first edition of the race, which began with a circuit race in Fuzhou won by Aloïs Kankovsky. In 2014, a similar pan-flat opening stage over 122km was won by Boris Shpilevskiy, Mattia Gavazzi won a year later over 119km in a sprint (before being DQed for yet another cocaine positive), but since the introduction of the MTF at Ku Liang, stage finishes in Fuzhou itself have gone the way of the dodo; it’s time to bring them back, so that we can finish in style.
 
Considering that it has never actually been used in this thread, because Bavarianrider ended up cancelling his Nebelhorn MTT, it would probably be in order to give it a long awaited comeback :D And if they ever build a road all the way to the top of Zugspitze, I'd definitely use that one!
That one could even work like Mt. Fuji in the Tour of Japan, a hillclimb with a mass start.
 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

My original idea was to start with a prologue, and then have a stage go through some of the parts of Allgäu, I missed in the last stage of the first version, but I sadly couldn’t get it to work with what I wanted to do on the following stages, so that will have to wait for a potential third edition. Instead, I’ve moved the start further east, to the town of Vilshofen an der Donau near Passau.

Stage 1: Vilshofen an der Donau - Pilsen/Plzeň, 240 km, approx. 4100 m of total elevation gain

The last race finished on foreign ground in Austria, and as you can tell, this one will in a similar predictable fashion visit the Czech Republic/Czechia. There is a good reason for this, though: I’ve finally managed to incorporate my “Beer of the Day” theme into the race, because Josef Groll, who history remembers as the "inventor" of the Pilsner, was born in Vilshofen in 1813 and later died there in 1887.

Groll was employed as the brewmaster of the then newly build Bürger-Brauerei Pilsen from 1842 to 45, where he with the combination between Bavarian style bottom fermentation, the soft local water and Saaz hops managed to produce the pale lager, which has influenced brewing ever since. And it is of course still being brewed today by the Bürger-Brauerei, which has since changed its name to Pilsner Urquell/Plzeňský Prazdroj.



The neutralised zone will start from the Klaus Augenthaler Stadion. Augenthaler (Auge) was a youth player for FC Vilshofen and their stadium was renamed in his honour in 2019. The riders will ride past both city hall, where a statue of Josef Groll is located, and the Wolferstetter brewery, which produces a pilsner named after him. When they’ve crossed the Marienbrücke and have made it to the other side of Donau, the racing will commence. The first kilometre apparently averages 8% and could therefore easily have been categorised, so perhaps the breakaway will be established quite quickly. There is another climb after 9 kilometres, which is about 2 km at 5%.

The first categorised climb starts after 24 kilometres. The top of the Brotjacklriegel reaches over 1000 meters of altitude, but the pass is at 840m. The road goes uphill again from km 48 with 3 km at 4%. The next categorised climb starts just outside Deggendorf. LS has previously used the Ruselabsatz, but that was from the opposite direction. There is a Bianchi intermediate sprint in Regen after 79 km, and there’s another uncategorised climb shortly after of 3 kilometres at 4.5%. The Arberstrasse is next on the menu, which has also been included in other races in this thread. After a descent, the next 2 km is at about 5%, and they’ll lead the riders past the biathlon stadium, which regularly hosts the IBU Cup. This year the competition doubled as the European Championships, which, among other results, saw the Russian-born Alina Stremous take the pursuit title home for Moldova.


Alina Stremous, silver medalist Janina Hettich (now Hettich-Walz, following her marriage in April) and bronze winner Jenny Enodd of Norway after the EC pursuit race

The Czech border is reached after 115 km. Špičácké Sedlo/Spitzbergsattel starts in Zelezná Ruda shortly after, and has previously been used by LS as the lead-in to a steep Pancíř finish. There are a couple of unknown climbs during the next 30 kilometres. I’ve called the longest one Orlovická Hora (2.8 km, 4.8%) after a nearby peak. When the riders reach Kdyne after 157 km, it gets tougher once again. The full climb to the remains of the Ryzmberk/Riesenberg Castle is 2 km at 10%, but the last few hundred meters are on a dead end road. There are still sections of up to 20% in the part I’ve used though.


The town of Kdyne as seen from the murito road

The next known climb takes the riders from Malechov to Chlumská (LS might have used this one in the Pancíř stage as well). There is an uphill intermediate sprint at the pretty Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Přeštice after 205 km. The last climb. I have info about, starts in Vodokrty after 211 km. The second half of it includes 1.5 km at over 6%, which might be the last chance to get rid of sprinters, if they haven't been left behind long ago.

The next 12 km feature two shorter climbs that don't seem to be very difficult, and there are 13 km left from top of the last one. I had to rework the final kilometres, because I hadn’t realised how much space the tram tracks actually take up through the city of Plzeň, which have made the stage just over 240 km in total. The riders will turn right with 500 metres to go and again at 300 metres on to the finishing straight, which has a 2% gradient. The finish line is located close to the Pilsner Urquell brewery/visitor centre.




This is probably not the exact route that Josef Groll travelled 180 years ago, but I hope he'd still have felt somewhat honoured by my design.





I would have liked to have had a few more Czech climbs in the stage or at least some harder ones. I could have included some more in Germany instead, but then the Czech part would have had to be flatter. Had it been a GT stage, then it would most likely have gone to a breakaway, but here it could become an interesting battle between the peloton and the break. Maybe the sprinters will be able to survive the tougher climbs, but their teams still have to ride fast enough to keep the break under control. It’s a long stage with a fair bit of climbing, so it won’t be an easy start no matter what.


The Beer of the Day
I guess it almost goes without saying that today’s beer is a Pilsner Urquell, but it’s not the kind you buy in a supermarket or order at a pub. Instead, it’s one you’ll get if you buy a ticket to the visitor centre. Tapped from a barrel in the cold dungeons under the city, the holy grail will possibly be handed to you by an Igor-like character. This is one of the best beers I have ever had. I made the mistake of ordering one at a restaurant shortly after, and because of the huge difference in both taste, smell and temperature, it was probably one of the worst beers I have ever had. The food was good though. The brewery also has its own restaurant, and its seating capacity of around 700 people makes it the biggest in the country.

 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

Stage 2: Pilsen/Plzeň - Fichtelberg, 225 km, approx. 4500m of total elevation gain

Given the finish location of the first stage, it probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that we’re entering the Erzgebirge/Krušné hory/Ore Mountains on day two. The stage features elements that have previously been seen in this thread. Especially the Czech parts of the Aue stages posted by LS and rghysens on page 301 bear some resemblances to mine, though I have tried to make it as different as I saw fit. I’ve also been able to include about 90 km I’ve ridden myself (some of it more than once), plus some more I’ve travelled by car.


The mighty Klínovec/Keilberg (1244m) seen from the top of Fichtelberg

The race gets going after a neutralised zone leading from the centre of Plzeň to the northern suburbs of Bolevec/Malý Bolevec (Bolewetz/Klein Bolewetz). Since we’re still in Böhmen/Čechy/Bohemia, towns, cities and places of interest (like climbs and mountain passes) also have German names, because of the shared history between the countries.

The first categorised climb of the day, Plzenská, starts in the town of Plasy/Plass after about 20 km. The hardest part of it is this profile, but the KOM is placed a kilometre further up the road. It has a nice little hairpin bend at the bottom, which makes it feel like a proper climb, but it’s not something that will be challenging for a pro peloton. It could still help in forming a breakaway though.

The road continues to softly rise for a bit afterwards, before a descent and flat part leading into Kralovice/Kralowicz after 30 km. When they leave the town, they’ll pass the Mariánská Týnice/Maria Teinitz Baroque church. The original church(es) was a popular pilgrimage site before the 19th century, because the spirit of the Virgin Mary allegedly was present there.



There are some easy and uncategorised climbs over the next 15 km towards Manětín/Manetin. The old town centre seems to be beautiful and has a pretty castle in it, but the riders won’t get to see any of it. Instead, they’ll continue northwest to Žlutice/Luditz for the next KOM. The map indicates they’ll be avoding the town centre, but after looking it up, I’ve decided to lead them through it on a shorter and steeper cobbled road instead. If the line is placed a little further up the road, it’ll still be 2 km at 6%.

I’ve been a bit uncreative, so they will soon ride onto the D6 Motorway from Prag/Praha, which they will follow for about 20 km, before leaving it to go through Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad. I could have used a different route to the city, but that would have made the stage longer, unless I had cut the first part to Kralovice, and I wasn’t interested in doing that.

The spa town of Karlovy Vary is a very pretty city and has therefore also been visited by multiple races in this thread. It has also hosted stages of the Peace Race as well as the Czech/Slovak Championships in 2018. It was also the halfway point in the long running Praha–Karlovy Vary–Praha, won a record 8 times by the Czech hero Jan Veselý.



The riders won’t get to see an awful lot of the lovely city. There’s an intermediate sprint next to the central bus station, before they’ll cross the Eger/Ohre River and quickly make their way out of the city. I did consider making a hilly stage to Karlovy Vary before the Fichtelberg one, but three stages in the Czech would just have been too many. Perhaps I’ll include a more proper visit to the city in a future race.

Sadov/Sadov is reached after 104 km. There used to be a campsite there, where I have holidayed twice, but it has been closed since then. It was pretty much just an open field with sanitary facilities and some old bungalows, that might have been popular when the Ostblock residents had limited travel destinations. There’s a still operating campsite nearby in the former spa town of Kyselka/Gießhübl-Sauerbrunn, where the Mattoni mineral water company was founded in 1873. The town has a museum dedicated to the company’s history.

From there on the route goes through former silver/ore/tin mining towns like Hroznětín/Lichtenstadt, Merklín/Merkelsgrün and Pernink/Bärringen (legend has it, that a bear once found ore there), which all lost a great deal of their population when the Germans left/were forced out after WWII.

The roads here weren’t in a great state 10 years ago, but they seem to have been repaved since. A bit of a shame really, because that makes the shallow gradients even easier to overcome. In Pstruží/Salmthal between Merklín and Pernink they’ll also pass a ski lift to the Plešivec/Pleßberg ski resort. There’s a paved road leading up there from the other side of the mountain.


The plaque at the pass and the tower at the summit of Blatenský Vrch, as they looked through my camera lense in July of 2012

The riders will turn left in Horní Blatná/Bergstadt Platten, next to this church. The average gradient is about 7 for the next 1.4 kilometre, but it goes above 10 at times. The KOM is located next to the light gravelled road that leads up to summit of Blatenský Vrch/Plattenberg. The road flattens out from here, before a short descent and a mostly flat part to the border town of Boží Dar/Gottesgab. This route is easier than climbing the larger road from Ostrov, especially now that the road surface has been improved. It will show you more of the region however, though it isn’t particularly scenic.


Some of the final meters before the KOM

LS would like me to mention that Boží Dar is/were the residence of former cross-country star Lukáš Bauer, who comes from Ostrov down in the valley. He had his best season in 2007-08, where he won both the overall World Cup and the Tour de Ski, but he also did pretty well in the following years, where he won both WC and Olympic medals, as well as a second Tour de Ski title, before guys like Dario Cologna, Petter Northug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby became too strong for him. Bauer is now the head coach of the Polish national team and has recently extended his contract until the 2026 Olympics.


Bauer is not the only resident of the area

There’s an uphill intermediate sprint in Boží Dar, before the descent down through Jáchymov/Sankt Joachimsthal begins. The riders will turn left in Dolní Žďár/Unter Brand on the outskirts of Ostrov/Schlackenwerth and make their way east to Stráž nad Ohří/Warta, where they’ll take on the steepest ascent to the Meluzína/Wirbelstein pass (Quäl Dich are overstating the gradients, because they have used the altitude of the summit instead of the pass in their calculations). The riders descend down through Horní Halže/Oberhals and Perštejn/Pürstein afterwards, which was climbed in rghysens’ Aue stage.

I’ve borrowed the double Meluzína approach from LS’s Aue stage, but the second ascent is the easier one from Boč/Wotsch. From the top they could just continue on towards Klínovec/Keilberg, cross the border at Boží Dar and then climb the last few kilometres to the top of Fichtelberg, but I have something else planned. Instead, they will follow the road to České Hamry/Böhmisch Hammer, where they’ll enter the Vaterland through a narrow bike path, that would probably need a bit of preparing beforehand.

In Unterwiesenthal they’ll turn left and after a short uphill stretch, they’ll arrive in Neudorf. Here begins the penultimate climb of the day; Rotes Vorwerk. 4 km at 6% doesn’t sound too hard, but the last 2 averages 8%. From the top, there are only about 8 km to the finish, so the riders shouldn’t be afraid of attacking here. Before the descent really starts, they will go past the hotel that former ski jump champion Jens Weißflog now runs, which was obviously a major argument for including the climb.



I should also mention that Eric Frenzel, who previously dominated the Nordic combined circuit, before the Norwegian Jarl Magnus Riiber dethroned him, used to represent the local WSC Erzgebirge Oberwiesenthal. Olympic biathlon champion Denise Herrmann, former Olympic luge champion Tatjana Hüfner and former cross-country star René Sommerfeldt are some other prominent athletes affiliated with the club.



When the riders reach Oberwiesenthal, only the climb to Fichtelberg remains. The summit and/or the pass below has been seen in both the Peace Race, the Sachsen-Tour and the Deutschland Tour, as well as in the annual Fichtelberg-Radmarathon which starts in Chemnitz.





A case could certainly be made for either getting rid of the second Meluzína ascent (and then changing the route to Karlovy Vary), swapping the two ascents around, to include two ascents from Stráž nad Ohří, or to do like LS and only have them do the steepest part of it twice. But since this is only the second of 10 stages, there’s always a fear that not much will happen more than 30 km from the finish anyway, so therefore I’ve decided to do it like this. If this was meant to be the queen stage, I would have done it differently though.


The Beer of the Day
Today we’re honouring the Becherovka herbal bitter and not a beer. It has been produced by the Jan Becher company in Karlovy Vary since 1807. The recipe is kept a secret, and there are allegedly only a few people who know it. The company is now owned by French giant Pernod Ricard.

 
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Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

Stage 3: Aue-Bad Schlema - Annaberg-Buchholz, 132 km, approx. 3000m of total elevation gain

After the two Czech stages, the race is now fully back on home soil, but it won’t be leaving Erzgebirge altogether just yest. Stage 3 starts in Bad Schlema, which in 2019 merged with the larger town of Aue. It’s known for its spa facilities, but that’s not why we’re here. Denise Herrmann was also born in Schlema, but grew up in Bockau, 10 km to the south, as did her now retired sister Nadine, but we're focusing on another local hero today.

When I watched my first biathlon races around 2005, one of the strongest Germans (back when their men were still consistently near the top) was Ricco Groß, who grew up in Schlema. He won the crystal globe/became world champion in the individual discipline in the 1996-97 World Cup season, and the following year he led the World Cup over multiple rounds, before he lost the title by 3 points to the Norwegian king, Ole Einar Bjørndalen. He was also a three-time world champion in the pursuit, a two-time silver medallist in the sprint at the Olympics and won four Olympic relay golds, a record only matched by Alexander Tikhonov of USSR.


Ricco Groß (right), Michael Greis and the surprising champion Roman Dostál with their medals from the individual race at the 2005 WC in Hochfilzen

Groß continued in the sport after retiring in 2007, first as a coach for the German women before taking the helm of the Russian men in the build-up to the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. He then took over responsibility of the Austrian men, but after a disappointing showing in Beijing earlier this year, his contract wasn’t renewed. He wasn’t without a job for long though, as the Slovenian federation has now employed him as the head coach of both their men and women.

His sons have also taken up biathlon. Marco Groß is as yet the most accomplished of them and has been competing in the IBU Cup since 2017. He got his first World Cup start this year and also managed to get a few IBU podiums towards the end of the season. He is also the reigning German champion in the sprint. However, I suspect his highlight so far this year has been marrying his Swiss partner and colleague Lena Häcki in her hometown of Engelberg last month. Both the newlyweds and Groß Sr. resides in the biathlon mecca of Ruhpolding.


Finding true love is like hitting all 70 targets in an individual, a sprint, a pursuit and a mass start - Simon Eder (allegedly)


The climbing starts pretty much from kilometre zero (1.6 km, 6.9%). Next I’ve put in the Parkwarte known from LS’ Aue stage, albeit from the opposite direction. It's about 1.5 km at 7%, but with 700 m above 10%. This is followed by 2 km at 5-6% before the legendary Teufelstein (3 km, >10%). At the top they’ve only ridden 15 km, so it’s quite a tough start, although it might be soft-pedalled. It’s a pretty short stage though, so it’s not impossible that GC teams will be attempting some kind of coup.

The next 10 km is mostly descending towards Raschau, from where they’ll ride the Scheibenberg minus the last 1.2 steep km to the top. The next climb is 2 km at 4% followed by some false flat through the first visit to Annaberg-Buchholz, the home town of previously mentioned Eric Frenzel and the cross-country skier and Olympic team sprint champion, Katharina Hennig (she's actually from Königswalde, which is visited later on).


Hennig (left) and Victoria Carl with their Olympic gold medals

After 5 km of 4-5%, a false flat section through Marienberg followed by a descent and 2 km at 6% and a descent, the riders will arrive in Nennigmühle after 85 km. With only a bit more than an hour left of the stage, this is where the final hopefully starts. First up is the Annahöhe, which has 2 km at 10%. Next is a false flat bit back through Marienberg followed by 2 km at 6%. Then comes some more false flat followed by 2 km at 5%, as they make their way south towards Jöhstadt. Here awaits the penultimate climb of 1.3 km at 8.2%, with the final 500 being at 10%. The descent begins with 14 km to go.

They’ll reach the village of Geyersdorf with 5 km left, where the final climb starts. They could ride all th way to the top of Pöhlberg (830m), but after yesterday’s MTF, I'm not interested in doing that. They're only riding about half of the climb, but this is also the most interesting bit. Not only is it 2 km at 10%, but about 800m are on cobbles. It’s possible to "cheat" on some of it by riding on the gravel in-between the cobbles, but you have to make sure you don’t collide with the curbs while doing it. The remaining 2 km takes the riders into the town centre, where they’ll finish at the town square Am Markt.








After two long stages, I decided to make this one much shorter. It’s inspired by the Torino stage of this year’s Giro and the latest Arrate stages of Itzulia in the way that it has a lot of climbing over a short distance, and there’s not a lot of rest in-between. The fact that the last climb is quite hard might of course hamper things, but since it comes after only 3 hours of riding, I hope there will be some exciting racing throughout the day. I could easily have made it harder and longer, but I have another very long stage planned for day 4, so I’m allowing the riders a bit more rest beforehand.


The Beer of the Day
I haven't found a beer/brewery to include yet, so I will update it later. Feel free to reach out, if you have a favourite from the area :)
 
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A stage with paeans to Ostbloc cycling, cobbles, steep ramps, the Teufelstein, and covering pretty much all the bases of Nordic skiing disciplines - I grant this a 9,7/10 (I had to subtract 0,1% for the short stage distance, 0,1% for not enough Peace Race anecdotes and a further 0,1% for no pictures of Trabant 601s)!
I'll take it!

And without giving too much away, I'll promise to include a picture of a Trabant in the presentation of stage 4.
 
Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

Stage 4: Zschopau - Eisenach, 238 km, approx. 2100m of total elevation gain


Even though this is a bike race, this stage will in large part be paying tribute to the automotive industry.

August Horch had been employed by Carl Benz before he set up his own business. It was originally based in Köln, but eventually settled in Zwickau in 1904. He left the Horch company in 1909 due to disputes and started a new one across town. After being legally barred from using his surname, Audi, the Latin translation of the German word horch (to hear/listen), was instead chosen for the new company.


August Horch and his wife Anneliese during a 1901 trial run in the Horch Phaeton with an impressive 5 hp engine

Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen had moved to Sachsen to study. He bought an old cloth factory in Zschopau in 1906, where he made a variety of metal products. During WWI, they tried to make vehicles propelled by a steam engine, a Dampkraftwagen. This wasn’t successful, but when they started building motorcycles with two-stroke engines under the brand name DKW (DampKraftWagen or Das Kleines Wunder), it changed the fortunes of the company. By 1928 it was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world, making 300 vehicles a day. Rasmussen bought a controlling share in Audi that same year, and DKW also began building their own cars with front wheel drive.

After the Great Depression, the industry suffered, and Rasmussen’s different companies were merged with Audi, Horch and the Chemnitz based Wanderer to form the Auto Union. The four logos of the old companies were then incorporated into a new symbol of four interlocking rings.


J.S. Rasmussen on a Danish DISA motorcycle

Rasmussen was forced out of the company in 1934, but later received a healthy compensation from the Nazi government, which allowed him to produce motorcycles in Denmark after WWII. He died in Copenhagen in 1964, aged 86. August Horch had accepted a job in the ministry of transportation in the 1920s, but continued as a board member for Audi/Auto Union. He died in 1951, aged 82.

The Nazis had two goals for their automotive industry. One was to build a people’s car (Volkswagen). The VW Type 1 became known as the Käfer/Beetle (or the bobble, as it’s called in Danish) and more than 21 million of its different models were made between 1938 and 2003, where the last one left the production line a Mexican factory. Ferdinand Porsche was heavily inspired by the Czech Tatra V570 concept when he created the design.



The other aim for Hitler was to make successful racing cars. This job was split between Mercedes-Benz and the Auto Union in order to spark competition. These cars became known as the Silberpfeil/Silver Arrows and dominated Grand Prix racing in the 1930s.


An Auto Union Type C

The Auto Union relocated to Ingolstadt after WWII and was purchased by Mercedes-Benz in 1958. They sold it to Volkswagen in 1964, who then relaunched it using the old Audi brand. The Wanderer factory in Chemnitz was destroyed in 1945. The other factories were scrapped and everything of worth was shipped to the Soviet Union.

The East German state then founded the Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, IFA, which managed all vehicle manufacturing in the country. Rasmussen’s factory in Zschopau became known as MZ (Motorenwerke Zschopau) and continued to produce motorcycles. The latest version of the company went bankrupt in 2013, but production had moved away from Zschopau at that point.



They also continued to build cars in Zwickau. The glory days started in 1957 when the VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau presented its first Trabant model, the Trabant 500. The 601, introduced in 1959, proved a big success. It was still a fairly modern car back then, but when 1990 came about, that was no longer the case, and those who were waiting to get one were probably not too bothered, when they could suddenly get their hands on something else. Still, it is a great symbol of the DDR and not a bad looking car either. In total, 3 to 4 million Trabis were produced.



The company still exists today, but now it mainly supplies Volkskwagen with parts. VW saw an opportunity to get some experienced workers after the reunification and build new plants in Zwickau, Chemnitz and Dresden. The one in Dresden, known as the Gläserne Manufaktur (transparent factory) due to its glass design, originally produced the luxurious Phaeton, but perhaps in order to save the image of the corporation, all their Sachsen factories now focus on electrical cars/hybrids.

After starting in Zschopau and going through Zwickau and Chemnitz, Gera is visited next. This is the home town/birth place of German cycling greats like John Degenkolb, Gerald Mortag, Jens Heppner, Olaf Ludwig, Gerald Mortag and Hanka Kupfernagel. We won’t visit the Hankaberg in Dörtendorf nor LS’ beloved Steile Wand von Meerane, but luckily the Thüringen Rundfahrt/Ladies Tour, Peace Race, Deutschland Tour and Sachsen Tour have already done so.

Marlies Göhr, a world champion in the 100m sprint, and the legendary sprinter and long jumper Heike Drechsler are also from Gera. As was the football coach Georg Buschner, who led the national team to the gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. He also guided them to bronze in München in 1972, where they beat the hosts along the way in a historic match.

Jena is known as the birthplace of the optician Carl Zeiss, who founded the Zeiss company there in 1846. The local football club Carl Zeiss Jena was later formed by its workers. It reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1981 where it lost to Dinamo Tbilisi. Successful players who played for the club include Bayer Leverkusen maestro Bernd Schneider and the goalkeeper Robert Enke, whose struggle with depression sadly ended with suicide in 2009. Former biathlete Luise Kummer is also from Jena.



Weimar will host the start of this year’s real Deutschland Tour and is known for its importance to German literature through the likes of Goethe and Schiller as well as having given the name to the post WWI Weimar Republic.

Next up is Erfurt. The former Thüringer Energie Team was based there. The local hero Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin, Jasha Sütterlin, Markus Fothen, Patrick Gretsch Andreas Schillinger and Maximilian Schachmann all rode for it at the start of their careers. Trixi Worrack, who retired after last season and now works as a youth coach in Thüringen, lives in Erfurt and so does Vera Hohlfeld, who’s both involved with the Schleizer Dreieck, Thüringen Ladies Tour and the Maxx-Solar Lindig cycling team. The disgraced doctor Mark Schmidt is of course also associated with the city. Former biathlete Katrin Appel is also from the city.

Gotha will also be visited. It’s known for giving its name to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which has occupied the thrones in different European countries. The House of Windsor belongs to it as well. Jörg Werner, who was the manager of Thüringer Energie, was born there, and Liane Bahler, who was tragically killed in a car accident en route to the 2007 Giro Donne, was also from the area.

The stage ends in Eisenach. It has been featured in other races in this thread. Some have even mentioned the Wartburg Castle, but no one has paid tribute to the car before now.


An EMW 340

The original Wartburg was made in 1898 by the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, which was only the third German car manufacturer after Benz and Daimler (who would later merge to form Mercedes-Benz). BMW bought the company in 1928 and both cars and motorcycles were produced there, before they started making engines for the Luftwaffe during WWII. About 60% of the factory was destroyed at the end of the war. The now Soviet controlled company was however still able to start making pre-war BMW models shortly after, unlike the West German factories. All BMW models produced from 1945 to 1951 were built by the Eisenacher Motorenwerk (EMW), which used a BMW logo with red instead of blue.

The East German state took over the company in 1952 and renamed it VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach (AWE). Their first Wartburg model was released in 1956. The Wartburgs were mostly based on pre-war DKW models. When the factory closed in 1991, around 2 million cars had been produced there over a period of over 90 years. Opel built their own plant in the city after the reunification.


A Wartburg 311 cabriolet

Here ends our journey through the history of East German car manufacturing. There are some climbing through the stage






The Beer of the Day
The riders will also be passing through Bad Köstritz, the home of the Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei, on the stage. Not only do they brew one of my favourite beers, but they were also the main sponsor of the Thüringer Energie Team before it reached CT status.

 
Now that Samu has righted the appalling wrong of not posting pictures of the greatest automotive feat of all time, we can move on.

Time for a short stage race idea here, as I go for a deep cut of a real life race. It likely has not escaped your attention that a certain constituent part of the former Yugoslavia has been at the forefront of professional cycling for a few years now, and if you’ve read plenty of this thread you’ll be aware that I have a keen interest in former Eastern Bloc racing (including the non-aligned Yugoslavia). Back in the days of an ideologically-divided Europe, Yugoslav cycling was, as today in the various successor states, largely built around Slovenia, with other significant scenes being mostly in Croatia (especially in the north) and Serbia (again, particularly in the north). Almost all of the famous Yugoslav cyclists come from one of these three or, if they don’t, have one of these ethnicities. In post-Wende European cycling, Slovenians have tended to predominate in terms of pros coming from these countries, even long before Tadej Pogačar was born.

Neighbouring Croatia has, however, had a few success stories to its credit. Probably the first to many people’s recollections would be Robert Kišerlovski, twice top 10 in the Giro and top 5 at Flèche Wallonne in the early 2010s, or Kristijan Đurasek, winner of Tre Valli Varesine, the Tour of Turkey and a Tour edge Suisse stage (currently suspended for doping of course), or maybe Vladimir Miholjević, who was a staple of the Italian small races in the 2000s. But in a few years it will probably be his son Fran who we all think of, if his performances in development races in Italy are anything to go by.

Most of the pro races in former Yugoslav states are held in Slovenia, but Croatia has had a few success stories and has been improving its calendar of late with a national tour which has a decent level field in it, with race winners including Vincenzo Nibali and Adam Yates, but it does have one debilitating problem for the budding traceur… the unforgiving shape of the country. Countries which are relatively narrow make it difficult to put together circular routes so you end up with an end-to-end race, which is fine for, say, Italy as the Giro tends to finish in Milan at one end of the boot, places like Norway where the population is concentrated at one particular part of the country that you can target for the majority of the course, or places like Vietnam or the UK where the most major city is at one end of the country, making it an obvious start or finish. But Croatia’s unusual shape poses multiple problems, not least because Zagreb, its capital, is relatively central, but also because key destinations are only accessible through a narrow strip of land making a route which doesn’t retrace its own steps extremely difficult to attain.

I therefore turned my attention, having not been able to come up with a Tour of Croatia that I was truly satisfied with, to the smaller races that take place in the country. There are a whole series of early season races based around the northwestern province of Istria, which borders Slovenia and has an Italian minority community, and these races have for many years formed the bulk of the Croatian cycling calendar. Races like the Poreč Trophy, Trofej Umag, GP Istria and GP Laguna all take place in this small peninsula, and they focus around the short stage race which is the Istarsko proljeće, or Istrian Spring Trophy, formerly known as the Jadranska Magistrala and one of the main stage races on the Yugoslav calendar and which has been running since the early 1960s.



Back in the days of the Communist countries forbidding riders from turning professional, of course, the race saw fields of the strongest amateurs of the day, with top local talents taking the majority of the race victories. Nevenko “Nevio” Valčić won the first two editions, a very local rider, an Istrian Croat born during the time the region was under Italian control in the Province of Pola. For the first 15 years of the race it is essentially a two-horse race between Rog Ljubljana and Sidorex-Pula, two provincial teams for the two most cycling-mad parts of the country. Before the split of Yugoslavia after the fall of Communism and then the subsequent wars, most of the big names of Yugoslav cycling find their way onto the winners’ list - Franc Škerlj, Cvitko Bilić, Janez Zakotnik, Bojan Ropret, Vinko Polončič, Bruno Bulić and Primož Čerin all winning the race between 1961 and 1990.

The race remained an amateur event until 2000, seeing a bit more variety in the field as the country became independent and the fields more international, although Slovenes tended to dominate as they had done while part of Yugoslavia, then in 2000 professionals were admitted as the race became a four-day event with a mixed professional/amateur field, carving out a niche for itself as an early season warm-up race especially for the second and third tier Italian teams, and the nascent pro teams from Slovenia, Croatia and so on, as well as becoming popular for development purposes with riders from elsewhere. The first pro edition was won by Vladimir Miholjević, but since carving out that professional niche, he remains the only home winner. Ten editions since then have been won by neighbouring Slovenia, however, and the race has gone on to become part of the learning process for a number of well established later pros; winners include Pieter Weening (2003), Borut Božič (2005 and 2006), Edvald Boasson Hagen (2007), Magnus Cort (2014) and Felix Gall (2018), while it has also become a race which is picked out by veterans and journeymen relegated to the Continental calendar in Central and Southern Europe, such as Markus Eibegger (2012, 2015) and Olivier Pardini (2016) - while other podium riders over the years include in the former category Stefan Schumacher (2nd, 2004), Grega Bole (2nd, 2007), Kristijan Koen (2nd, 2008), Danny van Poppel (2nd, 2012), Felix Großschartner (3rd, 2014), Kasper Asgreen (2nd, 2018) and some guy called Tadej Pogačar (3rd, 2018), who I hear is pretty decent, and in the latter category regional veterans like Robert Vrečer and Radoslav Rogina, Matej Mugerli and the under-a-cloud Patrik Sinkewitz, as well as, somewhat anomalously, Michael Rasmussen (2nd, 2001).

The format tends to build around a prologue and three stages, with the queen stage having historically most commonly been to the cobbled old town of Motovun, a picturesque hilltop town with a centre closed to vehicles.



Istria is also one of the flatter parts of Croatia, and certainly of coastal Croatia. You can’t put a mountaintop finish at Učka here either - I checked and although the race did included it a few times in the late 90s and early 2000s as a mountaintop finish, the border of Istria comes before the summit so I have decided to excise it, since this is intended to be an early-season short stage race predominantly for development riders. So we’ve had a bit of work to do to try to create something that sticks to the borders of Istria, that is the right kind of length and complexity to balance out the parcours, but without sacrificing that nice niche it currently has with development racing going on. Teams like Sunweb, Jumbo-Visma, Astana and EF send their espoir teams to the race to gain experience, while teams not explicitly linked to another but known as development squads, like Hagens Bermans-Axeon and Tudor, also enter. Elsewhere some of the Italian ProTeams send squads, and of course the Continental teams of the local area will be out in force, so the likes of Adria Mobil, Perutnina Ptuj and Meridiana-Kamen. A personal trip to the Istrian peninsula filled in a few gaps in my ideas, and before long, we’d got a route. We had had to play about with the format slightly, but not too much - it remains a four day race, but I’ve upped the TT from a prologue - and change up the format a little, sacrificing the Motovun finish, however thankfully that isn’t as sacrilegious as, say, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque without Mont Cassel, Portugal without Senhora da Graça or the Danmark Rundt without Vejle; many editions have been held without the Motovun finish but it is seen as the defining climb for the race, so it’s more like Grand-Colombier in the Tour de l’Ain or the Col d’Èze in Paris-Nice - traditional, but not necessarily essential.

Only one GPM category too, similar to races like Coppi e Bartali, so they all pay the same points.

Stage 1: Pula - Buje, 155km





GPM:
Vrh Lima (1,9km @ 5,2%)
Sovinjak (2,4km @ 9,0%)
Oprtalj (5,2km @ 6,6%)

Looking at recent editions of the Istarsko Proljeće it becomes clear that typical stage distances vary between 145 and 170km. Typically 150-160km is standard outside of the prologue, so as we are shaking the format up by not having a prologue, we get underway with a road stage of typical distance for the race as we head from the south of the province up toward the Slovene border.

The stage starts in Pula, the largest city in Istria (population 57.000 but 105.000 in its metropolitan area) and the seventh largest in Croatia, and its historic and cultural epicentre, having been the administrative capital of Istria all the way up until 1991 when Pazin was awarded that role. Settled since the Neolithic era, Pula was known to the Greeks, but today is best known to the outside world nowadays for its large quantities of well-maintained and preserved Roman artefacts, architecture and monuments, with the most famous of course being Pula Arena, the only remaining Roman amphitheatre with all four side towers entirely preserved, and the best preserved ancient monument in all of Croatia. The presence of this Roman culture led the city of Pietas Julia, from which modern Pula is derived, to become a city of regional importance, although the etymology, while superficially able to be implied from the Roman name, appears to come from Greek Polai, meaning “city of refuge”. The existing town, as it had been founded by Cassius Longinus, brother of Caesar’s assassin Cassius, was destroyed and rebuilt in the first century AD, including the Arena, and the remaining classical arches, of Sergii, Hercules and the Twin Gates or Porta Gemina.


Pula Arena dominates the skyline

After a brief period of Ostrogothic rule, the city became a chief port of the western Byzantine Empire, before passing to the Franks and then eventually to the Kingdom of Venice. In Dante’s time it was regarded as the boundary of Italian territory heading south along the eastern Adriatic into the Balkans, and despite many attacks and temporary captures, it remained ostensibly a Venetian possession until the end of the 18th Century when Napoleon moved it from the Kingdom of Italy to the Illyrian Provinces, which meant it transferred to Habsburg hands after his defeat, and became the chief naval port of the hitherto mostly landlocked Dual Monarchy. At the advent of WWI the city was almost 50% Italian and only 15% Croat, with the remainder being German or Hungarian-speaking military/naval figures. The province of Istria was returned to Italy in the inter-war years, but the aggressive Italianization policies of Mussolini meant that when the Italians were defeated in WWII, the backlash led to a mass exodus of Italians from Istria, and of around 350.000 only 21.000 remained a couple of years after the end of the conflict. Pula itself saw around 45.000 Italians leave, and almost entirely rebuilt its population from native Croatians in the immediate post-war years.

This melting pot of a history has meant that, in combination with its striking Roman antique skyline, Pula has become a major tourist attraction in the years since Croatian independence. The language and culture of what remains of the Italian population has been afforded a greater level of protection, and the city is very popular as a tourist destination for Germans and Austrians as well. The city is home to Olympic gold medallist and inaugural amateur boxing World Champion Mate Parlov, who became a folk hero in his native Istria in the 70s.

It also has cycling heritage - and not just in being twinned with a number of cities known for their cycling history, such as Kranj, Imola and Verona. It is also home to 60s and 70s standout Cvitko Bilić, a longtime veteran of Siporex Pula who won the Istrian Spring Trophy on three occasions (1967, 68 and 70) along with the Tour of Yugoslavia in 1965 and 1971, the Alpe-Adria in 1969 and 1971, the Tour of Croatia and Slovenia (one tour covering both) in 1971 and 1974 and the Tour of Serbia in 1971 and 1973. Pula itself does not tend to appear on the route of the Istrian Spring Trophy often these days, but from 2005 to 2014 there was a Tour of Istria, first for espoirs and then for juniors, which would start and finish in the city, and includes the likes of Peter Sagan, Tao Geogeghan Hart, Mads Pedersen and Aurélien Paret-Peintre among its winners. And it did host a sprint stage (not that there were many that weren’t sprints that year) in the 2004 Giro d’Italia.


My stage actually follows a similar pattern to the traditional opening stage of that junior race, starting in Pula and ending in Buje, but while that stage was primarily rolling and lasted 100km, mine is around 50% longer and a bit more complicated, bearing in mind it will be espoirs and continental pros rather than juniors that will be contesting my stage.

The start is more or less the same, heading north through Vodnjan and past the city of Rovinj, where we take on a small climb at Vrh Lima, a fjord which takes its name from the Latin limes, meaning boundary, as it formed the border between Dalmatia and Italia in ancient times. This is, compared to some of the uncategorised climbs in the race, somewhat debatable regarding its categorisation-worthiness, however bearing in mind that this descent into the Lim fjord and climb back out of it is one of the most commonly-used and traditional climbs of the Istarsko Proljeće - from both sides - I felt it had to give points.


The Lim fjord and the road which snakes through it

From here, it is a long and gradual uphill false flat to Tinjan and then onward to Pazin, the administrative capital of the Istria region, despite its relatively small (~10.000) size - and home to former CN forum poster Cesko_Jr, as well as the Croatian continental team Meridiana-Kamen, a long established squad who have been at the Continental status since 2010. With veterans of the Yugoslav days like Vinko Polončič on the staff and acquiring the Meridiana sponsorship from a defunct Estonian team, the Croatian squad largely plied its trade in the Slovene and northern Italian Continental races, taking advantage of the large number of smaller one-day races and short stage races in Italy at the time. A base of Croatian domestic riders (including veteran women’s champion Mia Radotić’s older brother Bruno) would serve as the foundation of the team, which would then typically be supplemented by stunt casting designed to generate conversation, if not necessarily results. Their best results in that 2010 season were achieved by Miguel Ángel Rubiano, coming off a suspension, but more attention was garnered by the signing of a long past-his-prime and overweight Salvatore Commesso. In 2011 they signed Emanuele Bindi, a former Lampre rider removed from the road in the wake of the Mantova scandal, and they also signed Riccardo Riccò, who had been fired by Vacansoleil in the wake of his clumsy attempt at self-administering a transfusion which left him in the hospital. Meridiana-Kamen continued the policy of dancing with the girl that got them to the show in 2012, signing a Maurizio Biondo that was coming off a suspension, a Patrik Sinkewitz who was contesting what would be his second doping suspension, and partway through the season acquiring a then sprightly young 41 year old Davide Rebellin. Most of these bigger names would only have a cup of coffee with the team before moving back to more established teams, but Sinky would stick with them until he was taken off the road for good in 2014. In 2016 they picked up former Giro stage and GPM winner Matteo Rabottini, whose aggressive racing had won everybody’s hearts in 2012, since nobody else had any guts to try anything in the Giro that year, and he has quietly enjoyed his niche over in Croatia, staying with the team ever since. Since then, the wild west days have been over and apart from Rabottini the team has largely been trouble-free in terms of suspensions and suspended riders, picking primarily Croatian riders or those from neighbouring states (and many of those being from the Istrian Italian population) although Rebellin popped back over for a second stint with the team in 2019-20.



Here we start heading for the easternmost section of the Istrian peninsula, but rather than head up to Učka we instead head up into Lupoglav - at just over 2km at 5,3% this is as tough as the categorised climb from earlier but goes without awarding points, before the false flat switches from uphill to downhill and we head into the town of Buzet for the final intermediate sprint. This is swiftly followed by the second categorised climb of the day, the 2,4km @ 9% en route to Sovinjak, which crests at 47km remaining and is the hardest climb of the day in terms of gradients and offers great views of Lake Butoniga.



After the descent, we soon find ourselves climbing once more, this time a more sustained ascent to the town of Oprtalj, which sits opposite the traditional summit finish of Motovun on the other side of the Mirna valley, and is hardly less scenic.



Oprtalj features frequently in the Istrian Spring Trophy, often as a warmup climb for the Motovun finish, but in 2018 and 2019 it served as a mountaintop finish in its own right, with Marc Hirschi outsprinting Tadej Pogačar at the summit in 2018, and a year later Felix Gall winning solo, 13 seconds ahead of a chasing reduced bunch. PCS has a profile for the climb here - at 5,2km @ 6,6% it’s a cat.2 climb in most races, and crests 28km from the line.

There is little respite though, as there is no descent to speak of, instead we are on a high plateau which slowly fades away. The final part of this stage snakes around very close to the Slovenian border, especially after we pass the Butori waterfall and head due north to loop around the village of Brdo. Cronoescalada believes these roads to be sterrato, but they are paved - nevertheless this takes us over an uncategorised climb of 1400m at 7% at 14km from the line - well worth a cat.3 in some races - and if that isn’t close enough to the finish to consider a move, we have 800m at 6% into the village of Momjan just 6km from the line. Yes, that’s hardly a dangerous climb, but these are all platforms to attack from, especially as out and out sprinters should have been removed from contention by Sovinjak and Oprtalj so we should have a smaller group to escape here. The run-in from this point in takes us past the San Servolo Resort and Beer Spa, just to link in with Samu’s beer theme, before the finish in Buje.



Buje is another scenic hilltop town, but the hill to get there is a lot less threatening than the previous few. The final kilometre is uphill, but rather than being a puncheur’s finish, this is a fairly mild - 4-5% - repecho, so it will very much depend on how the rest of the stage goes who will be there to contest it. I suspect this will be along similar lines to a Volta a Portugal type uphill sprint, or maybe something like Biot in Paris-Nice or Stirling in the Tour Down Under. Probably actually the best facsimile for this finish is the slightly uphill finish in the Tour de Vendée in La Roche-sur-Yon, but that has less by way of options to make the race tougher beforehand. There is a roundabout at 900m from the line which is where the uphill begins, and at 450m and 250m there are slight curves to the right, the second being somewhat bigger - around 45º - but this is on a wide open road and so will not be a technical challenge. It will be interesting to see if this one is fought out by the sprinters, by the puncheurs or if a breakaway sorts this out in favour of the baroudeurs.
 
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Stage 2: Umag - Rovinj, 148km





GPM:
Kašćerga (3,8km @ 9,4%)
Motovun (4,0km @ 6,1%)
Kanfanar (3,0km @ 4,8%)

For stage 2 we are starting up in the northwest corner of the Istrian peninsula, up close to the border with Slovenia, and that narrow strip of Adriatic coast that the Alpine nation has which separates Croatian Istria from its former parent state of Italy. Another town created in Roman times, Umag has a population of 13.000 and is the westernmost municipality in Croatia. Like most of the peninsula it endured periods of Byzantine, Lombardic and Frankish domination before coming under the control of Venice, before liberation under Napoleon, Austro-Hungarian control until WWI, then Italian control between the two World Wars. Known by the Italians as Umago, the town was part of the independent Free Territory of Trieste at the end of World War II, which was divided into areas controlled by different groups, and the zone in which Umag stood was under the control of the Yugoslav army, meaning when the Free Territory came to an end it was absorbed within the Yugoslav state.



Modern Umag is known for sports, predominantly the ATP Croatia Open, a middling-level men’s clay court tennis tournament. It has a couple of decent level winners, including Dominic Thiem, Thomas Muster (three times) and home favourite Marin Čilić; the highest profile result is probably 2006, when Stan Wawrinka defeated Novak Đoković in the final. Since 2013 it has also held its own one-day race in the build up to the Istrian Spring Trophy, the Trofej Umag, which uses a mostly flat triangular course to the north of the town as its base; it has largely favoured sprinters, with Marko Kump and Jakub Mareczko among the winners. Stages of the Istrian Spring Trophy finishing in Umag have had similar characteristics, with the likes of Andrea Guardini winning.

The stage starts by following the course of the Trofej Umag, up to the north at Savudrija and then along the upper ridge above the Slovene border, but we continue on as far as Plovanija before we turn south. After 20km we pass through yesterday’s finish town, but we don’t cross the finish itself, sticking instead to the main road through and heading back to the coast a little way south of Umag, to take an early intermediate sprint in Novigrad. This town sits on the site of an ancient city called Aemona, which was rebuilt as Neapolis (“new town”) under Greek control, a name which has been calqued through time by successive owners of the territory, including most well-known Cittanova d’Istria in Italian and its current name of Novigrad.



Heading out of Novigrad enables us to line up with the Mirna valley, which we rode through the eastern end of yesterday en route to the climb to Oprtalj. We head along as far as Livade, which is where the crossroads is where the north road is the Oprtalj climb and the south road takes you to Motovun. Instead, however, we continue on as far as the dam on Lake Butoniga, and then turn south there for one of the toughest climbs in the Istrian peninsula, a 4km at 9% kicker to Kašćerga. Cresting at about 70km from the line - just past the halfway point - this climb is 3km at 10,7% - similar in character to the infamous Teufelstein of Ostbloc lore - before a final 800m at just under 4%, giving a total of 3,8km at 9,4%.

In an initial draft of what eventually became my Kroz Trka Bivšu Jugoslaviju, we were headed northward at this point; the original draft started in Belgrade and ended in Zagreb, so here we were headed up from Bosnia and Herzegovina toward Slovenia before looping round to finish in Zagreb once more, but obviously that race was redrawn a few times before posting. In that route, I had a stage from Rijeka to Motovun which finished with this climb then looping around through Zamask to include the traditional HTF/MTF (too large for the former, too small for the latter) at that old cobbled town which has characterised the Istarsko Proljeće for most of its pro years. This would have put the summit of Kašćerga less than 20km from home, but given the rest of my race I felt this was not in the plan, so this is a mid-stage challenge instead. However, I did copy the idea of the descent back into Livade in order to climb up to Motovun - just only using the main road rather than the final steeper, partly cobbled section into the old town.



Motovun’s hilltop fortress has made it an attractive town in scenic forest well-renowned for the harvesting of truffles, and its strategic location has had it settled since ancient times. In fact, its name is derived from Celtic ‘montona’, meaning “hill-town”. The current town dates back to medieval times, after the sacking of Castellieri, its predecessor, and was fortified by the Venetians. It is known by many as the hometown of the fictitious Veli Jože, a gentle giant following tradition of Croat mythology, placed into a modern (early 20th Century) context and immortalised in the novel by Vladimir Nazor. But its most famous progeny is very real - though somewhat surprising in their link to the town. Back in 1940 during the early days of World War II, an Istrian Italian farm administrator and his wife had twin sons. As Montona/Motovun was located in the Yugoslav zone during the post-war reconstruction, the family fled to mainland Italy in 1948, settling in Lucca where they lived in a refugee camp for a period and settled in Tuscany, until the farm administrator’s brother in law could arrange transit for them to join him and his family in the USA in 1955.

During the time while they were waiting for their visas for the United States, the kids watched the Mille Miglia motor race and became captivated by motorsport; when they went to the US, they fabricated a story about having competed in Formula Junior in Italy and falsified documents to pass for older than they were in order to get into races - and showed an immediate aptitude, taking it in turns to compete in dirt races in an old Hudson until one of the twins was injured and required facial reconstructive surgery as well as falling behind his sibling in the progress in his motor racing career.

His name was Aldo Andretti. His brother’s name was Mario, and he went on to be one of the greatest motor racers of his, or in fact any, generation, racing Indycars for a decade until moving into full-time Formula 1 at the age of 34 - where he became the second American after Phil Hill to win the World Championship, in 1978; even after retiring in his early 40s he was brought back by Ferrari following their disastrous 1982 campaign that saw lead driver Villeneuve killed and other main driver Didier Pironi suffer career-ending injuries; and then he went on to race in Indycar once more, all the way until 1994, where he and fellow 70s legend Emerson Fittipaldi formed a formidable veteran presence as well as mentoring the second generation of the Andretti clan; there are many of them. Mario’s sons Michael and Jeff went on to be great drivers in their own right, and Michael’s son Marco is currently active. Two of Aldo’s sons - John and Adam - were also racing drivers, as is John’s son Jarett. He has won the Indy 500 (1969), the Daytona 500 (1967), the 12 Hours of Sebring (1967, 1970, 1972), the Pikes Peak Hillclimb (1969) and 12 F1 races - although crucially not including Monaco - and has also finished 2nd overall (with a class victory) in Le Mans. His name has become a synonym for speed in the US, probably because of quotes like “if you feel like everything’s under control, you’re not going fast enough”.



I know, though. You aren’t here for motor racing, you’re here for bike racing. I get it. From 2008 to 2017, Motovun featured as an annual fixture in the Istrian Spring Trophy, with the king of Motovun being Markus Eibegger, who won here on three occasions (2009, 2012 and 2015), to best Robert Vrečer who took back to back wins in 2010 and 2011. Patrik Sinkewitz won here in 2013 too. After a brief layoff from 2018 to 2019 (and the cancelled edition in 2020), it was restored to the route, with Bardiani prospect Filippo Zana and Tudor Pro espoir Alex Baudin being those to have won here.

I have cut the climb down to the gradual part and then the secondary ascent to the main road overlook, rather than the Sackgasse of a road into the old town walls. This puts us on the higher plateau back towards Tinjan, where we turned eastward toward Pazin yesterday. This time, we retrace our steps, but instead of taking the main road which heads back towards Vrh Lima, we take the smaller road to the east of that, which means we descend into the valley east of where the water ends, and past the abandoned ruins of the medieval town of Dvigrad, which sits in the valley.



Unlike most of the ruins of Istria, however, the legacy of Dvigrad is not one of conquest, fire or plague but just of abandonment; it had been affected by these, but it was more that after consecutive outbreaks of plague and malaria, the town became perceived as cursed by locals, and settled primarily by refugees from Dalmatia, Montenegro and Bosnia who were fleeing the Ottoman conquest of southeastern Europe, but these would then start to disperse around surrounding villages as the Ottomans approached, leaving the town abandoned. By 1650 only three families lived there, with neighbouring Kanfanar, above the fjord, dominating it. The climb up to Kanfanar is not imposing on paper - 3km at 5% - but it is worth noting that the first 600m are at 10%. However this climb, cresting at 19km from the finish, is not likely to be too significant to the overall outcome, unless the two earlier climbs have been raced hard and really reduced the size of the bunch.

From here, it’s a fast and mostly very straight run-in, as we head back to the coast to the finishing town of Rovinj. Strangely, for one of the bigger towns in Istria - just under 15.000 inhabitants - this is only a very rare host of the Istarsko Proljeće, last seen in 2008 when Kim Marius Nielsen won a sprint and some guy called Alexander Kristoff placed 3rd. Its sporting heritage nowadays is much more closely linked to sport shooter Giovanni Cernogoraz, who was born in Koper in Slovenian Istria and identifies mainly as an Istrian Italian, but settled in Rovinj and won gold for Croatia in the trap at the 2012 London Olympics. Rovinj originally sat on an offshore island, but this was connected to the mainland in the 18th Century by man-made land works; it is now the second most popular tourist destination in Istria after, of course, Pula.


Rovinj

Unfortunately, the design of Rovinj precludes a finish in the old town, but even on the wider thoroughfares on the part of the town that has always been on the mainland, a safe sprint layout is hard to create, which is probably part of the reason for its rarity in the real life race. At just over 2km remaining we turn left at a roundabout, then there are two gentle right-hand bends. 1800m from the line there is a near 180º left-hander, slightly uphill, but it’s a curve rather than a corner so hopefully not so bad. A 60º right hand curve follows at 1500m, before a 90º left corner at a junction at 1200m from home. It would be possible to turn right here and shorten the distance to the finish but I wanted to try to keep speed down a bit but without making things too hectic on that twisty bit described above. Instead, we cross the flamme rouge facing the opposite direction to the finish, taking a right hander immediately after it, then a second one at a wide junction of two major roads with multiple lanes, at 800m to go, so hopefully plenty of room to negotiate this one safely. Then at 500m remaining the road curves gently left where it merges with the road we could have joined had we turned right where we turned left at 1200m remaining, before the road then curves at 300m left once ore for around a 60º. Curve onto a not-quite-straight-but-enough-to-be-safe finishing straight.

Because of the finish, I felt we had to include enough obstacles earlier on to try to ensure a smaller bunch was contesting this, as I felt there was the risk a sprint would ensue - but no fear, tomorrow shouldn’t offer much chance of that.
 
I really have a soft spot of Rovinj, a great holiday as a young boy while Cunego was dominating the Giro (and I was reading about it in La Gazzetta every morning).
Now you only need to have a staage that finishes on Krk, preferably in Baska and I'm all in.
Also obligatory when it comes to Croatia:
 
Krk isn't in Istria though ;)

Stage 3: Poreč - Labin, 171km





GPM:
Salakovci (4,9km @ 5,5%)
Presika-Stari Grad (4,1km @ 6,8%)
Skitača (3,3km @ 11,4%)
Presika-Stari Grad (4,1km @ 6,8%)
Skitača (3,3km @ 11,4%)

The queen stage of the Istrian Spring Trophy is also its longest, and kind of the reason I ended up drawing up this race in the first place, because this was a great finishing loop in my opinion that I just couldn’t crowbar into a Tour of Croatia without compromising a lot of the rest of the course, thanks to its finish being in close proximity to other places I wanted on the route like Opatija, Rijeka, the Učka climb, Mrkopalj (cross-country skiing centre) and Krk, making it difficult to fit in without either disrupting the flow of the race, or making the stage completely unlikely to have the intended effect. However, in the Istarsko Proljeće, such a stage would be highly decisive for the GC, but without giving any easy HTF/MTF to make gaining time easy, so with the rest of the course design falling into place, this Labin circuit was perfect for it.

Before we get there, however, we’re starting in the city of Poreč, one of the most professional cycling-friendly places in the Istrian peninsula. Not only is it a regular host of the Jadranska Magistrala / Istrian Spring Trophy, but it also hosts its own one-day race, the Trofej Poreč, which has run since 2004 and has a winners’ list including no Croatians but a lot of Slovenians, with Matej Mugerli leading the way with four wins, Marko Kump adding two and people like Simon Špilak winning as well early in his career. This year’s race was won by Serbian sprinter Dušan Rajovič, and the race tends to end in a sprint, however some editions have seen a small group come to the finish, most recently 2019 when Fabian Lienhard won, and 2013 when Mugerli and Zoidl held off the bunch. The course tends to be rolling - here's PCS’ approximation - so it’s more selective than the Trofej Umag. Back before this, though, there were multiple Poreč Trophy races, in a similar fashion to the Challenge Mallorca series of one-dayers. There was as many as six in 2002, with Hrvoje Miholjević - brother of Vladimir and uncle of Fran - holding the home flame aloft by winning race number 5, but the main body of the races being dominated by the Ukrainian duo of running buddies, Yaroslav Popovych and Volodymyr Bileka. Popovych of course would go on to finish on the podium of the Giro the following year and become a fixture in the péloton and part of Lance’s later-period backup team, before heading to Lotto to be a miserable failure in support for Cadel Evans and then become good again briefly when reunited with Johan Bruyneel, before being flagged up on the suspicion index, having his computer seized and riding out his days as an anonymous, expendable domestique. It has long been suspected that his failings at Lotto were the product of running buddy Bileka testing positive - he went with Popo to Landbouwkrediet, to Discovery Channel and to Lotto, before testing positive for EPO, at which point Popo’s form took a nosedive until the move to Astana - although Evans’ riding at Paris-Nice didn’t do much to win Popo’s support either and is also a potential contributing factor. The early 2000s format of the Istarsko Proljeće tended to base the race out of Poreč, with the first stage being around the city and the last stage finishing in it, winners then in Poreč include Slovene stalwarts like Janež Brajkovič, Andrej Hauptman and Borut Božič as well as the likes of Gerald Ciolek, however the city has been a much less common host in recent times, being primarily used as today, as a stage start. It also fulfilled this role in the stage following the Pula stage in the 2004 Giro, which was also completely flat because it was the 2004 Giro and they were desperate to get Petacchi as many wins as possible, with Ale-Jet duly obliging in the sprint in San Vendemiano after a pointless and tedious stage. Which took place on a Sunday. Yea, the 2004 Giro sucked. Poreč has also appeared a couple of times since the reboot of the Tour of Croatia, as the start of the 40km TTT (vomit) in 2016, and as the start of the Učka MTF stage in 2017; Vincenzo Nibali is officially recorded as the winner, although Jaime Rosón won the stage before this stage was erased from his record for anomalies in his biopassport data during his stint at Caja Rural.


Oh look, it’s a beautiful coastal town in Istria, who would have thought?

Around 17.000 people live in Poreč (until 1947 known as Parenzo and sometimes still used today in official capacity due to recognition of the Italian minority) today, but it is also since the 1970s the most visited area of Croatia by internal tourists. Sitting to the north of the Lim fjord and with its municipality stretching north to the Mirna, it was built on the site of a Roman Castrum and, like Istria as a whole, has changed hands a number of times while retaining its medieval centre. The Eufrazijeva Bazilika is the city’s main tourist attraction, a 6th Century early Christian church which is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site - it is in fact the third church built on that site, with artefacts remaining from the first, built in the 4th Century.

The first part of the stage is to climb up onto the slightly elevated plateau around Tinjan, before descending into the valley that extends from Vrh Lima inland, and climbing back out. This is the same valley that gave us the Vrh Lima climb in stage 1 and the Kanfanar climb in stage 2, but this time the climb is uncategorised, it’s just over 2km at 5% but so far from the finish it should have little impact on the race. We follow the inland plateau as far as Barban before descending into the valley of the Raša river. This is where the stage starts to get serious, as we ascend from the waterfront at Trget up to Salakovci. We will see more of Salakovci, but this will be the only time we climb the full ascent so this is the only time it will give GPM points. The climb consists of 1,8km at just over 7%, then 1,2km at 3%, then another 1km at 7% before false flat to the summit. 7,2km later, we arrive in the town of Labin, where we cross the finishing line for the first time.


Labin, our finishing town

Labin comes from the Roman town of Albona, although the name actually predates Latin and is believed to come from a Proto-Indo-European element meaning “hill”, which is also the root from which the word “Alp” comes. For a month in 1921 it was an independent state, after miners from Labin successfully resisted Italian governmental control in what is regarded as the first ever anti-fascist uprising. The Italians suppressed the republic on April 8th by military force and indicted 52 mine workers who were imprisoned - but later acquitted - in Pola (Pula) and Rovigno (Rovinj). It has become a regular host of the Istarsko Proljeće in recent years, often with an uphill - but not steep uphill - finish. Winners in Labin over the last 20 years include - as ever - a parade of strong Slovenes, such as Jure Kocjan, Grega Bole, Marko Kump and Luka Mezgec, but also in tougher stages more recently Kasper Asgreen, Magnus Cort and Markus Eibegger have been among the winners in the town.

My stage hits Labin early, however, and then has two laps of a 52,2km circuit which brings the noise. Major challenges on this circuit mean that this will be the crucial part of the stage as we circumnavigate the peninsula separating the Raša estuary from the eastern Adriatic. The course involves a northward turn from Labin towards Ripenda Verbanci, before looping down through Ripenda Kras and into the resort town of Rabac, a rapidly-growing tourist destination which is known primarily for music, thanks to Eurovision entrant Franka Batelić, and also the Rabac Festival, an electronic music festival.


Rabac. We descend through the resort apartments to the coast and then head along the coast from right to left

To climb back up into Labin you have to take a road past Sentonina Staza waterfall. We actually pass the entrance into the town and turn left to ascend further to the outlying village of Presika and the Stari Grad hilltop fortifications. The climb into Labin itself is 3,4km at 6,4%, but the first kilometre of that is false flat. The further ascent to Stari Grad is another 700m which bring the average up to 6,8% over 4,1km. The last 3km average 8% so this is a significant enough ascent, and it crests at 88 and 36km from the line. This is not likely to be the one where the big differences are made, but it does give some effort into the legs before the real difference-maker. You could descend into Sveta Marina and add a small punchy climb here but it extends the circuit; I chose not to, instead sticking to the ridge road which saunters generally downhill to Ravna Raša before we head up to a shortish but extremely severe climb to Skitača (Schitazza to Italians), a small settlement established in the 13th Century and then enlarged later by people hiding away from Labin after Napoleon’s conquest of the area. A difficult to access village in extremely hilly terrain on the edge of the peninsula, Skitača then attracted migrant workers from Eastern Europe while under Austro-Hungarian control. For a long period this settlement was unusual in having an Istro-Romanian majority of population, descended from Roman settlers in Dacia and having their own language called Ciribiri, a close relative of Romanian which is now the only extant remnant of eastern Romance languages. Urbanisation in the modern era and its inaccessibility has meant that Skitača is now a barely-populated hamlet, but it does mean that it is ideal for a cycling race, with a brutal climb up to the village.


Southern edge of Raša peninsula, road to Skitača on the left

I did discover this one independently but when looking up stuff for the race, back in 2013 the poster Albona (who I’m guessing may have been from Labin or nearby from the name and choice of races/posts) had a brief look at an Istarsko Proljeće, the only other time this has been considered in the thread. They only ever posted the first two stages before losing interest, but they did include a monster hilly circuit around Labin similar to this, which you can see here. You can see how old it is from the post being done with Tracks4Bikers. I also cannot trace where a paved road corresponding to the Hrvatici climb is, but I’m assuming Albona has better local knowledge than I do, having only visited the Istrian peninsula for a few days. Either way, they have the Skitača climb further from the finish than I do and use the climb from Sveta Marina too. I proceed directly to the climb, and it is a beast as you can see from Climbfinder’s profile:



Yes, this Xorret del Croati climb is something out of a Javier Guillén fantasy, resembling the likes of Les Praeres in its nastiness, averaging over 11% for 3,3km, and the “respite” section is a 200m false flat; the climb is otherwise relentlessly over 10% and with frequent sustained sections of 15-16%. This should be enough to force selection, not the first time over (there would still be 73km remaining) but the last time, cresting at just 21km from the line, should definitely see significant action as this is the most GC-relevant climbing of the day. The descent is a little more palatable - 4km at 7% - and then the terrain undulates all the way to the line. In fact, we do ascend the final part of the Salakovci climb once more, although it is uncategorised here as we are not doing the full climb, so this will be the opportunity to build up a gap if a small group escapes on Skitača and a rider wants to solo away, or it will be an opportunity to organise a chase as it’s going uphill again after such a painful previous ascent. There is a bit of false flat from the peninsular road before we join the road we climbed from the estuary before, so the overall climb statistics are 2,7km @ 3,4%, but the last 1,6km are at 5,2% which serves as the most crucial part of the climb for escapee opportunities. This crests at 7km from the line before we return to Labin for a finish in front of the Spomenik Rudarima-Labin so there’s a right hander at a roundabout about 750m from the line and a second roundabout - though we go straight on and it doesn’t require much of a deviation at all - around 450m out.

This is the queen stage, but you can’t just go from 3km out on the last climb because it’s all just false flat and undulation. The real climbs come much further out, and since the last day is tomorrow the riders have to risk tiring themselves out to gain time.
 
After taking some extra rest days like I were a 2022 Grand Tour or something, I better continue with this race.

Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

Stage 5: Brotterode-Trusetal - Schmalkalden, 184 km, approx. 3700m of total elevation gain

We are staying in the former DDR for the fifth stage, which will explore a bit of the Thüringer Wald. The riders have travelled 35 km since the end of stage 4 in order to start in Trusetal. There’s only about 10 km between the start of this stage and the finish, but the riders will have to take a bit of a detour instead.

In the 90s and 00s, everyone seemed to have an Ul(l)rich: Metallica had one, cycling had one, too, and so did endurance car racing. But our first hero of the day unsurprisingly comes from the world of biathlon. Frank Ullrich was one of the very best in the sport during the late 70s and early 80s, winning a total of 9 world championship titles and one Olympic gold medal as well topping four of the first five World Cup seasons. His 17 wins on the World Cup circuit puts him into seventh on the all-time list, ahead of guys like Quentin Fillon Maillet, Tarjei Bø and Michael Greis, which is pretty good considering they only had sprint and individual competitions and did fewer WC rounds during his career, though the sport obviously wasn’t as internationalised as it is today.


Frank Ullrich (right) with Uwe Müssiggang, the legendary former coach for the German women

After retiring, he went into coaching, first for the East German team and then for the unified Germany until 2010. He was later coach for the German cross-country team between 2012 and 2015. He’s gone into politics since then and has been a social democratic member of the Bundestag since last year’s general election. And most importantly for this stage, he was born in Trusetal.

They’ll also ride through Großbreitenbach, where Andrea Henkel/Burke grew up. With one overall WC title, a crystal globe in the individual, two golds from the 2002 Olympics and 8 world championship titles, she was one of the top biathletes in the first decade after the Millennium. Her 22 individual WC victories is enough for 8th on the all-time list. She now resides in Lake Placid with her husband Tim Burke. Her childhood training facilities in Großbreitenbach is now called the Biathlonzentrum Andrea Henkel.



They’ll later ride through the outskirts of Suhl, the hometown of Erik Lesser, who retired after the 2022 season. He was never one of best biathletes, but he still managed to secure 40 podiums and 11 victories in his career, the last one coming in his final pursuit race at Holmenkollen. His farewell season also saw him finishing 10th overall, equalling his best ever result. Another thing that brought him into the news this year, was that the he loaned his bike to Eduard Latypov, so that the Russian could train indoors while in COVID isolation in Oberhof ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Lesser also won three Olympic medals in his career and two world championship titles in Kontiolahti back in 2015.



Predictably, the riders will also visit Oberhof, the winter sports capital of Thüringen. The Lotto Thüringen Arena am Rennsteig, as the stadium is currently called, has previously hosted both the Nordic Combined World Cup and stages of the Tour de Ski as well as a round of the women’s ski jumping World Cup back in March, but it’s undoubtedly best known for being a biathlon venue. It was first used during the 1983/83 WC and returned the next season before disappearing again for 7/8 years. It was used every other year in the 90s, but since then it’s featured in most seasons and hosted the world championships in 2004 and is set to do it again next year.

After Oberhof comes Steinbach-Hallenberg, where Kati Wilhelm both lives and runs a restaurant called Heimathlon. Andrea Henkel’s hair colour and stature made her fairly easy to spot in the field, but that was nothing compared to her redheaded teammate Wilhelm who was more like a fox in the snow. A fellow one-time overall WC winner and three times runner-up (Henkel played a part in Helena Jonsson/Ekholm’s tie-break win over Wilhelm in 2009), a five-time world champion and a three-time Olympic champion.


One of the best relay teams in history with Wilhelm, Henkel, Martina Glagow/Beck and Magdalena Neuner

Her 21 individual WC wins is enough for 10th on the all-time list, one win behind Henkel, but one more than Laura Dahlmeier. Initially a cross-country skier, having competed as such in the 1998 Olympics, she changed sport in 1999. She ended her career after 2009-10 season and is now working as a biathlon expert for ARD.

The town of Floh-Seligenthal gives opportunity to name drop a few more biathletes. Frank Luck grew up there. He also won a lot of things, but I’m going to focus more on his former brother-in-law who also used to live in the town and perhaps still does. Up-and-coming biathlete Vanessa Voigt, who won the 2020-21 IBU Cup and got one WC podium last season as well as winning the bronze medal in the relay in Beijing, where she also finished fourth in the individual, grew up very close to where the stage’s last honouree lives/lived. So did her twin brother Kevin, who’s a race photographer, meaning they could become biathlon’s answer to Marianne and Anton Vosone day.

When I started following biathlon, there was one guy who was a bit cooler (or should I say hotter?) than his fellow competitors. He didn’t wear gloves, used old school ski poles with overhand grip and shot with a different type of rifle. His name is Sven Fischer. He won 33 individual WC races, the highest number for any German male and sixth among all male biathletes. He is two-time overall WC winner, who lost out on a potential third title in 2005, when he missed the last WC race due to illness and Ole Einar Bjørndalen overtook him by 11 points. He also won three Olympic relays and one sprint as well as seven world championship gold medals. His total of 8 wins at Holmenkollen was a record before Martin Fourcade broke it with 10.


The 1988 Gavia stage would have been a piece of cake for Sven Fischer

This is meant to be a breakaway stage, which I think is fair enough on a Tuesday, but most of the climbs aren’t that difficult, so in order to possibly get some GC action, I’ve changed the original descent into an uphill one. The climb to the Berggasthof Queste is 1 km at around 10%, but the final 7-800m are at 12%, 17% max (but it still looks quite easy compared to those Istrian muritos, LS has found).

The other climbs are Wiebach, Heuberg, Wegscheide, Ilmenau-Oehrenstock, Hohe Tanne, Kahlert, Ringbergpass, Rondell, Rotteroder Höhe, Federhügel + a km of the steep part of Gieselsberg before the descent to Schmalkalden and the final climb.






The Beer of the Day
Since this is a biathlon themed stage, all the riders will be offered a complimentary pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei after the finish.

 
Deutschland Tour by Samu Cuenca vol. 2

Stage 6: Werneck - Neckarsulm, 131 km, approx. 1400m of total elevation gain


The riders will travel about 90 minutes south for the start of stage 6 in Werneck, southwest of Schweinfurt. It’s a short and fairly easy flat stage. Unlike with stage 5, I’ve remembered to put in some intermediate sprints on this one. One of them is in Würzburg, which was also visited in my first version.

I’m only going to mention a few things about Neckarsulm in this presentation.
NSU (an abbreviation of the city’s name) originally made knitting machines in the late 1800s, but began making bicycles and then later motorcycles and cars. In 1932, they sold their car factory in neighbouring Heilbronn to Fiat for 1 million Marks, and they began producing Fiat cars under brand name NSU-Fiat.


An NSU Prinz

The original company focused on motorcycles from then on, and by 1955 it had become the world market leader. The company re-entered the car business in 1957 with the introduction of the NSU Prinz. This led to disputes with the Fiat factory, which then had to change its brand name to Neckar. The Heilbronn factory closed in 1971.

NSU launched the world’s first car with a Wankel engine in 1964, the NSU Spider. The company also profited from licensing the engine design to other manufactures in the following years. In 1968 they stopped their production of motorcycles. They were bought by Volkswagen in 1969 and merged with Audi. The riders will pass the factory shortly before the finish along the Neckar River. The city also has a NSU museum.


The NSU Wankel Spider

In cycling related trivia, Neckarsulm is also the home to the headquarters of Lidl and its parent company the Schwarz Group, who also owns the Kaufland hypermarket chain.







The Beer of the Day
Today's beer is whatever you can find at Lidl. You can't be sure who's made it, but you know they haven't done their best. At least it isn't too expensive.

 
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