Race Design Thread

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Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 3: Lure - Mont Roland (Dole), 156 km


Stage 3 starts in Lure, which also hosted the start of this year’s final stage. It was originally quite flat with a finish in the centre of Dole, but then I made it slightly longer and hillier. Dole has at least been visted once by the Tour Cycliste féminin, when Petra Rossner won a stage there in 1995. On the day of this year's TdF stage from Dole to Lausanne, a group of activists rode the 180 km route to promot women's cycling and get more women to ride their bikes. The initiative was welcomed by the mayor, so perhaps he’d also be happy to host the women’s Tour in his city.

The Montée de la Chapelle-des-Buis in the outskirts of Besançon is the hardest challenge of the day. I think the top is just before the final steep hundred meters on the profile below.



The Côte de la Serre (3 km, 4.5%) is climbed 20 km from the line and could be a launch pad for attacks or at least be a point where some of the sprinters and their teams could be put under pressure. The last 3 km is uphill to the Chalet du Mont-Roland hotel. The average gradient is only 3.5%, 10% max, but it would hopefully still be able to lead to an interesting final between the sprinters and the puncheuses. The final meters are at about 2%.

I'm not entirely sure there'd be space enough for a finish at the hotel, but if there isn't, the line will be somewhere in the city instead.






 
Stage 6: Trujillo - Béjar, 201km





GPM:
Alto de El Torno (cat.3) 5,4km @ 6,4%
Puerto de Tornavacas (cat.2) 14,0km @ 5,0%
Puerto del Tremedal (cat.2) 11,0km @ 5,4%
Puerto de La Hoya (cat.3) 5,0km @ 4,1%

For stage 6, we are moving northwards, and we leave Extremadura for Castilla y León. We start in the small city of Trujillo, around 40km north of yesterday’s finish, home to just under 10.000 people and built on a granite knoll which made it easy to defend from attacks from the surrounding plains. Originally a Roman outpost called Turgalium, it became one of the main towns of the region under Muslim control, and was fiercely contested during the Reconquista, being at various times under Almohad, Portuguese, Leonese and Castilian control. It expanded beyond its military walls after being granted city status in 1430 by Juan II, and shortly after this expansion, the most famous progenies of Trujillo were born: the conquistadors. The oldest is Francisco de las Casas, who travelled initially with his cousin Hernán Cortés and established a colony in Honduras (centred around the modern day Colón department, whose capital is named Trujillo after the governor’s hometown), but he was preceded as a conquering son of Trujillo by Francisco Pizarro, the second and most famous of the four Pizarro brothers, who would all go on to a life of colonial conquest and rule and who were all born and raised in the city of Trujillo, Extremadura.

Although Francisco was very much the leader, all four Pizarro brothers were key to the conquest of the Inca Empire and the absorption of Peru into the Spanish Empire, by the oft-brutal means of the conquistadors at the time, which included kidnapping emperor Atahualpa, commandeering an entire room full of gold as his ransom, then executing the emperor anyway; having initially been the mayor of Panama City, he attempted to conquer Peru with the help of “Los Trece de la Fama”, a possibly apocryphal 13 men who remained loyal in the face of a seemingly doomed expedition and eventually founded the city of Lima from which he ruled the province; he was however a victim of both his success and his politicking, eventually being assassinated by supporters of Diego de Almagro II. Strangely, the prominent Peruvian city of Trujillo, although named for the hometown of the Pizarros, was not established until later. Following the assassination of Francisco, essentially the claims of the other Pizarros on the colonial provinces lost traction and they faded from the limelight, however their legacy remains strong; Pizarro’s statue stands in Lima as well as Trujillo, and the family bequeathed their hometown the Palacio de la Conquista, which sits on Plaza Mayor at the heart of the city and has been its most famous landmark since.


Central Trujillo, with the Plaza Mayor in the foreground and Palacio de la Conquista visible on it

The city was also home to another prominent conquistador, Francisco de Orellana, a cohort and co-expeditionary of Francisco Pizarro who would go on to found the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador. It has never been formally acknowledged whether he was related to the Pizarro brothers, but it seems likely as he is from the same town, supported Pizarro in the conflict with Almagro, and Pizarro is one of the appellations in his full name. De Orellana is nowadays known more for what he didn’t achieve than what he did, being one of the prime exponents of the theory of El Dorado, which has served as a mythical quest in literature and art ever since. As something of a tribute but also as something of a parting shot, Trujillo has been twinned in modern times with the city of Almagro in Ciudad Real, home of the rival conquistador. Nevertheless, the city’s imperial and colonial heritage and the riches brought home by the conquistadors to the city has made it a must-see for those few tourists that make it out to this part of the country. That does not include cyclists it seems, for pro races do not this way come - only ever passing through, usually en route to Cáceres nearby.

The first part of the stage, then, is pretty flat, as we bypass the Sierra de Guadalupe, the only topographically interesting part of this mid-Extremaduran plains area, and instead head straight for the Sistema Central, since we’re going to have our first real medium mountain stage today. Things only start to hot up after we pass through Plasencia, which hosts the first intermediate sprint, so it’s possible if any sprinters actually care about the green jersey here that they want to hold things together or restrict the break for this, but I suspect the break just takes this. Then, we head into the Valle del Jerte, a scenic break in the mountains that separates the Sierra de Gredos from the Sierra de Béjar, renowned for its cherry blossoms in spring and its tricky microclimate.



We actually ride all the way up the valley, but before we do so we have a minor diversion as we climb to El Torno, a small village partway up the eastern and southeastern faces of the Alto de Cabezabellosa, a more well known ascent at least among tracers which has been used in the Vuelta a Extremadura but never the Vuelta a España itself. The climb to El Torno corresponds to the first half of this profile so it keeps all the best parts of the climb, but will be one where we award it only cat.3 given how far from the finish we are. This then allows us to cross over from Extremadura into Castilla y León by exchanging the lower plateau on the southern side of the Sistema Central for the higher one to its north, via the long and relatively gradual, cat.2, ascent of the Puerto de Tornavacas. This climb is 14km at 5% gradually steepening but not ever getting threatening - the steepest kilometre is at 6,6% - and some 66km from the finish. It has usually been overlooked by both real race organisers and traceurs in favour of the climbs near Béjar to the west, such as La Garganta, Lagunilla and El Cerro, for arriving on the higher plains. As such it has only been seen twice in the Vuelta, once in 1990, mid-stage in a transitional stage from Cáceres to Guijuelo, and then in 2002, in the La Covatilla stage, as part of the lead-in.


2002 stage over Tornavacas to La Covatilla, won by Santi Blanco

Just like that stage, we follow the Puerto de Tornavacas immediately, with barely anything that could classify as a ‘descent’, with the Puerto de Tremedal, another climb which earns cat.2 status for being reasonably long but not threatening in terms of gradients, though this one at least has a couple of steeper ramps, mostly lower down as shown on the profile. This crests 48km from home as we’re going to go actually into Béjar this time, not straight up from the Puerto de la Hoya up to the ski station as they did in 2002, which was in fact the first ascent of the climb in pro racing, instigated to placate the Banda de La Covatilla, a prominent group of voices in the péloton in Spain, led by Miguel Ángel Martín Perdiguero and featuring Santos González, Rubén Lobato and Aitor González among others. Curiously, however, this group did not feature the most famous rider to ever come out of Béjar, for which La Covatilla was a local climb, that rider of course being record Vuelta winner (at least now his fourth win has been reinstated) Roberto Heras. I have discussed Béjar and its legacy in cycling as well as both its famous cycling sons (the other being Laudelino “Lale” Cubino) in a previous Vuelta route which finished at La Covatilla, so as I’m feeling lazy I will quote myself.

The city of Béjar has hosted the Vuelta a few times over the years, but it has come more to prominence since the 90s, and that's to do with two famous riders from town. I mentioned the first a couple of times in my last Vuelta because I was going for quite a late 80s-early 90s vibe with that route - it is the underrated pure climber Laudelino "Lale" Cubino González. Professional from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, Lale is one of the few non-sprinters of the comparatively modern epoch to have won stages of all Grand Tours, with his inevitable speciality being mountaintop finishes. Sites of his victories include Cerler-Ampriu, where he was the first rider to win, Luz Ardiden (in both the Tour AND the Vuelta), Monte Naranco and Monte Sirino. He is also one of the comparatively small number of Europeans to have taken multiple stages of the Vuelta a Colombia, winning a stage in 1991 and another five years later. However, like so many featherweight Spanish climbers over the years, Cubino was fragile and prone to losing unnecessary time at unexpected places and crashing out of major races; he only managed to podium one Grand Tour, that being the 1993 Vuelta, but he managed two more top 10s, as well as a strong performance in the World Championships in Agrigento in 1994 and a national championship win. He also won countless stages of short Spanish stage races, and a few stages of mountainous races elsewhere, most notably the Dauphiné.



Although most of his career had been with BH and Amaya Seguros, in Lale's final year as a pro he was riding for the Kelme team, and when he retired at the end of 1996, one of the young riders the team brought through as a replacement in 1997 was a fresh-faced young rider from the same hometown as Cubino and who regarded the escalador as an idol, only this kid was set to completely eclipse Lale's performances. His name was Roberto Heras, and Kelme very quickly realised they had something special with him. Taking him to the Vuelta in his neo-pro year, he repaid them with a victory on the Alto del Morredero (no mean feat) and finished 5th in the final overall classification. A year later he repeated the feat, winning a stage (to Segovia this time) and finishing 5th, although he was over five minutes closer to Olano than he had been to Zülle the previous year. In 1999, he managed his first GT podium, taking 3rd place although he failed to win a stage this time; he made up for it by taking out the victory in the Aprica stage of the Giro, and in 2000 he finally stepped onto the top step of the podium in Madrid, taking two stages en route. Roberto took the leader's jersey from Ángel Casero on Lagos de Covadonga when the latter lost time, and then won the Alto de Abantos MTF in the leader's jersey to underscore his triumph.

Heras' successes led to him becoming perhaps the most famous of those riders that Johan Bruyneel brought in to ride as lieutenants for Lance Armstrong, building the US Postal super-team that took the template built for Miguel Indurain by Banesto, and turned it into a fine-tuned race-strangling machine; Heras was on several occasions the second strongest rider on any given day in the mountains, but turning himself over for Armstrong meant that his Tour de France GC results never reflected his talent - indeed his best Tour GC performance was 5th place, which he scored while still at Kelme. However, Bruyneel did repay him with full support in his Vuelta tilts; however he was unable at first to repay them with the same success Paolo Savoldelli was managing in the Giro; in 2001 he was 4th (since promoted to the podium by the erasure of Levi Leipheimer), and the following year we had what seemed like it would surely be his most memorable ever ride, triumphing atop the monstrous Alto de l'Angliru in hideous weather conditions to take the lead of the race; however we were in prime turbo diesel era, and the Vuelta route was also very turbo diesel friendly at that point, and Heras' dreams were dashed on the final day by THE AITORMINATOR©. The following year, despite an even more diesel-tastic route, Heras was keen not to repeat his mistake. Instead he chipped away repeatedly at the lead that had been built up by Isidro Nozal before annihilating the shock leader in the penultimate day's MTT to the Alto de Abantos. The following year, having moved to Liberty Seguros and freed himself from Lance (plus taken on Nozal as a domestique to create a formidable squad) he tried to repeat the 2002 tactic, taking the jersey on a mighty mountaintop in the middle of week 2 (this time Cálar Alto), but despite an absurd late race transformation that led to a top-20 pick in the Fantasy Doping Draft, Santiago Pérez didn't have the same calibre as THE AITORMINATOR© in the final chrono and was unable to overhaul Heras' lead.

And then 2005 happened. We all know the basics of the story; Roberto won the Vuelta thanks to the single greatest stage in the Vuelta's modern history, almost killing himself descending La Colladiella, leaving domestiques standing by the side of the road to wait for him to arrive, and proving himself unbeatable in the most awful of weather to hit the Vuelta since that Angliru win in 2002 - the only problem with that win was he did it in the ugly-as-all-hell "fish jersey", the blue points jersey with yellow fish designs that the Vuelta used at the time. Well, that and he cheated to do it, which led to the epic move being rendered moot, the Vuelta being taken away and given to Denis Menchov, only to then be given back in the courts in 2011; to this day it is unclear who won the 2005 Vuelta.

What we do know, however, is that Roberto Heras never rode a top level bike race again. It's pretty widely accepted that Heras is one of the most blacklisted of the blacklisted, a true persona non grata at top level road cycling. He has kept himself busy in XCO MTB and in Gran Fondos, but while many of the blacklisted riders found themselves bumped down a couple of levels and re-emerged with Rock Racing, Miche or the Portuguese teams, or have had to fund their own projects or find their own sponsors, like Michael Rasmussen, Heras has been gone, full stop, for over a decade now. However, the fact remains that he's either the equal most successful Vuelta rider of all time (alongside Tony Rominger and Alberto Contador), or the single most successful Vuelta rider of all time, and that deserves some recognition.

Arriving in Béjar over the Puerto de la Hoya, we have a slightly uphill run to the line where there is an intermediate sprint, because I didn’t want to just make this a climber’s stage, and wanted to balance it out. So instead, there is a circuit loop of 20,3km which was cribbed from an attempt at a World Championships course that I came up with, blending the best of APM’s ideas for the city (they did a whole study on the city) with the best of Unipublic’s real life ideas for the city to create an interesting, challenging and potentially frustrating (for the riders at least) final 20km for the stage.

This includes uncategorised climbs, cobbles, and rolling terrain a-plenty. This was the plan that PRC came up with for a finish in Béjar:



I have agreed with their optional finish at Plaza Mayor, but I am approaching it from the opposite side (the west) thanks to looping around north of the city on the way down from La Hoya, which then enables me to add this extra circuit. We then follow the red route up towards Castañár before descending back down again, so we do ascend past the Basilica and the Plaza de Toros which is the oldest surviving one in the world; this entails 2,1km @ 6,6% but going uncategorised and cresting a little inside 20km from home. This then allows us to descend into Candelário, which has appeared recently a couple of times in stages to La Covatilla and has wowed us all with its narrow, cobbled, painful ramps serving as a minor, but noteworthy, addition to the race.

I really liked adding a 600m at 8,6% cobbled repecho to the race, especially bearing in mind that for me it is not serving as an appetiser for an HC mountaintop finish, but rather as the final ‘true’ ascent, ending 13km from home. Realistically there’s a bit of uphill before the repecho and Cronoescalada records the full climb as being 2,0km @ 6,5%, but that final cobbled stretch will be where the key moves are made.



After this there is another short - around 1,5km at 4% - uphill to the Alto Los Pollos, the official high point of the road, before a twisty downhill through Navacarros takes us back to the descent route we previously took. Once more this loops around to the north of Béjar, crossing the Cuerpo de Hombre river at the Textile Museum and turning westward following the Ronda Viriato before a short uphill, urban cobbled route takes us up Rua Pedro Roca and Calle Rodríguez Vidal to the finish at Plaza Mayor.


Left hand side of this picture

I think this finale would make an ideal World Championships course, as the two climbs are differing in style although similar in overall stats, and both are in the first half of the circuit. The final repecho is a kilometre long but the only difference-making bit is about 300m and not that steep, so you won’t see people leaving it to that final uphill. It ought to be a good finale and a warmup for the World Championships par excellence, too. And it would be nice to see the race make something of Béjar that isn’t just a stage start the day after a La Covatilla MTF, no?
 
Excellent write up on Heras, one of the best climbers ever, and somewhat forgotten. I watched the 2004-Vuelta recently, and it was truly a bizarre race or rather, a bizarre performance from Santi Perez. Nozal was invaluable that Vuelta and the victory seemed certain going into the third week (only problem was Valverde by the looks of it, but Roberto was the better climber, so shouldn't have a problem with him), until Santi Perez rode one of the most amazing 3rd weeks you can think of. It was a great race IMO, definitely one of the better GT's I can remember, and honestly that has to mainly be credited to Santi Perez although its obvious to everyone who follows cycling that what he did in that race was even more outrageous than what we see in Portugal.

Also, why don't we finish off with pointless laps after the sterrato like in Tour of Denmark? I heard that would incentivize racing.
 
Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 3: Lure - Mont Roland (Dole), 156 km


Stage 3 starts in Lure, which also hosted the start of this year’s final stage. It was originally quite flat with a finish in the centre of Dole, but then I made it slightly longer and hillier. Dole has at least been visted once by the Tour Cycliste féminin, when Petra Rossner won a stage there in 1995. On the day of this year's TdF stage from Dole to Lausanne, a group of activists rode the 180 km route to promot women's cycling and get more women to ride their bikes. The initiative was welcomed by the mayor, so perhaps he’d also be happy to host the women’s Tour in his city.

The Montée de la Chapelle-des-Buis in the outskirts of Besançon is the hardest challenge of the day. I think the top is just before the final steep hundred meters on the profile below.



The Côte de la Serre (3 km, 4.5%) is climbed 20 km from the line and could be a launch pad for attacks or at least be a point where some of the sprinters and their teams could be put under pressure. The last 3 km is uphill to the Chalet du Mont-Roland hotel. The average gradient is only 3.5%, 10% max, but it would hopefully still be able to lead to an interesting final between the sprinters and the puncheuses. The final meters are at about 2%.

I'm not entirely sure there'd be space enough for a finish at the hotel, but if there isn't, the line will be somewhere in the city instead.






Late to respond to this, a good transitional stage, a light punchy stage, which is good, as I couldn’t do many of those on my route, or at least ones that ended uphill.
 
Late to respond to this, a good transitional stage, a light punchy stage, which is good, as I couldn’t do many of those on my route, or at least ones that ended uphill.
I would have liked the final to have been just a little bit harder, maybe 5% avg. instead of 3.5. Perhaps an Épernay kind of stage with short, but steep climbs would have been even better, since I don't have one of those planned for later in the race.
 
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Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 4: Lons-le-Saunier - Belley, 153 km


The fourth stage is another one longer than 150 km, but this time it'll most likely end in a regular bunch sprint. There are some categorised climbs in the first 85 km, so there'll be something to chase for a breakway/the QOM contenders. There are two intermediate sprints around 100 km mark.





There's a short climb (1.5 km, 4.6%) inside the final 5 km. It probably won't change the outcome, but it could still mess up the sprint for teams that hit the front too early. The finishing straight is slightly uphill (the same one they use in the Ain Bugey Valromey Tour junior race).

It's not the most exciting stage on paper, but at least it doesn't promise anything it wouldn't be able to deliver. And it's on a Wednesday, so you'd be forgiven for only watching the final kilometres.



 
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Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 5: Saint-Alban-de-Montbel - Saint-Alban-de-Montbel, 16.7 km ITT


It's Thursday and time trial time. I wanted to have an iTT around a lake, inspired by the 2009 Annecy course, but the Lac d'Annecy itself was too big to use, since I wanted the start and finish to be close to each other, and the Lac du Bourget at Aix-les-Bains wasn't the right size either. Instead I've chosen the smaller Lac d'Aiguebelette.



A 16-17 km ITT will create gaps and it mostly likely won't make it harder for Annemiek van Vleuten to win the race, although Demi Vollering might not lose an awful lot of time to her. If Marlen Reusser hasn't lost too much time on stage 2, she could potentially also get in touch of the race lead here, and Ellen van Dijk will at least fight for the stage win.

Lac d'Aiguebelette has previously hosted both a stage start (2008) and a stage finish, when
Nicole Brändli won stage 9b back in 2002. The towns around the lake are quite small, so I expect the teams will be staying in Chambéry, 20 km away.



 
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Also 1992 and Lac de Vassivière!

Stage 7 - Alba de Tormes - Santa María del Páramo, 214km





GPM:
None

Now, the sprinters will be a bit happier. This is a pure pan-flat transitional stage, because we kind of are overdue one, and there is also little to add topographical interest in the plains of Salamanca. As a result, I’ve utilised transitional stages through this area on several occasions in previous routes, so really this stage is more about simply picking a couple of different reasonable stage hosts to shake things up rather than reusing Salamanca, Zamora, Benevento, Astorga or León for the hundredth time, as these are of course among the largest cities and most common stage hosts through this area.

Instead, therefore, I’ve chosen to start in the city of Alba de Tormes, a short distance southeast of Salamanca and home to just over 5.000 people, so of a similar size to the towns and cities we were heading through in Extremadura, but with high importance historically largely because it gave its name to one of the most important dynasties of noblemen in Spanish history, the Casa de Alba de Tormes, who were previously the Casa de Álvarez de Toledo before Gutierre Álvarez de Toledo acquired the lordship of Alba de Tormes in 1429. The 2nd Duque de Alba de Tormes was one of the signatories of the Capitulations of Granada which ended the final vestiges of Muslim rule in Spain, and Fernando, third Duque de Alba, was known as the “Iron Duke” and the “Grand Duke”, and served as an advisor to two Spanish monarchs and as one of the greatest generals and military figures of his era. After Doña María Teresa da Silva, the thirteenth Duchess, died in 1808 without a direct heir, the title passed to the House of FitzJames, as Carlos Miguel FitzJames Stuart acquired the title through relation, and so the Duchy of Alba de Tormes is now a title directly connected to the Duchy of Berwick, a duchy created for the illegitimate son of the British Monarch James II and VII (some kings carry both regnal numbers in the British monarchy when they are descended from the royal house which ruled Scotland prior to its union with the English crown, as there had been five Kings of Scotland called James before any that ruled in England). Shortly after this the city was the scene of a victory for the French military during the Peninsular War, when Spanish general del Parque camped in an unsuitable location close to the Tormes river and allowed himself to be startled by the speed of a French mobilisation.

Away from the nobility, Alba de Tormes’ primary claims to fame are religious, as this was where Santa Teresa de Ávila died, and where Eloíno Nácar Fuster, a renowned translator of the Bible, lived. In fact, the two chains of renown are linked, for Gutierre Álvarez de Toledo was serving as the Bishop of Palencia at the time he acquired the duchy of Alba de Tormes.



In recent years the city has twice hosted stages of the Vuelta a Castilla y León, first a stage from Ávila in 2015 which was won by Pello Bilbao, with the slightly uphill sprint of a reduced bunch enabling him to succeed ahead of Enrique Sanz, and secondly as the start of a stage to Salamanca in 2018 which ended in a sprint won by Carlos Barbero ahead of Ion Aberasturi and Edu Prades. We will bypass Salamanca, however, to its east before joining the main non-autovía route north towards Fuentesaúco and then Zamora, a common host of both real life and Race Design Thread fantasy Vueltas, due to its convenient location as a start for courses going through the mountains of western León and around Puebla de Sanabria. I’ve put the first intermediate sprint there.

As mentioned, this is a completely flat stage, and so we head northwards fairly unencumbered for another 50km before we bear westwards to head for our second meta volante in Benavente, again a city I’ve used as a stage host before and which has hosted plenty of real life racing. In the Vuelta a España it has played host to stage starts in 2000 and 2002, both finishing in Salamanca; the first was won from the breakaway by Davide Bramati, as Italians dominated, making up 4 of the 5-man breakaway and the top 3 of the sprint from behind, and Angelo Furlan winning a sprint in the latter ahead of Erik Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi. It has also hosted Vuelta a Castilla y León stage starts on three occasions recently - in 2009 Caisse d’Épargne did a 1-2 in Valladolid with Valverde ahead of José Joaquín Rojas, in 2011 Filippo Savini won a mountain stage to Laguna de los Peces ahead of the likes of Bakke Mollema, Domenico Pozzovivo, Igor Antón and Xavier Tondó, who would eventually win the GC in what would turn out to be his final career race, and in 2022 Giacomo Nizzolo won a sprint in Morales del Vino.

From here we head on through La Bañeza, the last viable stage host before the finale, and then turn right to head east north east to Santa María del Páramo, where the finish will take place. Again it’s a relatively small town with a little over 3.000 inhabitants, and I need to essentially circumnavigate it in order to get a safe sprint finish in - it has a full ring road, so we head around part of it, then towards the centre, before a 90º left to head back out again so that we can use more of the wide open ring road when the speed is increasing; this then allows us to take a wide open right at a roundabout at 700m remaining - this particular roundabout is double-lane wide all the way so can be smoothed off into one continuous corner that can be taken with reasonable pace, and then it’s straight all the way to the line. Páramo (not to be confused with Paramó, a word for a mountain pass more common in South America) is from a pre-Roman word paramus meaning an open field or plain exposed to the wind, which tells you precisely why I chose this finishing town, seeing as this is going to otherwise be completely a straight up sprinters’ battle, but making it over 200km and having the last 30km or so exposed to the vagaries of the wind meant there’s at least some opportunity for something interesting happening. Most likely it is a sprint, but if the weather plays ball, we could get some interest.


Santa María del Páramo celebrates its Fería Multisectorial, showing the space available that makes it a viable stage host

This area was very sparsely populated until late Roman times, and even then, until the relatively recent (1974) discovery in Las Carbas, a hamlet between Santa María and Bercianos del Páramo, of a late Roman necropolis. However, otherwise Roman and Visigothic signs in the area are distinguished by their absence, and it seems most likely that the Swabians were the first to settle permanently in what is now the town, which only appears in records from 1258. This has very much been an agricultural site until recently where a new industrial estate has directed the town more towards the service sectors and encouraged growth. The Fería Multisectorial, a large agricultural fair, is one of the town’s biggest events and takes place in September so would be shortly after a Vuelta stage would pass through based on the route plan I have here.

The only time that I can see cycling having been specifically hosted here at the highest level (a number of amateur races pass through or start or finish in the area) is the 2009 Vuelta a Castilla y León, where the queen stage, over the Alto del Peñón to the Laguna de los Peces gradual MTF, started in Santa María del Páramo. This was back at the time when it was one of the best fields for a .1 race all season; there was a 28km ITT before this and then the Laguna de los Peces stage was the toughest of the race; Xavier Tondó went on a long distance escapade over the steeper climb that was reeled in close to the finish by a solo attack from Juan José Cobo, while Alberto Contador managed the group behind for team leader Levi Leipheimer. Denis Menchov attacked to steal a small number of additional seconds at the end from the group of 10 which also included Dave Zabriskie (defending a GC podium from the TT) and Ezequiel Mosquera. Those days are of course long gone for the Vuelta a Castilla y León, but that doesn’t mean the Vuelta a España can’t rock up into town to bring a slightly stronger field, this time contesting the sprint, no?

 
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Stage 8: La Bañeza - Bembibre-Alto del Redondal, 168km





GPM:
Alto de Foncebadón-Cruz de Ferro (cat.2) 13,0km @ 3,9%
Alto de Las Minas (cat.2) 4,3km @ 10,1%
Alto de Santamarina (cat.3) 3,0km @ 5,7%
Alto del Redondal (cat.E) 9,2km @ 9,4%

The first ‘true’ mountain stage of the race takes place on the second Saturday of the race and is one of the stages that has gone through several iterations. Earlier versions of this route had an Alto del Acebo MTF, as there are multiple sides of that climb and so my ‘no-repeats’ rule gives me scope to use that one in a few different manners, but I eventually settled on this long-forgotten MTF on the edges of the Macizo Galaico. It also means practically zero transfer as well, seeing as we passed through La Bañeza only 20km from the finish in the previous day’s racing, so convenience was a strong consideration too, since I have asked the bunch to meander their way through some fairly sparsely populated areas in week 1.

La Bañeza is somewhat larger than Santa María del Páramo, being home to over 11.000 people. The city was the birthplace of the Communist, and later prominent Republican Civil War fighter Diego Pastor Alonso, and more recently the marathon canoeist José Julián Becerro. It dates back to Asturian pre-Roman times as a settlement, although the area lay abandoned for many years. The depopulated area saw battle between the Visigoths and the Swabians with the Visigoths pushing their rivals back in the era (this is possibly a precursor to the creation of Santa María, by the way). El Conde Gatón commissioned the establishment of the town of La Bañeza in the 9th Century, merging two nearby villages with a town centre that made them contiguous. The Astorga - Palencia railway, inaugurated in 1896, just a year after La Bañeza was granted city status, passed through the city on its southeastern outskirts, and the increased trade and importance brought by this led to the city expanding in the direction of the station. Sugar processing factories have since been set up which have become a key employer for the city.



It is, however, an infrequent host of cycling, with only a couple of Vuelta a León stages in recent memory, although this is in large part because of the city’s main sporting love being its annual motorcycle event, the La Bañeza Grand Prix, which have taken place on the Fiesta de la Anunciación since 1954. This is a multi-class race on an urban circuit protected solely by haybales, in a similar fashion to popular road racing events all over Europe, most notably events such as the Northwest 200 in Northern Ireland and the legendary Isle of Man TT.



The first part of the stage is heading westwards into the lower valley of the Río Sil. The first landmark, before we descend into the valley, is the city of Astorga, centre of the País de los Maragatos, and a key waypoint in the Camino del Santiago where several routes converge. The city dates back to the Roman city of Asturica Augusta, in reference to the Astures, the people who inhabited the area when the Romans arrived - the former bequeaths us the name of Astorga, the latter bequeaths us the name of Asturias. This was the most important city in the region for the Romans, and the bishopric is one of the oldest Christian titles in Europe. Astorga is also renowned as the birthplace of chocolate in Europe, after it was first processed here following Hernán Cortés bringing the cacao bean to Spain from his travels in Mexico. It has hosted various races over the years, most recently in 2011 being the start of the La Farrapona stage of the Vuelta, won from the breakaway by Rein Taaramäe, but notable for the relatively quiet ascent of the final climb; Chris Froome, in his breakout race, was dropped on the penultimate climb of San Lorenzo, but did his yo-yo act before that was a known thing, brought himself back to the group and worked for his team leader on the final ascent; David de la Fuente of Geox was the last to be dropped in the break, and so Juan José Cobo attacked to join up with his former Saunier Duval and Fuji-Servetto running buddy, who helped tow him to a gain of some 20 seconds on the Sky duo - thus paving the way for Cobo’s attack on Angliru the following day when Wiggins dropped and Froome was unleashed for good, however, at least for eight years until Cobo’s results were expunged, this lack of action in response to Geox having a man up the road was the decisive difference-maker in the Vuelta.

We arrive at El Bierzo, the lowland region in west León around the Sil valley, via the eastern face of the double summit that is Foncebadón-Cruz de Ferro. This essentially gets category 2 status due to its length; its average is less than 4% although its last 7km average over 5% which suggests a reasonable cat.2 given the amount of false flat beforehand. Then we have around 6km of flat before a more significant descent from the summit into the lower valley which leads us directly to the cycling hub of the region, Ponferrada.


2014 World Championships

Ponferrada has always rocked up frequently in cycling, either as a host directly, or indirectly due to the proximity of the El Morredero ski station. As the shape of Spain means detours into Galicia have limited options for entry and exit, especially given a lot of the mountainous routes between northern Galicia and western Asturias are not well maintained or have only been recently paved, Ponferrada has featured frequently, either when the Bierzo region is being passed through or hosting stages. Galicia was popular in the early days of the race due to the popularity and success of the Rodríguez Barros brothers from the region, so Ponferrada first held a stage all the way back in 1942, with Joaquín Olmos victorious that day. The tendency of the race to follow a format hugging the southern coastal resorts before heading into the northern mountains during the El Correo-El Pueblo Vasco days meant that the northwest was only seldom seen until the Basque Country was taken off the agenda at the end of the 70s, but then it immediately returned, Francisco Elorriaga winning in the city in 1980. Dominique Arnaud won the ensuing stage from Ponferrada to León, and would then win in Ponferrada itself on its return seven years later. In 1997, the Alto del Morredero was introduced for the first time, Roberto Heras winning at the summit before Pavel Tonkov won at Brañillín in the stage out of Ponferrada the next day. The summit finish was brought back in 2006, with Alejandro Valverde triumphing ahead of Carlos Sastre and José Ángel Gómez Marchante before Vino won the following stage, his first of three, as Ponferrada proved a key battleground between the two riders who would go on to shape the competition at that Vuelta. In 2008, it was host to a transitional stage where Astana let the break go and David García da Pena took the win for Xacobeo-Galicía, a stage after they had drawn the ire of team owner Álvaro Pino after Contador and Leipheimer sat on Ezequiel Mosquera all the way to Fuentes de Invierno before nipping out to steal the stage in the last 200m. In stage 11 it was the finish of a stage over the Puerto de Ancares, its first introduction to the Vuelta, but as it was a mid-stage climb in a transitional stage, the race was left to the break, from which Michael Albasini took the win.

Ponferrada has also hosted many a smaller race - Castilla y León has also finished at the summit of El Morredero twice, in 2004 (Valverde and Koldo Gil duking out the win) and 2010 (Igor Antón escaping as he, Mosquera and Juan Mauricio Soler did a number on Alberto Contador at the top), and in the city frequently, such as an ITT won by Contador in 2010, and in 2021 when the short stage race was reduced following the global pandemic to a one-day race won by Matis Louvel. That latter one day race started in León, arrived in Ponferrada the same way we do and then used the circuit that was used for the city’s greatest contribution to the sport, of course, the 2014 World Championships, where Michał Kwiatkowski and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot walked home with the rainbow stripes, and both races featured tantrums being thrown by riders I don’t like - Simon Gerrans demonstrating his knowledge of racing tactics by whining that he had the legs to fight for victory but other riders who he could outspent actually wanted him to help chase Kwiatkowski and refused to just carry him to the line, and Lizzie Armitstead insulting Emma Johansson and criticising all other teams’ tactics for the chase group coming back, because she somehow thought Johansson, who had one domestique for the majority of the race and had just been brought back from a solo move, should have got on the front and towed Lizzie to the line. The Schadenfreude was delicious.

We will not be taking on the circuit of that championship, however, instead we head past neighbouring Bembibre (another common cycling host) on the highway and go through Toreno along the Sil valley to Matarrosa del Sil, from which we have a somewhat short but steep cat.2 ascent to the Alto de Las Minas, which is steep and nasty - however it’s a bit tricky to get details on because of its namesake in Antioquia being one of the most legendary climbs in Colombia. This one is steeper than the Colombian behemoth - a lot steeper - but only 1/10th the length.



We descend into Fabero, and then cross the same massif far lower down via an uncategorised climb which Cronoescalada has logged at 3,7km @ 5,0%. The long, sauntering downhill from this - almost all false flat for about 12km - takes us back to Toreno, where we intersect the route we took earlier, so we’re doing an uncommon loop-de-loop shaped course here, before turning immediately right out of Toreno to head directly toward Bembibre, which entails going over the short, not especially threatening but nevertheless points-award-worthy (at least considering I didn’t give any points for the unnamed climb out of Fabero) Alto de Santamarina, 3km at 5,7% cresting just 21km from home. Numbers on this climb are slightly unclear, as RFEC and PRC call it 2,9km @ 6,4% which is somewhat steeper of course, but regardless, it’s still a cat.3 speed bump on the way to the summit finish.

That final 21 kilometres includes an intermediate sprint in our nominal stage host of Bembibre. This city has around 10.000 inhabitants and is very much the second city of the Bierzo region after Ponferrada. Remains of pre-Roman fortifications are found in the region, and the proximity of several small hills which had made it a welcoming settlement in this era also make it attractive to cycling.


Bembibre

Stages in Bembibre are infrequent; the most memorable in recent times would be the 2014 Vuelta a Castilla y León final stage which included the southern side of the Alto del Peñón, the HC Puerto de los Portillinos/Llano de las Ovejas (albeit broken up into two categorised sections) then a long descent into Ponferrada and a lumpy route into the city, won solo by Luís León Sánchez, during his brief exile to the ProConti ranks with Caja Rural, ahead of Sérgio Sousa of Efapel who failed to chase him down, while David Belda, who had won the MTF at Lubián the previous day as part of his highly dubious reinvention in his 30s, held on to the GC. In 2013, the city hosted the national championships, on a hilly course which utilised the Alto de Santamarina as its final decisive ascent; Jesús Herrada won the two-up sprint against Ion Izagirre.

Back 20 years ago, though, Bembibre hosting the race usually meant something a lot more painful. A lot.



The Pico Redondal mountain which serves as the de facto Hausberg of Bembibre is to its south, and hosts a wind farm and electric substation. As you can see from the profile, it’s a bit of a beast as well, being 9,2km at 9,4% which puts it in the same kind of ballpark as Col de Menté west, Arvenbüel, São Macário and Cuchu Puercu; the first 3km however are only in the 6-7% kind of ballpark, leaving the last 6,2km to average 10,8% - really not especially pleasant. This is a long forgotten climb, but back in the late 90s and early 00s, it hosted the Vuelta a Castilla y León four times; in 1999 Leonardo Piepoli won solo, well ahead of Alberto Elli and José María Jiménez, in 2000 Paco Mancebo won ahead of his Banesto teammate Aitor Osa as they wrestled the GC out of the hands of Igor González de Galdeano, in 2001 Javier Pascual took his third stage win, with Marcos Serrano in 2nd taking the GC, and in 2002 Juan Miguel Mercado won the stage to wrest control of the race that he would eventually win.

Since then, however, the climb has gone unused. Rather like the Alto de Abantos, another climb which was a staple in the 2000s but has been 15 years without a race, the main culprit here is the weather; the road is tracked on Google Maps up to about the halfway point (just under 1000m altitude, so about 4,5km in) with the images dating back to 2009; at this point, however, there is a sign prohibiting further traffic due to the danger of the road. And you can see from the street view itself that once you pass the village of Turienzo Castañero, the rod condition starts to deteriorate, and simply there is not enough traffic that would be going up to the Parque Eólico to justify the kind of level of maintenance needed on the road, and so once it was no longer hosting a pro bike race every year, interest in bringing it back dried up because it wasn’t just a case of paying to host, it would be the cost of paying to host and resurface and relay the road.

This video by Roberto García Pérez shows the road in March 2018, hard to truly ascertain due to the snow, but large parts are now clearly worn to the point of being needed to be treated as genuinely unpaved. It’s not quite as bad as the video makes out, however, seeing as they are riding MTBs and take a couple of shortcuts on unpaved tracks, as you can see around the 23 minute mark. Nevertheless as you see at the 25 minute mark, the tarmac needs a lot of TLC to make this one truly viable. But given some of the gravel paths and goat tracks that the Vuelta has seen local governments and authorities have paved for a spectacle in recent years - Ermita de Alba, Cuitu Negru, Javalambre east, Les Praeres - some of the narrow tracks and concrete paths they’ve been willing to use over the years - Angliru, Ahusquy, Oizmendi, Collado Ballesteros - and the general predilection on Javier Guillén’s part for favouring the exaggerated gradients, I don’t think a return for this long-forgotten gem of a steep behemoth is beyond the realms of possibility for sure. At least now. A few years ago it would very much be off the cards, as the cost of the World Championships meant the Bierzo region was off the cards for a few years, but now cycling is returning to the Ponferrada-Bembibre region more frequently and the area is rekindling its love of the sport, I can definitely see them considering paving this one to tempt Guillén to town. Or just compressing the gravel enough to make it rideable and have a spectacle of a finish along similar lines to Kronplatz in the Giro. Hell, it could even be put in the same stage as Ancares if they wanted to, in the fashion of the 2011 stage. Obviously I’m not going with that approach, but then this one is plenty steep enough to create some gaps in and of itself. It might even be steep enough (whisper it) for Sepp Kuss.

And as a first MTF, after some rouleur-favouring stages throughout the first week, this should blow the race wide open.

 
Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 5: Saint-Alban-de-Montbel - Saint-Alban-de-Montbel, 16.7 km ITT


It's Thursday and time trial time. I wanted to have an iTT around a lake, inspired by the 2009 Annecy course, but the Lac d'Annecy itself was too big to use, since I wanted the start and finish to be close to each other, and the Lac du Bourget at Aix-les-Bains wasn't the right size either. Instead I've chosen the smaller Lac d'Aiguebelette.



A 16-17 km ITT will create gaps and it mostly likely won't make it harder for Annemiek van Vleuten to win the race, although Demi Vollering might not lose an awful lot of time to her. If Marlen Reusser hasn't lost too much time on stage 2, she could potentially also get in touch of the race lead here, and Ellen van Dijk will at least fight for the stage win.

Lac d'Aiguebelette has previously hosted both a stage start (2008) and a stage finish, when
Nicole Brändli won stage 9b back in 2002. The towns around the lake are quite small, so I expect the teams will be staying in Chambéry, 20 km away.



Nice mid race ITT, nothing to complain about.
 
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Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 6: Chambéry - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 112 km


ASO used the Super Planche this year, so they'll probably soon include another classic from recent years; the Lacets de Montvernier with its beautiful switchbacks.

My stage is inspired by the Cesena stage from this year's Giro Donne, so just like that one it has three categorised climbs and a few more, that could have been categorised on a different day (in the end I did put a QOM sprint on one of the early lumps anyway).

We could see some gaps on this stage. Hopefully it won't be a very hot day like it was in Cesena, but unlike on that stage, Van Vleuten would not necessarily be holding back and/or be a bit below her best due to having other major goals later in the season, as well as having been injured in the build-up, so her opponents have to see if they can outsmart her or put her and Movistar under maximum pressure in the descents, if they can stay with her on the climbs.






The Montée au Solliat is this Strava section: https://www.strava.com/segments/3024521
As you can see on Google Maps, it's basically a a worse looking version of Montvernier, so ASO would most likely leave it out of their stage.

The uncategorised climb between Solliat and Montvernier is the first part of Col de la Madeleine from La Chambre to Saint-Martin-sur-la-Chambre





 
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Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

Stage 6: Chambéry - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 112 km


ASO used the Super Planche this year, so they'll probably soon include another classic from recent years; the Lacets de Montvernier with its beautiful switchbacks.

My stage is inspired by the Cesena stage from this year's Giro Donne, so just like that one it has three categorised climbs and a few more, that could have been categorised on a different day (in the end I did put a QOM sprint on one of the early lumps anyway).

We could see some gaps on this stage. Hopefully it won't be a very hot day like it was in Cesena, but unlike on that stage, Van Vleuten would not necessarily be holding back and/or be a bit below her best due to having other major goals later in the season, as well as having been injured in the build-up, so her opponents have to see if they can outsmart her or put her and Movistar under maximum pressure in the descents, if they can stay with her on the climbs.






The Montée au Solliat is this Strava section: https://www.strava.com/segments/3024521
As you can see on Google Maps, it's basically a a worse looking version of Montvernier, so ASO would most likely leave it out of their stage.

The uncategorised climb between Solliat and Montvernier is the first part of Col de la Madeleine from La Chambre to Saint-Martin-sur-la-Chambre





I like this stage, an introduction to the Alps, and definitely a stage ASO would do.
 
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Excellent write up on Heras, one of the best climbers ever, and somewhat forgotten. I watched the 2004-Vuelta recently, and it was truly a bizarre race or rather, a bizarre performance from Santi Perez. Nozal was invaluable that Vuelta and the victory seemed certain going into the third week (only problem was Valverde by the looks of it, but Roberto was the better climber, so shouldn't have a problem with him), until Santi Perez rode one of the most amazing 3rd weeks you can think of. It was a great race IMO, definitely one of the better GT's I can remember, and honestly that has to mainly be credited to Santi Perez although its obvious to everyone who follows cycling that what he did in that race was even more outrageous than what we see in Portugal.

Also, why don't we finish off with pointless laps after the sterrato like in Tour of Denmark? I heard that would incentivize racing.
Some of the attacks from Santi Perez in that Vuelta (mainly on Puerto de Navacerrada) make Riccardo Ricco look like a diesel climber...
 
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Stage 9: Villablino - Oviedo, 182km





GPM:
Alto de Las Cruces (cat.2) 5,0km @ 8,9%
Puertos del Marabio (cat.1) 10,8km @ 7,0%
Alto de la Cruz de Linares (cat.1) 7,2km @ 8,9%
Alto de la Campa Dosango (cat.2) 6,2km @ 7,3%
Alto de Los Ferrerinos (cat.3) 3,4km @ 8,2%
Alto de Valdemora (cat.3) 2,2km @ 9,8%

So, this stage is one of the newer tweaks to the race, but doesn’t actually involve too much fundamental change, as the main body of the stage is exactly as it was - I just had to move the start as it was previously in Cangas del Narcea due to my using the Acebo MTF, so that would have been an overlong and completely unnecessary transfer especially considering it’s the last stage before the rest day.

Instead, we are starting in Villablino, the main population centre of the Valle de Laciana, a small region to the north of El Bierzo, following the same road up past Matarrosa del Sil that we used in the previous stage before turning left for the Alto de Las Minas. With just over 10.000 inhabitants, it’s a similar size to Bembibre, but without the larger nearby population centre to count on that the latter has. This valley is on the northern edge of the Cordillera Cantabrica, effectively separating it from the Macizo Galaico, and is rich in coal deposits, having grown - as with many towns and cities in this area - as a mining town. It has never hosted the Vuelta, at least in the real world (I have used it before in the universe in which my Vuelta exists, in this stage to Piedrafita-O Cebreiro, while other users have also used it in Vuelta designs too, such as Forever the Best here and Another_Dutch_Guy here. It has, however, frequently hosted the Vuelta a León, with Bauke Mollema in 2006 probably the biggest name to triumph there.



The first part of the stage is just to ride up the false flat to the Puerto del Somiedo and cross over from León down into Asturias. Somiedo is one of those lopsided climbs like Escudo, Urkiola, Ventana and San Gloria where one side is on an elevated plateau, so the southern side of the climb is very gradual and mostly just false flat. It’s only even a cat.3 from this side in the Vuelta a Asturias, and is almost all false flat, so I haven’t even bothered to categorise it. The descent into La Riera along the Pigüeña valley is much more significant, but is a wide open highway so all will be well as we head for the first of no fewer than six categorised climbs on today’s saw-toothed stage, seeing as, especially with the steep ramps and inconsistencies of Asturias climbs, we have a profile which, to quote the colourful idioms of GCN, “more resembles the dental records of a piranha”. This is a traditional home of mountain stages in the Vuelta, and nevertheless we still have lots that has yet to be discovered by the real race - and still many options yet to be taken even in my fictitious universe where climbs like Peñas del Viento, La Bobia, La Marta and La Degollada, all novelties to real life pro racing, are now known. It’s harder to design a stage that isn’t lethal for all but the most flyweight of climbers in most of Asturias, which is probably why many of its most famous riders are, of course, flyweight climbers, like José Manuel Fuente and Samuel Sánchez.

The first of these six categorised climbs is the Alto de Las Cruces, a cat.2 ascent which has never been seen before in racing. It shares the first part of the ascent with the southern side of the Alto de la Corredoria, which was another option that I considered for the stage. I didn’t want this to get too brutal too quickly, though, so I settled for the shorter option. This is one of those climbs on the edges of cat.1 classification considering some of the climbs the Vuelta awards that categorisation to, such as Les Praeres or El Cordal, but I’m sticking with cat.2 especially as it’s over 100km from the line (and I think Les Praeres and El Cordal are cat.2 climbs). At 5km at 8,9% it goes in the same kind of bracket as Las Minas, but also it’s not far off the likes of El Cordal or Planche des Belles Filles (the regular one, not Super-Planche). With the profile showing the first 3km averaging over 10% and a max of 18%, this is not to be underestimated.

A gradual descent then takes us into the Villabre valley, from which we ascend up to the more well-established Puertos del Marabio. I have steered largely clear of well known ascents in this stage (at least to real races, most traceurs will no doubt be aware of them) but this one is the only one any active riders will have seen in La Vuelta, since it has actually been in the race, albeit only once (in 2002, as part of the toughest ever Angliru stage - even before the heavens opened) - which I believe makes the only active riders who would have contested it Óscar Sevilla (who actually took maximum points across the summit) and Alejandro Valverde (who DNFed the stage); however, several others are now potentially in the team cars (Pablo Lastras, Jose Azevedo, Chechu Rubiera, Charlie Wegelius) or have children who could feasibly compete (Vladimir Miholjević, Alexey Sivakov). It’s a pretty severe climb; we ascend the whole of this profile but I have elected to only categorise the final 11km - 11km @ 7% just sounds more threatening than 19km @ 4,7%, no?


Summit at Marabio

After this there is a short flat to the Ermita de Santa Ana. There are in fact three different summits on this col depending on which route up you take (two from the south, one from the north), hence the plural in the name. Then we descend down to the Val de Cazana, well known in cycling as this drains into the Río Páramo at San Martín then into the Trubia at Caranga de Abajo, and links the Puerto de San Lorenzo at its west end from the Alto de La Cobertoria at its eastern end. To the south lay Trobaniello and the Puerto de Ventana, to the east above Cobertoria lay Gamoniteiru and Ermita de Alba. We follow the Páramo to Caranga then instead of turning back upstream we continue to head northwards along the Trubia to our next climb, which is the perennial traceur’s favourite, Cruz de Linares.

Chaining perfectly after Cobertoria’s hardest face, San Lorenzo or Marabio and before Tenebredo, Campo Dosango, Degollada and others, this unheralded climb is common in route suggestions but not in actual races, being picked up in APM suggestions 15 years ago and cropping up frequently on the boards of more or less everywhere where route mapping suggestions take place. 7km at 9% is not to be sniffed at - this matches up more to something like Super-Planche, for example, which CyclingCols records as being 7,0km @ 8,8%, so slightly shorter and ever so slightly less steep than Cruz de Linares, but with a steeper maximum and, of course, those sterrato stretches - but with all its steepest gradients at the bottom, as the first 4,6km average 10,7%, so this is very mean. 39x28 Altimetrias has a gallery of photos of the climb here while I’ve taken the shot below off of Globerismo. From here on in, pain is the name of the game, as there are 58km remaining, and almost none of it will be flat.





Descending down to San Andrés, we turn almost back on ourselves to head upstream up the Trubia, but only briefly, before the road turns to the skies once more, for a climb which will start off familiar to much of the bunch, only to then turn nasty. Well, the bit they already know is also kind of nasty but at least they’ll know what to expect.

The Alto del Tenebredo is a short, but steep, and inconsistent, little climb which is 3,5km at 9,3%, but that even includes some descent, with the first kilometre averaging nearly 12%, then the last kilometre averaging 13%. It’s really quite a tough little ramp and is relatively close to Oviedo, which has led to it being used several times in recent Vueltas, typically as a mid-stage leg softener. It was introduced in 2002, and has since been used in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the former two in Angliru stages and the latter to Ermita de Alba. It has also been a staple in the Vuelta a Asturias and, historically, the Vuelta a los Valles Mineros, a second stage race in Asturias which died off in the 90s, following a similar format to the Euskal Bizikleta running alongside the Vuelta al País Vasco, or the Setmana Catalana running alongside the Volta a Catalunya. However, at the summit one can turn right to continue to climb; a little above the summit lies the Campa Dosango summit, and this enables us to add yet more inconsistency to the ascent, making a multi-stepped, challenging ascent whose overall stats of 6,2km at 7,3% kind of make you feel it will be a lot easier than it actually is. The first few hundred metres after the Tenebredo summit are shallower, but then it once again ramps up to a kilometre at 11% before an easy last kilometre softens the average.


Carlos Vega’s profile of Campa Dosango

This climb has actually been seen in racing, in the 2010 Vuelta a Asturias when the final stage was from San Antolín de Ibias to Oviedo, passing over Pozo de las Mujeres Muertas, Alto de Leitariegos, Puerto de Somiedo (from the same easy side we use here), Alto de San Lorenzo and Alto de la Campa Dosango. It was the key era of serious dubiousness in Asturias, where much of the Spanish spring calendar was used as Ardennes tuneups, but by Asturias the Ardennes had been and gone, so the startlist was padded by Portuguese teams stuffed with ex-Puerto names, Colombian touring lineups and Italian continental teams who hadn’t been or couldn’t be invited to the Giro. Constantino Zaballa rode solo away on the Alto de San Lorenzo and built his advantage as Fabio Duarte’s Colombia es Pasión team struggled to support him in yellow, and took the GC win and the stage on the final day. The decisive move was well before Campa Dosango, but you can see plenty of it in the last 4 minutes of this video:


In my stage, however, 38km remain at the summit, I award cat.2 status only (it was cat.1 in 2010) and there is still more climbing to do. Hell, there’s an intermediate sprint at the base of the descent, to try to tempt more attacking before the final doublet of back to back climbs. It’s a long descent compared to the climb, down through Soto de Ribera where we hold the sprint where we cross the Río Caudal and the Río Nalón in short order. Instead of heading toward Oviedo on the N-630 directly like in the 2010 Vuelta a Asturias, we here turn right into Soto del Rey, which then lets us turn left and take on our next climb.

From this side of Oviedo, everybody is familiar with the classic favourite of race organisers that is the Alto de La Manzaneda, and many traceurs are familiar with the Alto de Picullanza, a parallel and slightly tougher alternative. However, at Picullanza there is a crossroads, rather than turning left descending down to El Condado and back into Oviedo or turning right into the main La Manzaneda road, we can continue to ascend over a small crest that then lets us descend down to the traditional La Manzaneda road; we reach a point above its summit, on a separate hilltop that overlooks it from the southwest. This climb is called Los Ferrerinos and is a solid cat.3 climb cresting 22km from the finish; the steepest stuff is all part of the initial Picullanza climb, but there is a nasty ramp of 12% later on.



When we reach the La Manzaneda road, we turn right and descend the traditional side of the climb. This takes us down into the village and industrial estate of Olloniego, where we loop around to Santa Eulalia de la Manzaneda, and this is then where my last climb of the day, and my last little bit of innovation for the stage, kicks in, as we have an ascent I couldn’t find mapped anywhere at all, and considering both 39x28 and Carlos Vega are based in Asturias and Globerismo has extensively mapped the area too, that’s saying something. This road is quite an animal.


We climb the road to the right of shot. You can see the hill it goes more or less straight up in the background


Higher up the climb. Source: https://www.asturnatura.com



As you can see, this one is steep and it is nasty. The first bit after the underpass into Santa Eulalia is false flat, but then it immediately ramps up to murderous País Vasco gradients, with 800m at 15% and a maximum of no less than 22% as we wind our way through the Candamo valley. The next 400m average just 5,5% before it cuts all the way back up to 13% for the next 250m. The rest eases up save for a 100m at 11% section just before the 2km mark in the climb, through the hamlet of Valdemora. This climb has a plateau at the top which connects it to La Manzaneda, but although I’ve listed it as a variant thereof on the profile of the climb, on the stage profile I’ve awarded it the title of the Alto de Valdemora to differentiate it. The summit comes a mere 13km from the line.

It could actually have been closer had I headed straight for the finish in Oviedo but I’ve elected to opt for something a little more complex. There’s 8,3km remaining when we arrive on the outskirts of Oviedo and to get to the finish I’ve used - the same one used in the 2019 stage won by Sam Bennett - we could have essentially replicated that stage’s final 2,7km. Instead however, at the roundabout we turn in the opposite direction to head west again, away from the centre, into the recently developed Montecerrao district on the west of the city, which includes a short climb of 900m at 7% to the Campus del Cristo - this is at 4,3km from the line and is uncategorised so the hope is that it will be underestimated or overlooked, before we loop back around into the centre of the city to the usual finish as previously described. Subject to a brief detour to enable us to use Calle Samuel Sánchez, named for Oviedo’s most recent cycling hero, the Euskaltel stalwart and long-time captain who won the Olympic Road Race in 2008 among his many career triumphs, also including the GC and several stages of his adopted home race, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Vuelta a Burgos, several stages of the Vuelta over the years, and a stage along with the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France in 2011. He managed 10 top 10s at Grand Tours over the years, with two Vuelta podiums, in 2007 (3rd) and 2009 (2nd) as well as originally finishing 4th in the 2010 Tour de France, but since acquiring the podium thanks to the declassification of first Alberto Contador and then Denis Menchov. He also finished on the podium of the Giro di Lombardia four times without winning it. Known as a demon descender, he was a perennial favourite and popular figure in the orange of Euskaltel which he wore in any and all hilly and mountainous races as a co-leader or leader all career until the team’s demise, whereupon he joined BMC and became something of a late-career Zubeldia, picking up quiet results well into his late 30s before he flew too close to the sun and tested positive for GHRP-2 at the age of 39, effectively ending his career on the spot.



Oviedo is a long -time host of the Vuelta, as you might expect - it’s in the heart of the mountains and the capital of the Asturias region, so the race has been here countless times over the years. It made its first appearance as the finish of a time trial in 1941, won by Délio Rodríguez, and especially in the days before major MTFs became a frequent thing for the race, Oviedo would regularly host stages through the mountains but then ending with the likes of La Manzaneda. Winners in Oviedo in this era include Dalmacio Langarica and Angelo Conterno, before in 1974 the organisers took advantage of the popularity and success of local favourite José Manuel Fuente and introduced Monte Naranco, the Hausberg of Oviedo, as a summit finish. Not an especially challenging one, but it nevertheless became a Vuelta classic - and a site of some controversy; after KAS nerfed their own breakaway because Joaquim Agostinho had come in as an interloper (eventually a smart decision as he ended up only 11” down on GC), Fuente attacked on the penultimate climb of the day and won solo, dropping nearest rival Ocaña by over a minute and leaving the previous year’s Tour winner isolated and being abused and taunted and pelted with missiles with angry Asturian fans whose local hero had been screwed out of national selections by Ocaña due to their enmity - forcing Tarangu to actually step in and reproach the fans at the stage start in Oviedo the following morning, and demanding they treat Ocaña with respect.

The switch of the organisation to Unipublic in the early 80s as the Basque region became off-limits meant that Oviedo and its surrounding mountains became much more of a focal point for the race. 1984 saw Guido van Calster win in Oviedo before Julián Gorospe won an MTT to Naranco, Federico Echave won in the city in 1985, 1986 saw the same format as ’84 with Eddy Planckaert and Marino Lejarreta the winners, Carlos Hernández won in Oviedo in ’87, Álvaro Pino won the Naranco MTT in ’88, Alberto Camargo won at Naranco in ’90, Laudelino Cubino likewise a year later, Francisco Javier Mauléon the year later, Tony Rominger in ’93, Bart Voskamp in ’94 and Laurent Jalabert, of course, in ’95. The race continued to be an annual fixture with Daniele Nardello taking the win in ’96 and José Vicente García Acosta winning all the way back in ’97, but then the introduction of nearby - and far more spectacular - Angliru made Monte Naranco a much less enticing prospect; the tendency of the race to target MTFs in the Asturian region meant that Oviedo was largely relegated to stage start duty since, serving in that purpose for the Angliru stage in 2000, the Fuentes de Invierno stage in 2008 and the Lagos de Covadonga stage in 2014. There was a return to Monte Naranco in 2016, won by David de la Cruz, and of course the road stage in 2019 I linked above which Sam Bennett won. Plus, obviously, the Vuelta a Asturias finishes here more or less every year, with winners including Ángel Edo (twice), Miguel Ángel Martín Perdiguero, Rubén Plaza, Ángel Vicioso, Tino Zaballa, Victor Cabedo (his only career win before his untimely death at just 23), Jesús Herrada, Dani Moreno, Simon Yates and, most importantly, mythical Raúl Alarcón.



The cyclists may have been usurped as the most famous sporting Ovetenses by two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, but there are plenty more than just Samuel Sánchez to distinguish Oviedo as a home of cyclists, as you might expect given their heritage as an annual fixture in the Vuelta for many years. Luís Balagué was twice top 10 in the Vuelta and won a stage in 1972, riding for teams like Bic and Werner and being a domestique to the likes of Luís Ocaña; Marcelino García rode for a decade with ONCE and CSC winning the Critérium International and making the podium of Paris-Nice in the late 90s; Luís Alberto Ordiales was a sprinter in the late 70s most distinguished for being the only rider to win a bunch sprint other than Freddy Maertens in the notorious 1977 Vuelta; Adolfo Alperi competed in the pursuit at two Olympics; and Carlos Barredo is a well known baroudeur and climber of the 2000s and 2010s who won the Clásica San Sebastián and stages of Paris-Nice and the Vuelta, as well as finishing top 10 in the Vuelta, before five years of his career were wiped for biopassport violations and he was hounded from the sport to retrain as a barista. I was particularly disappointed by this one as I had been a fan of Barredo’s, largely because of his often misguided aggressive racing (David Harmon once suggested him as a potential stage winner from a break in a mountainous race, to which Sean Kelly deadpanned “no, he’ll just attack at completely the wrong time and waste his energy as usual”). The other thing was that his stage win in the Vuelta was at Lagos de Covadonga in 2010, and was a beautiful story, because when he was a kid and had been getting into the sport he was bugging his parents to buy him a new bike because he’d kind of got to the level where he would need a better one to compete; they were reluctant to commit that level of finance unless they were sure of their son’s commitment, so a deal was struck where they’d take him to a local climb and if he made it all the way up without putting his feet down once on his old bike which lacked ideal gearing, they would buy him the bike. That climb turned out to be Lagos de Covadonga, and little Carlos was damned if he wasn’t getting that new bike, so he did it - so his winning at the same place all those years later was a great moment.

Samu’s achievements may now have an element of shadow over them, but at least he got a statue in the city. Oviedo still loves cycling, and I feel cycling should show Oviedo some appreciation in return.

 
Reactions: Samu Cuenca
Stage 10: El Entrego-Museo de la Minería de Asturias - Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo, 164km





GPM:
Alto de la Collaona (cat.2) 7,0km @ 6,6%
Puerto de San Isidro (cat.1) 14,3km @ 6,0%
Puerto de Las Señales (cat.2) 11,5km @ 4,0%
Puerto de Monteviejo (cat.3) 7,5km @ 3,7%
Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo (cat.3) 3,7km @ 7,2%

The first day after the rest day is a transition back onto the high plateau; given the categorisation and ordering of the climbs (2-1-2-3-3) it is very similar to the last stage before the rest day (2-1-1-2-3-3) so you might be forgiven for thinking this would be another monster day but realistically given where in the stage these climbs are, this is much less of a threat and is more likely to be one for the breakaway, especially those hunting the GPM with 20 points available pretty early in the day assuming they continue with the current basis, based on the pre-2013 Giro system.

There’s almost no transfer as well, so the rest day is legit a rest day, not a transfer day, seeing as we’re starting today in El Entrego, just up the road from Oviedo in the Valle de Nalón, part of that long line of semi-connected towns and cities consisting of Langreo/Llangréu, El Entrego/L’Entregu, Sotrondo, Blimea and Pola de Laviana - the middle three of which constitute the San Martín del Rey Aurelio municipality. Historically a series of mining towns, urban expansion and development has turned them into a contiguous urban area with multiple nuclei; of the total population of 16.000, El Entrego is the largest and westernmost of the three, contributing 7.500 of that population, so almost half. Its name translates as “the handover” and comes apocryphally from King Aurélio “handing over” a number of maidens in the Nalón valley as part of a treaty when the Muslims took control of the area - but it is believed that this actually refers to the draining of a number of mountain streams into the Nalón in short order at this area. Nowadays, however, El Entrego is trying to re-establish itself as a technological hub as the mining industry has declined, but is at present best known to the outside world as the site of MUMI, or the Museo de la Mineria de Asturias, the second most visited museum in Asturias since its opening in 1994. A bit like the Jurassic Museum in Colunga hosting the Vuelta a few years ago, I thought this would be a good Património host for the race. The only time racing has stopped off around here lately was 2014, when San Martín del Rey Aurelio hosted the start of the Vuelta stage to La Farrapona, won by Contador ahead of Froome in their two-man battle in that race.


L’Entregu, as the town is known in Asturianu

The climbing starts almost immediately in this stage, but it’s not especially tough and the hardest climbing is done early. After just 9km they start the ascent to La Collaona, although I have only classified the last 7, toughest, kilometres. As you can see from the profile it’s a perfectly decent cat.2 ascent, which was introduced to La Vuelta in 1986 and has been climbed several times since, with José Luís Laguía, Joaquim Rodríguez, Luís León Sánchez and, somewhat surprisingly, Sylvain Chavanel among those to have been first across the summit. This takes us to the Aller valley at Cabañaquinta (a traceur favourite here is to use La Collaona as a lead-in climb to Cotobello), where we turn left and head for Felechosa and then an old established favourite, the Puerto de San Isidro, another which was introduced to the Vuelta in 1986 - in the same stage in fact, on stage 9. This stage was a mountaintop finish to the Fuentes de Invierno ski station at the summit of San Isidro (so strictly speaking they didn’t reach the pass, as the turnoff for Fuentes de Invierno is shortly before the summit. There is a second ski station, Cebolledo, which is just after the summit and requires a longer climb so is actually a bit tougher, but as that station is in León rather than Asturias, having a stage all in Asturias but expecting the Leonese government to pay for the finish is pretty unlikely!!!) which was won by Charly Mottet. Carlos Hernández Bailo won the last of his Vuelta stages here in 1990, and then in 1992 it was used as a pass for the first time in a stage from Oviedo to León. 2008 saw another MTF, the aforementioned stage where Mosquera towed everybody up the climb before Contador and Leipheimer snuck out to take the 1-2 at the end and Álvaro Pino threw his toys out the pram, then it has been used twice as a pass since, in 2016 and 2018, with veteran baroudeur Thomas de Gendt taking the summit both times.


Only to the pass


Scenery of the Puerto de San Isidro

The Puerto de San Isidro is again one of those lopsided climbs on to the inland plateau, so it’s really not much of a descent before we head up to the Puerto de las Señales. This is usually more known for its northern side, effectively an extension to the better known Puerto de Tarna. It has only been climbed by the Vuelta once, in 1990. It’s essentially some false flat before a final 6,5km at 5,9%, as you can see on the profile. We descend through Tarna, therefore, but not the full descent back down into Asturias but the eastern side of the climb, which takes us to a lengthy amount of false flat; we are done with these climbs by the halfway point in the stage, and then we are heading around the relatively sparsely-populated northeastern corner of León and on into the small mountainous section of the Provincia de Palencia, close to the Picos de Europa.

This takes us around and through the beautifully scenic, and somewhat untouched, Parque Natural Montaña de Riaño y Mampodre, the southernmost part of the Picos de Europa national park. This was upgraded to that status as recently as October 2019 and serves as the Leonese arm of the national park, as well as containing the largest amount of water in the Picos, the Embalse de Riaño accounting for the largest part of this. Riaño itself is kind of a false place, it hosts the intermediate sprint, but the intermediate sprint is in the village which is currently designated as Riaño, this is not the original Riaño however, but a replacement village to which the inhabitants of the village were relocated in the 1980s when the Embalse was constructed in order to control floods and generate sustainable hydroelectric power; a lot of low lying, flood-prone farmland surrounded the village and so this was flooded for the purpose and a new village built on higher land; as a result it sits on a small outcrop on a lookout over the reservoir and is connected via a long river bridge, but does make up for this with some tourist income, as it is renowned as a beauty spot and is popular with hikers.



There are a few climbs out of this valley, but none of them are particularly interesting - but that’s OK because they aren’t expected to be. The Puerto del Pando, the Puerto Picones and the Puerto del Monteviejo (actually a double summit with the Collado Morcilledo, but Monteviejo is the highest summit, we will pass through the Morcilledo just before the summit) have a combined 0 Vuelta appearances, but they do crop up in the amateur Vuelta a Palencia. I have seen the Puerto del Monteviejo, the one I chose as it had the highest altitude, in the Vuelta a Castilla y León - as well as the Puerto del Pando - in this stage from 2013, although they climbed the opposite side of the climb from me. The climb is pretty gradual, I have only categorised the last 7,5km but even then it still averages under 4%. We then descend the southern side into Velilla del Río Carrión, and then on into Guardo, which hosts the second intermediate sprint. Guardo is the second most populous town in the Provincia de Palencia, but that really doesn’t say much given it is only home to just over 6.000. The sprint is only around 17km from home, and the town is a scenic urban area on the shoulders of the Montaña Palentina mountain range, but the roads around here are pretty flat so the chances of any attacks before the final climb being difference-makers for the main body of the péloton are pretty slim - if, as I suspect, the breakaway is allowed to take this, however, then there could be some intrigue as they try to escape and set up their best chances of winning the stage, which for some will be leaving it to the last climb, but for many will not.

We then trace the roads that follow the foot of the mountain range, beneath the Pico Fraile, until the village of Aviñante de la Peña, before we turn left and head up into the mountains, at least for a little bit, on a cat.3 climb up to the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo. It’s not the toughest climb - but it does have some ramps that are worthy of note, both at the bottom and through the middle with the penultimate kilometre averaging close to 10%.




Pilgrimage and festival of the Virgén del Brezo, showcasing logistical plausibility

The road is fully paved all the way to the summit, wide and in good state as you can see from this twitter account who has photos from a recent cycling trip to the sanctuary, while 39x28 has a full gallery. It has never hosted a pro race - but it does frequently host amateur racing, as the Vuelta a Palencia has made this into their regular uphill finish, at least now that they have abandoned the six stage format that they ran back in the 90s, where a Refúgio del Golobar MTF would be used, at the highest and largest climb in the province. The earliest use of the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo as a stage host that I can find is 2002 (unfortunately I can’t find records for the 80s editions or those in the early 90s) when some guy you might have heard of by the name of Alberto Contador won the stage, ahead of eventual race winner Cristian Climent - their careers would go very differently from then on; Climent would go on to a top 10 in the Subida a Urkiola later that year, but being already 25 years old he was not seen as a prospect in the same way as Contador and after one year in Portugal he would retire.

Óscar García would win the stage in 2005, ahead of two riders named Alberto Fernández (one of which added de la Puebla). All three would go on to minor success as pros, Fernández de la Puebla riding for Saunier Duval for a few years and even podiuming the Vuelta a Asturias before having his results stricken for EPO use; Fernández Sainz would ride for Xacobeo for a few years to little fanfare, while García would ride for Relax-GAM for a couple of years but have all his best successes riding in China, then after a year back on the amateur scene he would get onto Contentpolis-AMPO and get to ride the Vuelta before the team collapsed and he was left on smaller teams for the remainder of his career. His namesake Marcos García would win at the sanctuary in 2007, and went on to ride for Xacobeo-Galicía and Caja Rural (my enduring memory of him is still celebrating his 4th place at Valdezcaray in the 2012 Vuelta not realising the break was still up the road) and is still active, having spent the last seven seasons racing in Japan. Rafa Valls won the equivalent stage in 2008 and has just retired after a long time pro career taking in Footon, Geox-TMC, Vacansoleil, Lampre, Lotto-Soudal, Movistar and finally Bahrain, his biggest win being the queen stage and GC of the Tour of Oman in 2015. 2009’s stage was won by teenage Portuguese climbing sensation Amaro Antunes, who has been mentioned earlier in the race after eventually in 2017 graduating to the big time Volta performances and winning A Grandíssima in 2020 and 2021. Alberto Gallego won here in 2011, he stayed on the amateur scene for a while before drifting across to Portugal to race for Boavista where he had some standout performances in the Route du Sud, but tested positive just 2 days into his ProConti contract and was released by Caja Rural, leading him to return to Portugal after his ban, where he remains to this day. Cristián Cañada, who won at the Virgén del Brezo in 2013, followed a similar pattern, staying in the amateur scene for a couple of years, joining Loulé in Portugal, before testing positive. He is currently suspended. You might have heard of the guy he beat though - a Belgian prospect by the name of Tiesj Benoot. José Manuel Díaz won the Virgén del Brezo stage in 2015, signing for Israel and bouncing around until winning the Tour of Turkey last year with Delko; he signed for Rusvelo this season but was obviously then left rideless by their suspension, signing mid-season with Burgos-BH. He beat Gabriel Reguero, who went on to be a journeyman riding on Middle Eastern teams, scoring GC results in small races in Iran, Algeria and Turkey, and some guy called Enric Mas. In 2016, Díaz was back but he was beaten into 2nd by Héctor Carretero, who spent five years with Movistar, winning a stage of the Vuelta a Asturias and the GPM at Tirreno-Adriatico as well as being an important part of Richard Carapaz’s backup squad in his Giro win, and the most recent edition of the Vuelta a Palencia, in 2019, they brought back the Golobar MTF and had two uphill finishes - both of which were won by Oier Lazkano, who spent a couple of years with Caja Rural highlighted by a Volta a Portugal stage win before signing for Movistar, where he is now continuing his development.

The sanctuary itself dates to 1478 and is dedicated to the Virgin of Brezo, the patron saint of the Montaña Palentina. Its Romería takes place in late September - the only concern for me here will be that we will be close to stepping on the Vuelta a Palencia’s toes as it typically takes place in August, but there shouldn’t be any clash given we’re on stage 10 here, so would be probably into early September by now. Plenty of active pros have been to the Vuelta a Palencia so will be familiar with the climb - just not at pro pace or after over a week’s worth of racing. Movistar’s Óscar Rodríguez won the race in 2016, while Jaime Castrillo has, like Carretero, moved down from Movistar to Kern Pharma and was on the podium too. Jorge Arcas won a stage in 2014, Marc Soler won a stage and Tiesj Benoot finished on the podium in 2013, Kenneth van Rooy of Sport Vlaanderen was 5th in 2012, Jesús Ezquerra won the GC and Omar Fraile won a stage in 2011, while Sergey Chernetskiy won in 2010 and is still pseudo-active, having been on the RusVelo team this season. Andrey Amador won a stage in 2008 and Ángel Madrazo finished on the GC podium, and Daniel Navarro made the GC podium all the way back in 2004. But this is a nice little finish in a beautiful part of the world seldom touched by the Vuelta, so it would be nice to give it a little spotlight once in a while.


Typical stage design to Virgén del Brezo, don’t worry, already posted in the ‘worst of race profiles’ thread

 
Stage 10: El Entrego-Museo de la Minería de Asturias - Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo, 164km





GPM:
Alto de la Collaona (cat.2) 7,0km @ 6,6%
Puerto de San Isidro (cat.1) 14,3km @ 6,0%
Puerto de Las Señales (cat.2) 11,5km @ 4,0%
Puerto de Monteviejo (cat.3) 7,5km @ 3,7%
Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo (cat.3) 3,7km @ 7,2%

The first day after the rest day is a transition back onto the high plateau; given the categorisation and ordering of the climbs (2-1-2-3-3) it is very similar to the last stage before the rest day (2-1-1-2-3-3) so you might be forgiven for thinking this would be another monster day but realistically given where in the stage these climbs are, this is much less of a threat and is more likely to be one for the breakaway, especially those hunting the GPM with 20 points available pretty early in the day assuming they continue with the current basis, based on the pre-2013 Giro system.

There’s almost no transfer as well, so the rest day is legit a rest day, not a transfer day, seeing as we’re starting today in El Entrego, just up the road from Oviedo in the Valle de Nalón, part of that long line of semi-connected towns and cities consisting of Langreo/Llangréu, El Entrego/L’Entregu, Sotrondo, Blimea and Pola de Laviana - the middle three of which constitute the San Martín del Rey Aurelio municipality. Historically a series of mining towns, urban expansion and development has turned them into a contiguous urban area with multiple nuclei; of the total population of 16.000, El Entrego is the largest and westernmost of the three, contributing 7.500 of that population, so almost half. Its name translates as “the handover” and comes apocryphally from King Aurélio “handing over” a number of maidens in the Nalón valley as part of a treaty when the Muslims took control of the area - but it is believed that this actually refers to the draining of a number of mountain streams into the Nalón in short order at this area. Nowadays, however, El Entrego is trying to re-establish itself as a technological hub as the mining industry has declined, but is at present best known to the outside world as the site of MUMI, or the Museo de la Mineria de Asturias, the second most visited museum in Asturias since its opening in 1994. A bit like the Jurassic Museum in Colunga hosting the Vuelta a few years ago, I thought this would be a good Património host for the race. The only time racing has stopped off around here lately was 2014, when San Martín del Rey Aurelio hosted the start of the Vuelta stage to La Farrapona, won by Contador ahead of Froome in their two-man battle in that race.


L’Entregu, as the town is known in Asturianu

The climbing starts almost immediately in this stage, but it’s not especially tough and the hardest climbing is done early. After just 9km they start the ascent to La Collaona, although I have only classified the last 7, toughest, kilometres. As you can see from the profile it’s a perfectly decent cat.2 ascent, which was introduced to La Vuelta in 1986 and has been climbed several times since, with José Luís Laguía, Joaquim Rodríguez, Luís León Sánchez and, somewhat surprisingly, Sylvain Chavanel among those to have been first across the summit. This takes us to the Aller valley at Cabañaquinta (a traceur favourite here is to use La Collaona as a lead-in climb to Cotobello), where we turn left and head for Felechosa and then an old established favourite, the Puerto de San Isidro, another which was introduced to the Vuelta in 1986 - in the same stage in fact, on stage 9. This stage was a mountaintop finish to the Fuentes de Invierno ski station at the summit of San Isidro (so strictly speaking they didn’t reach the pass, as the turnoff for Fuentes de Invierno is shortly before the summit. There is a second ski station, Cebolledo, which is just after the summit and requires a longer climb so is actually a bit tougher, but as that station is in León rather than Asturias, having a stage all in Asturias but expecting the Leonese government to pay for the finish is pretty unlikely!!!) which was won by Charly Mottet. Carlos Hernández Bailo won the last of his Vuelta stages here in 1990, and then in 1992 it was used as a pass for the first time in a stage from Oviedo to León. 2008 saw another MTF, the aforementioned stage where Mosquera towed everybody up the climb before Contador and Leipheimer snuck out to take the 1-2 at the end and Álvaro Pino threw his toys out the pram, then it has been used twice as a pass since, in 2016 and 2018, with veteran baroudeur Thomas de Gendt taking the summit both times.


Only to the pass


Scenery of the Puerto de San Isidro

The Puerto de San Isidro is again one of those lopsided climbs on to the inland plateau, so it’s really not much of a descent before we head up to the Puerto de las Señales. This is usually more known for its northern side, effectively an extension to the better known Puerto de Tarna. It has only been climbed by the Vuelta once, in 1990. It’s essentially some false flat before a final 6,5km at 5,9%, as you can see on the profile. We descend through Tarna, therefore, but not the full descent back down into Asturias but the eastern side of the climb, which takes us to a lengthy amount of false flat; we are done with these climbs by the halfway point in the stage, and then we are heading around the relatively sparsely-populated northeastern corner of León and on into the small mountainous section of the Provincia de Palencia, close to the Picos de Europa.

This takes us around and through the beautifully scenic, and somewhat untouched, Parque Natural Montaña de Riaño y Mampodre, the southernmost part of the Picos de Europa national park. This was upgraded to that status as recently as October 2019 and serves as the Leonese arm of the national park, as well as containing the largest amount of water in the Picos, the Embalse de Riaño accounting for the largest part of this. Riaño itself is kind of a false place, it hosts the intermediate sprint, but the intermediate sprint is in the village which is currently designated as Riaño, this is not the original Riaño however, but a replacement village to which the inhabitants of the village were relocated in the 1980s when the Embalse was constructed in order to control floods and generate sustainable hydroelectric power; a lot of low lying, flood-prone farmland surrounded the village and so this was flooded for the purpose and a new village built on higher land; as a result it sits on a small outcrop on a lookout over the reservoir and is connected via a long river bridge, but does make up for this with some tourist income, as it is renowned as a beauty spot and is popular with hikers.



There are a few climbs out of this valley, but none of them are particularly interesting - but that’s OK because they aren’t expected to be. The Puerto del Pando, the Puerto Picones and the Puerto del Monteviejo (actually a double summit with the Collado Morcilledo, but Monteviejo is the highest summit, we will pass through the Morcilledo just before the summit) have a combined 0 Vuelta appearances, but they do crop up in the amateur Vuelta a Palencia. I have seen the Puerto del Monteviejo, the one I chose as it had the highest altitude, in the Vuelta a Castilla y León - as well as the Puerto del Pando - in this stage from 2013, although they climbed the opposite side of the climb from me. The climb is pretty gradual, I have only categorised the last 7,5km but even then it still averages under 4%. We then descend the southern side into Velilla del Río Carrión, and then on into Guardo, which hosts the second intermediate sprint. Guardo is the second most populous town in the Provincia de Palencia, but that really doesn’t say much given it is only home to just over 6.000. The sprint is only around 17km from home, and the town is a scenic urban area on the shoulders of the Montaña Palentina mountain range, but the roads around here are pretty flat so the chances of any attacks before the final climb being difference-makers for the main body of the péloton are pretty slim - if, as I suspect, the breakaway is allowed to take this, however, then there could be some intrigue as they try to escape and set up their best chances of winning the stage, which for some will be leaving it to the last climb, but for many will not.

We then trace the roads that follow the foot of the mountain range, beneath the Pico Fraile, until the village of Aviñante de la Peña, before we turn left and head up into the mountains, at least for a little bit, on a cat.3 climb up to the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo. It’s not the toughest climb - but it does have some ramps that are worthy of note, both at the bottom and through the middle with the penultimate kilometre averaging close to 10%.




Pilgrimage and festival of the Virgén del Brezo, showcasing logistical plausibility

The road is fully paved all the way to the summit, wide and in good state as you can see from this twitter account who has photos from a recent cycling trip to the sanctuary, while 39x28 has a full gallery. It has never hosted a pro race - but it does frequently host amateur racing, as the Vuelta a Palencia has made this into their regular uphill finish, at least now that they have abandoned the six stage format that they ran back in the 90s, where a Refúgio del Golobar MTF would be used, at the highest and largest climb in the province. The earliest use of the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo as a stage host that I can find is 2002 (unfortunately I can’t find records for the 80s editions or those in the early 90s) when some guy you might have heard of by the name of Alberto Contador won the stage, ahead of eventual race winner Cristian Climent - their careers would go very differently from then on; Climent would go on to a top 10 in the Subida a Urkiola later that year, but being already 25 years old he was not seen as a prospect in the same way as Contador and after one year in Portugal he would retire.

Óscar García would win the stage in 2005, ahead of two riders named Alberto Fernández (one of which added de la Puebla). All three would go on to minor success as pros, Fernández de la Puebla riding for Saunier Duval for a few years and even podiuming the Vuelta a Asturias before having his results stricken for EPO use; Fernández Sainz would ride for Xacobeo for a few years to little fanfare, while García would ride for Relax-GAM for a couple of years but have all his best successes riding in China, then after a year back on the amateur scene he would get onto Contentpolis-AMPO and get to ride the Vuelta before the team collapsed and he was left on smaller teams for the remainder of his career. His namesake Marcos García would win at the sanctuary in 2007, and went on to ride for Xacobeo-Galicía and Caja Rural (my enduring memory of him is still celebrating his 4th place at Valdezcaray in the 2012 Vuelta not realising the break was still up the road) and is still active, having spent the last seven seasons racing in Japan. Rafa Valls won the equivalent stage in 2008 and has just retired after a long time pro career taking in Footon, Geox-TMC, Vacansoleil, Lampre, Lotto-Soudal, Movistar and finally Bahrain, his biggest win being the queen stage and GC of the Tour of Oman in 2015. 2009’s stage was won by teenage Portuguese climbing sensation Amaro Antunes, who has been mentioned earlier in the race after eventually in 2017 graduating to the big time Volta performances and winning A Grandíssima in 2020 and 2021. Alberto Gallego won here in 2011, he stayed on the amateur scene for a while before drifting across to Portugal to race for Boavista where he had some standout performances in the Route du Sud, but tested positive just 2 days into his ProConti contract and was released by Caja Rural, leading him to return to Portugal after his ban, where he remains to this day. Cristián Cañada, who won at the Virgén del Brezo in 2013, followed a similar pattern, staying in the amateur scene for a couple of years, joining Loulé in Portugal, before testing positive. He is currently suspended. You might have heard of the guy he beat though - a Belgian prospect by the name of Tiesj Benoot. José Manuel Díaz won the Virgén del Brezo stage in 2015, signing for Israel and bouncing around until winning the Tour of Turkey last year with Delko; he signed for Rusvelo this season but was obviously then left rideless by their suspension, signing mid-season with Burgos-BH. He beat Gabriel Reguero, who went on to be a journeyman riding on Middle Eastern teams, scoring GC results in small races in Iran, Algeria and Turkey, and some guy called Enric Mas. In 2016, Díaz was back but he was beaten into 2nd by Héctor Carretero, who spent five years with Movistar, winning a stage of the Vuelta a Asturias and the GPM at Tirreno-Adriatico as well as being an important part of Richard Carapaz’s backup squad in his Giro win, and the most recent edition of the Vuelta a Palencia, in 2019, they brought back the Golobar MTF and had two uphill finishes - both of which were won by Oier Lazkano, who spent a couple of years with Caja Rural highlighted by a Volta a Portugal stage win before signing for Movistar, where he is now continuing his development.

The sanctuary itself dates to 1478 and is dedicated to the Virgin of Brezo, the patron saint of the Montaña Palentina. Its Romería takes place in late September - the only concern for me here will be that we will be close to stepping on the Vuelta a Palencia’s toes as it typically takes place in August, but there shouldn’t be any clash given we’re on stage 10 here, so would be probably into early September by now. Plenty of active pros have been to the Vuelta a Palencia so will be familiar with the climb - just not at pro pace or after over a week’s worth of racing. Movistar’s Óscar Rodríguez won the race in 2016, while Jaime Castrillo has, like Carretero, moved down from Movistar to Kern Pharma and was on the podium too. Jorge Arcas won a stage in 2014, Marc Soler won a stage and Tiesj Benoot finished on the podium in 2013, Kenneth van Rooy of Sport Vlaanderen was 5th in 2012, Jesús Ezquerra won the GC and Omar Fraile won a stage in 2011, while Sergey Chernetskiy won in 2010 and is still pseudo-active, having been on the RusVelo team this season. Andrey Amador won a stage in 2008 and Ángel Madrazo finished on the GC podium, and Daniel Navarro made the GC podium all the way back in 2004. But this is a nice little finish in a beautiful part of the world seldom touched by the Vuelta, so it would be nice to give it a little spotlight once in a while.


Typical stage design to Virgén del Brezo, don’t worry, already posted in the ‘worst of race profiles’ thread

Good stage but that Vuelta a Palencia profile should be classified as disturbing imagery
 
Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

In this race I wanted to pay tribute to the history of women's cycling by taking inspiration from past races. If I had placed the ITT in Annecy, it would definitely have been tempting to do a repeat of the 2018 La Course route over Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière to Le Grand-Bornand; arguably the best edition of that race.

It had a decent early breakaway which was then caught by an outsider and crowd favourite, who in regular fashion delivered a fantastic interview afterwards, followed by a showdown between two great champions, which seemed decided with just 100 meters to go, but then got turned upside down in the end, which made the race completely unforgettable.




But instead I've looked at the Tour Cycliste/Grande Boucle Féminine for inspiration for my Saturday stage.

Pierre Boué's race struggled with almost all imaginable issues, which eventually led to its demise after the 2009 edition. But Boué managed to get the race held annually between 1992 and 2009 with only one eception, which is of course more than can be said of the ASO in that period. It's also more than can be said of the organisers of the Tour d'Occitanie, a mythical women's race, that has never been held and which keeps getting cancelled every year. The 2022 edition was scheduled to have had its final stage today.

Boué never quite find the right balance between easy and harder stages, but although it wasn't popular with the riders, he certainly couldn't be accused of not believing in their capabilities.

The 2008 edition might have included the Arenberg Forest, and through its run it also featured full or partial ascents of well-known climbs like Alpe d'Huez, Ventoux, Tourmalet, Izoard, Luz-Ardiden, Montgenèvre, Sestriere, Col d'Aspin, Val-Louron-Azet, La Pierre Saint-Martin and Soulor among others.

The race had stage finishes in Vaujauny 13 times. with Fabiana Luperini winning six of them. I don't have the profiles for all those stages, but I think the hardest one must have occured in 2002. It included Madeleine and Glandon before the ascent to Vaujany. This came after they had climbed Madeleine and Courchevel the day before, and it was the third mountain stage in a row. With this year's TDFF in mind, it seems crazy that the difference between the late Zinaida Stahurskaya in first place and Susanne Ljungskog was only 33 seconds after two weeks of racing, and that the top 5 was separated by less than three minutes.




I've decided to be kinder to the riders in my race and have instead copied the 1997 Vaujany stage, won by Luperini and with EF-TIBCO-SVB founder Linda Jackson in fifth place on her way to an eventual third place finish overall. It started in Valloire and went over Galibier before going through the long valley to the foot of the final climb.

I could have included some climbing in-between Galibier and Vaujany or added Télégraphe as well, but I don't think that is needed to get an exciting race, and I again also wanted to throw the worst climbers on the day a bit of a bone. I've used the same finish as the Dauphiné did when Froome won there in 2016 and when Carlos Verona did it earlier this year.

You'll need to watch this stage from the start, cause even if they soft pedal Galibier, there won't be a big group left at the top. There are still 65 km left from there on, so if someone has a gap, there will stlll be time to close it before the start of Vaujany. There is of course a risk of nothing happening on Galibier, and it just becomes shoot out on the final climb, but I doubt that will be the case. And if that were to happen, it'll only mean that we could make even harder race designs, which would only be a good thing.

The stage is a bit similar to the 2010 Stelvio stage in the Giro Donne, although it has the long mythical climb at the start rather than at the finish. It's also kind of the same format as LSs Fedaia(aaaaa) stage from 2016.


Stage 7: Valloire - Vaujany, 86 km









 
Last edited:
Tour de France Femmes avec Samu

In this race I wanted to pay tribute to the history of women's cycling by taking inspiration from past races. If I had placed the ITT in Annecy, it would definitely have been tempting to do a repeat of the 2018 La Course route over Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière to Le Grand-Bornand; arguably the best edition of that race.

It had a decent early breakaway which was then caught by an outsider and crowd favourite, who in regular fashion delivered a fantastic interview afterwards, followed by a showdown between two great champions, which seemed decided with just 100 meters to go, but then got turned upside down in the end, which made the race completely unforgettable.




But instead I've looked at the Tour Cycliste/Grande Boucle Féminine for inspiration for my Saturday stage.

Pierre Boué's race struggled with almost all imaginable issues, which eventually led to its demise after the 2009 edition. But Boué managed to get the race held annually between 1992 and 2009 with only one eception, which is of course more than can be said of the ASO in that period. It's also more than can be said of the organisers of the Tour d'Occitanie, a mythical women's race, that has never been held and which keeps getting cancelled every year. The 2022 edition was scheduled to have had its final stage today.

Boué never quite find the right balance between easy and harder stages, but although it wasn't popular with the riders, he certainly couldn't be accused of not believing in their capabilities.

The 2008 edition might have included the Arenberg Forest, and through its run it also featured full or partial ascents of well-known climbs like Alpe d'Huez, Ventoux, Tourmalet, Izoard, Luz-Ardiden, Montgenèvre, Sestriere, Col d'Aspin, Val-Louron-Azet, La Pierre Saint-Martin and Soulor among others.

The race had stage finishes in Vaujauny 13 times. with Fabiana Luperini winning six of them. I don't have the profiles for all those stages, but I think the hardest one must have occured in 2002. It included Madeleine and Glandon before the ascent to Vaujany. This came after they had climbed Madeleine and Courchevel the day before, and it was the third mountain stage in a row. With this year's TDFF in mind, it seems crazy that the difference between the late Zinaida Stahurskaya in first place and Susanne Ljungskog was only 33 seconds after two weeks of racing, and that the top 5 was separated by less than three minutes.




I've decided to be kinder to the riders in my race and has instead copied the 1997 Vaujany stage, won by Luperini and with EF-TIBCO-SVB founder Linda Jackson in fifth place on her way to an eventual third place finish overall. It started in Valloire and went over Galibier before going through the long valley to the foot of the final climb.

I could have included some climbing in-between Galibier and Vaujany or added Télégraphe as well, but I don't think that is needed to get an exciting race, and I again also wanted to throw the worst climbers on the day a bit of a bone. I've used the same finish as the Dauphiné did when Froome won there in 2016 and when Carlos Verona did it earlier this year.

You'll need to watch this stage from the start, cause even if they soft pedal Galibier, there won't be a big group left at the top. There are still 65 km left from there on, so if someone has a gap, there will stlll be time to close it before the start of Vaujany. There is of course a risk of nothing happening on Galibier, and it just becomes shoot out on the final climb, but I doubt that will be the case. And if that were to happen, it'll only mean that we could make even harder race designs, which would only be a good thing.

The stage is a bit similar to the 2010 Stelvio stage in the Giro Donne, although it has the long mythical climb at the start rather than at the finish. It's also kind of the same format as LSs Fedaia(aaaaa) stage from 2016.


Stage 7: Valloire - Vaujany, 86 km









I like this stage, similar to my stage 12 except more valley time and different length of the final climb, but this stage could have a number of very intriguing possibilities.
 
Reactions: Samu Cuenca
Stage 11: Velilla del Río Carrión - Cervera de Pisuerga, 55,4km (ITT)





GPM:
None

Yes, I’m a bit old school, so I’m putting in a long TT, of the kind that we seldom see nowadays. I have some serious mountain stages a-brewing, so I want serious GC gaps ahead of them. There are three TTs in my race, and this is the centrepiece. The first was just a prologue, so this is where the bulk of the contre-le-montre distance is located, as we have a really hard mid-race test in a hilly, but not so hilly that it won’t favour the specialist, race of truth as we continue to showcase the Sierra de la Peña and the Montaña Palentina region, well off the beaten track for the Vuelta and very much only really known to the Vuelta a Palencia once more - but well worth a trip. I’m assuming the logistics will have been settled in Guardo or Cervera de Pisuerga overnight, but otherwise this is an almost no transfer stage, seeing as we actually passed through the stage start town on our way to the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo in yesterday’s stage.

Velilla del Río Carrión is a small town of 1600 inhabitants which sits on the western edge of the Sierra de la Peña, and is distinguished by the Fuentes Tamáricas, three springs serving as fresh water sources and located by Pliny the Elder all the way back in classical Cantabria during the Roman occupation of Spain. The Tamarici, the pre-Roman tribe living in the area, worshipped the water deities and as these springs were intermittent, they became associated with superstition and supernatural powers. The current stone-arched irrigation streams predate the arrival of the Romans and have never been successfully dated. It also was home to a large coal-fired power plant until Iberdrola ceased its operations in 2020 and it has since - despite protests against it by those wishing to preserve the buildings as part of the industrial heritage of Castilla y León - been demolished entirely.





Obviously a mid-race 50k+ time trial is pretty rare nowadays but it’s still part of the course designer’s arsenal. In many ways I was inspired by the 2009 Giro Cinque Terre time trial, but the actual stage I’ve designed here shows much more in common with the 2015 Giro Valdobbiadene equivalent, 59km with some short climbs and genuine ascent but not really the sustained, focused and extensive climbs that that 2009 Giro monolith had included. That included a 10km at 5,4% climb, for example, whereas here we’re only talking brief ascents and false flats. Something like the 2005 Tour final time trial is also a pretty useful comparison for what we’re going for here.

The last time professional racing came through the town was the 2017 Vuelta a Castilla y León, which had stage 2 start in Velilla del Río Carrión and end with a mountaintop finish at La Camperona, which Jonathan Hivert won ahead of Jaime Rosón, only for the latter’s results to later be struck from the record due to biopassport anomalies. Behind came Henrique Casimiro and a young Neo-pro called Richard Carapaz. The day before, the race had gone through the town on the way to Santibáñez de la Peña, and this stage is of a bit more interest to us, since the TT route I have chosen includes a section of this stage.



We essentially are climbing the section of that stage from the feed zone through to Cervera de Pisuerga; this is also repeated back in 2013’s decisive stage won by Rubén Plaza, although the finish here was different:



Essentially, this is going to be a very scenic stage which ascends and descends the Puerto de la Varga, although this is far from an imposing climb and is in fact broken up on the western side, which we are climbing, into a number of short rises and then sizeable flats as we head along the shores of the Embalse de Compuerto and then, afterward, the Embalse de Camporredondo, two large reservoirs in the Montaña Palentina range which are separated by a couple of short uphill digs, and the winding road which traverses their northern shores will serve as the backdrop for a race of truth of champions.


Road which we take clear in foreground

None of the major climb databases bother with La Varga west. It’s not really a climb per se, that’s why. We climb about 350m in, you know, about 35 kilometres, so that’s an average of 1%. There is, however, an early climb of over 2km at 5,4%, which includes a steepest kilometre of 7,5% very early on in the stage - less than 5km in; there’s 1,7km at 4% from Camporredondo de Alba (where the first time check will be) up to the Presa de Camporredondo dam; there’s a 500m at 6% ramp to the Mirador de Alba de los Cardaños around 25km into the TT; and then from Triollo to the Puerto de La Varga it’s 1,9km at 5% to the Iglesia de Asunción, then a brief downhill then 800m at 4% to the summit.

There are two timechecks while passing the two reservoirs, and the third time check comes at the Puerto de la Varga, around 18km from the finish, so the longest single time check is the last one in terms of distance. I suspect that the first 15km to the first time check will be the slowest, however, as much of this last section from the pass down to the finish is downhill. While the descent has some twists and turns, there are no tight lacets, hairpins or narrow sections, so it should be no problem at all considering time trials like that Cinque Terre one I mentioned earlier! It is never especially steep, as can be seen from the profile - but it will most definitely be something that will come as a respite for many a pure climber who has had to see their skills rudely interrupted by frequent pure power tests.

Things then straighten up until we reach the Embalse de Cervere-Ruesga, before we have a short punchy ascent up to the Parador de Cervera de Pisuerga, one of the luxury Paradores that became a series of their own on PRC’s blog. Their post on the Parador de Cervera was very early on - 2012 - and only included the one stage suggestion, but it did include a nice profile of a circuit they drew around the parador, which used the road on the other side of the reservoir and climbed up to the Parador from the main part of town, like they did in the Vuelta a Castilla y León in 2013, so on the circuit image shown, our climb is the side which is descended, and then we descend their climb down into the city. This suggests a maximum gradient of 10% on a climb which is around 2,3km at 4,2%, but with 1,3km at 5,5% as its main body and a flat final section to the Parador. We then have a 2,9km at 5% descent into the town and a loop into the town centre to finish.

Plataforma Recorridos Ciclistas article on the Parador

Cervera de Pisuerga has only ever really hosted bike racing at the professional level for that 2013 Vuelta a Castilla y León stage, and it is home to around 3.000 people. It is a relatively cool and mild climate in this area, which the riders will probably be thankful for, averaging only 17º even in the height of summer, and is probably best known as the home of the 19th Century satirist Modesto Lafuente. However, it serves as the best known gateway to the Montaña Palentina and Fuentes Carrionas national parks, and so it does attract a decent number of tourists, especially hikers and thrillseekers, to this remote part of the Spanish countryside - as a result therefore I think this would be an ideal spot to hold a challenging time trial that will set some serious time gaps ahead of the second part of the race and enable some beautiful helicam footage as well.


Central Cervera de Pisuerga, stage finish
 
Stage 11: Velilla del Río Carrión - Cervera de Pisuerga, 55,4km (ITT)





GPM:
None

Yes, I’m a bit old school, so I’m putting in a long TT, of the kind that we seldom see nowadays. I have some serious mountain stages a-brewing, so I want serious GC gaps ahead of them. There are three TTs in my race, and this is the centrepiece. The first was just a prologue, so this is where the bulk of the contre-le-montre distance is located, as we have a really hard mid-race test in a hilly, but not so hilly that it won’t favour the specialist, race of truth as we continue to showcase the Sierra de la Peña and the Montaña Palentina region, well off the beaten track for the Vuelta and very much only really known to the Vuelta a Palencia once more - but well worth a trip. I’m assuming the logistics will have been settled in Guardo or Cervera de Pisuerga overnight, but otherwise this is an almost no transfer stage, seeing as we actually passed through the stage start town on our way to the Santuário de la Virgén del Brezo in yesterday’s stage.

Velilla del Río Carrión is a small town of 1600 inhabitants which sits on the western edge of the Sierra de la Peña, and is distinguished by the Fuentes Tamáricas, three springs serving as fresh water sources and located by Pliny the Elder all the way back in classical Cantabria during the Roman occupation of Spain. The Tamarici, the pre-Roman tribe living in the area, worshipped the water deities and as these springs were intermittent, they became associated with superstition and supernatural powers. The current stone-arched irrigation streams predate the arrival of the Romans and have never been successfully dated. It also was home to a large coal-fired power plant until Iberdrola ceased its operations in 2020 and it has since - despite protests against it by those wishing to preserve the buildings as part of the industrial heritage of Castilla y León - been demolished entirely.





Obviously a mid-race 50k+ time trial is pretty rare nowadays but it’s still part of the course designer’s arsenal. In many ways I was inspired by the 2009 Giro Cinque Terre time trial, but the actual stage I’ve designed here shows much more in common with the 2015 Giro Valdobbiadene equivalent, 59km with some short climbs and genuine ascent but not really the sustained, focused and extensive climbs that that 2009 Giro monolith had included. That included a 10km at 5,4% climb, for example, whereas here we’re only talking brief ascents and false flats. Something like the 2005 Tour final time trial is also a pretty useful comparison for what we’re going for here.

The last time professional racing came through the town was the 2017 Vuelta a Castilla y León, which had stage 2 start in Velilla del Río Carrión and end with a mountaintop finish at La Camperona, which Jonathan Hivert won ahead of Jaime Rosón, only for the latter’s results to later be struck from the record due to biopassport anomalies. Behind came Henrique Casimiro and a young Neo-pro called Richard Carapaz. The day before, the race had gone through the town on the way to Santibáñez de la Peña, and this stage is of a bit more interest to us, since the TT route I have chosen includes a section of this stage.



We essentially are climbing the section of that stage from the feed zone through to Cervera de Pisuerga; this is also repeated back in 2013’s decisive stage won by Rubén Plaza, although the finish here was different:



Essentially, this is going to be a very scenic stage which ascends and descends the Puerto de la Varga, although this is far from an imposing climb and is in fact broken up on the western side, which we are climbing, into a number of short rises and then sizeable flats as we head along the shores of the Embalse de Compuerto and then, afterward, the Embalse de Camporredondo, two large reservoirs in the Montaña Palentina range which are separated by a couple of short uphill digs, and the winding road which traverses their northern shores will serve as the backdrop for a race of truth of champions.


Road which we take clear in foreground

None of the major climb databases bother with La Varga west. It’s not really a climb per se, that’s why. We climb about 350m in, you know, about 35 kilometres, so that’s an average of 1%. There is, however, an early climb of over 2km at 5,4%, which includes a steepest kilometre of 7,5% very early on in the stage - less than 5km in; there’s 1,7km at 4% from Camporredondo de Alba (where the first time check will be) up to the Presa de Camporredondo dam; there’s a 500m at 6% ramp to the Mirador de Alba de los Cardaños around 25km into the TT; and then from Triollo to the Puerto de La Varga it’s 1,9km at 5% to the Iglesia de Asunción, then a brief downhill then 800m at 4% to the summit.

There are two timechecks while passing the two reservoirs, and the third time check comes at the Puerto de la Varga, around 18km from the finish, so the longest single time check is the last one in terms of distance. I suspect that the first 15km to the first time check will be the slowest, however, as much of this last section from the pass down to the finish is downhill. While the descent has some twists and turns, there are no tight lacets, hairpins or narrow sections, so it should be no problem at all considering time trials like that Cinque Terre one I mentioned earlier! It is never especially steep, as can be seen from the profile - but it will most definitely be something that will come as a respite for many a pure climber who has had to see their skills rudely interrupted by frequent pure power tests.

Things then straighten up until we reach the Embalse de Cervere-Ruesga, before we have a short punchy ascent up to the Parador de Cervera de Pisuerga, one of the luxury Paradores that became a series of their own on PRC’s blog. Their post on the Parador de Cervera was very early on - 2012 - and only included the one stage suggestion, but it did include a nice profile of a circuit they drew around the parador, which used the road on the other side of the reservoir and climbed up to the Parador from the main part of town, like they did in the Vuelta a Castilla y León in 2013, so on the circuit image shown, our climb is the side which is descended, and then we descend their climb down into the city. This suggests a maximum gradient of 10% on a climb which is around 2,3km at 4,2%, but with 1,3km at 5,5% as its main body and a flat final section to the Parador. We then have a 2,9km at 5% descent into the town and a loop into the town centre to finish.

Plataforma Recorridos Ciclistas article on the Parador

Cervera de Pisuerga has only ever really hosted bike racing at the professional level for that 2013 Vuelta a Castilla y León stage, and it is home to around 3.000 people. It is a relatively cool and mild climate in this area, which the riders will probably be thankful for, averaging only 17º even in the height of summer, and is probably best known as the home of the 19th Century satirist Modesto Lafuente. However, it serves as the best known gateway to the Montaña Palentina and Fuentes Carrionas national parks, and so it does attract a decent number of tourists, especially hikers and thrillseekers, to this remote part of the Spanish countryside - as a result therefore I think this would be an ideal spot to hold a challenging time trial that will set some serious time gaps ahead of the second part of the race and enable some beautiful helicam footage as well.


Central Cervera de Pisuerga, stage finish
As much as I would like to see the return of 50+km time trails in grand Tours, I can't help but get PTSD when thinking about 50km TT's the the Vuelta. The awful 2007 Vuelta 52km TT to Zaragoza on basicly a motorway still haunts me today lol
 
Ah, but mine will be infinitely more scenic than that, I remember that stage pretty un-fondly too... the ITT already provides certain limitations for the TV spectacle, but like that, it was just about as uninspiring a visual spectacle as they could have given us, short of that Tour of the UAE one with nothing but sand and a thin line of tarmac around it to look at.

Stage 12: Aguilar de Campoo - Haro, 177km





GPM:
Puerto de La Eme (cat.3) 7,1km @ 5,2%
Portillo de Busto (cat.3) 4,4km @ 5,7%

A bit of a break for the bunch now as we get a pure transitional stage, which will surely come as a relief for some, not least the sprinters who haven’t had a chance to have their fun since stage 7. There is probably only one (possibly two) more chance for them now as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of them call an end to their race after this one, in view of what they have to make it over to get to the next opportunity to settle it in a bunch gallop, at least for those not in the mix for the maillot por puntos.

It’s another short transfer for the riders this time, across Palencia province to Aguilar de Campoo, a city of 7.500 known for its galletas, or biscuit/cookies, and which earned its status after being granted a realengo by Alfonso X in the thirteenth Century, and later Carlos I / Karl V (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, also became Charles I of Spain as it passed into Habsburg hands). It also hosted a large Jewish community for a period, unusual for the time. I included it as a stage start in my 6th Vuelta route back in 2015, and it has a similar role here - it has hosted the Vuelta five times now, and only in 2020 did it make its debut as a finish, with Sam Bennett initially victorious, before being forced to cede his victory to Pascal Ackermann after being called for irregular sprinting. It had last been seen in the Vuelta in 2012 as the start of a late-race stage won by Daniele Bennati, but in the interim it was the stage start to both of the Vuelta a Castilla y León stages that I referenced in stage 11, going through the Montaña Palentina region.



From a cycling perspective, however, Aguilar de Campoo is best known not as a host of racing but as the hometown of Alberto Fernández Blanco, one of the stars of the era when the Vuelta went from a provincial three week race that catered to its foreign stars to being the Grand Tour that it is today. After strong domestic performances including winning the national mountain bike championships as well as taking the GC of the Vuelta a Asturias, making the podium of the Vuelta a los Valles Mineros and two top 10s at the Vuelta al País Vasco, Fernández’ climbing talents were recognised and he was signed up by Teka for 1980; he would win back to back editions of the Vuelta a los Valles Mineros and also take home the GC at País Vasco and the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana in his first two seasons with them while scoring reasonable performances at the Tour de France, finishing 25th and 21st. For 1982 he inched forward in the priority list, but he was one of those that tested positive for Ritalin after the Navacerrada stage in the Vuelta, resulting in a ten minute penalty that dropped him to 15th overall. This bizarre scandal did not hit him hard, however, and he had his best Tour de France to that point with a 10th overall just three months later. He won his first GT stage in the 1983 Vuelta, in Castellar de’n Hug, and went on to finish 3rd overall, and with just a week’s break he rocked up to the Giro d’Italia where he would improve his results, getting the same 3rd overall position but winning two mountain stages, to Campitello Matese in week 1 and to Colle di San Fermo in week 3 - and improving his deficit from the winner from 3’58 to 3’40. He is perhaps best known for his 2nd place in the 1984 Vuelta, however - being left with a deficit to Éric Caritoux after stage 12 to Lagos de Covadonga, he was nevertheless the better on-paper climber compared to the career helper that Caritoux had been; he had just 32 seconds to make up, but after he only took a handful of these back on the Monte Naranco MTT, he was left with no decisive climbs remaining to make his mark. He threw his might at the final 33km ITT in Torrejón de Ardoz, but he came up just six seconds short - the narrowest GT winning margin in history. This marked Fernández as clearly in his prime and a threat to more or less any climbing race he entered. Sadly, he would not get any closer, as he and his wife were killed in a car crash on the way to a sports gala in December 1984. Since 1985, the highest point in the Vuelta has been awarded the Cima Alberto Fernández in his honour.



Barely have we started than we head through the race’s only, brief, sojourn into Cantabria, for several kilometres along the banks of the Ebro south of Reinosa, where the riverside towns and villages swap between Castilla y León and Cantabria frequently. We then pass the Cascada del Tobazo which marks our final landmark in Cantabria, at around the 40km mark, and from that point on it’s Burgos province all the way.



Although classified as a flat stage, there is still some climbing to be done as we head through the Parque Natural Hoces del Alto Ebro y Rudrón; first of all we have the uncategorised Alto de La Mota from Quintanilla Escalada; this is 4km at 5,3% and even has a couple of stretches where it gets above 10%, however it’s on wide and well maintained roads and isn’t really a threat to all but the most miserable of climbers. More worthy of some mountains points is the ensuing Puerto de La Eme, around 7km at just over 5% but with a steepest 4km or so averaging just under 7%, so similar in vein to San Jerónimo back in stage 4. It’s been a staple of mid-race low category break fodder climbs in the Vuelta a Burgos for many years, a role which it also fulfils here.

This is where I briefly diverted the race to try to crowbar in a finish at the Complejo Kárstico de Ojo Guareña, which hosted the Vuelta a Burgos a couple of times. The men’s race a few years ago came here twice in back to back years, with Dani Moreno victorious in 2012 and Jens Keukeleire in 2013. More crucial was the women’s Vuelta a Burgos rocking up into town in 2021 and 2022; Mavi García won in 2022, but the first time the women took on the climb, it was a fine moment for cycling worldwide as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig took her first stage win at the World Tour level. And then it was a tragedy for cycling worldwide as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig was too overcome with emotion to do an interview. That diversion will have to wait however, as it really messed with stage 13 which became too long to be feasible as a result.

Instead, therefore, we have a continued roll through areas well known to the bunch from the Vuelta a Burgos, and which many of them are likely to have raced during the warmup period for the Vuelta itself, especially the descent from Escóbados de Bajo which is parallel to the Altotero climb. The last categorised climb of the day is another Vuelta a Burgos classic, the Portillo de Busto in the Parque Natural Montes Obarenes San Zadornil. Once more I’ve only categorised part of the ascent; altimetrias.net records a full 12,4km at 3,5% from Frías, but we’re only categorising it from La Aldea, so hence 4,4km at 5,7% and leaving that earlier climb uncategorised. As an aside, there’s a surprisingly unheralded and never-used climb from Frías which APM have mapped - the Puerto del Somo - which may have to find its way into a Vuelta in future or at least a Burgos route.


Portillo de Busto, pretty nice scenery for a cat.3! Photo from ZaLeZ at zaleza.blogspot.com

With over 50km remaining, though, nobody is going to seriously make moves here. It’s more about transitioning across the plains of Burgos toward our final intermediate sprint at Miranda de Ebro, before heading on into La Rioja. Miranda de Ebro is the second most populous city in the Provincia de Burgos with 40.000 inhabitants, and sits at a tripoint between Burgos, La Rioja and the Basque province of Álava/Araba. It is a city of two halves, straddling the Ebro; the older part is known as Aquende and the newer as Allende, and settlement dates back to the Iron Age. Roman remains of the city of Déobriga are nearby at Arce, Cabriana and Puentelarra, and the city of Miranda de Ebro first actually appears in modern manuscripts as a destroyed town. However, after the locality passed into the hands of the Kingdom of Castile in 1076, its frontier status led to it receiving a fuero and becoming a bustling trading town. It grew rapidly in the late 19th Century due to its location at the junction of two major railway lines, Madrid to Irun and Castejón to Bilbao, which led to it being established as a city in 1907. It was home to one of the most brutal nationalist concentration camps during the Guerra Civil.



Miranda de Ebro has suffered as a cycling town for much of the history of La Vuelta due to its relative proximity to Burgos, to Logroño, and to the Basque provincial capitals of Vitória-Gasteiz and Bilbao which would almost invariably host stages during the El Correo-El Pueblo Vasco era of the race. As a result it was very much a frequently visited by seldom seen location in the Vuelta’s history, waiting all the way until 1973 to get to host a stage of its own; it was on the penultimate day of the race and it was won, in the leader’s jersey, by Eddy Merckx. Not bad, hey? This was clearly a success though, as it returned the next year with Agustín Tamames victorious, Hennie Kuiper the year after that, and even hosted the grand finale of the race in 1977 when - of course - Freddy Maertens won. Jean-Philippe Vandenbrande won another stage in Miranda de Ebro in 1978, but after that, the proximity to the Basque regions became more a curse than a blessing, as the race was reluctant to head close to Euskal Herria lest the race become once more a target for terrorists. As such, other than Logroño, cities backing directly into Basque territory became rarities on the route, so visits became periodic rather than consistent. It hosted a stage start to Alto Campoo in the 1987 Vuelta, but since then it has had to make do with the Vuelta a Burgos, which has frequently finished in town, or more often, at the San Juan del Monte hilltop finish just outside of town. Winners there include José Iván Gutiérrez, Carlos García Quesada, Igor Astarloa, Joaquím Rodríguez and Samuel Sánchez.

One of the cities that usurped Miranda de Ebro as a host of the Vuelta in the Unipublic era has been Haro, a Riojan border town close to Miranda which is also close to the border with País Vasco. In fact, in many bus lines from Bilbao to Logroño, you actually stop in Haro before returning to the Basque area for the majority of the remainder of the trip, so as to bypass going over the Puerto de Herrera. Haro had never had a stage finish in the Vuelta until 2011, when Juan José Haedo won a sprint in the final week, just before the Peña Cabarga showdown between Froome and Cobo; it had been introduced to the Vuelta in 1979 to start a stage which finished at that same Peña Cabarga - and in fact that was the Cantabrian Inselberg’s only appearance in the race until 2011. Haro would return in 1986 and 1989, then would not be seen until 2011. The city is home to 11.000 people and dates to the 11th Century, with many conflicting theories and folk etymologies; the theory with the most currency is that it derives from faro or lighthouse, which would have been required due to a sweeping meandering diversion in the Ebro at the city, especially when heading upstream as one would be unsighted by a break in the Sierra de Cantabria between two enormous protruding rock forms, known as the Conchas de Haro, one of which has the San Felices hermitage hidden away at its summit.



The finish is not particularly complex, I have borrowed the straightforward sprint run-in that was used in 2011. PRC showcased a lot more of what can be done with the city, usually using the Puerto de Herrera, in this explication, where they were able to show that this long-forgotten standard of the Vuelta is pretty accurately comparable to Planche des Belles Filles except isn’t a MTF, and also went for a run-in with a short but steep 200m repecho which I am avoiding; the sprinters have had a long wait for their next chance to shine, and they’re going to have to suffer a fair bit before the next one - best to throw them a bone once in a while, no?

 
I like this stage, similar to my stage 12 except more valley time and different length of the final climb, but this stage could have a number of very intriguing possibilities.
I keep changing my mind about how good the stage is. Are the valley part too long? Is the final climb too lame compared to Galibier? Should I have used Alpe d'Huez instead? Or Glandon or Croix-de-Fer? Or should I've abanodned the idea of an HC climbaltogether and have used some shorter climbs before Vaujany?

But I would definitely still like to see this stage being ridden in a women's race (again). It could also have been an interesting route for an edition of La Course.

I don't really know how the climbing times from 1997 compare to today's, though we obviously know they weren't all riding on water alone back then. It took Luperinin tow hours and 44 minutes to complete the stage, so about an hour less than this year's Saturday queen stage.

I plan to have finished the design of the last stage at some point tomorrow.
 
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