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Race Design Thread

Page 339 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
Stage 5: Donibane Garazi (Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) - Loiolako Santutegia (Santuário de Loyola), 154km



Col d’Izpegui (cat.2) 8,1km @ 6,3%
Puerto de Usategieta (cat.3) 23,6km @ 2,4%
Alto de Santa Ageda (cat.1) 9,1km @ 6,8%
Alto de Urraki (cat.1) 8,6km @ 6,9%
Alto de Odriozolatxo (cat.2) 2,0km @ 13,0%

The final road stage of the race takes us back from Iparralde, across the northwestern corner of Nafarroa, and into the heart of Gipuzkoa, but not to a section of the province that typically hosts the crucial parts of the Itzulia, so we can at least remain somewhat innovative here and use some novel climbs, including a final climb that I cannot see has been used by anybody anywhere in the thread, or even in any PRC or APM forum suggestions, at least not in this fashion - though there is a full profile of it up to the summit above where I’ve climbed so there may be some using the Etumeta climb that include it that I’ve missed.

Either way, there should be some solid time gaps here following the saw-toothed fourth stage, and so action should be necessitated on stage 5, as we depart Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on a reasonably short (just over 150km, so fairly standard kind of Itzulia length) stage which is a bit more even with its climbs than stage 4’s chain of garage ramps. We swiftly head westward and immediately pass through Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry (just Baigorri in Basque, meaning red riverbank) which hosts a festival of Navarrese identity every year in May. We then head up the first climb of the day, a classic cat.2 to the Col d’Izpegui (Puerto de Izpegui, Izpegi Gana), a mostly fairly steady and wide open, well-tarmacked pass which is one of the most used passes between French and Spanish Navarre. Unlike most other climbs in this race it has been seen a fair few times even in Grand Tours, appearing in Vuelta stages in the 60s when the Basque Country on both sides of the border would host, and then in the 1977 Tour before a couple of appearances in the 90s - in 1992 when the Tour started in Euskal Herria, and in 1996 when the Tour went into Navarra to honour Miguel Indurain. It was most recently seen in a transitional stage in week two of the 2019 Vuelta, when Mikel Iturria won for the hometown Euskaltel-Euskadi team in a break which also featured fellow Basques Jonathan Lastra, Gorka Izagirre and Álex Aranburu.


After we re-enter Spain and then set off descending into Erratzu, we have the longest flat part of the stage, around 30km of rolling terrain in the Baztan valley, initially downhill and then uphill false flat, taking us through towns like Elizondo and Doneztebe, before setting off on the single longest climb of the race - but one that is only a cat.3 ascent - up to the Puerto de Usategieta - basically a lot of false flat that only gets categorised because of the sheer amount of height metres included. The steepest kilometre is only at 6% and most are down in the 2-3% range with the steeper parts reaching 5%, so this is still part of the transitional part of the stage.

This is a lopsided climb, the other side being around 5km at just under 5%, but in this case that makes it the steeper and harder side. This descent takes us into Leitza, a small town of 3.000 close to the border with Gipuzkoa which has one of the strongest Basque identities of all Navarrese towns, and is home to a number of prominent pelotariak; Miguel Cestau, a champion in remonte (a format which is akin to jai-alai but does not permit capture of the ball), Abel Barriola, a well known veteran defender in mano, and the entire mano dynasty of the Bengoetxea family. Juan Mari Bengoetxea (“Bengoetxea III”) won two singles and one pairs title in the late 70s, his brother Mikel(“Bengoetxea IV”) won two pairs titles in the 80s, and the most recent addition to the dynasty, their nephew Oinatz (“Bengoetxea VI”) is a 20-year veteran still active today, who has won three singles (one in cuatro y medio) and one pairs title across a 10 year span. But the same year as Oinatz was born, came cyclist Mikel Nieve, a veteran rider who retired recently and made a name for himself first as a monster stage hunting climber and then as a mountain domestique, across a 14-year career in which he managed six GT top 10s (five of them in 10th place), a stage of the Dauphiné, a King of the Mountains at the Giro, and three GT stages, one at the Vuelta and two at the Giro, the difficulty and memorable nature of these leading to a reputation where he could only win the most heinous of days, the most famous being the 2011 Giro stage to Rifugio Gardeccia where the break fell to pieces three climbs from home and, in second place on the road, he stalked for hours and finally chased down and ultimately defeated Stefano Garzelli in a one-on-one slugfest over the Passo Giau, Passo di Fedaia and then the final Rifugio Gardeccia climb on a stage so hard that when the Basque finally made it to the line he barely had enough energy to raise a single arm to acknowledge the victory.


Soon after Leitza we pass back into País Vasco proper, and then descend into the well known town of Tolosa, a paper mill town of around 20.000 people, named after the Castilian form of Toulouse by King Alfonso the Wise in the 13th Century after Gipuzkoa was incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile at the turn of the century. It gave its name to Juan de Tolosa, a conquistador known as Barbalonga who founded the city of Zacatecas. The last time it appeared as a stage host in the Itzulia was 1999, when Laurent Jalabert and the recently-departed Davide Rebellin fought out a two-up sprint won by the former. It did crop up a couple of times in the mid-2000s in the Euskal Bizikleta too, the former being a key mountain stage won by Eladio Jiménez. This built its stage around the climbs of the area… which we’re heading directly for now, in order to get to the Urola Valley, where our finish will be.

This entails going over the Santa Ageda climb, one of the most significantly-sized in the region. At over 9km at 7% it’s a cat.1 ascent, just about, which makes it one of the largest ascents in terms of sustained distance at a serious gradient that the region has at its disposal. We could go directly from here to the finish not long after the descent, but that would be a stupidly short stage AND a bit of a waste of the massif. It was last seen - from the opposite side - mid-stage in the Donostia stage of the 2017 edition of the Itzulia, and again here it’s mid-stage, cresting at 47km from home, although it is on this occasion far more likely to play a decisive role, with just two more climbs to come. The descent into Nuarbe then leads us directly to our penultimate climb, just southeast of Azpeitia, where we turn right in Harzubia, a small village which is now subsumed within Azpeitia in similar fashion to Iurreta having been swallowed by Durango, and onto the Alto de Urraki. This is also cat.1 (although a slightly more generous rating), being similar in characteristic, but a little shorter (just under 9km), similar steepness (just under 7%) and with much less 9-10% gradient going on, in fact the first two kilometres at 8,7% being the steepest part and the climb getting gradually easier as it goes on. This was last seen in the 2015 Eibar - Aia stage, and comes with 23km remaining in my stage here, so it will be a key climb especially if anybody is going to dare to dream in the fashion of recent Arrate stages. It has, however, hosted since 1996 an amateur race called the Subida a Urraki, which starts in Azpeitia and consists of two flat laps of a 39km circuit before climbing Etumeta from the west, descending back to Azpeitia from Erdoizta, then climbing Urraki twice. Winners include Joaquím Rodríguez in 2000, Jesús Hernández in 2001, Rubén Pérez in 2004, Fabricio Ferrari in 2009, Dani Diaz in 2010, Arkaitz Durán in 2012, Mikel Bizkarra in 2014 and Richard Carapaz in 2016.


Mikel Bizkarra wins atop Urraki

But Santa Ageda and Urraki are far from innovations. Both are well known to both traceurs and real life races, and crop up a few times in the thread to date:
  • I used Santa Ageda all the way back in 2011 in my very first Vuelta attempt, as a mid-stage climb en route to an MTF at Áralar
  • I used Santa Ageda as a mid-stage climb again (this time from the Nuarbe side, the one descended in this stage, between Mandubia and Etumeta) in a País Vasco route in 2016
Urraki is the last climb of a stage to Tolosa in one of railxmig’s Vuelta routes in 2018
Urraki is climbed in a stage to Arrate in Gigs’ Vuelta designed as a tribute to Alberto Contador in 2018
Forever The Best also used Urraki mid-stage in a stage to Elgoibar in a Vuelta route in 2017, like my use of Santa Ageda, placing it between Mandubia and Etumeta)

While Forever The Best and I both placed the climbs between Mandubia and Etumeta, we both used the descent from our respective summits (mine Santa Ageda, theirs Urraki) through Errezil to Artzalluz, and then climbed to Etumeta via the GI-3730 main road, which is a fairly steady climb of 4,7km @ 7,3%. Of a bit more interest was a stage that Olav_EH produced in 2017 which instead used this side as a descent and climbed a new, narrow side of Etumeta hitherto unnoticed by the rest of us, that being this one from the east. And Gig’s stage had a strangely steep descent as it clearly didn’t use the GI-3730 as a real race inevitably would. Etumeta is, in fact, something of a spider summit, with lots of routes to the top. And while most are relatively middling in overall averages, some of the sides have some monster ramps. Take this northwestern face which has the main road for the last couple of kilometres, but includes a concreted garage ramp of 300m at 19% in the middle. The one that stood out to me, though, was the one from Barrenola, a small hamlet on the GI-2634 between Azpeitia and Artzalluz, which starts to the south before linking up with the already somewhat lesser-known western face of the climb, never once touching the main road.


The conventional face of said already lesser-known western side of the climb is this one:


Notice something about those two profiles?

That’s right, the end is the same. So we can use the most painful parts of them as an intermediate summit, similar to other spectacular garage ramps of Itzulia heritage. At 2km into the Barrenola side there is a junction for Azpeitia, and at 4km into the Azpeitia side there is a junction for Barrenola. So yes, we’re climbing that 2km and descending that 4km. As we aren’t finishing in town, this means that the summit of that 2km is a whopping SIX kilometres from the finish, but 2km averaging 13% and with such sustained gradients above 15% should definitely be creating some havoc, especially with back to back cat.1 climbs in the legs straight before it. Bentaxo, on those profiles, is actually at the high point of the route we’re taking, but is basically just a baserri rather than an actual settlement, so I’ve named the climb for neighbouring Odriozolatxo. Helpfully, the APM/Altimetrias guys have seen fit to picture much of the climbs and descents here so we can see that they are accessible:

The climb (until last 3 photos)
The descent (first 5 photos)


Mountainside that we’re traversing, above Azpeitia

Descending from here will take us into Azpeitia, a town of 15.000 which is attested since the amalgamation of villages in the 14th Century. Amongst its descendants we can count Euskaltel domestiques Joseba Albizu and Andoni Aranaga, the composer Juan de Anchieta, colonial Governor of Chile Félix de Berroeta, the Ibero family of architects, and the voice of pelota vasca, veteran commentator Xabier Euzkitze. But most people who know Azpeitia will largely know it either for the Basque Railway Museum, a huge collection of trains which also operates its own narrow-gauge heritage line which is separated from both the main Spanish rail network and the regional Euskotren network, the rickety narrow-gauge lines that connect east and west in the region; or for being the hometown and birthplace of Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, a theologian who founded the Jesuit movement, helped lead the counter-reformation, and was canonised as San Ignacio de Loyola (St. Ignatius of Loyola) in 1622, 66 years after his death. Originally a military man, Íñigo was converted after while recovering from surgery on a leg injury, when his sister, charged with finding him reading materials, was unable to locate books of chivalric tales so substituted religious texts. He adopted the name of Ignatius as it was more recognisable to other Europeans and, although unrelated, was sufficiently similar to his own, and added his hometown to his name on his travels.

Though the cave in Manresa where he spent months praying is perhaps a more venerated site, his birthplace was given to the Jesuit Order in the 17th Century and became a place of veneration; the Santuário de Loyola complex (Loiolako Santutegia in Basque) was constructed across a 49 year period from 1689 to 1738 in the Churrigueresco style, and is now considered by most (some argue for Arantzazu) to be the holiest site in País Vasco.


Of course, religious sites often host bike races in this part of the world - this is often as they are located at hilltops and as pilgrimage sites often have ample room for logistics. Examples such as the Basilica di Supergà and the Santuario di Oropa in Italy, Nossa Senhora da Assunção and Senhora da Graça in Portugal, Nuestra Señora de Canolich in Andorra, Santuário de Arrate, Santuário de la Virgén de Oro, Monestir de Montserrat and Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain are all such examples. The Santuário de Loyola is not at a mountaintop, however it has hosted professional bike racing before, most notably in 1994’s Vuelta al País Vasco, which was a special stage for a couple of reasons. Eighty kilometres from home the breakaway splintered and, with the GC contenders in the bunch keen to preserve energy for the upcoming final time trial, it looked like they would be allowed to settle the stage. The nascent Euskadi team, not even Euskadi-Petronor yet, a modest new team focusing on local talent, had its man in the breakaway push on, and Agustín Sagastí duly obliged. It was a short stage which would go over some sizeable climbs on the way to the Sanctuary, and it was raining. Perfect Basque conditions. After over 75km solo and with a lead extending to over two minutes, the 23-year-old from Mungia would score his maiden professional victory - and the first for what would become one of the most recognisable and beloved teams in the professional péloton.

At the time, nobody knew that this would be the only victory that Sagastí would manage, and in future he would be a footnote, known only as a trivia answer for being the first winner for the team. Two months later, his life would be changed irreparably, as he was chasing a breakaway in the Vuelta a los Valles Mineros, the ‘other’ Asturian stage race (much as the Euskal Bizikleta was to the Vuelta al País Vasco), as he came around a bend and, due to negligence on the part of the organisers, found a car coming the other way. He was hit while travelling over 90km/h and fell into a coma; he spent four months in hospital and the injuries ended his professional career (although Euskadi kept him on the team’s books for the following season and continued to pay his salary) and left him disabled. He would eventually sue Unipublic, organiser of the race, for 70 million pesetas, and attempted to return to cycling as a coach within the Fundación Euskadi briefly, though eventually left disillusioned with the sport. In later years he would try to return to school, but suffered from depression and had to rely on initiatives that sought jobs for the disabled to get by; in November 2009 his body was found in his home in Mungia in an apparent suicide soon after his 39th birthday. Since 2011, his hometown has organised an amateur race - relatively flat by Euskadi standards but still hilly - in his memory, the most notable winner of which is Juan Pedro López, in 2017. I thought it would be nice to pay tribute to one of the most important victories in the history of the race, and shine a light on one of the less well-known stories out there.

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Stage 6: Loiolako Santutegia (Santuário de Loyola) - Loiolako Santutegia (Santuário de Loyola), 27,1km (CRI)



As per tradition, we finish with a time trial around the same location as the penultimate stage’s finish host. This is what they did back in 1994 after Sagustí’s win in fact, although back in those days it was a semitappe, so there was just an 8km ITT from the sanctuary into and around Azpeitia and back, which was won by Tony Rominger. That was a bit of an anomaly though, and often in those days, the ITT would also be a hillclimb, like a couple of years earlier with the Santuário de Arantzazu hosting the finish of the ITT after a previous stage into Oñati. Typically however, especially since the establishment of the World Tour, the time trial has been a full length stage, usually on the final day, and it was fluctuated in length depending on how difficult the rest of the race is. And how difficult the time trial is, seeing as this is the Basque Country and flat terrain is at a premium.

In the last three editions of the race (2019, 2021 and 2022) the ITT has been at the start of the race, and 2018 saw it held on stage 4, but before that the ITT has almost invariably been on the final day. The tradition is for it to be difficult and very technical with some uphills and downhills rather than a pure power TT, which suits the kind of rider typically favoured by the Itzulia. Lengths were around 10km when it was a semitappe but since the introduction of the ProTour removed semitappes from the highest level races and the TT became a standalone stage, these stages can be anywhere from 15 to 30km, as you can see from this sample:
Zalla 2006, 2009, 2011 - 24km
Oiartzun 2007 - 14km
Orio 2008 - 20km
Orio 2010 - 22km
Oñati 2012 - 18,9km
Beasain 2013 - 24km
Markina-Xemein 2014 - 25,9km
Aia 2015 - 18,3km
Eibar 2016 - 16,5km
Eibar 2017 - 27,7km

As you can see I have gone for the longer end of the spectrum, but I think this is justified by the hard overall route, personally, with especially the Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port stage liable to create sizeable time gaps. But also, as with many of these time trials, I have decided to beef things up with a climb of some description. Climbs in País Vasco time trials vary from short and sharp (Alto de Garagaltza in the Oñati stage, an uncategorised climb but 1,1km at over 9%, or the infamous Aia murito in 2015) to pretty significant and considerably-sized (Arrate-Krabelin in 2016, an ITT which was basically just up and over that climb, and Lekoitzgane in the Markina-Xemein 2014 stage).


Azpeitia from the hills


Medieval centre of Azpeitia

The first part of the time trial sees us head from the sanctuary straight through the medieval old town of Azpeitia, and along the GI-631 which follows the banks of the Urola river, as far as the village of Lasao, the other terminus of the heritage railway line that runs from the railway museum. Here we will have a U-turn and return from whence we came, with cones splitting this wide open multi-lane road, so there’s plenty of space to do this safely. This takes us back to Azpeitia where we have the first of two time-checks, after 8,7km, before we head up the valley road towards Artzalluz, which is the base of the ‘normal’ version of Etumeta from here. Climbing on the GI-2634 out of Azpeitia involves an ascent of a kilometre at 7,5% into Barrenola and then going back up the route we descended between Artzalluz and Barrenola yesterday. This is uphill but it’s basically false flat - after a bit of flat terrain there is 2km at 2,5% uphill before it flattens out again - before a bit of innovation on my part, a climb that I can’t see APM, 39x28, Ramacabici or any of the other main mapping sites has, the Alto de Ibarbia.


The inspiration behind this was actually the 1994 Euskal Herriko Itzulia once more, which followed the stage which Sagastí won with an 8,3 km ITT which finished at Elosiaga, 3km up the climb to Urraki. If you look at the profile of Urraki one more time, however, you will note a junction for Ibarbia at 4km - and Ibarbia is in fact above this junction, not below. There is instead a road from between Artzalluz and Errezil which heads uphill at 6,8% for 3,4km - the first kilometre of which is at 9,5% - and which Google Street View shows us is perfectly ridable, a little on the narrow side but not worse than other climbs which have been used in País Vasco time trials over the years, certainly it’s no problem compared to some of the roads in that Oñati time trial back in 2012 or the Alto de Aia.


Baserri on Ibarbia Auzoa

The summit of this climb is at around 444m, the second time check will be here but since it’s the TT I will be stingy and not give mountains points for it. We then descend a little onto the main road to the Alto de Urraki; we then descend the side of the climb that we ascended yesterday, amounting to the first four kilometres of the profile shown previously. This takes us back to Azpeitia, from which point we simply copy the run-in from stage 5 to return to the Santuário de Loyola and crown our final overall winner. They should be a suitable victor to fit the history and tradition of the race at this stage - even if the ITT is pretty long for Itzulia standards, its mixed nature should suit the all-rounders, with enough in the first half to give the more powerful rider an advantage, but enough in the second half that the climbers can try to limit their losses and defend any lead they might have from the rest of the race. I think this is a balanced Itzulia, but others may disagree.

After all, while it may give traceurs a plethora of options that mean there is still scope for innovation amid this racing-saturated geographical area… it’s also one of the races that least needs to be given hints on what to do to maximise racing, since it frequently produces some of the best high level racing of the year. But there’s just too much choice not to come back once in a while to see what we can come up with…
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Yea, they posted that they're up and running but without any of the old pass data, login details or routes. Which is a real shame for me as I had a large backlog of stuff, so like Samu I will hold off temporarily in the hope that they are able to retrieve at least SOME of the logins etc., but I think it's an inevitability that it's lost. It's ok, they've done great to get back online but it's obviously a limited version atm.

LCC, are you able to confirm whether you can use the old version of the editor if you're logged in, because that sends you to the login screen if you click it on the editor when not logged in.
@Mayomaniac, given that it's your training grounds, I assume you have ridden up the small road through Percha/Perca on the way to Tesselberg near Bruneck/Brunico. Is it really 1 km at ~15 %?

And while I have you, how is the road for Onach/Onies? On Street View it's partly unpaved (June 2022).
The road to Onach got fixed, but usually I climb the Würzjoch from that side instead because it's right after the Furcia and you avoid riding in the valley with all the traffic until St. martin.

Nah, maybe 1km at 11%, but I usually ride more around Cortina, behind the Kreuzbergpass and on the steep climbs around Lienz.

In the Pustertal you have to avoid the main road and use Bikepaths/secondary roads up on the mountains because the traffic gets that bad when lots of Tourists are around.

The other side of Tesselberg (the one used on the final stage of the Tota) is legit 5km at 12% with 16% ramps.

In that area Nevesstausee is another nasty climb, the steep part near the end is a lot like Peña Cabarga with ramps up to 19%.
The road to Onach got fixed, but usually I climb the Würzjoch from that side instead because it's right after the Furcia and you avoid riding in the valley with all the traffic until St. martin.

Do you think it would be possible for a Giro to descend the Würzjoch via Luson/Lüsen? I had planned a stage finish at Maranza via the Würzjoch followed by Alpe di Rodegno via the Lüsner Alm. I ask because when I last looked on street view it appeared that there were some wooden bridges and I don't know if they would be suitable for a race to go over.
Do you think it would be possible for a Giro to descend the Würzjoch via Luson/Lüsen? I had planned a stage finish at Maranza via the Würzjoch followed by Alpe di Rodegno via the Lüsner Alm. I ask because when I last looked on street view it appeared that there were some wooden bridges and I don't know if they would be suitable for a race to go over.
Probably doable in a race. Frankly it's probably safer in a race than normally, because you don't have to worry about a car coming the other way on a rather narrow road behind every corner.
Descending towards Lüsen from the Rodenecker Alm would be borderline, the way you want to go is totally fine.
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Monster stage to Bilbao. I was kind of all "surprisingly light SJPdP stage, Netserk?!" but it makes sense in context. I think in a real version of this race the run-in in the Cambo-les-Bains stage would be a lot flatter just to not make the race a fully roided-out version of a typical Itzulia, but then 35km of ITT at least is justified here.

Also I certainly support the use of the hormigón side of Usartza AND the Krabelin side of Arrate in the same stage.
I would rather water down the Bilbao stage instead of the one to Cambo-les-Bains. The finale of the latter was what spurred me on to draw up the rest of the race.

It's like the 2019 Vuelta stage, but with additional hills and a loop in the end. With the ITT the next day, I think the GC riders would be inclined to wait for the last climb, and maybe even race that one passively.

I thought you would comment on Azurtzamendi, like you did a decade ago here.
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I would rather water down the Bilbao stage instead of the one to Cambo-les-Bains. The finale of the latter was what spurred me on to draw up the rest of the race.

It's like the 2019 Vuelta stage, but with additional hills and a loop in the end. With the ITT the next day, I think the GC riders would be inclined to wait for the last climb, and maybe even race that one passively.

I thought you would comment on Azurtzamendi, like you did a decade ago here.
The flip side is that maybe they would go with the stage as designed from Espelette onwards, but given its position in the race and that stage 3 is the MTF, it would perhaps be after a more or less flat (you know, as much as País Vasco allows) first half of the stage in that case. I'm guessing that for the most part the likes of Izpegui there are only going to serve as leg-softeners, though, as all the action would be in that last 30km or so.
I don't lose anything important if I skip Otxondo and Lizarrieta by going through Elizondo on the way to Bera, but it would leave the first half of the stage very anaemic. The next stage to Urkiola is already very easy until the finale, so I'll have to go over the past editions once more to judge whether or not it makes the race too hard.
I don't lose anything important if I skip Otxondo and Lizarrieta by going through Elizondo on the way to Bera, but it would leave the first half of the stage very anaemic. The next stage to Urkiola is already very easy until the finale, so I'll have to go over the past editions once more to judge whether or not it makes the race too hard.
Oh, it doesn't make the race too hard for me, but for Adam Hansen?