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Race Design Thread

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Frankly that stage still works fine without it, just add in the climb to Latzfons via Feldthurns at the start instead and it's still great. Würzjoch/Jö de Börz from that side is a really underrated, great climb.
That said, I looked at it again and there's maybe one really sketchy corner, IMO you can still use it. That side of the climb that you are using, 7.5km at 11% is something I've mainly experimented with when thinking about stage finishes at the ski station in Vals afterwards (and Würzjoch via Longega/Zwischenwasser before, I love that climb as much as I hate Furcia from the Olang side (irregular climb and really exposed to the sun). That said, Rodenecker Alm from Mühlbach is also nice, 11km at 9% is a good climb and the last time I did it the heat was brutal (38°C down in Brixen)
 
I'd like to give all you creative people a little challenge.

This was posted over in the General News thread:

I don’t know where to put this, but found what ChatGPT’s hypothetical Tour route to be funny
View: https://mobile.twitter.com/AndyGraham22/status/1645438484398632963

Two Mount Ventoux MTF’s would be interesting.

However, as you can see it's only start, finish, and length. As well as, in a few cases, key points. The actual routes are not detailed.
Well, what do you guys come up with?
 
I'd like to give all you creative people a little challenge.

This was posted over in the General News thread:



However, as you can see it's only start, finish, and length. As well as, in a few cases, key points. The actual routes are not detailed.
Well, what do you guys come up with?
I think most of the stage lengths are actually impossible as the supposed stage hosts are too far apart, so we would need to come up with some rules if we want to turn this into a proper challenge.

I would stick to the race distances instead of the start towns whilst keeping the finish locations intact to keep the already too long race distance in check, but you would want to limit the distance between ChatGPT‘s starting town and the newfound stage hosts.
 
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I'd like to give all you creative people a little challenge.

This was posted over in the General News thread:



However, as you can see it's only start, finish, and length. As well as, in a few cases, key points. The actual routes are not detailed.
Well, what do you guys come up with?
Over school break I’m going to try to create something, because I’ll have a lot of free time then.
 
Regarding the proposed Tour route:
I quite like stage 13, from Dijon to Besancon. I'm sure you could make a good stage between the two towns; Google Maps says around 110ish KM, but you could of course make it longer by just not taking the direct route.
But, no! Gotta be 45 KM ITT. Figure it out!
 
It's the year 2030: ASO has been sold to the Saudis and just like the race formerly known as Paris-Dakar the Tour has been relocated to Arabia.

Nah, I'm just messing with you. Now that I've (hopefully) managed to grab your attention with my dystopian vision, let's talk more about potential races in Arabia (yeah, I'm not gonna talk about the obvious elefant in the room, because forum rules). The amount of absurdly hard, steep climbs that you find there is absurd. Now what's something that could grab the interest of some of the rich investors over there? How about a one day race for climbers with the hardest climb in the world (that gets used in an actual races)? Have it at the start or the end of the season with lots of price money and nice starting fees for top climbers/gc riders.
With the initial premise explained, let's get to the race:

Azir Mountains climbers challenge; 181km
DtH6UsX.png

lPQY3C8.png


The race starts in Abha, the capital of the Azir region with over 200,000 inhabitants.
Abha:
abu-khayyal-garden.jpg


One of the main roads during the jacaranda tree blossom.
1559971.jpg

The short little uphill raise that you see top after 4.3kms is the short uphill drag up to Abu Kheyal Park, 500m at 7.6%. The main breakaway should form a bit later on the climb up to Al Soudah, that I've split into 2 different categorised climbs because of the false flat in the middle.
The first one is the climb to Eastern Point View (a viewpoint to watch over the city), 4.6km at 5.5%. Then, after 9kms of uphillish false flat, the 2nd climb starts, the actual drag up to Al Soudah proper, 3.3km at 4.9%.
Afterwards you have 47kms of slightly downhillish false flat, then the actual descent towards Muhayil starts. The steep part is 10kms at 6.5%, followed by 46kms at around 2% flase flat downhill until we reach the lowest point of the race near Muhayil.
Now the road starts going up again. Firstly it's a gentle 2% uphill drag for 18.5kms, followed by 4kms at 4.7%.
Now this is where the fun begins, now the real monster starts. Al Jaadah Pass/Bihan Pass, 12.5kms at 14.3%
Bihan-Pass-Hardest-Cycling-Climbs-in-the-world.webp
FETAL-pVIAMpxd5

The guys at Pjammcycling have posted lots of footage of someone climbing this brute, this gives you an idea of how steep this one actually is and how surprisingly wide and nice the road is: https://pjammcycling.com/climb/3038.Al-Jaadah-Pass;mode=Photo;name=Main

It's pretty much 2.5 times as long as the steep part of the Zoncolan and at a similar height as the Stelvio, HC indeeed.

The climb tops with 19.3kms to go, that means that the race won't be finished on top of this monster. The rest of the race is characterized by short descents, rolling terrain and short climbs. 8.1kms later we have a short climb, 1.5kms at 5.5%, followed by around 1.7kms of false flat and a descend that is 4.2kms at 5.3%.

Then the final climb of the day starts, up to Assalam Park above Sabah. The actual climb is 2.5kms at 5.8%, the final 1.2kms of the race are flat and even slightly downhill in the end. I know, the race pretty much ends in the middle of nowhere, but the next slightly larger town is Al Haras and finishing there would mean adding 16km of rolling terrain in the end and I'm happy with the monster climb topping with a bit over 19kms to go.
 
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It's the year 2030: ASO has been sold to the Saudis and just like the race formerly known as Paris-Dakar the Tour has been relocated to Arabia.

Nah, I'm just messing with you. Now that I've (hopefully) managed to grab your attention with my dystopian vision, let's talk more about potential races in Arabia (yeah, I'm not gonna talk about the obvious elefant in the room, because forum rules). The amount of absurdly hard, steep climbs that you find there is absurd. Now what's something that could grab the interest of some of the rich investors over there? How about a one day race for climbers with the hardest climb in the world (that gets used in an actual races)? Have it at the start or the end of the season with lots of price money and nice starting fees for top climbers/gc riders.
With the initial premise explained, let's get to the race:

Azir Mountains climbers challenge; 181km
DtH6UsX.png

lPQY3C8.png


The race starts in Abha, the capital of the Azir region with over 200,000 inhabitants.
Abha:
abu-khayyal-garden.jpg


One of the main roads during the jacaranda tree blossom.
1559971.jpg

The short little uphill raise that you see top after 4.3kms is the short uphill drag up to Abu Kheyal Park, 500m at 7.6%. The main breakaway should form a bit later on the climb up to Al Soudah, that I've split into 2 different categorised climbs because of the false flat in the middle.
The first one is the climb to Eastern Point View (a viewpoint to watch over the city), 4.6km at 5.5%. Then, after 9kms of uphillish false flat, the 2nd climb starts, the actual drag up to Al Soudah proper, 3.3km at 4.9%.
Afterwards you have 47kms of slightly downhillish false flat, then the actual descent towards Muhayil starts. The steep part is 10kms at 6.5%, followed by 46kms at around 2% flase flat downhill until we reach the lowest point of the race near Muhayil.
Now the road starts going up again. Firstly it's a gentle 2% uphill drag for 18.5kms, followed by 4kms at 4.7%.
Now this is where the fun begins, now the real monster starts. Al Jaadah Pass/Bihan Pass, 12.5kms at 14.3%
Bihan-Pass-Hardest-Cycling-Climbs-in-the-world.webp
FETAL-pVIAMpxd5

The guys at Pjammcycling have posted lots of footage of someone climbing this brute, this gives you an idea of how steep this one actually is and how surprisingly wide and nice the road is: https://pjammcycling.com/climb/3038.Al-Jaadah-Pass;mode=Photo;name=Main

It's pretty much 2.5 times as long as the steep part of the Zoncolan and at a similar height as the Stelvio, HC indeeed.

The climb tops with 19.3kms to go, that means that the race won't be finished on top of this monster. The rest of the race is characterized by short descents, rolling terrain and short climbs. 8.1kms later we have a short climb, 1.5kms at 5.5%, followed by around 1.7kms of false flat and a descend that is 4.2kms at 5.3%.

Then the final climb of the day starts, up to Assalam Park above Sabah. The actual climb is 2.5kms at 5.8%, the final 1.2kms of the race are flat and even slightly downhill in the end. I know, the race pretty much ends in the middle of nowhere, but the next slightly larger town is Al Haras and finishing there would mean adding 16km of flat in the end and I'm happy with the monster climb topping with a bit over 19kms to go.

Yeah I think this is the perfect format to get the hardest climbs out there into an actual race at the highest level. One day race. After the Tour (at least). Small teams, minimize logistics. Throw in some starting fees. And go.
 
While not going straight north, it still looks quite exposed to the sun. The altitude should at least make the temperature non-hellish, but in the summer it should still be between 30 and 40 degrees peak temperature.
I would prefer to have such a race early in the season or at the end, but the heat that the riders often encounter at the start of Alpe d'Huez or certain climbs in the Pyrenees isn't much better.
 
So, the Great Cronoescalada Hijack of 2023 caused a lot of races and routes to be wiped. Most of us who use Cronoescalada posting in this thread have lost a bunch of their projects. I’ve lost a good few completed races, and a few that were incomplete or were full races but in need of some tweaking to have into a post-able state.

We’ve seen a lot of races through Latin America posted in this thread. I’ve certainly posted a bunch of them - and a few of the races lost were races I had planned for that area. Latin American cycling typically breaks down into three distinct groups. There are the Caribbean and Central American scenes which have some passionate but somewhat isolated, distinct scenes - Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Costa Rica being most notable - the Andino scene which is largely built around Colombia and Venezuela (especially western Venezuela, the provinces of Tachirá and Zulia in particular) and has spread into Ecuador more recently; and the Rioplatense scene based around Argentina and Uruguay with a lot of correlation with the Brazilian domestic scene. Although others have posted a number of races in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, I have surprisingly only done a single-day race in any of the three - a World Championships route in Caracas. I have had many attempts at races in these areas, but due to the embarrassment of riches I’ve never truly been happy with any of those routes. I have, however, done a couple of stage races in the Caribbean/Central American scene (Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic, and the Vuelta a Guatemala) - and I did have a Vuelta a Puerto Rico designed and was around 3/4 of the way through the write-up when the system went down, so I’m going to need to re-program it and go again when I have the motivation. I’ve done a lot in the rioplatense area, with a 10-stage Vuelta del Uruguay, a GT-length Volta do Brasil, and a number of stage races in Argentina, including a two-week national Tour, and short stage races in Ushuaia, Córdoba and two around Bariloche.

There are, however, some areas of South America that don’t fit into either of the continent’s primary scenes. And I don’t mean the Guyana/Suriname/French Guiana area; that is culturally far more Caribbean-facing, with their connections being more to the sports which were popular with their European colonial elites; Guyana even is considered part of the overarching West Indies cricket team, despite being on the continental mainland - and all three are governed by North America’s CONCACAF when it comes to football, rather than the South American CONMEBOL. I’m referring specifically to the Latin American countries (I know, French Guiana could then technically count as well, since France is also Romance-speaking) here. Now, Bolivia I believe more or less falls in with the Andino cycling scene, since it does have a scene of stage races; these are largely high altitude mountainous races, with a large percentage won by Colombian and Venezuelan riders. In addition to this, Bolivian mountain climber extraordinaire Óscar Soliz rode for Movistar Team América for several years and won a number of stages and races at the highest level in Colombian cycling. Peru I would also argue falls within the Andino cycling world, although they are far more peripheral; the country has far greater distances between its urban centres than Colombia or Ecuador, and fewer viable passable routes between them for the kind of level of cycling that they would have - plus unlike the other nations in the area, the main population centres are not at high altitude except for Ayacucho and Cajamarca. As a result the Vuelta a Perú has tended to be made up of shorter stages and not really tour the country, and Peruvian cyclists, other than Royner Navarro who made it to the UCI World Cycling Centre, have not had the same kind of impact in the wider local scene let alone become attractive propositions to the higher levels. Chile… well, Chile has a pretty well-established local scene that in fact harnesses a bit of the characteristics of both Andino and [/i]Rioplatense[/i] cycling, and the Vuelta de Chile is a very varied race including a range of climbs but not being a pure grimpeur’s race like Colombian races tend to be, which has run since the 70s and has a much more cosmopolitan winner’s list, with winners from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia, but also European winners as well - for a period it was a popular early season preparation race for European riders and so people like Pavel Tonkov, Christophe Moreau, Patrice Halgand and David Plaza show up as former winners. The local scene is different to the Rioplatense scene and riders tend to be more versatile (although still not as desirable to the higher levels as the riders from altitude further north), with the likes of Carlos Oyarzún (a time triallist who rode for Movistar and has carved out a niche in Portugal) and José Luís Rodríguez (who was at one point linked to signing for Trek-Segafredo) notable examples of riders in that scene. I actually had a two-week Vuelta de Chile prepared and ready to post which I was pretty happy with, so again, that will probably need re-doing at some point.

In the intervening period, however, you will note the one country missing. That country is Paraguay. Strangely, Paraguay doesn’t have any real connection to its neighbours’ cycling culture. It has had a Continental team - Massi-Vivo Conecta - for a few years now, but this has largely been based in Spain and while I thought it was along the lines of Equipo Bolivia or Inteja, a team which signs some Spanish journeymen and looks at development for its local riders within the Spanish pro scene, it turned out it was more like Heraklion-Kastro or Keith Mobel-Partizan, teams which effectively have two groups, a bunch of Spanish journeymen to enter the Spanish smaller races, and a bunch of local racers in the country the team is registered who do local races. The team looks to have ceased to be a Continental team during the 2022 season, though whether it continues domestically as an amateur team or has collapsed entirely, I’m not sure. As a result, however, Paraguay remains a cycling backwater. It hasn’t held a national tour since 2014, and even then, that was only the third edition to run since 1999, after running consecutively since its inception in 1993. I can name a good few riders from pretty much every Hispanophone/Lusophone South American country, but Paraguay? Only Água Marina Espinola, who rode for the World Cycling Centre and is now in Canyon-SRAM’s development team, has reached my conscience, as even the one Massi-Vivo Conecta rider who had lodged himself in my memory, Rubén Caseny, was one of the Spanish domestic riders.

Massi-Vivo3.jpg

Massi-Vivo Conecta at Beograd-Banja Luka in 2021

This backwater status is perhaps unsurprising; Paraguay and Bolivia, as the only two landlocked countries in the entire continent, have always been seen as something of the poor relations of the continent, and this is reflected in their sporting achievements as well, even in the continent’s beloved soccer (Paraguay are better overall than Bolivia in this, however, although stronger teams being destroyed when playing Bolivia away is a common theme thanks to the extreme altitude). Paraguay was, after initial decolonisation, one of the richest post-colonial states, with abundant resources and a decent railway system long before anywhere else in the continent, but the lack of sea access and a disastrous attempt at expansion in the 1860s that decimated the population and saw land ceded to all of its neighbours, followed by a century of political turmoil, has prevented them maximising the potential that the country had until very recently. In 2022, however, Paraguay hosted the Juegos Suramericanos in their capital of Asunción. The transition of trade from being heavily river- and ocean cargo dependent to increased aerial cargo has helped Paraguay’s development, as has the establishment of a large free trade zone around Ciudad del Este. A brand new Olympic level velodrome has been established in Asunción as part of the facilities required for the Games; previously Paraguayan riders, if they had wanted to develop track cycling skills, would need to relocate to Argentina or Uruguay (and not even close parts of Argentina either) in order to do so. With no national Tour, largely flat topography and large amounts of unpaved roads that hindered development of road riders, and no high level velodromes to develop track riders, Paraguay has never really had the opportunity to create high quality riders. But if they are willing to spend that money on the velodrome, they’re going to want to get some return on their investment, right? And if they’re looking to develop riders, they are likely to hit up against the same wall that many track programs that can’t compete financially with the likes of the UK, Australia, Germany or Denmark do - that the money in cycling is on the road.

asuncionnn-1024x675.jpg

Velódromo Olímpico Paraguayo, inaugurated 2022

I also liked the idea of a Vuelta del Paraguay as it is an area untouched by the thread to date, it is an area where there is mostly flat terrain so a bit of work has to be done to create a varied race, and it’s an area where we could feasibly see genuine development of the sport soon but everything is pretty much untouched by racing so everything I discover is new to me. The race I have created is a short stage race - 5 days - which takes place entirely in the far more densely populated eastern half of the country. The stage lengths are all under 150km, so as to make this realistically achievable for the kind of péloton that will be racing it. Shortish distances are common in Rioplatense cycling and while Paraguay doesn’t truly fit into that definition, it is geographically and topographically more in line with that than the mountainous races of the west of the continent (although these often have short stages too, admittedly).

As for who would race this race? I think there would be a good few Paraguayan club/amateur teams, of course. There is the oldest continuous team out there, Paraguay Cycles Club; there is also Club Ciclistas Del Este, which organises a large number of the road races in that part of the country; the CC Hernandarias, which is a well known team. In addition to this I think there could be a team linked to the track program like they do in the Tour du Maroc, and probably Club Olímpia, which is both the biggest football (soccer) club in the country but also a multisport club that could reasonably add a cycling arm in the same fashion as Benfica or Peñarol - after all it added a rugby union section to coincide with the establishment of the South American Club Championship in 2017. On top of that you could get another couple of regional teams, and then for overseas teams, grab some of the likes of SwiftCarbon Brasil (with Magno Prado Nazaret, João Pedro Rossi and Caio Godoy), a couple of the Argentine Continental teams (maybe more the ones focused around the veteran journeymen of South America, so like Gremios with Emiliano Ibarra and Laureano Rosas and Chimbas te Quiero with Mauro Richeze and Alejandro Durán?) and a couple of Uruguayan teams like Alas Rojas de Santa Lucía, whoever is sponsoring them now. Maybe the Chilean Papa Johns team as well?

The other good thing is that without lengthy cycling history to go into, the stage write-ups might be a bit less overlong. Or not, as the case may be.

Stage 1: Encarnación - Maria Auxiliadora, 140km

6ARHKTA.png


QEFbKyh.png


GPM:
Hotel Tirol-Picada Boca (10,4km @ 1,5%)

So the first stage of the race has us in the very southeast of Paraguay, in the city of Encarnación. The capital of the Itapúa region which runs along the Argentine border in this corner of the country, it is home to around 120.000 within the city limits and just under double that in the urban area which makes it Paraguay’s third-largest city. The narrow panhandle of Argentina that is the Provincia de Misiones separates it from Uruguay and Brazil, and it sits across the Paraná river from the Argentine city of Posadas, which it is connected to by the San Roque González de Santa Cruz Bridge, opened in 1990, which facilitates road and rail trade between the two countries and enables a large amount of tourism from neighbouring Argentines. The bridge is named after the founder of each city; curiously the original city was Posadas, which was named Anunciación de Itapúa by its founder, the Paraguayan Jesuit whose name is given to the bridge naming them. A decade later, however, the city was moved to the northern bank of the Paraná, on the site of the current city, and this was named Encarnación when it reached city status in 1703. Remains of the old Jesuit Missions in the Paraná area of Paraguay were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993.

LmpwZw.jpg


As the other settlement had not been abandoned, however, it became part of the three-fold territorial disputes that led to the Paraguayan War, with Argentina claiming the land between the Paraná and the Río Uruguay as far as the Chopim river, bringing them into dispute not just with Paraguay but also Brazil. With the borders not having been fixed since the collapse of the Virreinato del Río de la Plata (corresponding to modern Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay) and all bar Uruguay laying claim to large swathes of as yet unexplored or not fully-charted lands, the Cisplatine War became a concern to Paraguay; Brazil and Argentina had been economically dominating and subjugating Uruguay and Paraguay, being a landlocked state, had fear of suffering a similar fate. With Brazil helping Paraguay to fortify its defences against an Argentine state, President Solano López perhaps bit off more than he could chew attempting to solidify Paraguayan territory; the resource-rich Paraguay wanted more control of waterways and transport links to take advantage of that, but this also made much of their land desirable to their neighbours too. The Tripartite Alliance of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina each took bites out of Paraguayan land and the Paraguayans suffered enormous losses that left them as one of the weakest states of the continent for generations to come. The Brazilians set up a military base on behalf of the Argentines at the south side of Encarnación, and this city was renamed Posadas after a former Argentine leader a few years after the defeat of the Paraguayans.

Due to its cultural heritage, mild and less humid climate, and a wide range of attractive river beaches (bearing in mind, of course, the landlocked nature of the country), Encarnación has grown to become the unofficial summer capital of Paraguay and its centre of tourism, both as an attractive retreat for the great and good of Paraguay itself and also as a cheap retreat for Argentines drawn to the relative low prices of their neighbours.

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Perhaps most notably in recent times, however, it was the birthplace and hometown of Alfredo Stroessner, the former dictator who led a military coup d’état in 1954 and consequently ruled the nation for 35 years until he was in turn deposed in a similar coup by his own men. He was rapidly promoted by President Higinio Morínigo in the late 40s and early 50s following his contribution to the victory of Morínigo’s forces in the Paraguayan Civil War that took place in 1947, and being one of the only high-ranking military men that had remained loyal. This would not last long, however, as Paraguay was shaken by a long run of successive coups and putsch attempts; he was forced to flee a failed coup attempt in 1948, before returning to assist in successful coups, first installing Felipe Molas López in place of Juan Natalicio González, then replacing him in turn with Federico Chávez, and then assuming control himself in 1954 after Chávez attempted to arm the police, weakening the control of the army over the state.

Stroessner kept the nation under ‘state of siege’ rules allowing him to suspend civil liberties for 16 years; after this these rules only applied to Asunción although it was kind of a technicality since the laws did allow for anybody charged with security offences to be brought to Asunción, whereupon the state of siege rules would be applied. And, for those who have read my previous Latin American race write-ups, you’ll probably know what comes next: complaints about the behaviour of the United States in Central and South America when it comes to their abject fear of even the most soft left policy suggestion leading down the slippery slope to Communism. It will perhaps therefore not surprise you to learn that the USA was very much in favour of Stroessner and supported his repression; in turn, Stroessner backed US intervention in the Dominican Republic to remove their first democratically-elected leader and reinstate a military dictator like himself and even offered to send troops to Vietnam. In fact, only during a brief period did US-Paraguay relations cool off, not coincidentally this was at the point of the Carter administration, which took greater pains than its predecessors to recognise human rights abuses and try not to be seen to explicitly support the governments perpetrating them. That was not such a problem when Reagan came to power, however, as the Land of the Free was far more intent on making sure that everybody else was not Free if there was even the remotest danger of them voting for a social-democratic government (God forbid!). Some things are worth committing human rights abuses over, apparently, and one of them is the right to privatise health care and keep poor people from fair wages and housing, because health care and housing leads to Communism.

How disgusting a regime were the Americans propping up? Well, Stroessner’s Paraguay became a haven for exiled Nazis, held rigged elections, had a level of corruption so high that even Stroessner himself admitted his government was corrupt, pushed through legislation allowing the President almost unlimited powers and was a leading exponent in Operation Condor, the CIA-backed cabal of South American military juntas that conducted almost blatant kidnappings, torture and murder of opposition and protesters. Not content with terrorising the main Paraguayan population alone, however, Stroessner also enacted policies tantamount to ethnic cleansing of native populations, committing what is now recognised as a genocide of the Aché people - financed by the US - in order to seize their lands for resource mining. And Paraguay was one of the countries that maintained strong diplomatic ties and traded with Apartheid South Africa. It was only in 1989, when Stroessner was 77 years old, that he was deemed weak enough to challenge, and even then the coup d’état that ousted him was largely in fear that he would hand over power to one of his sons, neither of whom were deemed suitable leaders. His legacy has largely been one that Paraguay has begrudgingly come to terms with after his exile, and the abuse of power so severe that when recently a motion was presented that would allow Presidents to run for a second term of office (since Stroessner, no provisions for re-election have been included in the constitution), nationwide protests forced the government to back down. After his downfall, he was exiled to Brazil and the scale of his crimes became clear; these included abuse of children as young as eight years old which had been covered up at the time by his inner sanctum. He attempted to return to Paraguay on his death bed but the then-government refused, threatening him with arrest should he set foot on Paraguayan soil, and he died embittered and alone, with the rest of his family having fled elsewhere.

So yes, the fear of a democratically elected government possibly being a bit social democratic was enough for the CIA to support a literal genocidal pedophile who harboured and protected actual Nazis. Like, and I thought the support of Rafael Trujillo and the treatment of Jacobo Árbenz was bad…

alfredo-stroessner-paraguay-dictator.jpg

Seriously, f*** this guy

Thankfully, the city is nowadays known more for the tourist side of things, and so they will probably be happy for the purposes of TV images at least that we start with a loop around the city which allows us to see those attractive urban beaches and Jesuit ruins early on in the stage, before we loop to Cambyretá, home of Arnoldo Penzkofer, a former basketball player who never made it out of South America but was highly influential in popularising the sport in Paraguay. Standing 2,12m in height, he is the tallest player to ever originate in the country and won a large number of national championships across four different teams. We then move back onto National Highway 6 (known as “Ruta 6-Dr Juan León Mallorquín”), which takes us through Trinidad, the home of the most dramatic Jesuit ruins, and then serves as our host for the rest of our trek through southern Paraguay to the finish. This road is largely rolling, with a couple of slightly uphill sections, although none of it at gradient levels that would serve as any real challenge. I have elected to give points where I have more because of it being the longest sustained uphill than it being any real challenge (it would probably be regular categorisation-worthy from the other direction, being a couple of kilometres at about 5,6%, but that does not fit with my route plan).

The next town we pass through of note is Hohenau, which as you can guess from the German name was originally settled by Germans, who had relocated inland from Encarnación. It later attracted Ukrainians (this part of the country has by far the highest proportion of Ukrainian-origin Paraguayans) but is most known for being where the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele, hid out in the late 1950s. This is however the last major population centre of the stage until we get to the finale in Maria Auxiliadora, one of the principal staging posts on the route between Encarnación and Ciudad del Este. Because rail and river transport predominated for decades, most of the population centres in this area are set away from the highway, surprisingly enough, although small satellite towns have arisen around highway junctions - often named for the nearby settlements these junctions served as access to, followed by the distance to said settlement - such as Edelina km28, or Pirapey km45, both of which we pass through on our way to Maria Auxiliadora.

Slider_19-7-21-X3.jpg

Main highway that comprises the majority of the stage

The city of Maria Auxiliadora is actually officially called Tomás Romero Pereira, after the short-lived president that ruled for three months in 1954 as interim between the military coup and the installation of Stroessner as president, but has been known almost exclusively in common parlance by the name of Maria Auxiliadora, the urban centre from which the new planned development spread. Inaugurated in 1983, it has a sizeable minority population of Brazilians who came to Paraguay in search of work, and a total population of around 34.000. It is rapidly growing, as you might expect from such a new city; the population was around 19.500 at the 2002 census so has almost doubled in the last 20 years.

The actual run-in is about as safe as it can get; the last 9km are at slight uphills (only 1-2%, so not climbing, but enough to allow for a bit of safety in the péloton. The last corner is a very long and drawn-out curve which ends at 1300m from home, with a dead straight run-in that will be perfect for a safe bunch finish and give us a nice, straightforward start to the race to ease the bunch into it.

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Finishing straight
 
Riders will tolerate 40 C in a GT cuase it's a GT and then they're gonna make sure to be prepared for 40 C.

But they're also gonna avoid it hard for a 1.1 race.

Especially if temperature gets higher than 40 C.

Only good thing is the valley part isn't very long
 
Stage 2: Santa Rita - Ciudad del Este, 125km

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GPM:

The second stage is a short road stage which takes us up to Paraguay’s second largest city, after a transfer which sees us head up Highway 6 from Maria Auxiliadora to today’s departure town, Santa Rita. There’s about 280km between Encarnación and Maria Auxiliadora, so we could have just had a straight up nil transfer stage, but that would have given us back to back flat stages without any features, this one at least has a little to offer in order to make things a little bit more interesting in the run-in.

Santa Rita district is about 90km up from Maria Auxiliadora and is a relatively new town (officially established in 1973) of 35.000 inhabitants which was founded by Brazilian immigrants who were brought in to help develop the soybean production industry in the country. It is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Paraguay, having acquired district status in 1990 and become a huge agricultural hub for this side of the country; this eastern frontier of the country was underdeveloped other than at the areas surrounding the border cities until the 1960s, and its existence is almost entirely dominated by agriculture; with no historic buildings or monuments, it has established a network of agriculturally-themed sculptures to give the city character, and its main attraction is the annual Expo Santa Rita, a large celebration of customs and traditions that revolve around the agricultural and agronomic history and culture of Paraguay. It is seen as an icon of modern progress in the country, with previously barren and under-utilised resources on the surrounding land becoming a thriving and burgeoning town and marketplace.

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Ruta 6 Dr. Juan León Mallorquín would take us almost all the way directly to Ciudad del Este (it actually merges with Ruta 2, the main east-west highway on the eastern half of the country, around 30km west of the border), but we aren’t actually going to take the highway. Instead, we are using the DO63 and PY07 roads running to the eastern extremity of the country, in the floodbasin of the Río Monday, a western tributary of the Río Paraná that feeds into it just north of the Iguazu, the junction of which forms the Triple Frontera, a tri-city area across three different countries, consisting of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, and the somewhat smaller Puerto Iguazú in Argentina. This takes us through small outlying towns like Santa Rosa del Monday and Los Cedrales, which have grown up as staging posts in recent years between the agricultural hubs like Santa Rita and the trade centre that is Ciudad del Este. This also enables us to enter the Ciudad del Este conurbation from the south, into the Presidente Franco district which was more or less subsumed by the larger city to its north. Franco (as it is commonly known), named after Dr. Manuel Franco, President of the Republic of Paraguay from 1916 until his untimely death of a heart attack at the age of just 47 three years later, is home to just under 70.000 in its own right, but is largely a ‘dormitory town’ of workers who commute into Ciudad del Este daily. Until recently the road from Los Cedrales to Franco was not paved, but this has been changed recently giving us the opportunity to take in a spectacular natural feature and one of the main tourist attractions of the area, the Saltos del Monday.

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After a loop around Presidente Franco there is a short “climb” which is about a kilometre at 4% (I’ve given points just for the purpose of giving some points out) up to Plaza Independencia, before we get a loop around the administrative parts of the city, and then we enter four laps of an 8,9km circuit which will form the majority of the important parts of the stage.

We arrive on the circuit around 2/3 of the way around it, heading along Paseo Monseñor Rodríguez, which runs parallel to the main thoroughfare that becomes the highway access to the Puente Internacional de la Amistad, which crosses the Paraná between Paraguay and Brazil and connects Ciudad del Este to Foz do Iguaçu. While the bridge is at an elevated height, we drop down toward the banks of the river before turning right and then right again onto Avenida Eusebio Ayala. As you can see from this image that highlights its location, it is significantly uphill from Puente de la Amistad; this climb is 700m at 6%, so it’s not something that would realistically merit categorisation in most races, but here in these early stages of the Vuelta del Paraguay, this will count. But only the first time - before we first cross the finishing line - and the penultimate (fourth) time. The summit of this “ascent” is 1900m from the line, before we swing right, and then shortly an almost 180º left at the edges of the Lago de la República, a popular inland artificial lake that is a popular meet-up spot for the people of Ciudad del Este.

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This then gives us a long straight - lasting around a kilometre and a half - to the finish which is on Avenida Bernardino Caballero, outside the Estádio António Aranda Encina, the so-called “Bastión del Este”, a stadium of 28.000 capacity which is home to the biggest football team in the city (although only a second division team owing to the extent to which Asunción dominates the local football scene), Club Atlético 3. de Febrero. This capacity makes it the third largest in Paraguay, and it has played host to Copa América matches and other internationals; it has also hosted the South American Rugby championships more recently.

There are over 500.000 overall inhabitants in Ciudad del Este’s extended urban area, 60% of which are within the city itself. This makes it the second largest city in Paraguay, after Asunción of course, and it is also one of the largest free-trade zones in the world - the border is open for those within 30km of it, and as a result vast numbers of Brazilians and Argentines pour across the border (the former over the bridge, the latter by boat) to take advantage of the cheap prices in Paraguay, which is renowned as one of the cheapest countries on the entire planet. Like a lot of the urban areas of the eastern part of the country, it is a relatively young urban area, born out of Alfredo Stroessner’s “March to the East” project to heavily increase the nation’s economic standing by maximising its abundant natural resources and to increase access to the Atlantic for the then-beleaguered landlocked state. To this effect, the Itaipú Dam is one of the city’s main features, the third-largest hydroelectric dam in the world, with the second highest hydroelectric power output produced by the corresponding power plant. A road was constructed from Coronel Oviedo to the Paraná in 1956, and the following year Puerto Flor de Lis was established on its banks, close to what for many years had been the upper limit of navigation on the Paraná. The city was then renamed Puerto Presidente Stroessner, because, you know, dictators and their egos, but after his deposition in 1989 it was renamed Ciudad del Este after a poll. Its free trade status has made it a very fast-growing city with a cosmopolitan population and a very dynamic economy driven primarily by that cross-border tourism from Brazilians and Argentines in search of bargains - but this has also come with the same reputation and climate that many such melting pot communities create, with the city also being home to a significant amount of smugglers and money launderers and attracting pedlars of counterfeit goods and committers of petty crime. Perhaps that’s why it is also home to one of South America’s main branches of Interpol too.

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This is a short stage, but hopefully a few urban circuits in a large city should help attract some fans to the roadside, and a short climb on the circuit will hopefully - at least in the kind of level of péloton we are likely to see at a race like this given the relative infancy of pro cycling in Paraguay - enable us to see a bit of racing or at least give baroudeurs a chance to think they can maybe break away if they find the right selection.
 
Stage 3: Caaguazú - Sapucaí-Cerro Roké, 145km

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GPM:
Cerro Roké (2,0km @ 9,7%)

The third stage is our uphill finish. Paraguay doesn’t really have the scope for a true “MTF”, but this is far from to say that there are no opportunities for a selective finish, so that’s what I’ve tried to deliver here. It’s just that the character of rioplatense cycling is different from that of Andino cycling, and here in Paraguay, not neatly fitting into either but being more in line with the former, there’s something on offer here that is slightly different to what we see in the races in that scene and will give the race a bit of unique identity.

The stage starts in the first major city you will pass through travelling west from Ciudad del Este, the city of Caaguazú, a city of 125.000 or so inhabitants, around half of them in the city itself. It is renowned as the centre of wood production in Paraguay, with a large number of sawmills dotting the cityscape, although over harvesting and deforestation has resulted in this industry moving elsewhere in recent years and the city diversifying into the service industries. Unlike the cities we have largely seen in the last couple of days, this is a long-standing city, having been settled since the 16th Century, although a permanent settlement was not established until the middle of the 19th Century as continual raids by both the native Guaicurú populace and Portuguese bandeirantes prevented any established towns or cities taking root - although the slow expansion eastward from Asunción crept through the district of Yhú - which was renamed Caaguazú in 1906 - and resulted in the towns and cities being less isolated and becoming less vulnerable. The fertile soil of the low lying hills of the Cordillera de Caaguazú have also made it a strong area for the harvesting of cassava.

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Caaguazú is also the first place we can mention with some kind of cycling background, having hosted the national championships every year from 2016 to 2018. Ernesto Mora won the 2016 ITT over 19km, and then Victor Grange won the subsequent years’ events over 30km. Samu Coronel, Antero Velázquez and Diego Armando Núñez won the road races. I don’t expect you to be familiar with any of them. Aracely Jazmin Galeano won every one of the women’s races. She’s actually younger than Água Marina Espinola, but splits her time with triathlon and MTB so has not amassed the road palmarès or entered many non-championship races outside of her homeland until quite recently. She has however won two editions of the Giro d’Hernandarias, which focuses on a city north of Ciudad del Este, but for the most part stages are very short there and built around ITTs and circuit races.

The first part of the stage is a rolling downhill out of the Cordillera to the capital city of the region, Coronel Oviedo, or as it is often known by the populace, just Oviedo. However this city was not named for the city in Asturias, but instead for a Paraguayan colonel who became a hero in the Guerra del Paraguay and later settled in the city. This city was originally called Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Ajos, or just Ajos for short. It was one of the first major cities to grow up in this area during its repopulation, mainly as it sits at the crossroads of national highways 2 (west-east between Asunción and Ciudad del Este) and 8 (south-north from Encarnación to San Estanislao, whereupon it merges with the 3 from Asunción to Yby Yaú and the Brazilian border at Bela Vista. It’s also home to Serafina Dávalos, Paraguay’s first female lawyer and the mother of feminism in the country, and also the former president Nicanor Duarte, who served in the post from 2008 to 2013 for the largely dominant Colorados party and was also the first Paraguayan president to not be a member of the Catholic church.

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We turn south here after having an intermediate sprint, and continue along this route for another 40km before reaching our second intermediate at Villarrica del Espíritu Santo, the capital of the Guairá department and a city established in the mid-16th Century during Spanish expeditions east in the hunt for precious metals; its name reflects this, but it was not the bastion of good fortune its founders had hoped, instead having to relocate due to raids and attacks on no fewer than five occasions before finally settling on its present location in the early 18th Century after the establishment of a Franciscan Guarani Mission. It is home to the fastest growing football team in South America, Guaireña, who were only founded in 2016 and have worked their way into the Copa Sudamericana. It is a famous city for artists, thinkers and philosophers, following in the footsteps of the celebrated poet and songwriter Manuel Ortiz Guerrero, who called the city home for the first half of his life. Natalicio Talavera is another prominent poet from the city, as is Juan Natalicio González, although having briefly served as President in the 1940s he’s better known for that than his poetry nowadays. From here we head westward towards Sapucaí on the route to Asunción, passing through other cities like General Bernardino Caballero on the way.

Sapucaí is a small town of a little under 7.000 people which was founded in the early 20th Century by Emiliano González Navero and has its economy largely led by cultivation of alfalfa, cassava and cotton, but more crucially, it sits underneath a lopsided mountain ridge which drops down steeply on the south side toward the town. And at the top of the ridge, above the town of Sapucaí, there is the Cerro Roké peak, and this is our HTF for the day.

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Salto Inglés, one of the main tourist attractions of the Cerro Roké natural park area

Crucially, we are using an iconic road called “Tape Bolí”, Guarani for “Bolivian Road”, a path which connected the isolated peasant communities of the peak, and its neighbouring summits such as Loma Guasu and Cerro Los Pistoleros, with the town and, as a result, gave them access to the transversal road that led to Paraguarí and onwards to Asunción. This road, as its name suggests, was constructed by Bolivians, believed to be prisoners captured during the Chaco War in the 1930s, and is a 2km stretch of road which ascends 194m, for an average of 9,7%. There is an overall uphill in the town itself which takes the climb to an overall 2,3km at 8,9%; I have categorised the 2km Tape Bolí summit alone.

However, over time, the increasing urbanisation of the population meant there was less need for the road, as progressively fewer people lived in the villages of the highlands, and by the 1990s, the road was an almost impassable route of large stones covered in earth in large parts, and capable only for trekking and off-road bikes. Today, only 300m of the original road remain, as extensive rehabilitation work was undertaken as they were developing the uplands as a beauty spot and a nature tourism attraction, with a tunnel of trees along a dirt road above the summit and the Salto Inglés waterfall, as well as a network of hiking trails. That 300m was bypassed by attaching the remainder of the route to an existing paved road where Sapucaí had expanded since the original road was built, and the rest has been widened and expanded into a road comfortably usable for daily traffic.

Well, maybe not “comfortably” since, you know, it’s… fully cobbled.

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Remains of the original road

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The new road which we will be climbing

2km at 10% is a pretty unusual kind of feature for this type of race so hopefully will create some time gaps; we have seen some short and steep summits in the cycling scenes of Brazil and Argentina (Uruguay doesn’t really have the options) but these are uncommon, with more gradual climbs being predominant when we do see summits. Probably the Águas de Lindóia stage from the 2014 Volta do São Paulo is the best comparison we have, and that was more a 4km at 8% kind of climb than this, which is more like the San Luca climb from the Giro dell’Emilia in its characteristics. Only if it was cobbled.

Because there is a small community and some tourist parking at the summit we can make space for a HTF here, and that’s great because it will give us something of a trademark for the race. There aren’t many options for a genuine uphill finish in Paraguay, so I suspect this would become a staple in the same way as can be seen with many races where the geography of the area gives limited opportunity for decisive climbing stages so they go back to the same spot year on year because of the need for a guarantor of time gaps; something like Genting Highlands in the Tour de Langkawi, Mont Cassel in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque and the Muro of Motovun in the Istrian Spring Trophy. Of course this also happens in other races (Kitzbüheler Horn in the Österreichrundfahrt or Lagunas de Neila in the Vuelta a Burgos are particularly notable) but many of those at least have the option of alternatives - I think this would be something of a staple of the Vuelta del Paraguay if it could be introduced. It is known to bike racing, as I have found that the Paraguayan federation have organised hillclimbs on the road as well as using it in XCO mountain bike races. Let’s see how the road péloton handles it - it’s a Unipuerto stage so it’s all about that final 2km shootout - but it should be a good shootout.

Footage of the ascent. Notice the moto struggling at around the 2 minute mark!
 
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Stage 4: Paraguarí - Caacupé, 141km

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GPM:
Santa Librada (3,8km @ 4,2%)
Monte Alto Atyrá (2,2km @ 5,0%)
Cerro Ykua (1,9km @ 5,7%)
Cerro Ykua (1,9km @ 5,7%)
Cerro Ykua (1,9km @ 5,7%)
Cerro Ykua (1,9km @ 5,7%)
Cerro Caacupé (2,3km @ 5,2%)

After building some time gaps with the HTF at Cerro Roké on stage 3, on stage 4 we have the queen stage. Yes, I know, it’s a bit over-grandiose to call a stage a ‘queen stage’ when the hardest ascent is around 2km at 6%, but this one has plenty of up and down, more than most of the Paraguayan domestic péloton will be used to at least. Seven categorised climbs should hopefully be pretty serious and this should be selective especially given that there will be some time gaps opened up by the summit finish yesterday.

To make up for the ordeal of yesterday’s finish, I’ve gone easy on the bunch and given them a pretty paltry transfer, since Paraguarí, today’s start town, is only about 15-20km from Sapucaí. It is the capital of the department that Sapucaí is in, and is home to around 25.000 people. It is known as the cradle of independent Paraguay, thanks to a significant battle which took place in 1811, where Paraguayan governor Bernardo de Velasco, loyal to the pre-revolution government of the Virreinato del Río de la Plata, defeated the Patriot army of the revolutionary provinces led by Manuel Belgrano. Asunción was the main bastion of opposition to the revolution that had cut through swathes of what would become Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and parts of the original territory of Paraguay (before the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance), and Belgrano felt if he could foment revolutionary thought in many of the stage post towns it would open the door to Asunción; however the control of Velasco was stronger than anticipated, revolutionary pamphlets had been banned and the message hat not been disseminated, meaning the small revolutionary force that had anticipated to build as Belgrano moved eastward through territory that the Paraguayan government’s forces had retreated from to fall back on the more easily defendable lands closer to Asunción, was not replenished and despite an early advantage obtained through use of the higher ground to the northeast of Paraguarí, was overwhelmed by the Royalists. Although it was not a decisive victory and Belgrano was able to retreat with much of his army intact, it did successfully instil a sense of pride and loyalty in the Paraguayan people to their own territory and gave the colonial Paraguayans a sense of unique identity separate to the Virreinato; weeks later they would defeat Belgrano more decisively at Tacuarí, and thus when Paraguay declared its independence from Spain soon after, it was decisively as its own independent nation, and not as a vassal territory to be ruled from Buenos Aires. That the city where the battle took place had a near-homonymous relationship to the country was just coincidence, but was taken for prophecy in the national psyche.

For this reason, the national museum of artillery is in the city, but also it has become a touristic city for its traditional fruit markets, plus its late colonial era expansion means well preserved Spanish-style architecture, an ornate train station and also loyalty to some of the colonial traditions lost in many parts of the former empire; bullfighting remains a proud tradition in Paraguarí. It is also the hometown of Federico Chávez, the President who was ousted in the coup d’état that installed the Stroessner regime.

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The first part of the stage is a simple flat stretch which runs through Ypacaraí to the shores of Lake Ypacaraí, whose name comes from a Guarani word meaning “blessed lake”. The city became a bit of a backwater during Stroessner’s time and became known as a capital of folkloric traditions and democratic oppositional thought as a result, although nowadays it is better known as the hometown of veteran footballer Carlos Gamarra, a stalwart of the Paraguayan national team in the 1990s and 2000s who won 110 caps, played in three World Cups and captained the silver medal-winning team from Athens 2004.

By contrast to the city, Lago Ypacaraí is one of two main lakes in Paraguay that provide fresh water, and with its spacious beaches and range of outdoor lakeside and Watersport activities it has become one of the most popular outings for the Paraguayan population as day trips or weekend breaks from Asunción and other cities in the conurbation. It was immortalised by Demetrio Ortiz in the song Recuerdos de Ypacaraí (sometimes the spelling is standardised to Ipacarai or another variant) in 1948, a Latin standard which has been covered throughout the Latin world, with interpreters ranging from Caetano Veloso to Julio Iglesias, via Javier Solís. We have an early intermediate sprint on the lakeshore in fact, at the town of San Bernardino, a popular resort town which is informally known as the summer capital due to the influx of wealthy Asuncenos from December through March, when the city’s population of 20.000 almost doubles. It also has an interesting and unusual history, having been founded by the originator of the Deutscher Volksverein, Doctor Bernhard Förster, in 1883. Förster had married the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and is one of the reasons the thinker has become associated with the far right, as his DVV was a political affiliation built around anti-Semitic thought and practice that made Förster a pariah at home; on inspiration from Richard Wagner, another figure whose name has been attached as an influence on Nazism, he travelled to Paraguay to found a Nueva Germania where his dreams of a new, alternative Fatherland (you can really see where the ideas and terminology came from, no?). The city he founded still bears that name, but it is now a minor outlying town; the project was doomed from the start and the isolated location did not help. Embittered, Förster set out on travels to Asunción in the aim of returning home, and after becoming holed up in San Bernardino’s Hotel del Lago, around which much of the town fnctioned, he eventually committed suicide in 1889. In an ironic twist, San Bernardino - probably as a legacy of the caste system in the colonies and its association with the wealthy - is possibly the whitest city in all of Paraguay, and has large numbers of German settlers; it has a vibrant German-origin culture with traditional food and drink and costume to this day.

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Now the climbing begins. The first one is just a slow drag up onto the higher plateau; we are now in the Cordillera department, and, you know, the name kind of gives you the idea… it’s hilly. Which is good, because, well, we’re going into the hills. The uphill to Santa Librada is the longest real climb of the race at around 4km, but only averaging around 4%; there is 2,2km at 5,3% in the middle which is the main body of it. Soon afterward we go through the town of Altos (kind of self-explanatory name) which was the hiding place of Josef Mengele for most of his post-war life - he fled to Hohenau later on after Mossad were able to locate and capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, feeling that having been settled in the one place long enough that he could be traced would make him a target. It is also where the plane carrying President José Félix Estigarribia crashed in 1940, killing him and his wife. The next stop is Atyrá, which is the gateway to our second categorised climb, Monte Alto Atyrá, which finished with 900m at 7%, and we then descend down into our second intermediate sprint in Tobatí, before we roll along a plateau that takes us to Caacupé, our finishing city.

Caacupé is one of the most prominent hilltop settlements in Paraguay and serves as the capital of the Cordillera department. Its name comes from a Guaraní word (as you might have guessed from the stress on the final syllable) Ka’akupe meaning “behind the mountain” and this reflects its location a short while after a summit, obscuring it from being visible from the lakeland below thanks to the shadow cast by the Cordillera de los Altos range’s peaks. Home to around 60.000 people, it is famous for its imposing basilica which serves as a pilgrimage site for a festival of miracles in early December each year, thanks to a number of miracles attributed to statuettes held in the basilica.

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Obviously we aren’t finishing the stage now, we’re only halfway through the stage, but we do have an intermediate sprint here. We then take some uphill false flat which takes us to the road which runs along the ridge road traversing the edge of this elevated plateau, whereupon we enter a 9km circuit which we will undertake four laps of. This loop sees us drop down from the Cordillera de los Altos back to the lowlands near Lake Ypacaraí into the small town of Jhugua Jhu (or Hugua Hu) on the main two way route from San Bernardino and Ypacaraí to Caacupé, and then turning right onto a smaller road which enables us to climb to Cerro Ykua, which makes for a reasonably straightforward punchy climb of just under 2km at 6% - the steepest part is in the middle, 1km at 7,6%.

We actually continue to climb onward toward Cerro Caacupé, but the remainder of the climb is very much low gradient false flat and I don’t think that this is worth counting as part of the categorisation. With four loops of this climb, we see the summit of the ascent at 42, 33, 24 and 15 kilometres from the line. The final time we crest the summit, we head across the false flat to Cerro Caacupé again, but this time we break with the circuit; when we get to the bottom of the Cerro Caacupé road, instead of breaking right as we have done so far, we take a 180º left to climb the other side of the same road (it is a dual carriageway, but the nature of the hill means that the roads do not actually run as a dual carriageway but instead as separate parallel routes.

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The different roads to Cerro Caacupé. We descend the one on the left, and then on our final climb ascend the one on the right.

This final ascent to Cerro Caacupé begins with some false flat and then ends with 1600m at 5,9% cresting at just 6 kilometres from the line, after which we have a long and straight downhill finale which should be very fast as it is mainly low gradient downhill false flat, and hopefully we will have a tough and complex situation on the road with various groups around the road thanks to the frequent climbs that this péloton are not used to taking their place. After all, this is the queen stage, and there should be time gaps created before this stage giving an incentive for many riders to try to make something of it; with no fewer than five climbs that serve as realistically achievable platforms to work from and no real flat stretches in the second half of the stage, this should hopefully mean the stage creates plenty of action.
 
Stage 5a: Asunción (Velódromo Olímpico del Paraguay) - Asunción (Playa de la Costanera), 13,0km (CRI)

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And so we come to the final day of racing, and as is probably no surprise to anybody, we’re heading to Asunción, by far the largest city in Paraguay. Officially only 550.000 people live in Asunción itself, but the conurbation and overall urban area extends to include other outlying towns and cities like Luque, Lambaré, Mariano Roque Alonso, San Lorenzo and Fernando de la Mora, even as far as Areguá, and the urban area therefore accounts for 2,7 million of the country’s seven and a half million inhabitants - just over a third of the country’s population, therefore, calls the Asunción metropolitan area their home.

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As a result, therefore, Paraguayan urban, cultural, historical, economic and political life revolves largely around the city as you might expect. One of the oldest and most established cities in all of South America despite its seemingly remote inland location, it was the first city to be established in the Río de la Plata basin as the Spaniards worked their way southwards from the Andes, and it was from here that expeditions set out which led to the establishment of cities like Buenos Aires, Santa Fe de la Cruz and Córdoba in Argentina and Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. It is believed that its location was first settled by the conquistador Juan de Ayolas, but Asunción itself was established by the party sent to find the missing explorer who had vanished en route to finding a new route to the mines of what was then known as Alto Perú (roughly corresponding to the highland part of Bolivia). Salazar, the leader of the expedition, established a fort named Nuestra Señora Santa María de Asunción as a staging post, as the natives in the area were hospitable and accommodating so it could be fallen back on - which proved very helpful as natives soon kicked the Spanish out of some of their new planned towns and cities leading the population to swell as the pleasant fort with safe passage toward it became a haven for those Spaniards who had been displaced from their new homes by the previous occupants. The city became a major colonial centre and provisions were made to convert the local natives to Christianity in their own language.

Asunción was also the first place that saw a revolution by the criollo and mestizo communities against the colonial powers, a failed uprising in 1731. Although Bernardo de Velasco’s victory over the rebels at Paraguarí had succeeded in uniting Paraguay, it had not succeeded in uniting the nation behind him, and later in 1811, the same year as his great triumph, Velasco was ambushed at his house and deposed by the independence leaders, and Juana María de Lara, the ringleader of the independence movement, proclaimed the nation of Paraguay into being by seceding from Spain. His home, from which the revolution had been planned, is now a museum known as the Casa de la Independencia.

Rapid urbanisation followed, with paved roads, schools, factories and even railroads introduced by successive presidencies Rodríguez de Francía and Carlos António López, but a lot of this progress was undone by López’ son’s disastrous provocation of the Paraguayan War; the city was occupied by the Brazilians in 1869, and they would remain there for seven years until the humiliating treaty that cost Paraguay large swathes of territory that ended it. It was one of the main cities to profit out of the late 19th Century declines of Empire, with many Ottoman Turks and other minorities from the area arriving in the country and catalysing urban redevelopment. One of the main urban parks is named for Carlos António López in honour of the largely lost development that he brought to the city. With the coming of aviation, Asunción was able to return to competitive status, but having fallen well behind the coastal cities for international trade in the intervening period and the oppressive policies of the Stroessner regime, Paraguay was always playing catch-up compared to Montevideo, Buenos Aires and other major cities of the region. In recent years this trend is being reversed, with favourable tax policies attracting overseas investment to the country, with Paraguay ranked as one of the best countries in the entire Latin world for investors, and a rapid improvement in the economic situation in the 2010s. Low prices relative to the rest of Latin America have started to attract retail tourism, and the well-preserved nature of the colonial architecture has brought tourism from outside South America in as well.

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Palácio de los López, the seat of government in Paraguay

The city is also, pretty predictably, the heart of sport in Paraguay. Estádio Defensores del Chaco is the national stadium, mainly configured for soccer as it is where the national team play (and has hosted the final of the Copa América in 1999), and has a capacity of 42.000 - this was previously over 50.000, but reprofiling for safety reasons has reduced the total - but other stadia for major teams are dotted all over the city, with Defensores del Chaco, which has no permanent club tenant, often stepping in as a de facto ground for large fixtures between teams in the Asunción metropolitan area where demand for seating would be at a premium, or when Paraguayan teams host large or attractive fixtures in the Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana. The main team in the area is Club Olímpia, Paraguay’s most historic and successful team, but Club Libertad, Guaraní, Nacional de Asunción and Cerro Porteño mean there is a healthy amount of major rivalry around Asunción. Also notice how Tigo - an offshoot of Luxembourgish telecommunications firm Millicom - sponsor nearly all of these teams, with a dominant market share in Paraguay.

We’re not so interested in the football stadia, however, as we are starting off at the national Olympic complex, Secretaría Nacional de Deportes. This large Parque Olímpico cluster is close to Asunción airport and technically speaking is in Luque although well within the Asunción urban sprawl, and played host to the majority of the events at the 2022 Juegos Suramericanos. This is a large complex with a number of indoor arenas, stadia, swimming pools etc. to create a full national sporting academy AND elite international venues. The national Olympic stadium was renovated for the competitions, while sports which were part of the program but underrepresented in Paraguay saw venues constructed. SND Arena was inaugurated in 2018 to provide a high quality indoor arena that could host sports like handball, basketball, volleyball, futsal and in-line skating (surprisingly popular as a participation sport in South America, makes you wonder whether speed skating could be rejuvenated with a venue or two), while crucially for our sport, a brand new velodrome - the first international standard indoor velodrome in the country - was constructed as part of the complex as well - and it is at this venue that we will start our final day’s work, with a short ITT in the morning which departs from the velodrome.


While the track events of the Juegos Suramericanos were held at the velodrome, the road events were held on the Avenida Costanera, which as its name suggests is a coastal thoroughfare which runs along the banks of the Río Paraguay and the Bahía de Asunción. You can see it in the foreground on the left of the cityscape photo above, in fact. It was the site of Paraguay’s great cycling triumph, in fact - with Colombia absolutely decimating the track competition and dominating most disciplines, Paraguay got a great boost when home athlete Agua Marina Espinola upset the favourites to take gold in the time trial, beating Lina Hernández of Colombia and mythical climber Lilibeth Chacón of Venezuela by almost a minute over 27,7km.


My TT is nothing like as long as that - it would totally overbalance a race with only a 2km HTF and one hilly stage - so I have gone with a pretty straightforward route from the velodrome to the Playa de la Costanera, maybe not by the most direct route, but by the quickest in terms of major routes with the minimum of disruption to a major capital city. We head via the Botanical Gardens toward the recently constructed Puente Heróes del Chaco, before then following the coastal dual carriageway through the river wetlands reserve to the Bahía de Asunción where we finish at the Playa de la Costanera, on the Avenida José Asunción Flores, named for the great composer and songwriter who established the “Guaranía” genre of music, after being inspired to establish a variety of music that would uniquely synthesise the Spanish and wider Latin American styles with the native music of Paraguay, to distinguish it from the other regional varieties in South America at the time. It is distinguished by European-influenced accordion parts alongside melancholic chords and slow but propulsive rhythms driven by the style of playing the melodic instruments rather than percussion. It became popular for patriotic purposes and was widely disseminated during the Chaco War, and in 1944 Flores’ song India was declared the Paraguayan national song. Flores however declined the National Order of Merit in 1949 in response to the killing of a student at a peaceful protest by governmental forces, and he was exiled from the country under Stroessner as a “national traitor” as a result. Although his music was banned, it remained widely disseminated as so many copies had been sold in the 1930s and 40s, but he never saw his homeland again, living in Buenos Aires until his death in 1972. In 1991, following the ousting of Stroessner, his remains were repatriated back to Paraguay and entombed in a square bearing his name.

My hope is that the time gaps in the race will not have grown so large that the TT cannot be decisive, but also that the TT being short will incentivise the stronger climbers to really make a big deal of stage 4 to put the flatter engines out of contention.

Stage 5b: Asunción (Playa de la Costanera) - Asunción (Playa de la Costanera), 104km

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So, the time trial finished at the Playa de la Costanera, so I should give a bit of background on the reason for this as a location, since I am now finishing the race outright with a short, flat semitappe which is essentially a circuit race that starts and finishes at the same location as the ITT in the morning did.

The main reason is that this shoreline boulevard was the location of the 2022 Juegos Suramericanos road race, however sadly I was unable to locate footage of the races, other than this short clip of the women’s road race finish. As with a few of these limited entry championship races, the small field and difference in levels between athletes results in more competitive races over such short or featureless circuits than might otherwise be the case (as cases in point see the Commonwealth Games RR in Delhi in 2010, or the European Games RR in Baku in 2015); the women’s race was only 82km in length and was settled by a group of six who escaped; Paraguay’s hopes were dashed with nobody making the selection and in fact Venezuela were the only team with two (neither of whom was Chacón!!!), which helped them to victory as Jennifer César won the sprint ahead of Colombian prospect Lina Marcela Hernández and now-European-based Chilean Aranza Villalón, while the men’s race over 164km was also won by Venezuela in the same fashion, this time from a somewhat larger group that splintered down late on and so the sprint was from a group of 5 where the Venezuelans were the best represented, with Caja Rural’s fast-finishing Orluís Aular victorious ahead of veteran Uruguayan Roderyck Ascóneguy; Leangel Linárez was able to hold on for bronze after leading Aular out, meaning Nelson Soto of Colombia - who lost his spot at Caja Rural when Aular was signed - was relegated to 4th.

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Victory for Venezuela!

As you can see from the above photo, in the Juegos Suramericanos the city was to the riders’ right at the finish so they must have been headed eastbound. I am not doing that, because it would have either overbalanced the TT, or caused me to have to manually map the last stage in its entirety because of using the wrong side of the road, and frankly I couldn’t be bothered to do that for a circuit race. I have therefore placed the finish on the shoreline side of the road, adjacent to the Playa de la Costanera, the city’s main beach, a sandy expanse that runs along the Bahía de Asunción and offers a wide range of activities; with Paraguay being landlocked like it is, this shoreline beach and the width of the Río Paraguay at this point (maybe not akin to the St. Lawrence in my Tour de Québec, but wide enough to feel like a genuine shoreline even if there is no tide) and the tranquility of the lagoon, has become a major getaway and meeting spot for the great and good of Asunción. The Avenida José Asunción Flores runs along a brand new esplanade - completed in 2012 - and cafes, facilities providing Watersport activities and other amenities have sprung up along the shoreline as a result.

My circuit is much shorter than that which was seen in the Juegos Suramericanos; it is just a 6,9km circuit, rather than extending out as far as the Puente Heróes del Chaco, instead effectively serving as an out-and-back with its easternmost extent at the Rotonda Costanera and its westernmost extent at the Puerto de Asunción river port, from which passenger river trips that connect parts of the country and also connect Asunción with the wider continent, as well as freight and cargo, depart and arrive. However rather than being a pure out-and-back on the esplanade, on the western end of the circuit we do circle around the Palácio de los López in order to showcase some of the history of Asunción as well as its modern development; we then descend back to the shoreline at Plaza España - this enables us to use the spacious car parks on Avenida Río Ypané and the unused section of the eastbound carriageway of Avenida José Asunción Flores between Plaza España and the Puerto de Asunción to host team buses, podiums, and all of the other trappings of a race. You can see from this picture what I mean here - we will ride up the right hand side at the start of the circuit, loop around a block and arrive back on the shoreline from the road on the left, affording the car park on the left and the left hand side of the esplanade carriageway for logistics.

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Finish on the right hand carriageway here, probably using that widening in the middle ground as a location for the logistical needs of the finishing line

This will, basically, be a short and very flat circuit race. I’ve put in three intermediate sprints because I’ve put three intermediate sprints in all road stages; with 3, 2 and 1 seconds at each intermediate and 10 seconds for the win, in theory if you had somebody who could sprint who is also a pretty useful time triallist then maybe they would have a chance to use the 19 seconds of bonuses available here to overturn losses from stages 3 and 4, but most likely this will be a parade at the top end of the GC at least (some places might be up for grabs lower down I guess).

So there you have it - a five stage race, with the last day including two semitappes, which will hopefully offer a nice range of options for the riders; three likely sprints, two of which (the first and last stages) should be specialised to pure sprinters, and the third has that 700m at 6% ascent close to the line which gives us a bit of prospect for classics-types to succeed, or alternatively for the stage to suit a more versatile, stronger sprinter than the pure power guys. Then we have a short-to-mid-length ITT, and two hilly stages, one of which features short and very steep (and cobbled) climbing, the other features more conventional and less challenging, but much more frequent, climbing. Time gaps in this race ought to be relatively small so there ought to be something to play for all the time except possibly arguably the final circuit race - and hopefully, of course, it can help Paraguay capitalise on the investment that they have had to make in the sport as part of their commitments in hosting the South American Games, and make it worth their while. They’ve got a world class velodrome now so they can look to produce more successful track cyclists - let’s see what they can do about the road now.
 
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Giro d'Italia, version 6

Sixth version of the Giro, a version I managed to create and save all profiles and maps before Cronoescalada was hacked. Unless some of my previous version, this doesn't have a specific concept of any kind, unless being some kind of "ultimate" version, that is about as tough I would design a Giro without making it almost parodic brutal. This means a significant amount of hilly, medium mountain and mountain stages, partially long stages and distributed over the entire Giro.

And also stages that should be suited for long range attacks. In addition I've made a very non-typical finish. I've also included some of the more famous climbs, something I've very rarely in earlier versions. So far I've only used Fedaia and Pordoi twice in addition to Bondone, Grappa and Agnello of more famous climbs. Bot not Stelvio, Mortirolo, Giau, Gavia, Finestre, Fauniera or Zoncolan. In addition we'll see some long and brutal medium mountain and hilly stages, a segment I don't think RCS exploits nearly enough.

First link to my previous versions:

Giro d'Italia, v1
Giro d'Italia, v2
Giro d'Italia, v3
Giro d'Italia, v4
Giro d'Italia, v5

So let's get started:

Stage 1: Napoli - Napoli, 19 km ITT

We start with an ITT, the first of two in this Giro. The Grande Partenza is in Napoli, and start from Stadio Diego Maradona. From there the route do a clockwise loop towards the centre of the city. In the first part they climbs towards the hilly area of Parco Urbano, in the northwestern part of the city. The climb is fairly gradual and not very steep, about 6 km at 4 %. After passing the top of the climb, the route continues east and then descend south to the finish in the centre, just past the Plaza Garibaldi.

Profile:
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Map:
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Giro d'Italia - Stage 2: Napoli - Salerno, 208 km

First road stage, and it's of the more spectacular kind, especially when it comes to scenery. The stage starts in Napoli, and the riders first heads directly eastwards, crossing north of the Vesuvio volcano. After just after 50 km they reach more hilly terrain and start the first categorized climb of this Giro, the cat 3 climb to Poggio Boschitielle. By this time a breakaway group will probably have formed, and since the rest of the stage is also fairly hilly, it could be a good chance for a breakaway to succeed. After descending there is a longer flat section, and instead of continuing east, deeper into the Campanian Appennines, they instead head south and west for the last half of the stage.

Just before halfway the enter into the Sorrentine peninsula, site of some the most famous coastal villages in entire Europe and and a extremely popular holiday destination, especially known for its small cliffside villages and beaches with sapphire blue water. They are going loop around more or less the entire peninsula, first along the northern coast. At the very famous cliffside town of Sorrento, which also lends its name to the peninsula, they turn southwards and cross over to the southern coast, starting the second climb of the stage, to Colli di Fontanelle. After descending from the climb, they have reached the most spectacular part of the stage along the southern coast.

Soon they'll pass the village of Positano, the most famous of all the villages on the Amalfi coast. The route is not flat and have several small "lumps" along the coastline towards Salerno. Just before reaching 160 km they turn off the main road, and head into the hills and Valico di Chiunzi, a fairly tough cat 2 climb which is probably the decisive part of this stage. After descending back to the coast, there is about 20 kms left to the stage finish in Salerno, the biggest town on the Amalfi coast.

Climbs:
52 km: Poggio Boschitielle: 7,2 km, 5,2 %
129 km: Colli di Fontanelle: 9,2 km, 4,3 %
170 km: Valico di Chiunzi: 11,3 km, 5,9 %

Profile:
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Map:
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Giro d'Italia: Stage 3: Salerno – Melfi, 192 km

From the Amalfi coast the riders move eastwards into some of the lesser populated parts of Italy, the Campanian Apennines. But this is not a truly mountain stage, more of a transitional stage in the lower parts of the mountains which could finish with a sprint from a bigger group if the peloton were willing to control a breakaway. After leaving Salerno, the riders head southeast before turning of the main road at the small village of Bellizi and starting a more hilly terrain. First a few kms of false flat before the first categorized climb of the stage starts, to Valico de Acerno.

After the top of Acerno, there is a short descent followed by another but uncategorized climb where the top is reached after about 50 km. They continue east and north of the Monte Cervialto massive, and continues east into the Basilicata region. The terrain is still hilly with several easier climbs but none of them are categorized.

After about 160 km they are closing in on Melfi, one of the bigger towns in the regions. But just as they reach the village of Rionero in Vulture, which is also the end of the second and last climb, a fairly short cat 3. But instead of heading directly into Melfi, they loop around the Monte Vulture which dominates the southern slopes of Melfi. There is a road up to Vulture, but this is narrow, in bad condition and with almost no room at the top for a finish. So instead, they loop around to finish in Melfi. The last section into the town has a gentle climb which should make it possible for punchy riders to challenge the more typical sprinters

Climbs:
38 km: Valico de Acarno: 10,3 km, 5,3 %
166 km: Rionero in Vulture: 3 km, 5,8 %

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Map
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Giro d'Italia: Stage 4: Foggia – Isernia, 215 km

For the start of this stage, the peloton will have transferred northeast to Foggia and the lowlands of the most southeasternmost region, Puglia. The first part of the stage is mostly flat, moving northwest from the plains of Puglia and into more mountainous terrain. There is a very gentle false flat on the first part of stage, climbing about 1 % in the first 25 km followed by a equally gentle descent, before the more hilly part when the first categorized climb, to Colle Alberona, starts just after passing 40 km.

From this point this is a very typical medium mountain breakaway stage in the Apennines with four cat 2 climbs in the last 170 kms. After passing Alberona, the route moves into the northeastern corner of Campania for a short distance before crossing into Molise the second cat 2 climb starts after about 80 km. The rolling terrain continues the next part of the stage looping around Campobasso, the biggest town in the region and continues west towards the second biggest, Isernia. The top of the last categorized climb is reached at the small village of Sant Angelo in Grotte with about 30 kms left of the stage. From here there is a long and gradual descent before they loop around for a gentle climb into the stage finish of Isernia. Again a stage, if not won by a breakaway which is fairly likely, a punchy rider can challenge the sprinters in the finale.

Climbs:
49 km: Colle Alberona: 6,8 km, 6,4 %
88 km: Pietracatella: 7,2 km, 5,8 %
150 km: Castropignano: 5,6 km, 5,8 %
184 km: Sant Angelo in Grotte: 5,4 km, 6,1 %

Profile:
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Map:
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