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Race Design Thread

Page 342 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
The combo of Panthaleon and Barthelemy have been used a couple of times as a lead-in to a MTF in Breuil-Cervinia, just at base of Matterhorn, usually an underwhelming MTF. But this time they are going the other way, and after descending doing those two climbs in rapid order, they descend back into the valley and a short flat section as they pass just through the regional capital, Aosta, and start the third climb of the stage to Verrogne.
Barthélémy has only been used once (in 2015).
I've long had my eyes on an Aosta stage that finishes in the city after those two climbs, usually with Champremier in between them.
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Huge fan of the Tarceto stage. I usually end up pairing Sella Carnizza with Sedlo Učja (2kms at 7%) right after the descent, before a finish at the Bovec ski station. That one is part of the same ski consortium as Sella Nevea, so it would be perfect as the finish of a transnational stage. My idea would be to have something like that right after a hard MTF on Zoncolan, Montasio or even Piancavallo.
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I've long had my eyes on an Aosta stage that finishes in the city after those two climbs, usually with Champremier in between them.
I've also considered a finish in the city, but then after doing Verrogne and perhaps the first part of the climb to Pila before descending into the city of Aosta.

Huge fan of the Tarceto stage. I usually end up pairing Sella Carnizza with Sedlo Učja (2kms at 7%) right after the descent, before a finish at the Bovec ski station. That one is part of the same ski consortium as Sella Nevea, so it would be perfect as the finish of a transnational stage. My idea would be to have something like that right after a hard MTF on Zoncolan, Montasio or even Piancavallo.
Yeah, that would also work. Carnizza is really a monster that should be used once in just way. Perhaps best as you do suggest; after a big MTF. And placed for example at the end of week 2 with a rest day the day after.

In general I'm fairly suprised that RCS doesn't do more of these big medium mountain and hilly stages. Especially since a lot of them also can be done by finishing in big or medium sized towns and cities. Like the Torino stage last year. Also Genova, Verona and Vicenza, Alba, Stresa/Verbania, Bergamo and Como and more can be used as a finish for these kind of stages. It happens sometimes, but really to rarely.
I've also considered a finish in the city, but then after doing Verrogne and perhaps the first part of the climb to Pila before descending into the city of Aosta.

Yeah, that would also work. Carnizza is really a monster that should be used once in just way. Perhaps best as you do suggest; after a big MTF. And placed for example at the end of week 2 with a rest day the day after.

In general I'm fairly suprised that RCS doesn't do more of these big medium mountain and hilly stages. Especially since a lot of them also can be done by finishing in big or medium sized towns and cities. Like the Torino stage last year. Also Genova, Verona and Vicenza, Alba, Stresa/Verbania, Bergamo and Como and more can be used as a finish for these kind of stages. It happens sometimes, but really to rarely.
Don't forget Trieste with Scala Santa (2kms at 16%, mainly on gentle urban cobbles) and Brescia with Monte Maddalena from the steep side before a finish in the city, perhaps a punchy uphill finish.
A monster climb I would like to see in the Giro is Monte Matajur, you could have a stage like last year's stage 19. A combination of Kolovrar followed by Matajur would be brutal.
I know that it's been used a finish in the Giro Donne so I can't see why the Giro couldn't use it.

A monster climb I would like to see in the Giro is Monte Matajur, you could have a stage like last year's stage 19. A combination of Kolovrar followed by Matajur would be brutal.
I know that it's been used a finish in the Giro Donne so I can't see why the Giro couldn't use it.

Iirc they had it planned as a MTF for the 2020 edition but scrapped it due to a lack of space at the summit. The women's race uses far less infrastructure so that isn't a great guideline. Having said that, in a world where the Vuelta can squeeze a finish pretty much wherever it likes and the Tour can make Portet and Granon MTFs work, it does feel like RCS doesn't try as hard as ASO and Unipublic to fit in MTFs with complicated logistics. A far cry from the Zomegnan years, when they were willing to split an MTT into two blocks to enable a finish atop Kronplatz amongst other things...
Don't forget Trieste with Scala Santa (2kms at 16%, mainly on gentle urban cobbles) and Brescia with Monte Maddalena from the steep side before a finish in the city, perhaps a punchy uphill finish.
Yep, and I've created stage to Brescia via Maddalena in a previous Giro version. But it's not very well connected to other climbs. If you have a finish in Brescia after Maddalena it will a waiting game for the last climb.
Yes, I've usually picked the same climb (Colle San't Eusebio) before Monte Maddalena. Otherwise one could also have a post-restday stage start near the Lago di Garda, maybe in Riva del Garda and have 1-2 climbs at the start of the stage to shake things up a bit. Ampola-Maniva-Termine before San't Eusebio from East followed by Maddalena and a finish like the one Netserk suggested.
Yup, sad but inevitable. I have at least saved a lot of the material since one of the forum upgrades but a lot of the tracks were wiped in the Cronoescalada hack, I've remade some but many are lost to time.

I’ve done a good few Latin American races, and the theme will now continue with another short stage race serving as a national Tour for a Latin American country. This time it’s a Central American nation which is investing a bit in cycling at present, and which might redress the balance at least slightly in terms of the usual pattern that we’ve seen where I pick a country in Latin America, start my research, and end up writing some long diatribes about the under-publicised heinous actions of the United States, as seen in my races in Guatemala, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and others (plus a few unfinished or unposted races). Now, however, I’m looking at a country which has a complicated but, crucially, not entirely negative relationship with the stars and stripes, this being the southernmost country to be part of North America, the only country with a gap in the Pan-American Highway, the infamous centre for trade (and as we have more recently found out, rich Western leaders and politicians hiding their shady dealings) that is Panama.


Panamanian cycling has two major stage races around which it is built, although neither of these are UCI-categorised. The older and more established is the Vuelta a Chiriquí, in the west of the country, which first ran in 1981 and has attracted a pretty solid international field over the years, with only a few local winners - although the number is increasing in recent years with recent investment and development. After Julio César González won the inaugural edition, it wouldn’t be until 1992 until the next local winner, then 1999 and 2011 would see Panamanian triumphs, before the modern generation of riders took three of the five editions from 2017 to 2021 and then the 2022 edition was cancelled. The race has largely been dominated by Colombians and Costa Ricans, although Óscar Sevilla has won two editions since his exile in South America, and Austria’s Josef Lontscharitsch won an anomalous triumph in 1996. Well known riders to have had success here include Omar Hernández, who won a mountain stage in the 1987 Vuelta and wore the leaders’ jersey for a week in 1989, victor in the 1984 Vuelta a Chiriquí; veteran stalwart of Latin America Libardo Niño, winner in 2000; former Kelme rider and Operación Puerto victim José Adrián Bonilla, winner in 2002 and (after being exiled from European cycling) 2008; Movistar and Ineos veteran (Giro top 5 and stage winner) Andrey Amador, second in 2005 and third in 2006; hilarious icon of blatant doping Juan Carlos Rojas, second in 2006; and Panamanian prospect Ramón Carretero, who won in 2011 at age 20 during an era of absolute domination of his local scene that got him noticed and signed (possibly, nay probably, at sponsor behest) to Scinto’s mob in Italy, where he was clearly overpromoted and out of his depth among a World Tour/Pro Continental péloton and tested positive for EPO.

The Tour de Panamá is a much younger race, established in 2005, but continues to run annually with only 2020, due to the pandemic, as a year out. It is also much more of an insular affair, with Fabricio Ferrari’s victory in 2019 the only time it has not been won by a Panamanian, although that has also been a reflection of it being largely during the time when Panamanian cycling has been improving in development, as we see names that followers of only the higher levels of cycling may recognise; Yelko Gómez, who won in 2007 and 2008, moved to Spain and eventually spent a couple of years with Caja Rural (with his career highlight being a stage win in the Vuelta a Castilla y León) before winning again on his return to Latin America in 2014, while Ramón Carretero as mentioned dominated his local scene and won four straight editions from 2009 to 2012 before moving to Italy. More recently, Roberto Carlos González has won the race twice before also moving to race for Scinto’s team, before spending a couple of years on jobbing third tier teams in Europe like Java-Kiwi Atlántico and MG Kvis, while Carlos Zamudio has also won two editions. Lately, however, the race has been dominated by riders from Panama’s most concerted effort yet to bring themselves to prominence in the sport, the Panama es Cultura y Valores Continental team.


The main riders for the Panama es Cultura y Valores team are Christofer Jurado, 3rd in 2019 and 2021 in his home tour, and Franklin Archibold, who won the 2021 edition. The pair have secured some good results in UCI races, Jurado taking stage wins in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional and the Vuelta a Guatemala (including the 43km ITT!), as well as winning double gold at the Central American Games, and Archibold winning stages of the Vuelta a Guatemala and Vuelta a Costa Rica as well as also winning a TT gold at the Central American Championships and even some podiums at Turkish 1.2 races and the Vueltas a San Luís and Formosa in Argentina. They are also ably supported by the likes of 2022 Tour de Panamá winner Bolivar Espinosa and 2020 Central American Road Race Champion Alex Strah.

The Tour de Panamá is increasing its international reach lately though, especially with the Vuelta a Chiriquí being cancelled in 2022. Fabricio Ferrari became the first overseas GC winner in 2019; Honduran standout Luís Fernando López was 2nd overall in 2022; and in addition to these two, stage winners in the last few years include Colombia’s Bernardo Suaza, Stiber Ortíz and Yesid Sierra; Spanish amateur veterans Fernando Grijalba and Pol Hervías; Costa Rican exile from the ProTeam level Kevin Rivera, and Spanish-based British espoir Louis Sutton (twice). So why not try to make the next step, to a UCI 2.2 race? That way they can keep the domestic péloton as strong as they can (likely those based overseas like Roberto Carlos González would moonlight with a domestic team), but also bring in other strong teams from neighbouring countries like Guatemala’s Hijo One-La Red (with the likes of Mardóqueo Vásquez and possibly Sérgio Chumil if he isn’t based in Spain at that point), ASO Quetzaltenango (the Toc Xon brothers and Henry Sam) and Ópticas Deluxe (with López), some strong Costa Rican teams like Colono Construcción (Daniel Bonilla and Sebastián Moya) and 7Card-Economy (Kevin Rivera and Sebastián Brenes), plus some Colombian and Ecuadorian teams (Medellín? EPM? Certainly Herrera Sport as they pick up a lot of Central American talent like Fredd Matute). Possibly Canel’s Turbo from Mexico (Edgar Cadena?), Movistar-Best PC from Ecuador, and then maybe some national teams for the likes of Cuba and El Salvador. Could be a more than solid startlist.

So here we are, the Tour de Panamá, expanded and improved.

Stage 1: Almirante - Almirante, 121km
Imgur link if not displaying below



Alto Junquito (cat.3) 2,7km @ 5,7%
Alto Junquito (cat.3) 2,7km @ 5,7%

We start the race on the north coast, in the westernmost part of the shoreline, up by the Costa Rican border in the Bocas del Toro province. The capital of this province is the eponymous city, but that is on the Isla Colón, an off-shore island; we’re starting and finishing in the largest city of the province that lies on the Central American isthmus, Almirante. This part of Panama was first encountered by Cristóbal Colón back in 1502 - hence the name of the island, although its original name was the Isla del Drago, and is largely known for its banana plantations and tropical forest. It was administered as part of Costa Rica during the Spanish colonial era, but was annexed by Colombia following the secession of the South American lands from the Empire. It has been passed between other provinces, mostly Veraguas and Chiriquí, as well as shifting over whether it is allied with or separate from Colón island as a province, since then, eventually settling on its current administrative form in 1970. The heavy importance of fruit production and export led to the city developing a large population of imported Afro-Caribbean workers to meet demand, mostly coming from Jamaica. This has led to the development of a unique creole variety of English in the area.

This is a travel destination but it’s very much off the beaten track and largely only popular with other Caribbean and Central American nations, it is not exactly Cancún so to speak, but it is growing in touristic potential with its pristine coast and dramatic natural features (and wildlife) - exploring bat caves and wildlife tourism are among the main drivers for tourism in the Bocas del Toro area.


Almirante, Panama - photo Bernal Saborio


Bocas del Toro coastline

The city of Almirante is a company town, constructed in the early 20th Century by the United Fruit Company to host its workers and to serve as a port for its banana exports - back in the day when the Central American nations were very much literally the metaphorical banana republics. While as mentioned above initially large numbers of Anglophone and Francophone black Caribbean workers were imported, as the city grew in importance and became more attractive as a trading port, many Chinese and Indian immigrants added to the melting pot in the 1950s; and more recently with the increased urbanisation of the population, indigenous peoples looking for a way to escape subsistence lifestyles in isolated rural communities have descended upon the city too. It also serves as the main entry point for the offshore islands, with water taxis departing Almirante serving as the main service between the islands. Its most famous progenies are all baseballers, most notably World Series winning utility player Chico Salmón, who spent several years with the Baltimore Orioles where he was renowned as a plug-and-play player with somewhat poor fielding skills; and Fernando Seguignol, a bit-part player in the MLB who went on to become one of the biggest names in Japanese professional baseball in the 2000s.

The stage essentially is an out and back that hugs the coast on the way out, and then goes through the hilltop road on the way back. This takes us through the city of Changuinola, which is slightly smaller than Almirante as a city but larger in terms of population in its overall urban area. We actually head all the way up to the Río Sixaola, which serves as the border between Costa Rica and Panama, and have our first intermediate sprint at Guabito which is the border town. There is no U-turn here as there are two roads to it from Changuinola, so the course is rather lollipop-shaped, first taking the northeastern route into town, then crossing it toward the border, then returning on the parallel road to the southwest, which links up to become the 915 which hugs the Panamanian side of the river for many kilometres along the borders of the Parque Internacional de la Amistad, a protected mountainous rainforest region which is shared between the two countries. Returning to Changuinola and then on to Empalme, we then have about 15km of riding over a forested hilltop crest road which takes us past Loma Muleto, a small hilltop town popular with hikers. To get there we have a 2,7km @ 5,7% climb, nothing too ridiculous and just your average cat.3 climb, then some downhill false flat, a slight uphill to Loma Muleto itself, and then some downhill false flat which takes us almost all the way back to Almirante.

It’s only been 80km when we get back to Almirante, so that’s not really long enough for a full stage, even in this type of race (often in the Central American stage races you see stages being in the 100-130km kind of range with reasonable frequency, but these are more commonly the mountain stages). As a result we cross the finishing line for the first time, then loop back around the town to repeat our steps from earlier.

You will, however, have noticed that the stage is only just over 120km in length, not 160km, so we’re not just repeating ourselves. And you would be right - indeed, instead we are omitting the out-and-back bit, turning heel in Finca, which comes just before the Río Changuinola where we start to enter the outlying towns of the eponymous municipality, meaning we only have around 20km of flat before we turn back to the climb up to the Loma Muleto ridge once more; this puts the two ascents at 59 and 18km from the line respectively, although realistically anybody that isn’t able to get over the climbing of this stage is in for a tough week. There are a couple of hairpins in the descent but it only has a very brief bit which is slightly steeper, otherwise it’s all false flat, then there’s a sweeping left at 900m from the line and a right angle right at 500m as the only technical challenges. This should be a neat, fast stage that serves as an easy introduction for the bunch.
Testing it...

Stage 2: Chiriquí Grande - Boquete, 134km



Alto de la Verrugosa (cat.1) 17,2km @ 6,2%
Alto Boquete (cat.2) 17,3km @ 4,2%
Alto Jaramillo (cat.2) 3,4km @ 11,7%
Alto Jaramillo (cat.2) 3,4km @ 11,7%

The second stage is one that I’m not sure as to whether to classify as medium mountain or high mountain. I think it should go as the latter - it is after all the highest altitude we are going to reach in the race, and includes four categorised climbs, including the two longest sustained ascents of the entire event. And although it’s not the prime mountain stage in terms of decisive climbing, it is the one with the most accumulated altitude metres. It’s also one that takes us through areas that will be familiar to much of the local péloton and indeed some of the guest teams too - as this stage takes place in the Chiriquí region that hosts - or historically has hosted, it’s been absent for a couple of seasons - Panama’s most historic and prestigious bike race, and one that is if anything bigger than the national tour, much as the Vuelta al Tachirá is a bit bigger than the Vuelta a Venezuela.


Chiriquí Grande is a bit of an oddity in that it doesn’t actually lie within the province of Chiriquí, a bit like Kansas City, Missouri I guess. Instead it is the easternmost mainland part of Bocas del Toro, and has a rapidly increasing population of 15.000 (doubled from 20 years ago) across six smaller settlements in its district, which are slowly meshing together into a single urban sprawl. The administrative capital is the eponymous town, which has around 2.500 inhabitants, but does have some importance as the main gateway by road to the Chiriquí Lagoon, a large, partly desalinated lagoon that serves as safe anchorage and was where Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Panamanian isthmus after being guided there by natives. The mountains directly south and east of Chiriquí Grande serve as the delineation point between the melting pot of Spanish, mestizo, Caribbean, Asian and native populations that dot the coastal port cities of Bocas del Toro, and the sparsely settled Ngäbe lands that lie north of the Cerro Santiago. The town is the northern terminus of the Pan-Panamanian pipeline, and is a semi-frequent host of stage starts in the Vuelta a Chiriquí, so the opening part of the stage will likely be familiar to some of the domestic pros.

Although they probably wish it wasn’t, since after 15km we start a long and drawn out, but very difficult climb along the recently renovated Gualaca-Chiriquí highway, a twisting mountain pass that has a long plateau at its summit, and is one of the most dramatic major roads in the country, if not the most dramatic. It largely sees us heading through Ngäbe-Bugle Province as an intermediary between Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. The road sadly hit the news for the wrong reasons in early 2023 when a bus carrying migrants who had successfully managed to navigate the Darién Gap (no mean feat in and of itself) careered off the road on the dangerous switchbacks of the highway, killing 39 of them and serving as Panama’s worst domestic accident in over half a century, and the deadliest outright since Copa Airlines Flight 201 crashed over the Darién Gap in 1992 after having to take an uncommon route to avoid bad weather, and a combination of a faulty gyroscope and a lack of reference points resulted in the plane unknowingly banking beyond the safe limits and nosediving into the rainforest, killing all 47 on board.

As there is a long plateau at the summit there isn’t really a fixed name for the summit. I have named it for the village close to the summit on the roadside, but I could also have used Cerro 3 Noviembre after the nearby peak, or La Fortuna after the reservoir a few kilometres into the plateau which we circumnavigate part of. This is very much a climb of three distinct parts; the first 3km average around 8,5% of very inconsistent climbing, the first kilometre of which is at a pretty dramatic 12%; then there is around 6km of false flat climbing at around 3% average, starting a little over and ending at almost complete flat for the last kilometre and a half; and then finally the meat-and-drink of the climb, 8km at 8% with 4km at 9,5% in the middle - a kind of equivalent to something like Alto de la Cobertoria from the west, or Ax-3-Domaines I guess. The overall climb totals around 17km at 6% - more than worthy of cat.1 status especially in a smaller race like this - but crucially considering the kind of péloton that will be doing this race, not too much for riders who know the Alto de Zunil from the Vuelta a Guatemala or the Cerro de la Muerte from the Vuelta a Costa Rica, let alone those who regularly compete in Colombia or Ecuador. Plus we get to take in some well known natural beauty spots on the way.

Short clip of part of the road


Cascada Celestine


Lago Fortuna

After the end of the sustained climb, there is around 20km or just over of rolling terrain; just after the dam there is a punchy climb of 1,5km at 8% or so but I haven’t categorised this. There is a sort of double-summit where highway 10 - the main Gualaca road - branches off from a shortcut to Alto Boquete near the resort village of Los Planes. We go over the first of these summits - the Alto del Letrero - but then turn right onto the smaller road, descending down toward the Jagüatta waterfall and our mid-stage respite for the riders. The descent starts off benign but the last 6km or so are steep and challenging. Another 20km or so of false flat takes us to Alto Boquete, which is also kind of ironically named since it is about 700 altitude metres below the mountain town of Boquete itself. It is a common host for stages of the Vuelta a Chiriquí owing to being a sizeable settlement in the mountains with roads all around. Home to just under 20.000 people, its position at altitude gives it a cooler and less humid climate than the coastal lands and as a result it has become a health retreat and a much sought after spot for tourists and, more recently, retirees, which has sparked a property boom. A relatively recent settlement, colonials from David, Bugaba and other lowland areas only started to arrive in this area in the mid 19th Century, and being on the slopes of the dormant Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest point, soil here is rich and the subsequent cultivation of coffee remains one of the main occupations in the area, with the coffee of this particular region enjoying one of the best reputations worldwide.



It’s a long drag up to Boquete, and this climb is a regular in the Vuelta a Chiriquí. It’s the longest of the race - just topping out above that from earlier - at 17,3km, but unlike the previous ascent of the day, this one is much more palatable, being a constant, consistent tempo grind of 4% all along. The last finish from here was won by Franklin Archibold in 2019. However, I am not finishing when we reach Boquete; after all it is only 103km into the stage when we reach the summit. Instead we continue on for 3km into Boquete town proper, and have an intermediate sprint there, before two laps of a 14km circuit around the town which includes taking on a further climb - this time a medium mountain type of the sort that enthusiasts of the Vuelta will be familiar with and that is a little less common for the Central and South American péloton to see; they are used to those colossal gradual passes that wind up to high altitude, but this kind of short-to-medium-length climb at a Guillén-tastic gradient that nearly reaches 12% is not so common to see - though a good comparison might be the Cerro Gallo Berlin from stage 5 of the 2022 Vuelta a Costa Rica. The Alto Jaramillo is a nasty little thing, a comparable climb to a European audience would be something like Les Praeres (although it’s a bit easier than that) but I think the best comparison would be the final 3km concrete part of Bola del Mundo. The problem is that of course Bola del Mundo comes direct off the Puerto de Navacerrada whereas here we don’t; also Jaramillo is fully paved with tarmac as opposed to hormigón. Perhaps comparing this run to the Leonese side of Cuitu Negru might work, but I think the best comparable would be if you had a MTF at Bola del Mundo, but instead of coming off Navacerrada, you instead climbed the more gradual Puerto de Cotos and had the plateau to Navacerrada like in the 2022 Vuelta stage - only when you got to Navacerrada, you then tacked on the 3km of monstrosity to Bola del Mundo.

And then descended back to Navacerrada and did it again. Because, as I say, the climb to Alto Jaramillo is double-sided, and fully paved. Part of the descent through Jaramillo Abajo - two lanes, perfectly paved - can be seen in this video which in fact shows some land that was at least at the time for sale in the area; the old road - the one we are climbing - is in somewhat worse state but nevertheless still totally usable and passable. The two passes of the summit are at 23km and 9km from the line respectively, with the descent leading into the final kilometre which is a false flat drag through Boquete itself. The short distance of the climb means I’ve only given it cat.2 status, but it therefore shows in this stage the complete polar opposites of that status; one climb which is super long but only cat.2 because it’s consistent and low gradient, and then one climb (ascended twice) which is cat.2 because although it’s super short, it is also crazy steep. Placing intermediate sprints in Boquete to encourage action, I think this one will have some serious time gaps and set us up for the rest of the race well.


Arriving in Boquete


Main thoroughfare of the town - finishing straight
Stage 3: David - Parque Arqueológico Petroglifo El Nancito, 172km



Alto Boquete (cat.3) 10,8km @ 3,1%
Alto de Los Planes (cat.1) 6,7km @ 8,8%
Parque Arqueológico Petroglifo El Nancito (cat.3) 3,3km @ 6,1%

Stage 3 sees us transitioning away from Chiriquí to central Panama, but not after some navigating of the most cycling-supportive part of the country. If you descend down to the south towards the Pacific from Boquete, you will arrive in the provincial capital of Chiriquí, the city of David. Home to over 80.000 people, it is the largest city in Panama that isn’t part of the extended metropolitan area of the capital. Founded at the turn of the 17th Century, it took a long time to be recognised by the administrators of the colonies, speculated to be because of the Jewish origins of its founders. A common rest stop along the Camino Real trader trail along the spine of Central America - corresponding largely to the modern Pan-American Highway route - it became thriving as a product of this. Barrio Bolivar, at the heart of the old town, was the site of the first battle of the Guerra de los Mil Días, when a liberal revolt caused a flare-up with victory for the revolutionaries; this war - ostensibly a Colombian civil war - would lead to US naval intervention to protect their interests in the Panamanian isthmus, an action that would ultimately precipitate the independence of the isolated province, with the Darién Gap serving as a natural boundary, and paving the way for the development of Panama’s various economic actions like the construction of its eponymous canal. It is also home to long-time Philadelphia Phillies stalwart Carlos Ruíz.


It also serves as the main hub around which the Vuelta a Chiriquí centres, winners there include a number of major names in Panamanian cycling like Ramón Carretero, Yelko Gómez, Franklin Archibold, Alex Strah, Cristofer Jurado and so on, but also other Central and South American stalwarts such as the likes of Alfredo Ajpacajá, Jason Huertas, Edward Stiber Ortíz, Augusto Sánchez, Wendy Cruz, Weimar Roldán, Robigzon Oyola and Adrián Bonilla have succeeded there - and probably the biggest names to WT cycling fans would be Álvaro Hodeg, who won here in 2016, and Andrey Amador, who won a stage here in 2006 (his less well known brother Iván did too). As a result, it was kind of an essential on the route, so we start here before looping around to the north to take in some early-stage challenges on this, the first stage of the race to be at a typical higher level cycling distance.

The first thing we do is head back up toward Alto Boquete, which we just about head past in yesterday’s stage; this is essentially 20km of false flat uphill, the last 11km of which are categorised, averaging a little over 3%, so just a cat.3 ascent. From here, we turn right and retrace our steps from the middle of stage 2, riding backwards along the valley to the Jagüatta waterfall, and then climbing up to the same plateau as yesterday, which means a cat.1 ascent due primarily to its steepness.


Essentially as you can see from the profile above, it’s 6% for 11km, but really it’s 3,5km @ 5,1%, then a short descent, and then 6,6km @ 8,8% which take us to Los Planes. This is the second of the double summits that I mentioned yesterday; near the summit where we intercept highway 10, you can either turn left for a short gradual stretch up to the Alto del Letrero, or right for a shorter but sharper dig to the village of Los Planes, after which we take the remainder of the Gualaca-Chiriquí Grande highway that we rode yesterday, around 14km at 6% of descending into the town of Gualaca where we have an intermediate sprint. Once we pass through Gualaca, it’s a vague downhill sauntering to a small town which is actually called Chiriquí, close to La Loma on the Pan-American Highway.

The next 75km or so are all on the Pan-American and are pretty much flat; the only exception is a short diversion into the town of Las Lajas de San Félix, the capital of the San Félix district, for an intermediate sprint. As a result I would expect that the majority of the péloton ought to reconvene among one another, with the distance from home dissuading too much action on the earlier climbs, but nevertheless their severity reducing the size of the bunch and requiring some hard work by many riders to get back on on the ensuing descent and flat. This means that we are kind of following a typical Vuelta or Tour de Suisse pattern of having a final uphill finish with nothing immediately preceding it, ensuring a final climb shootout, but with some tough earlier obstacles such that the legs are not completely fresh when they arrive (with my apologies to Kevin Rivera as a result, who won a mountain stage of the 2022 Tour de Panamá and is rather absurdly back riding these Central American stage races this season).


Petroglyph stones at the El Nancito archaeological museum and park


Views down to the Pacific from the Mirador El Nancito, at the end of the steep part of the road

Turning off the highway to head up to the Parque Arqueológico El Nancito, this gives us a final climb which is a fairly simple cat.3, of 3,3km at just over 6%. The park is a local attraction that includes a number of well preserved examples of the art and glyphic writing of the pre-Columbian culture in the Panamanian isthmus, primarily featuring carvings and paintings in stone. The hill was presumed to have been a site of some significance in that era.

The ascent begins with its steepest parts and gradually eases up; there are a couple of ramps of up to 15-16% but these are short and early on in the climb. For the most part it is fairly simple; the first 1200m of the climb, from the highway to the mirador, is at 7,2%, then there’s a little under 2km at 4,8% which is mostly pretty consistent, with a max of 9%; the last 200km are more or less flat. As a result it’s not sure whether this is a puncheur finish or not as the best chance of getting separation is to go early, but the climb is neither long enough nor hard enough for serious gaps to be created by doing so. This should therefore be an interesting sprint of a small group of those that survive their way through the first part of the climb and likely maintain a high pace through the easier part. Especially as some legs will likely be very tired after stage 2, so anybody that had to work hard to get back on after the early climbs will likely not lose too much time here but not be there to settle the win at the Parque Arqueológico. This is also the only uphill finish of the race, so the riders will need to make it count.
Stage 4: Santiago de Veraguas - Aguadulce, 176km



El Villarreal de Las Minas (cat.3) 4,5km @ 5,4%

The longest stage of the race is the fourth, and the sprinters will likely get their second chance, if anything a better chance than stage 1 in fact since the small climbs that the stage does have are a long way from the finish. We’re moving our way east via a detour into the Azuero Peninsula, starting in the city of Santiago de Veraguas, often just called Santiago, with the remainder of its name coming from the province that it is the centre of (much as the more famous Santiago is officially “Santiago de Chile” and there’s also Santiago de Cuba in, you know, Cuba, Santiago del Estero in Argentina, and Santiago de Querétaro in Mexico) - which is unique among Panamanian provinces in that it spans the entire width of the country and therefore has shorelines on both the Caribbean and Pacific - although the northern part of the province, beyond the Parque Nacional Santa Fe, is virtually uninhabited by permanent settlers, with only some native communities in isolated areas and a couple of fishing communities serviced mainly by boat on that side of the mountains. Santiago de Veraguas is home to around 60.000 people and was established at some point in the 17th Century - it does not appear in the records of the region from 1606 but was soon after established as a stopping point for traders between Montijo (access to the Pacific via the Golfo de Montijo) and Santa Fe (access down to the Caribbean via the Calovebora river, and popular with colonials due to cooler climate at higher altitude). However it was established by 1621 and was a prominent and important city by 1637 - and has retained its colonial feel to this day, eschewing high rises and modern architecture.


For the most part this is a flat stage, starting out on the Panamericana and then looping south on highway #50 at El Limón. Eventually we get to an area on the outskirts of the Reserva Forestal El Montuoso, which is the southernmost point that we reach in the race; just before this we ascend up to a slight plateau, this takes us to our only categorised climb of the stage, a gradual cat.3 incline to El Villarreal de Las Minas. After this we have a slight downhill back into the flatlands, and then an intermediate sprint in the small town of Pesé, and then a second one in the larger city of Chitré, the capital of Herrera Province and a key point of access to the Golfo de Parita. This has a population of around 10.000 in the city, and 80.000 in the overall urban sprawl. It is home to some of Panama’s most well-known musical acts, the ska-punks Los Rabanes for example, the first Panamanian - and in fact Central American in general - act to win a Best Rock Album award at the Latin Grammys, and also the reggaeton artist Flex, who is a bit harder to search for seeing as he also uses a racial epithet in his stage name, which I’m going to avoid.


We then head northwards on highway 2 until we rejoin the Panamericana at Santa María. At this point we just have 25km of flat riding left until we hit our finish city of Aguadulce, home to 50.000 people on the Pan-American Highway in Coclé province. It’s a very straight run-in but it is likely to end in a sprint here. Aguadulce, meaning “sweet water”, is named for the fact that the formerly mineral-rich waters of the Río Pocrí that run to the north and east of the city before draining into the Estero de Palo Blanco and the Gulf of Parita, improving soil fertility and enabling a very strong culture of sugar cane cultivation around the city; just out of town there is a small port facility accordingly. The combination of the sea and the plantations make the city a home for both salt and sugar production in Panama, which is its main claim to fame other than a 1901 battle in the 1000 Days’ War where Benjamín Herrera’s liberal army defeated the loyalist conservatives.

The only pinch point on this should be the flick-flack right-left turn at 3,4km from home where we depart the Panamericana to enter the concreted city roads of Aguadulce itself. After this it is dead straight until a 70º or so right hander at 700m from the line; this is at an open park square so there is plenty of run-off to the left enabling pretty safe navigation for a péloton; given the nature of racing in this part of the world where there is still a pretty hefty gap between the best and worst rider in a bunch, there may be some reduced groups purely created by the distance here as 175km stages are not that common in this type of race (as an example, the Vuelta a Costa Rica in 2022 had one stage - the first - up at 200km, but the rest were maxing out at around 130km; the longest stage of the Vuelta a Guatemala the same year was 162km, the remainder being mostly between 120 and 140km; the 2022 Vuelta a Venezuela had a 187km stage, with most of the rest 120-150km; every stage of 2022’s Vuelta a Tachirá was between 100 and 150km - though races like the Vuelta al Ecuador and the Vuelta a Colombia frequently exceed these kind of limits, 2022’s Vuelta al Ecuador opening with two 200km+ stages) and given a few will have dropped out or be so far off the pace as to be able to be allowed to go the distance after the mountains of stage 2. Also with another tough stage to come, this might be a time for the favourites to take stock and allow a break to go. You never know.


Aguadulce Parque 19. De Octubre, where we have our stage finish
Stage 5: Penonomé - Capira, 141km



Altos de Campana (cat.1) 9,8km @ 7,7%
Altos de Campana (cat.1) 9,8km @ 7,7%

So stage 5 is the other contender for etapa reina status; it has significantly less altitude metres than stage 2, but it does have the severe climbing closer to the finish and more likely to play directly into the results. It also bears some resemblance to Stage 4 of the 2022 Tour de Panamá, which used a similar part of the country and used a climb which starts from the same point as our main climb, but differs in the second half and is an easier climb overall than the one we are using. Kevin Rivera, a fugitive from the higher levels thanks to his RusVelo ride falling foul of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and typically a higher level rider than these Central American races, although limited and usually at his best in this kind of Unipuerto stage, eventually won a two-up sprint at the summit of the Altos de María climb, ahead of race leader Luís Fernando López, the Honduran from the Guatemalan Ópticas Deluxe team, with local pride stoked by Bolivar Espinosa in 3rd, 17 seconds back. Espinosa would subsequently take the race lead in the ensuing ITT and hold it to the end.

That day they started at the Decameron Beach resort town on the Pacific coast; we however are starting at the city of Penonomé, the capital of Coclé province, a city of 21.000 in the city proper and over four times that in the metropolitan area, which is approximately the geographical centre of the country, although obviously far more of the eastern half of the country is sparsely populated owing to the impassibility of the Darién Gap. One of the earlier towns established in Panama, the city takes its name from Nomé, a native leader in the area who had resisted Spanish colonisation and conquest; the name “Penó Nomé” has two conflicting folk etymologies. The first is that it means “(the location where) Nomé was punished” and refers to the site of his capture and subsequent execution, and the second is that the same term means “mourning of Nomé” and refers to the site of Nomé’s death by suicide after being told of his lover’s death. Both are likely to be apocryphal and born out of conflations and confusions of homonyms or near-homonyms between indigenous languages and Spanish terms. Its main claim to fame is that after Panama City was sacked by British privateers in the late 17th Century Penonomé served as a temporary capital until the Spanish could reconquer it, but it also has some importance as the home of Esther Neira, the mother of feminism in this part of the world and an important campaigner and advocate of women’s rights in Central America. The Panamanian National Observatory is also in the municipality, although this is up in the Valle de Antón so we don’t pass it.


We do have a very early intermediate sprint in the town of Antón, which serves as the access point to the Valle de Antón and also to the San Juan de Dios spa town. Ascending here is gradual however and not particularly challenging, plus would entail descending a rather suspiciously underpaved route so I eschewed this as part of my stage and elected to stay on the Panamericana as we loop around to the south of these mountains towards the Decameron resorts as we head along what is effectively the Panamanian riviera, a line of tourist towns and resort towns that dot the Pacific coast in this centre-west part of the country in eastern Coclé and into Panamá Oeste province. I also felt this was more realistic for two reasons; the type of péloton that will be doing this race is not likely to be doing 200km multi-col stages with frequency so we have to keep this within bounds (well, the Colombian and Venezuelan teams might have a bit more experience of that, but as mentioned in the last stage, Central American and Caribbean cycling tends to have shorter stages and despite the terrain, tend to limit to one or two major climbs a stage, although Guatemala and Costa Rica do have some pretty severe stages in their national tours, it’s true), and also that these kinds of national bike tours often rely on sponsors and districts paying for their presence, and the coastal resorts like this are more likely to pay up to get some airtime. This makes the stage more typical for a Central American cycling stage (at least as much as is possible considering Panama doesn’t have the kind of altiplano settlements that shape the design possibilities in either Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala or Honduras to the north, or the Andino states to the south) as well as making the route more like ones achieved in the real life Tour de Panamá.


At the small corregimiento of Bejuco (around 5.500 inhabitants) we take a left turn and leave the Pan-American Highway to head up into the mountains, just as they did in the 2022 Vuelta a Panamá. Just like the riders did that day, we take an initial 1,8km at 8,7% up to the village of Buenos Aires, but this is where we then move away. I could in theory have categorised this ascent independently of the rest of the categorised climb, but decided against it; the descent is short and it would be gratuitous additional mountain points. In the real life race, they continued along the Bejuco-Sorá road to Bajo del Rio and then climbed up to Altos de María at around 675m altitude; we however turn right onto the Buenos Aires-Chicá road which climbs up beyond 800m in the Altos de Campana National Park, past Chicá and El Hatillo to a high summit which will serve as a cat.1 climb.

The final 7km of this ascent average 8,6%; the overall is reduced by that short stretch of descending there, but as you can see, the individual segments of just climbing make this just under 9km at 8,6-7%, a more than considerable climb that puts it in the ballpark of the likes of the Col de Menté from the harder side. The first 3km of the second part of the climb, from Buenos Aires to Chicá, average 11%, in fact, after which it eases to only around 7%. The overall stats are 10km at between 7,5 and 8%, so not super lethal, but deceptively tricky - the traditional side of Santuário del Acebo perhaps matches up best for statistics, but the shape of the climb makes Collada de la Gallina likely the best matchup - tougher than going to Santuari de Canolich but not quite as tough as going all the way to the top I’d say, although that 3km at 11% does exceed anything la Gallina has to offer.


Altos de Campana National Park

This video is essentially the driver taking the road that we take, but in the opposite direction

As you can see, the road is perfectly wide and paved, and the only section that is single track is on the climb, so the descent is all wide roads and perfect tarmac, because this national park is a popular tourist getaway for people from Panama City, known for pristine natural scenery and hiking trails. The first time we crest the summit here is at the 86km mark, so 55km from the finish; there’s about a kilometre of plateau before a sweeping descent. The first part of the descent is about 8km at 7,7% although that includes a slight kicker in the middle, so it’s similar in profile to the climb; at this point we reach the Panamericana once more at the appropriately-named hamlet of Bajada de Campana. The first time we descend this, we turn right and loop around into Sajalices, which enables us to loop around to Bejuco once more. This last part of the descent is a little shallower and gives us a total descent of 11km at 7%, before around a 15km plateau takes us back to Bejuco. Now facing the opposite direction, there is an intermediate sprint in the town before we turn right to retrace our steps from earlier and take on the Altos de Campana ascent for the second time.

This time, only 16km remain at the summit; this one is going to be a major decisive factor for the GC, because we effectively descend all the way down to the finish. There’s the 1km flat at the summit, then the 8km of descending, then we hang a right and then immediately a 180º left to get onto the correct side of the Panamericana, before a fast final 6km or so of slightly downhill false flat into our finishing town of Capira, a growing town of around 6.000 inhabitants that lies to the northeast of the Altos de Campana massif.


More of the Altos de Campana road


Capira, approaching the finish

This is basically a commuter belt town for those in Panama City, and also a potentially expanding market for property as Panama seeks foreign investment, with the land backing onto the natural park being desirable. Again, the run-in will be very straight, but with a 90º right at 500m from home. I don’t expect large groups here after such a severe climb, however, so this shouldn’t be any issue. Two times up a cat.1 climb - and a legitimate one that would justify that category at any level - will surely be enough to ensure some significant time gaps ahead of the final weekend, so this should be a battle.
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Stage 6: Ciudad de Panamá - Ciudad de Panamá (Rod Carew International Stadium), 155km



Cerro Peñón - Las Lajas (cat.3) 1,5km @ 8,6%
Santa Librada (cat.3) 1,3km @ 7,5%

So we arrive in the capital and by far the largest city in Panama, its eponymous city, for stage 6 which is a slightly hilly out-and-back type stage which was born out of a sort of one-day race idea from a while ago. It isn’t far from Capira to Panama City, but it does entail skipping the potential use of, say, La Chorrera as a stage host. Nevertheless I think this is the way that the race could go, Panama City being obviously the capital and largest city and where the majority of Panamanian sport is centred makes it the obvious place to bring the race to its conclusion, so we’re on our way there now.


Founded by the conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila in 1519, around 17 years after the Panamanian isthmus was first discovered by the Spanish, Panama City is the capital and by far the largest city in the small Central American nation, with 1,5m urban populace and almost 2m - accounting for almost half the total population of the country - in its extended metropolitan area. It was initially an important point for the Spanish conquistadores in that it was their primary access to the Pacific coast of South America, given the narrowness of the Central American isthmus at this point, and it was from here that they launched their expeditions into eastern Colombia, modern Ecuador and Peru, and that they transported their many winnings in terms of precious metals from those provinces back to Europe. It dwindled in importance because of the success of Spanish conquest in Peru, becoming little more than a transit point, but retained importance because of the volume of freight coming through it. However, this also made it a target, and the British corsair Henry Morgan, who had been granted licence to attack and seize Spanish vessels, seized Portobelo (on the northern coast of the isthmus) and, after gathering forces from successful raids in Venezuela, attacked Ciudad de Panamá by traversing the isthmus with a band of 1400 men, and razing the city to the ground.

After Spain and Britain signed a peace treaty the following year, Morgan was summoned back to London and the city was rebuilt a few kilometres to the west of the original site; the rapid growth of the 19th and 20th Centuries have seen the site of the old city - now known as Panama Viejo - consumed by the sprawl of modern Ciudad de Panamá, however the ruins of the old city have been preserved and, since 1997, have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The importance of Panama City was increased by the development of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1855, which linked the Caribbean to the Pacific via high speed travel rather than horse-drawn stage wagons. This was a large part of why the province of Panamá was subsumed within Gran Colombia, but after its secession following the Thousand Days’ War, it became the centre of a new, US-backed, trade route-dependent independent state, i.e. modern Panama. Part of the arrangement included the French engineer Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who had been declared envoy extraordinaire, signing over a ten-mile-wide strip of land between the two oceans for the construction of what is now the country’s most famous landmark, the Panama Canal, in exchange for American guarantees of the security and independence of the nation. Dams were closed in 1913, creating the Gatun Lake - at the time the largest artificial lake in the world - and two narrower canal strips, and the following year the Panama Canal opened fore business. At the time it was considered a huge foreign policy triumph, although later on US control of the canal has become an irritant and a stumbling block in relations internationally for both countries on a number of occasions, most notably in 1964 when Panamanians rose against the number of US military outposts denying them access to areas along the frontiers of their own capital city and dominating them financially, resulting in the US Army suppressing the uprising with the killing of 22 Panamanian protestors. This event became known as Dia de los Mártires (“Day of the Martyrs”) and was a key influence behind the 1977 decision to transfer ownership of the canal to Panama.

The opening of the canal became a major factor in the development of the city, which expanded exponentially with growth to cover the increased amount of traffic coming through the small Central American nation, as well as the increased technology improving health and social care in the city. This prosperity led to the country becoming a financial centre in the later Cold War era, although this came at the cost of massive corruption and the nation became known as a haven for money laundering, at least until the US-backed deposition of dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989 (one of the few US interventions in Central America at the time that includes anything defensible, if we’re honest). While the reputation has not exactly been helped by the recent Panama Papers leaks, revealing many western leaders and higher-ups primarily on the conservative side of the political spectrum hiding assets, filtering money through shell companies and taking donations from suspicious sources, there has nevertheless been a major effort to clean up Panama’s reputation on that front since the deposition of Noriega.


Casco Viejo, Panamá

Panama Canal[/i]

Starting in the old town (Casco Viejo, the old quarter of the new city, as opposed to Panamá Viejo), this stage is essentially a double-scaling of the isthmus, as we cross from the Pacific to the Caribbean coastal city of Colón, located near the site of the old port of Portobelo which as mentioned above was sacked by corsairs prior to the raid on Panama City. The distance is around 80km, but subtracting a few for the neutral zone it ends up being around 75km on the road, most of which is rolling, with a few ramps and repechos but nothing worthy of giving mountains points for. Colón is traditionally seen as Panama’s second city and was on Manzanillo Island before expanding on to the mainland, absorbing some of the US bases along the Canal. It was founded with the help of the USA in order to provide an Atlantic terminal of the then Panama Railroad. It was known to Anglophones as Aspinwall, after the railroad’s founder, but to Hispanophones as Colón in honour of Columbus, as he had ‘discovered’ the northern coast of Panama. It was burnt to the ground in 1885 as part of the Colombian Civil War, the arm thereof known as the Panama Crisis. Technically speaking it was temporarily an exclave during the early days of the Panama Canal, being surrounded by a ring of US forts and military zones other than along the sides of the canal; this remained the case until 1936 when the Americans ceded a strip of land to enable the Panamanians to construct a highway connection - the one that we are using to enter and exit the city, in fact.


During the Cold War, Colón was a free trade zone, which encouraged a melting pot of ethnicities and groups within the city in the usual fashion that such trade areas create, and to this day it is the city with the largest Afro-Caribbean population in the country with many established and revered families of black Caribbean origin settling here; the US occasionally implemented checkpoints to control access, which often upset Panamanians as they were being controlled and restricted in access to parts of their own country. This resulted in rioting that ransacked the city’s municipal hall, and then as relations with the US became frostier under the dictatorships of Torrijos and Noriega, the city fell into a decline which has only recently been reversed, with a huge amount of investment undertaken since 2014 to redevelop and modernise the city’s amenities.

Many of Panama’s best known or best heralded athletes have originated in Colón; these are predominantly baseballers and soccer players as you may expect as well as boxers (this is of course a very popular sport among the Caribbean Latin nations, with Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico all having very proud histories in boxing), but there is an interesting curio in the form of George Headley, the son of two Caribbean workers who had arrived in Panama to assist the canal construction product, whose family moved to Jamaica when he was 10 years old; known as ‘the black Bradman’ in reference to the legendary Australian batsman of the time, Headley became an elite cricketer, and the talisman of the West Indies team of the era (for those that don’t know, the Caribbean islands - along with mainland former British possessions such as Belize and especially Guyana - contribute a combined team to world cricket; it is very much the case that in the Caribbean, baseball is the sport in Spanish-speaking lands, but in the former English, French and Dutch colonies cricket predominates, however small population sizes preclude these nations from individually competing with the likes of South Africa and India, so they combine into a regional super-team); he remains to this day the only Panamanian to play test (the highest level of international, the multi-day format) cricket. At the time he played, many of the islands were still under colonial rule and white English expatriates dominated the team, but Headley became the first Afro-Caribbean to captain the side when he led them out in 1948. He spent much of his later career as a professional in English ‘county cricket’ (the highest national league) and his son Ron was born in England; he would go on to represent Jamaica and the West Indies, but Ron’s son Dean played test cricket for England, making them the first three-generation cricketing family at that level. Many Panamanians are somewhat divorced from Headley’s successes, however; cricket is very much a minority sport restricted to a few towns with large West Indian populations, and as most of his life was spent in Jamaica he is seen more as a Jamaican who was born overseas than as a Panamanian. More widely revered at home would be Irving Saladino, a long jumper who won the Pan-American and World titles in 2007, before he became the first ever Panamanian Olympic gold medallist when he won the event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - and the first man from any Central American nation (other than Mexico for those that use that definition) to take such an accolade. It was Panama’s first medal of any colour at the Olympics in 60 years, and the parades and fêtes upon his return home were massive; Rubén Blades gave a personalised performance, and legendary Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán was called upon to give a presentation where they would re-enact the medal ceremony.

Because the main thoroughfare in Colón is a dual carriageway, we can have an intermediate sprint and then pull a 180º when we reach the Atlantic coast, before retracing our steps; it’s literally 28km before riders would run the risk of riding into the bunch facing the other way so we should be fine in this respect. On the return journey there is 1,9km @ 4,2% into Nueva Italia but I don’t think that merits a cat.3 status at this point in the race - maybe in stage 1 if there had been no other climbs. For essentially 60km after Colón we retrace our steps from the earlier part of the stage, so there’s not so much to say about this; the interesting part comes in the last 20km after we reach the outlying suburb of Alcalde Díaz. The last 20km are where the intrigue in the stage lies, as we shake it up a bit and take a couple of punchy ascents to break things up.


View down to Panama City from Cerro El Peñón

Cerro El Peñón is the highest point in Panama Norte province, a little over 400m above sea level. While the road to the summit is not paved and the last part is accessible on foot alone, there are a couple of roads from the Las Lajas barrio that will enable us to get a decent percentage of the way up. We’re actually climbing the easier side, on Calle Doctor Esteban y Serna, but a kilometre and a half at 8,6% is more than enough to tempt some moves you’d say, given we’re just 15km from home. The descent on Calle Hermanos Grimm (yes, quite) is pretty steep - 1300m at 10,3% - but also mostly very straight. We then briefly head onto wider roads again before departing for the hills again with our final climb to the small hilltop barrio of Santa Librada Rural, between Valle de San Francisco and Santa Librada proper, being 1,3km at 7,5% topping out 7km from home. This time the descent is shallower and on a wider road - but is much more technical, with a number of hairpins and twists and turns.

The finish comes after a sequence of sweeping, wide open bends on a flat road before the last 600m are slightly uphill (at 2,5%) to hopefully ensure a safe sprint of however many riders remain. We are not finishing in the city but instead in its outskirts, at the national baseball stadium, known as Estadio Nacional de Panamá, or the Rod Carew National Stadium, after another Colón native and Panama’s best known sporting hero, the former Minnesota Twins and California Angels first/second baseman and designated hitter who is a member of both teams’ respective halls of fame along with the Caribbean, Hispanic Heritage and National (i.e. international, as this is the US one) Baseball Halls of Fame, the latter as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, an even more prestigious club of those nominated in their first year of eligibility, i.e. meaning there is almost unanimous agreement of their worthiness. He is also a recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in recognition of his charitable and community work. Born on a racially-segregated train in the Panama Canal Zone, therefore technically speaking on US territory, he was named after the doctor who happened to also be travelling on the train and helped deliver the baby when his mother fell into labour unexpectedly. He emigrated to the US at age 14 but segregation was still a thing there at the time; obviously through his career the colour barriers around society started to break down but his move from the Twins to the Angels was largely precipitated by racist comments made by the Twins’ team owner. Retiring after nearly 20 years of active career - that in and of itself interrupted before it began by six years of military service - he later returned to the Angels as a coach for several years in the 90s, and both teams who he played for have retired his number 29.


A few years into Carew’s retirement, the Panamanian authorities wanted to replace the now-outmoded Estadio Juan Demóstenes Arosemena, which had served as the national stadium for baseball since 1938’s Central American and Caribbean Games, but had long since been turned into almost exclusively a baseball venue and its seating capacity reduced from 25.000 on all sides to just 7.000, which was proving insufficient for demand given the growth of the city; the Estadio Rommel Fernández, which was built for the 1970 Central American and Caribbean Games, serves as the national stadium for soccer, athletics and other field sports, did not have the configuration to accommodate baseball satisfactorily. Land on the outskirts of the urban sprawl was chosen and construction began; in 1999, the Estadio Nacional Rod Carew was opened. It is officially speaking a multi-purpose stadium, but is used primarily for baseball, with the configuration of the stadium and that it is named after a baseball player giving away that priority. It is used to host many matches in the domestic league as well as all matches played by the national team, as well as hosting events such as the 2019 Caribbean Series, when the Panamanian champions re-entered the competition, and spring training games for MLB teams. It has also been used for a number of concerts, largely for international overseas stars when making rare appearances in the country, although local music hero Rubén Blades has also appeared.

This one is likely to see a sprint, but simultaneously it should be pretty reduced; the punchy climbs should get rid of many, and the fact many will have lost beaucoup time in the last few days might mean the breakaway gets to duke this one out. We shall see.

Stage 7: Panama City - Panama City, 21,9km (CRI)



The final stage is a medium-length ITT which will hopefully settle things in the most classic way possible: the race of truth. A pan-flat test against the clock which is a pure power challenge, with a coastal out-and-back along similar lines to the Tirreno-Adriatico San Benedetto del Tronto time trial - but longer - will be the final decider for the GC here in Panama.

I’ve already talked about the history of Ciudad de Panamá, so I won’t really repeat myself here - at least not any more than usual, as we know I have a tendency toward that (but just in case you didn’t know, let me just confirm that I don’t like Peter Sagan, Sepp Kuss, Jonathan Vaughters, Lizzie Deignan, Geraint Thomas or Jessica Diggins - I know a lot of you won’t have seen any of my comments to that effect). This stage starts and finishes outside the Casco Viejo part of town, the one that was built after the original city was ransacked by Henry Morgan. Like a few coastal cities on isthmuses, peninsulas and other narrow tracts of land, a causeway has been constructed and a bypass that sits over the sea, allowing high speed traffic to circumnavigate the urban centre which is heavily constructed and has narrow historic roads that simply cannot cope with the volume of traffic of modern day.


You can see much of the course here - we start by the roundabout at the bottom right and circle the coastal viaduct

Once we’ve circled the old town, we head westward on the extension to the Cinta Costera passing the Estadio Maracaná (obviously not the famous one, this one has a capacity of only 5.500) and then turn south past the Latin-American Parliament Building, and then head down the Amador Causeway that links the mainland to the Causeway Islands (or Islas Calzadas de Amador). That Causeway was actually constructed from rock that was cleared during the construction of the Panama Canal, and it also is part of the blueprint for the canal, serving as a breakwater for the tides of the Pacific. The islands were originally unsettled, but their strategic location made them attractive (they were included as US possessions as part of the Canal Zone) and first fortifications were constructed to protect the canal during wartime, and then once these were dismantled due to their superfluousness and the land returned to the Panamanians, these military installations were replaced by an opulent private estate for Manuel Noriega, which was destroyed and ransacked following his deposition.

Today, they are a tourist attraction and are chocked full of amenities, with a dual carriageway leading all the way down the causeway to the very end, and a variety of facilities have been constructed to encourage recreation on the islands and the causeway, such as boating marinas, restaurants, walking and biking paths and trails, shops and so on. There is even a helipad and a kart track, along with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and other marine eco museums and natural park facilities.


…and then that’s pretty much it. We reach the end of the causeway’s paved roads at 10,95km, turn around and return. No, seriously. That’s literally it.

But it should be enough to help make this a sort of decisive stage given that there haven’t been true high mountains in comparison to Costa Rica or Guatemala so we don’t need the 40km or so of ITT that those races frequently have to balance out. This is, in my opinion, a pretty balanced race for the kind of field it will draw; a couple of flat stages, a short hilly finish, a medium mountain stage with a lot of climbing, a mountain stage with a downhill finish and then this medium length ITT. Hopefully it should be good.