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Race Design Thread

Page 343 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
I’m looking at a race at a sort of lower level here after a bit of inspiration struck me, thinking about the state of cycling at the moment. As you’ll all no doubt be well aware, Spain and Portugal are somewhat overrepresented in my course designing, but the problem is that there still remains so much still to add. One of the reasons for this, however, is the late development of much of the cycling infrastructure meaning many undiscovered options, at least when the thread began (many suggestions have since been brought to the sport, such as San Miguel de Áralar, Hazallanas, Gamoniteiro, Cruz de Linares, Monte Oiz) heavy depletion of the national calendar in terms of smaller pro races. One effect of this has been that the Continental level péloton in Spain is, to be honest, absolutely dreadful. While the top two tiers have effected something of a recovery, with there being four ProTeams now, the Continental péloton is almost non-existent. And that’s for good reason; with that depleted calendar of .HC and .1 races, there aren’t too many racing days to do, and your chances of achieving much when you’re likely to be squashed like an insect by the likes of Movistar in those races are limited. As a result, many riders will go to the Portuguese teams or head to Asia to join that Spanish expat cyclist community in Japan, and many actually prefer to toil in the amateur ranks where they can get more race days and more chances of success, and then take potential short term contracts for the Volta a Portugal; in addition to this RFEC’s rules on registering as a Continental team restricts the appetite of elite amateur teams from stepping up because, again, they can do better as an amateur team than they can being barred from entering those races and getting beat up on by the elite level pros. As a result those teams that do sit at that level either rely on journeymen and lesser talents who are willing to take that paycheque, or they take registration overseas, like the “Venezuelan” Kiwi Atlántico team or the “Kuwaiti” Team Massi.

It wasn’t ever thus, however. Back before the financial crisis of 10-15 years ago that created the situation in the current Spanish cycling scene, there were a few pro-am races which had UCI categorisation and served as a stepping stone. The Vuelta a León, Circuito Montañés and Cinturò de l’Empordà were a few of the last holdouts at this level, racing at the 2.2 level, where Continental teams could mix it with the elite amateur and espoir teams, and even ProConti teams could show up if required. A few other races had been at this level but either dropped to amateur or folded, such as the Vuelta a Navarra and the Vuelta a Extremadura. But the thing is, this kind of race level would be perfect as a middle ground, enabling the best of the amateur teams to mix it with lesser pro teams.

The first race that sprung to my mind as a candidate for rebuilding such a calendar in Spain was the Volta a Galicia. If you look at the Spanish amateur calendar, a lot of the most successful and strongest amateur teams are based in Galicia, and there are a number of races in the area. Plus of course, you have the newly-established O Gran Camiño race at the pro level and former Galician pro standout Ezequiel Mosquera doing work to establish the scene. One feature of this scene - and it is perhaps a reason for its strength - is that there are quite a few older riders and international riders in the Galician teams. I feel this is as they are a little bit off the radar for the pro teams compared to the more espoir-heavy Basque-Navarrese scene, since Movistar, Kern Pharma, Caja Rural and Euskaltel are all based out of that part of the country. Galician riders have often relied on Portugal as their route to the top, and also I feel that that fraternal relationship between Galicia and Portugal could also help bolster the péloton.

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The Volta a Galicia takes place in September - often around the same time as the Worlds - so could continue to run its current calendar spot, and be almost an end of season focal point for the amateur scene. And also, the Volta a Galicia has a pretty prestigious history, with an inaugural run in the 40s and 50s dominated by the Rodríguez Barros brothers, then having run in the 80s and 90s as a fairly high level race, with GC winners including legends like Miguel Indurain and other GT winners like Abraham Olano, Marino Lejarreta and Andrew Hampsten, as well as other prominent figures in cycling of their eras such as Laudelino Cubino, Vicente Belda and Álvaro Mejía. Since the early 2000s it has run as an amateur event, usually with an MTF at the Cabeza La Manzaneda ski station, with the likes of former Relax pro Óscar Laguna (who stepped back to the amateur ranks and former Murias rider Aitor González Prieto both winning back to back editions, and the most well-known riders on the winners’ list being the likes of notorious amateur dominator/doper José Belda, Kern Pharma’s Martí Marquez, and the Eolo-Kometa prospect Fernando Tercero. However, some riders like Frederico Figueiredo, Willie Smit and the highly-rated Mexican climber Edgar Cadena have made the podium in recent years.

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2022 Volta a Galicia podium: Fernando Tercero as winner, then Edgar Cadena and Saúl Burgos

The other benefit of the race being in September is that it allows for stagiares. Running six riders per team and including stagiares means we could get the likes of Euskaltel and Caja Rural to show up as the pro teams, especially with their younger riders and with few alternatives post-Vuelta to go up against too. Having looked through the amateur ranks and teams, I figure that a reasonable expectation for teams turning up would be something like this:

Amateur teams:
Aluminios Cortizo (CC Padrón) - a decades old (since 1956!) amateur team from Galicia that is frequently among the top teams in the country at this level. They have some ex-pros like Eduardo Pérez-Landaluce in the ranks, along with David Delgado, one of the top amateurs in Spain this season, and overseas imports like Guatemala’s 22yo prospect Sérgio Chumil (who I hope can become the country’s first pro rider) and Jeison Rujano, son of José, plus some journeymen of this level like Carlos Gutiérrez who even finished top 10 in the Spanish elite nationals in June.
High Level-G Sport (Moaña) - another Galician team with a few older riders but most of their hopes penned on youngster Sergi Darder, though Francesc Bennassar has had a good season.
Lasal Cocina-Team XE (O Porriño) - based close to the Portuguese border, this is a relatively new team with an extensive roster across different levels. Most of their results have been courtesy of 25-year-old Costa Rican Jason Huertas, a three-time national champion who is still developing thanks to copping a three-year ban for CERA as a teenager at the Vuelta a Costa Rica. They also have another Guatemalan prospect, Álex Julajuj, on their roster, as well as 43-year-old ex-Xacobeo man Gustavo Rodríguez Iglesias.
Retelec-Ambilamp (Redondela) - the official team of Cycling Galicia, founded in 2019. Include some low level ex-pros like Alessio Gasparini and Guillermo Beltrán of Chile, as well as a large Portuguese contingent.
Super Froiz (Pontevedra) - one of the most storied amateur teams, dating back to the 80s. Long one of the strongest amateur teams in the country, named after the ubiquitous supermarket chain that dominates the market in Galicia. Their roster includes strong prospects, veterans of this level and some imports such as a small Chilean contingent (Vicente Rojas performing particularly well) and Colombian Eli Saúl Burgos who was 3rd in the amateur Volta a Galicia in 2022.
Telco’m-On Clima (Pamplona) - the best non-affiliated team in the Basque-Navarrese scene, they tend to ride a wider calendar than many of the other regionally-based teams. They have a strong international contingent and have sent many riders to the pro ranks. Marc Cabedo has been their prime results-getter this season, but they have strong performances from the two Kacpers, Krawiec and Smreczek, and also they have Edgar Cadena on their roster, 2nd in this race in 2022 and winner of the queen stage in that year’s Vuelta a Colombia.
Vigo-Rías Baixas (Vigo) - wearing kits so fluorescent Efapel rejected them, Vigo’s team has been running since the 90s and is again one of the biggest amateur teams in the country. They pick up a few international talents to keep up that role and have a pretty cosmopolitan roster as a result. They had signed Keegan Swirbul before he went back to the Portuguese pro ranks, as well as ex-pros like Vicente Hernaiz and Miquel Valls (the latter has also signed pro back in Portugal ready for August). They have also, somewhat excitingly, just brought Mardóqueo Vásquez over to Europe for the first time; probably too late for him to make a splash at the higher level seeing as he’s now 27, but I do hope Guatemalan cycling can get a major fillip given the work they’ve had to do to clean up from the bad old days.
Zamora Enamora (Zamora) - located in a neighbouring province and one of the very top teams on the amateur calendar, this brand new team (formed from the ashes of Globalia) has made quite the splash. Former Eolo-Kometa prospect and CX rider David Domínguez has been the main results-getter for them, but 18yo Samuel Fajardo has looked very good, and they also have Sérgio Arias, 4th in the Vuelta a Costa Rica last year, as well.
There are some other teams who are pretty strong who could potentially ride, but are further removed geographically or less likely to travel to a race like this, such as Brocar-Alé, Tenerife-Bikepoint and ULevel-Safir Fruits. I guess Tecnosylva Bembibre would be a possibility as they are not too far away geographically, but Christopher Morales of Puerto Rico is probably their only key name here. Bicicletas Rodríguez-Extremadura is a high possibility as well, David González Tirado is having him a really strong season for them in his last U23 year.

Continental teams:
Obviously the Spanish-registered Electro Hiper Europa will take part; they are the only Spanish-registered team at that level this season, with Xavi Cañellas probably their main weapon, though ex-Eolo guys Alex Molenaar and Alejandro Ropero are also posisbilities.
If the timing is right with enough of a mini-calendar and not clashing with races closer to home, Matrix-Powertag could be a possibility, the Japanese team with the strongest Spanish contingent, all being long-time veterans of that scene, with Mancebo, José Vicente Toribio (who has been in Japan since 2013) and Edgar Nohales whose entire career has been on the Asia Tour.
I don’t think you can reasonably expect all 9 of the Portuguese-registered teams (10 if you include the Portuguese-Filipino Victoria Sports team), but if you can get half, you’d be happy. Louletano, Tavira and Rádio Popular are the most likely (strong Spanish contingents) but Glassdrive also have Spanish riders and they have of course the likes of Mauricio Moreira. The likes of Jesús del Pino, Vicente García de Mateos and Délio Fernández are potential contenders too, if they hold some form from August.
There’s also BAI-Sicasal-Petro de Luanda, the Angolan team that race the Volta and some of the smaller Spanish races and have a Spanish contingent alongside their African-based roster.

ProContinental teams:
I don’t think you’ll get much here, but given where they are in the season I think it would be possible especially with the addition of Neo-pros to get some. These teams would probably send four odds-and-sods from their young riders, recovering riders after injury, or afterthought riders, plus two stagiares if they take them on. Caja Rural have Caja Rural-Alea in the Elite Amateur ranks (Guillermo Silva, the Uruguayan, looks most logical to promote); Euskaltel have Laboral Kutxa (Unai Zubeldia? Iker Mintegi?) and Kern Pharma, being part of the same structure as Movistar, could grab a couple of riders out of the Galibier-Finisher team (Lizarte, the long-time sponsor, left this past off-season)(take your pick from Pablo Carrascosa, Dylan Jiménez (another Costa Rican) or either of the Aznar brothers, Unai and Hugo, who have had some great seasons). Hell, there’s even the possibility for a Spanish-heavy iteration of Eolo-Kometa, since their amateur team races in the Spanish scene, although apart from Haimar Etxeberria all of the best performers in that team this season have been the Italians.
Maybe Burgos-BH if they are the odd ones out at the Vuelta or maybe just for some of the leftover riders who didn’t get picked for the Vuelta.

Anyway, this is my explanation of why I think Spanish cycling would benefit from this kind of intermediate 2.2 type race in the late season and my justification for a Volta a Galicia that is separate from the O Gran Camiño race that Mosquera is running at present. Now let’s actually look at the proposed race.

Stage 1: Santiago de Compostela - Santiago de Compostela, 148km

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GPM:
Alto de Os Tilos (cat.3) 1,15km @ 10,5%

The geography of Galicia allows for a lot of variety in the parcours. The eastern edge heads into the Macizo Galaíco mountains and nudges up against other mountainous parts of España Verde, the León province around Ponferrada and similar, and the mountains of western Asturias (including a great many undiscovered gems for pro racing, thanks to the lack of major population centres in the area); the west is rugged coastline with low lying mountains and steep ramps. And then the centre, where we are starting, is relatively flat; the coastal area would be reminiscent of what we are used to from races in the Basque Country, but that strip of mountains out of the sea is narrower than in Euskadi and the percentage of the province on the inner flatlands is greater, meaning the route can be a bit more varied.

However I’m not really interested in starting with a flat stage, so we have this instead, a hilly stage that starts and finishes in the same place (akin to traditional stage 1s in the Itzulia), and that place is the capital of the province, Santiago de Compostela.

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With just under 100.000 inhabitants in the office city and almost double that in the metropolitan area, Santiago has its origin in the shrine of St. James, where medieval legend says that the apostle’s remains were found by a shepherd named Ermitaño Pelayo (or Pelagius the Hermit in English), and a cathedral built to mark the spot. Many of these legends are probably apocryphal or propagandistic - a number of Christian miracles or noteworthy events were reported in the era preceding and during the Reconquista, as the Spanish used Christianity as a tool to encourage support for their battle against the Moors. This is why the area appears as “Jakobsland” in the Nordic sagas, as well, and by the 12th Century it was the best known Catholic pilgrimage site outside of Jerusalem and Rome. Its iconic cathedral was constructed over the course of said century, with completion in 1211.

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The typically understated interior of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

While many of these miracles and discoveries have fallen to relative obscurity, the prominence as a Saint of James has meant that this has become a key part of both Galician and Spanish culture as a whole, with the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage - with many, many routes - being a major touristic attraction (with around 250.000 completing the pilgrimage annually, and that’s only those that complete the full Camino routes, as many hundreds of thousands of others will visit Santiago de Compostela in isolation), and the city’s old town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The remains attributed to St James were hidden in the cathedral for almost a century after the city was sacked during the Napoleonic wars, but they were found again during excavations of the cathedral site. These also uncovered remains of an earlier Roman settlement showing that the city had been settled for two millennia.

The stage is essentially comprised of a long, rolling loop around the city to the north and west, before we return for four laps of a 13,3km circuit around the city, which is likely to be suited to the puncheurs and is created with some influence from one of the Paradores series on PRC from a circuit I had been proposing as a World Championships / National Championships type route at one point when I was coming up with a few ideas for championship courses. I still think this would be a good one.

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Parque de la Alameda, by the finishing line

The finishing line is placed outside Parque de la Alameda, just outside the old town. This enables us to have a straight and safe sprint finale if there is one (I doubt there would be a full bunch sprint, but we should take precautions). Rolling terrain follows after turning southeast, and the riders will pass through O Eixo before descending down through Piñeiro to the base of the climb to Os Tilos. This short ramp includes some steep gradients that reach a maximum of 18% according to PRC, who mapped it as part of their route here. Sadly no detailed profile of the ascent was included, as this was mapped in the long-defunct Tracks4bikers site. I have not elected to go with the Ardennes-like ascents in succession but instead make Os Tilos the only obstacle on the circuit, so as to make repeated circuits more plausible but also to make it so it’s not too imbalanced a route (it’s already pretty imbalanced!), and riders of varying types stand a chance. With the final ascent coming just over 4km from the line I would expect there to be moves made on this climb on the last couple of laps.

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Cuesta de la Muerte, a road in Os Tilos which reaches up to 18%

After the summit there is a run-in which should favour the chasers - very straight and wide roads, only broken up by a few roundabouts. The final corner comes at 700m from the line and is a right hander at a roundabout with multiple lanes that could easily be turned into a fluid single turn for safety; this is especially notable as the speed should be a bit less than you might expect for a typical bunch sprint as the last 1600m are at a slight uphill (averaging around 3%) and of course it’s coming off of a 1,15km at 10% climb cresting just 4km from home, meaning a lot of sprinters and potential readout men will have been dropped or fallen from position. This should be one for the puncheurs but the run-in will give the chance to minimise those time gaps; however the race should be nicely poised after this one for the days to come. The Vuelta has finished in Santiago de Compostela twice in recent years, but we still have yet to really see what the city can offer for the sport of cycling. Here’s a nice start toward rectifying that, at least.
 
Stage 2: Vilagarcía de Arousa - A Coruña, 227km

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GPM:
Alto de Santa Leocadia / Santa Locaia (cat.3) 2,4km @ 11,1%
Alto de Suevos (cat.3) 1,5km @ 8,8%

The second stage is by far the longest, and the one that will set apart this race from the majority that the riders from the amateur scene take on. While there are some races up in the 170km-200km area on that scene, those tend to be standalone races rather than part of stage races, so this will be one where the length of the stage is going to be a key differentiator for the type of péloton that will be entering the race as we head up the west coast of the province towards the Bay of Biscay. However, many riders of this kind of level will have seen experience in races like the Volta a Portugal, which has stages like 2010’s 221km and 2017’s 215km stages to Castelo Branco, which have similar profile to this.

With 40.000 inhabitants Vilagarcía de Arousa (this is the Galego name, the Castilian is Villagarcía de Arosa) is Galicia’s 9th largest town and human settlement on this coastal spot dates back to at least two millennia before Christ. It hosted the Vuelta in back to back years recently, hosting the start of the Mirador de Ézaro stage in 2012 which followed along the coast and was definitively Unipuerto, and then the Grand Départ in 2013, as the start of the opening TTT which dramatically (and somewhat gimmicky) started with the riders rolling off of a Batea, an offshore floating structure used in the cultivation of molluscs, over a transparent ramp onto the Spanish mainland.

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Vilagarcía de Arousa is also the hometown of one of Galicia’s more successful riders of recent years, Gustavo César Veloso. Gustavo had kind of two separate careers, and interestingly they correspond to when he was known by each of his surnames. For most of his career he went by Gustavo César, as is conventional, starting out with Boavista as an espoir (finishing 8th in the Tour de l’Avenir back in 2003) and bouncing around smaller Spanish teams like Relax and Kaiku before joining the Karpin project (later Xacobeo) in his home region. Until 2008 a stage win in the Volta a Portugal was his career high point, but he managed a podium in the Tour de Langkawi, 4th in the Tour of Turkey and then a surprise win in the Volta a Catalunya that year, being in two breaks that held off the pack by a few seconds, on stages 4 and 7. He also showed that he could go from the top 10 of Spanish 2.1 races to the top 20 of WT level races in the mountains, finishing 20th on Angliru. 2009 didn’t replicate this level of success, but he did take a famous Vuelta stage win, not because he did anything too exciting but because this was the stage where Taaramäe so spectacularly exploded on Xorret del Catí, with César inheriting the win from the splintered remains of the breakaway. However, a less impressive 2010 season and the collapse of Xacobeo after the HES positives of Mosquera and García da Pena left him without a ride for 2011, and when he signed for the ailing Andalucía team in 2012, he was rusty, they were not a strong team, and the combination showed.

Then he went back to Portugal with the OFM-Valongo team, later Quinta da Lixa, later W52. He started going by his maternal surname of Veloso. And he became, as is ever the case when you’re well into your 30s, an absolute destroyer at the Volta a Portugal. Shorn of any expectations of getting past this level, he would lay it all on the line for two weeks in August. In 2013 he was leading but lost to his teammate Alejandro Marque on the final time trial. In 2014 he took the jersey on the first mountaintop and carried it to the end, winning the final TT to lay that ghost to rest. Another similar performance followed the next year (also winning the final TT but adding another - flat - stage win to make it more comprehensive), before in 2016 he was forced down to 2nd due to teammate Rui Vinhas being gifted time earlier in the race and riding out of his skin to hold off the charge of his own teammates as Veloso was less than impressed by being asked to hold back to protect Vinhas, so he won both major mountain stages and the final TT to make a point. The following year Raúl Alarcón happened so Veloso had to make do with two more stages and replicated it in 2018, but he was no longer GC relevant. Until Alarcón was biopassported, and then Veloso rose back to the podium at age 39 in 2019, and up to 2nd at 40 a year later, winning both TTs again just for good measure. He then had one last hurrah leaving the team for Tavira in 2021, before getting out before the ban hammer hit the W52 roster. To this date there is nothing against his name, but the absence post-Xacobeo after their roster busts and his performances into his late 30s in Portugal for the shadiest team Portugal has seen (and think of the ground that covers!) since LA-MSS were raided in 2008 doesn’t exactly look good. Nevertheless, he is a good example of persistence paying off for some of the journeyman amateurs in the bunch if he shows up to see the race.

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Vilagarcía de Arousa

While back in 2012, the course wrapped around the full coast, here we traverse one of the many peninsulas that link the Rías in this part of the world, crossing to Noia via a couple of uncategorised climbs, the first being 2,5km at 5% and the second 3km at 4%, in the first 30km or so, before we then follow the coast around the Praia de Carnota and past Ézaro, which of course is the base of the climb that was used as the finale back then in the Vuelta, until we arrive in Cee. This is the gateway to Cap Fisterra, which also hosted a stage in 2013, and comes via another uncategorised climb to the Miradoiro de Gures, 2,7km at 4,3%. After this we head inland, via a long and gradual, slow grind around the Dumbría area, as we head northeast for around 70km before circumnavigating a massif centred around the Carboeiro peak, ready for the final crucial 30km of the stage.

With 28km remaining, we arrive at the base of the climb to Santa Locaia, which is the Galego name for a shoulder summit on the Carboeiro massif, or Santa Leocadia in Spanish. The Mirador at the summit uses the Spanish name, but the peak is often called Coto de Santa Locaia, so go figure. I have noted both. Luís Naval, who mapped this on APM (see below profile), chose to use the local name for it, so the profile I’ve shown has that nomenclature. Either way, this is a steep and difficult punchy climb, and although it’s not close enough to the finish to definitively be decisive, it is tough enough to ensure a bit of separation, especially as many of the riders in the bunch will not be used to 220km+ stages. 2,4km at 11,1%, starting right off the bat with 100m at 16% and with 200m at 16,5% near the top, is definitely a challenging climb, comparable to the likes of Bologna-San Luca from the Giro dell’Emilia but actually a bit harder (that’s 2,1km at 9,7%) and is quite comparable to El Violeo, which is used as a final climb in the current iteration of the Vuelta a Asturias. The Muro di Montelupone is also not too far off (1,8km @ 12,3%) although that has a higher max gradient. Anyway - you can see this is not easy and, as the altimetrias.net page shows, is well paved and perfectly accessible.

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Probably cat.3 is stingy for this, El Violeo gets cat.2 in the Vuelta a Asturias and so on, but simultaneously it’s also only a 2km climb and crests 25km from home, with us then descending the longer and more gradual side back into Arteixo where we have our final intermediate sprint (some bonus seconds available to try to incentivise earlier action) at 16km from the line - but the riders aren’t in the clear yet. We have one more shorter, easier but still not easy ascent, in the form of the Alto de Suevos cresting 8km from the line. Named for a hilltop sanctuary on the shoulder of Monticaño peak, this ascent requires a brief detour away from main roads between Arteixo and Pastoriza, and checks in at 1,5km at 8,8%, a bit easier than Santa Locaia but with 800m at 11,5% early on in the climb still far from easy. It’s like a slightly easier version of La Redoute or the second half of the Villa Vergano climb used in the Lecco editions of Lombardia, so this should be selective enough to see small groups there to fight it out, or a solo move to the line.

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Santuário de los Suevos at Cueva de Pastoriza

However, the run-in to La Coruña (or A Coruña in Galego) is pretty straight and pretty wide and will favour the chase. A Coruña is, with 250.000 urban and 430.000 metro, the second largest city in Galicia, and has been settled since at least the Celtic times, with its oldest districts built atop the former site of a Celtic Castro which was overrun by the Romans in the second century BC, due to its strategic and maritime importance. This also gave the city its most abiding and iconic landmark, the Torre de Hércules, or Tower of Hercules, which is the world’s eldest extant lighthouse, having been constructed on a promontory overseeing the Golfo Ártabro in the second century AD and renovated several times since, most recently in 1791. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009. With its influence being primarily northward and along the Atlantic, the city was of little interest to post-Roman settlers and even less to the Muslim invaders - in fact it is not even known whether the Moorish conquest of Spain made it to A Coruña, but they still had to face Norman raids from the north. At the end of the 10th Century, the Torre was refurbished and a new fortress built by the King of León and Galicia, and then in 1208 a full city was re-established around the garrison town and the modern history of A Coruña begins, including a vibrant Jewish community until their expulsion in 1492, and its establishment as the Spanish port of choice for import of spices and a major textile manufacturing centre.

During the Peninsular War, a major battle took place here, known as the Battle of Elviña in Spain and the Battle of Corunna (an archaic British form of the name of A Coruña) elsewhere; this was the only city to achieve success against the Napoleonic French troops, however on the flip side it became a hub of liberalism, supporting reform in every rebellion in the 19th Century and harbouring and supporting many anti-monarchists. For much of this time it was the inferior brother of Ferrol to the north, but in the post-industrial revolution era it has rapidly dwarfed its neighbour.

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Old town A Coruña, with Torre de Hércules in the foreground on the left

However, A Coruña has been strangely absent from the menu with the recent popularity of hosting bike races in Galicia, and for most sports fans, the city is more well known for Deportivo de la Coruña, the city’s football team which went through a golden age in the mid to late 90s and into the early 2000s, winning La Liga in 2000 and the Copa del Rey in 1995 and 2002, but now falling on hard times, being relegated down to the third tier as of 2021. Apart from a sprint stage in week 3 of the 2014 Vuelta (won by John Degenkolb), there has been little recent cycling activity here at the pro level, and the tendency of the El Correo-El Pueblo Vasco days of the Vuelta to finish with Basque stages and start linking coastal resorts of the south and west meant Galicia was frequently left out of major races other than when it hosted its own race (and when the Vuelta did show up, Vigo was much more receptive and supportive than A Coruña anyway) - which for much of the 60s and 70s it did not. It does go all the way back to the 1936 Vuelta however, and riders to have raised their arms in triumph in A Coruña include local hero Délio Rodríguez in 1941 (one of his long-standing six in a row record) and 1947, Eddy Planckaert in 1982 and Marcel Wüst in 1995, as well as ITTs at the Grand Départs in 1989 and 1993, with Alex Zülle winning the latter. In the Volta a Galicia it first appears in 1933 (Samuel Meana winning, his only career win as far as I can tell), other winners including Emilio Rodríguez (Délio’s brother) in 1945 and 1947, then after the reintroduction of the race in the 1980s, José Recio (who would famously win the ‘stolen Vuelta’ stage in a two-man break with Pedro Delgado a year later) took the prologue in A Coruña in 1984, but it was not a common host, with the race preferring nearby Ferrol. Since the race went amateur again it has featured a couple of times, usually in out-and-back or circuit races, with journeyman Sérgio Herrero winning in 2004, former Relax-GAM and Caja Rural sprinter Joaquín Sobrino winning in 2005, Lucas Sebastián Haedo in 2006, US-based Cuban Luís Romero in 2007, Chilean veteran (before his shock TT Worlds result and anomalous Movistar contract) Carlos Oyarzún in 2009, former Xacobeo helper turned Supermercados Froiz journeyman José António de Segovia in 2013 and then again a year later, the most recent visit the race has had to A Coruña.

This one should see a sprint of a small group I feel, with the field splintering on the two climbs in the last 30km. The run-in sees a straight downhill false flat give way after a couple of 90º corners to a brief downhill on wide open city boulevards, before turning left at a roundabout with 1400m remaining. From here there are two curves but no real corners, before a wide open finish at the city’s Obelisco, a prominent landmark on the isthmus between the mainland and the small peninsula on which the Torre de Hércules stands. This will be a safe sprint, hopefully, and pave the way for the race to come.

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Obelisco with finishing straight in the background
 
Stage 3: Pontedeume - Ferrol, 17,8km (CRI)

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The third stage is the individual time trial of the race, a mid-length test against the clock in the northwest of the province over a rolling course designed to set time gaps ahead of the tough stages to come. It’s not a super challenging one or anything, but lord knows we need a way to ensure time gaps sometimes in modern cycling, and the ITT is, for some reason, out of vogue.

The time trial starts in the small town of Pontedeume, quite literally named as it is the site of a bridge (Ponte in Galego, but Puente in Spanish) over the Río Eume where it becomes the Ria de Ares. It has been developed into a small coastal resort town and is a popular day trip for the people of A Coruña and Ferrol, home to around 8.000 people in and of itself, and is on the Camino Inglés, one of the branches of the Camino de Santiago, so called because Scandinavian and British pilgrims would arrive in Galicia in either A Coruña or Ferrol by boat and then complete the pilgrimage from their arrival in Spain. However as the distance from A Coruña is only 75km, an official certificate would not be granted historically to those arriving in A Coruña; since 2016 this has been allowed if the pilgrim has completed 25km of pilgrimage before their transit to A Coruña, but before then, often pilgrims arriving in A Coruña would then travel by boat or horse to Ferrol in order to complete the Camino Inglés, thus passing through Pontedeume twice. The town therefore has one of the most notable pilgrim hospitals on the route.

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The start of the TT will be in Pontedeume town on the south of the river, we immediately cross the Puente de Pontedeume and across Playa Magdalena and then up a grind of 3,1km at 3,3% - not enough to not be for power men but still a bit of a stern test of power, until we reach O Camiño Grande. We then have 5km of similarly - even more gradual in fact - downhill into Perlío, before crossing the Ponte Das Pías into Ferrol.

Ferrol is officially considered part of the A Coruña conurbation, but is an entirely independent and separate city of 65.000 which is a major shipbuilding centre for Spain. This area has been settled since Phoenician times, and became established as a centre for bacalao. The old medieval centre was destroyed in 1568, and it became more of a stockpile for weaponry than a harbour under competition from neighbouring A Coruña, but it was returned to its former glory under the French Bourbon dynasty in the 18th Century and its value as a natural harbour meant it became the maritime capital, with a lot of colonial traffic directed into and out of Spain through Ferrol, and the Royal Dockyards were established in 1726. However, after the independence of the colonies, the importance of Ferrol to transatlantic traffic ceased to become so important and the city declined; its importance was regained to some extent in the 20th Century mainly ceremonially, as it was the birthplace of the dictator Francisco Franco, and was even renamed El Ferrol del Caudillo in his honour (notice the Castilian definite article there, rather than the Galician ‘O’, since although he was born in Galicia, Franco was not of local origin, rather his parents had been stationed there as they were involved in the Navy, and of course as we well know, he looked to suppress the local tongues of the separatist regions. I don’t feel we need to really go into the history of Franco the way I often get sidetracked, partly because we all kind of know the history there and also it’s just mostly pretty unpleasant. Nowadays the city is kind of regarded as the “black sheep” of Galicia, seen as a less attractive and less interesting city, where the local council are more interested in promoting it as the birthplace of PSOE founder Pablo Iglesias than its more immediately obvious political history, for reasons which should be pretty clear. There has also been an attempt to reinvent the city through the medium of graffiti, with a colourful yellow emoji-like character painted all over surfaces in the city to enliven the place with the slogan “Ferrol Mola”, or “Ferrol is cool”.

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Ferrol was last seen in a pro race in 2012, with Steve Cummings winning from the break in a transitional stage in the Vuelta, but before that we’re going back to the last pro editions of the Volta a Galicia, back in 1999-2000. Martin Garrido won the 2000 stage but the 1999 stage had to be annulled after an incident where a race moto crashed into the bunch; no riders were hurt but the motorist was tragically killed. It used to be a regular host in the earliest iteration of the Volta a Galicia, with winners here including Julián Berrendero (1935), Emilio Rodríguez (1945, 1947); after the reintroduction of the race in the 80s, it was first seen in 1989 with Othmar Häfliger victorious, Alfonso Gutiérrez won there in 1990, Mathieu Hermans in 1992, Fernando Escartín in 1993, Miguel Indurain in 1995, Ján Svorada in 1997 and Serguei Smetanine in 1998. Since the race went amateur, it has only appeared once; 2010 saw a stage here won by Alejandro Paleo, who had just been dropped by Xacobeo. In the Vuelta it first appeared in 1947 (won by little-heralded Senén Mesa) but the proximity of A Coruña has made it a rare host over the years; it wasn’t seen again until 1987 (Carlos Emiro Gutiérrez winning), and is now on a run of absence which is almost as long as that again. So it’s overdue a return to racing, and therefore here we are.
 
Stage 4: Viveiro - A Fonsagrada, 169km

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GPM:
Chao do Couso (cat.2) 10,7km @ 5,6%
Alto de A Barranca (cat.1) 4,2km @ 13,0%
Alto do Hospital (cat.1) 11,3km @ 7,1%

Stage four brings us into the mountains. Now that we’ve opened up some time gaps, it’s time to make the climbers win their time back, and they don’t get the simplicity of a mountaintop finish to do that. Oh no; this is in fact the nearest thing to a mountaintop finish in the race, with an uphill ramp into A Fonsagrada. It’s going to be a challenge for the climbers to gain time, but the opportunities are bountiful.

This stage starts on the northern coast of Galicia along the Cantabric Sea, in the town of Viveiro. Home to 16.000 people year-round, it swells to almost three times its size during holiday season and is famous for its city walls, dating back to the Black Death. It is also well known for hosting the Resurrection Fest, a rock festival which focuses specifically on punk and metal, since 2006. It was introduced to bike racing in 1945 with a stage of the original iteration of the Volta a Galicia, won by Délio Rodríguez. It wouldn’t be seen in the race again until 1985, when long-time Teka rider and two-time Vuelta stage winner Jesús Blanco won the stage. Vicente Belda won here in 1987, and then Abraham Olano in 1998. Since the race went amateur, it became a fairly common host for a few years; Samuel Soto (who briefly rode for Kelme) won in 2004, Manuel Jiménez in 2005, Sérgio Domínguez in 2007, an 18-year-old Joni Brandão in 2008, but then it was off the menu until 2019 when Patrick Videira, a former LA Aluminios rider from Portugal, won here. Viveiro has never hosted a stage finish in the Vuelta a España, but it has hosted two stage starts, first a flattish transitional stage (as much as this part of the Spanish coastline can be flat) to Luarca in 2007 which Paolo Bettini won ahead of Óscar Freire and Allan Davis - but with Davide Rebellin and Philippe Gilbert in the top 5 you can see it wasn’t a pure sprinter’s day - and then another sprinter’s day in the 2016 Vuelta which was won by Gianni Meersman. Today, however, will not be for the sprinters.

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The first 60km, however, would appear to give the lie to that. We follow the coast much in the same fashion as 2007’s stage, as far as Ribadeo, the Galician town on the side of the Ria de Ribadeo, which is where the Río Eo meets the Atlantic. Sitting across the bay from Castropol and Figueras, and at the opposite end of the Ria from Vegadeo, its Asturian counterpart, this is the northeastern most corner of Galicia, and where it meets Asturias. For much of this part of the border the Eo functions as said demarcation, so we follow along the Galician bank of the river - however there is a brief section where we actually do set foot, or at least tyre, in the neighbouring province, as there are a small number of villages on the west bank of the river that are in Asturias at one point in this stretch of river, most notably Sobrelavega, and also a second stretch where the N-640, the road which we are following, crosses the river to take advantage of less steep mountainside rising out of the river’s valley on the Asturian side for a couple of kilometres, before we return to Galicia and the west of the Eo in time for the categorised climbing to begin.

Chao do Couso is the first climb of the day, and I’ve given it cat.2 status but it is debatably worthy of cat.1 for a smaller race like this; I preferred to calculate on cronoescalada just the steep part of the climb and taking out the initial false flat and then descent, but I couldn’t find a decent profile of that and have relied on Marcos Folgueira’s profile of the full road for detail. As you can see, the early part of the climb is gradual and multi-stepped, alternating short repechos and flat, before a gradual downhill into Vilaforman. After this things step up considerably - the last 7km average 7,5%, dramatically steepening into the antepenultimate and penultimate kilometres which are very steep, including an entire kilometre where the gradient never lets up below 12% once. However, cresting with 76km remaining it is unlikely to cause too much action, and the descent into A Pontenova is very comfortable and straightforward, being by far the most gradual side of the climb. After an intermediate sprint in A Pontenova, around 15km of rolling terrain (which happens to incorporate the uncategorised Alto de Vilarmide, 2km at 6,8% but looking very unthreatening on the profile compared to what’s coming) ensue, before we turn left onto a narrow road which…just takes a turn straight up a mountain face, or so it seems.

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We join at the junction marked for Vilarmide around 2km in[//i]

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Thanks again to Marcos Folgueira for mapping and photographing the climb!!!

Yep, this one is going to be brutal and, cresting at 39km from the line, it might still be a bit far out to entice too much action in terms of attacking, but a strong pace here in the kind of field likely to enter a race like this, and we could well see things taken to pieces. The first kilometre of climbing averages over 15% - this is Angliru-tastic. The three kilometres at just over 12% afterwards are the “respite”. This is the kind of thing Javier Guillén gets a warm and fuzzy feeling about - comparable ascents that I can suggest would be Mas de la Costa (3,9km @ 12,7%) and Les Praeres (3,9km @ 13,0%) - only unlike them (and probably why Guillén hasn’t visited), this one isn’t a mountaintop finish, with almost nothing at the summit; instead it’s 6km of false flat down to the Alto de Ouviaña, and then we again descend the dullest side of this climb (there are some solid cat.1/2 borderline ones) into Chao do Pousadoiro, home of many a proposal on PRC seeing as it connects to the Alto do Couso as well. However, I’m not going for the medium length and steep climb that that is; instead we’re going for a more classic cat.1 type ascent, the Alto do Hospital, also known as the Alto de Muradal.

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As you can see, this is very much a cat.1 climb in the traditional vein, and also has a good shape for racing at least at the lower levels where trains are fewer in number and lower in potency, with the steepest parts low down, with that near 5km at 9,7% tramo to deal with. The summit of this ascent is at just 10km from the line as well, so we have plenty of opportunity to make time - and just to add insult to injury there is no descent to speak of, only a little bit of downward sauntering and then flat before a punchy ascent up to the line. The intention is to replicate (for the 8520th time) the finish style of the 2008 Giro Pescocostanzo stage because as you all know, I adore that stage and its design; another comparable would be the 2020 Tour stage to Villard-de-Lans or the 2017 Tour stage to Station des Rousses - although the ascent to Alto do Hospital is actually tougher than any of those penultimate ascents (or last categorised ascent in the last example’s case); the difficulty of the overall stage probably bears the most resemblance to the 2020 stage but the actual style of the climbs is perhaps more related to the Giro one.

Anyhow, this should give us plenty of scope for action in the last 45km, as the steep ramps of A Barranca ought to rid us of most helpers and then we can have some Mano a Mano action on Hospital on a more traditional style of climb, before a chase down scenario can hopefully develop in the final kilometres. As ever, PRC had investigated this run-in before me, as part of their series of proposals using the Cruz de Barreiros climb near A Pontenova, utilising a similar run-in but using that instead of A Barranca (which also increases the distance from the penultimate to the final categorised climb), as seen here. The run-in to A Fonsagrada appears to stack up to 1,1km at 7,3% or just under, the final kilometre averages that and the climb is slightly longer, as shown here:

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This should mean that there is the possibility to open up some gaps in the finale if the time gaps are small at least, but there’s nothing like enough challenge there - no major gradients at all - to encourage riders to leave it until that late on, so this should be blown to pieces long before we reach A Fonsagrada, a high plateau town of 5.000 on the Camino Primitivo route of the Camino de Santiago, from Oviedo to Palas de Rei. The pilgrim hospital at Montouto here is in fact what gives this mountain area the name of Serra do Hospital, and indeed why the climb we have included has that name too. The relatively isolated location means that it had not been used in pro cycling until the last edition of the pro Volta a Galicia, with 2000’s race featuring a stage from Santiago de Compostela to A Fonsagrada which was won from a small group by David Etxebarría, approaching from the west so over a less challenging penultimate climb than we have but with the same punchy finale. The only other cycling connection it has was as the stage start for the 2006 mountain stage to La Cobertoria, a pretty tough multi-col stage of the kind we don’t see enough of nowadays; eventual GC winner Alexandre Vinokourov took the stage win ahead of race leader Alejandro Valverde and Vino’s teammate and brother in arms Andrey Kashechkin; the trio in the same order would make up the GC podium after three weeks and I would go on to pick Kash as one of my domestiques in the Doping Draft. After Sastre and Gómez Marchante, there’s a laundry list of villains of the era as well here - the next rider after them who hasn’t failed a test at least once is Stijn Devolder in 10th, with di Luca, Triki Beltrán, Piepoli and Samu Sánchez in between, then Tom Danielson in 11th.

So across that top 11, you have Vino (1 ban), Piti (no positives but a ban due to being involved in the Puerto raids), Kash (1 ban), di Luca (3 bans, two for positives and one for involvement in Oil For Drugs, currently banned for life), Beltrán (1 ban), Piepoli (1 ban), Sánchez (all of which were career enders as they were 37, 36 and 39 respectively when they tested positive), and Danielson (2 bans, one for a positive and one for involvement in the Armstrong case). And then looking at that 2000 Volta a Galicia stage, Etxebarría is at Liberty Seguros when he suddenly stops riding in June 2006 and retires soon after, which screams Puerto to anybody who knows anything about the era; David Clinger is 2nd, banned for life for two separate doping offences in a short period of time; Piepoli is 4th; Heras is 5th… yea. Not a great record you’d say. The Spanish amateur and semi-pro scene might not be the cleanest in the world, but surely we can do better than that to improve the town’s standing in the sport?

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Stage 5: Lugo - Xinzo de Límia, 169km

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GPM:
Pico da Costa (cat.3) 5,3km @ 4,7%
Alto Alenza (cat.2) 11,0km @ 5,4%

This one is the sprinters’ stage, or at least the nearest approximation to one that I could create within the flow of the race while including the obstacles I wanted to. In much the same fashion as a Vuelta al País Vasco flat stage, it isn’t truly flat, but then it’s not like Spain and Portugal, the two countries from which I would anticipate the vast majority of the péloton will come, at least in terms of teams if not in terms of homelands, are renowned for their sprinters and their sprint-heavy routes, with the variety of hilltop towns, religious pilgrimage sites and castles that make up such a significant proportion of the race hosts in the Iberian peninsula.

We start in Lugo, with a population of 100.000 making it the fourth biggest city in Galicia, one of its provincial capitals, and the only city in the world whose Roman walls are entirely intact, thus completely encircling the city. This fact has helped make the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, along with the Roman-era Puente Romano which crosses the Miño in the city centre. The city’s name and architectural heritage derives from the Roman city of Lucus Augusti, established in 13BC (making it the oldest extant city in the region) on the site of a military garrison in the land of the Capori Celtic tribe, and growing rapidly importance owing to its central location within a gold mining area. It is also a pilgrimage site, like Santiago de Compostela, but to a much lesser extent; the cathedral has a rare privilege of being allowed to expose the consecrated host to the public at all times, and as a result it has become a popular stop-off or detour for pilgrims en route to Santiago. It is also one of the more pro-Galego cities in the region, as traditionally Spanish dominates in the cities and Galego in the towns and villages, but in Lugo there’s a roughly 50-50 split. It is also the birthplace of the father of Fidel Castro (!).

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With that kind of regional prominence and a central location it is no surprise to learn that Lugo has hosted copious editions of the main bike races through the area. It was in the very first Volta a Galicia, with early Spanish racing favourite Salvador Cardona winning the stage here to underpin his GC victory. Fermín Trueba won the stage to Lugo in 1935, which was from Monforte and is likely to have included a considerable amount of climbing considering La Pulga de Torrelavega was literally the man for whom the King of the Mountains competition was created. Emilio Rodríguez won here in 1945 and 1947, then after the relaunch of the race in the 80s, Alfonso Gutiérrez won a stage into Lugo and Jokin Mujika won an ensuing stage starting and finishing in the city in 1984, Laurent Jalabert won here in 1993 and Giorgio Furlan followed suit in 1995. Since the race went amateur, the city has been off the menu in the Volta, but that’s not to say that the city has been quiet when it comes to cycling.

The city had sporadic interest from larger races - it was introduced to the Vuelta a España in 1965 with Rik van Looy winning a sprint, and has since been seen in 1982 (won by Eddy Planckaert) and 1985 (again Planckaert victorious), but it has become less infrequent since, with Vinokourov winning here in 2006 with a surprising late attack that foiled the sprinters, and a stage finish in 2016 that was won by Gianni Meersman, as well as hosting the start of an intermediate stage in 2020 that was won by Tim Wellens. Moral of the story: if you want to succeed in the Vuelta in Lugo, be Belgian. In addition to this, the city hosted the départ of the Portuguese short stage race the GP Paredes Rota dos Moveis in 2009 (Manuel Ortega of Andalucía-CajaSur winning), and also the start of the first stage of 2023’s O Gran Camiño, a stage which was annulled with 20km remaining due to the péloton being upset at the poor weather conditions and feeling empowered by cowardice after Adam Hansen got elected to be the riders’ representative. The city also hosts its own amateur race, the GP San Froilán, whose winners historically include Délio Rodríguez, Faustino Rupérez, Álvaro Pino, Ángel Arroyo and Mathieu Hermans. From 2009 to 2014 there was also a Volta as Comarcas de Lugo, which was a small amateur race over three days which centred around the city, the biggest name winner was the final one, as former Saunier Duval and Footon-Servetto man Pedro Merino, back on the amateur scene with Supermercados Froiz, won two stages and the GC. Depending on your stance on Carlos Oyarzún - he is still around and has been doing notable things as a Continental Pro in Portugal for many years, but his stint at the top was shorter. And in 2011 it was one of the 350 races won by notorious late-starter and super-doper José Belda.

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La Vuelta setting off from Lugo

We head through Sarria early, host of a time trial in the 2022 O Gran Camiño race won by Mark Padun, and then up a gradual, uncategorised climb to Alto da Valiña, 4,5km at 4,3%. A long flat stretch takes us through Monforte de Lemos, a fairly well known town to the Volta a Galicia, hosting stages in 1990 (won by Nico Emonds), 1997 (Silvio Martinello), 1999 (Jeroen Blijlevens), 2017 twice (Martín Lestido and César Martingil) and 2018 (Cesc Zurita). This then leads us to a couple of categorised climbs into and out of the Sil valley, which are far enough from the finish to not be relevant to the final outcome but will likely be sustained enough to burn off some sprinters - although likely not too many that will have lined up for this race because they should have looked at the parcours before they arrived if they’re not able to survive these. The first climb is pretty gradual - just under 5% for just over 5 kilometres - and then the second is a more serious affair, 11 kilometres of climbing, not very steep - very much a diesel climb - but long enough to definitely merit cat.2. There are some 80km remaining at the summit, hence why I say it won’t be particularly decisive, but it’s not to be underestimated.

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Castro Caldelas, shortly before the summit

As we’re climbing out of a deep river gorge, there is no descent to speak of, instead there’s 20km of high plateau before a bit of a descent into a lower plateau for the final intermediate sprint in Maceda. There is an uncategorised climb of 3km at 5,3% that crests 33km from the summit, to Cerdeira, but this is very consistent and not particularly challenging, I do not think this will burn off any but the most miserable of climbers, and if they survived Alenza then they likely aren’t miserable enough climbers to be dropped at Cerdeira. There is actually a faster route - multiple ones in fact - to get to Xinzo de Límia, but I didn’t want the climb to be that decisive because this is the best chance for fast men, or potentially baroudeurs if no sprinters are around and given some time loss will have been had. Also, arriving in Xinzo de Límia from the south as we do from here means a much safer run-in with no road furniture. Winning.

Xinzo de Límia (Ginzo in Castellano) is a service-oriented city which has a population of around 10.000. It is a stop-off point on the Vigo-Madrid highway and also served as a hub for agricultural market production, with much dairy production and potato cultivation in the surrounding area. The Límia river here is the source of a myth repeated since pre-Roman times, about crossing the river costing a man his memory, akin to the Lethe in Greek mythology (thanks, Wikipedia). Strangely for a town of this size in this area, I can’t actually see that it has ever hosted a bike race, likely because races from places like Vigo and Ourense that passed through Xinzo would often finish in Verín, however I was loath to include a descent right into the finish town in a sprint stage, so chose Xinzo instead. Also that reduces transfers, a key feature for races with smaller size and budget teams.

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Stage 6: Ourense - Pontevedra, 156km

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GPM:
Alto do Paraño (cat.3) 10,5km @ 4,1%
Monte Castrove (cat.2) 6,4km @ 7,3%
Coto Retondo-Lago Castaneiras (cat.2) 4,0km @ 8,9%
Monte da Fracha (cat.2) 5,0km @ 7,8%

Now we’re in the kind of terrain the Spanish amateur scene knows well: lots and lots of medium-sized mountains of varying steepnesses. This one should be a good stage, as we head back toward the coast. I originally wanted to put a stage finish in Ourense, as I am a big fan of the Costiña de Canedo climb just outside the city, a short and very steep - but absolutely ramrod straight - ramp just north of the river. However, I just couldn’t make it fit without adding stages and this race is already at more or less the max distance that would be reasonable for a tour of a single province like this. It was an essential city to include on the route, however, as it has a long history with the sport of cycling.

Ourense is the capital of its own eponymous province and is the third largest city in Galicia with 105.000 inhabitants, and was established on the site of hot springs discovered by the Romans. However, it was destroyed by the Moors in 716 in one of their northernmost raids during the conquest of Iberia, and then after the King of Asturias rebuilt it, destroyed once more by a combination of Norse raiders and the Moors afterward. It took until the 12th Century for it to be rebuilt and redeveloped. Few remains other than the hot springs and the 6th-Century cathedral (the second oldest in Galicia, although most of it is a 13th-Century reconstruction) exist of the earlier cities, but it’s now split into three parts, the medieval, the 19th century industrial revolution era expansion, and the modern service industry areas. It is a stop off on both the eastern branch of the Camino Portugués and the main Ruta de la Plata branches of the Camino de Santiago, and is the city of origin for the Iglesias family that gave the world singers Julio and Enrique. Julio’s father - also named Julio - was in fact famous in his own right, a well known doctor who was kidnapped by ETA in 1981. It is also the birthplace of goalkeeper Miguel Ángel González, usually known by his forenames, who spent 18 years manning the sticks at Real Madrid from 1968 to 1986 and also played 18 times for the Spanish national team.

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The city was the destination of the very first stage of the original Volta a Galicia back in 1933, won by Federico Ezquerra. Two years later Mariano Cañardo won a similar stage, and in 1945 it featured at the end of the penultimate stage before the last stage was around the city (Julián Berrendero won the former, and local favourite Délio Rodríguez the latter), and then Délio’s brother Emilio won here two years later. During the professional run of the Volta in the 80s and 90s, winners here included Miguel Indurain in 1988, Malcolm Elliott in 1989, Max van Heeswijk in 1995 and Paolo Bettini in 1999. It’s been less common in the amateur version of the race but we have seen it in 2006 (won by José Belda). It was introduced to the Vuelta a España in 1947, with Félix Adriano winning a stage from Vigo to Ourense; Miguel Gual won there a year later, Frans de Mulder in 1960, Txomin Perurena in 1967, Sean Kelly in 1980 and again in 1985, Malcolm Elliott in 1988, Laurent Jalabert in 1993 and 1995, and Tim Wellens in 2020; the city also hosted the Grand Départ in 2016, with Team Sky winning a (ugh) Team Time Trial. There was also a short-lived GP Ciudad de Ourense in the early 2010s, with former Caja Rural and Burgos-BH man Ibai Salas, Airán Fernández (who was in his last amateur year before heading to Asia where he spent eight years with Matrix-Powertag) and Gustavo Rodríguez Iglesias winning the three stages. Rodríguez is an interesting character, he was 34 at the time; he had a few years in Portugal before dropping to the amateur ranks, before coming back with Xacobeo-Galicia, but after they dipped, he returned to the amateur ranks with Vigo-Rías Baixas… two years later, despite no known suspension.

This stage takes influence from two noteworthy sources, at least indirectly. The first is the 2014 Vuelta stage to Monte Castrove, a mostly flat stage with a double-climb of the final climb which is just outside Pontevedra (or, to be honest, more accurately I was more influenced by the initial design of that stage, which descended the climb and finished back in Pontevedra, in similar fashion to the double climb of El Vivero in the Bilbao stage in 2011), and a PRC proposal that was part of their Paradores series that introduced me to the doublette of Coto Retondo and Monte da Fracha. I had actually forgotten this particular design at the time when I first put together proposals for this stage - I felt Pontevedra was an essential stop-off - but as an initial draft for the final stage had included Coto Retondo, as I was hunting out ways to use it, I dug up that PRC proposal and this was the redesign that ensued as I looked to combine elements of both to create a strong medium-mountain finish. Sadly for what I was aiming for, doing the southern loop first would neutralise racing on all but Castrove and extend the flat run-in, so the ending is kind of cribbed from the PRC stage, if not wholesale, then at least mostly unchanged. They put that stage together all the way back in 2010, just for the record.

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The early part of my stage is easier than PRC’s, but the end is tougher. Plus the fact of the matter is that they were thinking about an elite pro level one-day race in their proposal, whereas I’m thinking of a stage within a pro-am mixed field race. I mean, the first 30k is the same, I just haven’t bothered to categorise the drag up to Maside - it’s around 7-8km but averages less than 4% - and then instead of descending into the valley of the Rio Avia, I have chosen to stick to the high plateau, and utilise the gradual - but now long enough to be categorisation-worthy - ascent to Paraño as my main climbing in the first half of the stage. It’s then a long and gradual downhill to return from around 800m altitude down to sea level when we first pass through Pontevedra at 68km from the line.

Although it is a provincial capital, Pontevedra has long been overshadowed by its larger neighbour Vigo to the south, and this has meant that it has not seen the Vuelta a España often; at least, not as a stage town. It wasn’t seen until 1965, when the Grand Départ was in Vigo and stage 2 started in Pontevedra before heading up to Lugo where Rik van Looy won; it had a similar role in 1967, although the second stage on that occasion was a tougher stage to Ourense won by Txomin Perurena. It then didn’t appear until 1980, when Étienne de Wilde won a stage into Pontevedra mid-race as Galicia featured heavily in that year’s edition, now that the traditional homelands of the Basque region were off the cards. After that, however, it would be a long wait for Pontevedra until the Vuelta would return - 2011 in fact, in a stage with a bumpy profile but a flat run-in, which suited stage winner Peter Sagan down to the ground. In 2012 it hosted the ITT, won by Fredrik Kessiakoff and including some ramps of the O Castrove ascent, and then it hosted the start of the Monte da Groba stage on day 2 of the 2013 race, Nicolas Roche triumphing and taking the red jersey that day. And of course it was meant to host the 2014 race before the stage was redesigned to finish atop Monte Castrove. It has however been a part of the Volta a Galicia since the very start, with stage winners here including Agustín González, António Escuriet, Emilio Rodríguez, Igor González de Galdeano, Manuel Vázquez Hueso and Jorge Cubero.

Although Marcos António Serrano (from Redondela) is often erroneously referred to as being from Pontevedra, perhaps the best known rider from the city is 2013 Volta a Portugal winner Alejandro Marque, who has spent pretty much his whole career toiling away in Portugal. Not a Puerto import, he had jumped across to the neighbours’ yard early, and bounced around Boavista, Loulé and Tavira for a few years as largely a rouleur and time trial specialist and although a few results like 12th in San Luís in 2009 and 14th in Asturias in 2010 showed he was no mug in the mountains, he nevertheless never realistically considered GC riding until 2012 when he was already 30; in 2013 he contrived to join the Valongo team that would become W52 (at this point it was OFM-Valongo) and he and Gustavo César Veloso wreaked havoc on the race with the latter the main threat, but on the final day Marque turned around a 32” deficit on the ITT to win the GC by a mere four seconds. It actually was the worst thing for him as it attracted the attention of Eusebio Unzué - he got signed to Movistar, only for Euskaltel to collapse. This meant after a positive test for a substance he had a TUE for got leaked prematurely to the press, that contract was torn up allowing Movistar to free those funds up to sign Igor Antón on the cheap, and Marque returned to the amateur ranks as his name was tainted, only to reappear in Portugal in 2015 with Efapel and hit the podium again. From 2017 onward he would be the leader for the Tavira team, scoring 5th in 2017, 8th in 2020 and then 3rd and 5th once more in 2021 and 2022 before eventually retiring just shy of his 42nd birthday.

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Pontevedra (derived from a Galician term for ‘old bridge’) is an old Roman city that had an origin myth back to Greek times, although the old bridge that gave it its name is long gone, and the current one (the Puente del Burgo) is a 12th-Century replacement; during the intervening period Pontevedra grew to become one of the most important trading hubs in Galicia and was the second largest old town in the province after Santiago. Silting from the Lérez river gradually made the harbour less usable and it lost its importance to Vigo, and it would gradually decline until being connected to the railway in the 1830s, whereupon it would see a significant revival in its fortunes. It became the epicentre of Galician regionalist culture, but also for this same reason this cultural importance to the region was then brought crashing to a halt by Franco, who gave Free Zone and Development Pole status to Vigo which positioned it as a rival to Pontevedra, which it swiftly outgrew; since the end of the dictatorship, Pontevedra has started to redress that balance, and it has also become a popular tourist destination in Galicia in recent years, following extensive pedestrianisation and urban planning that have maximised the natural beauty of the city, taking advantage of its strengths and highlighting its preserved architecture and green spaces. This is part of why the city came back onto the Vuelta’s agenda in the 2010s, in fact.

So after passing through Pontevedra, we have two circuits around the city; one based on the 2014 Vuelta stage, and then one similar to the 2010 PRC proposition. First up is Monte Castrove, which hosted an MTF in the Vuelta which was won by Fabio Aru, as Chris Froome gained time on the trio that had bested him two years earlier, Valverde, Rodríguez and Contador, in the battle between the two 2014 Tour favourites who had crashed out in week 1.


The climb is a pretty standard cat.2 fare; it’s middling in length (6,4km) and middling in average gradient (7,3%), but with steeper ramps near the top, maxing out at 14-15%. Cresting 57km from home I don’t expect it to be too significant in the battle for the win but it might get rid of some of the support squads.

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We then have a longer, more gradual descent back to the coast, and then around 10km flat to return to Pontevedra for the second intermediate sprint. We then follow the Ria de Pontevedra coast for a few kilometres to Marín, for the final intermediate sprint just 7km later. This town of 25.000 hosted the start of the Mirador de Ézaro stage in the 2016 Vuelta, and has appeared on occasion in the Volta a Galicia, most notably in 1987 when two-time Vuelta stage winner Ángel Camarillo won. The city’s main connection to the sport however is as the hometown of David García da Pena, a long-time veteran of the Portuguese domestic team who became one of the more prominent Karpin/Xacobeo-Galicia riders from 2007 to 2010; he got a decent GC position in the 2007 Vuelta (23rd) aided by being in some week 3 breaks that were allowed to go, and in 2008 he upped the ante by winning the Tour of Turkey and also taking a stage from the breakaway in the Vuelta, en route to 14th overall as he supported long-time running buddy Ezequiel Mosquera. 2009 saw him once again finish 23rd in the Vuelta, and he also finished on the podium of the Tour of Turkey in defence of his title, as well as winning the Vuelta a la Rioja. Most notably he also finished 2nd on the Alto de Velefique MTF, being outsprinted by Ryder Hesjedal at the summit. 2010 was a bit quieter outside of the Vuelta (and a surprise top 20 in E3), but he went crazy in the Vuelta, being one of the best domestiques in the entire race and the last man left for Mosquera on Bola del Mundo, proving as good a domestique as the likes of Roman Kreuziger and still being in the group when even teams like Cervélo, Saxo Bank and Katyusha were down to their isolated leaders. Of course, it was too good to be true, and the 33-year-old journeyman tested positive for HES, a common masking agent; retesting showed traces of EPO in his samples, and he was promptly banned, never to return.

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The Hausberg of Marín is the Coto Redondo, or the Alto de Cotorredondo in Castilian (similar to how Coto Bello becomes Alto del Cotobello in Asturias). This is a pretty challenging climb, although we aren’t going all the way to the summit, instead just to the junction at Lago Castiñeiras on the profile, named for the artificial lake created in 1950 as part of the construction of a new road to access a reforestation area in one of Galicia’s oldest forest parks. However this does mean that, cresting at 24km from the line, we have around 4km at 9% and some really inconsistent gradients which get all the way up to 19% at times - early on as well - and give us some real tough climbing - not super long, but reminiscent of stages like the País Vasco El Vivero stages as an example.

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They then descend down toward the outskirts of Pontevedra, specifically the village of Marcón, just in time for a final climb - doubling these back to back - to Monte da Fracha. This one is… well, the tough part isn’t very long, but it’s very severe. We are climbing this profile, up to the junctions at the 5km mark, where we turn left to head back down toward the city - however with 2km at over 13% on top of the gradual buildup to the finish, and with this cresting 10km from the finish, this is definitely potentially decisive. 2km at 13,7% is crazy tough, this is like… maybe not quite Muro di Sormano level but it isn’t that far off. It’s similar to the last section of the Collado de Ballesteros that was used in the 2021 Vuelta stage to Pico Villuercas (where they descended the side they later used for the MTF) or the Fort de la Bastille from the 2023 Dauphiné. Only with a descent back to the line. This now allows us a fast and furious charge back to the line in Pontevedra where we will now have the GC set up ready for a final day showdown.

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Looking down on Pontevedra from Monte da Fracha
 
Stage 7: Vigo - Vigo, 148km

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GPM:
Monte da Groba (cat.2) 11,4km @ 5,5%
Monte Aloia (cat.1) 9,5km @ 6,3%
Alto de San Cosme (cat.2) 5,4km @ 6,8%
Alto de A Madroa (cat.2) 2,6km @ 8,0%

The final stage is around Galicia’s biggest city - and strangely is shorter and arguably easier than the amateur race that follows this route too. More on that in a bit though. We are here in Vigo, a city of around 300.000 (and around half a million in its extended metropolitan area), one of the most important economic hubs in this part of Spain and the largest city of the province. It wasn’t always thus - in fact compared to most of the traditional cities we’ve visited on this route, Vigo might even be the youngest, having only been a small village settlement until the 15th Century. Nevertheless, it was large enough to be considered a city by the late 16th, when Francis Drake attacked it in retribution for the attacks on Britain by the Spanish Armada. A few years later the Turks attempted to attack the city, and as it was a relatively new city that had not had existing fortifications built as part of its structure, Felipe IV commanded the construction of new city walls, most of which survive to this day. They were effective, but did not stop the British/Dutch alliance from successfully capturing French and Spanish vessels carrying riches and resources in the Battle of Vigo Bay in 1702, an early naval battle in the Guerra de sucesión Española. The Brits would return 17 years later and occupy the city temporarily in a show of power after a Spanish fleet used Vigo as its departure point en route to supporting the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. The city has grown rapidly in the 20th Century, especially under Franco as, as mentioned in the last stage, he declined to award the Industrial Development Zone title to Pontevedra despite its provincial capital status as punishment for the Galician regionalist sentiment harboured there, so Vigo was preferred. Nevertheless, the awkward geography of the city - hills to the east, sea to the west and north, and long stretches of tourist-friendly beaches well separated from the central fortifications - led to unstructured development and the city is now an odd, elongated shape having swallowed other urban areas especially to its southwest, but with most amenities concentrated in the new city centre which is to the east of the old town, with the beaches and resort facilities separated from the main body of the city by a long thin industrial strip which is undergoing redevelopment, meaning buses and lengthy walks proliferate for much of the city’s population. The post-Franco boom in regionalist sentiment and economic shifts hit Vigo hard, but it recovered well, and even saw its own equivalent of the Movida Madrileña, known as A Movida Viguesa, with the counter-cultural art and alternative music scenes of this part of the country rapidly converging on Vigo.

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As can probably be imagined, as the largest city in the province, it is also the least Galego-speaking, with just 7,7% speaking exclusively Galician, and over half using Spanish only. The city has also attracted significant minority populations from Latin America, with the number of Venezuelans swelling in recent years in particular, but there are also many Portuguese and Brazilians who use their own tongue as well to obfuscate the linguistic statistics.

Vigo has a long history in the sport; it dates back in the Vuelta to 1936, when Vicente Carretero won, and has been a common stop-off point for the race ever since whenever it heads through Galicia. Other winners include Délio Rodríguez in 1941, René Vietto in 1942, Rik van Looy in 1965, Jan Janssen in 1967, António Esparza in 1987, Alfonso Gutiérrez in 1993, and Daniele Bennati in 2007. The Volta a Galicia has been coming here since its very beginning; Federico Ezquerra won there back in the first edition in 1933, when it finished the final stage, and subsequent stages to Vigo were won by the likes of Fermín Trueba (1935), Délio Rodríguez (1945), Alfonso Gutiérrez (1984), Acácio da Silva (1988), Laurent Jalabert (1995) and Gianluca Bortolami (1997) during its pro years, but it’s not been so common since the race went amateur, only appearing in 2004, 2005 and 2013, with the latter being won by Benjamí Prades, probably the highest profile of the three winners.

Do not think, however, that this means Vigo is appearing less in cycling. It has hosted a lot of its own one-day races too. The first dates back to 1940, won by Délio Rodríguez, and brought back in the late 50s when Rik van Looy was the most prominent victor. In 2001, a smaller one-day race, the GP Cidade de Vigo, was introduced, being over around 150km in late August after the Volta a Portugal, and running until 2006 as a pro race (highest profile winner being the inaugural victor, Pavel Brutt), before going amateur from 2007 to 2019, with winners including veterans of the scene like José António de Segovia and Ángel Vallejo, and Venezuelan exile Leangel Linárez. From 2004 to 2007 there was also a parallel one-day race that ran the day before, making it a weekend of racing in the city, with Jacek Morajko the most prominent winner. A new version of this diptych was set up from 2012 to 2019, and winners of the new version included Frederico Figueiredo in 2012, Marino Kobayashi in 2015 and, then, they reintroduced it in 2021 when another Venezuelan import, Ricardo Zurita, won. It also hosted a stage of the GP Paredes Rota dos Movéis in 2007 and a stage of O Gran Camiño in 2022, with Magnus Cort victorious. There have been a few other iterations of criterium races over the years, most notably in the 1980s when Jesús Blanco and Alfonso Gutiérrez won multiple times. The most recent introduction is the Vigo Copa de España race which was introduced in 2021 and features a steep and dramatic climb to A Madroa as a Flèche Wallonne styled finale. It’s a different side of A Madroa than I am using later, but this is a pretty tough - and over 180km makes it long and difficult for the amateur calendar - race.

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2023’s race was won by Guatemalan prospect Sérgio Chumil, ahead of young Finisher (Movistar feeder) rider Hugo Aznar and Telco’m leader Marc Cabedo, you can see the full stream here:


Vigo is also an area being developed for its tourist potential by modern Spanish and Galician governments; the airport is being expanded to deal with more budget flights, and also as a gateway for northern Portugal. The city also has a warmer climate than most of Galicia, thanks primarily to the Ría de Vigo being better protected from the winds across the Atlantic by the premier tourist attraction for the city, this being the Illas Cíes, or the Cíes Islands, a scenic archipelago that is home to a number of rare birds and plants, with its waters bountiful with dolphins and turtles, and which is only accessible in summer via ferry from Vigo and a couple of other smaller towns. The number of visitors is strictly limited; there is one campsite but tickets can only be booked from the port in Vigo, and ferry purchasers must also obtain a QR code to be scanned to show they have been booked in through the official channels. It has been a natural park since 1980 and is very strictly protected - no bins exist on the island, even in the bar/cafe at the harbour, so all rubbish must be brought back to the mainland. The terrain is manageable even for novice hikers, and the beaches are some of the best in Spain, thanks to the protected status and strict enforcement of rules around numbers and behaviours.

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While the beaches of the Illas Cíes may be the most dramatic, it’s not like the mainland doesn’t have options, and we will actually be starting from Praia de Samil, the largest and most popular urban beach in the city, to the west of the city centre. We will hug the coastline for the first part of the stage, for around 20km until we arrive at Baiona, base of our first climb of the day - and our most gradual, although it has been a mountaintop finish in no less a race than the Vuelta a España, back in 2013 when Nicolas Roche won to take the red jersey. It’s a scenic climb with amazing views down to the coast, but it’s not the hardest climb you’ll ever see. Descending from here takes us down to the banks of the Minho, which serves as the border between Spain and Portugal for this part of the country, strangely where there is something of a narrow river crossing as opposed to the wider Rías further north. We follow the river round to Tui, known as Tuy in its Spanish form for the Franco era, connected to the Portuguese town of Valença by two bridges and the capital of O Baixo Miño comarca and an occasional host of the Volta a Galicia, with stages won by Íñaki Gastón in 1987, Álvaro Pino in 1988 and Frank van den Abeele in 1991. The second half of the stage is much heavier and harder for the riders, however.

While the real life race climbs Monte Aloia from the main road route, we take a smaller alternative via the Alto de San Fins. On the raw stats it seems longer and less steep but those stats only tell half the story. The regular route is 7,1km @ 7,8%, while our version is 9,5km @ 6,3% - but, that’s with a kilometre of descent in it. The final 3km of the Alto de San Fins average 10,7%, including two 20% ramps and at one point 450m averaging 16%. After the descent there is a final 2,7km at 7,5% with a toughest stretch of 590m at 9,5%. I’ve given it cat,1 for the overall climb but it could be arguably cat.2. However I’d almost certainly give San Fins in and of itself cat.2 so adding that final ramp I felt merited the cat.1 status. It crests 51km from home so it’s not super obviously an attack platform, but it’s the last day so we could see hell break loose.

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We then have a 12km descent down via Chenlo to Mosende, and then in to a second meta volante in O Porriño, home of the architect António Palacios and host of a couple of stages of the Volta a Galicia; Gianni Bugno is the most prominent winner here, winning a stage in 1993 ahead of Johan Bruyneel. It has been used a couple of times in the amateur era too, with Fernando Torres winning here in 2002, Dmitry Puzanov and Asier Estévez in 2009, and Francisco Campos in 2016. This then serves as the base of the penultimate ascent of the race, the Alto de San Cosme. This is a stop-off on the tougher route to Mirador de Herbille, which served as the final HTF in the 2021 Vuelta a España, a dramatic stage which had drastic impact on the GC, though none as significant as Miguel Ángel López, 3rd on GC two days from the finish, having a disagreement with his team car, team manager Eusebio Unzué personally intervening, and causing López to get off and quit the race in full view of TV cameras in dramatic style. As a result, though, it means that some of the challenge of the climb gets a bit overlooked. That 2km at 11,2% toward the end of the climb is going to have some action I would suspect. Although again, 38km remain at the summit.

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Then, however, we are descending back down toward Vigo itself and we will finish with one and a half laps of a 21km circuit. This circuit could have been a bit shorter but the attempt was deliberate to make the climbs a bit further out so that they would not be the be all and end all, as well as to give us a safe run-in what with the hilly profile of the Casco Vello and O Castro parts of town. We actually arrive at the town via the Porta do Atlántico, or Gateway to the Atlantic, a sculpture and fountain on a large roundabout in the new town. From here we head into Coia, a former industrial area undergoing rapid redevelopment as it helps connect the old town of Vigo to the beach areas to the west, as well as to the port area at Bouzas. We will head down to the waterfront road - although it’s not really a waterfront road at this stage because the Puerto Pesqueiro rather obstructs the view.

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Puerto Pesqueiro is in the middle; in the foreground, the short distance ferry port, and in the background the cargo port

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Casco Vello

It’s a very straight run-in until we get to the Casco Vello, where we head around Praza do Berbés and past the A Laxe shopping mall, turning right at the tourist ferry boat port which sends tourist boats across to the Illas Cíes, with a handful of right-angle turns as we head through the newer centre of town, with a final left hand curve at the entrance to the Casco Histórico, then we have a final 800m which is on an uphill drag at 4% up to Praza Fernando el Católico, near to the recently-redeveloped Urzaiz train station, now the Vialia Centre.

The first 5km or so of the circuit are just flat along a road at the bottom of the ridge until we get to the outlying district of Chapela. The side of A Madroa that we are climbing, from Chapela through Parada… is pretty brutal and País Vasco-tastic. The overall stats of 2,6km at 8% don’t sound too bad… but… the last kilometre of that barely averages above 1%. The first kilometre, by contrast, averages 13,7%, with 800m at 16,2% as the steepest part of the climb, and a maximum gradient of an eye-watering 26%. Overall the first 1600m average 12% and the summit of the climb (i.e. at Vigozoo, after the kilometre or so of false flat) comes at 13km from the line so this should be pretty selective. According to this article, this is the steepest road in the Vigo metropolitan area, so this should definitely be able to create some separation.

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Subida a Buraca

We then descend through the Rua do Areeiro back into the city’s confines, but although we arrive above the station and so we aren’t going to descend directly down past what we already climbed, that would not work. So instead we head around Castelo do Castro, the hilltop ruins in the city centre, which we pass around 6km from the line. These are the remains of a 1665 hilltop fortification constructed during the War of the Portuguese Restoration, although it wasn’t the most effective due to an irregular shape and the multiple landing spots along the coast; it was occupied by the British twice in the early 18th Century and by the French once in the 19th. Nowadays it is more a scenic area with views over the city and lush green space which is a popular spot for the Vigués population to walk.

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From here we head out towards Plaza Independencia, and then back along the coast for the finish. This one should give us a nice finale as if there are big gaps created, then riders will have to make Monte Aloia or San Cosme count; if the gaps are small, a shootout on A Madroa should still be pretty effective. This will hopefully give us a week-long race which has some varied options and can show off a bit of everything Galicia has to offer, and something for almost all types of riders, with something akin to a Vuelta al País Vasco at a lower level in terms of the short walls and medium length climbs being the main decisive factors, but with a local flavour distinct to Galician cycling that gives it an identity of its own as opposed to that of Asturias, Castilla y León or País Vasco.
 
I've wanted to use Machucos as a pass, but while the Vuelta often finishes in the middle of nowhere I still find it difficult to find a good stage finish location for the purpose.

I think it would work well with Lunada afterwards (it's stunning too), but the best finish location I could come up with is Lunada Park just after the summit. Unfortunately that's in a different region, so I guess that's an implausible solution for the Vuelta? I just don't see a suitable finish on the ascent of Lunada.


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So my last few projects in the thread have all been stage races. Not long ones - 5, 8 and 7 stages respectively - but nevertheless like I was saying to Samu in another thread recently, I do try to vary things in here, and it is also definitely very much a truism that one-day racing is highly underrepresented in the thread. The reasons for that are manifold; most of the biggest existing races have fairly set routes that don’t allow for too much flexibility, whereas the biggest stage races give the entire geography of a country (and beyond, within reasonable limitations) as scope, so freedom to come up with many different ideas for the same race is there (as is probably evident from things like Eshnar’s all-mountain Giri or the fact I’ve now got through no fewer than 11 Vueltas, with a no-mountaintops repetition rule in place). With the possible exception of Lombardia, the routes for most of the major classics are pretty set, other than a bit of what order you do the obstacles in for ones like RVV or Amstel Gold. While we’ve seen a few goes at revitalising races of diminished status like my revamp of Paris-Bruxelles or the Frankfurt Maitagrennen, and people have attempted some new routes and created their own races, often when using areas that are known to cycling, there’s less fun in wrestling a new one-day race than a stage race because of the increased flexibility the latter offers; and in areas that are not known to cycling, often the traceur wants to showcase as much as possible of the area in question and this results in a tendency toward stage races.

One area that offers a bit more room for manoeuvre is championship courses, however. I’ve had a number of these over the years, tweaked or amended, some that have been posted, some that haven’t, and some bits of inspiration that have hit recently. The thing is that these can change their focus or the type of rider that they suit, in much the same way as real championship courses do; take the World Championships - the kind of rider that would contest, say, 2011 in Copenhagen is completely different to the one that would contest, say, 2018 in Innsbruck.

I’ve often suggested an informal rule for suitability for the World Championships or Olympic Games Road Race, and that is that as this race is in effect the sixth (or seventh in Olympic years) monument, these races serve as appropriate boundaries for how easy or difficult said races should be. Every type of rider has a monument they can contest, from sprinters through to escaladores, but no monument is exclusively for one type of rider (with the possible exception of Roubaix, but that has an aura out of its uniqueness that overrides that). Therefore a sprinters’ Worlds shouldn’t be flatter than San Remo, and a climbers’ Worlds shouldn’t be more mountainous than Lombardia.

I’ve posted a few Worlds/Olympics/Championship race designs over the years in the thread, but these have been sporadic. In the universe inhabited by the races of the thread, my World Championships have been held in the following:
Sochi, Russia
Kyiv, Ukraine
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Russia
Bilbao, Spain
Aosta, Italy
Caracas, Venezuela

All of these were somewhat hilly (Kyiv was a bit of a different one because of using the cobbled climbs rather than significant hills), and Aosta was downright mountainous, so I thought I’d kick off posting a few World Championships courses with an example of what I would see as a suitable “sprinter’s Worlds”.

World Championships RR: Aachen, Germany

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I’ve posted a stage into the city of Aachen before, as part of my most recent two-week Deutschlandtour. That stage is here and featured some mid-stage hills before a flat and straight run-in. The stage was deep into week 2 and was therefore intended as a breakaway stage, hence the hills making things hard for the sprinters but a run-in that didn’t make it too easy to use those hills and make it a GC day. This is what I had to say about the city back then (omitting the potted history of its sons and daughters for sake of brevity):

Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle to the French, is a border city close to the Dreilandecke between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and for most travelling by train along routes in the area, will be the first (or last) German station visited. It is Germany’s westernmost city and one of its oldest, having been on the Roman side of the Limes, and having been a spa settlement during that era, before becoming the Imperial residence of Charlemagne, who commanded the construction of the city’s iconic cathedral, which was completed in the year 798 and still stands today; the great emperor’s remains were interred at the cathedral and remain there to this day. A number of renovations have been undertaken, but it remains the number one tourist attraction in the city, helped largely by a large number of pilgrims and its role as the church of coronation for Holy Roman Emperors to be crowned “King of the Germans”.
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Aachen is also on the Benrather Line, which historically divided Low German and High German dialects, although its modern dialect bears more resemblance to the Ripuarian language spoken around Köln, and Lëtzebuergesch and similar Mosel-Franconian dialects. As a high religious centre it has also been a major source of manuscript production during the early Middle Ages, although its religious importance led to its downfall to a certain extent, with Spanish troops attacking the city and deposing all Protestants in the early 17th Century, which also led to the relocation of the coronations of Holy Roman Emperors to Frankfurt, then a role in the Thirty Years’ War, and then being ravaged by fire in 1656.

The city rebuilt itself as a destination, ostensibly as a spa town, but also because of a reputation for prostitution, a sharp decline for a city which had built its reputation on emperors and high religion. It was one of the cities of the short-lived Rheinische Republic, which was proclaimed in the city in 1923 during the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in the inter-war years; this state was never recognised and promptly faded from relevance less than two years later, returning to the German ownership that everybody else thought it had had all along. It was highly damaged in World War II following a siege in September and October 1944, and despite the rebuilding of its historic centre, with the traditional architecture, the focus of the city has moved more toward the outlying areas of the city where it has become a technology hub. The city also claims to host the world’s first modern discotheque, with the Scotch Club having been opened in the 1950s.

Unlike with that stage design, however, I am not putting my circuit here in the centre of the city, with Charlemagne’s cathedral or the Elisenbrunnen taking centre stage. A safe sprint was not really plausible there. “Now, Libertine, isn’t Aachen kind of in a really hilly area?” I hear you ask. Well, yes. It’s on the German side of the Drielandenpunt where the Dutch, Belgian and German nations meet, in Amstel Gold territory to the west and the foothills leading to the Ardennes to the southwest. A pure flat sprint would be pretty uninspiring, no? But the thing is, this means that we have the options of some small sized obstacles, not big enough to turn this into a puncheur’s race but enough to make the sprinters have to earn the right to contest the victory. And that’s realistically what a sprinter’s Worlds should be about. Placement of obstacles is also key. Geelong was a sprinter’s Worlds, as evidenced by being won by Hushovd and Bronzini; but the actual obstacles on the course were notably harder than Valkenburg two years later, which was a puncheur’s Worlds with the finish being just a kilometre after the Cauberg. My route isn’t as hard as Geelong was, and has more in common with Valkenburg (after all, similar part of the world) but it is nevertheless one where the sprinters will be the ones you would expect to have the most chances. But, crucially, other types of riders will believe they have a chance too.

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The circuit is just under 15km in duration. For a traditional circuit-based Worlds, I would suggest 11 laps for the elite women (163,9km), 13 for the U23 men (193,7km) and 18 for the elite men (268,2km).

The start/finish is on Krefelder Straße, heading southwest towards the city and outside the football stadium Tivoli, home of Alemannia Aachen, a formerly well-established team at the second tier who even enjoyed a Bundesliga stint but are now mired in the Regionalliga, which their 30.000-capacity stadium is way too big for. There’s actually a 500m climb at 5,4% into the city from a little further on this road, but we aren’t going to be including that. The other thing that is bonus about this is that with all the parking and trappings of a sports complex around a 30.000-capacity ground there will be ample space for the race’s media and organisatorial trappings.

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Finishing straight, riders heading away from camera

The finishing straight is an uphill false flat which continues for the first part of the lap, before we take two right hand corners to head back on ourselves around the rear of the sports complex. Wide roads here continue, as these are used to access training facilities and other sporting halls, arenas etc. as part of the Tivoli complex. This also takes us onto Soerser Weg, which leads us onto our first climb of the circuit, to Berensberg. It’s not a long or particularly challenging one - 750m at 6,3% (due to rounding Climbfinder totals it as 800m at 6,1%) - but does ramp up to 12% in places, with the last 500m of uphill at 8,3%. It is, however a wide open, comfortable road so I wouldn’t expect this to be too selective in terms of just pure attrition, it’s going to have to be tactical moves and decisions about who to follow and who to let up the road that decide who gets away here. It is at the 3,6km mark in the circuit, so would be 11,3km from the line the last time it’s raced.

This then leads us into a 3km flat stretch from the summit along to, and through, Kohlscheid, a small town which is part of the Herzogenrath municipality that serves as a border zone with Kerkrade in the Netherlands. Here, we descend down into the valley of the Wurm, a river whose source is close to the hot springs of Aachen and serves as a tributary of the Ruhr, via Am Langenberg. Climbfinder records the descent as just over 650m at 7,5%, with a maximum of 12% and slightly narrower than the previous parts of the circuit, although still plenty wide enough to be negotiated safely. After hitting the bottom of the descent we cross the Wurm at the picturesque Alte Mühle, and the second climb of the circuit begins.

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Alte Mühle

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Steep ramps into Bardenberg

Climbfinder records this ascent as being 520m at 9,6%, which is very much a serious ramp, but also pretty short and the more durable sprinters should be able to power over this and stay close enough at hand that they can work their way back on. It’s notably steeper than Berenberg, but actually has a lower maximum, staying very consistent throughout and maxing out at 11%. This is at the 8,3km mark on the circuit and therefore is 6,6km from the line. On the profile above I have put the GPM at the end of the false flat through the town simply because the gaps between waypoints meant Cronoescalada didn’t give as accurate a figure.

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There’s a few twists and turns, but no sharp corners, as we head along an elevated plateau - if anything it’s uphill false flat - from Bardenberg to the town of Würselen, the home of footballers Torsten Frings and Jupp Kappelmann, who have both been part of German World Cup squads (Kappelmann was even part of the World Cup winning squad in 1974, but did not play to win a medal), and two-time Olympic gold medallist equestrian Nadine Capellmann, who won dressage gold in the team event in 2000 and 2008. Here we turn right, and there are a couple of corners as we head along here, then at 2,9km from the finish there is a downhill right-hand sweeper… and this is the last proper corner on the circuit. This is more or less the entirety of a two-stepped descent, but that amounts to 1,9km @ 2,8% with a max of 6%, so it really shouldn’t be too much of an issue. This ends when we cross underneath the Autobahn, and then the final kilometre is uphill at 1-2%, up toward the football stadium once more.

The road is three lanes wide and almost ramrod straight for the last 3km, with only some slight curves, so this is why I think this race will be one for sprinters; if the finish was in Würselen it would perhaps be more like the 2012 Valkenburg Worlds, but with the long final straight drag to the line, I feel this will favour an organised group, so a chasing bunch would stand a strong chance and if there is a small group and a péloton breathing down its neck, the run-in will favour the latter. But, the fact of the matter is that if sprinters are dropped on the 500m of the Bardenberg, they don’t really get a proper respite afterward so would have to help work themselves to get back on which may impact their eventual sprint at the line. My thinking is that the Berensberg will not be decisive outright, relying primarily on tactical moves as it shouldn’t challenge most, whereas Bardenberg is hard enough for a decisive gap to be opened by attacking, but short enough that the run-in will not be favourable to a short-distance attack here unless there is a lack of cooperation behind; but there is enough for baroudeurs and puncheurs to feel they have a chance and make the race hard enough that the group that settles it is small and those sprinters that survive will have earned their chance to contest it in a sprint.

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Run-in

Looking for comparable in the past of World Championships, a few that stuck out to me were Reims-Gueux in 1958; that had a harder first climb, but the second climb was 700m at 7,3% ending in false flat so pretty similar to this - though that had a longer run-in. Bern 1961 is similar, but the final climb is closer to the line as well. The Lasarte-Oria circuit in 1965 is also pretty similar in characteristics. I’d say it’s slightly tougher than Heerlen 1967, maybe Prague 1981? Oslo 1993 is similar in characteristics but the climbs are much longer. From the altimetry profile San Sebastián 1997 is not too far off with its short but super steep ramp, but we know how misleading “flat” roads in the Basque Country are, plus the run-in was much more technical and the detailed profile shows a lot more up and down. The Plouay circuit of 2000, almost identical to the then-current short circuit of the GP Ouest-France, is perhaps the most perfect comparison of all as unlike the Valkenburg circuits there is a good run from the final climb to the line here in Aachen; that circuit had the Côte du Lezot (1km @ 5,1%) at the start of the circuit, and Ty Marrec (600m @ 10%) 4km from the line. My course is slightly easier than this, but perhaps this is our best comparison, with some editions being won solo, and others being reduced bunch gallops won by the likes of Elia Viviani, Alexander Kristoff and Grega Bole. Salzburg 2006 is another potential comparable, which was won by Paolo Bettini, exactly the kind of rider I think we would expect to see come to the fore on this course.

I also prepared a separate proposal if it was decided that the course was too easy or the organisers did not want to just go all out on the circuits. This course starts and finishes in Aachen but heads out to the Eifel mountains before returning via the city centre and then with eight and three quarter laps of the circuit, this looks like the following:

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I think this would probably not change the racing too much other than getting rid of a few domestiques and the most rotten climbers among the sprinters before they even get to the final circuit.
 
World Championships RR: Sheffield, UK

So we’re going to the complete opposite end of the spectrum here; my Aachen route was a Worlds designed for sprinters who could last out, whereas this one… in all honesty I did umm and ahh about whether to go forward with this one because I think it’s actually potentially a bit excessive after looking at historic Worlds routes as I think this would legitimately be one of the hardest of all time. But it’s also a route I’ve had in the works for years so I thought, you know what, let’s actually post it and put it to bed.

The idea for this stage goes all the way back to when the Tour de France start in Yorkshire was announced over a decade ago, when Sheffield was announced as a prospective stage host for a hilly early-stage race. Ideas proliferated and although the eventual stage was pretty good, it actually used areas I had not expected; I had been anticipating - especially after the involvement of Holme Moss - that they would be approaching the city from the west, like in the Tour of Britain stages of the mid-2000s, and so the climbs we would be expecting would be on that side, as opposed to Oughtibridge to the north and Jenkin Road to the east. The city then featured in the Tour de Yorkshire with some interesting stage designs but again using climbs to the north, and then after a few experiments I came up with my finalised design when trying to come up with prospective alternatives for a Yorkshire World Championships to the Harrogate option.

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Sheffield is, with a population of a little over half a million, the largest settlement in South Yorkshire, and is in a battle with a number of other cities as to what the fourth largest city in England is, with a number of similarly-sized settlements drawing boundaries as they see fit to claim their desired numbers. Seen as the gateway to the scenic Peak District, it is one of the southernmost cities to be claimed as being in “the north” of England, due to being in the historical county of Yorkshire. It is heavily associated with the steel industry in Great Britain, which is its primary known exploit and why one of its two soccer teams, Sheffield United, is known as the Blades, and why its ‘partner cities’ and ‘twin cities’ include other steel industry stalwarts as Donetsk and Pittsburgh. A decline in industry in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by the construction of a large shopping mall easily accessed from the M1 motorway in the early 1990s, have decentralised the city which left a lot of the centre quite run-down, and helped foster a counter-cultural scene which left the city at the heart of the expanding synth-pop boom in the 1980s, with bands such as the Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire and ABC being locals. While rock has retaken the lead in the city, slice of life depictions of working class families and their day-to-day struggles have been the stock-in-trade of two of the city’s most famous musical exports since, the sardonic Britpop mavericks Pulp and the raucous Arctic Monkeys. Extensive renovation and regeneration projects have been undertaken since the 1990s in order to reinvigorate the city. With its two universities both being located in the city centre rather than outlying campuses, and with major chainstores relocating into the mall, the city centre has retained a chic nature and the city’s association with its student population led it to host the Universiade in 1991. The older and more prestigious of the two is the University of Sheffield, a classic “red brick university” which is known to cycling fans for being the one that was supposedly publishing a report on Sérgio Henao’s biopassport values.

The city is a logical host for a championships such as this because it has a long association with sport, not just through those University Games, but also through a variety of other sports from disparate origins. The city is the home of snooker, hosting the World Championships annually in the Crucible Theatre in the city centre; the Ponds Forge international swimming and diving complex hosted the European Aquatics Championships in 1993; the Don Valley Stadium, constructed for the Universiade, hosted the annual Brit Bowl, the national championships of American Football, for several years until its demolition and replacement with the Olympic Legacy Complex; the city hosted the largest artificial ski complex in Europe until it was destroyed by arsonists in 2013; and the city’s ice hockey team, named the Sheffield Steelers for the city’s industrial heritage, is one of the most successful in the national league’s history. Sporting sons and daughters of Sheffield include many of the great and good in British sporting history, from World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Olympic and three-time World Champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, Trevor Francis, the first footballer to command a transfer fee in excess of £1 million (how quaint those times seem now), International Boxing Hall of Famer “Prince” Naseem Hamed; former England football captain Harry Maguire along with international teammates Kyle Walker and Jamie Vardy; former England cricket captains Michael Vaughan and Joe Root (two of the nation’s all time leading batsmen); three-time downhill MTB World Cup winner Steve Peat; taken-too-young Indycar stalwart Justin Wilson; and unfortunately, undoing almost all that goodwill, the most shingle-inducingly aggravating man on GCN, Adam Blythe.

But the city’s most famous sporting legacy is rather more depressing even than having to deal with Adam Blythe’s inane ramblings about his mates on Ineos - the city’s Hillsborough stadium, home to the other major soccer team in the city, Sheffield Wednesday, was a formerly state of the art venue which was often selected as a neutral venue for major cup fixtures in English football, and rose in notoriety in 1989 when its location made it a logical neutral venue for an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest; with a problem of overcrowding in the standing-only terraces, a gate was opened by the police to ease the crowding, but with the reverse effect of creating a human crush as supporters tried to enter the caged sections. 94 died on the day, with two more in the coming weeks and months, and then a 97th victim in 2021, dying after suffering irreversible brain damage on that fateful day. Its ramifications are still seen today; the police attempted to apportion blame away from their own actions by feeding false stories about hooliganism and fan behaviour, and a scathing and baseless article in The Sun was seen as so insulting that the newspaper - Britain’s best selling tabloid - is still informally banned from the city of Liverpool to this day, with newsagents stocking the hated publication being subject to abuse and boycott, a fact immortalised by protest singer-songwriter Billy Bragg years later in Scousers Never Buy The Sun.

Like Rome, Sheffield was built on seven hills, and it also lies at the confluence of five rivers. This has carved valleys and meant that the city has spread along these valleys and up these hillsides creating a geographically diverse city that offers myriad possibilities for selective cycling races. One problem, however, which is uncommon in the UK, is that the regeneration projects included the construction of a tram system, relatively unusual in British metropoles, which limited the access to the city centre for me in setting my routes. The other thing that stuck out to me in my research was the county lines; I had initially wanted to beef up the early part of the course using an approach from the west similar to those in the old Tour of Britain stages, but this was revised when the 2019 Yorkshire Worlds were announced; I figured that the city’s bid would probably need a Yorkshire connection, and the Peak District is shared across multiple counties; the climbs and approaches I had in mind were actually in Derbyshire. Nevertheless, the multiple routes in to the city and stages used in previous races gave me plenty of food for thought.

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2004 Tour of Britain stage

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2005 Tour of Britain, more or less the same stage with beefed up run-in

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2006 Tour of Britain, same run-in as the year before but easier stage until that point

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2014 Tour de France, one of the best opening weekend stages in living memory

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2017 Tour de Yorkshire, toning down the larger climbs but replacing them with an absolute Ardennes-style beast of a run-in

So with all of these options available to me, obviously I took the easy route.

I binned all of the above and used literally none of the climbs or obstacles used by any of the above.

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Here is my circuit - it’s 19,9km in length. In theory that means, what, 13 laps for a World Championships? I don’t think that’s going to be particularly viable though, because this circuit is absolutely brutal and comparing to previous Worlds courses I think 13 laps of this is going to be absurd, not least because there are four distinct climbs on the circuit. 13 x 4 = 52 ascents… not even Amstel Gold has that, and those ascents include a lot which are easier than the ones we have here. As a result I think this is one where we probably actually go with a flat run-in like we’ve seen at many recent Worlds before joining the circuit… and crucially that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’m thinking of having the women head from Leeds through Castleford, Pontefract, Doncaster and Rotherham to Sheffield giving about 80km of flat run-in, then four laps of the circuit for ~160km duration; the U23s do an extra lap for ~180km; and the elite men go from York to Leeds before joining the previous route, adding around 40km to the length; this gives us around 120km before 7 laps of the circuit for ~260km… before you think I’ve gone soft, that’s still 28 (twenty-eight) climbs. This is still going to be a bloodbath of a day in the saddle.

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I’ve placed the finish line on Upper Hanover Street, an uphill drag that leads up northwards towards the University of Sheffield’s main city campus. This is a gradual uphill only averaging 2-3% but is on a wide dual carriageway enabling us to keep much of the logistics sorted without disrupting public transport, as the finish line has to be a little before the university buildings due to the tramlines entering here. However, as they come from West Street and then go to a section where the trams have their own tracks between the carriageways, we do not need to cross the tram tracks at any point.

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Finishing straight, heading away from the camera on the left hand side

After crossing the centre of the University route, there is a large roundabout which links routes out to the hilly suburbs on the west of the city, largely student-dominated in their milieu, with the city centre. After this there is a wide and very straight downhill of around 900m at 5%, before we hang a left to head towards the Ponderosa Playground. A technical sequence of corners on a flat section takes us to the base of the first of four notable climbs on the circuit. The overall stats of this first climb - the longest of the four - are hard to check, because it takes in a few different roads and is not one of the more standard, well-known ascents around the city, largely because it crosses a couple of roads that mean it isn’t really possible for hobby cyclists to test themselves on. I drew it up in Cronoescalada and arrived at stats of 1,3km @ 8,6%, but it’s also very inconsistent; the main attraction here is Blake Street, 200m at 17%, which is renowned as one of the strongest contenders for the steepest street in the city; it is the steepest climb within the city centre at least, and in terms of sustained steepness for that length it is regarded as the third steepest urban street in Britain. It was also immortalised in the 1990s comedy film The Full Monty.

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Blake Street

We continue to ascend through Duncombe Street and Matlock Road, the latter of which, once upon a time but sadly no longer (for cycling) was cobbled. Finally we join Heavygate Road and then this is the high point of this first ascent. We could continue to climb at low gradients on a wide open road into Crookes, another student-dominated district of the city, but that wouldn’t add much to the circuit and prevent us being able to do much of what follows. Instead, therefore, we have a twisty descent through the Walkley area of town which takes us towards Hillsborough, but before we get there we hang a left onto Morley Street (have to avoid the tram tracks in Hillsborough) and down into the Rivelin valley. There’s a little over a kilometre of flat in the valley before we take a sharp left onto the steepest of our climbs, the savagery that is Stephen Hill, via Hagg Hill, a popular monster of a cycling climb. The first part, Hagg Hill, is absolutely destructive, being around 350m at an average of 15%; this gets easier on the second part, but not much until right near the end; the overall stats are 900m at 13,5% - which is a large part of why I wasn’t sure this wasn’t a bit excessive for a Worlds course if it’s going to be being climbed over and over.

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This ascent peaks at 6,6km of the circuit, so 13,3km from the end of the race. It’s then a very gradual and straight, fast downhill of 2,7km at 2% back into the Rivelin Valley, before we turn back uphill for the next ascent, Lodge Lane. This is another tough one, but it seems a bit light after Stephen Hill, with some gradients even in the single figures! The overall climb is 1,1km at 9,9%, but the last 150m are false flat so it does get well up above that at times, with also the steepest section of any climb in the race, with a 25% maximum.

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Lodge Lane, full ascent visible in the distance. Crests at 9,4km from the line

Some false flat takes us up to the high point of the circuit at Hallam Cricket Club, before we descend down through the Fulwood district of town toward Porter Brook, before our final climb, in the southwest part of town, the shortest of the day but the last and closest to the finish, cresting 4,5km from the line. It’s 650m at 10,7% maxing out at 17% so, you know, more slaughterhouse gradients.

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From here we then take a few corners downhill, and arrive on a long straight road called Ecclesall Road which accounts for the majority of the run-in. There’s about 1600m straight on this route through a suburban shopping area before a left hand 90º bend - a sweeping one on a roundabout - at about 1500m from the line, before the slight uphill drag to the line. This is the last real corner, but the straight does curve to the right at around 400-500m to the line.

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Ecclesall Road

As I say, four climbs per circuit of this nature mean that just doing a whole 260km race with 13 laps of this circuit would just be absurd; races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège have only 10-12 ascents, and even Amstel Gold which has much shorter and mostly less steep climbs has a total of 33 climbs for the men and 21 for the women on its 2023 route. Even my proposed route with a flat run-in would yield a crazy tough number of ascents; I think the 28 climbs for the men and 16 for the women, on this course, will be more than enough. This is a slice of the kind of climbing we usually associate with País Vasco, with inconsistent ramps and ascents continually averaging double digits… only placed in a northern British city with dry stone walling and the likelihood of rain. I imagine this will be an absolute bloodbath for only the toughest hilly Classic contenders, so a completely different profile from the Aachen route that preceded it.
 
World Championships RR: Tunis/Carthage, Tunisia

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After two European routes, it’s time to travel further afield, and here I present my first African World Championships route, with a challenging route in the MENA world that will favour a different profile rider from either the Aachen or Sheffield routes. I know that this is not the most obvious location for an African World Championship route - Rwanda hosting the first one shortly, and other obvious hosts based on the number of riders making it pro would obviously be Eritrea, South Africa or maybe Ethiopia, while other areas that could host that have a number of riders and races, even if not at the highest level, would be Morocco and Algeria. Tunisia has had a couple of brief forays into higher level cycling, the most recent being when Rafâa Chtioui was breaking through winning stages of the Tour du Maroc and the Tour de l’Avenir before turning pro with Acqua e Sapone, scoring strong results at places like the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque and the Ronde van België. Sadly this was as high as he would go, drifting a little aimlessly through Team Europcar and falling back to the Continental level, where he would sign for Sky Dive Dubai, winning the Jelajah Malaysia and the Tropicale Amissa Bongo before drifting away from the sport. The Tour de Tunisie ran in the 50s and early 60s and then from the late 70s onwards, being popular with Eastern Bloc amateurs initially, though the most famous winner of the race would undoubtedly be Gösta Pettersson, Sweden’s only GT winner. It ran most recently as a pro race in 2017, while the secondary national tour, the Tour de la Pharmacie Centrale de Tunisie, ran until 2008, with a one-off revival in 2018 which was plagued with issues as poor weather made stage 2 in the western mountains of the nation treacherous and only 15 riders completed it. The results were annulled and riders allowed to continue, until stage 3 was cancelled when the weather failed to improve and the course was declared unsafe. At that point, the results of stage 2 were reinstated and treated as the GC, with the stage 4 route being turned into a one-day race which every rider who had started the original race was allowed to participate in. With the train wreck that this race had been, no attempts to revive it at the pro level have been seen since. There was also the Tour des Aeroports, which ran from 1997 to 2010. As you can see, through the 90s and 00s there was quite a bit of interest but this has died down considerably since.

Which is a shame, really, as Tunisia’s location makes it pretty convenient for at least Italian teams to come across to, and there’s the history with France as well, and the decent teams of Morocco and Algeria who could make up a decent field there. Perhaps a good way to spur some interest would be for the country to host a major event like this? However, because the sport is not as ingrained in the nation’s psyche as in a lot of European countries, it makes the most sense to take the sport to the people, hence locating it in Tunis, the country’s main population centre, and taking in a couple of their most well known tourist sites. Although because of this, rather than just make this a circuit race, I thought that the Worlds in Tunisia would be a slightly different affair, with a bit of a combination of the 2012 Olympic Road Race format and the 2021 Leuven World Championships styled route, with an out-and-back to one circuit, then a return before laps of a second circuit at the finish.

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I decided to place the start of the race in Radès, a southern suburb of Tunis, at the large sports complex that was constructed as part of the city’s infrastructure for the hosting of the 2001 Mediterranean Games. As a lower level competition, the cycling events at the Games were contested largely by amateurs and espies as well as Continental level pros; the ITT was won by veteran track rider Sergí Escobar ahead of the Italian duo of Juri Alvisi and Maurizio Biondo. The Road Race saw a bit more notable name value; the Italians did a one-two this time with Denis Bertolini and Alberto Loddo, both of whom would turn pro in the mid-2000s and bounce around teams like Diquigiovanni (Androni) and Acqua e Sapone, and some veterans of the Continental level like Radoslav Rogina and Jaume Rovira appear in the upper pages of the results… but the bronze medal went to a 21-year-old Spanish espoir called Alejandro Valverde. Sadly I can’t find details of the parcours that day.

The centrepiece of the complex is the Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi, which can hold 60.000 spectators and has hosted the Tunisian national soccer team as well as two of the country’s largest club teams, and was also one of the main venues for the 2004 African Cup of Nations. It has also hosted the finals of the CAF Champions’ League on several occasions, thanks to the prominence of Esperance de Tunis in that competition. It also hosted the 2010 Trophée des Champions between Olympique Marseille and Paris-Saint-Germain, as French football tried to expand its overseas reach. The complex also includes the Salle Omnisport, which hosts indoor sports and was constructed for the 2005 World Handball Championships, but is primarily used for basketball; there is also a swimming pool and a secondary athletics stadium which is used for smaller events or where there is a scheduling clash against the more lucrative soccer games.

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Cité Olympique de Radès

I think for this one the women will go straight to the second circuit as otherwise the flat transitional section will account for too much of the race. The men on the other hand will head east around Sidi Jehmi Bay, past Sulayman, to arrive on the Cap Bon peninsula (Ras at-Taib in local parlance), and take two laps of a ~30km circuit that loops around the Forêt de Qorbous and the eponymous town, a spa resort and health retreat on the eastern edge of the bay that sit beneath a steep promontory that enables us to incorporate some hills into the route. There are two hills on this circuit and neither are especially challenging - around 3km at 5% for the first and around 2,8km at 5,5% for the second - but they do put some difficulties into the early going and also add some beautiful scenery. Qorbous (sometimes spelled Korbous) is a relatively quiet town that has been undergoing some development with the intent of making it more attractive to tourists - so it would make sense for the Tunisians to want to show it off a bit.

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Qorbous coast road

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After the second loop, upon our return to Sidi Raïs, we retrace our steps, going full London Road Race and take the same route out that we took to the circuit - around 33-34km of pan flat - in reverse to return to Radès. This was why the women don’t have this section of the race - even if I cut a lap of the circuit, we’d still be at almost 100km already with another 25 or so to go before we get to our second circuit.

That’s because we have to traverse the country’s capital first. Officially 600.000 people call Tunis their home, but with the extended metro area this number more than quadruples, making it the third largest city in the Maghreb region (encompassing all of the MENA world west of Egypt), after Casablanca and Algiers, and meaning around 1/5th of all Tunisians live in the urban sprawl of their capital. The Medina of Tunis, the oldest part of the modern city, was constructed at the end of the 7th Century on the outskirts of the former ancient city of Carthage, and it swiftly became an important city for the Umayyad Caliphate due to the city’s ready access to Southern Europe as a trading port, and also became the Umayyads’ chief naval base. It survived Zirid uprisings before falling to the Almohads in the 12th Century, who then raised it to the level of a provincial capital with a domain approximately corresponding to modern Tunisia. It became the settling point of many Andalusian Muslims displaced by the Reconquista in Spain and forced out of settlements in the Rif mountains, and this rapidly grew the city’s mercantile wealth and prominence. This wealth made it an attractive city for empire-building, which explains why the Spaniards would occupy it and the Ottomans seized it in the 16th Century, making it part of their Empire until it was captured by Algeria, who installed their own puppet Bey. During the Age of Empires, the French exerted an ever-increasing amount of influence over Tunisia and a swell in its population to accommodate the new European population. The oldest city walls were taken down and following the establishment of the French protectorate, the city rapidly expanded with a semi-segregated system of an Arabic medina-styled old town and a more Europeanised new town, in similar fashion to other cities throughout not only North Africa but also the Balkans, with cities like Sarajevo and Skopje as well as the likes of Fes, Constantine and Tunis itself showing similar characteristics. Satellite cities were built and eventually were consumed by urban sprawl, and following the expulsion of the Axis Powers from the city it was used as a base from which the Allies could strike into southern Italy during World War II, which led to a relatively favoured status when it came to agreeing terms of independence post-war.

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Modern Tunis

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Medina of Tunis

We will pass a few noteworthy landmarks of Tunis such as the Avenue Habib Bourguiba Clocktower, symbol of the city, and the dramatic City of Culture Complex, a recent addition to the city which serves as a hub for the performing arts, with national cinemas, theatres, opera houses and exhibition centres within its confines. We then pass through the affluent Berges du Lac district, a lakeshore development constructed on reclaimed land south of the country’s primary airport, which is home to many nouveaux riches and corporations - as well as being one of Tunisia’s few dry neighbourhoods (like much of North Africa, alcohol is much less frowned upon in Tunisia than in other parts of the MENA world) due to conditions imposed by the Saudi investors that helped fund the project. This will then lead us to a 15,6km circuit which serves as the main theatre for action in the race, around the ancient city of Carthage.

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Carthage’s ruins

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Circuit detail

Carthage should, of course, need no introduction; founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth Century BC and the subject of myths and legends across Greek and Christian antiquity, it was one of the major Empires of the ancient world, ruling most of the west and central Mediterranean and exploring beyond it through advanced sea travel. At its greatest extend, the Carthaginian empire controlled the entire North African coast as far as Egypt, the Spanish coast from the Rock of Gibraltar to Catalunya and as far inland as the meseta, and all of the islands of the western Mediterranean, including the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and most of Sicily. This power placed it at odds with both Greece Rome, and there were many wars between the Carthaginians and these forces. The second Punic War is perhaps the most famous, due to the actions of Carthaginian general Hannibal, invading through Spain and then crossing the Alps with war elephants, a fact which has only grown in the retelling, but the Pyrrhic War with Greece has also given us a famous figure of speech. These campaigns eventually culminated in the Romans triumphing over their African adversaries and the sacking of Carthage and later a new city was built in its place, which is known by historians as Roman Carthage to separate it from Ancient Carthage. The actual name Carthage is derived from a Latin rendering of the Punic words for “new city”, while the term Punic is a Latin term derived via the Greek for ‘trade port’.

The peak population of Roman Carthage was half a million, an insane number for the time, and it was the centrepiece of Roman Africa. It became an early centre for Christianity, until being sacked by the Vandals in their conquest of Roman Africa in the 5th Century. However, the Byzantines recaptured it in 533 and it became the westernmost bastion of the Byzantine Empire until the end of the 7th Century when the Arab conquest took the city and, with it being heavily damaged in the fighting, saw its population displaced to nearby Tunis, which catalysed the fall of the ancient city and the development of the modern one. For most of recent history the former ancient ruins have sat among agricultural land and have only held touristic value, but as Tunis has expanded, Carthage has now become a bustling suburb built around the tourist attention given the ancient monuments. It is now a prestigious town in its own right and the Presidential Palace of Tunisia is in the boundaries of the former ancient city.

We arrive on the circuit just after the finish, and will have essentially seven laps (six complete) of this circuit. The women will probably have an extra lap because they didn’t do the earlier circuit with the longer climbs around Qorbous. We arrive at the circuit at Byrsa Hill and the famous Acropolium (pictured above) before heading to the Cothon, the great harbour of Carthage.

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Punic Ports of Carthage, historical reconstruction alongside present day appearance

We follow along the coast and this leads to a slight uphill - around a kilometre at 3% so barely perceptible - to the hill overlooking the Presidential Palace and the Baths of Antoninus, the largest Roman thermae in the African continent and third largest overall, and were excavated during World War II. They are now one of Tunisia’s premier tourist attractions. This then enables us to descend down to the coast via a twisty road to Sidi Bou Saïd beach, and then to Cap Carthage. This then sets us up for the main obstacle on the circuit, the road from the cape up to the scenic hillside Medina of Sidi Bou Saïd, which sits at the peak of the Jabal el-Menar hill. The settlement originally took its name from the hill but has subsequently been named for a prominent Sufi scholar who settled there. Famous for its scenic views and its blue and white colour scheme, the small town of 6.000 has a reputation as a home of artists and writers, with the likes of Michel Foucault, André Gide and Paul Klee among those who have lived here. But we’re more interested in how you get into the town, because it’s quite the challenging little road.

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First part of the ascent - should be quite the scenery for a World Championships, no?

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Second part of the ascent - note those lovely cobbles

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End of the climb, central Sidi Bou Saïd

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Descending back out of the town

The profile map I made suggests this to be a kilometre at 8% but it isn’t quite so tough; mapping it more precisely we get 1,1km at 6,8%. This is broken into 500m at 4,3% on tarmac, before the road turns to cobbles on a left-hand corner (the tarmac road is a dead end which leads to a helipad further round the cape) and then a short sting of false flat before a final 350m at 11,3% on cobbles, with two hairpins low down and then the road through the centre of town shown above. Not a monstrous challenge, but enough to give more than enough of a platform to attack from. It comes at 6,6km from the finish the last time, so this is a more than worthy springboard on at least the last three laps, with around 37-38km remaining, 22-23km, and 6-7km left with each passage.

Although this is the main and only categorisation-worthy obstacle on the lap, it isn’t just a straight run-in; there is a right hander at the base of the road to the old town, and then there is an easier, tarmac ascent on Avenue Sidi Bennour, which is rather small to map on Cronoescalada but looks to ascend around 30m in 500m, so around 6%. 500m at 6% on a mostly pretty straight road is pretty inconsequential, but it follows almost directly on from the cobbles of the initial climb so is a chance to make or break a group selected on the larger climb.

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La Marsa, our descent visible on the hillside

We then descend into La Marsa, an affluent coastal city of 100.000 which is renowned for its beaches and its Hafsid Dynasty era (13th-16th Century) palace. From here it’s a very simple run-in; we take a couple of corners to head back southwards, and then we have a near 2km long straight (with a roundabout in the middle but it is wide and will barely require negotiating) at uphill false flat - around 2% - before two 45º right handers onto the final straight. The first of these is at about 1200m to go and the second at 900m or so; these are wide and safe to negotiate with a péloton although I hope there is not a full péloton by the end. There is a slight left hander at around 200m out as the road curves and then we finish on the Boulevard de l’Environnement just above the remains of Roman Carthage, with the theatre below us on our left as we cross the line, and Parc Montazah on our right.

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Aerial view showing Boulevard de l’Environnement. The péloton will be approaching from top centre heading down and right, around the double kink to their right onto the boulevard, then heading down and left with the finish area around the large parking spaces shown near the bottom of the purple line highlighting the road


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Roman theatre of Carthage. Maybe if we’re lucky we can get the presentations in here, akin to the Ciudad Romana de Clunia stages in Burgos

I think this race will suit classics types, obviously, with 7 times up a cobbled climb like that, but not so tough with it only being the seven and them being 15k apart, as the likes of RVV. The route is pretty tough though, and another factor is likely to be heat; the average daily high in Tunis in September is 30ºC, but the record is over 40º which is admittedly unlikely but would really bring the pain. After my last route being one that is very much about constant punchy climbing, and the one before that being one that sprinters can win, this one I believe is more designed for the rouleurs - at least in terms of the terrain. Obviously the climate is very, very different from that expected in the Northern Classics so it will be interesting to see how those Flandrian-style hardmen cope with seeing their favoured terrain style, but with a climate more akin to the Andalucian Vuelta stages.

And it should certainly improve the field for the Vuelta as riders preparing for the Worlds look to acclimatise as well.
 
https://www.procyclingstats.com/rac...vincia-de-san-juan/2023/stage-3/info/profiles :

If you scroll down, here, you‘ll find „El Cerillo“, and its climb profile.

I‘ve been asking myself now for nine months, and finally dare to ask you all:

Does anyone know of a KOM of the past, in a race (WT/.Pro/.1/.2), that was easier than El Cerillo (shorter, less steep)?

By the way, mighty „El Cerillo“ was almost twice part of a race, this 2023 season. In Tour of San Luis, see above - and in Giro del Sol, few weeks before:


There, they maybe climbed it from the other side: twice as hard! Double length, same average gradient.

San Luis: 0.5kms@0.2%, and
Giro del Sol: 1.0kms@0.2%…

Maybe MAL was so strong at this year’s Tour of Colombia because he was freshly back from altitude training on Cerillo. Steep, long, and high (596mtrs above sea level); perfect altitude training!… :)
 
https://www.procyclingstats.com/rac...vincia-de-san-juan/2023/stage-3/info/profiles :

If you scroll down, here, you‘ll find „El Cerillo“, and its climb profile.

I‘ve been asking myself now for nine months, and finally dare to ask you all:

Does anyone know of a KOM of the past, in a race (WT/.Pro/.1/.2), that was easier than El Cerillo (shorter, less steep)?

By the way, mighty „El Cerillo“ was almost twice part of a race, this 2023 season. In Tour of San Luis, see above - and in Giro del Sol, few weeks before:


There, they maybe climbed it from the other side: twice as hard! Double length, same average gradient.

San Luis: 0.5kms@0.2%, and
Giro del Sol: 1.0kms@0.2%…

Maybe MAL was so strong at this year’s Tour of Colombia because he was freshly back from altitude training on Cerillo. Steep, long, and high (596mtrs above sea level); perfect altitude training!… :)

The women's Tour of Chongming Island has had some pretty flat QOMs, they have even had some where the top was below sea level.
 
World Championships RR: Amersfoort, Netherlands

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Now, time for a real sprinter’s Worlds. It’s an interesting thing, trying to do course design in the Netherlands. It’s both an area which has been heavily explored by cycle races due to the nation’s tradition and history within the sport, and also which offers very limited terrain opportunities for creating selectivity. As a result, those areas which do provide selectivity are both well-known to real life races and well-known to traceurs, and the calendar is saturated with races in those areas where the Dutch countryside does offer roads that can create challenges, such as the Veluwezoom near Arnhem, the hills surrounding Nijmegen, and of course the Limburg hills. Dutch hills become household names more from their frequency than their challenge, with names like the VAM-berg being well known simply because of being the only hill usable for racing that far north in the country.

As a result, though, it’s a challenge to come up with something that isn’t well-trodden terrain in the Netherlands and yet still offers something for the spectacle. This offering probably doesn’t go a whole deal of a way towards producing something that will be like, all fireworks and high selectivity, but sometimes you gotta work with what you got.

The Netherlands has hosted the World Championships on occasions before. Of those, Valkenburg has been responsible for the majority, with the Cauberg featuring ordinarily. Shout out to the Lasterketa Burua guys for their awesome Circuiti Mondiali page that keeps tabs of all these routes. 1938, 1948, 1979, 1998 and 2012 all featured on Valkenburg circuits (the first two on a short, 10km circuit with only the Cauberg, the remainder on a longer circuit featuring the Bemelerberg as well) while 1959 (incorporating parts of the old version of the Zandvoort motor racing circuit) and 1967 (in Heerlen with Bergseweg as the only obstacle) are the alternative sites used for the Worlds in the Netherlands. The Zandvoort circuit is one of the flattest ever used, with the main competition for this being Copenhagen in 1931, 1937, 1949, 1956 and 2011, Leipzig in 1934, Zolder in 1969 and 2002 (especially the former!) and Doha in 2016. My hope was that while we wouldn’t find something that would be a real challenge, we could at least move more in to the realm of Worlds along the lines of Reims-Gueux (the much easier 1947 version rather than the more challenging, later and superior 1958 one), Moorslede 1950, Luxembourg 1952, Waregem 1957, or Leicester 1970, to at least add a little intrigue. So I set to work.

While there’s nothing big enough to pique the interest of databases like Altimetrias, Cyclingcols, Catena or Salite, Climbfinder have a huge database of even the most nothingburger of climbs in the Netherlands; there are some pretty major climbs missing in some countries, but others have every pimple in the road mapped. The Dutch lands are well covered and so it was a matter of hunting out places that had at least some slopes and then looking for places that could be viable Worlds hosts. The Holterberg and the few climbs a little to the north of the Nederrijn were the ones that gave me a bit of hope that something could be done around here, but of course then the problem was not treading on the toes of the Veenendaal-Veenendaal Classic which uses that area. Climbfinder had logged a few climbs in nearby Amersfoort, however, and these could be combined in such a way that it gave me some hope that while the race would still be a sprinters’ race, the height gain overall would be sufficient to at least create attrition across 260km duration and create some opportunities for baroudeurs.

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As a city, Amersfoort with its population of around 160.000 is large enough to be a reasonably achievable host, at least in a country as supportive of cycling as the Netherlands. It also features a fairly extensive sporting history while also being fairly untapped for cycling; it wasn’t even a common feature in the old Ronde van Nederland. It has however appeared in the race which is now the Renewi Tour, back when Eneco were the sponsor; it hosted the race-ending ITT in 2009 (won by Edvald Boasson Hagen but perhaps more famous for Bradley Wiggins leading by a long way at the intermediate checkpoint and then climbing off with no explanation) and the prologue in 2011 (won by Taylor Phinney) but a serious lack of road stages there that meant it was somewhat new territory to work with for cycling.

In other sports, of course, it has quite a lot more involvement; it hosted the equestrian part of the modern pentathlon in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and the Dutch Open tennis from 2002 to 2008. It is the hometown of Alistair Overeem, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist who starred in PRIDE and K-1 and is known for a radically shape-shifting physique and failing a test for a ridiculously over-the-limit amount of synthetic testosterone in 2012. In recent years, however, the city has another sporting child to promote, for this is the city of the athletics club AV Altis, home club of Amersfoort’s daughter and the Netherlands’ current favourite sporting belle, recently-crowned world champion hurdler Femke Bol, a star turn on the track who is the second fastest 400m hurdler of all time - unfortunately competing at the same time as the outright fastest, although said fastest, Sydney McLaughlin, runs a very limited schedule outside the US which has enabled Bol, who dominates everybody else in the discipline routinely, to quickly become one of the star attractions of the world calendar.

Plus, as I like to joke at Cees’ expense, given she specialises in the hurdles (although she also sets records and wins regional championships on the flat), she’s the only sporting Bol that can win in races with obstacles in them, so I’m sure he’ll want to prove me wrong here although I doubt he’d be the Dutch team’s first choice sprinter with the likes of Jakobsen, Kooij and Groenewegen all at their disposal.

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She has some way to go to beat the most prominent Amersfoorter for recognition though, this being the painter Piet Mondrian, whose birthplace is now a museum in the city and who started out painting impressionist and naturalist-style works but whose later bold, abstract, lines-and-colour-blocks works made him a household name; his works in this style became highly influential and oft-imitated; they are instantly recognisable and oft-referenced the world over, perhaps for our benefit most notably by the La Vie Claire cycling team and the Look bicycle brand.

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Piet Mondrian in his studio

Amersfoort is also very easily accessed from a number of major cities, as it has three train stations on a multitude of networks connecting it to almost every city in the Netherlands; it is renowned as the country’s greenest city, so this may be a good way to promote that (although the number of pollutant follow cars and camera motos might dampen such enthusiasm somewhat). This was my attempt at making an interesting circuit out of the limited terrain offered me by the city, however.

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Yea, it’s not much. The climbing isn’t hard in the slightest, but we’ve seen from some courses that even if there aren’t any sustained climbs, then at least a bit of attrition can be created by constant rolling terrain with limited actual flat, even if a lot of it is false flat. My suggestion for this would be, just like the Aachen route which had a similar distance on the circuit, 11 laps of the circuit for the women, 13 for the U23s and 18 for the men. And the hope is that the sum total of those uphills will start to play a role as the race wears on, albeit races like Copenhagen 2011 show that it isn’t so easy. Although that race did put the feed zone in the middle of the biggest uphill section, so go figure.

Anyway, we have the start/finish at Stationsplein, outside Amersfoort Centraal station. This is more or less a de facto choice, more about being able to have a wide enough and long enough safe sprinting straight leading in.

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The first part of the circuit is just to take a few technical corners around the block to allow for the finish to be on one side of a dual carriageway and the other side be used for logistics, but for us to return partway up the finishing straight to use the other side of the road as well. Stationsstraat gives way to Stadsring before a right hander on to Utrechtseweg and the first of a few different approaches to the one hill in Amersfoort proper, known informally simply as Amersfoortse Berg. It’s only a mere 44m above sea level at its summit, so “Berg” is a pretty generous description, but perhaps ironically the part of town around here is called “Bergkwartier” and the park in the Bergkwartier is called “klein Zwitserland”. No, really. We aren’t climbing all the way each time because we’re going up and down various sides of this one hill in order to make things as interesting as we can. Think of this as kind of like a Dutch parent telling their child who has inexplicably got fascinated by 1980s cycling history “we have Monticello at home”.

Here we fall into a bit of the pit of Climbfinder’s auto-generated profiles, seeing as while they give us a good hint of what to expect, the fact that some of these profiles top out at higher than the official surveyed summit of the climb mean they have to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt, but the first ascent amounts to the first 1,1km of this profile. Yes, we’ve certainly seen deadlier climbs. 1,1km at 2,5% with a steepest 100m averaging 5%, I think even the oft-derided likes of Ivan Quaranta, Andrea Guardini and Danilo Napolitano could get over that, while Kenny van Hummel would probably be winning GPMs here. We then “descend” Abraham Kuyperlaan, which Climbfinder records as 1km at 2% with nothing worse than 3% and some nice greenery either side of the road, plus only one curve which means that only the roundabout about 1/3 the way down will provide any kind of meagre threat to anybody’s concentration levels - the loss of which late in the race is probably the only way anybody’s going to suffer on this one.

Heading back along the flat base before a left on to Daam Fockemalaan - named for the early 19th Century author, not his namesake, the late 19th Century cyclist - and then another left which enables us to take a slightly more challenging ascent, going through Beerenbroucklaan, Prins-Willem-Alexanderlaan and finally Belgenlaan, which passes the Belgenmonument, the largest monument in the Netherlands, and named as it was constructed by Belgian soldiers in the aftermath of World War I to commemorate their internment in the area.

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This behemoth of a “climb” is 600m at 3,8% but the crucial part is that the last 175m of ascent average 7% and there’s 100m of that at 8% - enough that there might be some who can use it to work from, especially given there are a couple of 90º corners immediately following that section. We will actually complete the entirety of this climb as shown in Climbfinder, but I only bothered to reference the main body up to the 8% stretch.

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At the summit here we rejoin Utrechtseweg and head onto the large roundabout that is Stichtse Rotonde, one of the largest such road stretches in the country. Bizarrely it consists of a central, almost perfectly circular roundabout, and an outer elliptical ring which only links to some of the roads inside it, and for others serves as an elevated roundabout akin to a motorway junction, as the central roundabout serves as the end of the Rondweg Zuid, the southern part of the incomplete ring road.

This incomplete nature and odd foibles of the junction enables us to utilise this to our advantage; we can go around part of the inner roundabout to head down the Rondweg, before hooking an almost 180º right hander to climb up on Laan 1914 which runs parallel to it. This is just false flat, but the last 200m up to the outer roundabout section see the gradient climb up to 6%; we can then continue along the outer roundabout heading directly over the Rondweg Zuid that we descended a couple of minutes ago, and then descend the other side, adjacent to the Rondweg to its north, which is the side Climbfinder lists as the Klein Zwitserland side you can see here. After this, we have the only side of the climb that I really think has much chance of seeing any real action; I think there might be some tentative attacks on that last part of the Belgenlaan side but the main moves will be made on Hugo de Grootlaan, which is 700m at 4,7%.

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This partially brick-paved ascent has its last 300m at 6% and max stretches of 7%, but it’s more sustained actual uphill than the other climbs on the circuit which I hope gives us a chance of seeing some riders take risks to get away on it, especially as it’s only 3,4km from the finishing line the last time around. It’s the last chance to foil the sprinters if the pack is still together unless somebody does one of those Fabian Cancellara 1km darts. And you know with a Worlds that simply due to attrition from distance there’s going to be some hesitance about chasing those that try to escape late on; the days of 12 man teams like in Zolder for Cipollini are done, while in Doha Tom Leezer even somehow managed to nearly win, except for Belgium expending far more resources than were reasonable on trying to kid themselves Tom Boonen could still outsprint Sagan and Cavendish at that point in his career. I know that the echelons in the desert made that one a bit of an anomaly compared to, say, København, but nevertheless.

However, this seemingly paltry obstacle is not too dissimilar to what we saw in Montlhéry 1933 (Côte Lapize being 1km @ 5,3% and 3,3km from home), with that climb being a little more difficult but the circuit being otherwise flatter; Luxembourg 1952, with the climb being further from the finish than here too; nor those routes like Moorslede, Reims-Gueux and Leicester that I mentioned earlier. The last port of call is to descend the 450m at 4% of Vondellaan, head down to the Stadsring, and then retrace our steps around to the station for the finish. The last corner is at 900m from the line and is a 90º left-hander with plenty of run-off. After that there’s a left-right kink, the former of which is the tighter at around 30º, before a final slight right-hand curve (only around 10-15º) at 350m from home. All of these curves are on a nice two-lane-wide section of dual carriageway (we went the other way at the start of the circuit) before an open sprint finish. Can you get out of sight and out of mind if there’s a bit of indecision about the chase and foil the sprinters here?

Probably not, but hey, at least I tried.

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In the Netherlands, this classifies as a somewhat hilly city
 
Here we fall into a bit of the pit of Climbfinder’s auto-generated profiles, seeing as while they give us a good hint of what to expect, the fact that some of these profiles top out at higher than the official surveyed summit of the climb mean they have to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt
However, there are also non-automatically generated profiles out there. In order:

(First 900m only)
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IMO this circuit would work really well with a point-to-point first 50-100 kilometres through exposed terrain.
 
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However, there are also non-automatically generated profiles out there. In order:

(First 900m only)
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IMO this circuit would work really well with a point-to-point first 50-100 kilometres through exposed terrain.
Much appreciated! It's been quite a while since I've gone in depth on a Dutch route and didn't realise Heuvelsfietsen included this section, I've only ever used it for the Veluwezoom and Limburg, but these are much better and more trustworthy.
 
World Championships RR: Béjar, Spain

Oh yes! Time for me to be somewhat lazy because I kind of already gave the game away on this one by mentioning it in a Vuelta design I did. I originally envisaged this as a World Championships, European Championships or hell, even Spanish National Championships circuit, but ended up needing a Béjar finish or somewhere nearby for the route I had in mind for the Vuelta and didn’t want the stage to be too decisive (or give away some other ideas I had in mind for the area) so I ended up spoiling it, so this won’t be totally new to old hands in the thread, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective. Probably fortunately for me because it saves a lot of writing.

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Béjar is a pretty small place to host the Worlds - population of 13.000 - but whereas in non-traditional countries larger cities and urban centres might be preferred, we have seen some fairly small sites in classic cycling countries host these championships; take for example Mendrisio (population 15.000), Valkenburg (population 16.500), or Plouay (population 5.800), so Béjar is big enough given it has a solid history in the sport, thanks primarily to the Banda de La Covatilla, a prominent group of voices in Spanish cycling who trained around the Béjar area and helped introduce the La Covatilla ski station to pro cycling, led by Miguel Ángel Martín Perdiguero and accompanied by the likes of Santos González, Aitor González and Rubén Lobato. But the city’s history in cycling was covered by me previously in a Vuelta route, so I quote myself thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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The circuit I have drawn here is 20,3km in length, and starts and finishes in the city centre’s Plaza Mayor. Finish on the right hand side of this image. This does take inspiration from the extensive research that the PRC guys did on the city… but also I went in a different direction from them, including one of the climbs they investigated, but also incorporating a climb they didn’t look at - but the real Vuelta a España has involved - and also approaching the city from a different angle to them, meaning that my run-in was different and separate to anything they investigated in their thread.

This was what I wrote about the circuit when I included a single lap of it in a Vuelta stage.

This was the plan that PRC came up with for a finish in Béjar:

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

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

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

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Left hand side of this picture

I think this finale would make an ideal World Championships course, as the two climbs are differing in style although similar in overall stats, and both are in the first half of the circuit. The final repecho is a kilometre long but the only difference-making bit is about 300m and not that steep, so you won’t see people leaving it to that final uphill. It ought to be a good finale and a warmup for the World Championships par excellence, too. And it would be nice to see the race make something of Béjar that isn’t just a stage start the day after a La Covatilla MTF, no?

For a World Championships, I wanted to have this one start in Salamanca and be like a much harder version of the Wollonggong Worlds with a more serious climb in the first 100km and then multiple laps of the circuit. I also used this approach in my Aosta circuit which I posted back in 2016, but sadly the profile is lost to Imgur’s rebuild. This was the plan:

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The first 90km of the course are rolling, heading southeastward toward Piedrahita and then turning westward. This then leads us over the same run-in I used in the Vuelta stage where I previewed this circuit. That means the longest climb of the race being the Puerto del Tremedal - 11km at 5,4% - and then basically 6km at 3,4% of Puerto de la Hoya, before we get into the circuit, which we can then take six laps of.

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Detail of the circuit

Having a course which has significant climbing - but part of that being cobbled and none of it being super steep - should hopefully make for an intriguing mix of riders being involved. I mean it’s hard to imagine a World Championships course where the likes of Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar aren’t among the major competitors, but it’s going to open up some interesting decisions for other nations.

Should the Brits focus on Tom Pidcock for this one, or does the consistent amounts of climbing - and the fact the race is in Spain - mean that the Yates brothers are a stronger bet? Or even Ethan Hayter, who has been great on this type of finish in the past in races like Algarve and the Ruta del Sol, but can he cope with the accumulated climbing? For the hosts, is Oier Lazkano able to make it to the end? If it’s a small group would Álex Aranburu or Pello Bilbao be the best bet? Or does the climbing make it one for Ayuso or even Mikel Landa? Is it a Julien Alaphilippe race, or could the likes of Valentin Madouas make it for France? Neilson Powless or Matteo Jorgenson for the US? How about some riders who should be contenders but will probably be foraging alone for the business end of the race like Ben Healy or Alexey Lutsenko?

I think that despite the cobbles in Candelário this should be more suited to the puncheur types and medium mountain guys, but we shall see.
 
@Red Rick

Yo Dawg, I heard you like short mountain stages that finish on a steep gravel extension of a climb, so I designed a stage that finishes on a steep gravel extension of a climb that could feature after another stage that finishes on a steep gravel extension of a climb. (After exploring a few options, I thought I might as well publish this one)

 
@Red Rick

Yo Dawg, I heard you like short mountain stages that finish on a steep gravel extension of a climb, so I designed a stage that finishes on a steep gravel extension of a climb that could feature after another stage that finishes on a steep gravel extension of a climb. (After exploring a few options, I thought I might as well publish this one)

I shall reluctantly condone this one by the will of the people