|Gaudi's Episcopal Palace and the Roman walls, Astorga|
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What a funny sort of stage this one is. It's virtually plain all the way up to the 100km with no climbs any larger than 350m - though much of it's over 1000m; so what climbs there are will feel more difficult due to the effects of altitude, which begins to take an effect at that height. Then it suddenly heads skywards in a Category 2 ascent up to 1590m, climbing 310m in a little over 6km, before plunging rapidly down to 490m - not much more than half the altitude of the start. Then it's back up again again, this time a Cat 1 to 1350m; before another plunge and the final grind all the way to the finish line, 1750m up at La Farrapona in the stunning Parque Natural de Somiedo. It's going to be a good one, folks.
|Catedral de Santa Maria, Astorga.|
There are many sights around the city, but the most spectacular are the medieval cathedral and - perhaps greater still - the Palacio Episcopal, designed by the great Catalan Modernist Antoni Gaudi and completed in 1915 to replace an earlier building destroyed by fire. Though his neo-Gothic creations are not as well-known as his later, more fantastical works such as the Parque Guell, Casa Batlló and of course La Sagrada Familia, the characteristic Gaudi signatures are all present; coming together to form a whole that looks like a castle dreamed up by Disney - if only Disney had such good taste.
|The 3rd C. Roman walls at Astorga. A 3km section remains.|
|Fontoria de Cepeda|
Abano looks set to suffer the same fate as San Pedro; being full of dilapidated, derelict and rather picturesque (and, at night, probably very spooky) buildings, many of them well on their way to becoming ruins. The peloton travel straight through a crossroads just beyond the village and come presently to Quintana de Cepeda, just clipping the easternmost edge of this village split into two halves. Having passed through an easy Z-bend, the peloton round a smooth 90 degree left-hand bend and enter a twisty section as the road begins to climb more noticeably on the approach to San Feliz de las Lavanderas. The last section before the village is straight but climbs gradually, reaching 1200m just into the bend skirting around to the north. There are some large exposed rocks, site of a little public park with benches, immediately to the right entering into the bend - the park must be a very pleasant place to sit with its tranquil views of the valley to the south and the higher ground to the north, but the high number of derelict buildings suggests that all is not well here either.
|Puente Ingeniero Carlos Fernandez Casado. The Vuelta's route can be seen|
passing below the bridge on the right.
|Sena de Luna|
Cat 2 Puerto de la Ventana begins 104.4km from the start, the road beginning climb shortly after Torrebarrio as the race approaches a bridge. The first hairpin comes at 1350m with two more - one easy, one tight - around 0.35km later near a parking place with excellent views. There are those who watch cycling races for bovine reasons, and this is an ideal place to see the cows grazing on the mountain pastures. Another hairpin over a bridge points us east and then, as we round a bend clinging to the steep mountain side which drops away to the right, we reach the highest point at 1590m, 111.1km from the start.
|Ermita de Nostra Senora de Trobaniello. Is|
it just me or does the foal look a bit like
(image from Descubreaturias.com)
There are more tight bends hidden among the trees, all of them potential trouble spots due to leaves, moss and the various other slippery stuff encountered in forests. There is all the likelihood of punctures due to thorns, flat tyres on fast descents frequently proving disastrous and making for a nerve-wracking section; so it's quite a relief to emerge back into open pasture and round the next hairpin. There are three more a little way further ahead, then the peloton enters the last section before reaching Paramo situated 120km from the start. It's an attractive village and although some houses are a little ramshackle, the overall effect is of a community considerably more wealthy than its neighbours.
Leaving the village behind, we climb into a narrow, rocky valley - one of the most beautiful sections of the stage, though the riders aren't going to like it due to the presence of another unlit tunnel, this one slightly longer than the last at 0.11km. Still - could have been worse, chaps: if Zomegnan had designed this parcours, the tunnel would have been 11km and on fire. On the other side, we ignore the TE-5 heading into Fresneu - a pity, as the village looks well-worth a visit - and continue on the AS-228 and through San Salvador de Duio, Riello and Las Vegas until we reach Samartin and the junction with the AS-225. We turn left, travelling east towards Villanueva and immediately beginning Cat 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo.
The climb is 10.1km long and ascends through 860m, making it the second longest - though not the second highest - on the stage. Along the way, we skirt past La Plaza, Quintanal and Villanueva de Cangas; hitting the first hairpin shortly afterwards. Since it enters a short descent and is surrounded by trees, there's a chance this one might be slippery. The next takes us over 1000m; the one after that is at Braña de Tuiza which cannot really claim to be a village at all, more a collection of cottages and outhouses - some very picturesque, especially those with thatched roofs. There's another one - with parking space and thus a likely point for a village of campervans to swell the local population - just to the north; at which point the road swings south and then west as it approaches the next pair. The summit, 1350m above sea level, comes at a bend in the road 142.1km from the start. The descent is steep, fast and technical with several challenging bends and two hairpins shortly before Orderias.
|Landscape typical of Somiedo.|
Having left the village behind, the route takes two hairpins past Arbeyales and enters a flatter section leading to Endriga, then onwards to Saliencia. From this point, there are 7.3km to the end of the stage and 615m still to climb; the road begins to get much steeper from now on. A left-hand bend by a large industrial building on the edge of the village could prove hazardous. The next section, despite the climb, is once again unchallenging; being made up of long straights and gentle bends. Soon we reach the first hairpin and reach 1500m around the bends that follow, then come to another pair of hairpins with a non-technical stretch in between and reach 1600m shortly afterwards. A third hairpin - entered via a bridge narrower than the road - is a short way ahead. We reach 1700m on the next straight which leads straight into the carpark at the highest point, the stage finish 175.8km from the start.
|Parque Natural de Someido. In the foreground, a teito.|
|Part of a traditional Vaqueiros de Alzada wedding ceremony, in which a pair|
of oxen haul the bride and groom's bed to their new home.
Weather: Pleasantly cool again - it was actually quite a bit hotter here at Cyclopunk Towers in Cambridge today than it was anywhere along the race's route. Expect a high of 21C at the startline, dropping to no lower than 19C until the high slopes of Puerto de la Ventana where it's likely to be around 15C. It'll rise back to about 19C in the valley beyond, dropping again to the same low at the top of Puerto de la San Lorenzo, then rise back up to 19C as the altitude decreases. Higher up in Lagos de Somiedo, it might turn quite chilly - perhaps as low as 11C at the summit finish. Echelons will be the order of the day once again, with gentle to moderate crosswinds expected throughout the course. There will become stronger at altitude, verging on moderate to strong at the peaks. No rain is predicted anywhere along the stage, but early sun will soon turn to cloud after the first 20km or so, becoming thicker towards the end.
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