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We've had one mountain stage during the first week and some of the plain stages have been anything but flat; today and tomorrow are guaranteed knee-breakers and are likely to have a detrimental effect on the individual time trial specialists who have their sole chance to show what they can do in Stage 10 and ensure all the riders appreciate the rest day following the TT.
|Remnants of the Moorish defensive walls at Talavera.
|Not far from Cervera de los Montes and in the same province,
Toledo, is Illan de Vacas. With a population of six, it's the
smallest municipality in Spain.
The route begins to climb as Cervera is left behind, reaching 610m after a few kilometres as it passes by a forest. It reaches another roundabout just before Marrupe, where the peloton turn left to pass along the Carretera de Sotillo south-west of the village and soon finds itself on another potentially slippery section with wooded slopes either side. After around 3km, it reaches Sotillo de las Palomas - like its neighbour to the south, Sotillo's population in much reduced but, despite now being home to only 200 people, is officially a town; having been granted such status in 1692. Having clipped the very edge of the town, the road turns northward once again and passes an artificial lake surrounded by trees.
|Terrapins are a common sight in the Rio Tietar.
The CL-501 heads north-east, passing by green hills and farms, coming presently to a large roundabout at the junction with the AV-P-705; a much narrower and twistier road with some tight bends. There are some superb views from here into the valley we've just left. Molino del Labradero watermill is one of the most picturesque buildings along the stage - the most, if you prefer tumble-down stone ruins set among shady woods and babbling brooks to high-and-mighty Renaissance and Baroque. High ground to the west leaves no doubt that the race is heading into the mountains, as becomes even more apparent when the road begins the Category 1 climb after 37km, soon reaching Gavilanes.
There are few twists and turns on the way into the town, then a slightly difficult corner in the centre of town as the race reaches the Plaza de Sagrada Familia before it curves around onto the Carretera Mijares. There follows a hairpin and a 90 degree left, then the climb suddenly becomes steeper before reaching Mijares after 4km. The town sits right in the heart of the Valle del Tietar with mountains stretching to almost 2000m on three sides, making the views the best reason to visit. There is also an interesting church and many interesting - if ramshackle - ancient buildings, some with aesthetically-pleasing but terrifyingly unsafe-looking wooden balconies. The AV-P-705 leads to the Calle de Mayor which continues into the town centre, but the peloton will turn the other way to join the AV-901 which passes up to the northern edge of town, then loops around to the south and travels into a hairpin from where there are superb views over the valley, then passes over an old bridge. Once through a Z-bend, the parcours begins to climb steeply once again and reaches 1000m within a kilometre.
The next hairpin is a site of especial beauty, the road crossing by way of an old stone bridge a mountain stream as the water falls onto large boulders further down. The parcours changes to travel south, then west as it makes use of the contours of the land to find the least steep way up, then reaches a very tight hairpin and travels north again, crossing the same stream a second time via a bridge 150m higher up the mountain. For some reason, there's a stone-built public oven - about the size of a small bus stop - next to the stream. Another hairpin leads to a right-hand bend which looks set to be trouble-free, then leads to the next hairpin. The following section is spectacular as the road clings to a very steep mountainside, the gulley to the right dropping down 100m and the summit to the left rearing up 650m above the road. At one point, it passes a waterfall flowing through a deep slot it's cut into the rocks, no doubt over many hundreds of years; using a bridge perched on the slope. Down the gully stands a ruined bridge apparently of great antiquity. The last trees of any size can be seen nearby - from here until the descent, it's all ground-hugging shrubs, heather and moss. A hairpin in a narrow gully takes the route west again, leading past barren rocks. Just around the following hairpin is a roadside trough which, by the looks of it, was a welcome sight for many centuries to the horses and oxen that pulled loads up here and a little way further on the peloton reaches the highest point of the climb, 1570m above sea level.
Burgohondo is home to the Ermita de los Judíos, "the Chapel of the Jews." The building was constructed in the 14th Century and served as a synagogue, but later became a Christian site - as is made clear by the paintings on the walls within which, featuring the Crucifixion, Christian saints and the Virgin, would most certainly look out of place in any Jewish place of worship.
A short film (in Spanish) about the Chapel of the Jews.
Despite being home to less than 1300 people, the town has become famous for its cuisine and gastronomes travel for many miles to visit the restaurants, some of which serve fish caught in the crystal-clear river. It's also famous for giving the world two professional cyclists: Jesús Hernández Blázquez of Saxobank-Sungard, born in 1981 and an ex-training partner of Alberto Contador when he was a member of the Basque Iberdrola team and a friend of Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez; and Rubén Calvo, born in 1985, who now competes in professional mountain bike racing.
|Carlos Sastre, winner of the 2008
Tour de France, is a native of
|Fiesta de las Luminarias
But for a few gentle bends, the AV-P-307 is almost perfectly straight as it passes through the arid landscape all the way to La Cañada. This town forms a single municipal entity with the nearby village of Herradón de Pinares and the two communities have seen fit to vote in two members of the extreme right-wing Democracia Nacional, an equal number to the centre-right conservative Partido Popular, the deputy mayor openly expressing Nazi sympathies. Fortunately, it's an uninteresting little town without interesting architecture and so there's no reason to bolster up Democracia Nacional's reputation by remaining in the area and contributing to the local economy. After passing through an ugly new development on the southern edge of the town, the parcours turns a sharp right onto the CL-505 which, following a twisty section just beyond the town, is argely straight as it passes Navalperal de Pinares on the way to Las Navas del Marqués.
|Castillo-Palacio de Magalia.
The peloton leaves the town heading east on the AV-P-308 and, having crossed a wide bridge, begins to climb Cat 2 Alto de Santa Maria. The first hairpin follows a 90 degree left-hand bend and the altitude reaches 1200m halfway round. The next, coming in close succession, carries the race up to the 1435m summit just before the road becomes the M-535 at another hairpin, south of Santa Maria de la Alameda. The descent is long and fast but relatively free of obvious hazards other than a bridge set among stunning scenery as it crosses the Rio Aceña followed by a 90 degree right bend, then it begins to climb again into Robledondo, located 155.5km from the start and 1330m above sea level.
|The Rio Acena Road Bridge, one of
Spain's most popular sites for
bungee jumping. Each to their own.
|Monasterio de El Escorial
|A view from the west, showing the vast scale of the Monasterio.
Weather: Mercifully cooler again. It'll be hot at the start, around 26-27C right up until the foot of the first mountain. As would be expected, the temperature will drop progressively with altitude, finishing up at about 19C at the summit. Top temps on the other side should reach no more than 26C and then becoming cooler on the following climbs with 24C expected at the finish. Light headwinds shouldn't cause too much hardship and no rain is expected anywhere along the parcours.
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