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|The Basque flag|
|The beautiful landscape of Euskadi|
|Bilbao - largest city in Euskadi and one of Europe's finest|
|Panoramic view of Santona and the National Park (CC2.5)|
|Fuerte de San Martin|
|Palacio de Condestables|
|Casa de Musica|
Laredo is reached 15.7km from the start and hosts the first of the stage's two intermediate sprints beginning on the Calle del Duque de la Ahumada as it heads into the Plaza Capuchinos followed by the Plaza de la Constitución which is contiguous with the Calles de Revellón and del Emperador. At the end, the road suddenly takes a 180 degree bend and becomes the Calle de las Escalerillas and taking in a sweeping left before a tight hairpin. Gentle right and left bends lead south-west to a junction with the A-8 motorway with the race turning right to continue on the N-634 and along a straight 1.24km stretch into Tarrueza. More unchallenging bends lead to Liendo and Iseca Vieja before the race reaches a pair of very wide 180 degree bends, one left and one right to form a giant S - while the bends aren't a problem, the road does climb quite steeply here and rises almost 60m in 0.64km: a gradient of just over 10%. It continues to rise - more gently now - into the forest and heading south-east to the A-8, then swooping north-east before an easy 90 degree right carries the peloton into a descent and across a fly-over. Having passed by a junction on the left, the road enters a twisty section featuring a medium 90 degree right, medium 90 degree left, gentle right before a 130m straight, then a tight 90 degree left, tight 110 degree right and and a final medium 90 degree left before leaving the forest behind. After following the river for a short way it turns an easy 90 degree left onto a high, slightly curving bridge and turns 90 degrees right onto the CA-151 to head through more forest to Rioseco 33km from the start.
|Iglesia de San Vicente, Rioseco (from Sobre Cantabria)|
A tight 90 degree right and medium-tight left at Francos lead into a short descent along the straight road to Balbacienta, the road sweeping right to avoid the village as the climb really begins. A 90 degree left lies just beyond the last house on the left, followed by an equally technical right 160m ahead. The first hairpin, a left, comes three-quarters of a kilometre later. A right comes 210m after that, then a left 170m after that and a final right 110m later. All of them are wide and not especially steep, making it a relatively unchallenging section. An easy left/right Z-bend follows, then the race passes straight across two crossroads either side of copse before heading into forest with a medium 90 degree right coming soon afterwards. Medium left/right bends follow before a short straight leading to a medium right/left combination and a straight section up to the next hairpin, another wide one which shouldn't prove testing. The altitude reaches 300m just beyond before a gentle left/right Z-bend. A gentle right as we leave the forest leads us to summit, 42km from the start and 390m above sea level according to the official Vuelta statistics (our ESA statistics reckon it's nearly 20m lower than that, but ho hum).
The first descending hairpin comes almost immediately and, other than slight caution needed to avoid gravel possibly spread over the road surface, shouldn't be hazardous unless it's raining when all hairpins become hazardous. Two sweeping left-handers carry the peloton down to the second hairpin, a left. This one is an entirely different beast altogether; tighter, steeper and right at the foot of a vertical rockface that might not only deposit gravel on the road but could also very painfully stop any rider who enters the bend too quickly for his brakes to prevent it. The third hairpin, 330m later is no challenge at all; then the road descends gently around easy bends to Montealegre, rounding a medium 180 degree bend as it reaches the village. It travels right through, becoming almost perfectly straight for 1.1km until a sweeping left leads directly into a medium 90 degree right and onto the approach towards Sámano.
|Painted palm print, Cueva de la Lastrilla|
(from Gobierno de Cantabria)
Category 3 Puerto de las Muñecas, with 290m of climbing in 4.9km, begins 54.6km from the start. A straight section of around 1.8km leads into Otanes, a village stretched out for 2km along the road. At the south-eastern end we pass by a junction with the CA-523 and head into the forest which covers the hill the race is about to climb. A medium right and left almost immediately brings us to a clearing with two buildings, then 1km later the road is crossed by a footbridge followed by a medium right, an easy left and an easy right. A medium-tight right lies 0.43km ahead, the altitude reaching 200m at the apex of the bend before dropping slightly and then climbing more steeply. Another medium 90 degree left 0.29m ahead precedes a sweeping right leading into a straight that reaches 300m at the far end before a 180 degree right. A tight left at the end of the next clearing leads into a medium left, then a tight right and the 390m summit in a clearing where two roads join from either side with 59.5km ridden so far. From this point, the road becomes the BI-3601.
|Having been kept away by the violence|
of ETA and other armed groups, the
Vuelta returns to the Basque Country
after 33 years.
After an initial straight section through the trees, the road enters a gentle right followed by a sharper right; then reaches a section with tight ascending hairpins leading into San Esteban. The first is a tight left, not steep; the second, after 150m, tight right, not steep; third, after 290m, tight left, not steep; fourth, after 240m, medium right, not steep. A straight section leads into a gentle 90 degree left leads into a sweeping 120 degree right followed by a gentle left, then a straight up to sweeping left-right-left bends carrying the road back into forest. Once out of the trees, to continue on the same road requires turning a 180 degree left, leading to a 180 degree right and then following a wide bend into Txabarri (note the unmistakably Euskara place-names beginning to appear) before the BI-3634 joins from the right. However, if we ignore the 180 degree bend and continue straight ahead, we round a 90 degree left and head past Larrea before joining the BI-3631 a little further on. The first route is 2.4km, the second 2.13km - we suspect that, in view of the Vuelta's notoriously inaccurate road book itineraries, the second will prove to be the one taken. Just past the second junction, the road turns sharply left and then right for no apparent reason other than to add a little technicality to what would otherwise be a straight and unchallenging section.
Güeñes forms part of a chain consisting of four towns - Zalla, Aranguren, Güeñes, Sologutxi - that have grown and become contiguous, forming an unbroken urban area almost 6km east to west but only 1.3km north to south at its deepest point. It's the largest town we've seen on this stage for some time and has a fine 16th Century church, Iglesia de Santa Maria. There is also an atmospheric ruined mansion, now in a state from which it could probably never be restored to its lost former glory. One of the oldest structures in the town is the Caserío Errekalde, a superb example of the gabled farmhouses traditional to the region in which two stone barn-like sections are joined by half-timbered living quarters occupying the first and second floors in between, leaving an open area below for the storage of hay (for images, click here). Once, it was also the site of the wonderfully-named Palacio de las Brujas - the Palace of the Witches - but it appears that this building vanished some time after 1848 when it was last recorded. The race enters town on the Enkarterri Kalea (Calle de Enkarterri), then turns left just past the town hall onto the Estarte Kalea which runs into the Lambarri Kalea and Ibarguen Kalea, with numerous speed humps along the way. Lambarri Kallea becomes the Artxube Kallea near Goikouria as a road joins from the right, then becomes the Mulikar Kalea as it approaches Sodupe. As we pass the town by, the road changes its name again and becomes the Lorgi Kalea, then the Olarbarrietta Kalea as it heads back into the countryside.
|Don Diego López de Haro,|
founder of Bilbao
|Palacio Chávarri, seat of the Civil Government|
|Torre Iberdrola. Bilbao does not rely on past|
glories and is ready to meet an even more
|The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao - one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in the world (CC3.0)|
However, since this is the first time the Basque people's favourite sporting event has been seen on their soil for so long, it would seem highly likely that we can expect Euskaltel-Euskadi to pull out all the stops and go for a stage win. Fair play to them - they have our best wishes, even if it means the British-based team loses.
Weather: Warmer than it has been: 27C at the start line, then increasing gradually to a high of around 34C at Bilbao - more than enough to make extreme physical effort very uncomfortable indeed. A moderate headwind up to the 60km mark will be very unwelcome, especially over those first four climbs. The direction will remain the same but they'll become less strong towards the halfway point, then become gentle crosswinds for the remainder of the parcours. Once again, it's expected to be sunny with no rain over the entire route.
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