Saturday 10 September 2011

Vuelta a España - Stage 21 Guide

Jarama Circuit, final start line of the 2011 Vuelta
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After yesterday's 185km journey from Bilbao to Vitoria, today is the short (95.6km), flat and partially ceremonial final run into Madrid and the winner's podium, thus ending the 66th Vuelta a España - the last of the 2011 Grand Tours. What a classic it's been: the organisers pulled out all the stops this year in an effort to ensure their race would no longer be considered the boring cousin to the Tour and Giro, making it one of the most challenging events we've seen in many years. We've seen many of a very beautiful country's most beautiful places and we've seen some of the most testing landscapes. We've seen riders abandoning due to the sheer difficulty of the parcours, we've seen relative unknowns ride through the pack and score incredible victories. Chapeau to Unipublic - viva la Vuelta!

Madrid's Royal Palace and Catedral de la Almudena (CC3.0)
The stage begins at the hallowed Jarama Circuit which, before modern Formula 1 rules deemed it to narrow for future races, hosted nine Spanish Grands Prix and no less than fifteen rounds of the World Motorcycle Championships. Designed by the legendary John Hugenholtz, the circuit was built in 1967 and in its current layout is 3.85km in length - the peloton will complete one lap to begin the neutral zone, exiting via the tunnel onto the road network and arriving at the start of the race proper after 5.2km. Heading south-west along the wide road, the riders turn right onto the Av. de Europa with numerous speed humps and reach San Sebastián de los Reyes after 9.6km. Reaching a roundabout, they turn 90 degrees right and left to access the Calle de Real, passing along it for 1.23km until a right turn onto the Av. de Espana leads into Alcobendas. Passing by  the Plaza Mayor and city hall, the race crosses two more roundabouts and arrives at the football ground in the Parque de Navarra, turning left just past it onto the Paseo de la Chopera and continuing for 0.88km until the Carretera de Madrid- Irún and turning right again.

Gran Via
The race is now on the Autovia del Norte, one of the primary routes into Madrid. After 6.2km - having now covered 20.3km from the start - they arrive at Salida 10B, an exit off the road, and take a complex route through the interchange onto the Av. Manuel Azaña and travelling west onto the M-30. This route leads to another interchange where the peloton will turn left to join the Paseo de la Castellana, travelling through 0.5km illuminated tunnel and reaching the Plaza de San Juan de Cruz 2.6km later. Continuing south leads to the Plaza de Doctor Marañón and onward to the Glorieta Emilio Castelar and, 1.6km further, the Paseo Recoletos.

La Plaza de Cibeles hosts the finish of the Vuelta (CC2.0)
0.4km later, the riders arrive at the Plaza de Cibeles and turn right at the roundabout for the Calle de Alcalá, then a slight tight after 0.43km onto the Calle Gran Via. Once at the Plaza de Callao, the peloton turns through 180 degrees and travels back along the Gran Via to the Calle de Alcalá and Plaza de Cibeles where they turn a sharp right onto the Paseo del Prado. Following the road for 1.4km leads to the Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V. Then, having turned 180 degrees left around it, they head back to the Plaza de Cibeles. This 5.7km circuit is repeated a further ten times, with the third and eighth circuits of the eleven forming the two intermediate sprints and the end of the 2011 Vuelta a España coming after 95.6km, when the surviving riders will have covered a total of 3330.1km since the race began more than three weeks ago in Benidorm.

We don't really need to include much of a history of Madrid here and it'd be practically impossible to do without running into many thousands of words: the city is a world capital, home to 3.25 million people and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Instead, here are a few facts (and if you subsequently win your local pub quiz, you owe us a pint):

Despite Spain's recent financial crisis, Madrid remains an
important centre of banking, technology and trade (CC3.0)
Madrid's Royal Palace, official residence of the king but wholly owned and used by the nation for state functions, is the largest royal palace in Europe. It covers 135,000 square metres and contains 2800 rooms, hosuign works of art by - among many others - Goya, Velázquez and Caravaggio.

The city has put in a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

The Museo del Prado on the Paseo del Prado has a collection of art considered by some experts to be the finest ever assembled. As a result, it's one of the most visited museums in the world. It houses 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, 8,200 drawings and a vast collection of historical documents. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a short walk from the Prado, contains one of the world's most famous and dramatic works of art - Picasso's Guernica.

Madrid is around 300km from the coast. However, it still has a beach - the man-made Urban Beach on the banks of the Manzanares River.

The oldest church in the city is San Nicolas de los Servitas. The 13th Century bell tower is believed to have originally been the minaret of a Moorish mosque.

CaixaForum, Madrid's most unusual building (and our favourite) (CC2.0)
Madrid is located 650m above sea level, making it the highest capital city in Europe

Perhaps the most unusual structure in Madrid, the bizarre and fascinating CaixaForum art gallery can be found near the Paseo del Prado. The ground floor is glass-walled, open and modern. The first and second floors are a far older industrial building, the internal walls removed to form an airy open space. The third and fourth floors are made from rusted steel plates, contrasting with a wall of living plants standing next to the gallery.

It's been the capital of Spain since the 17th Century.

The city's flag and coat of arms features a bear standing on its hind legs to reach berries on a tree. It's believed that Madrid was called Ursaria, "land of bears," in ancient times due to the large numbers of bears that then lived in the area.

Whilst regular readers will be well aware of our views on bullfighting, Madrid's Museo Taurino is worth a visit to see the costume worn by the famous matador Manolete as he attempted to kill his fifth bull in a single day. However, that time the bull got the upper hand and gored him to death. Hurrah!

Tourists tend to assume Madrid is hot and sunny all year round. It's one of the sunniest places in Europe with approximately 250 clear days per annum, but due to its altitude it can become very cold in winter and snow isn't unknown. The record low was -10C.

Plaza Mayor
Madrid's underground metro system is the second largest in Western Europe - only the London Underground is larger. It's the sixth largest in the world after London (largest), New York, Moscow, Seoul and Shanghai. However, since the city is the 50th most populous in the world, the system is unusually clean and pleasant, even at rush hour.

In 2010, Madrid's population was 3,273,049. They're joined by around six million tourists each year.

Now, how in the world are Unipublic going to top this in 2012...?

Predictions: With no change in the GC leaders' placings at the end of Stage 20, Cobo and Froome remain separated by 13 seconds. Traditionally, race leads are not contested in the final stage of a Grand Tour - but that most definitely doesn't mean they can't be. Anything could happen today, all depending on the sort of race it turns out to be - will it be gentlemanly good sportsmanship or will we see pedal-to-the-metal, teeth-and-nails alleycat warfare?

Weather: Hot. Starting at a horrible 27C, it'll get even hotter as the stage progresses to reach 29 or 30C at the end. Winds will be very light to non-existent - headwinds for the first half and crosswinds for the remainder, but not strong enough to make any difference. Once again, no rain is expected anywhere along the parcours and it should remain sunny throughout.

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