Tuesday 9 August 2011

Vuelta a España - Stage 1 Preview

Benidorm: more skyscrapers per capita than anywhere else
on Earth.
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This year, the race starts with a 13.5km team time trial around Benidorm. To many of us, Benidorm is merely a name seen on hand-written posters in cheap travel agents' windows and, unless we like drinking a lot of lager and going to loud parties, a place to which we would not go (as it happens, I rather enjoy drinking a lot of lager and loud parties - that sort of holiday still wouldn't be for me, though). However, it has a lot else to offer - contrary to popular misconception, it was not born in the late 1960s with the advent of the cheap package holiday and has ancient roots, with a community existing here for at least two thousand years. It received a town charter on the 8th of May 1325 which, among other rights, permitted the inhabitants to build defences and a castle to protect themselves and their property - unfortunately, neither were particularly successful and following a raid in 1448 during which the pirates kidnapped almost the entire population, selling them on to slave dealers, the town was left virtually uninhabited. The castle was destroyed during the Peninsula War between Spain, France, Portugal and Britain, and today no traces of it and few traces of the medieval town walls remain.

Despite the war, Benidorm did well during in the 18th Century - it was ideally placed to take advantage of trading vessels entering and leaving the Mediterranean and became a centre of the tuna fishing industry. In 1740, a strange incident that has been called a miracle took place when townspeople discovered a ship washed up on the Playa Poniente beach where nowadays the only thing found washed up in the morning are sun-burnt tourists who thought swimming in the sea was a good idea after twenty pints of Stella Artois. The ship's crew had vanished so, worried that they might be about to suffer a plague outbreak, the Benidormense set fire to the vessel. Afterwards, a stature of the Virgin was discovered among the ashes, completely unharmed by the flames. It was named the Virgen del Suffrage and became the town's emblem. Today, Playa Poniente provides the backdrop to Stage 1.

When complete, the InTempo will be Europe's tallest
residential building.
The good fortune lasted through the 19th Century and by the turn of the 20th, the population had risen to almost 3500 people. This then dropped in the first half of the last century as young people left for the cities in search of work and the Civil War took its toll, leaving with 2726 souls by 1950. However, it was in the 1950s that passenger jets began to revolutionise tourism and the cheap package tour was born, leading to the birth of the Spanish tourist industry upon which Benidorm's economy is now based. By 1960, the permanent population stood at almost 6300 and had nearly doubled a decade later. Twenty years later it had gained another 30,000. Now, it's home to 71,000 people - and host to at least another 100,000 visitors in any week during the summer. To accommodate such rapid growth, many high-rise buildings were constructed so that Benidorm now has the highest number of skyscrapers per capita anywhere in the world - including the Gran Hotel Bali which, at 186m, is the tallest hotel in Europe and hosts the annual BASE Jump Extreme World Championship and only slightly less mad Stair Race, during which competitors race up the 52 floors to the viewing platform at the top. Once construction is completed in late 2012, it will also boast the tallest residential building in Europe in the shape of the 200m InTempo.

Though there are many long, straight sections on very wide roads to encourage teams to ride fast, this is a parcours which does not forget tricky corners - there are several, especially in the last few kilometres, to make things more difficult.

Benidorm has a history stretching back far beyond the era
of cheap package holidays.
The start ramp will be set up on the Avenue de Vincente Llorca Alos and travel along the seafront for a short while until turning left into the Calle del Murtal and passing under a bridge onto the Av. del Murtal and the Av. de Cuba roundabout (rotunda) on the edge of the city from where the InTempo can clearly be viewed. The riders will travel anti-clockwise around the roundabout and along the Av. Papa Juan Pablo II which like most of the roads around the city is wide, well-built and studded with more roundabouts that Milton Keynes could ever dream about. There's one either side of the N-332, neither or which should cause the riders problems; however both involve a fairly tight bend and thus could prove hazardous if any oil or fuel spills have been missed during the pre-race inspection. It then passes underneath another road and reaches a huge roundabout topped with a curious and rather attractive sculpture in the shape of a huge white ring.

The choice is entirely yours.
The road now turns north-east around a ridiculously large golf course and past the hideous Terra Mitica, an enormous theme park featuring five themed areas and a massive shopping area with a wide choice of burger bars, each offering sweaty and tasteless "food" considerably more expensive than the delicious and traditional dishes easily found in any of the little restaurants along the back streets where tourists rarely venture in the city. The next roundabout has fountains; the following a ball-shaped sculpture with fountains where the teams turn around and head back the way they came until they draw parallel to the InTempo and turn left omto the Av. de Mexico, then sharp right onto the Av. de Bolivia. At the end, they turn left again onto the Av. de Villajoyosa which shortly becomes the Av. de la Armada Española leading along the seafront, leading to a difficult right turn onto the Carretera San Pedro and Carretera Alcalde José Such Ortega. The road then narrows to become the Passeig de la Carretera and turns a very sharp right to join the Alameda del Alcalde Don Pedro Zaragoza heading back to the seafront and onto the Av. de Madrid.

Wander away from the
tourist traps to find the
real Benidorm.
Towards the end of the beach is the Av. Ametlla de Mar, a left corner made more complicated due to the large amount of street furniture just beyond the apex, then another left to join the Av. del Mediterráneo, which is wide and straight but has several raised speed bumps and pedestrian crossings. When the teams reach the corner with Av. de Bilbao, the 13.5km stage ends.

Predictions: More information closer to the date.

Weather: More information closer to the date.

More Stage Previews: click here

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