|For those of you unfamiliar with the
breed, this is a Unimog - the most "go
anywhere" of 4x4 vehicles.
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The Vuelta organisers call this a plain stage, which does rather raise the possibility that some of the mountain stages this year are going to need to be completed in Mercedes Unimogs rather than on bicycles - one uncategorised climb, one Cat 3, a Cat 2 climbed twice and two sections with 23% and 27% gradients isn't exactly the dictionary definition of "flat."
The fun begins right where we left off yesterday at the Sierra Nevada ski resort, with the neutral zone coming to an end just outside Granada. Granada is unusual for a city in this part of the world due to there being no evidence of a settlement here during Classical times - in fact, though there have been many discoveries showing towns and villages nearby date from the Bronze Age and earlier, there is no trace of Granada before the 7th Century CE, merely tiny villages where it now stands. Then, having got going, it appears to have been largely abandoned during the 8th Century. The Moors adopted it early in the 11th Century, establishing a city they called Madinat Garnata around the base of what remained of the 7th Century fortress. By the end of the century, they had created a large urban area and it was becoming one of the most important cities in the region.
It may not have stood for as long as many Spanish cities, but Granada has packed a very great deal of history into its centuries. It was already famous for its many fine buildings during the 16th Century and kings of the time put vast financial resources into maintaining its splendour, this being the reason that so much still survives. Among its many jewels are the Catedral y Capilla Real, begun in 1518; the Monasterio de San Jerónimo, begun in 1504and the Palacio de Carlos V with its enormous circular central courtyard. There is, however, one structure in Granada that attracts more tourists than all the rest combined, possibly more than all the other buildings in Spain combined - the Alhambra, so famous that it's become a symbol of the nation. Moorish poets called it "a pearl set among emeralds," inspired by the forests that surround it on its perch above the city and it remains to this day the finest example of medieval Muslim architecture in Europe, despite the modifications made under Christian rule and the damage done accidentally, neglectfully and deliberately during the long period that it was but forgotten before being rediscovered in the 19th Century.
Two large roundabouts on the N-432 just after the end of the neutral zone may cause problems as the peloton will still be large and tightly-packed. There are a few others nearer Atarfe, but the road shouldn't cause any issues.
Atarfe, north-west of Granada, is far smaller; but it too has much to see including a contemporary Temple to the Sun, resembling a modernistic reinterpretation of Stonehenge, and a park named in honour of Pink Floyd. It goes without saying that the hippy movement remains popular in Atarfe. The parcours then follows the N-432, taking it past the foot of dramatic Monte El Piorno that looms 500m above the road before entering Pinos Puente 10km from the start line. The road out crosses a flat region, offering excellent views of the mountains, arriving in Venta Algarra after another 10km and Puerto Lope - "The Gate of Wolves" - after 14km, where picturesque ruined watchtowers stand on high outcrops. Once the town is left behind, the peloton face a 20km section through the arid fields which would support few plants were it not for the extensive irrigation projects which allow groves of fruit trees, the basis of the economy throughout this part of Spain. The road is wide and untechnical, but dust may make the tighter bends slippery as it heads towards Alcala la Real.
|Alcala la Real
|Traces of ancient dwellings on the Cabeza Baja de
"Locubin" comes from the Moorish name for the town, Hisn al-Uqbin; translated variously as the castle of the eagles or the castle of the caves; the latter seeming more likely due to the many caves in the surrounding mountains, where decorated pottery was left by shepherds 2400 years ago. The castle itself, topped by decorative palm trees and looking more Arabic than plenty of Middle Eastern fortresses, has rather ugly modern houses built right up against its walls yet still manages to be imposing. As soon as they've left the town behind, the riders begin the ascent of Cat 2 Alto de Valdepeñas.
|Los Villares, seen from high in the surrounding mountains.
After a few kilometres, the road enters a section where it clings precariously to a mountainside. On the left, the mountain rises to almost 1300m, on the right it drops 30m. An apparently abandoned tunnel, barricaded off with armco, leads into the mountain. Mountains can be seen up ahead as the riders pass by Vadillos and Jabalcuz before turning east and, after a short distance, coming to a roundabout where they take the left exit to enter Jaén along the Ctra Javalcruz. The Ctra. de Circunvalación ring road takes them to the JA-303.
|Jaen, with the castle to the left and the cathedral to the right.
|The Cathedral at Jaen.
|Jewish Quarter, Jaen.
The peloton leave the city along the JA-3303, which involves numerous raised traffic-calming bumps and roundabouts before reaching a bridge over and junction with the A-316 which heads west, taking the race past Torredelcampo and on to towards a large junction with a sharp left corner and a roundabout where the riders join the JA-3309 heading south into Jamilena. The Calle Virgen de Estrella leads to a right turn, potentially hazardous, into the Av. de Andalucia and the Calle María Axuliadora. A bend to the right on the southern edge of the town is another potential hazard. Jamilena is home to la Capilla de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno where a beautiful painting of Christ, dated to 1883 and a copy of an earlier work, was discovered. It subsequently vanished during the Civil War and hasn't been seen since, presumably being added to someone's spoils and now locked away in a private collection.
|Martos. The ruined castle can just be seen atop The
Rock, especially if you click on the image to
get the larger version :-)
|Torre del Homenaje
|Inglesia de Santa Maria, Alcaudete.
Predictions: A puncheur - someone who can ride well on any terrain and keep on plugging away for as long as it takes. Hmm... are you listening, Bradley?
Weather: It's a hot one again, ranging from 30-34C across the entire route. Moderately strong crosswinds in the first quarter of the race won't cheer anyone up, but a moderate tailwind up the Alto de Valdepenas and on towards Valdepuenas de Jaen will be welcome. The lower terrain between the two climbs will be much hotter, though the tailwind up until 127.8km will help. After that, with the race changing direction, it'll become a headwind of moderate strength for the next 40km or so before the route once again changes direction and a tailwind assists on the second ascent. The entire route will be dry.
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