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Stage 6 is another plain stage, but as those of you who either read our preview yesterday or are fortunate enough to live somewhere with live television footage will be aware, "plain stage" does not mean "easy" in the language of the Vuelta. Today is no different - while there are none of the mountains that appeared in the "plain" Stage 5, the organisers have gone all out to include as many difficult sections as possible.
|Ubeda with snow, showing some of its many historical
treasures. The church in the background is the Sacra
Capilla del Salvador.
Like its neighbour Ubeda, Baeza was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. We owe the city's beauty not to wise decisions to preserve old buildings in days gone by, but to economic hardship and recession: while the city flourished under Moorish rule and became home to 50,000 (three times the current population, the collapse of the Caliphate and return to Christian rule brought financial disaster and, like many Spanish cities, Baeza entered a long period of decline. This, combined with eventual economic collapse in the 17th Century, meant that new structures were too expensive to build and the population had to make-do-and-mend with what they already had. It must have been horrendously tough at the time, but those long-dead residents would hopefully take some comfort in knowing that their descendants are now beginning to grow wealthy from the tourists attracted by the ancient buildings. It is, nevertheless, fortunate that anything is left - the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 caused widespread damage. Sights include the Palacio de Jabalquinto, the Catedral de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora de Baeza, the former university dating from the 16th Century and the buildings around the Plaza del Pópulo. There was once a vast fortress located on a hill within the town, containing a castle and palaces and said to have been as beautiful as it was impregnable. It was destroyed during the 15th Century on the orders of Queen Isabel to prevent rebellions by local aristocrats and the masonry used in the construction of new buildings; leaving very little to see at ground level today.
|Medieval streets, Baeza.
The parcours continues south-west, passing through a lush green area which stands in stark and welcome contrast to the surrounding landscape and the tragically semi-derelict Castillo-Palacio Tobaruela, of which it looks as though nothing will be left within another two decades unless someone fabulously wealthy rock star takes a shine to it and restores the old walls. Though imposing, it's not an especially attractive place and looks too spooky for many. Marilyn Manson, we have a job for you.
The N-323 leads to roundabout next to an industrial estate as the race reaches Mengibar, leading to the possibility of diesel spills which can be both lethal and virtually invisible especially in rain, where the peloton turns right onto the Av. de España which has a wide central reservation lying in wait to catch out any rider who ill-advisably picks this point to look around for team-mates. The Vuelta road book also warns of "steep gullies" here. Five roads lead off from the end, the parcours takes the fourth to pass along the C. Santa Amalia which leads straight on to the Carretera Espelliy and Carretera Espeluy, then the JA-3413 leading away from the town.
|Iberian bronze, discovered at Mengibar.
|Villanueva de la Reina
The road narrows considerably as it becomes the C. del Matadero, then turns right onto the C. Pozo del Llano and C. del Tejar before a bend onto the C. Alcantarilla and C. Cañuelo. A sweeping bend leads to the C. Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente and right onto the A-321shortly before it becomes the A-305. After 2km, the parcours comes to a fork where the peloton will take the left path onto the A-6176 to reach Arjonilla, 77.4km from the start. The C. de Arjona into town is technical with a lot of street furniture and raised humps but should allow glimpses of the castle before the C. de los Molinos and C. Doctor Garcia Mazuelo carry the riders into the centre of town. A sharp left corner then takes them south along the JA-4401 and out of town.
After some kilometres, the JA-4401 reaches the JA-5400 just south of Santiago. The parcours turns right on the potentially dusty junction before heading west towards Lopera, located 94.6km from the start. Lopera's castle is extremely well-preserved and looks precisely how a medieval castle is supposed to look, with high walls and enough turrets and battlements to keep even the most imaginative of Gothic novel-writers happy for years. There are far more modern defensive structures in the town, too - it became on of the most important sites along the Andalusian Front during the Civil War and saw one of the most important battles, leaving many gun emplacements, shelters and other features in the town and surrounding countryside. However, we shan't see much of it today because the peloton turn south onto the A-6175 almost as soon as the enter the town. Just north of Porcuna, the riders turn right onto the A-306 and head towards Cañete de las Torres.
The road passes over a bridge, but as this is a main arterial route it should be as wide as the road and create no problems, though cross-winds could be high if conditions are right. On the outskirts, the peloton turns left into Cañete de las Torres along the C. Federico Lorca which joins the C. Menendez Pidal. A left corner takes them to the Av. de Jaén, then the C. Antonio Mauro, C.del Molino and C. de la Glorieta - a route taking us around many of the medieval streets - lead back to the A-306 heading for Bujalance.
|Villafranca de Cordoba's surprisingly
After 151km, the road sweeps around a right bend before passing under the motorway and then turns sharply left onto a narrow bridge. This combination of high-speed bend, technical corner, constriction and possible slippery road surface due to the surrounding trees makes this seem the most likely spot for crashes on the stage as the peloton will need to sharply reduce speed and form some sort of order to get across, since the bridge looks able to take no more than three or four abreast - and even that would be pushing things. Once off the bridge, another tight left takes them back onto the road, back under the motorway and onward. North-east of the narrow bridge is an enormous dam, holding back the Embalse San Rafael de Navallana lake which, though located at an altitude of around 150m, has a distinctly Haute-Alpine look. The road then follows the Guadalquivir for a short stretch, passing south of a large mansion, then joins with the N-IVa heading west into Cordoba.
|Cordoba, "the jewel of the world": inside the cathedral
This route carries the race just east of Medina Azahara, one of the most astounding archaeological sites in Europe and the entire world. Once a city of palaces, work began here in the 10th Century to build the ultimate expression of the Caliphate's power, wealth and superiority over its enemies - which has led to a common modern description, "the Versailles of the Middle Ages." However, anybody with even the most rudimentary of imaginations cannot doubt that, at its height, this place easily surpassed Versailles. That height was a very short period of time - having been equipped with fortifications, palacial residences, mosques, bathhouses and aqueducts to bring water for the inhabitants, gardens and fountains, it was looted and suffered much damage in a civil war in 1010, less than a hundred years after building began, and was then subsequently abandoned to fall into ruin for nine centuries until attempts to study and preserve it began in 1910. In the following century, only around 12% of the entire site has been excavated but this already includes two palaces, two mansions, guard houses, administrative buildings, gardens and a vast reception hall.
Once the CO-3402 flattens out and once again travels through arid landscapes, it's not long before the peloton reach a roundabout on the outskirts of Cordoba. They turn left here, soon coming to another roundabout which they cross to join the Av. de la Azufarrilla (Azufarilla in the Vuelta details, Arruzafilla on maps). This leads over a roundabout with a spectacular fountain - best seen at night, when it's lit by coloured lights, and don't miss the small section of Roman aqueduct just before the roundabout - before turning right to join the Av. del Brillante leading south to the Av de al-Nasir where, after 196.8km, the stage comes to an end.
|Cordoba at night
The Roman Bridge and the Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba.
As would be expected, Cordoba offers far more to see than we can list here. However, among its many jewels are the numerous Roman remains including a near-perfectly preserved mausoleum in the Jardines de la Victoria, the 14th Century synagogue that was restored and reopened in 1985 to commorate the 850th anniversary of Maimondies' birth, the Torre de la Calahorra fortified gatehouse, the ancient watermills on the Guadalquivir river, the many palaces, the Mosque-Cathedral which began life as a pagan temple and the Roman bridge. It is not a place than can be seen in a day.* Estimates range from 500,000 to a million - assume somewhere roughly halfway between is probably reasonably accurate.
Predictions: Could today be Bradley's day? We think it could. However, if he wants it he's going to have to beat Sylvain Chavanel; because this is the ideal stage for breakaway specialist Mimosa
Weather: Moderate headwinds all the way today and hot, too - so it's lucky the riders have the Jewel of the World to look forward to, otherwise they probably wouldn't bother. We can expect 31C at the start, rising to 33C by 20km and up until 140km when it could be a degree warmer. It'll drop three degrees or so at the top of the Cat 2 climb before Cordoba, then rise to 34C again in the city.
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