Spain has finally caught up with the fast-rising interest in off-road gravel racing with full details of the country’s first ever ‘sterrato’ event released today
The Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior – which translates rather badly as the Jaén Interior Paradise Classic – will be held in eastern Andalucía on February 14, with 40 kilometres of gravel roads set to act as its main challenge.
The hilly, 196.1-kilometre event, which is already drawing comparisons with Strade Bianche in Tuscany or the Tro Bro Léon in Brittany, contains roughly 3,100 metres of climbing and seven off-road segments. Starting and finishing in two Renaissance-era cities – Baeza and Úbeda – the finishing circuit is tackled three times, and features a lengthy gravel climb.
Running entirely through Jaén’s vast ‘seas’ of olive groves, the first three segments of off-road come in the opening 50 kilometres, all but guaranteeing a good fight for an early break. And the final four segments come in a tricky final circuit, featuring a climb with gradients of up to 10 per cent before a finish in the centre of Úbeda.
"People are saying it’s like a Strade Bianche but I think there are elements of the Belgian and the French Classics like Paris-Tours in there too. Plus with all those circuits, that’s very typical of Italian one-day races as well," race organiser Pascual Momparler told Cyclingnews.
"We wanted a steep climb [which peaks out 700 metres before the finish in Úbeda’s main square] because those hard uphills are part of the Spanish tradition of racing as well. We’re trying to combine it all to give it a European feel."
The race has been deliberately slotted between the Vuelta a Murcia and GP Almería one-day races on February 12 and 13, and the Ruta del Sol, which runs from February 16-20 on the western side of Andalucía.
"That’s partly because it was better for the teams and their logistics, so we could be sure of getting as many WorldTour teams as possible. By doing this between Almería and Andalucía we could be sure that they kept down their expenses. But this is just for this year – afterwards we’ll see if we change it."
The race also represents an effort to fill the chronic dearth of one-day races in Spain. Apart from the recent string of one-day events in the Mallorca Challenge, which effectively form a stage race with different start lists each day, Jaén will be Spain’s fifth 1.1 ranked race on its current calendar.
"I wanted to organise something that was lacking in Spanish racing," Momparler added. "And the off-road element in Jaén is going to work well not just because it’s a demanding course, but also because of the outstanding natural beauty of the area."
The local authorities are currently immersed in a campaign to give Jaén’s olive-growing tradition and crops UNESCO World Heritage status.
As for the final crunch climb, "It’s entirely off-road, six kilometres long, and its final ramp has a gradient 12 per cent, with another 12 per cent ramp mid-way through. So it’s a very tough climb, but with those steep parts you’ll need to be the kind of rider who is able to accelerate away hard, too.
"And then in the last 700 metres from the summit to the finish, there’s some pavé" - albeit well-surfaced urban cobbles through Úbeda - "to finish off,"
Six WorldTour teams are set to take part: Astana-Qazaqstan, Bora-Hansgrohe, EF Education-EasyPost, Lotto Soudal, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and local squad Movistar. Headline riders include Miguel Angel López and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal).
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.