Stage 11: Saint-Palais - Urdax
This is a beautiful stage featuring some stunning roads and climbs in both the French and Spanish sides of the Basque Country. Starting in Saint Palais, an important crossroads on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, it heads south-east to Lanne en Barétous, flirting with the high mountains of the Pyrenees, but then easing away from them towards less severe terrain that looks nailed on to provide a breakaway victory.
Turning north initially to run down the Saison valley, the route then heads west towards the third-category Col d'Osquich, a little climb with a long and illustrious history as it featured on the 1910 Tour de France route when that race first ventured into the high mountains. Beyond the Osquich, the course soon joins the main route into Saint Jean Pied de Port, a very attractive fortified town that is another key staging point on the Camino, and then bumps onwards to Saint Étienne de Baïgorry to tackle the second-category Col d'Ispéguy, a short but very impressive ascent with fabulous views that tops out on the border between France and Spain.
What is initially a technical descent leads down into the upper part of the Bidasoa valley, where the riders will turn north to cross the final classified climb, the third-category Puerto de Otxondo. Dropping down again, the route passes close to the finish, but presses on northwards, continuing across the border for a little loop that brings it back into Spain for the finish at Urdax-Dantxarinea.
Although this transition stage won't upset the GC hierarchy at all, the route on picturesque roads that are too often overlooked by the Vuelta and the Tour will impress on a day when Thomas De Gendt and other breakaway specialists will fancy their chances of success.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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