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The riders in Spain´s premier cycling race enjoyed one hell of a ride today…hope they had time to enjoy the spectacular places they rode through… here is what they flew by today in Cantabria, Northern Spain. Not a bad ride…

La Vuelta is our version of the Tour de France or the Giro de Italia. Those are the big three in the cycling world with the Tour obviously the best known. Here is the official website if you want to check out La Vuelta details.

La Vuelta came through Cantabria today on a magnificent stage that started at sea level in Santander (our capital) and ended up in Fuente De in the heart of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Today´s stage ended up more than likely being the deciding stage in the 2012 Vuelta. Cantabria´s mountainous terrain usually never disappoints so its always fun to get out and see the stages that come through. We had three of them here last year, only one in 2012, but what a stage.

I had wanted to go up to Fuente De to see the finish at the top but had to be near Santander this morning so saw it on the coast. I chose a good long stretch near Liencres because of the nice coastal views and it was long enough to see the riders for more than a flash (although it was fast anyway).

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My stretch on the coast today…

I´ll get back to my stretch later as I want to give you my play by play of the incredible places the riders got to go by today, a Cantabrian cycling tour if you will, albeit at a professional rider impossible pace. I´ll slow it down for you using my pics of the areas they rolled through today.

They started in Santander, my birthplace and which just happens to sit on one of the most beautiful bays in the world… call me a liar if you disagree.

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Santander, the bay on the left and Cantabrian Sea on the right… oh and the King´s Palace in the middle…wonder what attracted him to spend his summers here?

The riders took off from Santander and headed west down the coast to where I was waiting, near Liencres. This is a better shot of the area from the air (took these aerials from a helicopter last year).

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The Cantabria coast near Liencres. Riders went along coast then up the Pas river that you see the mouth of in this shot.

I waited patiently and the troops (literally) started to arrive. It began with…

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The Guardia Civil (Spain´s National Military Police force) in droves of vans going ahead to cut off the roads

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Guardia Civil motorcycles racing by at speeds well above posted speed limits…

Then the Guardia Civil Helicopter just to make sure…

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…of course the press was there, loved the guys popping through the roof

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and finally even the cyclists showed up!!! Lead by more Guardia Civil of course…

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they came all together with no one out in front ahead of the pack (the peloton), they saved the excitement for a bit later
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they flew buy at what I found out later was a 48km/h+ pace

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and were gone in a flash…

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then hundreds of thousands of $ or Euros (or whatever your currency) is went by in lighter than air, spare bikes on tops of the team cars

From here they headed along the Pas river, eventually crossing it to go through Mogro.

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That´s Mogro on the left on the Pas River estuary

They then headed interior a bit going through Torrelavega, Cantabria´s nondescript second largest city, where I happened to stumble upon them again as I went to the hardware store for some paint!

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The press guys were still hanging out of the roof…

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Racing into Torrelavega

After Torrelavega the race headed to go through some of Cantabria and Northern Spain´s loveliest towns, including Santillana del Mar, Comillas and San Vicente de la Barquera.

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Lovely medieval Santillana del Mar… they skip the cobblestones..

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They rode by this great palace in Comillas (not at night, but I love it at night)

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then rode down the coast to San Vicente (the beach in the distance) with sweeping views of the Cantabrian Sea and Picos de Europa… what a ride…

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Fishing boats in the harbor near the bridge at San Vicente

The tough part of the race then began leaving the rolling hills of the coast and up into the mountains via the Nansa River valley, crossing up, over and back down to the Deva River Valley in the middle of La Hermida gorge. Here is what they saw…

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Up and into the Peñarrubia area of Cantabria with its never ending winding roads. This is where current leader Alberto Contador kicked it into high gear

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Down from Peñarrubia on that windy road across the way and into La Hermida Gorge, Contador gained much of his time today on this descent…

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La Hermida gorge that they rode through and out to the Liebana region of Cantabria

They rode out of the gorge and into the lovely mountain town capital of Liebana, Potes, and continued up to Fuente De, an ancient glacial cirque surrounded by the Picos de Europa, where the stage finished.

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The lovely mountain town of Potes and the road out and up to Fuente De

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The final climb up and out to the glacial cirque at Fuente De where Contador expanded his lead

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The end of the road and stage 17 finish of La Vuelta 2012: Fuente De, Cantabria in the heart of the Picos de Europa

Wish I had gone to the finish at Fuente De. Alberto Contador (who won the tour twice but was stripped a la how Armstrong will be now), Spain´s premier cyclist these days, won the stage beating the leader by more than 2 minutes. He almost certainly won La Vuelta on today´s stage 17 after trailing through 16 stages. Alejandro Valverde is just under 2 minutes behind him but that is an eternity given that the mountain stages are over and all Contador has to do is keep him in his sights… but anything is possible.

Hope you enjoyed seeing the part of Northern Spain that La Vuelta went through today, beautiful but you´d better be in good shape to do it on a bike! Northern Spain is usually a deciding factor in who wins La Vuelta (although the Pyrenees are also quite a bit). The mountain stages in Cantabria and Asturias are where many of Spain´s Vueltas have been lost or won. Here are a few parting shots from my outing last year at a mountain finish at Peña Cabarga in Cantabria, where 2011 La Vuelta winner and Cantabrian, Juanjo Cobo, battled it out with this years 2012 Tour de France winner, the UK´s Chris Froome. Juanjo Cobo lost this stage by a hair but eventually ended up winning the entire thing after one last mountain stage in Northern Spain going from Cantabria to the Basque Country.

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La Vuelta 2011: the UK´s Chris Froome in the crowd just under 1 km from the finish at Peñacabarga, Cantabria

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La Vuelta 2011 Winner Cantabria´s own Juanjo Cobo hot on Froome´s tail

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