Maintaining a profile: cycling’s most baffling elevation graphics

We all love race profiles, right? When we watch bike races, they form an essential part of understanding what’s going on – from the towns and cities dotted around the stage to the positions of the sprints and climbs, as well as any lumps and bumps that aren’t classified by race organisers but could still cause trouble for the peloton.

Heaven knows they’re useful for us to navigate the sawtooth profiles of the Vuelta a España at the moment – not that we appear to be reading them very well.

Meanwhile, RCS races such as the Giro d’Italia, Milano-Sanremo and Il Lombardia benefit from one of the best profile makers around. The ex-oil rig engineer Stefano Di Santo is in charge of churning out the detailed maps and profiles for those races. 

It’s a tough, time-consuming job, with Di Santo working all year round on the Italian organisers’ collection of races. There’s a balance to be struck between accurately representing the makeup of the route, between the toughness of climbs and the realism of the gradients. And then there’s the wealth of other information to include, with altitude data, town names, sprints, feed zones and so on. 

As you’d expect, the Grand Tours – as well as a swathe of other big races – are all taken care of, with the masterful Di Santo at the Giro and the ASO doing a professional job with theirs. Head over to ProCyclingStats and you’ll many other races represented by La Flamme Rouge profiles, which are in decent nick as well. But many official race profiles are sadly lacking in a variety of areas.

Here’s a look some of them – the strangest, most inaccurate, and downright bizarre race profiles of the cycling world.


Well, seeing as the race is currently ongoing, what better place to start with than the Vuelta itself? Heading back to 2008 and the race saw the inclusion of the fearsome Alto de l’Angliru for the third time. At 12.5km long and with an average of 13% for the second half, with a maximum of 23%, it’s one of the toughest climbs in cycling. Not that you’d know it from the official profiles, where -thanks to a distorted distance scale- it looks like a twenty-something kilometre Alpine slog.


We’ll remain in Spain for our second horror profile, heading south to the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid (above). Their designers blessed us with some real eyesores last year, busting out the WordArt to illustrate last year’s profiles. And then there’s the exaggeration – stage three  (top) looks like a monster mountain circuit, but the elevation profile covers a mere 50-metre span. Still, stage winner Jasha Sütterlin won’t have complained.


This year’s Vuelta a Burgos stage five had a different problem. I remember Iván Sosa and Miguel Ángel López doing battle on Lagunas de Neila, but the part where they rode up a negative gradient seemingly backwards in time certainly passed me by. A similar problem rears its head on the descent of the Alto de San Cuerno and the ascent of the Alto del Cerro. Strange.

Next up, a different problem. We all rely on stage profiles to give us an idea of how tough climbs are and how high they reach, but when the numbers don’t match up with what the profile is showing us we have a real predicament on our hands – which one do we trust?


Take stage seven of the 2016 Vuelta a Colombia (above). It starts off at 1820 metres altitude and finishes at 1470 metres, yet they’re seemingly at the same height. And to make matters worse, the category one climb of the Plaza Toros (2144 metres) is lower than the stage finish.


WorldTour races aren’t exempt either – stage six of the Tour de Suisse (above) saw the downhill finish at La Punt some 620 metres lower than the top of Albulapass, yet the profile designers seem to have missed the descent entirely. Oops.


Now for a cardinal sin of race profiles – the over-exaggeration of elevation. A sprint stage and an Ardennes classic should be decipherable immediately, right? Well some races prefer to be really thorough with their profiles, showing every lump in the road.


Take, for example, stage five of this year’s 4 Jours de Dunkerque (above). André Greipel took a solo win from the break – notable in itself, but a phenomenal achievement given the devilishly-steep climbs on the route. Only look at the y-axis and see that they’re not exactly walls. The ProCyclingStats representation is much more reasonable.


Nokere Koerse (above) suffers from the same problem. A race for the sprinters who can handle some light cobbles, it has seen Kris Boeckmans, Nacer Bouhanni and Fabio Jakobsen take the win in recent years. But just look at the race profile, for crying out loud! Thankfully for the sprinters, the Nokereberg is 350 metres long at a 5.7% average, rather than the near-vertical wall represented here.


Sacha Modolo won stage two of the Tour de Pologne last year, beating Danny Van Poppel in a peloton of 108 riders. Look at the profile (above) and you’d think everybody had extra helpings of Weetabix in the morning, either that or the stage was neutralised until the finish. How did they all survive the terror climbs of Silesia? Oh, it turns out the difference between the highest and lowest points of the stage is just 50 metres.


Oversimplification of information is another problem. The kooky 2007 Tour of Flanders profile crowbarred onto our page doesn’t tell us anything about the various muurs traversed by the peloton, only noting their existence on the route along with a nice ‘real road’ graphic. Things aren’t a whole lot better these days, either.


The recently-revived Colorado Classic (above) is perhaps the worst offender on this front though. Sure, we can see it looks pretty up and down, but where are the towns, sprint and KOM points? It’s almost useless.


Finally, a look at two smaller-scale races. The early-season La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, held in Gabon, is keen to note every lump and bump, with dozens of tiny climbs filling out the route of stage five this year.

Meanwhile, the Vuelta al Táchira – Venezuela’s biggest race – has gone for something altogether different from the other profiles we’ve looked at. We’re not sure what the ploughed field and snowy backdrop has to do with the race, but it sure is fancy.


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