Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian Preview
After the Tour, as in every year this is the return to the one-day races, in a cycling loving region of the Basque Country the Clasica San Sebastian will be ridden in it's 39th edition. It is a very interesting race, ridden alongside the hills around San Sebastian it's a race that suits the puncheurs and the climbers, being split between the two types of riders perfectly over the last few years. As it is usual it is quite a hard route, as in the last few years the decisive spot will be in the Alto de Murgil but there is some extra climbing this year.
Known for it's dificulty it's one of the hardest one-day races in the World Tour calendar with almost 4000 meters of climbing. Through the winding steep roads of the Basque Country it is a route that has changed in some aspects as I've previously mentioned, featuring new climbs within the course. Before they get to the first bit of serious climbing there are 50 kilometers of winding yet calmer roads that the riders will face later in the day. They will however follow in quick succession a 7km climb at 5% and a 4.8Km climb at 5.6%, still very far from the finish but the fatigue will be settlin in early on. There is some more rolling terrain until they get to the decisive sequence of climbs in the race. Which starts with the iconic Jaizkibel, 8Km at 5.4% but that comes as a warm up to the climbs following.
It comes with just under 70 kilometers to go but the Erlaitz climb is the first decisive challenge of the day. It features some very hard kilometers in it's opening section that are a very decent launchpad to those teams looking to make the race hard, both by pace or sending riders to the front it will begin to be known which riders won't be contesting the race and those who will.
This Mendizorrotz climb is famous. So, this is a summit above the Murgil climb. The Murgil ramps will be climbed twice, this first time there's an added gradient on the opposite direction of San Sebastian and it summits with 37.5 kilometers to go. It may be a vital area of the stage, the ramps are brutal as you know (and as I will later describe), if the climbs are strongly attacked the leaders will pretty much be left without riders to help, decisions will be made here and leaders may be on the attack, as there may be lack of organization after this climb.
And the final ascent of the Alto de Murgil finally, it is the finish since 2017 (NOT to be confused with Murgil Tontorra climb) and it's a brute. Having a very narrow aproach to it the climb itself is very very narrow, positioning is vital at all times and the riders will already enter at full speed. The attacks usually come in the final 900 meters that average around 14%, ramps of up to 18% close to the summit. Comes just a mere 6.7 kilometers from the line and most are descent, it can make the final selection or launch a rider solo into victory in San Sebastian.
There is however the descent into San Sebastian, a bit over 3 kilometers, quite a fast one where the speed goes over 70Km/h regularly. The road is wide, there is some advantage if you're a specialist but not more than a few seconds. But above all it provides rest if someone is solo in front.
With the descent completed it's only 3 kilometers to the finish. It's a short effort so it allows a solo rider to keep the gap if he has it. If there's a group has it's also regular, there's the chance for some last-minute attacks, riders to join in from behind but also the preparation of the sprint.
A hot day, 25 degrees on the Basque Coast but the high exposure to the wun and slow climbs will make it felt. The wind, it will come from the north around 10 Km/h with 25Km/h gusts, not very strong but it is there. The Murgil would in theory have a headwind to it but it's a very covered climb and full of spectators so it won't make difference there, and the run-up to the line is in a crosswind.
Little bit of insight
There's a wide range of favourites for this race, there's also a variety of types of riders who could realistically fight for the win. However, this year the race is a little harder, there's more of a rough section before the final climb so there may be very important things going on in there. Nonetheless I still expect the race to come back together before the final climb, or at least close as the teams with riders still left in the pack will be looking to give their all for the positioning, and even hard chasing if such is needed, the final climb isn't about having teammates it's about having the legs.
Usually the Tour is said to be the best warm-up for the race, in fact the last rider to win this race that didn't come straight out of the Tour was Leonardo Bertagnolli in 2007, and he was later stripped out of that win. That says a lot. So looking at the list of contenders you would expect the men we've seen racing around France for the last few years to be in the lead of the race.
Looking at the startlist there are two obvious contenders. First is Julian Alaphillipe, revelation if that could even be said of his Tour performance and outright candidate to win. He is the defending champion, last year he took a win with the same expectations he has this year.
The other main candidate is the rider who has been on the podium the most times, Alejandro Valverde, winner in 2008 and 2014 and on the podium on four other occasions, he also has a perfect profile for this race and would be the main contender if it weren't for Alaphillipe's current climbing, as he recently showed great form at the Tour and seemed as sharp as he could be by the end.
These two will be the men (and teams) with the pressure to chase. Next up, which former winners are present? There's Bauke Mollema, winner in 2016 and a rider who is consistently strong in this race, he is a very good fit and is coming as the leader of Trek. He seemed fatigued in the Tour after a Giro-Tour double but he has had a chance to recover in the meantime. Tony Gallopin, 2013 winner is coming as AG2R's leader, he has shown good legs towards the end of the Tour but he is lacking the power of his prime years, still a solid choice for the Top10. 2009 winner Roman Kreuziger, also another rider past his prime but with very good results recently from the Tour, leads a maybe fragile Dimension Data but he can rely on his rivals. The last winner is Adam Yates who won a controversial edition in 2015, he and his brother Simon both come in as outsider favourites, they are perfect riders for the kind of muritos this race is decided on but the question comes with their form. Simon, he seemed really strong in the Tour but he is also targeting the Vuelta and it's a bit unclear where he may stand as he's having a very loaded season, and Adam didn't look good in the Tour.
Tour winner Egan Bernal leads a strong INEOS, he crashed out of the race last year but this year he comes with sky-high confidence, he is a rider that fits these short climbs but isn't as explosive, but he can benefit from the amount of climbing in the race, and having support of riders like Wout Poels, Eddie Dunbar and Ivan Sosa can be very precious. On the climber's side with him is Mikel Landa coming from the Tour, there's Dan Martin who's trying to recover from a very disapointing race alongside Tadej Pogacar, a duo that succeded in the Basque Country back in April.
There's also Michael Woods and David Gaudu (alongside Rudy Molard), another couple of riders that love this kind of climb and could be a real danger to the race. There's too Astana led by the basques Pello Bilbao and Gorka Izagirre, Patrick Konrad, George Bennett but the real joker I would say is Hugh Carthy, although a bit heavy for this type of murito he does have a tremendous quality in them, sharing the lead with Woods and possibly Simon Clarke seems like an advantage and not a burden.
On the more punchy side Greg van Avermaet is a solid contender, was set for victory in 2015 before being ran into by a motorbike in the final climb, there's the ever-exciting duo of Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot who you'd think could do some serious damage in the race, two powerful puncheurs who could put the climbers in stress, and Anthony Roux, third last year.
Deceuninck/Movistar - The teams that will be controlling the race, pacing and the main ones who will be pressured into chasing if there are attacks coming from the other teams.
INEOS/Mitchelton/UAE/Astana - These teams relly purely on their climbing skills, these have to make the race hard since very early and drain the puncheurs as much as possible, alongside putting on the pressure.
EF/FDJ/Trek/Jumbo - These also rely on their climbers but with lesser quality, they can affort to stay in the peloton and hope for the best in the final climb but perhaps will risk it early on.
AG2R/Bora - These will definetely stay in the peloton, Bora not so much but AG2R is very one-sided and they don't have the team to be positioning their leaders in the finale, so unity and consistency is necessary.
CCC/Lotto/Cofidis - These teams would really benefit from an easy race until the foot of the final climb, some heavier riders as leader that could pull something off if it just comes down to that final climb.
Sunweb/Bahrain/DD/Katusha - The remainder of the WorldTour teams, they have solid riders on board but unlikely to see them contest the race.
Burgos/Caja Rural/Euskadi - The national Pro Continental teams, some decent riders in there but the focus will definetely be on having riders in the front and trying to conquer the KOM classification.
⭐ Poels, Mollema, A.Yates, D.Martin, Pogacar, Landa, Carthy, Wellens, GV.Avermaet
Just about any tipster will put you on this man. Form is brutal, quality even higher, there's pretty much no scenario that could see him not the main favourite. He has the team and the race's tradition and normal dynamics all point to a clash on the final climb where solo or in a group he is the candidate for the win.
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