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Clásica San Sebastián’19: The PEZ Preview

Race Preview: We may be in that vacuum between Grand Tours, but there is still plenty of ‘wheel-sport’ action at the moment – Tour de Pologne, RideLondon and Spain’s only one-day Classic: Donostia-Donostia Klasikoa — Clásica San Sebastián-San Sebastián. Ed Hood looks at the course and runners for Saturday’s big bike race.

San Sebastián – Donostia

San Sebastián, or Donostia in Euskara, the language of the Basque people. A genteel place sited on the beautiful bay of La Concha; the Spanish Royal family decamped here for the summer, the cool breezes from the Bay of Biscay easier on the skin than the baking heat of Madrid. And it’s a gastronome’s delight with one of the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants per capita in the world.

La Concha

Their Clásica is a ‘baby’ in the world of top flight races with the first edition held as recently as 1981 with the winner being Basque legend Marino Lejaretta who is ‘recordman’ for the race with three wins – ’81, ’82, ’87 and a second place in ’86.

Marino Lajaretta leading Perico Delgado in la Vuelta’89

As a matter of interest, that first year, classy Englishman Graham Jones – who Peugeot raced to the point of exhaustion – was second, as he also was in Het Volk.

Graham Jones, Roche, Millar and Simon

The fact that the slender man from Bérriz is the race’s most successful participant tells us much about the parcours; you must be able to climb – and descend. There are seven categorised climbs within the race’s 227.3 kilometres; the ‘Jaizkibel’ being the most famous. It used to be the decisive ascent, coming late in the day, long at 8.3K and exposed to the wind it now comes just after half distance with the real killer the Murgil-Tontorra topping out at 220K – it’s ‘only’ 1.8K long but with an average of 11.5% and with ramps of 19% meaning it’s almost certainly where the winning move will come.

The race has some interesting winners on the role of honour; in 1989 mountain biker turned roadman Gerard Zadrobilek won for 7-eleven and Austria before going back to fat tyres. The next year saw Miguel Indurain’s only classic victory on that beautiful boulevard alongside the sands of La Concha.

Miguel Indurain – A hero with the Basque fans

And in 1992 it was Mexico’s Raul Alcala winning for PDM whilst a certain Lance Armstrong took his first classic win in the race in 1995.

Steven Rooks, Kelly en Alcala in Milano-Sanremo, foto Cor Vos ©1999
Raul Alcala with PDM

The last decade has seen no surprise winners with Valverde twice, Kreuziger, Luis Leon Sanchez twice, Tony Gallopin, Adam Yates, Bauke Mollema, Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe all accomplished ‘puncheurs’ who can get over the climbs and don’t wear out brake blocks on the descents.

Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2015

Eight of those riders will line up again on Saturday and whilst Roman Kreuziger (Dimension Data and Czech) is unlikely to trouble the time keepers, World Champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar and Spain) is still very much a possible podium finisher, as well as his two wins he’s finished second twice and third twice.

Alejandro Valverde is used to wearing a txapela

LL Sanchez (Astana and Spain) is perhaps past his peak years but is still a highly capable rider with his most recent stage win coming in the Tour of Switzerland.

The Spanish one-day classic suits Tony Gallopin

Tony Gallopin (AG2R-La Mondiale and France) hasn’t had a win since last year in the Vuelta, but the parcours suits his style; as well as his win he also has two second place finishes in San Sebastián.

Adam Yates didn’t realise he had won

Adam Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT and GB) will be keen to make amends for his disastrous Tour de France – brother Simon may have a say too?

Bauke Mollema on the attack in the Tour

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo and The Netherlands) is always game but must be tired after the Giro and Tour back to back; that said, it’s a race he likes with two second and a third place, as well as his win.

Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos and Poland) just wasn’t himself in le Tour so it would be a surprise to see him on the podium.

2017 winner Michal Kwiatkowski – 2019 probaby not

It would be nice to see Alaphilippe on the podium again

Logic dictates that the most recent race winner, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and France) will be drained from his Tour exertions and the subsequent promotional whirl. But he is ‘special’ so whilst it’s unlikely he’ll be ‘up there,’ if he is then it wouldn’t be a surprise. Much depends on how a rider comes out of the Tour; many will be tired and seeking to keep their head below the parapet until the end of the season. But some riders will be frustrated by their Tour and desperate for a result.

Alaphilippe winning last year in San Sebastián

Past winners apart, the notable names on the start sheet are:
Jacob Fuglsang (Astana and Denmark) will be keen to make amends for a hugely disappointing Tour where he was one of the pre-race favourites or ‘going through the motions?’ We’ll know come late Saturday afternoon.

Has Jacob Fuglsang recovered from the Tour?

Greg Van Avermaet (CCC and Belgium) hasn’t had his best year with just stage wins in Valencia and Yorkshire to show for his exertions – motivated or tired after the Tour?
Again, Saturday afternoon will provide the answers.

Bad luck for Greg in 2015 San Sebastián

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin and Russia) won a Giro stage but then went into le Tour – the man must be tired but the parcours suit the lanky man from Naberezhnye Chelny.

Zakarin could do with a good result

Mikel Landa (Movistar and Spain) was active in the Giro and Tour; another man who must be tired – but he’s on home roads, always a big boost?

Mikel Landa might have some form after the Tour

But what of the ‘new wave?’
The parcours will be to the liking of precocious Tour winner, Egan Bernal (Ineos and Colombia) – least you forget he’s just 22 years-of-age – but he’s been riding the criterium carousel this week and it would be a surprise if there’s much adrenalin left in the glands.

Egan Bernal – A dream win in Donostia

David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is also 22 years-of-age and was one of the revelations of the Tour, riding very strongly in support of Pinot and he’ll still be on a ‘high’ – a top placing wouldn’t surprise us with this gentleman.

David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ) and Sebastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) in the Tour de France stage 18 to Valloire

Hugh Carthy (EF Education First and GB) at 25 years-of-age knows Spanish roads well as an ex-Caja Rural man; he was king of the mountains and a stage winner in the Tour de Suisse he’s well rested since – we fancy his chances. Team mate Simon Clarke carries the ‘one’ number for the race but he used up and awful lot of watts on the hard roads of France.

Hugh Carthy talks of the 2016 Clàsica

Bahrain Merida’s 23 year-old Ukrainian Mark Padun won the recent Adriatica Ionica stage race so we know his form is good.

Innsbruck - Austria - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Mark Padun (UKR - Bahrain - Merida) pictured during Tour of the Alps 2018 - stage 5 from Rattenberg to Innsbruck 164,2 km - 20/04/2018 - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2018
Mark Padun (Bahrain-Merida) winning Tour of the Alps stage 5

And for the other Middle Eastern team, UAE Team Emirates, their hopes will rest with 20 year-old Slovenian sensation, Tadej Pogacar who’s already taken out the Tours of the Algarve and California this year.

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) – Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta stage 2

Old guard or Young Turks? It should be a good contest.

# Stay tuned for the ‘PEZ Clásica San Sebastián Race Report’ as soon as the race crosses the finish-line and more in EUROTRASH Monday. For live TV go to steephill.tv.

A day at the beach anyone?

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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