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San Sebastian Kickoff!

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Your word of the day: Txapela!

See them in action here and here, and read about the history of the txapela here. If you really want to prep for this weekend's race, recommended reading includes this blurb on the Basque Country, or Kurlansky's Basque History of the World.

As for the bike race, we've gotten the dull part of the calendar over and can start focusing on the real story of the Cycling year: the run-up to the Abu Dhabi Cycling Race of Champions. And the Clasica San Sebastian (or Donostia Klasikoa in the local tongue) is where it all begins.

Recall, the ADCROC kicks off November 5 and features some three stages(?) over varied terrain, including Abu Dhabi's one significant climb (think "Cauberg"). There's a cool $1 mil awaiting the winner, who will come from the nine invited teams: the squads of the individual and team winners at the three grand tours, and three wildcards. Of course, Discovery swept the team and individual comps just now, so make that four wildcards at least.

So while Alberto Contador and his Disco mates recover and the Vuelta winner remains a mystery, Danilo DiLuca has a chance to get his summer-fall-ADCROC program off and running this weekend in San Sebastian. DiLuca has already enthusiastically announced his ADCROC intentions, so while Saturday may be his first race in a couple months, he always plays to win.

Back to the Klasikoa... DiLuca is one headliner among many expected at the start Saturday. The official startlist still includes Iban Mayo, so I would go with the CyclingFever startlist instead. Big names include defending champ Xavier Florencio, Carlos Sastre, two Schlecks, JJ Cobo, Ricardo Ricco, Alejandro Valverde, Christophe Moreau, George Hincapie, Stijn Devolder, Kim Kirchen, Linus Gerdemann, Marcus Burghardt, Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Ballan, Davide Rebellin, Sammy Sanchez, Haimar Zubeldia, Mikel Astarloza, and world champion Paolo Bettini. This is a curious mix of guys embarking on their second season and guys coming down off the Tour.

Obviously one way to handicap the race is to look at the list of past winners. Armstrong, Bettini and Rebellin should tell you most of what you need to know. It's interesting to see pure climbers like Gert-Jan Theunisse and Raul Alcala on there, as well as more sprintery types like Erik Dekker.

The point is that the race could go either way. Last year Florencio narrowly defeated Stefano Garzelli and 49 others in a massive bunch sprint... though the finale contained far fewer true sprinters than mountain men/GC studs. Two years ago that 51st placed rider would have been a good four minutes in arrears, as Constantino Zaballo soloed home alone ahead of a splintered field. In 2004, Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero outkicked Bettini, Rebellin and two others. The year before that, it was Bettini outkicking Basso, DiLuca, and Casagrande. So the typical race involves a small selection, except when it doesn't. Anyway, with a recorrido like this, it won't favor anyone who can't climb.

The reason for this is usually attributed to the Alto de Jaizkebel, 36km from the end, topping out 450 meters higher than the near-sea level where it began. I don't have grade statistics, but the non-climbers will all get shelled.

Media information tbd, but here is the official site, for what (little) it's worth.