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Clásica San Sebastián Brings Back One-Day Racing

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Don’t talk to me about Ordizia.

Clasica San Sebastian Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

There’s a knack to writing previews. The main thing I realised after beginning to write them was that the actual writing about cycling is the easy bit. This, the opening paragraph, is always the worst part about a preview. Which should explain why I’m waffling on like this. Anyway, this makes previewing a nightmare when a few races happen at the same time — you can imagine my horror to see that Andrew’s excellent preview of the Tour of Poland had gotten to the good lines about the Tour de France before I had, absolutely ruining my chances to make passing comments about the last three weeks. So, then, this nonsense is the best opening paragraph I could come up with as a replacement. Shall we get to the actual racing?

The Clasica San Sebastian is in the Basque Country, a fact which stipulates that the race must have multiple names, as this one does, the real one (can I say real one? I’ll say real one) being the Donostia Klasikoa, translated to the more commonly used Spanish, Clásica San Sebastián. The race is a relative baby, as these things go, celebrating its thirty-seventh edition this year.

The race has often been decided by the climbs of the Jaizkibel and Arkale, practically synonymous with this event by this stage, but in recent years the course has been shaken up slightly, incorporating a new, steeper climb at the end to make the race a little more selective — never with the current course will the twenty-six rider-sprint for second which occurred in 2012 repeat itself. Yes, in 2014 the race incorporated for the first time the Bordako Tontorra, a much steeper affair than the more famous climbs in the race. To use this hill, however, a flat section after the Arkale was necessitated, basically meaning the race was reduced to a race from the bottom of the final climb to the centre of San Sebastián. Though the climb has changed, with the Murgil Tontorra, apparently safer, now the final ascent.

Likely, the race will come down to the slopes of the final climb, once again. I don’t really approve of the course change — the goal of a hilly classic should always be for the decisive climb to be unpredictable — but I really don’t see how the race can be decided anywhere but the ascent or descent of the Murgil Tontorra. Bauke Mollema’s win last year, making the difference on the flatter section, shows how tactics can be brought into play, but if someone gets away on the climb they should probably take victory in Donostia.

So who’s capable of getting away? Well predicting the winner of this race is always a unique challenge because of the mix of riders involved. Some have come from the Tour de France, yet others are fresh from a few weeks’ break from racing. Of late, the winners (Mollema, Adam Yates and Valverde) have come from the Tour, even if they seem not to have left the race with the best of form. So it makes sense that from the Tour we have most of the favourites. According to the bookies, the most likely winner is Greg Van Avermaet, who of course has ridden the Tour, climbing quite well, if under the radar, on a few stages. I would, however, be discouraged from backing him as he was dislodged from the front group on the slopes of the climb last year. He’ll probably be in the top ten, and if a group of ten makes it to the finish he will be, without a doubt, the best sprinter. This race has a history of solo winners, however, and I don’t think GVA is capable of being one.

How about former winner Tony Gallopin then? He’s got better climbing legs than Van Avermaet, proving it with a second-place finish last year, and also comes from the Tour. He didn’t set the race alight, but climbed rather well in the Massif Central, also putting in a spirited fight in the break on the Col d’Izoard. He’s unlikely to be the best climber, but he could make a group of five or six, or even attack on the flat. He’s got a very good chance of victory.

Then come Michał Kwiatkowski and Mikel Landa, Sky’s two most valuable climbing domestiques in the Tour who will surely come to this race seeking their reward. Kwiatkowski seems like the better-suited to this race — Landa has been on the go since the Giro, surely his form must be fading by now, yet if he’s climbing nearly as well as he was during the Tour he could probably float away from all challengers to win the race on the climbs. Kwiatkowski was no slouch on the mountains either. I’d tentatively propose that he sticks with whoever’s in front and waits for a sprint, rather than attack himself, a strategy which would work well if Sky could make attacks as well, whether with Landa, Nieve, Moscon or someone else on their extremely strong team.

Those four are pretty deservedly the top favourites, but three of them probably will not be able to get away solo on the Murgil Bidea. Those who can include Rigoberto Urán, having climbed very well, if conservatively, in the Tour. It’s conceivable that he wins via an attack, using his time-trialling skills, or even a sprint. Mollema’s win last year could prove a model for him.

Also capable of outclimbing the pack is Miguel Ángel López, who’s still an unknown quantity having come back from an injury sustained in winter training to win the Queen Stage of the Tour of Austria. The obvious caveat of that is that it was the Queen Stage of the Tour of Austria, but he’s clearly climbing well enough to challenge here. If his form has recovered to what it was when he won Milano-Torino last year, he’s absolutely capable of dropping the field on the Murgil Tontorra and taking the race. He’d be the first rider not to have ridden the Tour to win the race since 2006 (Xavier Florencio, no idea either), but I think he’s capable of doing so.

The Quick-Step Floors trio of Philippe Gilbert, David De La Cruz and Gianluca Brambilla are a formidable line-up, but I don’t see how any of them make a race-winning attack. To see any of them in the top five or ten would not surprise me, however. Simon Yates’ brother Adam won here two years ago, so it could hardly be a shock if he rode similarly. Tom Dumoulin makes his return to racing here, and he’s versatile enough to win here. I don’t think he’s going to be quite on his May form, however. If you want a real outsider, Jaime Roson is a good climber for Caja Rural.

So there are the favourites. My pick to win from them is López. A good climber’s attack has traditionally be enough to win here, so it’s my reasoning that he may be in the best condition to make that attack and take glory.

Txirla small

Hey! Forget about me?

Oh, hey Txirla. Thought you were busy designing the course for the Vuelta al País Vasco.

I finished that, it’s not hard. The hills are everywhere.

Well I’d never forget-

Yeah, yeah, don’t listen to him, dear readers. Only a Basque rider can win here, it’s my new rule. This belongs to Zubeldia. He’s owed this one on his retirement.

But to win, he’d have to appear at the front of the race.

You and your details.

Well, there’s Txirla’s input. have your say: Zubeldia, Lopez, or someone else, Café?