The 33rd Clasica San Sebastian (Basque: Donostia-Donostia klasikoa) has been restored to its rightful place, the weekend after the finish of the Tour de France, Saturday 27 July. Although it’s a UCI WorldTour race it isn’t yet regarded as one of the Monuments – it’s far too young.
What kind of race is it?
It’s traditionally seen as a climber’s race, with a number of (in)famous stars – Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert – claiming victory over its short history. Only one man has won it three times, the Basque rider Marino Lejarreta in 1981, 1982 and 1987.
The race is renowned for its spectacular views of the Basque coastline, magnificent verdant and undulating countryside peppered with short, steep climbs that strongly favour aggressive riding. The current race route is 234km in length and includes the tough first climb of the Alto de Jaizkibel at just under the 150km mark. Its second ascent is often a decisive point in the race and where the winning break gets away.
The race winner is honoured with a txapela, the traditional black Basque beret that, unless you speak Euskara, is as close as any outsider gets to being a local.
The most recent winners of the event have been:
2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)
2009: Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)
2010: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2012: Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank)
What happened last year?
Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) timed his escape to perfection on the second descent of the Alto de Arkale and time-trialled the final 10 kilometres to solo across the line and record his second victory in three years in the Clasica. He dedicated the win, as always, to his deceased brother. Sanchez also picked up the points prize and was adjudged the classiest rider, which is fitting given how good he looked in the winner’s txapela.
The thundering herd, seven seconds behind, were led home by Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol). Adrian Palomares (Andalucia) won the sprint prize, Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) won the mountains prize, Igor Anton was best placed Basque and Gorka Izagirre was named most combative rider (both Euskaltel-Euskadi).
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) 5:55:34
2. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:07
3. Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) same time
4. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Sharp) s/t
5. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t
6. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) s/t
7. Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t
9. Xavier Florencio (Katusha) s/t
10. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
This year’s race
For the fourth consecutive year, the race organisers are using the same 234km parcours of hard roads with six categorised climbs; the last 80km is a killer with the Jaizkibel and Arkale twice, the latter for the last time just 15km from the finish.
Having left the leafy broad El Boulevard of San Sebastian just after 11 o’clock, the parcours heads quickly out of town and follows an anti-clockwise route through the beautiful Basque countryside. The entire route is packed with enthusiastic and knowledgeable Basque cycling fans, many of whom follow the race on their bikes. The two circuits of the Jaizkibel (7.8km, average 5.8%, max 8%) and Arkale (2.7km, average 6.3%, max 7.1%) are often decisive in determining the race winner.
There’s a slight rise on the run in through the town where a strong rider might try to escape from the leading group before the flat run, via the scenic beachside road, to the finish on El Boulevard.
Who to watch
There’s an array of talent on display, though not the Tour de France winner – Sky will be led by his wingman Richie Porte – nor last year’s defending champion. Others in great post-Tour form to look out for include Movistarlets Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, Saxoff’s Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador and 2011 winner and current world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
The home crowd would obviously prefer a local winner and they would be thrilled if one of the Euskaltel riders triumphed such as Igor Anton or Mikel Nieve or one of the many Basque riders on other teams, such as RadioShack’s Haimar Zubeldia.
On behalf of VeloVoices, I’ll be enjoying the race en route with my in-house photographer and then catching the finale on the big screen from a cafe on El Boulevard.
The Clasica San Sebastian takes place on Saturday 27th July. Live coverage will be shown in the UK by Eurosport. For other options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website