The 54th edition of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) starts tomorrow (Monday) and features an even more taxing parcours than usual. Here’s a quick preview of what to expect.
- Vuelta al Pais Vasco is run over six stages starting, for the first time in 40 years, in the town of Ordizia, home to the Prubencia Ordizia race.
- As usual, the race has a concluding hilly individual time trial and its traditional queen stage summit finish (stage four) in Eibar, These are likely to be the decisive stages for the overall.
- There’s relatively little flat in the Basque country, with lots of punchy medium climbs.
- The first stage tackles eight climbs (category twos and threes) before one last ramp to the finish – like a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
- Stage three is the only real opportunity for the pure sprinters with a downhill gallop into the region’s capital, providing they get over the day’s four climbs.
- Day four’s queen stage has five category one and two climbs including the traditional ascent to the Santurario de Arrate above Eibar, a fixture in the event since 2009.
- The penultimate stage is also a testing one with five climbs but no summit finish. However, overall contenders are likely to save their legs for the final hilly individual time trial which features two climbs, the last one 5km from the finish line.
- All 18 WorldTour teams will take part, plus the only Spanish ProContinental squad Caja Rural. Each team has eight riders.
- The race, which was saved by its main sponsor (SabadellGuipuzcoano), a local bank, in 2012 is organised by the regional sporting association.
- The overall leader wears a yellow jersey.
- The race gets an honourable mention in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises.
Who to watch
None of last year’s podium are present this year. Winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is preparing elsewhere for the Giro, while Sky’s Richie Porte (who abandoned last week’s Volta a Catalunya with illness) and Sergio Henao (withdrawn pending investigation into suspicious blood tests) won’t be present either.
However,there’s still an impressive array of general classification talent turning up. Two-time former winner, and a rider in stellar form, Alberto Contador, will be hoping for his third title. Opposing him will be BMC’s Tejay van Garderen who’ll have Cadel Evans and former victor Samu Sanchez for support. For Katusha, Joaquim Rodriguez and his Spanish fleet, who usually light up this race, have been replaced by Simon Spilak and his Russian heavies.
Two more former Euskaltel riders, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa, will be leading their respective teams (Sky and Astana) and hoping to give the locals more reason to cheer. Rainbow Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) will be hoping to break his duck, while his former teammate, and another man in fine early season form, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, will to keen to keep the trophy in the team cabinet.
The race isn’t completely shorn of Colombian climbing talent as Carlos Betancur will be at the helm of Ag2r La Mondiale. FDJ will have Thibaut Pinot and Giant-Shimano are giving Vuelta sensation Warren Barguil his day in the sun.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will be looking to repeat his success in the individual time trial but is likely to spend the rest of the race riding in support of Strade Bianche winner Michal Kwiatkowski. There are slim pickings for the sprinters but expect the likes of Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and local boy Koldo Fernandez (Garmin-Sharp) to be in the mix on stage three.
With so many riders having their eyes on the overall prize, there should be opportunities for those keen to attack, such as Frank Schleck (Trek) who was looking lively in the mountains at last weekend’s Criterium International. And will last year’s King of the Mountains and most aggressive rider, Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), be well to the fore again, or might he be riding in support of Luis Leon Sanchez?
Whatever happens, it’s likely to be another cracking race.
April 7th: Stage 1 – Ordizia to Ordizia, 153.4km
April 8th: Stage 2 – Ordizio to Urdazubi, 155.8km
April 9th: Stage 3 – Urdazubi-Urdax to Vitoria-Gasteiz, 194.5km
April 10th: Stage 4 – Vitoria-Gasteiz to Eibar (Arrate), 151km
April 11th: Stage 5 – Eibar to Markina-Xemein, 160.2km
April 12th: Stage 6 – Markina-Xemein, 25.9km individual time trial
Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website