Clasica San Sebastian preview

We might all be feeling a bit fatigued after a gruelling Tour de France but there’s no rest for the peloton in a busy August on the WorldTour calendar, starting with the Clasica San Sebastian.

The parcours

  • The organisers are sticking with last year’s (revised) route but this 35th edition of the race will pay homage to Basque rider Abraham Olano, a rider who was world road race champion 20 years ago.
  • The course takes the riders west of San Sebastian for the 219km journey, firstly along the coast before heading south at the Urola river then looping around and heading back towards San Sebastian.


  • While the race profile is undulating, the first part of the race isn’t too demanding, paving the way for an early break. The first major climb, the Alto de Iturburu (7km at 5%) is followed by double leg-sapping ascents of the famous Altos de Jaizkibel (8km at 5.5%) and Arkale (2.7km at 6.3%) before the peloton returns to the city for the first time.
  • After crossing the line on the wide Boulevard in San Sebastian, the riders take on the 16.2km mostly flat finishing circuit which includes the final obstacle, the short Bordako Tontorra (2.5km at 9%). This final climb starts gently enough before the riders hit four hairpin bends and some steep ramps (20%) near the top.
  • Last year this provided the launch-pad for Joaquim Rodriguez’s (Katusha) late attack while the winner, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, made his decisive move on the fast, technical descent, just under 7km from the finish line.

Riders to watch

This tough one-day race has traditionally been one of the harder ones to predict as Tour stars mix it up with riders who are just returning to the fray with not much racing in their legs and the form of both groups is difficult to assess. That said, the last seven editions have been won by Tour riders and generally from a late move which stays clear all the way to the line. No more than three riders have decided the race between them since Valverde won for the first time from a small sprint back in 2008.

This event was to have been Alberto Contador’s swansong but he’s too fatigued and fevered to take part. Shame, he’d have been a very popular winner. As a result, my three to watch are:

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): He’s the defending champion, the course perfectly suits his capabilities and having (finally) climbed onto the Tour de France podium in third place, we know he’s in fine fettle. I don’t expect him to relinquish his txapela (black Basque beret) lightly. Expect a repeat of last year’s race-winning move where he followed the attack on the final climb only to go solo on the descent all the way to the line.

Samuel Sanchez (BMC): Okay, so even though he finished 12th overall in the Tour, he’s probably not BMC’s team-leader – that’ll be Philippe Gilbert who has racked up two wins in the last week (GP Cerami and stage three of the Tour de Wallonie) and is a former winner here, albeit on the previous parcours. But I’m hoping that both Gilbert and his recent Tour stage winning teammate, Greg Van Avermaet, will both be closely marked thereby enabling Sanchez, the domestique deluxe, to slip away on the last descent. As an adopted Basque, he’d be a hugely popular winner with the crowd.

Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin): A rider who already has two hilly monuments on his palmares. The Birmingham-born Irishman is well-known for timing his stinging attacks and rising to the big occasion. This route should suit him down to the ground and this year, after a disappointing Tour  – a few near misses and falling ill in the second week – he’ll be ready to give it a real shot. But he’s not going to beat Valverde in a sprint. No, he’ll have to make his move earlier, just as he did in last year’s Il Lombardia.

Sunny weather is forecast for Saturday so the slopes of the climbs will be knee deep in Basque families enjoying both a picnic and the racing. If only the winner was as easy to predict as the weather!

Link: Official race website

Header photograph: San Sebastian Old Town © Sheree Whatley

Leave a Reply