Clasica San Sebastian preview

The 32nd Clasica San Sebastian (Basque: Donostia-Donostia klasikoa) has been pushed back by this year’s Olympic Games to Tuesday 14th August. It is more usually held the Saturday after the Tour de France has finished. It’s a UCI WorldTour race but isn’t yet regarded as one of the Monuments – far too young.

What kind of race is it?

It’s traditionally seen as a climbers’ race, with several 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 countryside and winding, undulating terrain which strongly favours 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, where the winning break gets away.

The race winner is honoured with his own txapela, a traditional black Basque beret that, unless you speak Euskara, is as close as any outsider is going to get to being a local.

The most recent winners of the event have been:

2007: Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas)

2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2009: Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)

2010: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)

2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

What happened last year?

The King of Belgium Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)  won the race with the relative ease with which he won so many races last season.

2011 Clasica San Sebastian podium l to r Carlos Barredo, Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet (image courtesy of RDW)

2011 Clasica San Sebastian podium (l to r) Carlos Barredo, Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet (image courtesy of RDW)

The orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi, leading the peloton, allowed an early break of six riders  – Irish national champion, Matt Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad), Karsten Kroon (BMC), Klaas Lodewyck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Brazilian national champion Murilo Fischer (Garmin-Cervelo), Eloy Ruiz (Andalucia-Caja Granada) and Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural) – to build an early lead of over 11 minutes.

By the first climb of the Arkale, however, only three remained: Kroon, Fischer and Lodewyck. As the leaders hit the Jaizkibel for the second time, Lodewyck was distanced while Kroon and Fischer pressed on. Nico Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) launched an unsuccessful attack, followed by Tour de France King of the Mountains and local hero Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who was quickly followed by Carlos Barredo (Rabobank).

Sanchez caught Kroon and Fischer just before the summit but the gap back to the peloton was now only 14 seconds as Gilbert made a move, taking Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and others with him. Sanchez initiated another attack, but the larger group again reformed and on the run in to the second ascent of the Arkale the leaders numbered around 30.

Vacansoleil rider Stijn Devolder then built a 30-second lead. Riders tried to bridge across but Gilbert was policing the front of the chasers. With only 20km left, Devolder was still ahead but fast losing ground to the select chasing pack.

On the final climb of the Arkale, Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) and Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) overhauled Devolder. With 10km left, they were caught, leaving a select group of nine favourites. Barredo attacked but was quickly caught by Gilbert. Sanchez gave chase and was joined firstly by Zubeldia and then the others. But the horse had bolted, the stable door was locked and Gilbert was just a black, yellow and red blur in the distance.

Gilbert soloed across the finish line to the mighty roar of the huge crowds lining the wide boulevard in the late afternoon sunshine before Barredo took second, followed by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). The others were left wondering what they needed to do to beat this man on a course with a climb near the conclusion!

Rabobank took the team prize, Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural) was top dog in the mountains, Matt Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad) bagged the points jersey and Haimar Zubeldia was best placed Basque. There was the usual slew of ‘other’ prizes much to the bemusement of the winner who was also adjudged most elegant rider and sporter of best hairstyle. [You made up that last bit about the hairstyle, didn’t you? – Ed]

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 5:48:52

2. Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) +0:12

3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:14

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time

5. Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) s/t

6. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) s/t

7. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) s/t

8. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

9. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t

10. Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:50

This year’s race

Route of Clasica San Sebastian 2012

Route of Clasica San Sebastian 2012

The peloton faces 234km of hard roads with six categorised climbs; the last 80 km 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 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 generally thick with enthusiastic and knowledgable Basque cycling fans, many of whom follow the race on their bikes. The two circuits of the Jazkibel (7.8km, average 5.8%, maximum 8%) and Arkale (2.7km, average 6.3%, max 7.1%), are often decisive in determining the race winner, and are popular with Basque families enjoying a picnic in the warm sunshine while watching the action.

Thereafter there’s a slight rise on the run in through the town where a strong rider might try to escape from the leading group. This is where Gilbert attacked and won last year and where Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) tried to shake off the eventual winner in 2010, Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank). Thereafter, the road is wide and flat, via the scenic beachside road, to the finish on the boulevard.

Clasica San Sebastian parcours 2012

Clasica San Sebastian parcours 2012

20 teams are taking part: all 18 WorldTour teams and two Professional Continental squads: Caja Rural and Andalucia.

Who to watch

Could this finally be Samu's year? (image courtesy of RDW)

Could this finally be Samu’s year? (image courtesy of RDW)

The home crowd would obviously like a local winner and I know Vuelta al Pais Vasco winner Samu Sanchez would dearly love to win this race but, as he only recently returned to the road after exiting the Tour de France injured, he might be missing form ahead of those who completed the Tour and have since been racing in the Olympic Games and/or on the post-Tour criterium circuit and Vuelta a Burgos.

In honour of his recently acquired Olympic gold medal, and in the absence of the defending champion, Vinokourov has been given dossard number 1, and he’ll be doing his best to win the race along with other well-known puncheurs such as former winner Luis Leon Sanchez.

Ahead of the Vuelta, this might be the ideal opportunity for a race leader to lay down a marker or, more probably, allow a faithful wingman an opportunity to have his day in the sun and collect valuable UCI points. So keep a look out for Olympic silver medallist Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Lotto Belisol’s Jelle Vanendert, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), young gun Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale), local boy Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) or maybe Milan-San Remo winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE).

To be honest, there’s a mouth-watering array of talent on display but on behalf of VeloVoices I’ll be enjoying the race from a cafe on San Sebastian’s boulevard, watching the action unfold on the big screen and listening, while not totally comprehending, the mellifluous tones of Iñigo Asensio and cheering on Samu.

The Clasica San Sebastian takes place on Tuesday 14th August. For live coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Columbia-Coldeportes)

Vuelta a Burgos review

The Vuelta a Burgos concluded with overall victory for Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and his team’s successful defence of the title won last year by Joaquim Rodriguez. Moreno won the opening two stages, both times beating Sergio Henao (Sky) on an uphill finish. Thereafter he finished in close contention on every stage. He also took the points jersey.

The team’s management confirmed that, despite a two-month lay off, Moreno was the man in form and he would be the leader of the squad going into this race. However, as he’ll be resuming his role as Rodriguez’s wing-man in the up and coming Vuelta a Espana, this was an opportunity to reward him for his past and future efforts to the team.

The real interest centered not around who won but how the Vuelta contenders performed two weeks before the race is due to start. I think it’s fair to say that the two Spanish WorldTour squads – Movistar and Euskaltel – will have been pleased with the form of their riders. Likewise, Katusha’s Spanish Armada and Rabobank.

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Columbia-Coldeportes)

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Colombia-Coldeportes)

Also of interest was the performance of the many young Colombians in the race, some of whom like runner-up Henao (Sky) will be riding the Vuelta, such as teammate, compatriot and Olympic silver medal winner Rigoberto Uran – albeit in support of Chris Froome. Henao’s fightback onto the podium on the final day was hugely impressive despite the strong support of his team after he’d fallen down the rankings the previous day having fallen foul of the echelons. Should Froome falter this duo are a more than adequate plan B.

Third-placed overall and last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner, neo-pro Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes)  – another, like Peter Sagan and Thibaut Pinot, born in 1990 – excelled in the steep mountains and won the difficult queen stage . He will have aroused much interest among the WorldTour teams. We’ve already seen Acqua & Sapone’s Carlos Betancur making the move next year across to AG2R La Mondiale. He might be the first but he surely won’t be the last.

Given the vertiginous parcours of this year’s Vuelta, I’m rather sorry Colombia-Coldeportes didn’t get a wild card as they would surely have animated the mountain stages rather better than, say, Argos-Shimano. Nonetheless I’m thinking the young Colombians warrant more of an in-depth examination and we’ll be putting that on the VeloVoices ‘to do’ list. [Time to apply for some overtime … – Ed.]

VeloVoices was keeping an eye on the 23-year old Venezuelan Jonathan Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), who rode in support of fourth-placed overall Franco Pellizotti to finish in the top 100. Movistar were top team and their man Sergio Pardilla bagged the KoM jersey, while Caja Rural’s Aitor Galdez won the sprints jersey. Sadly, no word on who was the best rider from Burgos!

Dani Moreno overall winner Vuelta a Burgos 2012 (image courtesy of official race site)

Dani Moreno, overall winner Vuelta a Burgos 2012 (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage 1: Miranda de Ebro to Complejo Karstico Ojo Guarene, 135km

Dani Moreno (Katusha) just beat Sergio Henao (Sky) in a photo finish atop the Cat 3 Ojo Guarena climb to take the leader’s jersey in the race where he was runner-up last year.

Henao’s team mate Ian ‘Hard as Nails’ Stannard (Sky) was the last men left from a sizeable breakaway of 16 riders when he was taken back by Rabobank and Orica-GreenEDGE – trying to set up their sprinters – 5km from the line. Orica-GreenEDGE led into the final kilometre but Moreno came to the fore after work done by his teammates, including last year’s winner Joaquim Rodriguez, and launched his bid for glory with 300m to go. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) was third, followed by sprinters Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE) and French national champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat).

Stage 2: Circuit of Burgos, 159km

Stage 2 winner Moreno against backdrop of Burgos (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage 2 winner Moreno against backdrop of Burgos (image courtesy of official race site)

Another day, another stage for Moreno as he once more outsprinted Henao for victory on another Cat 3 climb, El Castillo, to keep a firm grip on the leader’s jersey. This time the 30-year old Spaniard finished two seconds ahead of the Colombian while Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished third, a further five seconds back.

Again, there was an early escape but they were never given too much leeway by Katusha and they were reeled back in with around 14km remaining. Sky went to the front of the peloton on the approach to the final climb, setting up Ben Swift who launched an early attack only to be brought back by Moreno’s teammate Rodriguez, who provided the perfect launch pad to the victor 500 metres out. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) brought home the leading group, nine seconds down on Moreno as the peloton had fractured on that last of three climbs of El Castillo.

Stage 3: Santo Domingo de Silos to Lerma, 159km

Breschel held off Bouhanni and Swift in the uphill sprint finale for his maiden victory for Rabobank, and his first for two years. The day’s break formed early in the stage and gained an advantage of around five minutes but Katusha worked steadily and pulled them back with 20km left. Jose Toribio (Andalucia), who was part of the day’s breakaway trio, was rewarded for his efforts as he took the King of the Mountains jersey. Moreno finished in the bunch to retain his two-second advantage over Henao with stage winner Breschel in third, nine seconds back.

Stage 4: Dona Santos to Ciudad Romana de Clunia, 170km

Paul Maertens makes it Rabobank 2 - 2 Katusha (image courtesy of official race site)

Paul Martens makes it Rabobank 2 – 2 Katusha (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage four and the score was Katusha 2-2 Rabobank, with the latter winning another tough uphill stage this time with Paul Martens, who escaped from out of the leading group to finish ahead of race leader Moreno, who had won this stage in last year’s Vuelta. Clarke outsprinted Bouhanni for third place. Again, it was Martens’ first victory for almost two years.

The day’s early escape, which included the stage winner, was taken back with 28km remaining but then strong crosswinds caused havoc in the peloton leaving a leading group with 20 riders, including Moreno, Martens and Breschel. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) launched an attack, Martens bridged and then attacked again to take victory.

One notable absentee from the leading group was Henao, the rider lying second overall at the start of the day. Despite sterling work from his Sky team and Euskaltel, he was unable to close the gap to the leading group and dropped to tenth overall, 32 seconds off the pace. Breschel moved up to second at 13 seconds with former Giro winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) third at 14 seconds.

Stage 5: Comarca Pinares to Laguna de Neila, 179.5km

Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes) took the final and queen stage on the summit of Lagunas de Neila, while Moreno battled to hold onto his cyclamen leader’s jersey by sprinting for the line to concede just 22 seconds and retain the overall, ten seconds ahead of runner-up Henao, with stage winner Chaves taking the final place on the podium. The young Colombian outsprinted compatriot Henao after they’d both been set up by Henao’s teammate Rigoberto Uran – a third Colombian – with a just a few kilometres of the final climb remaining. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton finished third, 11 seconds behind the winning pair.

Afterwards, Moreno confirmed that it had been a difficult day in the saddle:

This last stage wasn’t easy because it was very hard with steep climbing. In the end I suffered a little bit: when Henao attacked it was hard to follow him, but I had a good gap in general classification so I tried to managed it. Especially in the last part of the uphill I gave my best in order to gain some precious seconds while, during the stage, my teammates worked very hard to keep the breakaway under control. I want to thank my team, especially Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez]: he helped me a lot during this competition, now I’m ready to give my support to him during the Vuelta a Espana. I feel in a good shape, and he is too. I’m sure we will take some good results.

General classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 18:14:12

2. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:10

3. Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldportes) +0:16

4. Franco Pellizotti (Androni  Giocattoli-Venezuela) +0:50

5. Javier Moreno (Movistar) +0:58

6.  Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +1:03

7. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) +1:09

8. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) +1:28

9. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:29

10. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano) +1:43

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cycling families: The Meyer brothers

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Meyer Brothers winning team pursuit gold (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cameron and Travis Meyer hail from Perth, Australia. They started riding at a young age and, with only a year between them, have ridden and trained almost constantly together, amassing a staggering number of titles at junior and senior level, largely on the track, but now increasingly on the road too.

Of course, given his track pedigree – world champion in the points race (2009, 2010, and 2012), Madison (2010, 2011) and team pursuit (2010) – you might reasonably expect Cameron, at 24 the elder of the two brothers, to be competing at the London Olympics. But no, he’s riding this week with his brother Travis for Orica-GreenEDGE in the Vuelta a Burgos.

But increasingly, since joining first Garmin and now GreenEDGE, the brothers have turned towards a career on the road. In 2010, when Cameron was Australian national time trial champion, Travis was the holder of the national road race title. Those victories on the road and track saw Cameron voted both best Australian cyclist of the year and, once again, best track cyclist.

Cameron Meyer next to Aussie champ Simon Gerrans at GreenEDGE Launch (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

Cameron Meyer next to Aussie champ Simon Gerrans at GreenEDGE Launch (image courtesy of Cameron Meyer)

In 2011, Cameron repeated his success in the national time trial championship and went on to win the overall and stage four in the Tour Down Under, becoming the first leader of the UCI’s WorldTour. This year he was second in the national time trial but won the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico where he placed tenth overall.

Understandably the boys were, along with Jack Bobridge, the first to be signed to the new Australian WorldTour squad of Orica-GreenEDGE. Team manager Shayne Bannen explained:

During my time at the Australian Institute of Sport I worked with many of the young Australians now making an impact on cycling’s world stage so I’m pleased to be able to continue that with three of our most talented young riders.

Cameron and Jack are going to play a big role in Australia’s success on the track at the Olympics and have already proven their quality on the road. Not many guys can finish the final time trial of a three-week tour in the top ten at such a young age like Cameron has for the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia.

And Travis was making big gains over the past 12 months before injury got the better of him. We know his recovery is in good hands and a minor setback doesn’t change how talented he is. Travis won five junior world titles on the track and as soon as he stepped up to the elite ranks he won the Australian road title at his first attempt.

As an Australian team aiming to be around for a long time it was important for us to make these three guys founding members of the team because they’re going to be around at the top level for a long time.

Travis’ 2011 season came to an impromptu end in late May after Bayern-Rundfahrt as he needed surgery on his left external iliac artery. He explained:

I have been out of action and my season is basically over, so it is great that Shayne and GreenEDGE have shown faith in me by offering a place on their roster for 2012. It’s been a little frustrating sitting on the sidelines for a good portion of the year but that only adds to my motivation.

Initially, Cameron said that one of the reasons for joining the team was having support for his continuing ambitions on the track.

I’ve really enjoyed my time at Garmin-Cervelo but joining GreenEDGE gives me the best support possible to chase my dreams and of becoming one of the leading road riders in the world along with the possibility of riding at the Olympic Games in 2012.

Despite that declaration, a couple of months ago Cameron decided to leave behind the boards for good to focus completely on the road and withdrew from consideration for selection for the team pursuit squad at London 2012. He reasoned that while it was a very hard decision to make, he wanted to see what he could achieve by focussing solely on the road, citing Bradley Wiggins as his inspiration.

Chris Boardman, who won Olympic gold on the track in 1992 and broke the world hour record three times in his career, has singled out Cameron as the pick of the very talented bunch of young Australian cyclists:

He can hardly be called ‘new’ now, but Cameron Meyer is a fascinating prospect. The only thing to understand now is what direction he is going to go and how that is going to manifest itself. Is he going to become a major tour rider? Or is he going to be someone who can grab stages? I will be interested to see how he develops. He is the most interesting prospect to come out of Australia.

However Cameron’s career develops, you can be sure than one of his keenest supporters will be his younger brother Travis who, now he’s fully recovered, may also become a force to be reckoned with on the road. VeloVoices will be keeping a close eye on their continued development starting with the Vuelta a Burgos.