Clásica de San Sebastián 2019 Preview

By David Hunter

San Sebastián – San Sebastián 225.5km

Have you missed me?

The Tour is over, but the fun certainly isn’t. The Clasica is one of my favourite races on the calendar and I love that the organisers have decided to tinker with the route.

Route Change

After a couple of years with the same route, the organisers have decided it’s time to make some changes. We only have one ascent of the Jaizkibel and the Arkale has disappeared altogether. Instead of this, the peloton have to climb Erlaitz, which is much harder than the Arkale.

These aren’t the only changes, as we now have two ascents of Murgil Tontorra, instead of just one that we’ve had in previous years. You might remember this is a little devil of a climb, it is brutally steep and usually determines the winner of the race. The first ascent is a little longer than usual, as the riders turn left instead of right at the crest, to allow them to loop back round for a second ascent.

The changes certainly make this race much harder than in previous editions and it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a sizeable group together at the foot of the final ascent. It also increases the chances of a tactical race and it is possible for a long-range attack to stay away. The route changes get a thumbs up from me.

Main Climbs

The action really kicks off on the Jaizkibel, an iconic climb in this area. It’s not overly difficult for the professionals, but those on a bad day will know it here.

The Erlaitz climb is a new one for me, and I love it! It can be classified in a few ways, but I like to just use the opening section, which is 4km at 10%, with a maximum of close to 15%. With over 70km until the finish, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the winning move go here, but some teams will use the climb to isolate a few team leaders.

This is the first ascent of Murgil, with the extra section at the top, which makes it 3.3km at 8.5%. The crest comes with just under 40km remaining, which means we will see attacks on the climb as teams look to get satellite riders up the road.

The final ascent of Murgil, which is around 2km at 10%. As you can see, it is full of brutally gradients and only the very best can survive at the head of the race. It will be interesting to see how the change of route affects the race at this point.

Yates We Can?

As the race has increased in difficulty over the last few years, it has become clear that only riders leaving the Tour in good form have a chance of taking home the title. The last five winners have been Alaphilippe, Kwiatkowski, Mollema, Adam Yates and Valverde. They are all brilliant climbers and enjoyed a post-Tour boost to their legs. If you arrive here without three weeks of racing in your legs, you’ll find it almost impossible against these guys.

Saying that, some riders arrive here cooked after the Tour, and won’t finish the race. It is very difficult to predict exactly who will have an adverse reaction, but some certainly will. Take a look at the final week of the Tour, any riders who went super deep will still be feeling those efforts this weekend.

Egan Bernal is the first Tour winner to start here since Carlos Sastre in 2008. It will be fascinating to see how much energy he has left, especially as he also won the Tour de Suisse, before claiming the yellow jersey.

Then we have the Yates twins. Adam was hugely disappointing in the Tour, falling out of the GC early on. He then had an opportunity to win from the break, but couldn’t cope with the pace set by Quintana and co. On the other hand, Simon enjoyed a fine race, taking two stage wins and was very close to the KOM jersey. After riding the Giro and then getting drafted into the Tour squad, will Simon have any energy left for this race? On paper, this is a great race for both, Adam won here in 2015 when Van Avermaet was knocked off the road by a motorbike.

Tactics

The previous route gave us an inevitable ending; a large group rolled around and hit the final climb hard. A small group escaped off the front and got to the line together. The new route just about guarantees this doesn’t happen. Sometimes when we get a new route, teams ride it defensively, as they aren’t sure what to expect. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, as this race begs to be attacked.

I think we’ll see some teams using the Erlaitz climb to test out their rivals and make some teams chase. It would be wise to get a rider up the road, ensuring your team get an easy ride for a while. Having two ascents of the Murgil will also change the end of the race, with some team leaders looking to attack on the first climb. With domestiques likely to be running out, this could be an excellent move. The main guys will have to decide their tactics on the road, as there is no way of really predicting when the big moves will come. All we know is that this race will be much harder than it has been.

Weather

Should be a sunny day with a relatively strong wind coming from the North-East.

Contenders

Movistar – arriving with Valverde and Landa puts the Spaniards in a very strong position. Valverde ended the Tour in good form, which will be a huge relief to him as he’s struggled at times this season. This is a race he does like, he won here back in 2008 and 2014. Landa also ended the Tour in good form, despite also finishing 4th in the Giro. The steep slopes of the Murgil are perfect for him, but his lack of a sprint sometimes leads to him being a domestique in the closing kilometres. Movistar are strong and look like the team to beat.

Mitchelton Scott – I doubt even Simon and Adam will know how they will react until the reach the crest of the Jaizkibel. I would say that Simon has used a huge amount of energy and look tired in the last few stages of the Tour. Adam should have more energy and I expect him to be their best option, but his form is obviously a big concern.

Egan Bernal – it would be one hell of an achievement if Bernal managed to be involved in the closing stages of this race. After going very deep in France, he’s since been heavily involved in the post-Tour criterium races. I’ll be honest, I’m very surprised he’s even starting this race. Can he win? No.

Julian Alaphilippe – the defending champion is back, but he’s another who will be tired after his efforts in France. The route is ideal for Alaphilippe, but as he spectacularly blew a week ago, I can’t see him taking back to back wins. This will give Enric Mas some freedom to chase a result, but the route isn’t ideal for him.

Tony Gallopin – loves this race, but the new route looks a little too hard for him.

Pello Bilbao – one of many Basque riders who’ll be hoping for a good day. After a brilliant season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Bilbao heavily involved in this race. Astana have a strong team; I expect them to have an offensive strategy and look to get riders involved in breaks.

Greg Van Avermaet – top 10.

Michael Woods – despite breaking two ribs, the Canadian finished the Tour. We saw a fair bit of him in breakaways in the final week, but he wasn’t able to post a big result. This is a race that should suit him, just think back to the 2018 World Championships. The problem for Woods is the descents, something he still needs to improve.

Bauke Mollema – his record in this race is simply incredible, he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since 2012. During this spell he won it in 2016, and also has two 2nd places and a 3rd place. This year has seen the Dutch climber finish 5th in the Giro, before riding the Tour in support of Porte. Will he be tired? I think of all the riders who have done both the Giro and Tour, he’s the one who’s saved the most energy with one eye on this race.

Tiesj Benoot – a crash in the Tour left him with a sore back for the final week, but he should be 100% for this race. Lotto will look to attack early in the finale of this race, and they have Benoot and Wellens to do this. Similar to his win in Strade Bianche, the big favourites cannot afford to look at each other if Tiesj gets up the road.

Prediction Time

Given the way he finished the Tour, this has to be a win for Alejandro Valverde.

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David Hunter

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