By David Hunter
Donostia – Donostia 220.2km
The organisers have decided to change the end of the race, as recent events have made them concerned about the width of the road. Instead of climbing Bordako Tontorra, the peloton head up Murgil Bidea. Don’t worry folks, this is also a tough climb. In fact, it’s just as narrow and steep as Tontorra.
The rest of the route remains the same, with the classic climbs of the Jaizkibel and Arkale. These climbs are well known to most of the peloton and are regular features of the race. They used to have a greater influence, but the addition of a late climb has seen their importance decline. This race is all about the final 20km.
The final climb is 1.8km at 10.5%, but features ramps of 20%. The hill has some flat/downhill sections, which will allow riders to catch their breath before sprinting on the steep sections. The final 600m averages 12.5%. Once over the top, there is 8km remaining, which includes a descent and a flat run to the line.
Teams will set a fierce pace on the opening climbs and there will be an ongoing battle to join the break. As usual, having riders “up the road” allows your team to rest up and save energy for the finale of the race. Setting a fast pace is also good for removing any riders who have heavy legs after the Tour.
Once the double ascents of the Jaizkibel and Arkale are done, the racing can begin. Teams have to be vigilant, as they cannot allow any riders to escape before the final climb. The pace will be lifted as the riders approach the final climb, especially because of the narrow roads. This is where we will see some serious action. A gap of just a handful of seconds can be enough for a rider to solo away for victory. Adam Yates did this in 2015, thanks to Van Avermaet being knocked over by a moto. In 2014, Valverde and Rodriguez crested together, but Valverde escaped on the descent.
One thing is for certain, only a small bunch of riders will be able to crest the final climb within 20 seconds of the lead rider. Usually we get a mix of proper climbers and puncheurs.
Most teams will have the same tactic of getting a few riders in the breaks, but ultimately hoping the race is all together for a big fight on the final climb.
Some riders leave the Tour with amazing shape, others are on their knees! Sometimes it can be hard to predict who will be on top form, as the riders often don’t even know themselves. They simply wait to see how their legs react, on the day. It is possible for a non-Tour rider to win, but it’s very unlikely. The last winner not to ride the Tour was Xavier Florencio, back in 2006. It’s safe to say, riders who complete the Tour have a big advantage over the others. Saying that, the Tour of Poland was much earlier this year, this offered the riders an alternative route to this race and we could see some of those riders challenging for the win.
Alejandro Valverde – the Spaniard always starts the race as favourite! He hasn’t been off the podium in the last three editions, standing on a different step each time. You might think his focus on the Olympics will be a distraction, but he won this race in 2008, before going on to finish 13th in the Beijing Olympics, where his teammate, Samuel Sanchez, won gold. In fact, Sanchez was 7th in San Sebastian in 2008! You can’t compare to 2012, as the Olympic RR was before San Sebastian. One thing is for certain, Valverde is enjoying another brilliant season. He won Fleche Wallonne, was 3rd in the Giro and 6th in the Tour. What a rider! The climb and descent suit him down to the ground and it’s hard to think he won’t have a big outcome in the race.
Adam Yates – was going great in 2014, but crashed on the descent. He made up for that in 2015, by taking a fine win. That win was soured a little when it was revealed that Van Avermaet was hit by a moto when leading the race. It’s safe to say that Yates is a big fan of this race and he arrives with the best form of his career. He narrowly missed a place on the podium at the Tour, but will he be tired compared to 2015? Last year, he didn’t ride the Tour for GC, so arrived fresh. We will have to see how his legs respond on Saturday.
Philippe Gilbert – we don’t know exactly where he’ll be riding in 2017, but it won’t be with BMC. No doubt, he signed his new contract back in May, as his results started to improve just after. He’s back as the Belgian champion and will hope to honour the jersey in this race. He didn’t go to the Tour, but was in Poland instead. He finished that race, an achievement in itself! He won this race in 2011 and “won” the bunch sprint for 2nd in 2015. It’s a race that really suits his characteristics but can he compete against the Tour riders? How BMC manage him and GVA will be interesting.
Greg Van Avermaet – no doubt he’ll be the captain of BMC. Fresh from a wonderful Tour, with a stage win and a spell in yellow, he’s another rider that loves this race. He looked like he was on the way to win the race in 2015, but was knocked over by a moto. That was a cruel way to lose a race and he’ll be motivated more than ever! Like many riders, he’ll be using this as a final tune up before travelling over to Brazil for the Olympics. Going over as a winner would certainly be a boost to the confidence!
Dan Martin – fresh from his best ever result at the Tour, the Irishman arrives looking to better his 7th place from 2015. The profile is wonderful for him, as he loves short and steep climbs. He also possesses a fast sprint, crucial if the race ends in small sprint.
Tim Wellens – fresh from winning the Tour of Poland, Wellens arrives in top form. To win this race, he’ll have to attack early, something he is never afraid of! It’s going to be hard, but he cannot be written off.
Jarlinson Pantano – the Colombian had a wonderful Tour taking a win and two 2nd places. His future is also safe, as he has signed with Trek for the next couple of seasons. Will he be too tired after all his attacking in the Tour?
Mikel Landa – was a luxury domestique in the Tour. We are in his neck of the woods and he’ll be looking to start the race as team leader. He was used early in the mountain train in the Tour, suggesting that he wasn’t on top form. I do know that all the Sky boys are afraid of Landa, as he can drop everyone without really trying! There has been no announcement about their Vuelta squad, but I would make Landa the captain. That would mean this race is crucial preparation, and I hope he is allowed the chance to attack. Sky also have Kwiatkowski, who should do well in this race. However, his recent form has not been very good.
Joaquim Rodriguez – no Moreno or Caruso is a massive loss for Purito in one day races. He’ll have to play a canny race, looking to others to close down attacks. The final climb is wonderful for him, as he is the best in the world when the slope reaches 20%. No doubt we’ll see a big attack from him, but can he drop the rest of the contenders? If he can, a win awaits him.
The Final Climb
Murgil Bidea is a horrible climb. I wanted to know a little more about the hill, so one of my moles was kind enough to drive up and film it. The opening of the climb is full little steep ramps for 20m. Then you get a flat section and sometimes a downhill section. There is no chance to settle into a steady pace. Once at halfway, the pain really starts to hurt. The second half of the climb climbs at around 15%, with some even steeper sections. One of the worst bits is when the riders climb up towards a big house and then face a very tight hairpin. Although similar to Bordako Tontorra, this climb feels like it’s longer.
As difficult as the climb is, the hardest section isn’t shown. Unlike the old climb, the riders don’t start the descent immediately. Instead there is a horrible kilometre of false flat. This allows them to loop round and join the race where the old climb crests. This flat section allows the strongest riders to put it into a huge gear and drop everyone else. Just like in the spring races, the big moves usually go over the top of the climbs. Riders are advised not to attack too early. If you can stay with the lead group and save energy, it is possible to make the crucial move on the flat.
Who can stay with Purito when he attacks? Valverde might be able to, but there is no guarantee. I think Valverde will try and ride conservatively, then attack on the flat. The problem is GVA, who is bound to attack near the start of the climb. If the other contenders look at each other, it will be very hard to bring him back. This is tough to predict!
Looking at his Tour form and the presence of Ilnur Zakarin, a deluxe domestique, I’ll go with Purito. When he attacks on the climb, even Valverde will struggle to follow!
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