By David Hunter
There just isn’t another race like this, I’m so happy that we’re back in the Basque Country.
The race begins with a 13.8km ITT, but with some climbing. Straight from the gun the road rises for around 2.3km at 7.3%. Then it’s mainly downhill, before a brutal ramp up to the finishing line. The final 400m averages 14.4%.
The second stage is relatively straightforward until we hit the finale. The climb is 7.2km at 6.3%, but the opening 3km averages around 9%. The crest comes with 14km to go, before a fast downhill to the finishing line, but the final 400m kicks up making it a tough finish. The climb is hard enough to make this a GC day.
The third stage ends with 3.4km at 9.4%, but the opening 1.8km averages 13%. This is a brilliant finish and one for the GC riders.
The legendary Jaizkibel climb, quickly followed by the horribly steep Erlaitz. We’re talking 3.5km at 11%, which crests with 22km to go. This is another big day for the GC riders.
A sprint stage, but where are all the sprinters? It could well be a good day for the breakaway.
111km full of steep climbs, this stage is going to explode. We have two ascents up to Arrate, the first one is up the crazy bike path, the second is the usual climb on the main road. This stage is beautiful and can create huge gaps on GC.
In this part of the world it’s always wise to keep one eye on the weather forecast. It looks like stage 2 could be very cold, and there is a chance of rain too. The threat of rain returns for the last two stages, some will be praying it misses them.
Tadej Pogačar – after winning the UAE Tour and Tirreno I wonder what his current shape is like. He’s here with one eye on the upcoming classics, his big goal will be Liège. Does this mean he won’t be as good as usual? Possibly, but it’s hard to tell. UAE also have Marc Hirschi as a back-up option, that’s some position to be in. Both riders are very good on steep slopes, and having multiple options is essential in this type of race, particularly in the final stage.
Primož Roglič – he’s another who arrives here with one eye on the Ardennes. His current level is good, but not 100%. This is a race he’s won in the past; he was brilliant here in 2018. Sometimes I do think he doesn’t cope with the ultra-steep slopes as well as some, but I could be wrong. Jumbo-Visma also have Jonas Vingegaard in their team, he’s fresh from winning Coppi e Bartali, and provides the team with a strong back-up option.
Adam Yates – arrives after a very impressive win in Catalunya. I think he’s in a different phase of his season compared to the Slovenians, he’s currently at 100% and this is a big goal for him. He will obviously lose a little time in the TT, but if he can limit his losses similar to what he did in Catalunya, then I think he’ll be confident of taking home the title. Ineos have a strong team to support him, I think we could be in for a brilliant week of racing.
Ion Izagirre – he’s the defending champion, but retaining his title will be very difficult. Astana do have a strong squad to support him, but going up against the big three will be very difficult for every other GC rider at this race. Izagirre was looking good in Paris-Nice, and riding at home provides him with lots of motivation, but it’s good to be a tough week.
Mikel Landa – another who’s riding on home roads. His start to the season has been good, he’ll be hoping to take a stage win this week, but the TT will immediately end his chances of going for the overall win.
Sergio Higuita – the route should suit the punchy Colombian. He’s already performed well this year in the UAE Tour and Tirreno, but he’s yet to win. Given his very fast sprint finish, there a couple of stages that suit him very well and he’ll be hoping for a win by the end of the week.
Michael Woods – he’s another rider who’ll find himself out of the GC picture after the TT, but that could make it a little easier to take a win in stage 2 or 3. The Canadian is one of the best in the world once the gradient goes above 10%, he’ll have high expectations for this week.
Wilco Kelderman – 5th in Catalunya was a great start to his season. Bora – hansgrohe have a strong squad at this race, but I think Kelderman should be the leader, but Buchmann and Schachmann will have freedom to chase stage wins. Kelderman should be in a good GC position after the TT and then he can look to see if he can climb with the best in the remaining stages.
Alejandro Valverde – it’s great to see the old boy back to his very best, it’s been a while. 2020 was a curious season for him, his poor performances can maybe be explained by a lack of racing. The former world champion is someone who has always used races to fine tune his form, the lack of racing last year meant this approach didn’t work. He’s put the bad year behind him and started 2021 with a bang. 4th in Catalunya was a top result, and it was great to see him taking a deserved win in GP Miguel Indurain. He’ll lose some time in the TT, but should be challenging for stage wins and the overall podium.
Esteban Chaves – his brilliant stage win in Catalunya was a reminder to every one of his talent. When at his best he’s a joy to watch, I hope he can continue in the same vein in this race. The TT isn’t great for him, but he should be challenging for a top 10 spot on GC and a stage win.
Roglič v Pogačar v Yates. I think that the two Slovenians might be coming into this race a little short of their very best, as they can’t be 100% all the time and the Ardennes are coming soon. That means I’m going for Adam Yates; he looks amazing just now.
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