A great semi-classic style race positioned the weekend after the Tour, San Sebastián often provides very exciting racing.
2015’s edition was won by Adam Yates, after a strong attack on the final climb. He crested it with a slender margin of around 3 seconds, and due to a combination of strength from the Brit and a disorganised chase behind, he increased his lead and managed to win by 15 seconds at the finish.
Yates himself looked confused as he crossed the line. Which resulted in us the viewers being confused/humoured at his bemusement. This was partly due to a fault with the aeroplane that was meant to be transmitting the pictures, so the live feed only returned as Yates powered away near the top of the climb. What wasn’t captured on TV but last year’s race is now infamous for, is Greg Van Avermaet’s collision with a motorcycle.
Yates didn’t know it at the time that GVA had been taken out, hence the reason for his disbelief at the end hearing that he’d won!
Let’s look at this years edition.
The profile of the race is very similar to that of previous editions. In fact, it’s almost identical to last year’s profile but with one slight difference.
Instead of going up the Tontorra, the riders climb up Murgil Bidea instead. This change in final climb doesn’t really affect the race, it just increases its length ever so slightly because of the change in route.
The climbs of the Jaizkibel and Arkale will sap the legs within the peloton early on, but the race really is all about the final climb, as this is where most successful moves are made.
The final climb is still incredibly tough. As usual, I’ve made a profile on Strava for it that you can view directly here.
Including part of the run-in and false flat after the official summit, smooths out the climb ever so slightly, making it 2.2km long with an average gradient of 8.9%. Taking out these sections makes the climb 1.5km at 10.4%, with ramps of around 20%. Steep and difficult either way!
Previous Winners – Is there a pattern?
Over the past 10 editions (2006-2015) only one of the winners has not raced at the Tour. That man was Xavier Florencio way back in 2006. All the rest have been on a merry jaunt around France.
Interestingly enough, all the winners from 2007 onwards have finished the TDF, all in the top 75 on GC too.
Going off of recent history, it seems that to be a winner at San Sebastian, you must have performed well in France. Therefore, it is paramount to consider those who’ve just came from the Tour.
There is obviously always a chance that the pattern from the last nine years can be broken this time round. There are a few riders coming in from other races or blocks of training who have the abilities and credentials to challenge here. It all just depends if they are back to race condition yet or not.
In a slight change from the normal lay-out, I’m going to go through the teams/riders who have a chance of going well here. Naming more riders than I would usually! Still, some teams won’t be mentioned, because let’s be honest, no-one from Cofidis is winning here…
(those who’ve been at the Tour are in bold and I’ll be going through in Startlist order, max 2 riders per team)
Orica – Adam Yates & Simon Yates. The defending champion was in great form at the Tour and has every chance of winning again. He floats up hills and the gradients here are to his liking. Meanwhile, his brother returned from his doping suspension with a win on Monday and will want to remind everyone what he can do on the big stage.
Tinkoff – Kreuziger. Had a good Tour but it will be tough for him to win here. He’s not a good enough climber to escape alone on the final climb and doesn’t have the required sprint from a bunch. The only way he can win is if a group crests together, and he attacks on the descent and hopes that the chase behind is disorganised.
Movistar – Valverde. They’ll be all in for Alejandro. There’s a chance one of the Izagirre’s might be used as a ploy to get the other teams to chase but AV is their main option. Mr Consistent can win from about any situation. He’s rightly the favourite.
BMC- GVA & Gilbert. The could have been winner from last year will be here to right the wrongs. Van Avermaet was climbing exceptionally at the Tour and is in great shape just now, he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t win. Phil Gil had a poor classics campaign due to injury. He’s not been his best this year but has shown glimpses of form. You can never rule out the former winner and World Champ.
Sky – Landa & Nieve. I’m being rather controversial here, but I think the two Basque riders will be the team’s leaders over Kwiatkowski and Roche. Landa slowly re-found himself during the Tour and he seemed to be in good shape by the end of it. Earlier in the year he excelled on a steep finish at Trentino, very similar to the final climb we have here. Don’t forget he finished 6th here back in 2013. Nieve has finished 4th here on two occasions, can he make the step onto the podium? Quite possibly! He rode very well in support of Froome over the past month. After doing the Giro and Tour, does he have anything left in reserve? I think so.
Etixx – Martin. It’s all about Panda Power for Etixx. The Irishman achieved his best ever Tour GC result this year. An always attacking rider, you can be sure that he’ll try to make a move off the front at some point. Furthermore, as was shown in Lombardia (2014), he is great at timing a move from a small group and he packs a good sprint. With all that being said, I can’t see him finishing on the podium. Brambilla may be let off the hook but he’s not raced enough recently for me to like his chances.
Katusha – JRod. Another team with one clear leader, Rodriguez really got his season back on track at the Tour after having a poor start to the year. With the announcement that he’s retiring at the end of the year, he’ll give it his all here and potentially take a few more risks than normal.
Lampre – Ulissi. He was climbing exceptionally at the Giro but has been a bit off the boil since then. With the explosive kick required and fast sprint from a group he will be a serious danger-man. Can he be the non-Tour rider to break that 9 year duck?
Trek – Mollema & Felline. The Dutchman has a great record, finishing in the Top 10 in all of the previous 4 editions. However, he looked spent by the end of the Tour. I’m not sure if he’ll have recovered fully but he can’t be ruled out. Felline finished the recent Tour de Pologne 2nd on GC, a great result. He is a rider for a while who has promised so much in these type of races. I think this is too early for him (look out for him at the Vuelta) and the final climb is on his limit. I’m ready to be surprised though!
Lotto Soudal – Gallopin & Wellens. Another former winner lining up here, Gallopin had a poor TDF by his standards. Especially after a good showing at the French national championships. I’m not sure why that was, but if he’s back to his best then he can definitely challenge here. Wellens on the other hand seems to be on great form just now, storming to the overall victory in Poland just over a week ago. We’re sure to see an attack (probably poorly timed) from him at some point.
AG2R – Vuillermoz. Was building form nicely at the Tour and is a rider I like a lot. He can handle the steep inclines but will probably need to come to the finish alone as he doesn’t have a great flat sprint.
IAM – Pantano. Arguably the revelation of this years TDF, Pantano has all the attributes to go well here. His weakness is probably actually his climbing and I’m not too sure how he goes on very steep gradients. However, he will still be better than most in that respect! He’ll be able to fly down the hill and he has a fast sprint on him too so he can challenge from a group.
Aside from these riders, I can’t see anyone else winning. In fact, I’d narrow it down to A Yates, Valverde, GVA, JRod, Landa, Nieve & Pantano as the most likely candidates. All riders who have been at the Tour!
In tradition of the blog I’ll go for one of the outsiders.
I think Sky’s numerical advantage will play a massive part in the finale, whether that’s marking moves on the climb/descent or doing the “old 1-2” themselves. I favour Landa out of the two in that situation. We’ve seen him cope well with steep inclines (Trentino this year and Aia last year) and as a potential Grand Tour winner he has the pedigree and capabilities to win here. Unlike some of the others (Yates & Valverde) he didn’t have to go deep on every stage in France, so will have saved some energy because of that. The team will be on a high after the Tour and want to continue that good run. Therefore, I think we get the poetic Basque region winner that the fans and locals will adore!
Just backing Landa for this, the majority of the favourites are too short to back convincingly and I think Landa offers some value. The bookies seem to have the race priced well.
0.5pt EW @ 50/1 with Betfair. (I’d take 40/1 if you can’t get 50/1)
If I see any H2Hs that I like I’ll add them on my Twitter.
Thanks for reading and making it this far on this longer than normal preview! Any feedback is very much appreciated as usual. I should have a preview out for Ride London too so keep an eye out for that. Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.