Clásica de San Sebastián 2018 Preview

After almost a week of no previews I’m back again to look ahead at everyone’s favourite post-Tour race, the Clásica de San Sebastián. In 2017 we saw the peloton slimmed down a little over the days early climbs but the race winning move once again went on the last ascent of the day.

Landa, Gallopin and Mollema were strongest on the final climb, but with Kwiatkowski and Dumoulin chasing fiercely behind combined with some gamesmanship from Landa it meant we then had 5 coming together on the run in to San Sebastian. A few attacks were neutralised so things ultimately ended in a sprint, with favourite Kwiatkowski taking the win ahead of Gallopin and Mollema.

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With Kwiatkowski not here to defend his title, will we see a new winner come the fore? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of 2017, but with a few kilometres trimmed from the opening part of the route.

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However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

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Officially the climb is 2.8km at 7.6% but the main crux of the ascent is 10.3% for 1.7km. That includes several steep ramps of above 20%!

Interestingly, Kwiatkowski holds the Strava KOM for the climb with a time of 5’36 but he actually crossed the top a few seconds behind the Landa group so realistically a time of 5’30 should see someone in the front group. That was a bit slower than the previous year when the first riders over the top did it in ~5’25, but the tougher parcours earlier in the day might have taken some spring out of their legs.

With the effort only being for a relatively short time, it is a finely balaned race between the puncheurs and climbers. Will the scales tip in a certain direction this year?

The race doesn’t end at the summit of the climb though as almost 8km of descent and flat await the riders: often leading to a tactical battle if we have a group come together.

Tour Legs?

This is actually one of my favourite races to preview every year because I look forward to including my terribly formatted but awfully insightful table…

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The table is quite simple really (after all, I made it) and it shows the Top 3 from the past yeras in San Sebastian with their finishing position at the Tour in brackets. Where it says “NR” that means the rider was a “non runner” and didn’t take part in the Tour that year. See, easy.

What can we take from it though?

Well the past 11 winners of San Sebastian have all finished the Tour and there has only been 6 occasions since 2007 that someone not riding the Tour has managed to finish on the podium. If we’re just looking at the past 5 seasons, then it is only Gilbert (who finished 2nd in 2015) that has managed to podium while not riding the Tour.

I think the numbers make it fairly clear: to go well here, you have had to have ridden the Tour!

Some slightly more trivial stats now…

The average finishing position at the Tour of the winner at San Sebastian is 29.5. Unfortunately, neither Adam Yates (29th) or Lilian Calmejane (30th) are riding here this year. While the average for the podium position is 31.5: time for Robert Gesink to shine!

Contenders

All joking aside, this is a very difficult race to compete for if you haven’t been at the Tour and you have to be a special rider to get close with a lack of racing, like Dumoulin did last year. So I’ve managed to narrow my list down and to be honest, it is pretty much exactly how the bookmakers have priced it up! There are 4 riders who I think have a big chance of taking the win and they are as follows…

Julian Alaphilippe.

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In sparkling form at the Tour, a five-minute or so climb on steep gradients like we have tomorrow should be the Frenchman’s bread and butter. No one could really follow his quick accelerations from the breakaways but he will be against a stronger and more consistent set of opponents here. Nonetheless, everyone will be scared of what he might do, the question is, will he have recovered from his post-Tour celebrations? If so, he has to start as the outright favourite.

Dan Martin.

Finishing 8th on GC and picking up one stage win along the way was a good result for the UAE rider, although he could possibly have been a little higher up had it not been for bad luck on a few occasions. He looked strong in the final week and was climbing very well on the day Quintana won and managing to follow the pace in the last mountain stage. Another that the parcours should suit well, he’s a fairly solid performer at this race and you would think the tough finish climb is ideal.

Egan Bernal.

Can he really be called the “revelation of the Tour”, as anyone who has followed cycling the past few years knows just how talented he is? Finishing 15th in your first Tour is a pretty crazy result though but it is even crazier when you consider if he avoided the 16 minute loss in the Roubaix stage then he could have well finished inside the top 10! One of the 5 or 6 strongest guys in the final few stages, there were a few times he had to stop and pace Froome back to the group. Given the chance to lead here, I think he’ll step up and put on a show but will it be enough?

Primoz Roglic.

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It looked as if he was on track to secure his first GT podium before he unfortunately had his “jour sans” in one of his favoured disciplines on the last day of meaningful action, causing him to slip to 4th on GC. If he has recovered from that bad day then the steep finish climb and fast descent looks great for him. We all saw just how good he is at going downhill with his stage win in the Tour.

There are some other names who might go close or be outside podium candidates but it will be tough for them to win.

Mollema – Consistent record here as he has finished in the top 10 on all of his 6 apperances, including a win in 2016. He looked ok in the Tour but not as strong as he did before that win or even before last year’s podium.

GVA – Probably could have won this race had he not been taken out by a motorbike, Van Avermaet looked back to his 2016 vintage in the Tour. That means he should be very close to the best on the climb and if there is a lull in their efforts up front he could bridge across on the descent. He’s a danger.

Fraile – Bit of a joker as he’s DNF’d both of his appearances so far but if he finds that Stage 14 winning kick then he is a dark horse.

Soler – In homage to CyclingQuotes Soler is my “super joker” for the race. Fresh out of the Tour he finished a respectable 9th in the TT so might be carrying a bit of form. He could be an early attacker for Landa that might just stick.

Prediction

Time for one of the strongest climbers in the Tour to step up with his new-found freedom. Egan Bernal to win!

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I can’t see anyone dropping him on the climb and if anything, he will be the one doing the dropping. He’s then a handy descender with a deceptively good kick from a small group too.

Betting

1pt EW Bernal @ 22/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take/I’m having to take the 12/1 available elsewhere)

Also, 0.5pt WIN on the Bernal/Bauhaus (Poland S1) win at 109/1 with Bet365. Kind of giving away my Poland preview here…

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Clásica de San Sebastián

Clásica de San Sebastián

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.

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Adam looking puzzled crossing the line.

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.

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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 Route

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.

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The route profile is correct, just the last climb has been misnamed

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.

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Profile of Murgil Bidea.

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.

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Average GC position is 28.4 – Shame Wout Poels isn’t here!

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.

Non-Tour riders?

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.

Candidates

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.

Cycling: 35th Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian 2015

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.

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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?

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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!

Prediction

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!

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Betting

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.