The first major races after the Tour are almost here – with the biggest one day race on the Spanish cycling calendar and a week of racing starting in Trentino, Italy and making its way to southern Poland. This is a small preview of the two WorldTour races.
It’s the 33rd running of the Basque race which starts and ends in the city of San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque). The route heads south before looping round back up to the coast north of the city and taking in the tough climbs you can see towards the end of the profile above. The route and profile say 2010, but it’s the same every year.
Anyway, onto the climbs – the first two are not too troubling, coming very early on. They are the Alto de Orio (1.5km at 4%) and the Alto de Garate (2.8km at 7.86%). The peloton then go inland, with a long shallow drag up to the municipality of Zumarraga, which is one of the southernmost points of the race. Then come two loops in the north near Irún, taking in the famous Alto de Jaizkibel (7.8km at 5.84%) and the Alto de Arkale (2.7km at 6.3%).
The Jaizkibel and Arkale were doubled up in 2010 as the organisers wanted to make the race more selective, and since then we have seen strong puncheurs Luis León Sánchez and Philippe Gilbert hold off chasing groups in the run in to win the race solo.
Onto the contenders.. Alejandro Valverde has just had a strong Tour and he has a good sprint so if he comes to the line with a group he can win again, while Nairo Quintana will also be racing. Belkin have a strong team, sending the bulk of their Tour squad, including Bauke Mollema, Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Robert Gesink – if the boys have recovered enough then they have a few cards to play. Euskaltel are led by Samuel Sánchez, while Mikel Nieve had a good Tour, and they will surely look to impress on home turf. Alberto Contador is a late addition to the startlist, and Garmin bring Andrew Talansky.
Elsewhere, Orica-GreenEdge have Michael Albasini who can sprint and climb, while Ryder Hesjedal and ex-winner Philippe Gilbert will be looking to make up for disappointing Tours. Moreno Moser will definitely be one to watch for Cannondale, while other who impressed in France include Richie Porte, Jakob Fuglsang, Roman Kreuziger and Joaquím Rodríguez. Jean-Christophe Peraud will be here too, despite breaking his collarbone in the final week of the Tour. Fresh from first and second in the Tour de Wallonie, Greg Van Avermaet and Alexander Kolobnev will be ones to watch.
The Tour de Pologne (click for the well-run race website) ventures outside Poland for the first time this year, with two mountain stages in Trentino, northern Italy kicking things off. The race is growing in stature every year, and has become something of a signifier of young talent in recent years. Peter Sagan, Dan Martin, Marcel Kittel, Moreno Moser, Sergio Henao, Michał Kwiatkowski and Bauke Mollema are some of the names who have either broken out or confirmed their talent at the race.
The race has a very balanced route this year, with something for climbers, sprinters, puncheurs and time trialists alike. The first two stages are both mountain-top finishes, making this probably the toughest start to any race this season – they resemble the sharp end of a Giro d’Italia more than anything else.
Stage 1 finishes at the infamous Madonna di Campiglio, known for the being the beginning of the downfall of Marco Pantani as much as any racing that has gone on there. The stage begins flat before visiting the Fai Della Paganella, a Cat 1 climb which is 9.5km long at 7.5%. The Passo del Durone (an irregular 7.4km at 6.5%). The 13.3km ascent to Madonna di Campiglio follows, with an average of 5.6%. Here’s a video of that climb in 1999, Pantani flew up to the win before being thrown out of the race later that evening.
Stage 2 visits another famous Pantani climb – Passo Pampeago. Here it’s the first mountain of the day rather than the mountain-top finish Il Pirata won in 1999. The climb is the toughest of the race, 10km long with an average gradient of 10.2%. After passing through the town of Pampeago, the start of the descent seems to be unpaved, and a fast 15km descent follows. Another Cat 1 climb, the Passo Costalunga, follows (here’s an approximation of the climb, accurate gradient details can’t be found for the 14km from Ponte Nova).
The stage ends on the highest paved road in the Dolomites, the Passo Pordoi. There’s a monument to Fausto Coppi at the top of this 13km climb with an average of 6%. By the time the riders reach this after a weekend of tough racing in the mountains, the general classification might already be won.
Stages three and four to Rzeszów and Katowice (after the rest day and plane transfer) are the first in Poland, and bring something for the sprinters. Stages five and six are both hilly, and should see the strongmen battle it out, and provide a some chances for weaker time trialists to gain more time on GC. Stage 5 ends with a power climb at mostly 4% to Zakopane, while the fast descent from Głodówka could be a chance to make a move stick. Stage 6 sees the peloton take on a leg-sapping ciruit with three Ardennes-like climbs, the hardest of which – Podjazd – tops out at 21.5%. Hopefully the GC race isn’t sewn up by then. A potentially decisive 37km time trial to Kraków ends the race – the start is hilly but then the route flattens out for the second half.
The last two editions have been won by Liquigas (now Cannondale), and they could take it again, with Ivan Basso leading the team in this mountainous edition of the race. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali should be in the mix as he gears up to try and win his second Vuelta and complete a Giro-Vuelta double. Lampre have a strong team packed with climbers, with Michele Scarponi, Polish rider Przemysław Niemiec, Winner Anacona and Jose Serpa, while Sky bring Vuelta contenders Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran as well as Brad Wiggins.
I would be surprised if I hadn’t already listed the winner but Team Colombia return to the big stage and the Dolomites with Fabio Duarte (second on the Giro stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo) and Darwin Atapuma (who won atop Passo Pordoi in the Giro del Trentino last year). AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo and Christophe Riblon, Belkin’s Steven Kruijswijk and Lotto’s Jelle Vanendert could also feature in the mountains. Euskaltel’s Igor Anton will have something to prove after a poor Tour, while Saxo Bank bring Polish talent Rafał Majka.
Sprinter-wise there’s Sky’s Ben Swift, BMC’s Thor Hushovd, Fran Ventoso of Movistar, Belkin’s Mark Renshaw and AG2R’s Yauheni Hutarovich. Expect to see the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Marco Pinotti and Taylor Phinney competing for the time trial, while Luis León Sánchez, Davide Rebellin and Giovanni Visconti will be active in the hills.
There is a new, complicated time bonus system for the race, but INRNG has already explained it well, so take a look at the details there. The race is also the first in the WorldTour to have six rider teams, and idea that should make it more exciting and make it tougher for teams to control things. Should be another good edition this year!