Road

Harder route remakes the Clásica

The Clásica San Sebastián has arguably been cycling’s classiest one-day race. Now it may be among the hardest.

The Clásica San Sebastián has arguably been cycling’s classiest one-day race. Set among the steep hills of Spain’s Basque Country and ending in the glamorous seaside city of San Sebastián, the “classic” quickly lived up to its name.

At a relaxed moment, the Clásica San Sebastián passes by the Bay of Biscayne before hitting the climbs near the finish.
At a relaxed moment, the Clásica San Sebastián passes by the Bay of Biscayne before hitting the climbs near the finish.

Thanks to a major reworking of the Clásica route for 2010, it’s now arguably the hardest one-day race. Paris-Roubaix has the cobblestones and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia have their hills, but now the Clásica has more than 7,000 feet of vertical climbing.

Race organizers wanted to spice up the Clásica and they certainly managed that. The Cat. 1 Alto de Jaizkibel has always been the race’s emblematic climb, but set more than 20km from the finish line in San Sebastián, the bunch typically regrouped before the final dash down the Boulevard.

To make the race more selective, a second passage up the Jaizkibel and two passages over the Cat. 2 Alto de Arkele, shorter but steeper than Jaizkibel, have been added to make for an action-packed closing 85km.

“The new route is better for me than the one before,” Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sánchez told the Diario Vasco. “To climb twice over the Jaizkibel makes it much tougher and will create a bigger selection, which favors the strongest riders. With the quality of racers coming from the Tour, it’s going to be a very competitive race.”

Scores of big names hot off the Tour de France will be lining up along the Playa de la Concha on Saturday morning less than a week after finishing in Paris.

Joining Sánchez and Rodríguez will be defending champion Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Liège winner Alexander Vinokourov, but no Alberto Contador for Astana, Filippo Pozzato and Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Philippe Gilbert (Omega-Lotto), Levi Leipheimer and the return from injury for Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack), Carlos Sastre (Cervélo), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) and Nicholas Roche (Ag2r).

With such an all-star cast, it’s hard to imagine that a solo attacker can make it over the final passage of the Arkale, with 15km to go, to arrive alone on the finishing straight down the Boulevard.

“The front group will be greatly reduced with two passages up the Jaizkibel. Even though the first passage will be raced slower, it will still cause some damage,” said Rodríguez, second in 2005. “There are still a lot of kilometers from the final climb for a rider to arrive alone on the Boulevard, but there group will certainly be smaller that’s playing for the victory.”

With such a strong field, HTC-Columbia says it will try to make a play for a surprise move against the favorites.

“They’ve completely restructured the last part of the course, with a double ascent of the Jaizkebel climb, and that makes it far more likely we see a move of a just a few riders at the head of the race staying away,” said HTC-Columbia’s sport director Allan Peiper. “For [HTC-Columbia’s] Michael Rogers and Kanstantsin Sivtsov, that’s good, because they’ve come out of the Tour de France with that extra racing form you always get from racing a major stage race. Kanstantsin is in particularly good shape. He always keeps his cool in tricky finishes, too, and this very hilly new finale is a bit like the stage of the Tour of Italy he won a couple of years back. We know the Spanish will be very motivated – they always are for San Sebastian. But we’ll be trying as hard as we can to get in those late breaks so we’ve got a fighting chance.”

Forecasters are calling for clear, sunny skies, with temperatures in the high 80s, ideal weather to draw out the rowdy Basque cycling fans.

With two passages up the Jaizkibel, it will give them a lot more to cheer about.