SAN SEBASTIÁN ’22 preview: who can win the Basque classic?

Preview of the Clásica San Sebastian: The Tour de France is behind us and the season moves on to the next phase of the Vuelta a España, the Autumn Classics and the World Championships. But to keep us motivated, we have the Clásica San Sebastián on Saturday. Ed Hood gives us his insight into the one-day Basque race.

The rise of the ‘Jaizkibel’

San Sebastian or ‘Donostia’ in the Basque language. A distinguished location located on the beautiful bay of La Concha; the Spanish royal family decamped here for the summer season, the cool breezes of the Bay of Biscay kinder to the skin than the scorching heat of Madrid high in the plains.


La Concha

And it’s a foodie’s delight with one of the highest numbers of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world.

san sebastian food
You won’t go hungry in San Sebastián

arundel bike t-wrench banner

Their Clásica is a ‘baby’ into the world of high-flying racing with the first edition in 1981, the winner being Basque legend Marion Lejaretta who is ‘record man’ for the race with three wins – ’81, ’82, ’87 and a second-place finish in ’86.

Lajaretta
Three-time winner Marion Lajaretta

Interestingly, that first year, the chic Englishman Graham Jones – whom Peugeot raced to exhaustion – was second, as he was also at Het Volk. The fact that the lanky man from Berriz is the race’s most successful entrant tells us a lot about the course; you have to be able to go up – and down.

saint sebastian22
Profile of San Sebastian’22

There are six classified climbs in the 224.8 kilometer race; the ‘Jaizkibel’ being the best known. This was once the decisive climb, arriving late in the day, long at 8.3K and exposed to the wind, it now comes in at 162K with the real killer the Murgil-Tontorra peaking at 217K – that’s ‘only’ 2.1K long but averaging 10.1% and with ramps of 19% meaning that’s almost certainly where the winning shot will come.

saint sebastian22
Map of San Sebastian’22

The race has some interesting winners on the roll of honor; in 1989, mountain biker-turned-roadman Gerard Zadrobilek won for 7-eleven and Austria before returning to big tires.

Gérard Zadrobilek won in 1989

The following year saw Miguel Indurain’s only classic victory on this magnificent boulevard along the sands of La Concha.

Indurain claiming his Classic win

And in 1992, it was the Mexican Raul Alcala who won for the PDM while a certain Lance Armstrong won his first classic victory in the race in 1995.

Raul Alcala won a wet Clásica

The past decade has seen no surprise winners with Valverde twice, classy but now retired Kreuziger, Luis Leon Sanchez twice, Tony Gallopin, Adam Yates, Bauke Mollema, Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe all accomplished ‘punchers’ which can overcome the climbs and not wear out the brake shoes on the descents.

evenepoel
Solo victory for Remco Evenepoel in 2019

‘Wonder Kid’, Remco scored its first classic victory here in 2019 – 2020 succumbed to Covid – while last year it was Native American Oneida Neilson Powless who took the top honors for EF.

San Sebastian
The Last Winner – Neilson Powless

This year, seven previous winners are riding:
#Neilson Powless [EF Education-EasyPost & USA] won last year’s Tour and is a fit man again with a fourth place overall in the Tour de Suisse and two top four finishes in the Tour – then a top 20 in the last time test.

saint sebastian19
Evenepoel’s new guard takes over

#Remco Evenepoel [Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl & Belgium] winner in 2019, returns to racing after a break from the Belgian Championships and will be fresh as paint – as a previous winner and after his Liège-Bastogne-Liège demonstration in the spring, another victory is well possible.

sansebastian18
Alaphilippe before becoming double world champion

# Julien Alaphilippe [Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl & France] winner in 2018 is in one of his first Uci races since the French Championships, he missed the Tour due to injury but came back strong to win the first stage of the Tour de Wallonie atop the Mur de Huy – he is hot.

san-sebastian16-mollema-win-920
Bauke Mollema won in 2016 and will be back in 2022

#Bauke Mollema [Trek-Segafredo & The Netherlands] won top honors in 2016 and on ‘Statistics’ is the second most successful driver in this race with one victory and nine top 10 finishes in 10 starts – he is an opportunist who, despite his age, you can never ‘to write.’ And witness a very nice sixth place in the last time trial of the Tour – if only he could keep quiet. . .

San Sebastian
Valverde back in 2014

#Alejandro Valverde [Movistar & Spain] Coming back from a training crash having won this race twice, 2008 and 2014 – he also has the best race record, two wins and eight top 10s. It’s hard to see him on the podium but the man is ‘special.’

gallop
Almost 10 years since Tony Gallopin won San Sebastián

#Tony Gallopin [Trek-Segafredo & France] won in 2013 but that was a long time ago and at 34 he is no longer the same Tony Gallopin.

tdf22st10
LL Sanchez… Maybe not

# Luis Leon Sanchez [Bahrain Victorious & Spain] won twice in 2010 and 2012 – but again, while the man is still a consummate professional, a podium finish is hard to contemplate. And here are seven other names to conjure up with. . .

arrow22m
Simon Carr on the attack in Flèche Wallonne 2022

#SimonCarr [EF Education-Easypost & GB] is a teammate of Powless and drives well on a course like this, he knows these roads and has already won in the Basque Nation.

catalunya22
Ayuso on stage 3 of Catalunya’22

#Juan Ayuso [UAE Team Emirates & Spain] the ‘man coming’ of Spanish cycling, the UAE thinks so much of the 19-year-old that they have signed him up until 2025 – he must have a big one soon.

sanremo22
Mohorič was not so bad in Sanremo

# Matej Mohoric [Bahrain Victorious & Slovenia] although not sparkling in the Tour, the course suits its characteristics and with a week of rest and recovery could bounce back well.

tdf22st4
What can you say about Van Aert

#Wout van Aert [Jumbo-Visma & Belgium] sets its own rules on what the rider is and isn’t able to do – see his victory in the Tour’s final time trial and his huge margin of victory in the green jersey contest.

tdf22st14
Matthews is in good shape right now

#Michael Matthews [Team BikeExchange & Australia] was very strong in the Tour, taking an impressive stage victory. He’s won Plouay, Montreal and Quebec in the past – none of those wins are stable and his morale will be back to his best.

tdf22st16
Michael Storer strong after the Tour?

#Michael Storer [Groupama-FDJ] played a strong team role in the Tour; but in this race he should have his freedom, he loves Spain – witnessing two stage wins in the 2021 Vuelta and remember he finished second in the super hilly Tour of the Alps in April.

giro22st20
Jai Hindley – Popular in the Basque Country

#Jai Hindley [BORA-hansgrohe] this will be his first race after his magnificent Giro – there’s no doubting his talent as a climber.

saint seb
You can still go to the beach

All of the above is qualified by how the riders come out of the Tour; some with a week off will be ‘ping’ – others will be dead on their feet and longing for the end of the season.

sagardoa
Sagardoa for Saturday

And sorry, but no beer for this race – Sagardoa is the drink. It’s cider for you and me, Dude – the brand names, Galipette, Kupela and Zapiain will all be in your place. Tap!

# Stay PEZ for the ‘Race Report’ on Saturday and all the news in EUROTRASH on Monday. #


Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what’s cool in road cycling?

About Robert James

Check Also

What makes the UCI World Championships so different from other races?

The UCI World Championships return to Wollongong, Australia towards the end of September. The coastal …