Tour of the Basque Country 2013 - preview

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Tour of the Basque Country 2013 – preview

The Tour of the Basque Country starts today.

A six-stage race with a 52-year history and a coveted spot on cycling’s elite UCI WorldTour calendar, the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco is a key form finder for the Ardennes Classics, and another important rehearsal for the men who will contest the Grand Tours.

Held in mountainous terrain, it is a race that, unsurprisingly, suits climbers, and last year witnessed an enthralling shoot out between two Spaniards: the eventual winner, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez.

Alberto Contador will hope to improve on his second place at Tirreno-Adriatico last month

Britain’s Team Sky will field a strong squad led by Paris-Nice winner, Richie Porte. The Australian is likely to enjoy strong support from Jon Tiernan-Locke, who will perhaps seek to prepare for the Ardennes Classics, along with world road race champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing).

Let’s take a look at the course and contenders.

The riders

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) will return to action after a convincing performance in Tirreno-Adriatico. El Pistolero finished third overall in Italy after a characteristically aggressive display and is likely to seek his first win of the season the Basque Country. Winner in 2008 and 2009, the Spaniard will lead a strong line-up that includes Nicholas Roche, Roman Kreuziger and Chris Sorenson. All are men of the mountains and likely to provide Contador with ample support when the attacks fly.

Samuel Sanchez will return to the native roads of his Euskaltel-Euskadi team (Sanchez is Asturian) as the defending champion. ‘Samu’, one of the most popular riders in the peloton, recorded an emotional victory for his Basque squad last year, one that competes with a budget far exceeded by its WorldTour rivals. King of the Mountains at the Tour in 2011, his climbing talent is undoubted. Sanchez, capable, rather than outstanding in a time trial, evidenced by his victory against the clock on the final stage of last year’s race, is unlikely to want matters decided in the race of truth this year, with Contador present.

Richie Porte is Team Sky’s man of the moment – some feat given the quality of his team-mates. His victory at Paris-Nice is the British team’s most prestigious win of 2013, and his more recent second place at the Criterium International shows he remains in good form. The Australian was impressive in the mountains and against the clock during the Race to the Sun, notably so on the slopes of the Col d’Eze in the final stage time trial, a victory that could prove a significant indicator of his ability to win here, where the last seven races have been decided on the final stage time trial.

Jurgen Van Den Broecke (Lotto Belisol) delivered an impressive performance on the Queen Stage of the Volta a Catalunya, attacking on the run in to the Vallter 2000 ski resort, and providing a hint of grater things to come (the Belgian’s race effectively ended on stage one when he missed the Wiggins-initiated split). Lotto Belisol will also send Jelle Vanendert, who delivered three top-10 performances during Ardennes Week last year, including second at the Amstel Gold Race. He is unlikely to be a contender for overall victory in the Basque Country, but is more than capable of a stage win, as his victory on the Plateau de Beille at the 2011 Tour de France showed.

Andy Schleck will seek to kick start his season in the Basque Country after a disappointing start to his 2013 campaign

Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) has reached a crossroads in his career. He will want to forget a disastrous 2012 hampered by injury and a seeming inability to regain any sort of form. He has made an inauspicious beginning to 2013, abandoning the Tour de Mediterranean with a respiratory problem. With his brother, Frank, serving a one-year doping suspension, Andy’s most experienced support will come in the form of Andreas Kloden, like Andy, a rider with an inherited Tour de France victory on his palmares, and the evergreen Jens Voight.

Significant others include Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), overall winner last year of the Volta a Catalunya, reigning Giro d’Italia champion, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp), who will hope for a better showing than his sub-par performance in northern Spain a fortnight ago, Nairo Quintana, feisty in Catalunya and likely to lead Movistar in Alejandro Valverde’s absence, and Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), winner in impressive fashion of the final stage of the WorldTour’s visit to Catalunya. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) showed flashes of his old brilliance at Tirenno.

As well as GC contenders, the 2013 Vuelta a Pais Vasco also includes a host of strong men who will use the event as preparation for Ardennes Week, which begins with the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday April 14, 2013. World road race champion, Phillipe Gilbert (BMC Racing), winner in 2011 of all three of the Ardennes races, heads the list of those targeting the hilly Classics, with Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), winner last of Amstel Gold and third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), who finished second to Alexandr Vinokourov at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in circumstances that prompted a UCI investigation, among those likely to use their time in the Basque Country to sharpen their form.

The route

Stage one: Elgoibar to Elgoibar (156.5km) – Monday April 1

Movistar sprinter, JJ Rojas, pictured here at the top of Old Willunga Hill in the 2013 Tour Down Under, is unlikely to repeat his stage one victory from the 2012 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco

Six categorised climbs await the riders today, among them a pair of category threes, a trio of category twos, and one first category climb: the Alto Azurki. The final climb of the day, the second category Alto de Aiastia, could offer those with superb descending skills a chance of victory. Once crested, just 7.2km remain to the finish, all down hill, except for a final kick to the finish line.

Stage two: Elgoibar to Vitoria (170.2km) – Tuesday April 2

A stage bookended by two second category climbs and three third category climbs could inspire a breakaway. The riders will face the 7.5 per cent average gradient of the Alto de Elgeta after just 16km, and 32 km later will tackle the slopes of the Alto de Gatzaga, a climb that peaks at 11.3 per cent. Anyone strong enough to go clear at this point will face 60km of flat terrain, before tackling a trio of third category climbs in the final 62km: the Altos Vittoria, San Martin, and Zaldiaran. Like stage one, it ends with a  sharp descent to the finish.

Stage three: Vitoria to Trapagaran (164.7km) – Wednesday April 3

The third stage features the first summit finish of the race and the 21 per cent gradient that leads the riders to the finish line at the top of the Alto de la Lajana could see a repeat of the attack and counterattacks witnessed on stages four, five, and six of Tirenno-Adriatico, and stages one and three of the Volta a Catalunya.

Before they tackle the summit finish, however, the peloton must conquer three climbs in 55km, including the five per cent gradient of the Alto de Humaran, the 6.7 per cent slopes of the Alto de Cobaron, and the 6.1km slog of the Alto de la Reineta, one conducted at an average gradient of 6.5km.

Stage four: Trapagaran to Eiber (151.6km) – Thursday April 4

Five climbs in little more than 150km make stage four among the hardest of the 2013 Vuelta Ciclista Al Pais Vasco. The riders will finish at the summit of the first category Alto de Usartza, but only after they have first conquered three second category climbs and the slopes of the first category, Alto de Ixua.

Ryder Hesjedal (centre) and Thomas de Gendt (right) are both capable of winning stage four of the 2013 Vuelta Ciclista Al Pais Vasco

Stage five: Eibar to Beasain (166.1km) – Friday April 5

The phrase Queen Stage might have been coined with stage five in mind. Eleven categorised climbs have been shoehorned into just over 166km, among them the first category ascent of the Alto de Urraki, including five third category ascents, and four category two climbs. The final climb, the second category Alto de Barbaris, one with an average gradient of nine per cent, is crested just 4km from the finish, likely to prompt a hectic descent to the finish in Beasain.

Stage six: Beasin to Beasin (24km) – Saturday April 6 – ITT

Will the final stage time trial turn out to be the race of truth for the GC contenders? It did last year, when Sanchez stole overall victory from Rodriguez, his nemesis on the previous two stages on a technical course in Oñati. This year’s route includes three climbs, including the 12 per cent gradient of the Alto Olaberria. If this year’s race goes to the wire (and the previous seven editions suggest it will) those with a turn of speed against the clock as well as climbing ability, will be well placed.

Television

Monday April 1, 2013

14.30-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

18.00-19.00 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

20.15-21.15 – highlights on British Eurosport HD

22.00-23.00 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

Tuesday April 2, 2013

14.30-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

20.15-21.15 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

Wednesday April 3, 2013

14.30-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

18.30-19.00 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

22.00-23.00 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

Thursday April 4, 2013

14.30-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

20.00-21.00 – highlights on British Eurosport HD

23.00-00.00 – highlights on British Eurosport HD

Friday April 5, 2013

14.30-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

19.30-20.30 – highlights on British Eurosport HD

Saturday April 6, 2013

14.45-16.30– LIVE on British Eurosport HD

19.15-20.00 – highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD

22.00-23.00 – highlights on British Eurosport HD

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