The Tour de France may be over and done with, but there’s no respite for the continental peloton. This Saturday (August 1), the riders will be deep in the Basque country, heartland of Spanish cycling, for the 237-kilometre Clásica San Sebastián.

Riders competing here are at an uneasy crossroads in form and condition. Some have come out of the Tour de France, either flying or on their last legs; others have been training hard through July, ready to step things up ahead of the Vuelta a Espana.

In recent years, lesser-known riders, such as Bertagnolli and Florencio, have taken advantage of the peloton’s post-Tour lethargy to steal the limelight.

The race’s flagship climb is the Jaizkibel, its steep gradient and position 38 kilometres from the finish often making it a launchpad for the race-deciding split. However, as shown last year, the introduction of the Alto de Arkale in the run-in to San Sebastian could prove just as influential.



Having had a month to mull over his ban from racing in Italy, defending champion Alejandro Valverde’s strong all-round ability makes him the big favourite again. Compatriots Samuel Sanchez and Oscar Freire will also be in the thick of the action.



Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck is also racing, but may well be bit-part player, as the previous month’s efforts will have taken a toll. Tour champion Alberto Contador (Astana) sits out the race.

Tour stage winner Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) will not ride, having been provisionally suspended after failing a dope test for EPO in late June.


WHO’S GOING TO WIN?




*****

Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne)

Not banned from racing in his home country, this race is tailor-made for versatile defending champion Valverde.




****

Frank Schleck (Luxembourg, Saxo Bank)

A proven Classics performer. With brother Andy alongside him, the Schleck double act could be out in force again.

Oscar Freire
(Spain, Rabobank)

Badly needs a boost after a fruitless Tour de France. Climbing will need to be up to scratch if he is to make it over the race’s concluding climbs with the contenders.




***

Samuel Sanchez (Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Euskaltel’s best bet for victory. Has barely raced for a month, but his form should be on the up with the Vuelta approaching.

Filippo Pozzato (Italy, Katusha)

Peloton beware – if you take this man to a small-group sprint, he will pounce. In need of a big win.




**

Damiano Cunego (Italy, Lampre-N.G.C)

The Little Prince is lacking a Classics crown this year. Will it come in the Basque Country? He’s got a surprisingly good sprint for a little guy.

Jurgen Vandenbroeck
(Belgium, Silence-Lotto)

A firebrand in the last week of the Tour, riding much better than captain Cadel. Could be in the mix here.




*


Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg, Team Columbia)

Can’t let the Schlecks steal all the headlines in Luxembourg.

Juan Manuel Garate (Spain, Rabobank)

Back on home turf and super-confident after winning on Ventoux. Will want to make amends for his second place in 2007.

Fabien Wegmann (Germany, Milram)

Had a quiet Tour, but the German puncheur is well-suited to this course.





BRITISH AND IRISH RIDERS

David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream)

Daniel Martin
(Garmin-Slipstream)

Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale)


2008 TOP 10

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 5-29-11

2. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team CSC

3. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner

4. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step

5. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas

6. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank

7. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi

8. Stéphane Goubert (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale all st

9. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2sec

10. David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis



RECENT WINNERS

2008: Alejandro Valverde (Spa)

2007: Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita)

2006: Xavier Florencio (Spa)

2005: Constantino Zaballa (Spa)

2004: Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa)

2003: Paolo Bettini (Ita)

2002: Laurent Jalabert (Fra)

2001: Laurent Jalabert (Fra)

2000: Erik Dekker (Ned)

EXTERNAL LINKS

Official race website >>