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28th Clásica San Sebastián - ProT
Spain, August 2, 2008
By Bjorn Haake
The Clásica San Sebastián will serve as the final preparation race for the Olympic Games in Beijing with just seven days separating it from the men's road race in China. 239 kilometres stand between the start on the Atlantic Ocean and the winner receiving the traditional txapela hat.
The winner will be a power-man who doesn't mind some up-hills. Yet any contenders should have a good sprint, as often a small group arrives at the Donostia Boulevard (Donostia is the Basque word for San Sebastián) to contest the win. The zig-zag course features six categorised climbs. Despite that there are five metas volantes (intermediate sprints), but they are mostly on slightly uphill or downhill sections.
They day starts out with the Alto De Orio-Zudugarai (cat 3, km 19), the Alto de Garate (cat 2, km 31) and the Alto de Azkarate (cat 2, km 64). Then comes the first real difficulty of the day. The category two Alto de Udana starts after 84 kilometres. The riders will reach the top – 574 metres of altitude, the race's highest point – 23 kilometres later. This may not allow for decisive move yet, but will zap the energy of weaker riders and will show who won't be in the mix at the finish.
A likely escape will still have some leeway over the rollers after the descent from the Udana. However, when the bunch (or what is left of it) approaches the Alto de Jaizkibel, the main favourites will start making their moves. From Lezo at 10 metres of altitude the riders will climb to the top – 465 metres – in nine kilometres.
From the Jaizkibel the racers will face a long downhill section, but a potential break has to survive the Alto de Arkale if it is to make it to the finish. The climb leaves 16 kilometres of flat-out racing. Small group, big group, bunch sprint, solo breakaway – you will never know in San Sebastián, which makes it such an attractive race.
Can Euskaltel finally get home victory?
The team of Samuel Sánchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, will be especially motivated. Without a stage win in this year's Tour de France the Basque team will be out for revenge, aiming for its first San Sebastián win – a race held in its own backyard.
Valverde will have the entire Caisse d'Epargne team working for him. Alberto Contador will expect similar support from his Astana team-mates. Both will be looking to test themselves ahead of the Olympics.
One rider who has been below the radar is Paolo Bettini. However, the Italian is starting to get into his winning groove. His luck turned around in the Tour of Austria, where he won stage one. Bettini has also the experience in Spain, having won in 2003 and finishing as runner-up the year after.
Leonardo Bertagnolli will wear numero uno. But the 2007 winner is unlikely to repeat his victory, as his team-mates Roman Kreuziger, Vincenzo Nibali and Franco Pellizotti are more likely to make the final selection.
CSC-Saxo Bank will be watched closely. The powerful Schleck brothers, Fränk and Andy, have a real chance of victory, maybe even more than Tour de France winner and team-mate Sastre. The Spaniard will be going head-to-head with Cadel Evans following their Tour duel. The Aussie is also using the race in Spain as a final prep for Beijing. Rabobank will bring two of its Tour stars; Denis Menchov for the mountain attacks and Oscar Freire will be there should a larger group make it over the Jaizkibel.
Another rider who will do well on the hilly course is Davide Rebellin, winner eleven years ago in 1997. He has a break from racing and should be ready for an attack. Philippe Gilbert will lead Française des Jeux, but the hills will likely be too much for him. Linus Gerdemann returns from injury break. He was out since Tirreno-Adriatico and his current form is unclear. His team-mates Thomas Lövkvist and Kanstantsin Siutsou are likely better candidates for Saturday, having raced the Tour.
The French teams also have players who are not shy of breaking away. This is especially true for Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), the most aggressive rider of the Tour de France. Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) also have shown their worth in the Grande Boucle.