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26th Clasica San Sebastian - ProT

Spain, August 12, 2006

Big names to slug it out for Clásica San Sebastián crown

By Shane Stokes in San Sebastián

2005 winner Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval)
Photo ©: AFP
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Following the conclusion of the Deutschland Tour this week, the latest round of the ProTour will take place on Saturday in San Sebastian, Spain. Some of the world’s best one day riders will line up against the stage race specialists in this 225 kilometre classic, which is certainly tough enough to cater for both types of professionals.

With last year’s winner Constantino Zaballa and Joaquin Rodriguez both absent from the start list, 2005 third-place finisher Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile) will be chasing the top step of the podium. However there are plenty of other riders who should be in the final shakeup, not least the likes of Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who can shine on this type of course. Bettini can both climb and sprint, took top honours here in 2003, and therefore has the credentials to win this time round.

So too Alexandre Vinokourov, back racing and building form in the recent Deutschland Tour. He and Astana-Würth colleague Andrey Kashechkin – third in Germany – have the ability to figure, as does ProTour leader Alejandro Valverde. Valverde’s explosiveness plus his successes in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Fleche Wallonne mark him out as a potential victor, but as this is his first race back since crashing out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone, he is likely to be short of full fitness. However he will nevertheless attract attention due to his gleaming white ProTour jersey and his natural aggressiveness.

With Valverde building form, Spanish hopes may centre upon the enigmatic Iban Mayo, who was very disappointing in the Tour de France but then bounced back this week with a stage win and the overall victory in the Tour of Burgos. His Euskaltel – Euskadi team-mate Haimar Zubeldia is also likely to figure, and the entire squad will enjoy the fanatical support of the local Basque fans.

Other big names from the Iberian peninsula include Carlos Sastre (CSC), fourth in the Tour (third if Floyd Landis is disqualified) and building up for a potential crack at the Vuelta title, Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and former Spanish champion Juan Manuel Garate (Quick.Step – Innergetic). Triple world champion Oscar Freire’s strengths mean that he would certainly be on any list of pre race favourites but the Rabobank rider has been forced to give the Clásica San Sebastián a miss due to dizzy spells he has been suffering since the Tour de France. His aim now is to get into shape for a crack at a record fourth world’s crown.

Apart from Mazzoleni and Bettini, Italian hopes will centre on 2005 ProTour winner Danilo Di Luca, Stefano Garzelli (both Liquigas), 1997 victor Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and TDF best young rider Damiano Cunego (Lampre – Fondital). His team-mate Salvatore Commesso may also be prominent in an early move if he has managed to hold onto his good Tour de France form.

French fans will pin their hopes on the likes of Christophe Moreau (AG2R Prévoyance), Sylvain Chavanel, David Moncoutié (both Cofidis), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and, with the border close by, may journey south to support them in person. However it would probably be a surprise if any of these were to succeed Laurent Jalabert (2001, 2002) as French victors of the race.

Looking at those from other countries, Frank Schleck (CSC), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Michael Rogers, Serguei Gonchar (both T-Mobile), Michael Boogerd, Denis Menchov (both Rabobank) and Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) all stand out, although their chances will depend on just how well they have recovered from the Tour de France. This is also the case for David Millar, who will be wearing dossard number one as Saunier Duval-Prodir’s leader, and who should have strong reserves and motivation following his enforced break from the sport. The Spanish team has won the past two editions thanks to Miguel Angel Martín Perdiguero and Constantino Zaballa – can they make it three in a row?

As is the case each year, the Clásica San Sebastián will feature a tough, selective course and is almost identical to the route taken in 2005. Following an 11.30 am start the peloton will head out of the city and hit the third category Alto de Orio after some 19 kilometres of racing. The similarly-ranked Alto de Meagas comes eight kilometres later. Two second category climbs then follow, the Alto de Azkarate (56.5 km) and the Alto de Udana (99), after which things get a whole lot more serious at the 193 kilometre mark with the first category Alto de Jaizkibel. It’s a real jezebel of a climb and has the potential to rip the field to shreds.

From that point just 32 kilometres remain to the finish and so the strongest riders here will be in with a clear chance. Eighteen kilometres later, there is an opportunity to thin things out yet further when those left at the front hit the third category Alto de Gurutze (211 km).

Meta volantes bonus sprints also serve to liven things up and are peppered along the course. The first is at Zaratz (23 km), with others following at Azpeitia (47 km), Tolosa (141.5 km), Irun-Letxunborro (206 km) and Oiartzun (213 km). All things considered, this should be an aggressive, open race and the tough parcours should produce a very worthy winner around 5 pm Saturday afternoon.

Note: The Clásica San Sebastián has a mightily-impressive list of past winners, with Zaballa, Perdiguero, Bettini, Laurent Jalabert, Erik Dekker, Francesco Casagrande, David Rebellin, Udo Bolts and Lance Armstrong taking the honours over the past eleven years. Further back, riders such as Armand de las Cuevas, Claudio Chiappucci, Raul Alcala, Gianni Bugno and Miguel Indurain triumphed, proving that the difficult course profile always ensures a worthy winner. Climbing specialist Marino Lejarreta is top dog with three editions of the race to his credit, including the first ever Clásica San Sebastián some 25 years ago.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the Clasica San Sebastian live on Saturday, August 12, starting from 15:00 local time (CEST)/9:00 EDT (USA East)/6:00 PDT (USA West)/23:00 AEST (Aust East).