After the fun of Flanders, the racing continues over in the Basque Country. As usual, the race features lots of double-digit gradients, something most of us love. With sickness ripping through the peloton, we’ll have to wait and see who’s healthy enough to challenge for the overall win. The good news is that the weather will be much nicer than it’s been in the last week.
We begin with a short TT, with some gorgeous views out to the Bay of Biscay. Just 7.5km long, it features three little kickers, which means it shouldn’t see big gaps between the main GC riders. Officially, this should be called a prologue, but the organisers have gone with stage 1 and I’m not going to argue with them.
About as easy a stage you’ll ever find in this race. The problem is that this is a race sprinters avoid, so who’s going to pull in the peloton? It really depends on who is in the race lead after the TT, but it looks like a good chance for a break to go all the way.
Hello double-digit gradients! We have a lap circuit just to the south of Bilbao and it features two challenging little hills. Despite the final climb cresting with 24km to go, this should be the first of the GC days. I doubt we’ll see a massive selection, but this will be a good stage for riders to test their legs.
As the final climb starts with 1km at 15%, this is another day for the GC riders. This time the final climb crests with 20km to go, we’ll have to see if that has an impact.
This day has the most climbing of any stage throughout the week. It doesn’t have the steep slopes of the previous days, but it’s full of classified climbs and does finish with a little ramp up to the line.
Not the same as last year, but it’s still horrific! We have some horribly steep climbs in the first 50km, before heading towards Arrate. The bunch then head up the bike path which was first introduced into the race a couple of years ago, before looping round for the traditional finish. It’s a brilliant stage, hopefully the whole thing will be live.
Jumbo-Visma – they arrive with Roglič and Vingegaard as protected riders, the young Dane will get his chance in this race. Roglič loves it here, he’s the defending champion and he also won in 2018, the steep slopes suit him very well. Last year he was at his brilliant best in the final stage, putting UAE to the sword, but remember that Vingegaard finished 2nd on GC too. It’s a race that both men like and looking at the start list it’s important to have multiple options. As we’ve seen in previous years, the final stage is one that can erupt early, having two options makes it much easier from a tactical point of view.
Ineos – they have Martínez, Rodríguez, Yates and Geoghegan Hart. Given the way he performed in Paris-Nice, it should really be a race for Martínez. The Colombian was brilliant riding as a domestique for Egan Bernal in the 2021 Giro, this season he’s now getting more leadership opportunities. He finished 3rd in both Algarve and Paris-Nice, that’s a strong start to the season. Yates will probably be the second captain, he normally copes well with double-digit gradients, but he was a little off his best in Paris-Nice.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl – Evenepoel and Alaphilippe will be the chosen sons for the Wolf Pack. Remco has recently been posting some impressive training rides, smashing Strava records in the process. This season he’s shown some weakness when the gradient goes above 10%, so he’s been spending some time trying to improve that part of his game. Alaphilippe has had a slow start to the year, but with his main goals just around the corner, he’ll be close to his best.
Pello Bilbao – motivation is high, this is his home race. He was 3rd in the UAE Tour and 9th in Tirreno, it’s been a decent start to the season for the Basque rider. He looked good in GP Miguel Indurain, so he’s one of the lucky riders to avoid getting sick in the last couple of weeks. Despite the presence of some of the best climbers in the world, Bilbao has a decent shot of finishing on the podium.
Aleksandr Vlasov – he was brilliant in GP Miguel Indurain, just losing out in the sprint to Barguil. Bora are one of the teams who’ve been hit hard by the recent bout of sickness that has gone through the peloton, but they do have quality to support Vlasov. The team will be hoping that Higuita and Buchmann will provide strong support for Vlasov, who will be targeting the overall win.
Enric Mas – was looking good in Tirreno until he crashed hard on a descent in the penultimate stage. The Spaniard is very good on steep slopes, this is a race that suits him well. He’ll hope to be challenging for the win, he certainly has the quality to do so.
Ion Izagirre – another one of the home riders who’ll be extra motivated to impress. He won this race back in 2019 but that’s when he rode for a very strong Astana team. Now at Cofidis, it’s going to be hard to take another title.
Jumbo-Visma to do what they do, but which of their chosen sons will take home the crown? I’ll take a win for Jonas Vingegaard.