2023 Itzulia Basque Country Preview

It’s time for the 62nd edition of this beautiful race, a place where the fans live and breathe cycling. They’re also partial to breathing something else, just ask Philippe Gilbert about it. The race doesn’t contain a TT, which is good news for many, and it includes lots of steep climbs. The good news for the riders is that the weather looks good, not something that always happens in this part of the world.

First stage and a rare sprint opportunity. The nature of the race means that teams don’t arrive with sprinters, this is a great chance for someone to grab a world tour sprint win.

Scenario – bunch sprint.

It’s a funny looking stage. The final climb, despite being cat 2, is easy, it’s 9km at under 4%. This should be another day for the fast men, but beware someone flying off the front on the descent to the line.

Scenario – slightly reduced bunch sprint.

As usual, the organisers love to mess around with the category of the climbs. The four steep climbs at the end of the stage are all uncategorised, which is a bit of a joke if you ask me. They might be short, but all of these are double-digit climbs (around 1km at 11%), and it looks a brilliant finish, one that will be hard to control. 

Scenario – the first of the GC days, but the gaps should be small.

A relatively easy day, but with a hard end. The final climb was in the 2021 edition of the race, the stage where Alex Aranburu got away from the peloton in the closing stages. You’ll remember the climb is incredibly steep at the start, then gets a little easier towards the top, overall, it is 7.5km at 6.3%. You might also remember the hellish descent, thankfully it should be dry this time round.

Scenario – likely to be a sprint from the GC group.

There’s a few lumps and bumps towards the end, but it’s not enough for the GC riders to make a difference.

Scenario – breakaway day.

137km in length and featuring 3 cat 1 climbs. The stage is like the one used in 2021, when Gaudu won from Roglič, but the Arrate climb has been removed. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I’ll trust the organisers. The cat 1 climbs are all brutal, this is the day to decide the GC, but the relatively easy finish means we could see groups coming back together. The hardest climbs are the final two cat 1 efforts, 5km at 10% and 4km at 9.3%, they are very difficult.

Scenario – big GC day.


Jonas Vingegaard – will start the race as the big favourite. After losing out in Paris-Nice, he’ll arrive motivated to perform at his very best. This race will be decided on the final stage, and the cat 1 climbs should suit him well, but he’ll need a big climbing performance from his teammates. Jumbo-Visma seem to be missing a super domestique, which will make it harder for Vingegaard to control things.

David Gaudu – despite not winning Paris-Nice, he walked away full of confidence after a brilliant performance. The steep climbs in this part of the world suit him well, he was one of only two riders who could follow a flying Roglič a couple of years ago. This is a big chance for Gaudu to win his first ever stage race as a pro.

Enric Mas – he’s had a decent start to the year, but he’s without a win. Mas will look at the climbs in this race and be confident of challenging for the win. This is a race Movistar would love to do well in, and in Mas they have a real contender for the win.

Dani Martínez – after winning Volta ao Algarve, he was very disappointing in Paris-Nice. He arrives in the Basque Country as the defending champion, but I am concerned about his current form. Also, Ineos don’t look that strong either.

Sergio Higuita – has been a little sick but was strong enough to finish 2nd in GP Miguel Indurain. This is a good race for him, especially as he’s got the sprint to collect bonus seconds throughout the week. He’s another who doesn’t have the strongest team to support, it seems to be a bit of a theme.

Ion Izagirre – was brilliant in winning GP Miguel Indurain, and he arrives here as a former champion. Izagirre always goes well in his home race, and I expect nothing different this year. Winning will be hard, but he’ll be up there in the top 5.

Richard Carapaz – rubbish in Catalunya but looked better in GP Miguel Indurain. Form is growing, and the climbs suit him, but I think he’ll still be a little from his best.

Esteban Chaves – he’ll be hanging around the top 10, but I can’t see him winning.

Simon Yates – 2nd in the Tour Down Under and 4th in Paris-Nice, Yates has enjoyed a good start to the season. The steep climbs in this part of the world suit him well, he should be aiming to challenge for the win.

Pello Bilbao – he’s another local rider, they’re always dangerous, particularly here. The route is good for Pello, the lack of a big mountaintop finish is in his favour. Bahrain have him and Landa at this race, which could mean they have numbers in the finale of the big stage, that could hand Bilbao a chance to take a huge win.

Mikel Landa – the end of the final stage isn’t great for him, he’ll find it hard to win, but his presence will be important for the team. 

Brandon McNulty – UAE arrive with a strong team, they’ll have to decide if they go for McNulty, Formolo, or Soler. I hope they turn to their American, I’m expecting him to be better than he was in Tirreno and looking to challenge for a top result on GC. Just like Bahrain, if the team can get multiple options in the front group on the final stage, it will give them a big advantage.

Mattias Skjelmose – keep an eye on my young Danish pal. The start list is full of world class climbers, but he’s quickly getting a reputation for himself. The final stage will be right on his limit, but I think he’ll win a stage this week.

Prediction Time

This race will be decided on the final stage, it’s going to be a good one.

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I’ll take a win for Jonas Vingegaard, he should be the strongest here. I’m off to Spain this week, so no daily previews, I’m sure you’ll cope just fine.