06-11 April 2015
Packed in between the two big cobblestones Classics, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco offers six days of great racing in the Basque country. It’s a very hard course. Nothing is settled until the tough time trial on the final day.
As it’s custom in this race, all the stages are very undulating. Looking at the stage profiles, one wonders if the organizers left out any climbs at all in the region. 35 categorized ascents await the riders in Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2015. With so many climbs, the sprinters won’t have much to say in this year’s race. Most likely, only stage 2 will end in a reduced bunch sprint - and that’s not even a given fact. Stage 3 features the steep Alto de La Antigua just 3 km from the line. The classic finish in Arrate in on day 4, while stage 5 has no less than 8 categorized climbs on the menu. The final day of racing is a short time trial in Aia, which features two steep ascents on the second part of the course. This is clearly a race made for the climbers. However, since none of the climbs is very long, explosiveness is also a very important quality to have in order to win this race. Especially, since there are no bonus seconds up for grabs. You can see all the stage profiles by using the “select other stages”-menu at the top. For detailed information, simply mouse-over the final climbs and finish areas.
Looking at the start list, two riders stand out. The first one is Nairo Quintana. The Colombian won this race in 2013. He proved to be at a very high level in Tirreno-Adriatico last month when he won the big mountain stage and the race overall. Afterwards he went on to test himself on the cobblestones in Belgium and delivered some impressive performances. There is no doubt that Quintana is in excellent shape. In this field, he’s definitely the best climber. It would have been better for him, had there been a long climb to finish on one day. However, by winning on a similar course in 2013, he has proven it’s not an issue. Don’t forget Nairo Quintana is quite good against the clock. Movistar brings an extremely strong team to support their Colombian star. Riders like Ion Izagirre and especially Beñat Intxausti both have the qualities to make podium in this race.
The second top favorite for Vuelta al Pais Vasco is Michal Kwiatkowski. He loves riding in the Basque country. Last year, he finished 2nd overall, after taking 3rd place on no less than four out of six stages. Now, the strong Pole hopes to make one better and finish on the top spot of the podium. Looking at the profiles, every single stage of this race actually suits Kwiatkowski very well. It will not be a surprise if he wins a couple of stages during the week. Due to his strong time trial skills, Kwiatkowski knows he can gain time on his rivals on the final day. However, since the last part of the ITT is so difficult, he won’t be able to make a huge difference. The terrain encourages attacks. It will be extremely tough to control this race. Kwiatkowski is a very opportunistic rider. He doesn’t hesitate when he sees an opening, which he proved by winning the World Championships last year. So far, he hasn’t won in the rainbow jersey this season. I think this will change this week.
FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot has done great this year so far. He lacked a little power in Criterium International (2nd overall) but there is no doubt that the French climber is in very good shape. He was amongst the best riders in Tirreno-Adriatico. Had there not been in any bonus seconds in the Italian race, Pinot would have finished on the podium. He’s not an explosive rider but he still performs very well on these kinds of climbs. Furthermore, he has improved a lot against the clock. Thibaut Pinot is due to a big win soon and it might come this week.
Since the first five stages all look like one-day races, naturally, many things can happen. It’s a very open race this year. Strong riders like Rui Costa, Tejay Van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Tony Martin, Tom Dumoulin and Jean-Christophe Peraud all good against the clock and will be able to fight for the overall win on the final day. Bauke Mollema will most likely be up there battling for the podium as well.
On paper, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez, would be one of the top favorites. He’s the most explosive rider in the peloton and he has already won four stages in Vuelta al Pais Vasco in the past. These short and steep climbs suit Purito perfectly. It’s a bit uncertain in what kind of shape he arrives in, though. After showing good signs in Tirreno-Adriatico, Purito had to skip Volta a Catalunya due to a stomach virus. If he has been able to recover, he will be extremely difficult to control on the climbs. Usually, the time trials is where Purito loses his chances of overall success. However, with the steep ascents in Aia, the Katusha captain has a good chance to fight for the win. In case Purito is still not at his best, the Russian team also has two very strong cards to play in Simon Spilak and Dani Moreno.
Another very interesting outsider for this race is Tony Gallopin. The young Frenchman put on an amazing show in Paris-Nice when he won the difficult stage to Nice after a long solo attack. Gallopin suffered in the time trial the following day but he definitely proved that he’s now ready to take on the one-week stage races. He has the needed explosiveness to do well on these climbs and he’s very fast on the line. It will be difficult for the other favorites to drop the Lotto rider. The time trial is not bad for him either. In Paris-Nice, he missed out on the overall podium on the very last day. I won’t be surprised if he takes revenge and makes top3 this time.
For other strong riders with a good chance of success in this race, look to Rafal Majka, Darwin Atapuma, Esteban Chaves, Luis León Sanchez, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Davide Formolo, Julian Arredondo and the dangerous Team Sky duo of Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao. Not to forget Samuel Sanchez who has finished on the podium four times in the past. Sanchez will most likely have his eyes fixed on stage 4 in Arrate, where he won three years in a row from 2010-2012 and finished 3rd last year.
Once again, there will be daily stage previews during Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Each preview will be online in the evening prior to the upcoming stage. You can already see all the interactive stage profiles by navigating the “select other stages”-menu at the top.