The rest of the season kicks-off in earnest tomorrow with the annual running of the Clasica San Sebastian. Starting and finishing in San Sebastian, the 237km race usually suits punchy climbers and one day specialists able to hang over the race’s major climb, the Jaizkibel, coming with about 39km to go.
Locally called the Donostia-Donostia Klasikoa (Basque for “Winner Gets a Funny Hat”), the race always features an intriguing start list of riders coming-off the Tour and others beginning the slow build for the Vuelta and Fall Classics. This year is no different.
Topping the list of Tour participants is none other than the winner himself, Astana’s Alberto Contador. Runner-up Andy Schleck takes the line as well with Saxo Bank, however both might play more of a supporting role within their respective teams. Liquigas brings a roster stacked with it's major Tour protagonists, Franco Pellizotti, Roman Kreuziger, and Vincenzo Nibali.
For me though, the true favorites will be riders looking to this race with hopes of salvaging their summers: Cadel Evans, Damiano Cunego, and Alejandro Valverde to name a few. Evans has showed glimpses of talent in races like this before, however he has yet to win one. Cunego is better choice; he’s hoping to end the season on high note and this would be a great way to start. But the top favorite has to be Valverde. He’s the reigning champion and he’s spent the entire month of July stewing over his exclusion from the Tour. San Sebastian is his first chance to reassert himself as one of the top riders in the world.
Outsiders? Watch for Mikel Astarloza. This is Euskaltel’s home race, and he showed in the Tour the form and talent necessary to win a race like this one. His teammate Samuel Sanchez is holding-out for later in the year and could provide valuable support—if he doesn’t go for it himself. AG2R's Rinaldo Nocentini could show that his week in yellow was no fluke with a win here. And let’s not forget the talented Frenchmen from BBox, Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo. At Pavé, a sentimental favorite is Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel; he’s been so close to a big win this year.
And don’t forget the fast men! Pippo Pozatto and Oscar Freire are both listed as starters. Should a large group come to the finish, they could take it.
One final note: the start list above does not include Columbia-HTC or Cervelo TestTeam. There have been several versions floating around over the past few days; we’ll change the link if we find something more reliable.
How about you? Who's your favorite to win the big, floppy hat? Share your comments with the rest of us below.