Orica-GreenEdge will be switching to a different strategy in this year’s Vuelta al País Vasco, with their target set for a strong general classification performance, according to the team's director Neil Stephens.
“Any other year we’ve been more focussed on stages and keeping the GC in mind,” Orica-GreenEdge sports director and long term Basque Country resident Stephens told Cyclingnews on Monday. “But now it’s the other way round.”
“If a stage win is on the cards, we’ll take advantage of it, but the most important thing is GC.”
For the two Yates brothers, Adam and Simon, both of whom are racing in Pais Vasco this year, it can be said that last year’s race brought radically different results. Simon took fifth overall in the stage race last year, but Adam had to abandon because of injuries in the notorious stage 1 mass pile up, breaking his finger in a crash caused by metal poles that had not been removed from the finishing straight.
As Stephens puts it, “Simon's done the most here on GC up to now. But I said to Adam, ‘don’t discount yourself on any given stage’ because he may be the one who can help his brother stay up there on GC.
“But up to now, Simon’s been the GC racer and Adam, who’s won the Clásica San Sebastian near here, is the one-day guy. Up until now.”
Although every year the claim that this is the hardest Vuelta al País Vasco ever is widely bandied about, but as Stephens sees it, “it’s as hard as the riders make it. If the route is hard and the field’s good, unfortunately I’d say the weather’s going to make it really difficult.
“I think the decisive moments are pretty clearly at the finals. There are some tricky descents but we’re lucky enough that there are none of those descents are close to the decisive moments.”
After stage 1, in which all the favourites finished together in a front group including both Yates brothers, the first such crunch moment for the overall contenders is the stage 2 summit finish on Tuesday.
At the end of the 174.2-kilometre stage there is the category 2 Alto de Garrastatxu, it is just 2.7 kilometres long but will almost certainly begin the weeding out process of the top favourites for the overall classification. Never used before in the Vuelta al País Vasco, the climb - which is quite close to Mikel Landa’s hometown, so supporters for the Sky rider should be out in force - has an average gradient of 11.67 per cent and ramps up to 15 per cent in places.
“It’s a decent sort of climb, very hard. It’s the part of the whole race I like the least because it’s got a bit tricky run-in to the finish, you’re going to need a bit of luck. Every other stage, the best rider is going to win it, but there, even if a good rider will win it, somebody may lose out because of bad luck.”