Reigning champion brings form to northern Spain
By: Les Clarke
Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) won the 2009 Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian and returns in 2010 to defend his title.
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A cure of sorts for the post-Tour de France 'hangover', the Clasica San Sebastian is often a chance for those who missed out on glory in France to take their own piece of the ProTour in a race that means a lot to the Basque locals.
Five of the winners since Erik Dekker's victory in 2000 have been Spanish, such is the meaning of a San Sebastian title to the local riders, many of whom compete in the event off the back of the Tour; a good Grand Tour doesn't mean favouritism status, but it can go a long way in the race.
And this year the man with stellar form just so happens to be the defending champion. Carlos Barredo is back in 2010 with plenty to prove after narrowly missing out on a Tour de France stage win in the Pyrenees against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Chris Horner and Christophe Moreau.
Last year he managed to breakthrough for his first victory in the event, the Quick Step rider rewarded for his attacking mentality; when he's got the legs it can be devastating, evidenced by his brave solo attack in stage 16 of the recent Tour de France that nearly netted him line honours.
Donning dossard number one, Barredo will be supported by the likes of Tour mountains classification contender Jerôme Pineau and Jurgen Van de Walle, the Belgian proving his mettle with his Spanish teammate in that 16th Tour stage in the Pyrenees.
Teamwork will prove vital in the hopes of most contenders, with Omega Pharma-Lotto, Astana and Katusha bringing very strong squads to this weekend's event.
While there will undoubtedly be some wildcards and dark horses looking to pounce, there's every chance a big team can control the finale.
Omega Pharma-Lotto is taking Daniel Moreno, Jurgen Roelandts, Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert - a team with great all-round ability that can attack from several quarters.
Astana will arrive with many of its all-conquering Tour de France heroes, including stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov, Daniel Navarro, Maxim Iglinskiy and David De La Fuente. The ever-aggressive Vinokoruov is a challenger for the win, while the talented Navarro could be a surprise contender.
Meanwhile, over at Katusha there's class in spades, with Tour top-ten finisher Joaquín Rodriguez making an appearance, joining proven classics men Filippo Pozzato and Alexandr Kolobnev in a powerful line-up.
Other riders to keep an eye on include Euskaltel-Euskadi captain Samuel Sánchez, who is always dangerous in this event, AG2R-La Mondiale's in-form Irishman Nicolas Roche, Xacobeo-Galicia outsider Ezequiel Mosquera, classy Australian Wesley Sulzberger (Française des Jeux), Garmin Transitions' step in Tour captain Ryder Hesjedal and the ever-dangerous Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
Better bring your climbing legs
Climbing firepower will be required with a course that is tough, exciting and rather selective; whilst there may have been bunch finishes in the past, the 234km race drains the legs of some of the most accomplished classics riders.
Those men with a good finishing kick, combined with smarts in the mountains, will benefit the most from this one-day wonder in the Basque Country. This can be seen in past winners, with the likes of Xavier Florencio (2006), Laurent Jalabert (2001 & '02), Claudio Chiapucci (1993) and Gianni Bugno (1991) on the race's honour roll.
Three category 2 climbs are matched with a pair of category 1 ascents on a parcours that resembles the one-day classics more often associated with late April in southern Belgium. The famous Alto de Jaizkibel features in the second half of the race and can be the launching pad for potential winners to show what they've got.
The climb is tackled twice, each time followed by the second category Alto de Arkale in a final 80km that can prove to be too much for many and the perfect hunting ground for others.
Once riders hit the 40km mark it's gradually uphill for the next 30km before a downhill run is topped off by a jagged profile ahead of the finishing laps, when the going gets tough and the contenders come out to play. Watch for fireworks on the climbs and descents as the likes of Sánchez take every opportunity to vie for the win.
For more about this week's racing see Cycling News HD