Itzulia Basque Country 2021 route announced

Organisers of Itzulia Basque Country have announced the route for the 60th edition of the race, which is set to run from April 5-10.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the route has been designed to avoid the movement of people in the region, and will stay within the borders of the Basque autonomous community and its three regions, Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa.

The six-day race will kick off with a 13.9-kilometre time trial in Bilbao, taking in a 2.6-kilometre climb to start, before a long descent and a brutal 600-metre wall with stretches of 19 per cent gradient to finish in Parque Etxebarria.

Stage 2 stays in the north-west, running 154.8 kilometres from Zalla to Sestao. The riders will take in two third-category climbs as well as the second category La Asturiana (7.6km at 6.2 per cent) – named for its proximity to Asturias – which peaks 15 kilometres from the uphill finish.

The following day will see the peloton tackle 167.7 kilometres from Amurrio to Laudio/Ermualde, with much of the stage set in the Gorbeia plateau before dropping down for a tough finale featuring the second category Malkuartu climb (2.5km at 6.7 per cent) and the first-category finale (3.1km at 11.1 per cent).

Stage 4 is the longest of the race at 189.2 kilometres, running from Vitoria-Gasteiz in Araba to the race's easternmost point, Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa. The stage features four categorised climbs, including the famous Jaizkibel climb (8.1km at 5.5 per cent) – a fixture at the Clásica San Sebastián and last featured at Itzulia Basque Country in 2018 – and the Puerto de Erlaitz (9.6km at 5.2 per cent), 23 kilometres from the line.

The race's penultimate stage looks to be the best-suited to any sprinters at the race, with three third-category climbs falling on the 160.2-kilometre stage from Hondarribia to Ondarroa, the last of which comes 28.5 kilometres from the finish.

Race organisers have saved the toughest – and shortest – stage for last, a 111.9-kilometre stage from Ondarroa to the Itzulia fixture of the Alto Arrate (6.4km at 6.4 per cent), north of Eibar.

The first category climb is the last of seven classified climbs packed into the short stage, with three third category tests coming alongside the Alto de Azurki (first category, 11.3km at 4 per cent), Elosua-Gorla (second category, 9.6km at 5.7 per cent) and the first category Krabelin, the steeper, south-eastern path up the Arrate, which features a goat path 2.5-kilometre stretch at a 14.9 per cent average.

The race was last run in 2019, having been cancelled for the first time in over five decades due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Then-Astana rider Ion Izagirre won that edition, beating Dan Martin by 29 seconds after a thrilling final stage to the Arrate which saw Emanuel Buchmann collapse out of the race lead.

The 2021 edition is likely to see the return of home team Euskaltel-Euskadi, after the telecommunications company returned to cycling to sponsor the Fundación Euskadi ProTeam. Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) are among the star ridrs who have already confirmed the race on their 2021 schedules.

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