[Underneath article was written before the start of the Tour of the Basque Country and has not been updated]
The GC battle ignites as early as the first day. The individual time trial starts and finishes with a steep climb. Which suits both Slovenes as they are both adapt at time trialing. Extra piquant is the fact that it’s their first time trial clash since the Place des Belles Filles thriller on last year’s Tour de France.
Adam Yates was flawless last month at the Volta a Catalunya. The Briton finished an impressive seventh in the individual time trial on stage 2 before continuing the next day with an uphill victory in Vallter 2000. Which proved to be enough for the fourth GC victory of his career.
In terms of the GC battle two more days at the Itzulia Basque Country stand out – stage 3 and, particularly, the final stage. The race on the third day is nothing special until the last 3.1 kilometres. The finish climb goes up at a whopping 11% and even ramps up to 20% at times. Not a place to put minutes into your opponents, but there will be winners and losers, that’s for sure.
The 6th stage boasts all the raw materials to turn into a thriller. It’s played out on the final day of action, is merely 112 kilometres long, and takes in seven sharp Basque climbs. The last ascent is the renowned Arrate climbt, which is 4.5 kilometres at 8.9% before the last 2 kilometres are an undulating run-in to the line.
Last year’s Vuelta opened with a stage to Arrate and Primoz Roglic stormed into the red jersey straight away. The Arrrate finish is also a Itzulia Basque Country fixture. Emanuel Buchmann took the spoils in the last edition, winning solo after a race with a similar profile to this year’s.
Still active riders who won the Tour of the Basque Country are Nairo Quintana (2013), Alejandro Valverde (2017), Primoz Roglic ad Ion Izagirre (2019). The latter three line up at the start in Bilbao.
So far, three riders have been successful in the stage races of 2021 – Tadej Pogacar (UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico), Max Schachmann (Parijs-Nice), and Adam Yates (Volta a Catalunya). There is a story to Schachmann’s Race to the Sun victory though. Primoz Roglic was in a class of his own during the entire week, but his hopes collapsed before his eyes after a double crash in the final stage.
Favourites 2021 Tour of the Basque Country
***** Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic
**** Adam Yates, Wilco Kelderman, Ion Izagirre
*** Max Schachmann, Bauke Mollema, Esteban Chaves, Hugh Carthy
** Mikel Landa, Sergio Higuita, Enric Mas, Emanuel Buchmann, Tao Geoghegan Hart
* Richard Carapaz, David Gaudu, Jakob Fuglsang, Rigoberto Uran, Pello Bilbao