With many of the usual contenders for the podium in Women’s WorldTour events recovering from the Tokyo Olympics, the women’s Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa, which takes place on 31st July, initially looked like it could be a relatively open race.
That was until Annemiek van Vleuten announced she'd be racing it upon her speedy return from the Olympics. The undulating roads of the Basque country provide a perfect stage for attacks and should suit the Dutch rider perfectly.
The event didn’t go ahead in the truncated 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but, in 2019, Lucy Kennedy took the win in the inaugural edition of the race. She attacked with 8km to go and held off the chasing bunch after an impressive display of teamwork by what was then, Mitchelton-Scott.
Kennedy is back to defend her title in 2021, but it's going to be a tall order to ride away from Van Vleuten on the steep gradients that the peloton will face.
Starting and finishing in the town of Donostia, the peloton will tackle an undulating 139km route that is likely to be well-suited to those who enjoy a tough climb. There won’t be much easing into the race, with the first classified climb coming after only 17km.
The big contenders might be keen for a breakaway to get a small advantage in the earlier stages of the race so they can save themselves for the tougher bergs as the race continues. The first climb, Aia, is 8km long but has a gradual average gradient of 3.7%. It’s unlikely to be decisive but could tire a few legs.
For roughly the next 50km, the road will be mainly flat until the category 2 Jaizkibel climb, which could be a crucial point in the race. It is 7.9km long at 5.9%, peaking with 90km to go. This may be too early for the main favourites to make their move, but it is sure to whittle down the group.
After descending down to an intermediate sprint point in Irun, riders will hit the 3rd category Gurrutze climb. Lasting for 2.7km at 5.2%, it’s simply a warm up for the savage category 2 climb, Alto de Murgil, that follows.
Although only lasting for 2.1km, the Murgil climb has slopes as steep as 20%, providing a perfect springboard for lightweight climbers to launch powerful attacks. In order to stay away and clinch victory, though, any brave chancers will have to navigate the technical descent and flat run-in to the finish that follows.
The notable absence of the, often dominant, SD Worx squad leaves the race more open than usual, giving some smaller teams the chance at a good result. Newly crowned Olympic ITT Champion Annemiek van Vleuten will lead Movistar, but she could be carrying fatigue following a long journey from Japan. This means her teammates like Sheyla Gutiérrez and Lourdes Oyarbide Jimenez could have an opportunity to take up the mantle. The Spanish team will want to secure a good result in their home race and have a strong roster of climbing talent.Image: Getty Images
BikeExchange are without their usual leaders in Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown. However, they bring defending champion Lucy Kennedy who took an emphatic win in 2019. She's just returning from injury, though, so it could be that her teammate Ane Santesteban will lead the team. She also knows the Spanish roads well and proved she is in good form in the Navarra Classics last year, securing three top-10 places. Their teammate Janneke Ensing finished 3rd in this race in 2019, too.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot narrowly missed out on selection for the Olympics and voiced her disappointment about this. She’ll be hoping to make the best out of a bad situation at Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa by securing a good result. She’s supported by the likes of Ellen van Dijk who, although not suited to the hilly parcour, will be an asset in the earlier parts of the race. Trek's Ruth Winder is another rider racing after Tokyo, so it will be interesting to see how she manages the fatigue after what has surely been a tiring few weeks for the American.
Image: Getty Images
Liv Racing also will have a strong team of climbers and the young team have been knocking on the door of a big result. Soraya Paladin could lead the team, but Pauliena Rooijakkers has also shown great strength in hilly races so far this season and finished third in this race in 2019. French national champion Evita Muzic will be a big contender from FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, finishing 3rd in the youth classification at the Giro Donne a few weeks ago.
Erika Magnaldi of Ceratizit-WNT will also be hunting a result this weekend, proving her climbing prowess when she finished 5th in stage 2 of the Giro Donne. Kathrin Hammes will be a great asset to Magnaldi, she knows the race well, finishing 8th in 2019. Alice Maria Arzuffi could lead Valcar Travel and Service and can climb well if she is in form. Eider Merino of A.R Monex could also upset some of the plans of the WorldTour teams, she has shown time again that she can keep up with the best on tough parcours.
Tatiana Guderzo of Ale BTC Ljubljana finished in the top 10 overall at the Giro Donne so is also another contender for a podium finish. Her teammate, Sophie Wright, also excels over mountainous terrain. Anastasiia Chursina also finished 4th here in 2019, so could lead the Ale BTC squad.
We expect fireworks, attacks and surprises with the undulating terrain providing perfect springboards for riders to go for the win solo, as Lucy Kennedy did last year. Annemiek van Vleuten is the obvious choice for the win, but we're not sure how she will recover from her exploits at the Olympics.
With this in mind, we predict an underdog to take first place in 2021. Soraya Paladin has been up there with the strongest riders throughout the Women’s WorldTour, and has a plethora of impressive top-10 results in hilly races so far this season. The attacking course suits her strengths and she’s also surrounded by a team of strong climbers, meaning Liv Racing could have numbers come the decisive moments at the end of the race.