Itzulia Basque Country 2022 Preview - Route, contenders, prediction

Steep climbs and relentless racing. It could only be the 2022 Tour of the Basque Country, otherwise known as Itzulia Basque Country

The Tour of the Basque Country, otherwise known as Itzulia Basque Country, takes place across the challenging landscape of the autonomous Basque (or Euskadi) region of Northeast Spain. A mountainous area, the race is characterised by relatively short but relentlessly undulating stages featuring notoriously steep climbs, often leading to aggressive and exciting racing.

The 61st edition of the race provides challenges for punchy riders and climbers alike in a series of six tricky stages, beginning on Monday April 4th and ending on Saturday April 9th.

The race is a WorldTour stage race and this is reflected in the quality of the start list. It features a range of top contenders across multiple WorldTour teams as well as a selection of Continental teams including local representation from Euskatel- Euskadi.

Last year, the race would offer the first opportunity since the 2020 Tour de France for Slovenian rivals Primoz Roglič and Tadej Pogačar’s to face off against one another. The resulting two-up battle for supremacy was won by a dominant Team Jumbo Visma over UAE Team Emirates, with Roglič donning the traditional Basque beret of victory.

Stage One: Hondarribia – Hondarribia, April 4th

The first test of the race is a 7.5km individual time-trial. Despite the brevity of the chrono challenge, the route itself is far from simple. It’s a time-trial that will favour punchy riders, with a couple of steep ramps with gradients of up to 12%.

It’s likely to suit Primoz Roglič, who won a similar time trial in last year’s Vuelta a España prologue in Burgos, and Jumbo Visma may find themselves defending the jersey at the earliest possible opportunity.

Stage Two: Leitza – Viana, April 5th

Following the time-trial, the riders will be sorted into order from which they can attack the remainder of the race.

Stage two is the longest of the race, at 207.9km, and offers a relatively flat profile. It will provide the only opportunity of the race for the pure sprinters. As many teams will elect not bring a sprinter, this stage could provide opportunities for a late breakaway, or anyone in the bunch with a punchy finish.

Stage Three: Laudio – Amurrio, April 6th

Heading out of Laudio, stage three begins with a category three climb, the first of five categorised climbs along a 181.7km route.

The altitude gained on the stage is 3,330m in total, with many tricky uncategorised climbs characteristic of Basque racing making it a day for the punchy riders in the bunch.

Following the final (also uncategorised) climb of the day, there is a 5km descent into the finish at Amurrio.

Stage Four: Vitoria-Gasteiz – Zamudio, April 7th

Stage four is 185.6km long and begins with a flat section leading into a steep descent after around 30km which could see a frantic battle for the breakaway.

The stage takes in two ascents of the second category Vivero. The ascents are from different approaches, the second being the trickier of the two, so it’s a climb which could prove decisive with a 20km run-in to the finish line afterwards.

Stage Five: Zamudio – Mallabia, April 8th

The climbing intensifies as the week presses on, and although relatively short at 163.8km, stage five features five categorised climbs and very little flat all day. The final climb, Karabieta, while only classed as second category, features a brutal finishing ramp with inclines up to a startling 16%.

Stage Six: Eibar – Arrate, April 9th

The race will come to its conclusion with the traditional ascent to the Sanctuary of Arrate on Stage six. While the stage is the shortest outside of the time-trial, it packs seven climbs totalling 3,500m of ascent into its 136.7km distance, including three category one challenges.

The final climb up to Arrate is 4.5km long, and at an average of 8.8%, it will test the mettle of the GC contenders, with every chance of a reshuffle in the standings.

Contenders

Last year’s winner and runner-up Primoz Roglič and his teammate Jonas Vingegaard will top the bill at this year’s Basque Country race. They put on a tactical masterclass in 2021’s edition to overcome the challenge of Tadej Pogačar, and this year they will be the team to beat.

UAE Team Emirates have struggled to perform as a cohesive unit in Pogačar’s absence. They bring Juan Ayuso and Brandon McNulty as potential leaders, but with both showing excellent form this season the team will need to be clear on their objectives or they will risk isolating themselves among a strong field.

Movistar will pose a challenge through Enric Mas, and with local rider Gorka Izaguirre and the ever-lively Matteo Jorgensen in support, the Spanish team will hope to compete for the general classification and stage wins.

Ineos Grenadiers bring a strong team with options for leadership for Adam Yates, Carlos Rodrigues and Dani Martinez. Their squad includes Eddie Dunbar, who recently won Coppi e Bartali, Omar Fraile, himself a Basque rider, and Geraint Thomas, and they will challenge for the top spot if they can unite behind one leader.

Bora-Hansgrohe have had a disappointing season so far. They won a stage in 2021 with Lennard Kämna, who rides again this year, and alongside GC hopefuls Emanuel Buchmann, Aleksandr Vlasov and Sergio Higuita, who won the Tour of Catalunya, Bora could spring a surprise on their more favoured rivals.

EF Education Easypost’s Mark Padun lit up the last two stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2021 and has yet to show his form in 2022. He is an interesting prospect for stages wins and perhaps even the general classification, in a team with another new signing in Odd Christian Eiking, who wore the red jersey for a week at last year’s Vuelta.

Quick Step Alpha Vinyl have had a hard time of it in the Classics but with Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel down to ride in Itzulia, they will be on the hunt for stage wins and look to animate the race.

Outside chances for GC success include Pello Bilbao of Bahrain Victorious, David Gaudu of Groupama-FDJ, who won a stage here last year, Israel PremierTech’s Michael Woods, who will enjoy the short, steep climbs at which he so excels, and Lotto Soudal’s young climber Maxim van Gils who had a brilliant start to the year at the Saudi Tour.

Prediction

Without Pogačar there to challenge, the dominance of Team Jumbo Visma will be hard to overcome for the other teams at Itzulia. It’s difficult to see past a win for the Dutch team and an opportunity for Primoz Roglič to lay down a marker ahead of the Tour de France, and take his third win at a race he loves in a country where he has seen all of his greatest success.