The Clásica San Sebastián is in the books, and in typically grizzly conditions, the Basque Country delivered two thrilling races.
In the men’s edition, a breakaway formed following the Erlaitz ascent featuring Neilson Powless, Matej Mohorič and Mikkel Frølich Honoré. With the assistance of earlier attacker Simon Carr — Powless’ teammate — the group held off the chasing pack. After a mistake from Mohorič in the final descent took Intermarché's Lorenzo Rota out of contention, the race would be decided in a three-rider sprint. Neilson Powless took advantage of the slipstream offered up by Mohorič to sprint past the Slovenian champion, claiming his first pro victory.
In the women’s race, the Olympic time-trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten took a commanding win. Her Movistar teammates controlled attacks from the other WorldTour teams present to ensure Van Vleuten was in touch entering the decisive Murgil-Tontorra ascent. Van Vleuten swiftly passed the attackers and waltzed away to claim her first San Sebastián victory, just three days after winning Olympic Gold in the ITT in Tokyo.
Here are all the talking points from the 2021 Clásica San Sebastián.
Landa and Bernal Return
Egan Bernal crosses the line to finish 16th at the Clásica San Sebastián (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Mikel Landa and Egan Bernal experienced varied fortunes at the Giro d'Italia earlier this season, with Bernal winning the maglia rosa and Landa crashing out early. Both returned to competitive action at the Clásica San Sebastián for the first time since the Giro.
Bernal was quiet throughout, although he did finish at the back of the peloton, proving that his climbing legs are already working well. Mikel Landa was on the offensive as ever, attacking with Simon Carr on the Erlaitz climb with 45km left. However, Landa was dropped by Carr before being swept up by the peloton, eventually finishing four minutes down in 34th.
Both riders must be afforded time to find top form, as they look to peak for La Vuelta.
Annemiek van Vleuten celebrates winning the Clásica San Sebastián 2021 (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
The Movistar squad had the unenviable task of delivering Annemiek van Vleuten to the final climb with the breakaway in sight. With many of the other stronger teams attacking, knowing they couldn’t face Van Vleuten in a straight up battle, they knew they must gain an advantage prior to the Murgil-Tontorra. This left Movistar alone at the front to chase.
However, the Spanish outfit did their job, controlling dangerous attacks and leaving Van Vleuten to do the rest. After the race, Van Vleuten commended her teammates, saying “I think it is an amazing victory for the Movistar Team. I’m so proud of my team. Winning is nice, but we did it all six together. I felt tired and a bit jet-lagged, but if the team is working so hard, I have to finish it off.”
UAE’s Young Guns
Alessandro Covi climbs the Monte Zonoclan at the Giro d’Italia (Image credit: Sara Cavallini/Getty Images)
We mentioned some of UAE’s talented young riders in our race preview, and although they didn’t claim a position on the final podium, they delivered a highly impressive performance. Juan Ayuso made his hotly anticipated WorldTour debut, and finished in a respectable 18th position. Ayuso wasn’t their leader though, he was working in the service of Alessandro Covi — the multi-skilled Italian can climb and sprint well. Covi won the peloton sprint, beating Julian Alaphilippe, Gianni Moscon and Bauke Mollema to finish 5th.
Tadej Pogačar dominates the headlines for UAE Team Emirates these days, and for good reason. However, the team have acquired an array of young starlets who are already showing their ability on the WorldTour stage. Alessandro Covi and Juan Ayuso are names to keep a close eye on as they gain experience.
Ruth Winder keeps on delivering
Ruth Winder finishes 2nd at the Clásica San Sebastián (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Trek-Segafredo played their cards well in an effort to defeat Van Vleuten, placing Audrey Cordon Ragot in an early offensive move. The French time-trial champion attacked for victory with 11km to go, but was reeled in and swiftly passed by the heavy favourite Van Vleuten. Instead, it was Ruth Winder who was Van Vleuten’s closest adversary — she was the only rider to finish within a minute of the race winner.
Now 28-years-old, Winder continues to demonstrate that she is an increasingly valuable member of Trek-Segafredo’s squad. She is occasionally used as an early attacking foil when racing alongside the likes of Elisa Longo Borghini. At La Flèche Wallonne she was an early attacker, giving her little chance of holding on for victory on the Mur de Huy. However, when used as the out and out leader, she more often than not delivers a fine result. Despite her rising star status, however, Winder recently announced that she will retire at the end of the season.
How good is Neilson Powless?
Neilson Powless (centre) sprints past Matej Mohorič (right) and Mikkel Honoré (left) to win the Clásica San Sebastián (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Now in his fourth season as a WorldTour rider, Neilson Powless has his inaugural professional victory in the bag. Powless is the first US rider to win the Clásica San Sebastián since Lance Armstrong did so in 1995.
Powless won the queen stage of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016 ahead of Lucas Hamilton and David Gaudu, where he made his name as a talented young stage racer. However, he is perhaps showing more potential as a stage hunter and classics rider. The Clásica San Sebastián was Powless' first one-day race start of the 2021 season, and he only started three classics for EF Education - Nippo in 2020. Could EF utilise him more regularly in one-day races? It appears he's quite good at them.
Either way, EF must ensure they continue to invest in the ever improving prospects of Neilson Powless. We suspect this won’t be his last WorldTour victory.