Clásica San Sebastián 2021: Route, predictions and contenders

Rouleur previews the 2021 Clásica San Sebastián, where 4,000 metres of climbing and some of the steepest Basque ramps await.

The elite group of Remco Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe and Michał Kwiatkowski are the three most recent winners of the Clásica San Sebastián

The race, which takes place this year on 31st July, is renowned for its hilly, undulating terrain, which suits riders that can climb capably and possess a strong punch.

The race was postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in 2019, Remco Evenepoel claimed his first WorldTour victory here. The Belgian attacked alongside Toms Skujiņš with around 20km remaining, before dropping the Latvian to win solo ahead of the chasing peloton.

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Clásica San SebastiánProfile via La Flamme Rouge

No single climb exceeds 9km in length, yet the race is packed with 4,000 metres of ascending over 222 kilometres.

The first major test is the Alto de Urraki, which is 8.6km in length and averages just under 8%. The ascent is crested 81km in, and leads into the Alto de Alkiza, which is shorter at 4.5km. The next 45km are undulating, but don’t feature any notable climbs.

The race will really kick-off with 70km remaining and the Alto de Jaizkibel. The Jaizkibel is used regularly across a variety of pro races, including the Itzulia Basque Country Tour earlier this season. Ion Izagirre was the winner of stage 4 there, where the Jaizkibel was ascended with 50km remaining. 

The Erlaitz climb follows next, which mirrors that stage from the Itzulia Basque Country. It was here where we saw the main selection take place that day, with a plethora of riders looking to attack off the front — we can expect a similar whittling down process over the two climbs in the race this weekend.

After the descent, the next 15 kilometres are flat which means we could have a stand-off among the main favourites, as the group will be heavily reduced. This could therefore lead to a series of attacks, perhaps from some of the outsiders, where they could be allowed space before the final kicker. Remco Evenepoel took advantage of this situation in 2019. 

The final climb is the gruelling Alto de Murgil. The ascent is just 2km long but averages a leg-sapping 10%. The strongest climbers and punchers must come to the fore and make the difference here.

Once the climb is crested, a 4.5km descent is then followed by a 3.5km flat run-in to the finish line in San Sebastián. 


Remco EvenepoelRemco Evenepoel in disbelief as he wins the 2019 Clásica San Sebastián (Image credit: Amaia Zabalo/Getty Images)

Defending champion Remco Evenepoel won’t be on the start line this year, but Deceuninck—Quick-Step still start as the favourites with Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman hasn’t raced since the Tour de France, but demonstrated there why he is one of the most feared punchers in the world when he won stage 1 in Landerneau. If on form, he is the man to beat. Zdeněk Štybar and James Knox could be used as attackers for Deceuninck.

Astana - Premier Tech have numerous chances in their team, but Luis León Sánchez could be their leading option. The 37-year-old has won a race every year since 2007 and he continued that record when he sprinted to win the Prueba Villafranca last week. He’s clearly in great form and he boasts a good record at the Clásica San Sebastián too — he won the race in 2010 and 2012. Gorka Izagirre and Javier Romo are other options who could work for Sánchez or attack themselves.

Related: What's next for Tadej Pogacar?

UAE Team Emirates are Tour de France winners for the second year in a row, but Tadej Pogačar won’t be present here. They start with the likes of Diego Ulissi and Matteo Trentin, but also arrive with an array of talented young guns. Alessandro Covi came close to stage victory at the Giro this year, he's proven that he is both a capable climber and sprinter. However, their best shot may lie with 18-year-old Juan Ayuso. The Spaniard was snapped up by UAE after winning the ‘Baby Giro’ in June. He almost won his first professional race at the Prueba Villafranca where he was only beaten by the experienced Sánchez. This may be his first WorldTour race, but he cannot be written off entirely.

Bauke Mollema always performs well at the Clásica San Sebastián. The Dutchman has entered the race every year since 2012 and finished in the top ten on every occasion. He won the race in 2016 and has been on the podium on three other occasions. Mollema has been in great form lately too, he just missed out a medal at the Olympics, finishing fourth in the men's road race. Mollema must be considered among the prime contenders. Trek-Segafredo also bring Giulio Ciccone and Juan Pedro López who are both great climbers when at their best.

Bauke MollemaBauke Mollema won the Clásica San Sebastián in 2016 (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Mikel Landa hasn’t raced since crashing out of the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. Landa had shown promising legs in the early stages of the race before he was cruelly forced to leave early. He’ll now focus on the latter part of the season, though he may not be in peak form just yet. Instead, Bahrain-Victorious could ride for Gino Mäder, who has had a breakthrough season winning stages at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de Suisse.

The breakout rider of the 2021 Tour de France was undoubtedly Jonas Vingegaard. The Dane finished second overall in his first appearance at the Tour. He’s has a fine year elsewhere too — he finished on the podium of the Itzulia Basque Country Tour and won the Coppi e Bartali. He will likely lead Jumbo-Visma, though Sam Oomen and Antwan Tolhoek may get their chance too.

Related: Jonas Vingegaard: the revelation of this year's Tour de France

Bora-Hansgrohe begin the race with a plethora of strong options. Wilco Kelderman and Patrick Konrad both had strong Tours, with Kelderman finishing in the top five overall and Konrad winning his first Grand Tour stage. Ide Schelling was a presence too, notably when he was on the attack in the first week to wear the polka-dot jersey. When you add Matteo Fabbro into the mix, the German team possess plenty of options which means we could see them on the offensive.

Related: Ide Schelling's sublime Tour debut

Other riders with a chance include Dan Martin, Simon Yates and Ruben Guerriero.


Bauke Mollema always goes well here, and the parcours suit Julian Alaphilippe perfectly. However, we have seen riders announce themselves on the WorldTour scene at San Sebastián before, and we are rooting for a youngster again. Juan Ayuso has no experience at this level, but we think he’ll have few issues stepping up to mix it with the big boys. Juan Ayuso is our pick to win the 2021 Clásica San Sebastián.

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