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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — The dust has barely settled following the Tour de France and big-time racing returns across Europe with a busy weekend.
There are plenty of post-Tour criteriums to keep the fans happy in France, Belgium and Holland, but “real” racing clicks back into gear this weekend with two high-profile events. Spain hosts the Clásica San Sebastián, the most important one-day race south of the Pyrénées, while the Tour of Poland draws a high-quality field, with several big names returning to competition after a break or injury, including Filippo Pozzato and Tom Boonen. The women’s World Cup continues in Sweden with a pair of events that could see Marianne Vos carry a commanding lead into the season finale.
31st Clásica San Sebastián, July 30
San Sebastián, Spain (WorldTour)
Some of the bigger names from the Tour de France hope to carry winning form into the Clásica San Sebastián, Spain’s most important one-day race held over the green hills of the Basque Country.
The Schleck brothers, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Philippe Gilbert(Omega Pharma-Lotto), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), defending champion Luis Leon Sánchez and Oscar Freire (Rabobank). Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) are among the top names headlining the start list. Spanish riders typically dominate on home roads, with Spaniards taking six of the past seven editions.
A rider with a strong finishing kick usually has the best chances to win out of a small group to claim the txapela, the distinctive Basque beret awarded to the winners.
The Jaizkibel climb, which towers above the Bay of Biscay, is the main attraction of the six-climb, 234km route. Organizers are sticking to last year’s route changes, which included a second passage over the Jaizkibel and the addition of the short but steep Alto de Arkale. The second passage over the two climbs in the final lap offers attacking riders a better chance to stay clear of a chase group, though there’s still 10km of relatively flat, open roads from Arkale to San Sebastián’s Boulevard finishing straight.
The changes helped last year’s winner, Sánchez, make it to the line with options of victory as part of a three-man group. He pulled clear on the Jaizkibel with Alexander Vinokourov and Carlos Sastre, while Haimar Zubeldia led the chase group across the line 34 seconds back.
After weeks of rain and cold weather, it appears summer has finally arrived to northern Spain, meaning big crowds of Basque cycling fans should be lining the Jaizkibel.
68th Tour of Poland, July 31-August 6
Krakow to Warsaw (WorldTour)
The seven-stage, 1,113km race across Poland is slowing gaining some traction since becoming part of the ProTour format in 2005.
The date has slowly been pushed earlier in the summer in search of better weather, taking the slot of the new-defunct Tour of Germany. The course has been toughened up the past few years, with hard stages around Zakopane in the south near the Tatra Mountains typically crowning the victor. International riders have been dominating the race over the past decade as it grows in stature, and the last Polish victor was Cezary Semana in 2002.
Since its new designation in 2005, the race has become a favorite place for riders to look for some pre-worlds form and a chance to pick up valuable UCI points. Last year’s winner, Daniel Martin, will be back to defend his title for Garmin-Cervélo. Other big names include Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) and Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar).
Open de Suede Vargarda, July 29, 31
Sweden (World Cup)
Women’s World Cup racing continues with two races over three days in Sweden. The agenda opens Friday with a team time trial followed by Sunday’s 132km road race. Cervélo won the TTT event during its first three years and the Garmin-Cervélo team will have many returning members from last year’s squad while Kristen Wild won the road race. Marianne Vos, winner of the previous World Cup stop in Spain in early June, holds a 72-point lead on the season-long standings.
Race website: http://www.worldcupvargarda.se/