Contador joins the peloton for Basque Country’s Clasica San Sebastian

A number of riders that finished the Tour de France will line up for Saturday's one-day classic in Spain

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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — One of Europe’s most beautiful seaside cities is the setting for Spain’s most important one-day race.

Set along the green hills of Spain’s lush Basque Country, the Clásica San Sebastián has become a modern-day classic, thanks to a demanding course and a stellar field.

This year’s edition is no exception, as some of the peloton’s biggest stars converge on Donostia, as San Sebastián is called in Basque, for the 33rd edition of the Spanish classic.

Coming just six days after the conclusion of an exciting edition of the Tour de France, many of the Tour’s biggest names are heading to Spain.

Tour winner is Chris Froome (Sky) is not here, but world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) are.

“On Monday, I felt like a zombie,” AFP quoted Gilbert, a winner here in 2011. “Now I have recovered, and as a former winner, I have to do my best.”

The hilly course and the fast run into the finish makes it an ideal course for a puncheur, someone who can get over the Jaizkibel and the late climbs, and still have a kick to win out of a small group.

Jaizkibel again centerpiece of route

The 232-kilometer route starts and finishes along San Sebastián’s Boulevard promenade. Team buses line up in the morning as fans crowd in to get a glimpse at the stars.

As the peloton rolls south into the hills of the Basque Country, fans hit the Playa de la Concha or dip into the “parte vieja” to sample local tapas before returning to the finish line some seven hours later.

The route has been tweaked over the past several years to make the race more selective, yet the Cat. 1 Alto de Jaizkibel remains the signature climb of the race.

This year’s route features five rated climbs, with three second-category climbs and two passages up Jaizkibel that towers over the Bay of Biscay just west of San Sebastián. The 12km climb, with an average grade of 5.4 percent, typically separates the wheat from the chafe, but is too far from the finish line, with 36km to go, to truly decide the race.

This year’s course loops over the Jaizkibel twice in the second half of the race, assuring a demanding parcours to push the riders to the limit. The Cat. 2 Alto de Arkale, with 14.5km to go, is where the race-winning groups have begun to form over the past several editions.

Riders can slip free over a sinuous final 10km that also features a short, but punchy unrated hill before hitting the flat straightaway with under 4km to go.

Forecasters are calling for a chance of afternoon showers; otherwise, fine summer weather is in the cards. Big crowds of rowdy Basque fans typically line the Jaizkibel and Arkale climbs.

Gilbert, Contador, Quintana headline stellar field

The 2013 edition of the Clásica isn’t short on stars, with most of the Tour’s top 10 lining up Saturday on San Sebastian’s glamorous Boulevard to take the start.

Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde lead a loaded Movistar team, while 2011 winner Gilbert will be looking to take advantage of any post-Tour form as the world champion still seeks his first win on the 2013 season.

Others hot off the Tour’s top 10 include Contador and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).

Contador was a late addition to Saxo’s San Sebastián squad, confirming Friday he would race. The remainder of his 2013 racing schedule remains uncertain. Contador said he does not want to defend his Vuelta a España title, but team boss Bjarne Riis said nothing is yet decided.

Michael Albasini and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) both fit that profile perfectly. Others to watch include Tour stage winner Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard); Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), hot off winning the Tour de Wallonie; Tour sensation Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha).

Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski line up with Richie Porte at Tour-winning Sky, though Froome is cooling his jets before a likely trip to the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

In fact, after the Tour, Porte has no plans to put the brake on what’s been an amazing season.

“I’ve never actually made it to America, so after the Tour, I will just keep rolling. [Clásica] San Sebastián is my favorite one-day race. Then I will take a little break, do Colorado and the Canadian races,” Porte said. “I will finish off the season with worlds, and the Italian classics. I might go to Japan as well. Why not?”

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