The Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco / Euskal Herriko Itzulia) is one of the most prestigious stage races in professional cycling, often attracting the best Grand Tour riders. Here we take a detailed look at the route for the 2016 edition and assess the likely outcome for each stage, and for the general classification.
We examine the startlist, analyse each stage in depth - with a particular focus on the climbs - and give our prediction for how the race will go each day. We have excellent knowledge of all the climbs that are used in the race, having tackled many of them on the cycling holidays that we run in the region, and would like to share our expertise to offer some suggestions as to where the race will be won and lost.
Although first held in 1924, this will be only the 56th edition of the Tour of the Basque Country; as for much of the period during the Spanish Civil War and under the subsequent fascist regime of Franco, the race was not run. In 1969, however, it burst back onto the scene and has been won in the intervening years by some of the greats of cycling, including Jacques Anquetil, Luis Ocaña, Sean Kelly, Tony Rominger, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana.
The 2015 edition was won by climbing specialist Joaquim Rodríguez - making the decisive gap over Sergio Henao on a last day hilly time trial. The race has generally been won by climbers, although not always by high mountain specialists. The Basque Country is characterized by short, hilly ascents between 3km and 10km. Some are fairly gentle, some are steep, some are off the scale!
The region also often gets a lot of rain at this time of year, which makes for exciting and aggressive racing. Every stage has some challenges and difficulties and the race can be lost almost at any point during the six days, as the hills just keep on coming.
Overall, Pais Vasco is a race that every rider wants to win. It is without doubt one of the most prestigious week long stage races, and has a lot of World Tour points on offer, as well as a fantastic Basque beret for the winner.
The StartlistA full startlist can be found on Pro Cycling Stats. Here is a summary of the teams that are racing and the riders to look out for:
- Katusha (Joaquim Rodriguez, Simon Spilak)
- Sky (Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao)
- Movistar (Nairo Quintana, Ion Izagirre, Dani Moreno)
- Orica GreenEDGE (Michael Albasini, Adam Yates, Simon Yates)
- BMC Racing Team (Samuel Sanchez)
- Tinkoff (Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger)
- Cannonale Pro Cycling (Pierre Rolland, Lawson Craddock)
- AG2R La Mondiale (Jan Bakelants, Alexis Vuillermoz)
- Lotto Soudal (Tony Gallopin, Tim Wellens)
- FDJ (Thibaut Pinot, Sebastien Reichenbach)
- Dimension Data (Igor Anton)
- Lampre Merida (Rui Costa, Diego Ulissi)
- Trek Segafredo (Bauke Mollema, Franck Schleck, Haimar Zubeldia)
- Etixx Quick Step (Dan Martin, Gianluca Brambilla)
- IAM Cycling
- Astana Pro Team (Fabio Aru, Diego Rosa, Luis Leon Sanchez)
- Team Giant-Alpecin (Warren Barguil, Simon Geschke)
- Team Lotto-NL Jumbo (Robert Gesink, Wilco Kelderman)
- Caja Rural (Jose Goncalves, Pello Bilbao)
- Cofidis (Dani Navarro)
Most teams enter the race with at least two strong riders who will be targetting either a stage or the general classification, so there will be a real fight each day for the win. As you can see, there are basically no top line sprinters, which may give fast finishing puncheurs like Michael Albasini and Fabio Felline a chance to shine.
For the general classification, there is a whole host of big name climbers looking to take the crown. Among the favourites are former winners of this race such as Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Nairo Quintana and Samuel Sanchez. There are also several local Basque riders who will hope to do well in front of their home fans; among them Mikel Landa, Amets Txurruka, Ion Izagirre and Igor Anton.
The StagesClick on a link for an in-depth look at each individual stage:
Monday 4th April 2016
Stage 1: Etxebarria - Markina-Xemein
Tuesday 5th April 2016
Stage 2: Markina-Xemein - Garrastatxu
Wednesday 6th April 2016
Stage 3: Vitoria Gasteiz - Lesaka
Thurusday 7th April 2016
Stage 4: Lesaka - Orio
Friday 8th April 2016
Stage 5: Orio - Arrate
Saturday 9th April 2016
Stage 6: Eibar - Eibar (ITT)
Overall ContendersAs usual, the Tour of the Basque Country is a very open race. This year has attracted many big names, particularly those preparing for the Tour de France. The absence of bonus seconds mean that the strongest rider usually wins, and the strongest rider will almost certainly be a climber.
The startlist includes several former winners of the race: Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Samuel Sanchez and Joaquim Rodriguez. Other top climbers such as Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao, Fabio Aru, Dan Martin and Thibaut Pinot will also undoubtedly be looking to add this prestigious race to their palmares. There are also some week stage race specialists here, such as Rui Costa and Simon Spilak. In addition to Landa, the Basques will be cheering on Ion Izagirre and Igor Anton - both of whom will look to peak for the race, but perhaps lack the quality to take the overall win.
Arrate, climbed from different sides on stages 5 and 6 will be pivotal to the race, so the winner will probably be a rider who is most suited to its slopes, although it is possible that an explosive climber could gain a decisive advantage on the super steep climb to Aia.
Weather is also often a factor in the Basque Country. Wind is rarely an issue, because the inland climbs are generally well sheltered, but rain can tear the race apart. Showers are forecast throughout the week, with some spells of heavy rain. Riders who go well in bad conditions - notably Simon Spilak and Nairo Quintana - will feel that they can take advantage.
- ***** Nairo Quintana
- **** Mikel Landa, Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Simon Spilak
- *** Thibaut Pinot, Sergio Henao, Dan Martin, Fabio Aru
- ** Rui Costa, Bauke Mollema, Samuel Sanchez
- * Diego Rosa, Ion Izagirre, Pierre Rolland, Adam Yates