San Sebastián Stat Attack

In the Clásica de San Sebastián last Saturday, Luis León Sánchez won a three man sprint to take top spot ahead of Alexander Vinokourov and Carlos Sastre. Sánchez’s victory means Spanish riders have now claimed six of the last seven editions of their biggest one day race of the year. It was an attack from Vinokourov, who was capitalising on good Tour de France form, about 30km from the finish which proved decisive as only ten riders managed to make the selection. These ten riders would end up populating the first ten places at the finish but it wasn’t only Vinokourov who was coming off the Tour on good form. Of the ten, eight had ridden the Tour (the exceptions were Haimar Zubeldia and Richie Porte), and all eight of them had finished the Tour in the top 20 places overall.

Nicolas Roche was one of the riders strong enough to stay with the front group when the Kazakh attacked. The 26 year old Irishman ended up in 8th place which is his best ever finish in a classic. It isn’t however the best ever placing by an Irishman in the Clásica de San Sebastián. Unsurprisingly, this was achieved by Sean Kelly in 1990 when he came third. In second place was a 21 year old Laurent Jalabert who was riding towards his best result so far in a major race. The winner that day was Miguel Indurain who soloed home almost two and a half minutes ahead of Jalabert and Kelly, completing a one day race podium full of past/future winners of Grand Tours.

Luis León Sánchez - Winner of this year's Clásica de San Sebastián

It is surprising that this classic was never won by Kelly. His calendar tended to revolve around the classics along with Spanish races like the Vuelta a Espana, Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of Pays Basque (making sure to pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of ‘Pays’ like the man himself!). So one would have thought that a Spanish classic would have been right up his alley. As it happens, Kelly never even rode the race until 1989 when it became part of the inaugural UCI Road World Cup (which he won). Perhaps it is because the Clásica de San Sebastián tended to clash with two other races which Kelly was partial to, the Tour of Britain and the Tour de Limousin.

Getting back to this year’s race, the leading group of ten was shortly to become three when Sánchez attacked and only Sastre and Vinokourov could follow. Vinokourov paid for his efforts in pulling the breakaway and Sastre was never likely to win a sprint from a small group, which left Sánchez to power home for the first one-day race win of his career. Sánchez, along with his compatriot Sastre ensured a Spanish presence on the podium, a presence which has been felt since 2004.  However, Spain have also had to endure long droughts of success in their home race in the past. In the ten years between 1992 and 2001, not a single Spanish rider finished on the podium.

Even though this race is known traditionally as a race where Tour de France riders do well, there is evidence that gives hope to those who take part without having ridden the Tour. With podiums full of riders who completed the Tour, the past two editions seem to be the exceptions. Before 2009, it’s been 17 years since the Clásica de San Sebastián podium was made up entirely of riders who finished the Tour de France. In the thirty editions of this race, it has happened on only six occasions. Along with 2010, the only other year the podium was made up of riders who finished in the top 20 of the Tour was 1991 when Gianni Bugno (2nd in the Tour), Pedro Delgado (9th in the Tour), and Maurizio Fondreist (15th in the Tour) made up the top three.

Two of this year’s Tour podium finishers Alberto Contador and Denis Menchov decided to give the race a miss but runner up and white jersey winner Andy Schleck took to the startline aiming to become only the third man to finish on the podium of both the Tour and the Clásica de San Sebastián. Unfortunately, Schleck mysteriously abandoned after 120km, leaving Claudio Chiapucci who finished 2nd in both races in 1992, and the aforementioned Gianni Bugno, as the only two riders to have achieved this feat.

Marino Lejarreta - A triple winner of the Clásica de San Sebastián and the only rider to win it along with a Grand Tour in the same season.

Despite this race not going to plan, Andy Schleck has stated his intentions to ride the Vuelta in support of his brother Frank, who will be aiming to win the race overall. Plenty of the top performers in San Sebastián at the weekend are also expected to ride the third and final Grand Tour of the year. Marino Lejarreta remains the only rider to have won the Clásica de San Sebastián and the Vuelta (or indeed any Grand Tour) in the same year when he won both in 1982. Miguel Indurain managed to spread his form even further than this in 1990 when he became one of two riders to have finished on the podium in San Sebastián and managed to finish in the top 10 of both the Tour (10th) and the Vuelta (7th). In 2008, Alejandro Valverde did slightly better than Indurain when he won the Spanish classic, finished the Tour in 8th (and wore the Maillot Jaune) and took 5th place at the Vuelta.

Since 1995, when the Vuelta a Espana was moved from its traditional date in April to its current location in September, it has taken a while for riders to use the Clasicá de San Sebastián as a launch pad to extend their form over to the Vuelta. In the first ten years since the Vuelta was moved, only five of the 30 riders who finished on the podium in San Sebastián went on to race in the Tour of Spain, and only three of these riders finished. Conversely, in the subsequent five years, which brings us up to 2009, all but three riders did start the Vuelta a Espana. The best Vuelta performances by San Sebastián podium finishers in recent years have been Alejandro Valverde in 2008 (5th) and Andrey Kashechkin in 2006 (3rd).

The startlist for the Vuelta a Espana is far from clear, but Nicolas Roche confirmed today that he will definitely be riding his second Grand Tour of the season. Samuel Sánchez, Carlos Sastre, Luis León Sánchez, Joaquim Rodriguez and Robert Gesink are riders who are also very likely to partake in the Vuelta in an attempt to achieve the tricky feat of extending their form from the Tour de France and the Clásica de San sebastián over to the Vuelta.

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