This is the last post in my first series of Postcards from the Pays Basque which were written in 2010.
Saturday morning we rode down to the start of the Classica San Sebastian and secured a position as close as possible to the sign-on and team presentation. This is a race which attracts a great field and almost all the big names who rode the Tour were here, save Alberto Contador, Dennis Menchov and Cadel Evans. Not unnaturally, the mainly partisan crowd’s loudest cheers were reserved for the Spanish and particularly the Basque riders. However, it was clear that Andy Schleck and Alexandre Vinokourov are also held in high regard.
This is also a race which is generally won by a rider who’s just completed the Tour as they’re in fine racing form. Having seen the peloton set off, we headed out of town to watch them ride the final loop around the Altos de Jaizkibel and de Arklare. Our vantage point allowed us to watch the peloton advancing through the village of Oiartzun and up the Arklare twice before we sped back to San Sebastian, over the same finishing straight as the peloton, to watch the finish. We were not alone. A large number of riders, whose day was done, headed back into town with us.
We found a tv screen in a local bar just 75 metres from the finish and watched the final and decisive attacks. One of the things I love about watching Vinokourov race is that he’s never there to make up the numbers, he always tries to win. The leading trio of Gutierrez, Garate, Verdugo and Florencio had been whittled down when Vino attacked and formed a leading group with Rodriguez, Roche and Sanchez. Richie Porte had tried to bridge but was eventually caught by a larger group who were leading the chase.
As the two groups were about to merge on the second ascent of the Jaizkibel, Luis Leon Sanchez accelerated away. Only Vino and Sastre were able to stay with him. These three worked to establish a sensible lead on the last descent into San Sebastian. While the chasing group was larger, it was less organised, and despite the efforts of Gesink, it failed to make any impact on the leaders.
Vino attempted to time trial away from LL Sanchez where there’s a slight uphill drag on the run in, but couldn’t shake him off. As they rode the final few kilometers to the finish, the three re-grouped and Luis Leon just pipped Vino on the line. Later I learned that Vino had arrived in San Sebastian in the early hours of Saturday morning having competed the night before in a criterium in Belgium. He wasn’t the only one, but the others, including Andy Schleck, were DNFs.
We watched the podium celebrations before cycling back up that hill to the hotel. The assembled throng were delighted with the Spanish win. As ever, my beloved and I had enjoyed riding over the same terrain as the professional peloton, albeit at a much more sedate pace.