Dan Martin will be hoping he has the luck of the Irish on his side as he joins a selection of riders fresh from the GP Miguel Indurain to tackle the beautiful, but brutal, Tour of the Basque Country from April 8-13.
UAE Team Emirates‘ Martin, who looked in great shape during the Tour of Catalunya, will be supported by Colombian climber Sergio Henao – who has seen success in this race with three career podiums – and the Italian puncheur Diego Ulissi, who favours this type of race.
Two more Italians – Edward Ravasi and Manuele Mori – make up the seven-man team, along with Australian Rory Sutherland and the rising Slovenian super-talent Tadej Pogacar.
Sports directors Neil Stephens (Australia) and Aurelio Corral (Spain) will guide the team through the six-day stage race.
The 59th edition of Tour of the Basque Country kicks into gear with a challenging Individual Time Trial (ITT) in Zumarraga that is 11.2km in length.
The second stage from Zumarraga to Gorraiz has a hilly route that features punchy climbs in the first 50km before a more rolling profile leads to a nasty uphill finish to the line where the riders will face a 600m run-in at 8.1 per cent.
Stage 3 is the longest race in this edition. It is 191.4km long and far from flat, yet the parcours will likely set up a power sprint to the finish near the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Estibaliz. The final two kilometres go up at approximately 4 per cent and could be one for UAE Team Emirates’ Ulissi to contend.
Four climbs are included in the fourth stage from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Arrigorriaga. The last one is extremely irregular – a 2.3 per cent slope in the first kilometre and 6.4 per cent in the second, before an 800m drop continues onto a 500m climb at 10 per cent. The climb levels out before the top and a fast descent drops down to the finish line.
Stage 5 from Arrigorriaga to Santuario de Arrate serves up seven climbs before finishing near the iconic Sanctuary of Arrate. The final haul up is five kilometres at 8.8 per cent, while the last few kilometres run on rolling terrain before a 600m drop to the finish.
The sixth stage of the Tour of the Basque Country is an explosive out-and-back race through the hills around Eibar. The final ascent is the Asensio. This is a 7.3km climb with its toughest section ramping up to 9.5 per cent for over 1km. The following descent flies down to the mountain in to Eibar and could be where the GC is finally decided.
Team Manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin said: “We will be racing in the Basque Country with a very balanced team, ready and with the right qualities to try to get a result and be protagonists.
“We have high calibre riders to lead the team and for supporting the men doing so. Expect to see Mori, Ravasi and Sutherland doing some serious leg-work for the stars.
“Henao has always done well in the Basque Country, with three career podiums; Martin is always a guarantee and has rode an excellent Volta a Catalunya; Ulissi knows this race perfectly well and Pogacar can make his mark every time he takes the start of a race.”
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