The Indurain Grand Prix, one day race, starts a great week of racing on Saturday, April 3, before the start of Itzulia Basque Country Monday, April 5.
Pello Bilbao will lead a six-rider lineup at Indurain for Bahrain Victorious, taking on the 203km through Estella before Mikel Landa joins the team to compete for the GC at Itzulia.
The Basque Country’s six-stage race begins with an ITT that starts with a 2.6km climb and finishes with a brutal 600m climb with a 19% gradient. Stage 2 takes on La Asturiana, a 7.6-kilometre climb with an average 6.2% gradient before descending towards the finish. The third stage has a similar profile, but the last 3.1 kilometres take on a challenging 11% climb to the finish. Stage 4 brings us elements of the Clásica de San Sebastián with the riders climbing the Alto de Jaizkibel and Puerto de Erlaitz in the last 50 kilometres. The Jaizkibel is a 6.9-kilometre climb at 6.2%, while Puerto de Erlaitz is a 7.4-kilometre ascent with a mid-section of 3.8 kilometres at 10.6%. The last 10-kilometres to the finish will be a test of the riders’ descending skills and may determine the stage’s outcome.
The term ‘flat’ is not often used in races in the Basque Country, but Stage 5 is as close as it gets. This will be one of the stages that the sprinters will be looking for at the finish line in Ondorroa. The final stage is also the Queen Stage, with seven challenging climbs compressed into 111.9-kilometres of racing. The stage finishes near the Arrate Sanctuary with a final climb of 4.5-kilometre 8.9% climb.
Sports Director Gorazd Štangelj shared his thoughts ahead of the race: “We are coming to race at Tour of Basque Country on a very high level and to accomplish the fine-tuning for the upcoming Giro d’Italia to build up everything around Mikel Landa, our GC, and see if anything is missing that we can improve on time before Giro.
We would also like to see how Rafa Valls recovered after last year’s injury at Tour de France. We believe he came back in good shape as he worked really hard in the past period. We raised our quality of racing at the past Tirreno-Adriatico, making us positive for the upcoming races. The first Itzulia stage is an individual time trial, and it’s not going to be easy. Neither one stage is easy at the Basque Country, but the last one, the Queen’s Stage is definitely the hardest, but also the biggest challenge for Mikel Landa. Pello Bilbao is in good shape. Our riders, young guys like Gino Mader and Mark Padun, and experienced Rafa Valls, Eros Capecchi and Yukiya Arashiro will give their all for Mikel, who is one of the favorites in GC, together with Primož Roglic and Tadej Pogačar. Well, there could always appear some other rider for the big result there. I believe that every member of our team, every rider, every staff member will give his best, uprise the performance to the maximum to have a peaceful road to Giro d’Italia”.
Mikel Landa is feeling good ahead of the race: “The tour of Basque Country is going to be very special for me as always. I think that racing at home gives you a special sensation and I am feeling very good. I feel I’m in very good shape after Tirreno-Adriatico. I’m focused on the Giro d’Italia, and all my preparations are focused on being 100% there. I feel competitive at the moment, and I think it’s going to be a very hard Basque Country like always.
The first stage we have is the ITT. I hope not to lose too much time. If I lose some, I will use the other stages for a stage win and reach the best possible position in the GC”.
Pello Bilbao is motivated ahead of the race: “I can say that I have a special motivation now for this race every year. We didn’t have the opportunity to be in our home race last year. We missed it a lot, so this year, it is great to turn back and have a chance to race on our home roads, and I’m especially motivated for the first TT day in Bilbao. It’s a very special moment for me to have the opportunity to start the race with an ITT, which is my favourite and my specialty. I was working hard in the last few years and had to improve myself for every second possible. I’ve got the opportunity to perform an ITT that suites me quite well in our capital, Bilbao. It’s going to be a great day for sure, but just a pity that we’re not going to be cheered by the Basque fans along the parcour. I think we’re going to miss them a lot because I think all our fans make this race so special. Despite this, we will have a great race, a great spectacle with all the big names there and us. Mikel and I are very motivated, and we will try to go for the podium or try to win this race. I will have the opportunity at Indurain race to see where I am. Do a good test and get to the real racing mode for the Tour of Basque Country”.
Team Bahrain Victorious lineup: Yukiya Arashiro / Pello Bilbao / Eros Capecchi / Mikel Landa / Gino Mäder / Mark Padun / Rafa Valls
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