Evenepoel Wins San Sebastian Classic
The 2023 edition of San Sebastian Classic (Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa) was designed as a 230.3-kilometer ride from San Sebastian to San Sebastian. The 2023 route featured two category 3 climbs, four category 2 climbs – including the renowned Jaizkibel – and one Category 1 climb. It would be interesting to see how riders who had recovered well from the Tour de France or ended the race on a high note would perform in today’s Classica San Sebastian.
World Champion Remco Evenepoel was included in Soudal-QuickStep’s line-up for the race and his first race after the Tour de Suisse and the Belgian National Championships in June would be an interesting test for Evenepoel before the 2023 World Championships in Glasgow (August 6 and 8) and the 2023 Vuelta a Espana that starts on August 26.
Alas, the unlucky Evenepoel managed to get involved in a crash with Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) after just three kilometers of racing. While Girmay abandoned the race, Evenepoel fortunately got back on his bike. A successful race for Evenepoel was highly needed for his Soudal-QuickStep team.
An early breakaway group was established shortly after the start of the race. The five-man group featured Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Franck Bonnamour (AG2R-Citroen), Julien Bernard (Lidl-Trek), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), and Mikel Iturria from the local Euskaltel-Euskadi team – also known as the rolling oranges. The group built a significant lead, but the group would not manage to keep the chasers at bay.
With forty kilometers left the riders had reached the category 2 Mendizorrotz climb, and a front group now featured Evenepoel, who had recovered from his earlier crash, Alexander Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost). Bardet and Van Hooydonck were chasing thirty seconds behind.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroen) were chasing from behind and they were making advances on the climb. Meanwhile, Bettiol had been dropped from the front group.
Gall and Landa proved ineffective on the descent that followed the Mendizorrotz climb. The duo was caught by the chasing peloton. Meanwhile, the front trio featuring Evenepoel, Vlasov and Bilbao had a lead of 01:50 minutes over the peloton. Bettiol was chasing solo between the two groups but would have to work hard to catch the men in front.
While Evenepoel won last year’s Classica San Sebastian after riding 44.5 kilometers solo, it would not be possible for him to repeat his impressive feat this year as he was still part of the front trio with twenty kilometers left. Further back the chasing peloton – spearheaded by Jumbo-Visma – had been reduced to just approximately twenty riders and Bettiol was reeled in.
The front trio was closing in on the final climb of the race – the Murgil (Category 2) and it appeared the winner would be found in the front trio. The climb featured incline percentages of up to 14.2 percent and the riders would start the two-kilometer climb with just ten kilometers of the race left to battle.
The front trio was still together with one kilometer left of the Murgil climb. Was anyone planning to launch an attack in the remaining uphill kilometer? Evenepoel increased his pace slightly, which caused Bilbao to be dropped temporarily – the Spanish rider knew himself well and could pace himself optimally on climbs.
Bilbao briefly moved to the front before Evenepoel took over. Vlasov was dropped. Meanwhile, the main peloton was now three minutes behind.
Bilbao and Evenepoel accelerated across the top of the climb and set out on a hectic descent towards the finish line in San Sebastian. Vlasov was chasing twenty seconds behind the front duo.
Evenepoel and Bilbao rode along the coast as they entered San Sebastian - they were preparing for a two-man sprint across the finish line.
Evenepoel won the sprint across the finish line. Bilbao finished second. Vlasov later completed the podium.
Meanwhile, Neilson Powless had attacked from the main peloton and managed to cross the finish line in solo fashion to take fourth for his EF Education-EasyPost.
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