Two weeks ahead of the Vuelta a Espana, race favourite Egan Bernal will test himself against world champion Julian Alaphilippe over the peaks and valleys of the Basque Country in the Clasica San Sebastian on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Colombian, who won the Tour de France in 2019 and the Giro d’Italia in May this year, would become the youngest ever rider to have won all three Grand Tours if he takes the Vuelta in August.
Bernal arrives at the Clasica San Sebastian, known as the Donostia Klasikoa in the Basque Country, with major support from Ineos Grenadiers teammates Adam Yates and Dani Martinez in his bid to win a first classic at this prestige course.
The 223km run gets serious over the final 70km as it arrives at the dramatic Hendaye Bay and tackles a series of slopes between 2-4km long with gradients of 10 percent.
The last of those climbs is a good 10km from the finish line, setting up a daredevil dash for the line.
Remco Evenepoel soloed to victory here in 2019 but will not defend his title, his teammate Julian Alaphilippe won in 2018 and is the biggest challenge to Bernal.
The course is littered with the kind of short steep slopes where Alaphilippe can leave the field behind him with his trademark acceleration on short climbs.
Another one to watch will be Bauke Mollema, the 2016 champion, who is fresh from a solo win on the Tour de France.
Bernal has not raced since contracting Covid-19 following his Giro triumph and will also use the up-coming Tour de Burgos to warm up for his Vuelta tilt.
Simon Yates is hoping to bounce back after his disappointing Tour de France, where he crashed out, and his failed bid for Olympic Games gold.
“After the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, an injury and also travelling to and from Tokyo, I am curious to see how my condition will be but my feelings are good at the moment,” he said.
Basque brothers Jon and Gorka Izagirre will also be worth keeping an eye on as the Astana pair bid for regional pride.
Given the success of the Bahrain Victorious outfit this season their leader Mikel Landa cannot be counted out for a win for the team whose hotel was subject to a 50-man police raid during the Tour de France.
There is a women’s version of the race in its second edition this year, contested over 140km and featuring 18 top level teams