Etixx - Quick-Step to Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco
Etixx - Quick-Step has announced the selection that will participate in Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, an 844.8km stage race from April 6th until April 11th. The race includes five road stages and a crucial final ITT of 18.4km in Aia. Known as a hilly stage race, there aren't many opportunities for the pure sprinters, but there are stages that can end in a reduced group sprint or the possibility of a bunch arrival for those who make it over the previous climbs of the day.
The opening stage in Bilbao, 162.7km in total distance, includes three categorized climbs before descending into a flat finish, but is undulating throughout the parcours. Category 2 Alto de Vivero, 4.3km with an average gradient of 8.6%, will be an important moment at 13.5km to go in the race.
Stage 2, 175.4km from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz, starts easy but heads into Category 1 Alto de Orduna (7.6km at 8.3% average gradient) before the riders negotiate five Category 3 climbs, including the last two in a local circuit. The stage descends into a flat finale.
Stage 3, 170.7km from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Zumarraga, will likely be where the big action begins for the General Classification. There are eight categorized climbs that are close enough together along the parcours to allow for little recovery between them. There is another two-lap finishing circuit, but also some technical sections of descending all the way until a very slightly uphill finish.
Stage 4, the 162.2km queen stage from Zumarraga to Arrate, is yet another hilly affair with seven categorized climbs. The Alto de Arrate will likely play a role in the overall, as it is 7.3km at 6.71% average gradient, and the summit is just before the finale. There is then a tricky technical descent with turns until 100m to go in the stage.
Stage 5 from Eibar to Aia, the 155.5km penultimate stage, includes a final lap along the parcours of the ITT the next day. This stage includes nine categorized climbs and also the key point of a Category 2 finishing climb. This 1.5km ascent includes ramps between 12 and 17 percent, with the 17 percent being the last portion of the climb.
Finally, there is the individual time trial. Though a bit shorter in distance, it is no doubt challenging and can play a role in the GC. There is a descent for the first 10.7km before ramping up at the Alto de Aia (3.5km, 8.71% average gradient). There is then a descent before a final climb of 1.5km, with the summit just a couple hundred meters from the line. There are ramps between 12 and 17 percent, with the 17 percent being the last portion of the climb before finally flattening out just prior to the line.
Etixx - Quick-Step rider and UCI World Road Champion Michal Kwiatkowski returns to the race after finishing 49" down to 2014 winner Alberto Contador in the overall.
Tony Martin also returns to the race. Martin, currently the German TT Champion and a three-time UCI World TT Champion, won the Stage 6 ITT in 2014, with Kwiatkowski placing 3rd.