Emakumeen Euskal Bira Preview 2014

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Despite Spain’s rich cycling history, women’s racing quite under represented when it comes to World level road racing. Emakumeen Euskal Bira is the only Spanish UCI Women’s stage race of the year but is one of the most established on the calendar, having run every year since 1988. The race always attracts a strong field, especially for ‘climber types’ as it’s one of the few races for women that includes some ‘meaty’ categorised climbs.

At a glance

What happened last year?

After the first stage finished in a sprint, won by Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv), the race came alive on day two where the finish came down to a duel between Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products). Johansson came out as the victor, taking the leader’s jersey from the shoulders of Vos. Johansson cemented her lead in the lumpy time trial on stage three, winning the stage, 38 seconds ahead of ‘time-trial queen’ Ellen van Dijk (then of Specialized-Lululemon) and Longo Borghini. The final stage was won by Longo Borghini but Johansson was in close attendance, finishing in third to secure the general classification with the time gap secured during the time trial proving to be the difference between the two. Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-Lululemon) completed the podium in third.

Points and prizes

There’s a total prize purse for the race of 13,250€ and the full set of jerseys that we’ve come to expect from stage races. The mountain classification a.k.a ‘Polka-dot jersey’ is determined by on the classified climbs on each stage. The top four on category two climbs earn six, four, two and one point and the top three on category three climbs earn three, two and one point. The best young rider ‘Rose jersey’, most combative, best Basque rider.

But the General Classification, ‘Yellow jersey’ and Points classification have a little quirk to them. As well as earning points at the designated sprint points on the course and bonus seconds at stage finishes (six, four and two seconds, for the top three) there are secret points and time bonuses available. Yes, you read that correctly, they are a secret!

There is a secret ‘hot spot’ on each stage, known only to a select few involved in the race organisation. The first three to pass the ‘hot spot’ will earn three, two and one bonus seconds and points towards the general classification and points competitions. The location of the point will never be revealed to the teams, just the results will be announced retrospectively on race radio before the end of the stage. Unless, you’re going to spend the entire day at the head of the race, it’s a lottery.

Stage 1 – 12th June – Iuretta– 88 km

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The early kilometres of Bira’s first stage will feel familiar to those who raced Durango-Durango on Tuesday. Starting just a few metres from the start Tuesday’s race in Durango the first sector follows the same roads as the one day race. The riders head east out of Durango to complete a circuit outside of the city including a sprint point in Llorrio before speeding back through Durango for a larger loop to the west of the city. The final sprint point comes at just over the 50 kilometre mark before the climbing begins in earnest. First up is the category two climb to Dima. The gradient isn’t too taxing, with an average gradient of 4.3% but the distance, at 11 kilometres will take its toll.

The first categorised climb is quickly followed by a shorter, category two climb to Urkiola. The 3.4 kilometre ascent starts of gently enough but the final 1.5 kilometres average between five and six percent with a sector just after the two kilometre mark maxes out at 11%. Followed by a fast downhill dash to the finish back in Durango.

Stage 2 – 13th June – Oñati– 113.7 km

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Stage two has a very similar course to the first stage with the bulk of the climbing saved for the latter part of the race before a fast, downhill finish. If the riders don’t know the town of Oñati before the start of the day’s stage it’ll feel like a second home by the end of the day. In addition to hosting the start and finish the race returns to the town twice during the 113.7 kilometre stage.

First up is an out-and-back loop through Eskoriatza to the west of Oñati, before returning for a circuit around Oñati and heading back out of town, this time to Begara for another out-and-back loop. Upon reaching Oñati for the penultimate time the climbs of the day are fast approaching. As the race heads east out of Oñati the first categorised climb of the day begins. The category three, seven kilometre ascent starts off shallow enough before building up to average kilometre sectors in excess of 5%.

The second climb, a category two ascent comes as the riders are heading back to Oñati for the finish. The climb continues for 9.5 kilometres, the early kilometres average around 4%, but with a series of steeper sections. After briefly, levelling out at the three kilometre mark it’s a steady ‘four percenter’ to the top followed by a fast, downhill dash to the finish.

Stage 3 – 14th June – Arrieta to Mungia – 91 km

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The penultimate stage of this year’s race heads to the north of the region, starting in the village of Arrieta. The stage has many similarities with the final stage from last year, albeit the roads are raced in a different order. Stage three doesn’t have long climbs like the other stages but the roads are rarely flat. Like the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ they ‘marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down, again’, all day.

The first sprint point comes in Fruiz, almost 37 kilometres into the stage, at the foot of the category two climb that sees the riders return to the start line in Arrieta. The ascent is a little over four kilometres in length, with the third kilometre having the steepest average gradient at a little under six percent with a little ten percent ‘kicker’ in the final few hundred metres. There’s another sprint point at Maruri Jatabe and a 3.3 kilometre category three climb to Andraka before the finish in Mungia.

Stage 4 – 15th June – Ataun – 115.4 km

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The final stage and the organisers haven’t given the riders an ‘easy ride’ to the finish line. The longest stage of the race and there are three category two climbs included on the parcours for the day. The sprint competition is dispensed of in the first forty kilometres (barring the secret ‘hot spot’!) and then it’s time for the climbers. First up is the three kilometre ascent at Urkillaga. It’s three kilometres in length but just gets steeper, and steeper. The first kilometre averages 3.5%, the second seven percent and the final kilometre a heart-pounding 11.5%! After 30 kilometres, mostly descending the second climb is to Abaltzisketa. There’s no gentle, introduction to this climb at just under three kilometres in length. The first kilometre is eight percent, the second marginally steeper at 8.5%, then a little under seven percent for the final 900 metres. There’s less than 15 kilometres for the riders to catch their breath before a repeat of the first categorised climb of the day followed by a fast descent to the finish back in Ataun.

Who’s racing?

Expect a similar line up to Durango-Durango earlier in the week but check out Women’s Cycling Fever for all the latest changes to the start list.



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