- Photograph­ed by Ian Walton

Photograph­er Ian Walton was at the Basque oneday race to take in the passionate atmosphere

The Basque Country is Spain’s cycling heartland. Girona and Mallorca might have the expat throng of tourists and pros, the Sierra Nevada high altitude training, but Euskadi is the soul, with fabulous riders and passionate fans.

I’ve visited the region many times to ride and for the food and culture but never covered the Donostia Klasikoa, so planning spots to shoot was going to be key. The wonderful maze of tiny roads and numerous sharp climbs are ready to catch out the unprepared. Compositio­n, light and all that wouldn’t matter a jot if I didn’t get there. My plan, based on some knowledge, maps and the parcours was reinforced a little by a quick chat with a local friend of a friend who’s chased the race before.

As a result, and thanks to a very nimble hire car, I made the story I wanted: the sea, the oh-so-green countrysid­e, those vertiginou­s climbs and the fans - especially the final, decisive, 20 per centplus Murgil, 8km from the finish with an unparallel­ed atmosphere and a bit of special ‘support’ in the form of whistling for police outriders. The more troubled days of the region are not forgotten by all.

All as planned? Happily, no. At my second-last location, the famed Basque weather arrived. A beautiful part of a climb, it opens out with magnificen­t coastal views. It was already a perfectly moody day of clouds, rain and the odd clear patch. Waiting for the race to arrive, 20 seconds before the first rider of the escapees, in blew a thick sea fog. Visibility: 20 metres. Just a little more Euskadi drama. This is a place that wraps you up in its soul.

1. Neilson Powless of EF Education-Nippo, the eventual winner, climbs one of the steep Basque hills

2. San Sebastian’s maritime climate means that the Donostia Klasikoa is always subject to the vagaries of the weather

3. Trek-Segafredo, on the podium in three of the last four editions, lead the peloton

4. Romain Hardy of Arkéa-Samsic puts in the effort in the early break

5. The peloton recevies a dousing in a rain shower as it rides through San Sebastian

6. The verdant Basque landscape rolls incessantl­y, meaning that the peloton is either climbing or descending most of the time

7. Euskaltel-Euskadi (in orange) are as local as cycling teams get, and they animated the race with their attacks

8. Previous winner Bauke Mollema was prominent, with his Trek team also doing a lot of work. The Dutchman would come 10th

9. A young fan tries out one of the climbs for size while the crowd waits for the pros to come through

10. The views at Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa are among the finest in profession­al cycling

11. Double San Sebastian winner Luis León Sánchez was active in the race but faded to finish 46th, 4:49 down on Powless

12. Caja Rural’s Oier Lazkano hails from the Basque Country. He greets his roadside fans

13. One rider receives a helping hand from his supporters

14. Powless makes the winning break on the Murgil Tontorra climb

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