Jaén Paraiso Interior is a new Spanish gravel race, billed as the future Iberian rival to Strade Bianche. Despite this being only the second edition of the exciting 1.1 UCI category race, the start list is impressive as Tadej Pogačar, the best male cyclist in the last three years, will begin his 2023 campaign in the south of Spain.
Provisional Start List
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Jaén Paraiso Interior is even harder than Strade Bianche and is more suited for lighter riders around 65-70kg weight like Pogačar and Lutsenko, the Kazakh being the winner of the inaugural edition in 2022. The 178.9 kilometre-long route with 2704 metres of elevation gain is a huge challenge. The kilometres and climbing metres are similar to the 2023 Strade Bianche (184.62 km, 3107m) but in the Italian gravel race, the climbs are steeper and shorter like in Ardennes classics, while in Jaén Paraiso Interior the route with 3-5 km long gravel climbs with a gradient around 4-6% are suited more for climbers than classics specialists. In the last 40 kilometres of the race, there is only short 1 km hills left but at that point, the race might be decided – both Pogačar and Lutsenko won with long solos in their 2022 gravel race victories.
Pogačar is the huge favourite to win this. One of the reasons is the UAE-Emirates team strength as they always send a stacked squad for these early season 1.1 category UCI races. Tim Wellens, Marc Hirschi, Matteo Trentin, Alessandro Covi, Domen Novak, Sjoerd Bax and Pogačar is a ridiculous team for this race – an organiser’s dream. In the betting markets, there are five UAE riders among the top 7 likeliest riders to take the win according to the odds.
UAE also sent a very strong team to Trofeo Calvia but their leaders and race favourites Brandon McNulty and Tim Wellens crashed out in the wet conditions. Luckily for UAE, there will not be rain in Jaen and around 17-19 degrees celsius temperature – perfect weather for racing. Wellens finished 2nd behind Lutsenko in the 2022 race but the Kazakh star is riding the Tour of Oman. UAE-Emirates will have the numbers and they are more likely to win this race than to lose.
Who can challenge UAE’s dream team? Simon Clarke is one rival in terrific shape. The Australian finished second in the one-day race in Murcia two days ago and third in the Cadel Evans Race. In the 2021 Strade Bianche, Clarke finished 8th behind Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Bernal, Van Aert, Pidcock, Gogl and Pogačar. If someone can surprise UAE, it is him.
His teammate in the Israel-Premier Tech team, Krists Neilands, is also in good shape. The Latvian has experience riding local mountain bike races in his youth and U23 years which will be useful for the gravel sectors. There are plenty of gravel roads in the place where Neilands grew up and he will feel comfortable on this surface.
Arkea Samsic with Matis Louvel (22nd in the 2022 Jaen), Warren Barguil, (7th) Clement Champoussin and Simon Gugliemi (11th) look decent. Louvel in 2022 finished 6th in the exciting Tro-Bro-Leon, which includes off-road sections and 15th in Paris-Roubaix and 17th Ronde van Vlaanderen which are also promising results for such a young rider.
One lesson from this early season is to never write off Intermaché – Circus – Wanty. Loïc Vliegen was third in the 2022 Jaen Classic, Lorenzo Rota was terrific throughout 2022 and new recruit Dion Smith finished 7th in the Cadel Evans race a few weeks ago. Lotto DSTNY has sent Andreas Kron (9th in the 2022 Jaen), Dutch champion Pascal Eenkhoorn who started his season well in Trofeo Calvia and finished 7th in Murcia and neo-pro Lennert Van Eevtelt. The 21-year-old Belgian finished 2nd and 3rd in Mallorca races and definitely can climb.
INEOS has not published their start list as they possibly will do last-minute changes. Ben Turner was on the early start list but he already raced in Clasica de Almeria and Murcia which he won. If Turner starts in Jaen, it will be his third consecutive day in the Spanish classics.
Pogačar. In his pre-race interview with MARCA, the Slovenian said he is in good shape and his weight is at his standard level as he can keep it constant. Pogačar has not done an altitude camp but he is still probably the best classics rider in the world on such parcours. If he is attending a race, he will try his best and test his legs after the off-season. UAE-Emirates have sent a strong squad and it is of course possible that one of Pogačar’s teammates might take the victory. The versatile veteran Simon Clarke is probably the biggest threat to UAE.