Monday, June 30, 2008

No GC aspirations for Samu

Samu will focus solely on stages, not the general classification, at the upcoming Tour de France. Speaking to VeloNews a few days ago, Samu outlined his objectives. Here's what he had to say: "More than anything, I am going to try to win a stage for the team. The last time we won a stage was with Ibán Mayo on the Alpe d’Huez (in 2003), and the team’s been close since then, but hasn’t been able to close the deal. So, above all, I’d love to win one for the team. I’ve done well in the Vuelta, but the Tour is something else. You need that extra touch of experience to do well in the Tour (on GC). I am going into the race more tranquilo in terms of the GC. That’s not my first obsession in this Tour." He also went on to say that he'll skip the Vuelta and the Worlds this year. Click to read the full article (in English for once). A recomended read.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dismal NCRR performance

Euskaltel once again failed to put up a fight at the National Championship's road race today. Antton and Markel did well to get into the day's big break but, sadly, that was as good as it got for the whole team. Lacking the big guns as usual, the team had to make do with Egoi's 23rd place, Javier's 53rd, Amets' 63rd, and Josu's 71st. Not much to write home about, a bit embarassing in fact, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I didn't get to watch the race but, judging by the placing, I'm a bit worried for Amets. He ended up way back, and there's six days to go until the race kicks off in Brest. He probably knows what he's doing though, so I won't waste too much time worrying about it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Markel 9th in NCTT

Markel did well to claim 9th at the National Championship's Time Trial. He eventually ended up 1:32 in arrears on winner León Sánchez. Egoi disappointed a bit by coming home 17th, a full 2:31 down, while Josu ended up 18th, 5 seconds behind Egoi.

14 riders to ride road race

14 Euskaltel riders will contest tomorrow's National Championship's road race. The three who did the TT will all take part, and will be accompanied by Jorge, Dioni, Aitor H and G, Beñat, Andoni, Lander, Antton, Jon, Javier and Amets. None of the big guns then, but hopefully Amets can step up and improve on his 8th place of last year on the selective parcours.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Top rank

Due to consistently good riding, three Euskaltel riders are inside the top 18 on UCI's individual ranking. Mikel's stage-racing qualities leave him in a 7th place for now, while Haimar is in 13th place due to strong form so far this year. Igor's Suisse exploits has rewarded him with an 18th place, having accumulated 38 points. Euskaltel as a team are ranked 9th out of the 18 teams in the Pro Tour. Not bad at all, but there's definetely room for improvement. Some may argue, and I partly agree, that rankings like these don't really matter. That's true, but it's always a nice feeling to see your favourites close to the top no matter the competition.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Iban speaks

He's alive after all. For the first time in months Iban has given an interview. Speaking to the other day, he spoke of his whole situation. Read on for a transcript of the interview in which he lashes out at Saunier Duval and reveals he could have been racing all year. Here we go:

  • You know when CAS will come to a conclusion? In July, at least that's what I think. I thought they would decide in May, but then they just announced that they would decide in July. I though this whole process would go faster. I just have to be patient.
  • You've already spent a year, or at least close to a year, without racing. Has it been tough? It's been a rollercoaster ride. It's been hard, especially when you see all the irregularities in the whole process. What angers me more, though, is that the team haven't allowed me to race. The Spanish Federation did not sanction me, they cleared me, so I've been free to race since the Challenge Mallorca (in February). I could have raced while my case was being heard. I know that I couldn't have participated in the Pro Tour races, but the team's lack of confidence in me has really hurt.
  • Anyway, you think of riding again? I would like to return to competition to get this weight off my shoulders. And I would also like to decide myself when to put an end to my career. I don't want to quit this way. I'm aware of the fact that it's complicated though. I don't know what my team intend to do if CAS' decision is in my favour. What I don know though, is that I've got a year left on my contract with Saunier Duval. My contract will be automatically renewed for another year (2009), as they haven't summoned to me in three months. But I don't want to force a situation either. The most important thing nonetheless is to get cleared.
  • You stay in shape? I train every day, so one could say that I live the life of a professional. It's hard when you're not competing, and I've often asked myself why I'm doing this. At least I haven't been lonely, people still support me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trio to ride TT

Euskaltel will send Egoi, Josu and Markel to the Spanish Time Trial Championships in Talavera de la Reina on Friday. There are quite a few specialists taking part this year, Gutierrez, León Sánchez and Plaza, just to name a few, so they're definetely up against it. But if they've got luck on their side, and they're in top form, they can all surely get a good result. I even reckon that Egoi can win the whole thing if everything goes his way. But I won't get carried away, a top 5 though sounds realistic for both him and Markel if they're in top form.

Samu looking for wins

Samu won't let the Tour ghosts of the past come back to haunt him this year, as he's looking to finish the Tour for the first time ever. Samu took part in 2002 and 2003, but had to abandon both edition's. Speaking of this year's event, Samu had this to say: "It's been five years since I last did the Tour, and I'm a different rider. I'm more mature both on and off the bike. I confront the difficulties in a different way. I have a lot of respect for the race, but I know I've prepared well and that we'll get our chances in this Tour. Our goal must be to win a stage. That's what the team needs. A podium place overall is a possibility, but it'll be hard to make history in that aspect (Euskaltel have never placed a rider on the overall podium). There are many favourites, but I think it'll come down to the usual suspects; Evans, Valverde, Sastre and Menchov." I'd like to add a certain Samuel Sánchez to that list...

Haimar outlines Tour objectives

Speaking at the presentation of the new Tour t-shirt, which the fans will wear in the Pyrenees, yesterday, Haimar spoke of his desire to finally win a stage in world's biggest bike race: "Not improving on last year's fifth place overall would be a step back. We won't deny that, but first of all we'll look for a stage-win. But if you fight for a stage-win in the mountains you're also in there on GC. A podium place overall? Why not? That's the next step. The last week is quite hard. They've added some long climbs, and we (himself, Samu, Mikel and Iñaki) went to see some really hard stages. It was worth the trouble to go check them out. We now know what lies in store for us." Haimar singled out 5 main candidates for the overall win, and, not surprisingly, three of those are from CSC: "Evans, Valverde, Sastre and the hermanos Schleck". What about Menchov, Haimar?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Haimar heaven

Haimar has, finally, got his own website. His official homepage, click to enter, is a good one, and will allow all you Haimar supporters to keep up with the latest news. A link to his homepage can be found at the right-hand menu. I've received permission to translate all his Spanish diary entries into English and post them on my blog so, if you no hablo español, don't panick; you'll find it all right here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Tour team

The Tour de France team is ready. The chosen 9 are: Haimar, Mikel, Samu, Egoi, Gorka, Amets, Rubén, Iñaki and Juanjo. Looks like a very balanced team; we've got GC riders, stage-winner, riders for the breaks, TTs and for domestique duties. The only thing we lack is of course a noted sprinter. Iñaki did well in the Tour a couple of years ago, so hopefully he can get into the mix. More on the Tour team later...

Watch Koldo's triple

Koldo has enjoyed a brilliant spring campaign, notching three wins along the way. Here are links to videos of the last few kilometres of each win:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Igor finishes 3rd

Igor defended his third place overall without problem on the Tour de Suisse's last stage today. The victory on the 9th stage went to arguably the best rider in the world, Fabian Cancellara (again!). Igor, Jorge and Gorka all came in with the pack, while the rest of the guys, exhausted from a gruelling stage-race, came in several minutes adrift. Dioni ended up 1:36 back, Iñigo 1:46, Aitor 3:06 and Andoni 4:40 down. The final general classification looks like this:

  • 3rd, Igor Antón, 1:55
  • 53rd, Gorka Verdugo, 34:56
  • 61st, Jorge Azanza, 38:03
  • 92nd, Iñigo Landaluze, 55:43
  • 114th, Dionisio Galparsoro, 1:06:29
  • 129th, Aitor Hernández, 1:39:49
  • 130th, Andoni Lafuente, 1:54:09

Speaking to reporter's post-podium appearance, Igor expressed his satisfaction with his overall performance: "I'm very pleased with the Tour de Suisse", he said. "I'm happy with my results. I had good form in the Euskal Bizikleta (where he ended up 2nd), but that's a different type of race. The Tour de Suisse is a harder race. People like Klöden and Cunego have participated, and every day is tough. I'm tired now; 9 days of competition is difficult. Especially yesterday's ITT was hard. A stage-win, four days in yellow and 3rd overall is a remarkable achievement. The team have worked well, and we go back home satisfied. Those of us who won't do the Tour will now get a chance to rest, but it's important still to not fall asleep. I'll prepare for the Vuelta a España now, so, really, I can't relax for too long." With the form he's been showing this year, I can't wait for the Vuelta...

Full results stage 8

  • 7th, Igor Antón, 1:49
  • 38th, Jorge Azanza, 6:16
  • 57th, Iñigo Landaluze, 7:38
  • 59th, Gorka Verdugo, 7:45
  • 69th, Dionisio Galparsoro, 8:27
  • 79th, Aitor Hernández, 9:01
  • 121st, Andoni Lafuente, 12:10

General classification with one stage left to race:

  • 3rd, Igor Antón, 1:55
  • 56th, Gorka Verdugo, 34:56
  • 66th, Jorge Azanza, 38:03
  • 94th, Iñigo Landaluze, 54:05
  • 119th, Dionisio Galparsoro, 1:05:01
  • 133rd, Aitor Hernández, 1:36:51
  • 134th, Andoni Lafuente, 1:49:37

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Igor pleased with ITT

Igor was content with his performance in today's grueling mountain time trial. He got 7th on the stage and thus defended his 3rd place overall. Speaking to reporters after crossing the line, Igor said: "I'm pleased with the result. It's the first time I've done such a long mountain time trial, and I'm positive about it. This experience will do me the world of good for the future. It's still just climbing, but it's different when you're on your own all day compared to a normal stage. I was concious that the last part was hard, so I didn't give it all to start with. I managed to keep my 3rd place overall. I hope that there won't be any surprises tomorrow so that I can finish on the podium. A 3rd place overall would be just reward for the effort the whole team's put in."

Igor impressive; keeps 3rd place overall

Igor rode a great ITT up the 25-kilometre long Klausenpass to keep hold of his 3rd place overall with one stage to go. Igor grabbed a very good 7th place today, hot on the heels of the favourites and ahead of noted climbers like Thomas Lövkvist and Andy Schleck. With one stage to go, the mainly flat 168-kilometre trek from Altford to Berne, he's 1:55 down on the very impressive overall leader Roman Kreuziger, and 16 seconds ahead of number 4, Damiano Cunego. Full results are not available at the time of writing but, rest assured, they'll appear here as soon as they are.

Euskaltel chill out on stage 7

First of all: I'm sorry for my continuosly "a-day-too-late"-blogging of late. The truth is that I'm working all the time, so it's hard to find spaces in between for blogging. I'll try though! But back to what really matters; freed of leadership duties, the whole team took it easy on the Tour de Suisse's 7th stage yesterday. It was a mainly flat stage, but only Igor and Gorka made it in with the bunch. The rest of the guys came in 6:07 back in the second group. Not much to brag about, but hopefully they'll be ready for today's big showdown: a 25-kilometre hill time trial. Should suit Igor, so perhaps he'll manage to reclaim the jersey. It's now or never Igor; Aupa!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Igor loses lead

Igor finally surrendered his overall lead in the Tour de Suisse today. The 6th stage was a stage suited to Igor's characteristics, but the final climb was just 2 kilometres too long for him to hang on to the yellow jersey. Kirchen took both the stage and the overall lead, while Igor finished a very creditable 8th on the stage, only 29 seconds back. He's now 3rd overall, but he may still win it as he's only 33 seconds in arrears. He's probably a bit disappointed right now, but losing the jersey might, just might, be a blessing in disguise. The team will get to chill out a bit instead of riding TTT at the front of the pack all the time, and as a result he might get a bit more help on the climbs as his team-mates won't be totally worn out come the last climbs. Today Iñigo, Andoni, Aitor H and and Dioni did a massive job at the head of the peloton but, sadly, it was to no avail. The team should nonetheless be proud though; they've already won a stage and lead the race for three days. Chapeau!

Teamwork keeps Igor in lead

It was another day of hard work for the entire team. Today's 5th stage was a hilly affair, something which didn't exactly make it easier. A group of 14, among them some strong riders, got away early, and Euskaltel had to take on the responsability of keeping the gap at a minimum. They did so to great effect, making sure the break never got too big a gap. But the flipside was that, come the final climb, they were all worn out and far back, leaving Igor totally isolated. Igor did well though, but was lucky to hang onto his overall lead as Schleck crashed in the last kilometres. If he hadn't crashed, he would surely have taken the overall lead. But that's the way cycling is sometimes, and you won't see me complaining all that much! Igor eventually came in 15th, along all the favourites, while the rest of the guys ended up far back. Gorka ended up 10 minutes back, Iñigo and Jorge 13:30, Aitor and Dioni 18:42, while Andoni ended up dead last 36 minutes in arrears. Sadly Koldo decided to call it quits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

3 places up for grabs on Tour roster

Galdeano has confirmed what we've all assumed for weeks; Mikel, Haimar, Samu, Egoi, Rubén and Amets are all assured a start at the upcoming Tour de France. 5 riders are left to battle it out for the three remaining places, and those are as expected Aitor H, Iñaki, Juanjo, Jorge and Gorka. Tha chances of Aitor Hernández starting though are slim. Speaking to DEIA, Galdeano said: "Aitor has a possibility (to fill one of the remaining slots), although a slim one. What's sure though is that Koldo will not take part".

Igor hangs on

Euskaltel defended Igor's overall leader's jersey in yesterday's 4th stage of the Tour de Suisse. A break of three got away but, as the team of the number 1 on GC, Euskaltel took control and didn't let the break get out of sight. The whole team did a good job in keeping the pace high enough. In the sprint for the stage win, Koldo was once again unlucky. He broke his wheel three kilometres from the line on the 3rd stage, while he was blocked out of contention by Silence-Lotto yesterday. At two kilometres to go he was on Ciolek's wheel, but suddenly some Lotto guys crowded him out and he was left to rue a missed chance. But his form seems to be, still(!), excellent, so he'll get the chance to revenge himself later on in the race. Three Euskaltel riders came in behind the peloton; Dioni and Andoni came in 22 seconds back, while Aitor H was a full 18:31 down.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Igor defends lead in Suisse

Igor successfully clinged on to his overall lead on the Tour de Suisse' third stage today. It was a hilly stage that ended in a bunch sprint, but sadly Koldo couldn't quite keep up with the peloton on the last few kilometres. Igor did though, and still leads the race overall 6 seconds ahead of Kirchen. Koldo eventually ended up 2:40 adrift, while Andoni ended up 3:59 back and Aitor H 4:19 down. The rest of the guys finished safe and sound inside the pack.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Igor moved by win

Igor was of course over the moon after his Tour de Suisse stage 2 win. He expressed his feelings to the reporters after the race, and here's what the little magician had to say: "I'm very pleased with this triumph, but I'm also very moved. Therefore I would like to dedicate this win to two very special human beings. First to my fiancee, Mayi. Her birthday was at the last day of the Euskal Bizikleta, so I was very eager to win it for her. Secondly I'd like to dedicate it to my team-mate Antton Luengo and his family. I know they are going through a lot, so this win's for them". On the race itself, he said: "When I finished 2nd in the Euskal Bizikleta I said it's really difficult to win and that it's important to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves. Today I didn't fail. I'm very gratefull for my team-mates, they've shown confidence in me and have watched out for me all day. There were a lot of attacks on the last climb, and I knew that I had to be careful with a rider like Cunego as, even though he couldn't quite keep up sometimes, possesses a remarkable end-speed. Kirchen is also fast... The last 300 metres seemed to last forever, but I hang in there and achieved a very important win for my team." Racing in the jersey of overall leader will be a new experience for Igor, but it's an experience that'll stand him in good stead for the future. "The truth is that I've never got to wear the jersey of overall leader, it's completely new to me", he said. "I didn't feel that good yesterday, but today I felt much better. The Tour de Suisse is a very prestigious race with many quality riders. There's a mountain TT coming up later in the race, something which in theory should suit me. But I'll take it day by day, I can only think of the next stage".

Igor conquers the Flumserberg

Igor took his first win of the season in stunning fashion today in the Tour de Suisse. Igor jumped clear of a select group of favourites with 300 metres to go to the summit, eventually winning the second stage 6 seconds ahead of Kim Kirchen to take his team's fifth win of the season. It was sweet revenge for the mercurial climber who narrowly lost out on a stage and overall win in last week's Euskal Bizikleta.

It was clear for everybody that the outcome of the stage would be decided on the tough 10-kilometre climb of Flumserberg. Martin Elmiger went on a solo move from the off, but was easily reeled back in by the chasing pack at the base of the climb. A select group was quickly formed, containing names like Cunego, Devolder, Kirchen, the Schleck brothers and of course Igor. The last kilometres were chaotic to say the least, as riders went on the attack right and left before losing contact and then bridging up again. It was anyone's guess as to who the winner might be with 500 metres to go. But Igor's late surge was simply unbelievable, leaving the rest of the riders to fight it out for 2nd. Igor won by several bike lengths, and raised his arms in celebration when crossing the line. Igor now emerges, as I predicted, as the man to beat for the overall crown, but it's still early days. Stay tuned for post-stage interviews. Stage results:

  • 1st, Igor Antón, 0:00
  • 46th, Jorge Azanza, 3:33
  • 48th, Gorka Verdugo, 3:38
  • 67th, Dionisio Galparsoro, 8:08
  • 118th, Koldo Fernández, 12:37
  • 143rd, Andoni Lafuente, s.t.
  • 151st, Aitor Hernández, 13:30
  • 152nd, Iñigo Landaluze, s.t.

Euskaltel best team in Dauphiné

There were no changes to the overall on the last day of the Dauphiné, but the team nonetheless made history; for the first time ever, the team won the teams classification of a Pro Tour event. And it's no coincidence; Euskaltel have, by far, been the most aggressive team as well as placing two riders inside the final top 10. They lived up to their aggressive reputation today, as Rubén, Mikel and Samu all attacked along the way. First up was Rubén, who took a dig on the penultimate climb. The tactic was the same as yesterday's: send a man up the road so that one of the captains have a team-mate there to help him if he decides to attack. Mikel duly attacked, and Rubén played the role of super domestique. It was a shrewd tactical move, but a move that eventually beared no fruits for Mikel. They were both reeled back in, but just minutes later the Euskaltel show was on again. Samu jumped away from the pack on top of the same climb and quickly got a gap on the descent. His descending was a joy(?) to watch as always but, with a break too far up the road to be overtaken, he just sat up and waited for the pack. On the last climb no one tried to get rid of Valverde, who looked comfortable all day. So too did Haimar, who stayed close to Valverde and Evans on the climbs. But just to make sure that Haimar and Mikel could retain their places in the top 10, Samu, followed by the pair, set a ferocious pace at the front of the pack on the 15-kilometre long descent to the finish. The pace was so high that the leading group split into several pieces, but it all came back together at the finish line. It was a true joy to watch the team rock the descent in the manner they did; great stuff. Haimar and Mikel succeeded in clinging onto their 5th and 7th places overall respectively, and could celebrate winning the prize for best team post-stage. Beñat sadly had to abandon, but the team can be very pleased about their overall Dauphiné performance. I'm proud of them, and so too was Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano: "I'm very satisfied with the team's overall performance", he said, "we've worked brilliantly as a team. Every single rider fulfilled his objectives stage after stage, and that's what's pleased me the most in this year's Dauphiné. The prize as "Best team" is a proof of that. We've seen Rubén and Juanjo do their utmost for their leaders, we've seen Samu securing Mikel's seventh overall, we've seen Haimar attacking from distance and we've seen Jon, Beñat and Iñaki work at the beginning of the stages." Stage results:

  • 16th, Samuel Sánchez, 2:21
  • 19th, Haimar Zubeldia, s.t.
  • 22nd, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 61st, Rubén Pérez, 5:41
  • 63rd, Iñaki Isasi, s.t.
  • 86th, Juan José Oroz, 12:38

Final general classification:

  • 5th, Haimar Zubeldia
  • 7th, Mikel Astarloza
  • 45th, Samuel Sánchez
  • 62nd, Rubén Pérez
  • 74th, Iñaki Isasi
  • 86th, Juan José Oroz

Aketza's case to be heard

Aketza Peña, the former Euskaltel rider who tested positive for nandrolone at last year's Giro, will get his case heard in front of CAS July 3. Aketza's B-sample reportedly confirmed the findings of the A-sample, and was suspended until the 9th of August 2009. Why he's challenging the verdict I don't know, anyone got a clue?

Saturday round-up

Due to excessive amounts of examination reading and work I didn't get the chance to update the blog yesterday, my bad. There was a lot going on in France and Switzerland though, and here's a sum-up:

Euskaltel nearly got off to the perfect start in the Tour de Suisse yesterday. Iñigo, along with Loosli and Zampieri, broke clear from the pack early on and established a significant advantage. They were expected to be reeled back in as it was a mainly flat stage, but the trio almost pulled it off. They were caught with just 3 kilometres to go, and a sprint would decide the winner from a 51-man strong peloton. Koldo was not in this peloton sadly, but Igor, Gorka and Iñigo rolled in mid-pack. Jorge came in 1:35 adrift, Aitor H 3:21, Dioni ended up 9:52 back, while Andoni and Koldo came in with the last big group a massive 14:52 in arrears. Due to bonuses accumulated during the stage, Iñigo is 5th overall going into today's massive mountain stage. Igor is expected at the front, so keep an eye on him today.

In the Dauphiné the team was once again on the offensive. Juanjo got into the break of the day with an eye on helping Mikel and Haimar if they were to attack and bridge up to the break. Attack they did, as Mikel jumped off the front and joined the remnants of the break. Juanjo assisted Mikel for a while, only for Mikel to jump on the attack once again and leave his breakaway companions trailing in his wake. Sadly he couldn't keep the pace up and faded backwards. He did finish a creditable 15th though, good enough to occupate 7th place overall with one stage to go. Haimar once again showed impressive climbing form, sticking with Valverde, Evans & co. all the way to the top of the Toussuire. He eventually came in 7th on the stage, and is thus 5th overall. Samu finally showed his form is coming along nicely with a 19th place finish, only 2 minutes 48 seconds down on breakaway winner Sörensen. It was a great performance from the team, a performance which made them win the teams classification for the day and lead it overall as well. Going into the last and hilly stage, Euskaltel hold a 6:40 lead over number 2, Caisse d'Epargne.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tour nominees

The Tour de France is quickly coming up, and 12 riders are in the running for the nine places; Haimar, Mikel, Samu, Amets, Rubén, Gorka, Iñaki, Aitor H, Jorge, Iñigo, Egoi and Juanjo. Haimar, Mikel and Samu are definite starters, but Gorka, Amets, Iñigo, Rubén and Egoi are pretty much assured a berth on the team as well if I'm not mistaken. That leaves Aitor H, Jorge, Juanjo and Iñaki to fight it out for the last spot on the roster, at least that's how I see it. I would love to see Aitor get the chance, but they're all good riders so it doesn't really make that big a difference to me to be honest. Who would You like to see on the squad?

Haimar approaching top form

Haimar is certainly on the right track for the Tour. On today's 5th stage of the Dauphiné, and on the second consecutive stage in the mountains, he ended up 4th. Here's how it all unfolded:

The team once again got a man in the decisive break, as Rubén got away early on with a bunch of other riders. The course turned out to be a little bit too tough for him though, so he didn't stand a chance when the real climbing began with the feared Joux-Plane. Haimar did though. With approximately 6 kilometres left to the summit, he took off from the group of favourites. He quickly built up a handy advantage, and stayed between the remnants of the break and the rest of the peloton, which had been markedly slimmed down by then, for several kilometres. But when Gesink upped the pace with 3 clicks to go to the top, Haimar decided to take it easy and wait for Valverde, Gesink, Evans, Leipheimer and Szmyd. He stayed with this group easily all the way to the finish, coming in an impressive 4th. As a result he advanced to 9th overall. Mikel got dropped a couple of kilometres from the top though, and had to make do with a 14th place on the stage, consequently dropping to 8th overall. Samu once again decided to use it all as training, but perhaps we'll get to see him in a break tomorrow. After the stage, Haimar had this to say to the reporters: "It was a very short and nervous stage. The break didn't get very far, as it contained several important riders , meaning the pace was high in the pack all day and we never got the chance to relax. I was some minutes adrift of the leaders on GC going into the stage, so I harboured hopes of getting a gap when I attacked at the base of the Joux-Plane. But the guys in the car told me all along that there was a war going on behind me, so I decided to wait for them. I feel good, especially on the climbs, and that gives me motivation to continue the preparations for the Tour. The fact that I'm up there alongside the likes of Valverde and Evans bodes well for the future. But it's important to keep in mind that the Tour is only three weeks away, so you don't want to go too deep. In those three weeks it'll be important to recover from this effort and put the finishing touches on the Tour preparation". Stage results:

  • 4th, Haimar Zubeldia, 0:23
  • 14th, Mikel Astarloza, 2:13
  • 48th, Rubén Pérez, 5:57
  • 95th, Iñaki Isasi, 15:54
  • 96th, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 115th, Juan José Oroz, 19:35
  • 118th, Jon Bru, s.t.
  • 127th, Beñat Albizuri, 21:33


  • 8th, Mikel Astarloza, 3:15
  • 9th, Haimar Zubeldia, 3:17
  • 68th, Rubén Pérez, 21:44
  • 78th, Juan José Oroz, 25:58
  • 82nd, Iñaki Isasi, 27:54
  • 88th, Samuel Sánchez, 29:33
  • 122nd, Jon Bru, 48:28
  • 129th, Beñat Albizuri, 1:02:23

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euskaltel take strong team to Suisse

Euskaltel will send a strong eight-man squad to the Tour de Suisse, commencing this Saturday. The demanding stage-race will see Igor lead the team, but will get strong support from Iñigo, Gorka, Aitor H, Jorge, Iván and Andoni in the mountains, while Koldo will try to bag yet another sprint-win on the flat stages. As Igor won't do the Tour this year, expect him to go flat out and go for broke in the mountains. With the form he showed recently in the Euskal Bizikleta he'll likely figure among the favourites on the steep Swiss climbs.

Euskaltel strong in the mountains

Euskaltel showed their strength in the first of the Dauphiné's mountain stages today. Rubén got into the first break of the day, but were reeled back in. A group of 16 then got away, among them our very own Juanjo. This group eventually got to fight it out for the win, but Juanjo wasn't able to stay in there sadly. Back in the bunch Haimar attacked the favourites one kilometre from the top of the last climb. He attacked with force, but ultimately didn't get anywhere. But the team wasn'r finished there. On the descent Mikel tried his luck with a ferocious dig, but Valverde succeeded in neutralizing the attack. Eventually Haimar and Mikel came in with the favourites while Juanjo ended up a minute further back. Iñaki ended up 10 minutes in arrears, while Rubén finished 13:38 down. Samu decided to chill out in the gruppetto today, and got company in the form of Beñat and Jon. The three came in with a big group some 17 minutes down. GC after the 4th stage:

  • 6th, Mikel Astarloza, 1:20
  • 14th, Haimar Zubeldia, 3:12
  • 52nd, Juan José Oroz, 6:41
  • 76th, Iñaki Isasi, 12:18
  • 84th, Samuel Sánchez, 13:57
  • 91st, Rubén Pérez, 16:05
  • 125th, Jon Bru, 23:11
  • 136th, Beñat Albizuri, 41:08

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mikel 4th in Dauphiné TT

Mikel rode amazingly in today's stage 4 ITT in the Dauphiné Libéré to claim 4th. Mikel was only surpassed by The Big Three, Valverde, Leipheimer and Evans. As a result he advanced to 5th overall, only 1:20 in arrears with the mountains looming on the horizon. Mikel wasn't the only rider to perform well today though, as Samu got an impressive 12th on the stage, and is now 9th overall. Haimar did okay to grab 28th, but as a consequence dropped to 19th on GC. The other riders did as expected, with Rubén coming in 70th, 4:01 back, Iñaki 72nd at 4:04, Juanjo 96th at 4:54, Jon 136th, 6:34 down, while Beñat came in 141st a massive 9:26 down. Tomorrow will be all mountains, so hopefully Mikel, Haimar and Samu can build on their impressive start to the race. Aupa!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beñat tries his luck in Dauphiné stage 2

Beñat did well by forming part of today's main break in the Dauphiné Libéré. He took off with Augé and compatriot De La Fuente after barely 5 kilometres of racing, and the trio quickly established a healthy gap. With about 50 km to go though, with the gap standing at about 3 minutes, Beñat crashed in a sharp turn and hit the deck hard. Nevertheless, he was able to get back on his bike quickly, and even managed to rejoin his breakaway companions. It didn't last long though, as the crash and the energy used to bridge back up again eventually took it's toll on him, and he had to let the other two go. He ended up finishing dead last, at more than 17 minutes, but as long as he's active and willing to give it a go I'm more than pleased. Gora! Iñaki, Samuel, Rubén, Mikel and Haimar all came in with the peloton, with the former grabbing a good 14th place. Juanjo was 92nd, at 15 seconds back, while Jon looks to be short on form, coming home in 128th place, 1:03 back. Overall Haimar's still 9th, Mikel is now 11th, and Samu is 13th. A TT is on the program tomorrow but, as it's hilly and only 31 kilometres long, I'm optimistic that at least two out of Samu, Haimar and Mikel can fight for places among the top 20.

Quartet to inspect Tour stages

Haimar, Mikel, Samu and Iñaki will, after the conclusion of the Dauphiné, stay in the Alps for three days to check out the decisive mountain stages of the Tour. The quartet will check out the never-before-used-in-the-Tour Prato Nevoso climb over the border in Italy, the Bonette Restefond, the Croix de Fer, the Galibier and, of course, the Alpe d'Huez. Miguel Madariaga will lead the way in his car.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Haimar shows strenght in Dauphiné

Haimar today continued his good start to the Dauphiné, claiming an very good 8th in a slightly uphill finish. The stage was earmarked as one for the sprinters, something which makes Haimar's performance even more impressive. He got the help of super-domestique Iñaki in the last kilometre to get him into a good position for the sprint. Iñaki himself grabbed a craditable 15th. All Euskaltel riders, except for Beñat who came in 51 seconds down, crossed the line inside the peloton. Due to some riders losing time today, Haimar, Mikel and Samu all advanced in the overall standings. Haimar went from 10th to 9th, now 19 seconds down on Hushovd, while Mikel is 12th and Samu 14th, both 21 seconds adrift. Just like in Cataluña, Haimar is showing excellent form. Can't wait for the Tour...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Massive disappointment in Euskal

I'm going to be honest with you: I've never been so disappointed after a race. I was so furious when Igor, easily the strongest rider in the race, only ended up getting second on the stage as well as overall. He was awesome, but it just didn't work out... I'm really sorry, but I'm too gutted to write about the race right now, even some 6 hours since it ended. Perhaps I'll write about it tomorrow. Maybe I'll feel better in the morning, but I'm just too annoyed right now. I was so prepared for a stage and overall win on home turf. Again, I'm really sorry. Aupa Igor, you're the best!

Euskaltel strong in Dauphiné prologue

Euskaltel got off top a surprisingly good start in the Dauphiné Libéré today. All three captains, Haimar, Mikel and Samu, placed inside the top 20 on the prologue. Haimar was 10th and looked awesome. Has he finally refound his crono skills? Time will tell, but based on the prologue, yes indeed. He was only 14 seconds off the pace set by Leipheimer, while Mikel was 15th, only one second adrift of Haimar. Samu also looked sharp, as always, coming home 18th, another second back. The five other riders performed okay, with Juanjo posting the 60th best time, 27 seconds down. Iñaki ended up 62nd at the same time as Juanjo, while Rubén was 93rd, 33 seconds down, Beñat was 138th, 43 seconds down, while Jon ended up next-to-last in 142nd place 53 seconds in arrears. If the prologue is a sign of things to come, we're in for a hell of a race...

Provisional Suisse line-up

Igor will lead the team for the upcoming Tour de Suisse, due to start on Saturday the 14th. Jorge, Antton, Andoni, Gorka, Jon, Dioni and Aitor Hernández will likely be the seven men alongside him. Iñigo, Josu and Beñat are all listed as reserves. Note, this is the provisional line-up.

Koldo lauds teamwork

Koldo was a happy man after crossing the finishline in Agurain first today. Unlike a host of other sprinters though, he's not getting big-headed as his palmarès grows. After the stage he praised the work the team did for him: "They (his fellow Euskaltel riders) were all phenomenal. Andoni Lafuente and Aitor Hernández started leading the bunch almost from the off, and Jorge soon joined them to up the tempo. On the ascents we used Amets, while Egoi stayed close to me all day... It was great teamwork, and to get the win was our just reward." He also spoke of the win's meaning to him: "It's been great to win so close to home with my family and friends watching from the fences. I've raced on these roads a thousand times in training and in the junior categories, so to win as a pro with Euskaltel right here is very special to me". 'Nuff said.

Stage 2 results

Here's the results of Euskal Bizikleta's second stage, won by our very own super-sprinter Koldo Fernández:

  • 1st, Koldo Fernández, 0:00
  • 12th, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 48th, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 56th, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 67th, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 87th, Aitor Hernández, 8:21
  • 93rd, Andoni Lafuente, 14:30

GC with one stage to go:

  • 4th, Igor Antón, 0:00
  • 47th, Amets Txurruka, 8:45
  • 57th, Egoi Martínez, 13:20
  • 70th, Koldo Fernández, 20:03
  • 77th, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 89th, Aitor Hernández, 28:24
  • 95th, Andoni Lafuente, 34:33

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Koldo unbeatable in Euskal

Koldo grabbed his third season win today in Euskal Bizikleta's second stage. The Álava native easily beat Baden Cooke and JJ Rojas in the dash for the line into Agurain to give his team a win they thouroughly deserved. The team spent all day at the front of the pack chasing down the five-man group that got away early. With the help of Orbea and, in the last 20 kilometres, Caisse d'Epargne, it came down to the expected showdown between the fast-men. Igor advanced to 4th overall going into the last stage. More later...

Haimar ready for Dauphiné test

Haimar will, together with Samu and Mikel, lead the team's charge in the Dauphiné, starting tomorrow. He spoke to Marca about his ambitions for the race: "It's a very demanding race, and it wears you out. The stages are hard, and the riders are sharpening their teeth for the Tour. There are two very hard stages in the Alps, and the crono is also very demanding. We hope that experience will make the difference". Haimar finished 2nd overall in the Dauphiné in 2000, but will not be obsessed with reaching the podium this time around. "It's the last race ahead of the Tour, and it's necessary to be in good form", he said. "But it's also necessary to remember that the Tour is just around the corner, so I won't overdo it. But we'll do our best". With the form he's showing these days, "doing our best" might just be good enough to win the whole thing.

Igor betting on Koldo

Speaking after the conclusion of yesterday's first stage of the Euskal Bizikleta, Igor told the reporters that today, the team is hoping it all comes down to a sprint: "Yesterday's stage was just crazy. Attacks everywhere, no control... There are three stages in this race, and each one will be a war. I felt good all day, and that makes me hopeful. Dani Moreno won the stage, and it'll be difficult to take the jersey away from him, as he's a good rider, but we'll try. (Moreno was later handed a 10-second penalty for clinging on to his team's car up the last ascent.) Tomorrow is the Agurain stage, a day in which the general classification is not likely to see any major changes. We bring Koldo to this race, so if it does come down to a sprint, he's got a good opportunity to claim his third win of the year".

Igor 6th in Euskal opener

Sorry for not updating yesterday, but I really never had the time actually, as I was away the whole day. But here's how the opener of the Euskal Bizikleta unfolded:

At first Amets tried to break away with 13 others, among them eventual stage-winner Moreno. But it never worked out for this group, and they were reeled back in quite quickly. Straight afterwards a group of 15 went away, and this group managed to establish a gap. Euskaltel, amazingly, had no one in it so, together with Tinkoff, who'd suffered the same fate, they had to chase. The two teams controlled the break wonderfully, and on the descent of the last climb the lead-group, among them a lively Igor, had reeled in all the escapees. It came down to a sprint among the 10 strongest riders, a sprint in which Dani Moreno of Caisse d'Epargne prevailed in. Igor came in 6th, but was later promoted to 5th overall as Moreno was handed a 10-second penalty for hanging onto a car going up the last climb. The other Euskaltel riders finished way back, totally exhausted after leading the peloton all day. Antton sadly had to abandon due to some respiratory problems. Results:
  • 6th, Igor Antón, 0:00
  • 47th, Amets Txurruka, 8:45
  • 67th, Egoi Martínez, 13:20
  • 86th, Jorge Azanza, 20:03
  • 87th, Andoni Lafuente, s.t.
  • 89th, Aitor Hernández, s.t.
  • 91st, Koldo Fernández, s.t.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Amets looking forward to Euskal

The Euskal Bizikleta has always been Amets' favourite race. Ever since he was a little boy he's been watching the race from the roadside, as the race always passes his home in Extebarria. DEIA caught up with him to discuss this year's race, and here's Amets' take on it: "Every cyclist has a favourite race, a race that motivates more than others for one reason or another. For me that race is the Euskal Bizikleta. It's the only race in Euskadi that's always, without exceptions, passed my home in Etxebarria." Amets will start the race for a third time today, and here's his thoughts on each stage: "The first stage will be an important indicator of how the race will develop. No one is going to win the race on the Sollube (a cat.1 climb located 12 kilometres from the end), but many riders will lose their chance of overall glory. I think it'll be a chaotic and uncontrolable stage, as it's difficult for a team to take control of the race in the first stage. The inclines of Sollube will make the selection between the favourites, but I wouldn't be surprised if a break goes all the way either. The second stage is a strange one. The beginning of the stage is really hard, with the ascents of Opakua and Azazeta coming right away, but then it levels out for the remainder of the stage. We did the stage the other day in training, and I think it's a stage for a break. Nevertheless, there will be teams eyeing a sprint, like us for example, where our man will be Koldo. We will have to take control of the stage. The last stage is a presitigous one. The last stage to Arrate is a stage all Basques would love to have on their palmarès, and I'm no exception. Somebody will have to control the race so that a break doesn't get too far up the road. It's obvious that this stage will be decisive for the GC considering there's no TT in this year's race. A good climber will win this year's edition, as the last five kilometres, on the way to the top of the Arrate, is really tough."

Jorge replaces Javier for Euskal

Jorge Azanza will take Javier's place in the Euskal Bizikleta line-up. The race starts tomorrow, and will include the following Euskaltel riders: Jorge, Amets, Koldo, Igor, Andoni, Egoi, Antton and Aitor H.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Iban looking good in Zikloturista Iban Mayo

The third running of the annual Martxa Zikloturista Iban Mayo, staged in his honour, was held at the 18th of May this year. 177 riders completed the hilly course, with Iban taking second to his close friend and ex-Orbea rider Julen Zubero. The cyclosportif was reported to have been a great success. Judging by the pictures, and by interviews, he's been spending a lot of time in the gym of late. His arms and upper body looked more muscular than ever, and he looked to be close to his optimal weight, though I have to add I'm not an expert at these kinds of things. But anyway, he looked awesome to put it like it is. He's also reported to be in good spirits these days, and has said that if cleared by CAS, he'd like to ride on for at least 2-3 years. If that is to happen, I could die a happy man. Period.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Alán pleased with Giro

Alán Pérez really came of age in the recently finished Giro d'Italia. Getting into two decisive breaks, placing a heartbraking 2nd on the first, put the Navarra native in the limelight for the first time in his young career. Yesterday he spoke to local newspaper Noticias de Navarra about his Giro experience. Here are excerpts from the interview: "I would love to return to the Giro one day. I'd happily do it again. I'm pleased with my own performance in this edition of the race, as I worked a lot for Koldo when I wasn't in the breaks. Coming so close to a win hurts though. At first we were 11, then we were two. I felt so angry when I crossed the line, because coming 2nd is not winning, even though the difference is minimal. Though, being a protagonist is important, so I'm happy. I also think the team as a whole left a good impression on the race. Our objective was to win a stage, something we couldn't muster, but we went so close so many times, placing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th. I think we did our job well". Speaking on the rest of the season, he said: "The Tour's just around the corner, so that's not an option. But I would love to do the Vuelta again. If I did indeed get that chance, I'd spend my time recovering and preparing up until then." Alán did a good job in last year's Vuelta, lying 4th overall for a while, so I'd like to see him in that squad. With the level of performance he showed in the Giro, I think that's a certainty.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Team previews stage 2 of Euskal Bizikleta

The eight riders that will take part in the Euskal Bizikleta, starting this Friday, all trained together on the roads of the second stage today. Igor, Amets, Egoi, Javier, Andoni, Koldo, Antton and Aitor H, rode the vast majority of the 162 kilometres in and around Agurain.

Dauphiné and Euskal Bizikleta line-ups

Euskaltel will send strong squads to the two upcoming races; the Dauphiné Libéré and the Euskal Bizikleta.

The Euskal Bizikleta starts this Friday, and will this year contain no more than three stages. Igor, Amets, Koldo, Javier, Antton, Aitor Hernández, Andoni and Egoi will defend the team's colours on home soil. Igor will likely lead the push for overall honours. His ankle is finally healed, and, according to reports, he's in great shape. The rest of the guys will look to get into breaks, while Koldo will be the main man if one of the stages come down to a sprint. Looks like a solid team on paper. Amets is also rumoured to be in form, and he's got a love affair with the race, so watch out for the diminutive climber all three days.

The team's three captains for the Tour de France this summer will all feature in the traditional Tour dress-rehersal; the Dauphiné Libéré. Alongside Samu, Haimar and Mikel, will be Rubén, Alán, Beñat, Juanjo and Iñaki. Haimar will look to build on his strong Volta a Cataluña, while Mikel will try to get fit in time for the Tour after a mightly impressive first-half of the season. Samu hasn't been racing all that much this year, but he's always good, so no worries there. I predict the rest of the guys will do their utmost to assist an eventual overall push by one of them. Just like with the Bizikleta squad it looks awesome. Aupa!

Poll results: What's CAS up to?

CAS have been enjoying some beers lately if you readers are to be believed. 39 % of you voted for "Having a beer", while "Asking the UCI what to do" came a close second, claiming 23 % of the votes. "Facebook" got an honourable 3rd place, followed by the most likely scenario, "Sleeping", in fourth, while the most unlikely one, "Studying Iban's case", ended up dead last as I predicted. Not the most serious of polls, but I nonetheless found it amusing.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

CAS take their time

I had hoped that once I'd got back blogging, a decision on Iban's case had been reached. That's sadly not the case. Iban's lawyer told Spanish dailies on the 22nd of May that CAS would need another two or three months to come to a conclusion, effectively ruling him out of this year's Tour de France. Bravo, mission accomplished! I'm at a loss to find out what they'll be up to the next months, but I'm going to save myself some time by not complaining a whole lot. But all you frustrated fans are more than welcome to do so in the "Comments" section below.


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