Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year wrap

  • Naturgas Energía prepared for the season ahead with what must be the shortest training camp they've ever done in Derio this week. All the riders, including new French recruits Karl Baudron, Damien Garcia and Loïc Chetout, got together for a two-day camp at Fundación Euskadi headquarters in Derio this Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Aitor Hernández is going from strength to strength on the 'cross circuit. Yesterday he grabbed his third win of the year in a race in Itsasondo, besting Orbea mountain biker Iñaki Lejarreta and top Spaniard Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga.
  • Not surprisingly, Igor Antón was elected "Athlete of the year" in his home region of Bizkaia here the other day. The merculiar climber beat several top-class athletes across various sports to take home the prize handed out by the Prensa Deportiva de Bizkaia. Euskaltel were also honoured for their much-documented best-ever season, at least numbers-wise, at the Gala del Deporte.
  • Alán Pérez and Juan José Oroz both attended and spoke at a gathering organized by the cycling club in Estella (also known as Lizarra) a couple of days ago, a small town just south of Pamplona. The two riders both hail from the region and were joined by Bizkaia-Durango rider Cristina Alcalde and Joana Eslava of Reyno de Navarra.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Xmas wrap

  • The seven riders that will represent the squad in January's Tour Down Under, plus Koldo Fernández, Amets Txurruka, Jonathan Castroviejo and Romain Sicard, concluded their nine-day Costa Blanca training camp this past Wednesday.
  • Aitor Hernández finished a splendid second in today's Euskadi Cyclo-Cross championships. The soon-to-be former Euskaltel rider was only beaten by Egoitz Murgoitio.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Velasco a go for 2011 Tour

After a successful 2010 debut Tour, Iván Velasco is a dead-cert for the 2011 edition as well. Speaking to the Diario Vasco yesterday, the likeable climber outlined next year's schedule which will look much the same as this year's. "I will start this season as well in Australia", he said of the Tour Down Under. "The temperatures down there are great, it's very good for training and also a good place to start competing. We'll get there in good shape. This year the level was high. It was a fast race, and it's always a group of riders who arrive at the race with good form. The flip side, though, is the trip. It's very long. After Australia I'll go to Mallorca, Clásica Almería, Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al País Vasco, the classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Fleche Wallonne, Amstel Gold Race and the Tour de Romandie. Then I'll take some time off before returning to competition in the Dauphiné and then the Tour." Reflecting on the season that just finished, the Gipuzkoan was rather pleased with what he'd achieved. "I think I haven't done too badly. I've taken another step in the right direction and improved in big races like the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Dauphiné and the Tour. I know that I'm here to help the leaders on the climbs towards the end of the races. I have to stay with them (Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón, Romain Sicard) in the mountains when I'm able to."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hernández regional champ

Aitor Hernández, still without a team for next year, was today crowned champion of Vizcaya after winning a race in Lezama. The Ermua native won solo 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Erlantz Uriarte and 56 seconds ahead of Orbea mountain biker Iñaki Lejarreta.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Camp update

Euskaltel have completed day two and three of their Costa Blanca training camp, and the pace and intensity have surely but steadily been upped day by day. So far the temperatures have been rather mild and the sky's been nothing but blue, so no wonder the riders are happy. Day two saw the Down Under team plus an eager Romain Sicard go for a 130km ride, while Koldo Fernández, Amets Txurruka and Jonathan Castroviejo felt a 110 were enough. Yesterday saw all 11 riders complete a four-hour, 130km ride, and today's route will likely consist of several hard climbs to get the Down Under-bound riders in near top condition for the rapidly-approaching start to the 2011 season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Antón honoured

Igor Antón was yesterday awarded the 'cyclist of the year'-award by local Vizcaya radio station Onda Cero.

As we all know, it was a rollercoaster of a year for the mercurial climber, but speaking at the award ceremony the affable Antón once again reiterated that he's happy overall with the 2010 season. "I will never forget this season, and it's not because of the crash, but because I've been in good form on several occasions, I've won races, I've been at the head of the races when I was feeling good, and all this has boosted my moral. The Vuelta? I remain focused on what I achieved before I had to leave the race".

Galdós close to Caja Rural

Outgoing Euskaltel rider Aitor Galdós might have found a team for next season. The powerful sprinter will take part in Pro Conti team Caja Rural's training camp this week, and it's understood a decision on whether he'll be awarded a contract or not will be made towards the end of weekend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


  • Aitor Hernández impressively won Sunday's 'cross race in Zeberio. Not only did he win, but he won by quite the margin. Closest follower in second place was Xabier García a full 2:10 back on Euskaltel's climber.
  • Euskaltel's Tour Down Under roster, accompanied by Koldo Fernández, Romain Sicard, Amets Txurruka and Jonathan Castroviejo, arrived at their camp at the Costa Blanca on Monday evening. The 11 riders completed a 100km ride on Tuesday, and the riders will up that distance today. The riders will stay at the camp 'til the 22nd of December.
  • Samu Sánchez has said he's still not made his mind up on whether or not to compete in the trio of Ardennes classics the coming season. "I love the classics", he told "They're historic and prestigious, so it's always a great honour to participate. But I still don't know if I'll take part in 2011".

Sunday, December 12, 2010


  • Aitor Hernández placed a slightly disappointing 16th in Wednesday's Gran Premio Santa Barbara cyclo-cross race. He was a full four minutes adrift of Isaac Suarez.
  • He fared considerably better in yesterday's race in Llodio. He finished second to the inexorable Egoitz Murgoitio, a full 1:14 adrift.
  • Euskaltel stars Jonathan Castroviejo and Iñaki Isasi and Naturgas' stand-out youngster Igor Merino all spent an hour talking to young children about the advantages of riding a bike, either as a means of transport or as a way of training, on Friday at a big gathering about cycling organized by the different cycling clubs in and around the Basque town of Balmaseda.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


  • Just like Euskaltel did recently, Orbea will stage a team get-together in Derio from the coming Thursday 'til Saturday. It will mainly be a bonding, team-building kind of camp, but it won't be all fun as they'll do two team rides, undergo some medical tests and meet up with the directors to plan for the season ahead. All 13 riders are expected to be present.
  • Aitor Hernández continued his rich vein of form by grabbing 14th in the Asteasuko cyclo-cross event yesterday. The race was full of top-level riders like Nys, Albert and Pauwels, so 14th is not bad. Aitor Galdós also took part, but found the going a little tougher and finished 21st.
  • Euskaltel will indeed be present at the three Grand Tours next year after the major race organisers and the UCI for once managed to broker a deal that guarantees all 18 ProTeams a ride in the World Tour events.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hernández 2nd again

Aitor Hernández is continuing to make a name for himself on the 'cross scene. Earlier today he grabbed another impressive second place in the Elite race in Igorre, a race being held prior to the World Cup event. Xabier García denied Aitor the top prize, but he's still likely to be pleased with his ride as he finished just ahead of seasoned 'crosser and ex-roadie Unai Yus.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Landa tempted by Giro

20-year-old Mikel Landa is not likely to do a Grand Tour in his maiden season in the Pro Tour, but he admits the thought of doing the Giro alongside heroes and team-mates Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón entices him. In an interview with El Correo here the other day, the newcomer said: "Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve will go to Italy, and to go along would be very good. They are both climbers, just like me, and this year (2011 that is) there will probably be quite a few great mountain stages". Given his age and relative inexperience though, it's highly unlikely, so we shouldn't get too excited. He'll start out with the Mallorca Challenge like the majority of his companions, before he heads of to Andalucía. He might do Murcia after that and maybe his very first Pro Tour race after that again; the Volta a Catalunya. "The idea is that I'll do a calendar that's pretty similar to the one I did this year, but that I'll add in some Pro Tour events so as to acquire some experience and get an understanding of what the level's like." He'll likely compete 50 or 60 days in all in 2011.

Down Under seven head to Alicante

Jon and Gorka Izagirre, Daniel Sesma, Iván Velasco, Rubén Pérez, Iñaki Isasi and Miguel Minguez, the seven riders that will take on the Tour Down Under in January, will all head to Alicante on the Costa Blanca for a 10-day training camp later this month to finalize their preparations for the season-opener. Accompanied by the team's trainer Josu Larrazabal, the seven will head south on the 13th and return two days prior to Christmas Eve. The camp was mainly set-up so that the riders could escape the bad weather of the north and get some kilometres in under more favourable weather-conditions.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fernández reveals early 2011 plans

Crocked sprinter Koldo Fernández has revealed his schedule for the opening months of the 2011 season to Biciciclismo. He was slated to lead the team Down Under, but his horrific crash in Paris-Bourges put paid to that. Instead he'll open his season at the Mallorca Challenge as usual, before going onto Andalucía, Almería, Tirreno and San Remo. Due to the aforementioned tumble and grave injuries, he's at the time being four kilos lighter than what he'd usually be this time of year. Currently he's doing two and three-hour rides five days a week interspersed with some gym work, but will soon head south to Alicante with some team-mates to train in more favourable weather conditions compared to the cold and rain typical of the Basque Country.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hernández closing in on maiden win

Aitor Hernández is inching ever closer to that elusive first 'cross win of the year. In today's race in Aizarnazabal he was only beaten by the invincible Larriñaga, thus finishing as runner-up for the first time this year. By finishing second he bettered seasoned 'crossers Unai Yus, Iñaki Lejarreta and David Seco, to name but a few. The pic of Hernández en pleno esfuerzo was kindly sent to me by expert cycling photographer Iñaki Azanza who just so happens to be a certain Jorge Azanza's brother. Go to Zikliamatore for more of Señor Azanza's work.

'Cross success for Aitors

Both Aitor Hernández and Aitor Galdós enjoyed success in cyclo-cross this Saturday. The former nabbed an impressive fourth place in Amézaga de Zuia, which effectively is the Álavan Championships, behind the irrepressible Larriñaga, while the latter took out the win in the comparatively smaller-scale event outside Madrid in San Sebastián de los Reyes. Not bad at all, they're both impressing on the 'cross scene. Caja Rural, which was one of Galdós' preferred destinations, released a statement yesterday saying they won't sign any more riders for next season, so they're both fighting against time here to further their careers on the tarmac.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Down Under line-up revealed

Euskaltel have already decided which seven riders to send to Adelaide and the Tour Down Under in January; the first race on the calendar in 2011. Seven riders will travel: the Izagirre brothers, Rubén Pérez, Iñaki Isasi, Iván Velasco, Miguel Minguez and Daniel Sesma. Velasco will, after a successful 2010 campaign, be the team's designated protected rider for the GC, while Rubén is expected to try his hand at the numerous sprint finishes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Galdeano talks up Antón's Giro bid

Igor Antón will go to the Giro next year to bring home the win, says team chief Galdeano. Speaking to El Correo, the man talked up his young protégé's chances. "We'll go to the Giro with Igor Antón with high expectations. We won't go with a 'see what happens'-attitude. We'll go with ambition. Igor likes the race. Watch out for him." Galdeano went on to say that Antón will also aim for the Vuelta later in the year. "Yeah (he'll do both). He's 28 now. He's old enough to do two GTs a year. He'll aim to be at 100%. In principle the goal is to win a stage. We've never done that at the Giro before. But Igor's progressed physically and psychologically, so he's capable of more (than just a stage-win)."

Sicard confirmed for Vuelta

Like I suggested a couple of days back, Romain Sicard will indeed get his Grand Tour bow at next year's Vuelta a España. Speaking to El Correo yesterday, Galdeano confirmed it, and said the aim was to get him to the Spanish GT "as fresh as possible. He's the rider for the future. He's a bit like Antón actually. A simple lad who doesn't create any trouble. He will, surely, be a great rider." Some Euskaltel fanatics, notably the French ones, have called for Sicard to be given a shot at the Tour next year, but Galdeano isn't having any of it. "It's still too early", he said. "It would be easy to take him to the Tour; he's give us a lot of exposure. But it would be a case of 'breed today, hunger tomorrow'. He's got many years ahead of him. He'll grow tired of riding Tours eventually". Galdeano went on to say that Sicard will also do the Vuelta al País Vasco alongside Samu Sánchez in April. It'll be exciting to see how he fares on the short, steep climbs that makes País Vasco the race it is. I've always seen him as a GT rider to be honest but, baring in mind his superb sub-23 worlds win last year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him do well on similar terrain come Spring.

Newcomers' delight

Euskaltel's new signings for the 2011 season, Pierre Cazauz, Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre, all told GARA of their Derio camp experiences yesterday. Each one of them seemed happy with the get-together, with Cazaux saying: "They've all greeted me very well. Everybody have done their best to facilitate my integration, eventhough I only speak French and very little Spanish. It feels like a big family. It's different from most teams, mostly because everyone's Basque." Cazaux is a relatively close friend of fellow country-man and hotshot Romain Sicard. Apparently they've known each other for a long time and live close by, only 10 kilometres seperate them. They also train together, and Cazaux admits being in the same team as his compatriot "makes things easier for both of us." Cazauz naturally holds the dream of competing in the Tour come July, but is under no illusions. "It will be difficult (to get a spot on the team)", he admitted. "To get a ride in the Tour is difficult in all teams, everyone wants to do that race. I will do what the team requests of me and be combative. It's the best race in the world."

Landa and Izagirre, who both progressed from Orbea, were unequivocal in their response: getting to know their team-mates has been awesome. "It's been very good", Izagirre junior stated. "We're all together and making friends. This is a big family and we got friendly straight away. I'm very content at being in the team I always dreamed of. In addition, for the first time I get to ride on the same team as my brother." Landa echoed Izagirre's sentiments, saying: "The first time you meet them you get rid of the nervousness that comes along with getting new team-mates. You realize they're just like you, except they're obviously better bike riders, but still just like yourself." Both youngsters will do a mainly Spanish calendar interspersed with some Pro Tour races. Landa, a noted climber, will look to improve even more in that particular area, while Izagirre, who admits he's not as strong as his companion on the climbs but more of an all-rounder, is relishing the chance to test himself in the biggest races alongside his, for the time being at least, more illustrious team-mates. "I'll do my best. To ride for the leaders on this team will be luxury".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Samu more motivated than ever

He'll soon turn 33, and by his own account he's more motivated for racing than ever before. Samuel Sánchez just loves riding his bike. Speaking to El Correo yesterday, the Olympic champ outlined why. "Cycling has given me everything in this life", he said matter-of-factly. "They said that from thirty and on I'd enjoy cycling more (and they were right). I get more motivated by every season that goes by. It's my passion." Speaking of the 2011 season, the captain intends to reach top form for that big race in July. "I know that I must be at a 100% in July." He didn't discard doing the Vuelta afterwards, saying: "It's my race. It's given me so much. The only thing left to do is to win it outright." Samu, Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve in the Vuelta? That's some trio. Romain Sicard might get his Grand Tour bow as well, so the 2011 edition looks to be quite a race.

Nieve set for Giro debut

Vuelta sensation Mikel Nieve is likely to accompany Igor Antón at the Giro next year, writes DEIA. It will be his debut at the race, while Igor actually rode the Giro back in 2005 alongside Roberto Laiseka. He went on to finish 85th in his maiden Grand Tour, but will no doubt aim to do considerably better this time around. Nieve is also likely to do the Vuelta with Antón in 2011, as Igor looks to snatch that elusive Vuelta crown.

Galdeano relieved at ProTeam status

Team head Igor González de Galdeano was a happy man yesterday as the UCI revealed one of their three remaining ProTeam licenses had gone to Euskaltel. Spaking to DEIA later that evening, Igor said: "It's a prize and a liberation. Now we don't have to deal with unknowns anymore. Not obtaining the license would be to lose our way a little, to be outside the top league which we've always been a part of. It would be equal to Athletic (Bilbao) being relegated to the Segunda (second division)." José Antonio Ardanza, Euskaltel president, also expressed his relief at the award, saying: "It's a much more tranquillo start, because it's been a beautiful season and the sponsorship is secured."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Antón Giro-bound

According to Igor González de Galdeano, Igor Antón will indeed take part in next year's Giro d'Italia. Speaking to Biciciclismo, Galdeano said: "I think Igor Antón will do a good Giro. We've always had a good relationship with the Giro (and want to go back)." The team have declined to participate the last two years, citing a too heavy calendar, but are posed to return in 2011.

Official: Euskaltel in ProTour 2011/2012

The news just broke that Euskaltel has been granted a ProTeam license for the next two seasons along with Quick.Step and Ag2R. Obviously fantastic news. More on this story (including reactions) later.

Galdeano praises class of '10

At a press-conference at the team's get-together in Derio earlier today, team head Igor González de Galdeano praised the team's performances throughout the 2010 season, labelling it "the best season ever". Euskaltel grabbed 17 wins in total so no wonder the man in charge was pleased. What's more important though, he argued, was that Euskaltel "earned the respect of the other teams", and showed that "we can control a race" and "be able to win in races like the Tour and the Vuelta. This was unthinkable a few years ago, and that's way I'm convinced we're well prepared for 2011." The ex-pro also added that he's confident Euskaltel will obtain that vital ProTeam license. The UCI were supposed to hand out the remaining three licenses two days ago but, true to tradition, they didn't come good on their word and postponed their decision.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Garate honoured

Basque Rabobank rider Juanma Garate was yesterday awarded the annual "Best Basque Tour de France rider" of 2010. The Hondarribia native finished 35th overall and thus earned the prize given out each year by the Urkamendi de Zizurkil society. Six previous winners of the award showed up to pay tribute to the affable Rabobank climber, among them former Euskaltel riders Iker Camaño, Haimar Zubeldia and Mikel Astarloza. Also present were the great Abraham Olano, Marino Lejarreta and Txente García Acosta.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Samu to centre 2011 around Tour

Samu will, just like he this year, aim for the Tour de France podium in 2011. As we all know all too well, he just missed out on that prestigious third place to Menchov in the last time trial. It's a big regret he admits, but, speaking to Marca yesterday, he said the season as a whole was satisfactory. "I can't really complain. I've been improving every year, and my only regret in 2010 is missing out on the Tour podium. If I was able to be fourth this year after all the bad luck I had, I think I can be optimistic in terms of fighting for the podium once again in 2011." Further he went on to say that his exact schedule for the season pre-Tour hadn't been decided upon yet, but didn't exclude the possibility of doing the Vuelta a España post-Tour.

Galdós still hopeful

December is fast approaching and he's still without a contract for 2011. But Aitor Galdós is not about to give up on his career just yet, and told DEIA that he's still harbouring hopes of securing a ride for next season. "I'm more motivated than ever", he said. "I'm convinced I've still got a lot to give in cycling, and I hope a team will show that. I'm training as if I was to start competing in January, but every day that passes by without getting any news is hard. But I do not lose hope."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Camp around the corner

Euskaltel's first pre-season camp, or post-season rather, will be held from the coming Monday 'til the following Wednesday, not from Sunday 'til Thursday as was suggested here and at Biciciclismo some weeks back, says the team's official website. It is in Derio though, I got that one right, and it's all your usual first-camp-ahead-of-the-season actvities that will be on the schedule; easy training, medical examinations, some testing, meeting with sponsors and talking to the media. And, as reported earlier, recent crash victims Igor Antón and Juanjo Oroz will both be there.

Naturgas anno 2011 revealed

La Fundación Euskadi yesterday revealed Naturgas Energía's 2011 roster. Of the 16 riders this season, two young charges, Pello Bilbao and Mikel Bizkarra, will make the jump to Orbea, while Unai Martínez, Andoni Sánchez, David Hidalgo and Alfonso Saiz were not offered extensions to their current contracts and have thus been let go. As reported earlier, French trio Loic Chetout, Damien Garcia and Karl Baudron join, while Navarran Eduardo Ardaiz and Álava native Alain González, both 18 years old, will also team up. 11 riders will stay on: Álex Bilbao, Carlos Barbero, Aitor Ocampos, Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez, Efrén Carazo, Jon Larrinaga, Mikel Martioda, Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba and Alberto Guinea. Of these 11, the pressure is on 21-year-olds Aitor Ocampos and Urtzi Legarra to prove their worth if they are have a future at either Orbea or Euskaltel. Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba, Alberto Guinea and Carlos Barbero will look to build on this year's successes with a view to joining Orbea in time for the 2012 season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ilundain might go amateur

Mikel Ilundain is not ready to give up on his cycling career just yet and might go back to ride as an amateur, writes el Diario de Navarra. The rider was let go by Orbea this year after struggling to make an impression during his two-year spell with Euskaltel's feeder-team, but has reportedly made contact with amateur teams Lizarte and Azysa and might get a ride there in a bid to reignite his stuttering career. To his credit, Ilundain spoke fondly of his team at Orbea and did not criticize the team management for not retaining him after he was told there was no place for him on the team, but speaking to the Diario de Navarra yesterday his tack had somewhat changed. "What's strange is that I am the only one on the team whose contract wasn't prolonged", he argued. "I have no bad words for the team; after all they gave me a big chance to make it. There are several riders stronger than me on the team, but there are also those who are not and they get to stay." Anyway, he seems destined to either return to the amateur circuit or finishing his engineering studies.

Team set for return to Andalucía & Murcia

Euskaltel will, along with the other top Spanish outfits, return to take part in the Andalucía and Murcia vueltas this year, writes Biciciclismo. Most Spanish pro squads opted out of taking part last year due to a dispute with the organizers of the races, but this dispute now seems to be in the past meaning Euskaltel will once again compete in two of the traditional tests on the Spanish calendar.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Antón back in training

Igor Antón is back on the bike after his crash in the Vuelta a couple of months back, writes Biciciclismo. According to the reliable website he's already done some work on the roller and on the road, and will meet up with his team-mates on Sunday in Derio for the first get-together of the pre-season.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Euskaltel duo on 'cross podium

Aitor Galdós and Aitor Hernández both grabbed their very first podium in cyclo-cross earlier today. In a race in Colindres Galdós came in second, while Aitor finished third, both beaten by former roadie Unai Yus. Good performance from the pair, but there's still no news on their respective futures.

Oroz escapes fracture

Crash-victim Juanjo Oroz has not broken his jaw as was first feared, reports Biciciclismo. In fact, he's already been discharged and is back home recuperating. He's battered and bruised of course, but seems to be in good spirits and reportedly enjoyed a good night's sleep yesterday. He did sustain a micro-fracture in his face though, but it's not overaly serious, so he should be okay fairly quickly.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Oroz injured in crash

Juan José Oroz has been taken to hospital after a bad crash while out training earlier today. The rider was taken to the hospital in his home-region of Navarra where he'll stay for observation for 24 hours. At present it's difficult to say if he's seriously injured or not, but the team's website says he might have broken his jaw. Besides banging up his body pretty bad, he suffered a small loss of memory, but it's not thought this will be serious. More on this story later as news come in.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Izagirre aiming for Roubaix

Gorka Izagirre enjoyed a fruitful first season with Euskaltel this year, taking out two wins in his maiden Pro Tour campaign. Talking to el Diario Vasco, the older of the two Izagirre brothers elaborated on his first Euskaltel season and one race in particular he's grown fond of. "I liked Roubaix. I reached the velodrome and I got through the Arenberg forrest in the lead group. I enjoyed the cobbles, the rain, the cold. Yes, I finished the race totally worn out, but I was pleased. I'd never finished a race in those conditions before. I would do any race, but that one enchanted me." Izagirre went on to say that he's probably best suited to the one-day classics, and that he's very happy with his season as a whole. "It's been a good year for me", he admitted. "I didn't imagine doing so well and winning two races. I was aiming to progress little by little, and I feel I achieved that goal."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Orbea reveal 2011 team

La Fundación Euskadi's Continental team, Orbea, today revealed the 13 riders that will make up 2011's roster. As reported some weeks back, Mikel Ilundain has not been retained, and Jon Izagirre and Mikel Landa has joined Euskaltel. Those three are the only ones leaving the team, while the arrivals of young climber Pello Bilbao and Bidelan all-rounder Aritz Bagües are already well documented. Joining Bilbao from Naturgas will be the one 21-year-old Mikel Bizkarra, who's shown plenty of promise this season, and stand-out Seguros Bilbao rider Victor Cabedo. Bizkarra joining the team was not really surprising, but Cabedo jumping ships from Seguros to Orbea was most definetely so, to me anyway. The 21-year-old, who rates a certain Samu Sánchez as his favourite rider, is one of the most promising riders in the Spanish peloton. Cabedo won the prestigious Memorial Valenciaga this spring, and even won the sub-23 Copa de Espana classification. Interestingly, he's also a national junior champion in cyclo-cross and has taken several medals on the track. Quite rightly he describes himself as a complete rider given that he's excelling on the climbs and in the time trials. He's also had a taste of riding at the highest level already, as he took part in the Vuelta a Murcia this year in the colours of the Spanish selección. He's one for the future, make no mistake, so don't be surprised if he teams up with Samu, Antón, Sicard and co. already come the 2012 season. Nine riders, namely Joseba Larralde, Aritz Etxebarria, Ricardo García, Xabier Zabalo, Beñat Urain, Noel Martín, Adrián Sáez de Arregi, Jon Aberasturi and Andoni Blázquez will stay on for another year. Look out for Noel Martín and Jon Aberasturi in particular. Both born in 1989, they'll hope to make an impression next year and turn it up a notch or two.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Melero signs with Type 1

Former Orbea rider Iván Melero has penned a deal with American Pro Conti outfit Team Type 1, writes Biciciclismo. The team, which aims to raise awareness of diabetes, will ride quite a bit in Europe next year, and according to DS Davidenko he's a "good all-rounder in stage-races and has experience from racing in Europe". Melero, who's also got a brother, Oscar, who rode professionally for a couple of seasons some eight or nine years ago, took a stage-win in the presitigious Circuito Montañes while with Euskaltel's feeder-team, but never really made the grade.

Hernández 5th in 'cross race

Aitor Hernández is really starting to find his feet in cyclo-cross. The soon-to-be former Euskaltel rider took a strong fifth at today's race in his home-town of Ermua, a race won by roadie-cum-'crosser Javier Ruíz de Larriñaga, formerly of the popular Kaiku outfit. Hernández has still not penned a deal with a new team, which amazes me to be honest what with his track record, but I expect him to be picked up by a Spanish or Italian Conti or Pro Conti team in the near future.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

UCI's fumblings leave Euskaltel in the dark

The increasingly bad joke that is the UCI dealt their own professionalism and credibility (if there's anything left, there is) another major blow earlier this week when they announced their new team ranking system. Without exaggeration I find it embarrassing. What kind of major international sport, which cycling still is, changes the criteria for acceptance into next year's competitions retroactively after the season's done? No one but cycling that is. Take football for instance. As we all know, the top four English Premier League sides are guaranteed a place in the ensuing season's Champions League. Imagine this: After a 38-game campaign, or in cycling's case a whole year of racing, the number four team, Tottenham, who've legitimately earned their place in Europe's top club competition, suddenly get's a note from UEFA saying: "Sorry, but we changed the criteria. You're out. Man City, who by the way finished below you in the rankings, have now invested a lot of money into new players. And since we feel their new players are better than yours, they'll take your place in the CL. Life's a bitch. Get on with it". It would be totally unheard of. But in cycling that's how we roll. How, in the name of justice, is it possible that a team without a name and, most importantly, without having competed in a single bike race, tops the standings ahead of teams who've earned their place at the top? How on earth does that make sense? That's the case with the so-called Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project. The rules that were laid out before the season got underway, by the UCI themselves, were that the top 17 ranked teams come the end of the season would be guaranteed a ride in the next year's big races. Euskaltel finished 13th and thus otbained a ticket to ride for 2011, but suddenly that counts for nothing as only the top 15 teams based on the new rules are guaranteed a place. They're now ranked 16th in the 2010 team rankings after the criteria were changed after the rankings were done, and as a consequence without a guaranteed 2011 calendar. This is nothing but illogical, and further ensures that cycling remains the laughingstock of professional sports. Quick.Step and Savio's Androni Giocattoli team also fell foul of the UCI's new rules, as the 16th and 17th ranked teams now find themselves ranked 18th and 28th. The UCI are said to be in negotiations with Euskaltel over a possible inclusion of the team into the 'big league', but even if those negotiations prove fruitful for Euskaltel, the UCI have still made themselves, and the entire sport with it, look stupid. It's high time a proper, fair, predictable and long-lasting ranking system that decides who's invited and who's not into certain races was implemented. It's time cycling grew up.

Odriozola back in the game

Former Orbea and Euskaltel directeur sportif Jon Odriozola is back behind the wheel, writes el Diario Vasco. The 39-year-old ex-pro won't be calling the shots for Euskaltel though, as he'll return with Basque amateur team Bidelan-Kirolgi. According to the newspaper the team was hoping to step up a level and thus become Continental, but it wasn't to be this year. Either way, Odriozola was enticed by the idea of a return to the sport he left so unexpectedly, to us outsiders anyway, back in 2008. He spent 2005 and 2006 in charge of Orbea, before he "graduated" to Euskaltel where he was a respected DS for another couple of years. Euskaltel wanted him to stay and offered him a new deal, but for whatever reason he turned it down. A solid domestique back in his racing days, Odriozola took his one and only win in the prestigious Subida a Urkiola in 2001, beating the late José María Jiménez and a certain Purito Rodríguez to the line.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Euskaltel ready for camp

According to Biciciclismo, Euskaltel will stage their first pre-season camp of the year later this month. As per tradition it will held in Derio over five days, starting on the 21st. They'll mainly be doing easy rides and some gym work, as well as drawing up each rider's calendar for the 2011 season.

Camaño staying at Endura

Ex-Euskaltel rider and Ibán team-mate at Saunier Duval, Iker Camaño, has decided to prolong his stay with the British Endura Racing continental-level outfit, writes BiciCiclismo. Now 31 years old, Camaño initially joined the team this summer after being left off Footon's 2010 roster as Matxin, Gianetti and co. sought to reinvent their faltering team by getting rid of all the veterans and bringing in newbies en masse. The rouleur, who spent a couple of years at Phonak prior to inking a deal with Euskaltel in 2004, has penned a two-year deal. According to BiciCiclismo, the rider is targeting the Tour de Méditerranée, the Vuelta a Murcia, the Tour du Haut Var, the Tour de Finistère, the Tro Bro Léon, Paris-Corrèze and the Tour of Great Britain.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Hernández starts 'cross campaign

Aitor Hernández has gotten off to a rather successful start to his cyclo-cross campaign. He lined up in Karrantza yesterday, and today he placed a most respectable 14th in Muzkiz. Obviously the Basque races aren't exactly of Superprestige level, there's no Nys or Stybar taking part, but the level is getting higher every year, so getting a 14th, ahead of a guy like David Seco, is not bad at all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Party time

La Fundación Euskadi's annual 'Fiesta de la Bici' was held today in Derio. The 'Fiesta' is an event that aims to promote the use of bikes as a means of transportation and as a spare-time activity among youngsters. A fun ride, in which all Euskaltel, Orbea and Naturgas riders were taking part, was organized, and an impressive number of 1700 came out to ride with their heroes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

One for the team

Euskaltel have initiated a co-operation with a local consultancy firm called Itzarri to make the team gel more as a unit. The program, denominated 'Besteam', will primarily focus on optimizing the riders' leadership qualities. Igor Antón is the first to try out this novel program, and hopefully it will pay dividens as leadership have never really been Euskaltel riders' forte.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Former DS Gorospe goes into cyclo-cross

Erstwhile Euskaltel rider and directeur sportif Rubén Gorospe, brother of the great Julián Gorospe, has been elected as the new national coach of the Spanish cyclo-cross team. Rubén, who competed for Euskaltel, or Euskadi as it was called back then, in it's inaugural season in 1994, spent a few years as a DS with the team when Julián was the main man in charge of the team, and has since gone on to direct the highly-successful Cafés Baqué under-23 outfit. Traditionally Spain has struggled to leave their mark on the international cyclo-cross scene, but the sport is on the rise in Spain and the national federation hope the appointment of a canny DS like Gorospe might propel them to future success.

Fernández recuperating

Speedster Koldo Fernández is hoping he's soon able to return to training after his horrid crash in his last race of the season, the Paris-Bourges. Speaking to DEIA, Koldo described the fall that smashed his left collarbone, right cheekbone and several teeth, as "one of my worst ever crashes", but also admitted the timing of it could hardly have been better. "The crash causes less damage when the winter's around the corner and the season's over", he stated. According to the rider, the operation went "perfectly", and he hopes to recover "completely" and to "reach top form" for the start of the 2011 season. He also went on to praise the doctors' work with fixing his collarbone, but still proclaims he has no recollection whatsoever of the crash itself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eventual Tour podium not for Samu

Samu would not celebrate if he was to be awarded third place in this year's Tour de France if the likely scenario of Contador receiving a ban matarializes. Speaking to DEIA, Samu explains why. "Alberto proved to be the strongest, and I believe in him", he diplomatically stated. "I believe in his version of what happened. If they were to remove him from the rankings I would be third, but I wouldn't consider myself as the number three in the Tour. (...) Whatever happens to Contador I will never see myself as third. I was fourth and I always will be. If I was to be third I would have had to hold off Menchov in the time trial and feature in the photo in Paris alongside Alberto and Andy." I for one would be happy if Samu was to be elevated onto the Tour podium. Sure it's nothing compared to actually finishing the race third and get to stand on the podium on the Champs-Elysées, but it would be justice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cazaux up for the challenge

New signing Pierre Cazaux spoke briefly to Bilbao daily El Correo yesterday at the unveiling of the Fundación Euskadi's co-operation with Iparralde, the French, or Northern if you'd like, part of the Basque Country. The 26-year-old described himself as an "all-rounder, a combative cyclist. I'm a rider working for my leaders. This year I've done a calendar including the Grand Tours, and in them I've been at the service of Sandy Casar and Le Mevel." The Francaise des Jeux rider proclaimed he wasn't surprised by Euskaltel's interest, saying "this year I finished my contract with FDJ and, being a French-Basque rider, I knew there was a possibility to join Euskaltel." Cazaux allegedly goes out training with Romain Sicard quite often, and the duo will look to set a precedent for more French riders to join the team in the coming years.

Samu stands by Contador

The jury is still out on Contador's positive for clenbuterol at the Tour, but one man who's unwavering in his belief that the three-time Tour victor is clean is compatriot Samu Sánchez. Speaking at a press conference in Cancún, Mexico, where he'll compete in a 110km crit on Saturday, the Olympic champ, ever the diplomat, said: "I trust Contador 100%. I hope the outcome is positive. Aside from being a friend he's also a colleague, and I hope we'll get a quick resolution to all this."

Duo ready for Cancún crit

Euskaltel duo Samu Sánchez and Beñat Intxausti will both participate in another criterium in Mexico, this time the Cancún Cycling Challenge the coming Saturday. Like in Chihuahua last weekened, a host of the present stars of the peloton will line up. The riders face 11 laps on a 10km circuit for a total of 110 clicks, and as was the case last weekend, the fans will get to ride alongside the pros for the entire event.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Txurruka helps out typhoon victims

Amets Txurruka has admirably decided to donate his bike plus the 250 euros he got for winning the Tour of Taiwan hill-climb replacement event to the victims of the Megi typhoon, writes Cyclingnews. And Euskaltel decided to chip in with another 2250 euros for good measure. The bike in question is a 2009 Tour de France Euskaltel-standard Orbea Orca, fully equipped with a top-of-the-range Dura-Ace group as well as a Dura-Ace wheel-set. Like most of Orbea's bikes it's a piece of art, and Amets is hopeful the bike can be sold for a handy sum. "I hope it'll be sold at a good price to help the people in need", he told Cyclingnews. "It's not a big action but I'm happy to do it."

Fundación reveal French partnership

Miguel Madariaga has revealed that la Fundación Euskadi have reached a partnership agreement with two cycling clubs in the French part of the Basque Country that will see successful youngsters from the regions given a chance to prosper at either Naturgas or Orbea with a view to turning pro with Euskaltel, writes Bici Ciclismo. The two clubs in question is Aviron Bayonnais, first-ever Frenchman at Euskaltel Thierry Elissalde's old club, and Maule. This co-operation has already seen Loic Chetout, Damien Garcia and Karl Baudron secure a ride with Naturgas as of next year. Naturgas Energía's full roster is due to be announced in the near future, so stay tuned.

Giro unlikely, says Galdeano

Euskaltel are not likely to take part in next year's edition of the Giro d'Italia, writes Tutto Bici web. This contradicts what has been reported in other sections of the media lately, but when their source is a certain González de Galdeano, they've probably got it right. According to the reliable cycling website, Galdeano has said that "the Giro is not about to re-enter our plans. And if they force us to do it we will have a problem. Three Grand Tours would see us reverting to our old calendar. We don't want that as the last two season have been very pleasing for us. Right now we're waiting for the governing bodies to decide our destiny".

Galdós and Hernández looking for a ride

To the amazement of some supporters, Igor González de Galdeano opted not to offer team stalwarts Aitor Galdós and Aitor Hernández new contracts for next year. Speaking to Gara, the latter wasn't overly pleased. "I'm not very happy with the way it happened", he said. "I got off to a good start this year. I was eighth overall in Haut Var, but I injured my knee when I put in a big effort. But I continued to train without curing it, so it got worse. The team doctors didn't know what to do to help me. (...) They said I haven't progressed, but I haven't been able to due to this problem." Like Galdós, he'll compete in local cyclo-cross races over the winter in the hope of attracting a team, and is also in touch with his former directors at LPR in the hope of securing a ride in the country he started out as a pro. Galdós wasn't entirely happy with not being retained either, saying the reason he was released was that himself and Galdeano "don't see cycling the same way", whatever that means. He added, quite rightfully I feel, that "he merited a new contract with the team", but was still diplomatic by saying "I hope these four years in the team have been good for all parties." Like Hernández, Aitor is exploring the possibility of going to Italy, but says he ideally wants to remain in Spain. The 30-year-old is picky though, and isn't going to ride for just any team. If he doesn't succeed in obtaining a contract with a decent outfit, he'd like to stay in the sport as a sports director.

Ilundain released by Orbea

Orbea all-rounder Mikel Ilundain has been released by the team and is on the look-out for a new one as we speak. The 24-year-old, who notably won the 'Metas Volantes'-competition at this year's Vuelta a Burgos, has spent two years at the team, and understood the decision made by the team heads not to retain him. "It's always been made clear to me that if I wanted to make the jump (going pro with Euskaltel) I would have to perform really well", he told Basque daily GARA. "They didn't want to keep me, and I understand that and I'm grateful towards them. My dream was to ride as a pro and I'm thankful for the opportunity they gave me. I'm pleased as I gave everything I had. When you do that, you have to be content." He also added that he's "knocking on every door" for a chance to further his career.

"French youngster" revealed

Okay, so not really an Euskaltel or Ibán related post, but there's been quite a few people and websites who've wondered exactly who that "French youngster", as Amets Txurruka described him, who took third in the Taiwan Cup behind Amets and Valjavec was. That youngster is George Bennett from CR4C Roanne who'll compete for famed talent-factory VC La Pomme Marseille next year. At least according to his own blog. So there you go.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Txurruka wins in Taiwan

Amets Txurruka emerged victorious from Sunday's Taiwan Cup replacement race, beating Tadej Valjavec and "a French youngster" to the top of a monster climb. The fun ride, if you can call it that, was a race to the top of the highest climb on the island. Given that the climb topped out at 3275 metres, I can't really see the fun in it. For 52 clicks it was all uphill, but as long as he won it I assume Amets was a happy bloke afterwards. Exactly who the "French youngster", as Amets called him, is, I have no clue. Tune in to the team's website to read Amets' own diary.

Samu Sánchez third in Chihuahua

Samu was active throughout yesterday's all-star crit in Chihuahua and ended up taking third. Vino showed his class by going solo and winning the event ahead of Shleck junior, while Samu grabbed a good third.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Txurruka in Taipei as Taiwan Cup called off

As feared, the International Road Race, along with the whole of the Taiwan Cup, was cancelled due to a typhoon this weekend. A sort of fun-ride in Taipei has been pencilled in instead. Instead of racing their bikes, Txurruka et al. have been doing their fair bit of sight-seeing, including a trip up the second-highest building in the world, the 101, topping out at a massive 509 metres.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why Romain Sicard is France's saviour

The title of this post suggests I'm doing exactly the same thing as I've criticized the French press for doing time and time again when a young and talented French rider raises to prominence on the youth scene and goes pro: lauding him as the next Hinault, the next Jalabert, the next winner of the Tour, France's Messiah who can finally bring glory back to a country starved on Tour success since those heady days of Messrs. Thévenet, Fignon, Hinault et al. But make no mistake, Romain Sicard is not just another Di Gregorio, another Chavanel, another Rinero. Sicard is the real deal.

Sicard's achievements on the youth circuit are well documented. They're impressive. But so too were a lot of French riders' a few years back, and for one reason or another the majority of those have gone from a spectacular career in the junior ranks on to a mediocre one among the pros. It's a sad story that of French cycling's decline in the last 15 years. You have the occasional good one-day racer who can cause an upset on the biggest stage if everything falls into place (read Brochard, Voeckler), but in general, top general classification riders have been more than hard to come by as Spaniards, Italians and the odd American have come to dominate the Grand Tours. Sicard might just change that. Along with the likes of Thibault Pinot and Alexandre Geniez, Sicard is at the forefront of an emerging generation of strong climbers coming out of the l'Hexagone. While Geniez and Pinot are indeed promising prospects, Sicard has the added advantage of being a strong time triallist. He's a former French junior champ on the track, and, among other triumphs, took out the ITT at last year's Avenir. Add in his physique and obvious prowess on the climbs, you've got the makings of a GT contender. But what makes Sicard stand out from the rest of his compatriots is his mentality, his un-French mentality if you like. Some (or is that several?) French riders have been blamed for not training well or enough, for not watching what they eat, and for generally not living like a professional ought to live. In other words lacking the desire to become the best, or getting complacent due to the extensive media coverage and hype surrounding them at a fairly young age. 'Complacent' is probably a foreign word to Sicard. The Hazparne native is everything you'd want from a talented youngster learning his trade: self-effacing, prudent, humble, polite and somewhat shy. He knows he's got the world at his feet but nonetheless acknowledges he's got a lot to learn. And he doesn't complain, he just gets on with it. Pineau, Fédrigo and co. might be on to something when going on about the cyclisme à deux vitesses, but to use this as an excuse for their failings is uninventive, tiring and bereft of any real evidence. For sure, doping has been and still is widespread in the international peloton, but who's to say the French are the only ones not doing it? It's a bad excuse for a lack of professionalism and dedication. Sicard doesn't seem to share this view. And that might be down to him riding with a non-French team. Staying with Euskaltel is Spain, away from the French media and the inevitable pressure, is the best decision he could ever make. As reported earlier here on this blog, the man every Frenchman wants Sicard to emulate, Bernard Hinault, seems to share this view. "I prefer Romain to be with Euskaltel rather than with a French team", he said back in June. "It's better for his progression." If he'd been with a French team I imagine he would already have made his Tour debut this year. I think Galdeano took the right decision in postponing it, it would have been too early for him. I suspect the French directeurs sportif don't share this view. They seem to rush it a bit in France when they've got a precocious young rider at their hands. He's better off with Galdeano who'll take a more measured approach to his development.

It's been a tough opening year among the pros for Sicard, there's no hiding from that. Some will without a doubt have expected more. I think it was perfect though. He rode a full-year calendar, including some of the top one-day and one-week stage races, and no Grand Tour. Good combo. He's gotten some experience with life at the very hardest races, like at Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné, but he hasn't overly exhausted himself with a three-week tour. This year's experince will stand him in good stead come 2011. And eventhough his results haven't raised many eyebrows, he's got that small, vital, undefinable quality that I like to call class on the bike. A classy rider with an undoubted talent and the personality to go with it; Sicard has the makings of a Tour de France winner. Just give him time.

No Nieve in Tour '11

Despite his late-season burst of form that saw him take the queen-stage of the Vuelta, finish 12th overall in the same race and finish seventh in Lombardia, hotshot Mikel Nieve is unlikely to be on the start line of the Tour de France in Vendée next year, writes the Diario de Navarra. "In principle we don't want him to do the Tour", head honcho Galdeano told the newspaper. "It makes more sense to aim for more reasonable goals. There are several races with summit finishes (on the calendar) that he can do very well in. By and large he'll do the same calendar as Igor Antón, they'll stay together". This last statement suggests that Igor is likely to once again skip the Tour in favour of the Vuelta. The Tour doesn't seem to be Igor's kind of race, what with it's strenuous and chaotic flat, early stages, so taking a pass on the race and let Samu aim for it once more makes sense to me. I just hope Euskaltel will opt for doing the Giro again after a few year's hiatus. The Giro is tailor-made for Igor with it's crazy uphill finishes and lack of time trials, so a Giro-Vuelta double would be golden I reckon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trio heading for Mexico

Euskaltel stars Samuel Sánchez, Gorka Izagirre and Beñat Intxausti are all on their way to Mexico to take part in Sunday's inaugural Criterium Chihuahua. The crit will be held in downtown Chihuahua on a 4,4km circuit. A who's who of pro Euro stars will line up, including the likes of Basso, Vino, Kolobnev, Schleckx2, Freire, Kreuziger and Sagan to name but a few.

Txurruka lands in Taiwan

Amets Txurruka touched down i Taiwan yesterday after spending in excess of 24 hours travelling. The diminutive climber was supposed to take part in a time trial yesterday, but the event has been thrown into jeopardy after some bad weather played havoc with the roads and thus the security. Sunday's big race, though, is not in danger of being cancelled according to his own "diary"-like post on the team's website.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Txurruka Taiwan-bound

Amets Txurruka will represent Euskaltel at this week's Taiwan Cycling Festival, according to the team's official website. The cycling festival, running from the 16th to the 24th of October, includes a 210km "International Road Race", a race in which Amets and several other Euro pros will take part in. I'm not quite sure whether he'll ride for an Orbea-sponsored team or in his usual orange jersey, but he'll nonetheless be the very first Euskaltel rider competing on Asian soil. Results of the race are due here on this blog on Sunday. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Impressions of TDF 2011

Samu and Igor Galdeano both seemed happy and content with the parcours for the Tour 2011 unveiled yesterday in Paris. Speaking afterwards, Galdeano told the team's website that "it's very mountainous. In addition, most of the hard stages come in the last week. I think the Alps in 2011 will be more decisive for the GC than the Pyrenees was this year. The new features are the absence of a prologue and the inclusion of a team time trial, although counting just 23km it'll hardly create big gaps. On paper it looks like a good route for Contador." Samu echoed Igor's sentiments, saying: "It's hard and complicated. It's a very demanding route. There's no prologue, some short stages, the climbs are packed together, a good number of summit finishes and just the one individual time trial. You can say it's a Tour for climbers. It will be a very exciting race. The short stages tend to be very nervous... I won't emphasize any single day. If you're feeling good any stage can be decisive. The Tour always requires you to be very consistent."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rankings round-up

As expected, Euskaltel placed inside the all-important top 17 in the UCI's World Rankings. The team grabbed a fine 13th, a placing which should ensure the outfit a place in next year's Tour. But then again this is cycling, so who knows what might happen and if the rankings will eventually result in an invitation. But they're supposed to anyway. As for the individual rankings, Samu capped of another consistent year by taking sixth at Lombardia and thus 10th in the World Rankings. Igor Antón ended up 36th after his season was cruelly cut short. Intxausti was 63rd, Nieve finished up 70th after a late-season flourish, Koldo 179th, Aitor Galdós 185th, Sicard 209th, Rubén Pérez 219th, Urtasun 221st and Egoi Martínez 258th.

Star duo in Paris for TDF presentation

Euskaltel duo Samu Sánchez and Igor Antón will attend tomorrow's Tour de France presentation in Paris alongside team heads Madariaga and Galdeano. Whether this is an indication the Olympic champ and the crocked Antón will line up in the Vendée region for next year's grand départ I don't know, I actually doubt it very much, but they'll nonetheless be present at the Palais Congrès for the annual unveiling.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Samu and Nieve top 10 in Lombardia

Euskaltel put a great finishing touch to an epic 2010 season by placing both Samu and Mikel Nieve inside the top 10 at the Giro di Lombardia. Samu, three times a podium placer at the event, was once again in the thick of the action and grabbed sixth, after his select chase group of Nibali, Fuglsang and Lastras fought in vain to catch an unstoppable Gilbert. Gilbert won solo ahead of Scarponi, while the aforementioned quartet grabbed the following four places. Nieve wasn't far back in 7th. A stunning ride to cap off what's been a breakout year for him. The rest of the guys, along with all but 34 riders, abandoned underway in the terrible conditions that marred the final classic of the year. It was the perfect way to close out a record-breaking year, something DS at the event, Alvaro González de Galdeano, was keen to empasize post-race. "It's a good way to end a historic season. It's the last race of the year, it's more than 260km, it was raining, and we placed two of our riders in the top 10. I think we should value this performance."

Naturgas celebrate end of season

La Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 team earlier today celebrated the close of their season by lining up in the Criterium de Exhibición in Artziniega. All the riders, all 17 of them, took to the start for the end of season festivities.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Koldo's collarbone OK

Koldo yesterday had his multi-fractured left collarbone operated on, and successfully so. The doctors estimate that if everything goes to plan he'll be discharged tomorrow.

Lombardia roster

Samu will as expected head the team's charge at Sunday's curtain-closer Giro di Lombardia. Having placed second twice and third once, he's naturally one of the favourites come the 'Race of the Falling Leaves'. He'll be accompanied by a strong set of riders, namely Juanjo Oroz, Txurruka, Castroviejo, Izagirre, Nieve, Urtasun and Aramendía. Samu's shape is sort of an unknown after the Worlds, but he did ride strongly in Canada, so I'm quietly optimistic he might finally pull of a much-deserved win.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Euskaltel duo line up for crit

Euskaltel stars Gorka Izagirre and Beñat Intxausti will both line up on Sunday for the off-season Criterium de Alcobendas. The "race" consists of a team time trial, an elimination race and a road race. Future Euskaltel rider and Gorka's brother, Jon Izagirre, will also take the start.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Koldo out of hospital

Koldo was today dismissed from hospital in Bilbao, and is now on his way home. On Wednesday the doctors will make a decision on whether or not to do surgery on his broken clavicule and cheekbone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yet another Frenchman at Naturgas

According to Bici Ciclismo, a third Frenchman will ride in the colours of Naturgas Energía next year: Damien Garcia. The 18-year joins from VC Nayais where he's enjoyed a productive couple of years, this season alone taking out four victories. Along with Chetout and Baudron, Garcia will form the French axis of the team in 2011.

Koldo under observation

Koldo is finally back in the Basque Country, but he's not 'home' just yet. Right now he's at a hospital in Bilbao where he'll be kept for observation 'til Monday. By then the doctors will also have decided if they're to operate on his broken left collarbone or not. Speaking after being taken from Bourges to Bilbao in an ambulance, that's close to 1000km folks, Koldo was clearly disillusioned with the state he's in. "I'm tired after such a long trip", he said to the team's website. "It's a trip of more than nine hours, so naturally you'll get tired. But they took care of me very well. The truth is that I have no recollection at all of the accident. It enrages me to finish the season like this. The second part of this season was going very well; I was consistent, I'd taken a couple of wins, and so I'm devestated to close the year like in this state. Now all I can do is to recover and prepare for next year".

Friday, October 08, 2010

Naturgas sign new Frenchman

After the announcement of the signing of 18-year-old French prodigy Loic Chetout, Naturgas have moved to secure the services of another young French promise; young climber Karl Baudron has penned a deal with the red squad. The 17-year-old Pau native has topped the podium an impressive six times this season, with a trio of those coming in Spain. Baudron was riding for French junior outfit Lescar Vélo Sprint this year.

Koldo injured in Bourges crash

It was not a happy first participation in the French semi-classic Paris-Bourges for the team yesterday. It started out well enough though, with Euskaltel showing strength and determination at the front of the peloton to set it up for the Alavan speedster. It wasn't to be though, as Koldo hit the ground hard inside the last 200 metres. I've been watching the crash over and over again, but I just can't seem to find the cause of the pile-up. Anyway, Koldo got off pretty bad, breaking a cheek-bone, a collarbone and three teeth. That's not good, and ads to the woes of an injury-hit season for him. Luckily it's the end of the season, so he won't miss out on much racing. But it was actually so bad that the hospital had to keep him overnight for observation, and they actually transported Koldo back home in an ambulance, never mind the 1000km in distance between the hospital and his home address. Reportedly he's back home now safe and sound, and I dont' assume it'll hamper his pre-season in any way. Don't get me wrong, he's been down on luck for a while now and is banged up and feeling terrible, but he's lucky in the sense that when a grave accident like this happened the timing couldn't have been better. As for the race itself, everything naturally went out the window when Koldo, the man for Euskaltel yesterday, hit the tarmac. Oroz grabbed a fine 20th, while Aramendía was 87th, Nieve 89th, Urtasun 90th and Izagirre 92nd. Txurruka and Castroviejo both clipped out of the pedals and abandoned.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Koldo heads Paris-Bourges charge

Koldo will look for his third win of the year on Thursday in the one-day Paris-Bourges 1.1 cat. race. He'll receive able assistance from Pablo Urtasun, Javier Aramendía, Gorka Izagirre, Jonathan Castroviejo, Amets Txurruka, Mikel Nieve and Juan José Oroz. Álvaro González de Galdeano will call the shots from the team car.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Zabalo 5th on last Empordá stage

Orbea's Xabier Zabalo took his best result of the year in the season's very last race. The former Naturgas rider grabbed an impressive fifth on the third and last stage, winning a sprint of 14 to finish 1:13 down lone winner Israel Perez of the Spiuk outfit. The other guys suffered more, with Blázquez finishing up in 34th at 6:43, Ocampos, Aberasturi, García and Larralde came in with a large group at 10:59. Aritz Etxebarria, who's really struggled in this hilly race, once again had to settle for the gruppetto, coming in next to last at 18:19. Overall, Larralde was 34th, Zabalo 44th, Aberasturi 51st, Garcia 52nd, Blazquez 57th, Ocampos 67th and Etxebarria 75th. A tough introduction to a step up for Naturgas man Aitor Ocampos, but the experience will stand him in good stead for the future.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Samu DNF as Spain crumble

Samu and Spain did not enjoy the best of Worlds in Geelong today. Well, quite frankly, they were poor. Very poor. How all three of Spain's designated captains, i. e. Freire, Samu and LL Sánchez, managed to miss out on the dangerous-looking break that went clear and distanced the pack with a minute and twenty seconds at one point, is beyond me. That was a shocker. De Santos' men didn't look focused the entire day. Samu for one couldn't be seen on the front of the pack one single time. To me, that's a mystery. He was hanging out at the back all day, except for when he had to assist Ventoso, Erbiti and LL Sánchez in reeling in the front group to make sure Freire had a chance in the sprint. In the process of getting Freire back up they lost their Sánchez wildcards. Samu retired from the race somewhere on the next to last lap I reckon. Only Freire and the ever-impressive Haimar Zubeldia managed to complete the race. Judging by the strength in depth at the Spanish selección, that's just not good enough.

Empordá stage 2

Euskaltel had a good day out on yesterday's second stage of the Cinturó d'Empordá. Blázquez got himself into the break of the day, thumbs up for him, while Jon Aberasturi used his fast-twitch muscle fibres to sprint to 13th on the stage, placing eighth in the bunch kick after José Herrada, new Movistar rider Jesús' older brother, had lead five riders across the line 29 seconds ahead of the peloton. García and Larralde also formed part of that first big group, while Ocampos, Zabalo, Etxebarria came in with a big group 9:56 down. Blázquez, smarting from his day-long effort in the break, ended up 15:22 adrift. Going into the last stage, Larralde is well placed in 20th overall.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Decent performance in Empordá opener

Orbea did not set the opening stage of the Cinturó d'Empordá alight today, but they weren't that far off either. Moises Dueñas took yet another win this year by going solo on the hilly 160km ride to Roses, while Joseba Larralde, 16th, and Andoni Blázquez, 22nd, came in with the first big group at 4:17. Zabalo was 65th at 7:39, while the rest of the team found really found the going too tough. Loanee Ocampos, Aberasturi, Etxebarria and García, pictured above, rolled in a full 14:12 in arrears.

Landa strong in Sub23 Worlds

Mikel Landa showed his worth with an inspired performance in the Under-23 road race in Melbourne in the way-too-early morning hours today. The 20-year-old attacked on the steep gradients on the second to last lap, but couldn't really open up a big gap due to the combined efforts of Australia and the USA, both of whom looking for a sprint finish. Though he went all in with his burst of speed there, the lanky climber still had enough forces left to help set up team-mate Lobato for the sprint and grab an impressive 18th himself. Lobato looked a decent bet for a medal with 200 metres to go, but faded slightly to finish 18th. Speaking post-race, the future Euskaltel rider said: "I think we did a good Worlds. It was quite a calm race since the Americans and Australians didn't want anyone to get away. The sent a rider each up the road to force the other countries to work, hence coming into the sprint just as they wanted. I tried to get clear at the climb with just over one loop to go, but they reeled me in. It was impossible to break clear".

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Orbea team for ultimate race

Orbea will tomorrow start their last race of 2010: the demanding three-day Tour d'Empordá in and around the cycling haven that is Girona. The team will send seven riders including Aitor Ocampos of Naturgas, who earned his chance at this level by finishing as best Basque in the Tres Días de Alava back in April. The other six lining up will be Noel Martín, Jon Aberasturi, Ricardo García, Joseba Larralde, Xabier Zabalo and Andoni Blázquez.

Landa ready for Worlds

Future Euskaltel rider Mikel Landa is enjoying his time Down Under, and told DEIA about his expectations for Saturday's race. "Taylor Phinney is the main favourite", he said, echoing most experts' sentiments. "There are two hard climbs on the route, but also sufficient time to recuperate in between them. We will do several loops on the circuit, so the accumulated fatigue and the natural selection will eliminate the ones not at the front on the climbs. I'd like to go top 10, but it's not an objective for me. We have Juan José Lobato on the team; he's a fast rider and will try to be there at the end. But if I end up among the front-runners, I'll give it a go." I reckon the route is a tad too flat to suit Landa's capabilities, but then again he's on great form, so I'll keep an eye on him for sure.

Naturgas secure Chetout

DEIA have revealed Naturgas Energía are very close to securing the services of "fenómenon" Loic Chetout. The second-year French junior has been recommended by Euskaltel's very first Frenchman on the team, Thierry Elissalde, who's kept a close eye on the youngster. Chetout has a number of wins to his name this year, among others the opening race on the French calendar, the junior version of the Vuelta a Gipuzkoa and last weekend's Criterium de Otoño. Chetout has been riding in the colours of Blagnac de Toulouse, the very same outfit Sicard grew up in.

Lombardia likely for Samu

Perennial Giro de Lombardia contender Samuel Sánchez is likely to line up for another go at the Italian fall classic in October. Speaking to el Diario Vasco, Samu, who's currently Down Under and getting ready for Sunday's big day, had this to say: "For Euskaltel, first and foremost, and for me, the Giro de Lombardia is important. Unless I finish the road race on Sunday feeling very bad, I'll do the race. I've twice been second and once third in that race. If I do the race it'll be to win it. If I can't see myself fighting for the win, I won't line up." Samu, who might now be promoted onto the podium in the Tour after Contador was finally caugth, revealed he'd spent 11 days training alone in the Sierra Nevada mountain range as preparation for the Worlds. He also added he's confident in his captain and three-time victor Oscar Freire.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Euskaltel anno 2011

According to reports on Bici Ciclismo, and on this very blog some time ago, the signing of Pierre Cazaux was Euskaltel's last ahead of the 2011 campaign. In addition to Cazaux, Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre will make the jump from Orbea, meaning Euskaltel will welcome three new riders to the team in January 2011. Beñat Intxausti's departure has been well documented, as has the ones of Sergio De Lis and Aitor Hernández, and it now transpires Aitor Galdós will, like Bici Ciclismo hinted a few weeks back, not receive a new deal. He's now a free agent, but he probably won't have difficulties finding a new team due to his qualities and palmarès. All the other riders on this year's team will stay on for at least another year, meaning Euskaltel's plantilla will consist of 23 riders in 2011. Full list:

  • Igor Antón
  • Javier Aramendía
  • Jorge Azanza
  • Jonathan Castroviejo
  • Pierre Cazaux
  • Koldo Fernández
  • Iñaki Isasi
  • Gorka Izagirre
  • Jon Izagirre
  • Mikel Landa
  • Egoi Martínez
  • Miguel Mínguez
  • Mikel Nieve
  • Juan José Oroz
  • Alán Pérez
  • Rubén Pérez
  • Samuel Sánchez
  • Daniel Sesma
  • Romain Sicard
  • Amets Txurruka
  • Pablo Urtasun
  • Iván Velasco
  • Gorka Verdugo

It's a deal!

Pierre Cazaux has finally and officially signed a contract with Euskaltel-Euskadi. So says the team's website, thus bringing to an end a couple of weeks' speculation. As anticipated the 26-year-old penned a two-year deal, and, if his progression to date is anything to go by, he'll be a valuable asset in the mountains as well as on the flats for the coming two years. The capture of Cazaux is likely to be the team's last this year, reliable sources say.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cazaux decision in the offing

Despite me publishing a post last week titled "Euskaltel sign Frenchman", the Frenchman in question, Pierre Cazaux, hasn't actually penned the deal. But he's likely to though. The team have offered the FDJ rider a two-year deal, and the 26-year-old is expected to make a decision on whether to accept or rebuff the offer later this very Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Sicard to pen historic four-year deal

Romain Sicard will today put pen to paper on a four-year deal with the team, believe it or not. By signing this extensive contract, the young Frenchman will make history at Euskaltel: never has a rider signed a contract this long. Not even Ibán Mayo, who, after his sensational 2003 season, signed a contract for three years. To tie down Sicard on such a deal is a coup for Euskaltel and the rider alike I reckon. Sicard is virtually a guarantee for success in the years to come. It's not for nothing he's being billed as France's next Tour de France winner. And the fact that he's France's best bet for glory in the Grand Boucle is likely to secure Euskaltel a place in the race for the foreseeable future. A canny move by Galdeano and Madariaga no doubt. Staying with a Spanish squad is also likely to benefit the slightly shy and self-effacing Sicard, as he will to some extent escape the pressure and the massive expectations laid upon him by his countrymen. To be somewhat 'protected' from all the hype will do him the world of good. Too many precocious French riders have suffered and subsequently disappointed after being labelled 'the next Hinault' or 'the new Jalabert'. By staying away from it all, Sicard might just develop into the rider France have longed for for so many painful years.

Pello Bilbao signs for Orbea

As I predicted he would quite a few months back, Pello Bilbao has made the move from Sub-23 outfit Naturgas to Euskaltel's feeder-team Orbea. The 19-year-old climber, who grabbed four wins to go with the overall Torneo Sub-23 classification in a highly successful campaign, has been touted by experts as a future climbing great in the professional peloton. Pello will now get to cut his teeth among the pros as of next season. Watch out for him to make quite an impression. Mikel Bizkarra, who's also enjoyed a break-out year, is likely to join him at Orbea. More on Bizkarra's potential move later on.

Naturgas end season in Cantabria

Naturgas Energía are officially done for the season. The Vuelta a Cantabria, which ended on Sunday, was the last race on their calendar, and the youngsters will now get to take a well-earned rest during the winter. Cantabria was hard for the team. Bad weather marred the event, but the guys in red still didn't hide in the pack and were in the main break every single day. Grijalba, who enjoyed a great start to the year and who's looked strong throughout the campaign, got into the moves on day one and three, while Aitor Ocampos, who's also stood out from the rest, got in on the action on the second day. Top results were hard to come by, though, with Carlos Barbero's seventh on stage three the best result. On GC, Ocampos was best of the bunch in 21st, while Grijalba was 48th, Barbero 55th, Legarra 69th and Carazo 80th. Aritz Bagües, who's penned a deal with Orbea for next season, placed a strong sixth just behind a certain Moises Dueñas (You still remember that guy, right?), so he looks to be the real deal. DS at Naturgas, Iñigo Urretxua, was pleased eventhough the team left the race without any results to show for their efforts. "We've been aggressive and protagonists every day", he told la Fundación Euskadi's website. "We conclude our season on a high."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Languedoc-Roussillon wrap

The three-day Tour de Gévaudan Languedoc-Roussillon stage-race in France came to a close today. Orbea sent a potent six-man squad to the event and came within wiskers of taking out the opening-day team time trial. Over a ridiculously short 1,3km course, the team lost out by a few hundreths of a second to Team Vulco to finish an agonizing second. But no matter how bitter, it was still an excellent ride. But that was as good as it got for the guys in blue really, as they struggled to impose themselves on the following two stages. Joseba Larralde finished highest in 22nd place on the hilly second stage, 5:08 down. Xabier Zabalo ad Jon Izagirre were 33rd and 34th respectively at 12:43, Andoni Blázquez and Noel Martín ended up 55th and 56th at 20:15, while Aritz Etxebarria found the going way too tough, crossing the line in 88th place, a full 45:34 in arrears. Day three was equally tough on the riders with the stage going to the top of the Montée Laurent Jalabert in Mende. The guys fared better though, Zabalo grabbing a fine 16th at 1:12. Martín was 25th at 13 seconds further back, while Blázquez was another seven seconds adrift. Larralde was 37th at 2:05, Etxebarria 40th at 2:21, while Izagirre junior came in with the last group at 7:25. Naturally these results didn't make for high overall placings, with Larralde 22nd, Zabal 29th, Izagirre 37th, Martín 42nd, Blázquez 43rd and Etxebarria 69th. In the team rankings, Orbea grabbed eighth out of the 13 participating teams. While the riders struggled on the hilly stages, the team chiefs, led by the excellent Álex Díaz, will no doubt be encouraged by the team's super ride in the TTT.

Koldo eyeing Paris-Bourges

Tour de Vendée conqueror Koldo Fernández was content when speaking to the press after his impressive win today, saying: "I'm very pleased; it's hard to win bike races. It's difficult to win, so when you do it's important you enjoy it. Doing the Vuelta a España gives you great form. I've been able to rest this week, so I knew I came here with good form". Speaking on the remainder of the season, the modest speedster said: "The next objective in Paris-Bourges, we'll see how that goes, but first I'll savour this triumph. Being in the shape I'm in right now, it's a pain that I wasn't selected for the Worlds. But thinking about it is not worth the trouble. I lacked consistency in the first part of the season. I didn't have luck on my side after the ear infection and before the falls, but I've been more consistent in the second part and the results have come. Besides the two victories, I've been second six times, one of them in the Vuelta a España. If I'd beaten Farrar that day, it would have been an even more spectacular Vuelta. But to finish the season like this gives me strength to prepare for 2011. The worked flawlessly. We've had a great year."


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