Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Results stage 4; Antón reaction

Igor Antón was grateful to his team-mate Mikel Nieve after winning the stage today and rightly so. Speaking of Nieve's performance, Igor said: "My team-mate Mikel Nieve did a fantastic job. He helped me to stay in the best position going into the final climb." He was also grateful he previewed the course six weeks back, saying his recce was "the right thing to do". Obviously. Though Igor put in a perfectly-timed effort to win the stage, he faded slightly inside the last 100 to leave me, and some of you readers I assume, worried that Nibali might come around him right on the line. Seems we weren't the only ones who worried. "I calculated my effort pretty well, but I was afraid Nibali might pass me right at the end", he admitted. As for his goals for the remainder of the race, the diminutive 27-year-old refused to be drawn on his chances for overall glory. "My goal in the Vuelta was to win a stage. Rodríguez is very strong and I think he's the favourite for the overall win. I have the form to do well, but I haven't even won a small stage-race yet. I have to improve gradually". The guy's modest, which is a good thing I reckon, but I assure you he's got his eyes on the big prize. He'll go for it, make no mistake about it. One guy who's not going for it, though, is Beñat Intxausti. Another dismal showing from him, finishing a whopping 14:36 adrift. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Despite him talking of the opposite, his form has been all but stellar in the weeks leading up to the race. He's been off the pace in most races for quite a while now. He's still going on about "the form is good" and "I'm where I should be", but it sure doesn't look like it. Some may say he's just taking it easy so that he's fresh and at his best when the going get's real tough later on, when Igor needs him the most, but Igor no doubt needed him today, just like yesterday, and he was nowhere to be seen. Believe me, he's not just hanging out at the back, shootin' the breeze. He's struggling, but I think his form will come around eventually. As for the other guys, Gorka Verdugo had a fairly good ride today, coming in with the second big group at 1:52 in 36th place. Amets, still looking for that good feeling, came in 3:12 down just behind José Ángel Gómez Marchante, who's career has been blighted by injury and illness since that commanding overall win in País Vasco a few years back. Marchante is a natural, so it's a shame to see his career never really took off like it ought to. Anyway, Egoi Martínez and JJ Oroz came in with a small group containing compatriot Gárate at 8:26, Pablo Urtasun came in 18 seconds further back, Beñat another six minutes down, and finally Koldo Fernández in the autobus 19:46 in arrears. Due to his win today and third yesterday, Igor leads the points classification and will get to wear the green jersey of that particular competition in tomorrow's stage to Lorca. On GC he's just 10 seconds down on the impressive Gilbert, while Mikel is gradually grinding his way up the GC ladder and is now 21st, just ahead of a certain King Carlos.

Antón flies to Vuelta stage-win

Igor Antón annihilated the opposition with an amazing surge inside the final 500 metres on today's fourth stage of the Vuelta a España to take the win and move into second overall. The stage ended with a gruelling climb up to Veldepeñas de Jaén; a short but unrelenting steep climb featuring pitches of up to 27%. This ascent proved to be the perfect stomping ground for Igor to make his mark and in the process take a popular win for the team. In the end he didn't distance second-placed and GC rival Nibali by more than a second, but other heavy-hitters were solidly left trailing in his wake. Menchov and F Schleck both finished at 19 seconds, while Sastre, not surprisingly I have to admit, ruled himself out of the running by losing a big 1:33 after losing touch with the 20-rider strong front-group on the penultimate climb. Igor punched the air in delight when crossing the line, while the magnificent Mikel Nieve, who brilliantly escorted his leader all day and set a furious tempo at the bottom of the ascent, crossed the line 18th at only 36 seconds. Superb riding from the young grimpeur. Full results and post-race reactions later.

Tenerife team

Naturgas will for the first time take part in the six-day Vuelta a Tenerife, starting today. The Canary Island race will take in an individual time trial, a team time trial, a circuit race and some high-mountain stages, so it'll be a completely new experience for the red squad. Representing the team will be Igor Merino, Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez, Alfonso Saiz, Aitor Ocampos, Jon Larrinaga and Mikel Bizkarra.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Antón happy; Beñat blames 'bad day'

Igor Antón was quietly pleased with his ride to third on today's medium mountain stage to Málaga, saying post-race that "I felt good, but the differences were minimal. But it's always good to get a psychological edge over the others". He also pointed to the excessive heat, but rightly said "it's the same for everyone". Beñat Intxausti was at a loss to explain his bad, or is that horrific, day in the saddle. "It's not been a good stage, but it's no use thinking about it anymore. Perhaps the heat affected my performance, because I didn't feel good. But I know I'm in good shape, so I'll stay calm. My goals for the race don't change though: to support Igor Antón and to do what's best for Euskaltel Euskadi." Speaking of his deal with Movistar, revealed earlier today, the man himself didn't hide his excitement, saying "I can't hide the fact that I'm very pleased. It's a team with a lot of history in which I hope to continue to improve and progress."

Antón 3rd in first test

Igor Antón got off to a very good start in the Vuelta GC battle in today's first real head-to-head test between the overall favourites. Stage three from Marbella to Málaga ended atop a small ascent, with Gilbert thoroughly outclassing the rest with a solo win. Purito Rodríguez wasn't far behind in second at three seconds, while Igor Antón showed his form is right where it has to be by taking third a further ten seconds back. In the process he distanced Nibali by two seconds, Menchov by five, Arroyo, Mosquera and Fränk Schleck by six, and Danielson, Kreuziger, Sastre, Karpets and Lövkvist by 17, while Andy finished in excess of 14 minutes down, obviously ruling himself out of contention. It's still early doors, I know, but I get the feeling that every second will count in this year's edition, so lying 7th overall, just 21 seconds down on the best of the GC riders so far, Purito, is a very good start indeed. Excellent. What was not so excellent was Beñat Intxausti's ride. He finished an unfathomable 19:05 down along with a host of sprinters. What's up with that? I have no idea, but for all I know he could have crashed underway or is suffering from a virus or something. More on Beñat's mystery ride later when I find out. As for the others, Mikel Nieve was an excellent 17th at just 23 seconds. That's a stellar ride, maybe he'll take Beñat's place as Igor's right-hand man as we go along. JJ Oroz ended up at 1:37, Egoi, tired from putting in a superb shift in the break of the day, finished at 2:58, Amets Txurruka, Pablo Urtasun and Gorka Verdugo all finished up at 11 sharp, while Koldo Fernández took it easy and came in towards the very back end of the peloton 25:16 down.

Two more years for Orbea

Euskaltel's feeder-team Orbea will stay in the peloton for at least another couple of years. The bike manufacturer has informed Madariaga and co. that they'll be around for a little while longer, which obviously is great news given that year after year a couple of talented riders make the jump to Euskaltel. Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre will make that jump at the end of the current season, following in the footsteps of Nieve, Velasco, Rubén and Alan Pérez, Aramendía, Oroz, Castroviejo and Sicard to name but a few.

Intxausti signs for Movistar

Beñat Intxausti has officially signed for Team Movistar. The 24-year-old has put pen to paper on a deal that will keep him with Unzué's outfit for the next three years. Purportedly, Sky, Garmin, Geox, the Schleck's team and Astana were also interested in securing his services, but he opted for Movistar due to the team's 'ability to protect and work for its leaders', whatever that means. Not the worst move he could have done, but not really the best one either I reckon. He might end up riding shot-gun for the team's numerous leaders, something he probably would not end up doing at Euskaltel.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Classic de l'Indre let-down

Euskaltel did not get the reward they deserved in today's French one-day Classic de l'Indre - GP Châteauroux. The team assigned responsibility of the peloton when the break went clear, intent on setting it up for a sprint finish for either Rubén Pérez or Aitor Galdós. Or both. With the help of the soon-to-disband Cervelo team they succeeded, but by then they were all so worn-out that only Rubén was able to stay with the pack. He looked a decent bet for the win, or a top placing at least, but he got lost in the chaotic run-in and didn't sprint, rolling in for a 47th place. Not quite what he had expected I'm sure. All the other guys finished way back after a hard days work. They had deserved better, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Koldo 6th in Marbella

Koldo Fernández sprinted to a good sixth place on today's first road stage in the Vuelta. The 173km stage from Alcale de Guadaira to Marbello saw the usual break go clear and then getting reeled back in, setting it up for a granstand finish between a plethora of top sprinters. Belarus champ Hutarovich ended up taking top spoils ahead of such illustrious names as Cav, Farrar and Petacchi. Koldo was right behind those guys in sixth, beating household names Bennati, Förster, Weylandt, Haedo and Hushovd, to name but a few. That no doubt bodes well for the remainder of the race, as he seems to be close to top form. Pablo Urtasun did a good lead-out and was 17th himself, while the rest of the guys, except for Amets Txurruka and Mikel Nieve, came in with the peloton. The sylf-like climber duo came in at 26 seconds along with some other strong escaladores like Tschopp and Pujol. Speaking after the stage, Koldo said: "The truth is that the line-up of sprinters in this Vuelta is exceptional. Cavendish, Farrar, Petacchi, Bennati... They are great sprinters, and Hutarovich deserves a lot of credit for managing to surprise them. I went in to this race with a good state of form, and I managed to be in the fight for the win. I got a little closed in towards the fences, and I didn't want to risk anything. I launched my sprint, but my position wasn't good enough... "

Bizkarra 5th in Larrabetzu

Mikel Bizkarra took a good 5th for Naturgas at yesterday's Memorial Jesús Loroño in Larrabetzu. Disappointingly, though, was the fact that overall Torneo Sub23 leader Pello Bilbao failed to finish the race. At the time of writing I don't know why, but probably he suffered a crash or something. Jesús Herrada of the mighty Caja Rural team took yet another win; boding well for his participation in the upcoming Tour l'Avenir alongside Orbea riders Landa and Izagirre. As mentioned, Bizkarra finished up fifth at eight seconds, while Igor Merino was 12th, Aitor Ocampos 15th, Jon Larrinaga 22nd and Urzti Legarra 25th.

"He's incredible"

Beñat Intxausti will be Igor Antón's right-hand man in the Vuelta this year. And the young protégé is not mincing his words when speaking of his captain. "I believe Igor can stay with the very best", he told DEIA. "I've known him for a long time, but I'm honest when I say that I've never seen him like this before. He's incredible. He can finish on the podium. And I'll help him to get there. I'll mainly be there for him in the mountains, that's my territory, but I'll give it my all for him." Speaking of his own chances, Beñat was unsure of what to expect. "I don't know how I'll hold up after three weeks", he said. "I want to do well, I'm motivated and I don't discard anything." Beñat has only ever done one GT, last year's Vuelta, but Igor is sure he'll put in a strong performance, saying: "Beñat can be the big surprise of the race, just like I was in 2006. Of course, you never really know how good you'll be, but this year the two of us together can give the Basques a good Vuelta".

OK TTT opener

Euskaltel put in a slightly disappointing ride to finish 13th in yesterday night's team time trial opener in the Vuelta a España. The team finished 27 seconds down on the untouchable HCT Columbia machine, but more importantly 17 down on Nibali's Liquigas outfit, 15 down on the Schlecks, 14 back on Sastre, 7 down on Purito, two down on Arroyo and LL Sánchez, and six seconds ahead of Menchov and his Rabobank team. The differences are minimal, obviously, so it's not that big a deal, but I am not completely satisfied by the ride, especially not considering the strength of the team. DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia seemed to be of the same opinion. "The place we got is good, and we didn't lose an excessive amount of time", he stated, before admitting "but it is true that we've lost more time than we thought we would. We were a little below where I expected us to be, but it's not very relevant. There were some mishaps that we resolved underway thanks to out excellent attitude, and we gave it our maximum. They gave it their all. The experience (a night-time TTT) was spectacular. I remember a night-time 1km ITT in the Giro d'Italia, but this was different, bigger, for the teams... The ciruit was well lit up and they crowds turned out in huge numbers. It's been a fantastic experience that I will remember for many years to come". Euskaltel finished with the minimum requirement of five riders, with captain Antón leading the way over the line. With him was, not surprisingly, Beñat Intxausti, Pablo Urtasun, Koldo Fernández and Gorka Verdugo. Egoi was the last one to go out the back and conceded only 9 seconds, while Juanjo Oroz and Nieve ended up 24 seconds adrift and Amets 37.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

TTT start time

Euskaltel will depart the start ramp in Sevilla today at 22:40 PM, sandwiched by FDJ and Lampre. And, by the way, here are the riders' backnumbers:

  • 71 Igor Antón
  • 72 Koldo Fernández
  • 73 Beñat Intxausti
  • 74 Egoi Martínez
  • 75 Mikel Nieve
  • 76 Juan José Oroz
  • 77 Amets Txurruka
  • 78 Pablo Urtasun
  • 79 Gorka Verdugo

Sánchez takes out Almelo crit

A few weeks after winning the prestigious Gouden Pijl post-Tour criterium in Emmen, Samu Sánchez has taken out another crit win, this time the Profronde in Almelo. Samu was the star attraction in the race, and proved he's still strong by out-sprinting Tom Stamsnijder and Albert Timmer in the 85km test.

Classic de l'Indre team

Euskaltel will compete on two fronts tomorrow; the Vuelta, obviously, but also at the one-day French Cup race Châteauroux Classic de l'Indre Trophée Fenioux. Euskaltel will send a competitive eight-man team to the race: Gorka Izagirre, Alan Pérez, Aitor Galdós, Javier Aramendía, Romain Sicard, Míguel Minguez, Rubén Pérez and Jorge Azanza. It's a rather flat race that more often than not sees a sprinter prevailing, so Euskaltel are likely to put their support behind Aitor Galdós, Rubén Pérez and Gorka Izagirre, who's likely to thrive on this kind of terrain.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Koldo looking for stages in Spain

Euskaltel's in-form fast-man Koldo Fernández has outlined his objective in the Vuelta a España, commencing tomorrow: winning a stage. The Álava native has enjoyed a rather barren season to date, with only one win to his name; a stage in the recently-concluded Vuelta a Burgos. A lot of his lack of wins is down to positioning he admits. "I'm bad at positioning myself in the peloton", he said, revealing one of the more worst-kept secrets in the peloton. "This makes me spend a lot of energy just to get into the right position, and when it's time to sprint I miss that extra kick". He also went on to admit that his lack of results thus far in 2010 is making it harder. "I'm not tranquilo when I'm riding, and that makes it more difficult", he told his own website. He still maintains that a stage-win is his goal though, and it's hoped the inclusion of Pablo Urtasun in the squad can help bring him where he needs to be inside the final few clicks. Obiously the mass-sprints is where he'll hope to break his GT duck, but he's not discarding the opportunity of getting into breaks either.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Irizar takes first ever win!

So what's happening to this duo?! First Haimar romps to his first, and then second, win in 10 years in RadioShack colours. Amazing. Then Markel Irizar, another erstwhile Euskaltel rider with RadioShack, takes his first ever win as a pro just weeks later. Incredible, and just as was the case with Haimar, Markel's win is thoroughly deserved after years of near misses and strong team-riding. And, again just like Haimar, Markel took his win in a time trial in a small French stage-race, this time the Tour de Poitou Charentes. And, by the way, Haimar came in third just one second adrift. Speaking after his win, an emotional Markel said: "I still can't believe I won. My emotions on the podium were so strong. First I was thinking of my trainer, then my family, my friends, my former and current team-mates, Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, who gave me a spot on this team (given that, like Lance, Markel is himself a cancer survivor). This is the reward for all my hard work." I'm delighted to see him finall grab a win. Let's hope he can hang on to his overall lead in tomorrow's last, flat stage!

Naturgas ready for Larrabetzu

Naturgas Energía will take on a hilly, 110km race in Larrabetzu on Saturday with the stated goal of defending young star Pello Bilbao's Torneo Euskaldun lead. The young climber has lead the sub23 rankings for quite a while now, and, approaching the end of the season, the team will do it's utmost to help Bilbao take out the win. Bilbao's support crew for Saturday will consist of Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez, Igor Merino, Mikel Bizkarra, Aitor Ocampos, Alfonso Saiz, David Hidalgo, Jon Larrinaga, Unai Martínez and Andoni Sánchez. Iñigo Urretxua will call the shots from the car.

Orbea DS happy with season

Approaching the end of the season, Orbea DS Álex Díaz is very happy with his young team's showing this year. Speaking of the class of '10, Díaz said: "We were faced with a great challenge in the shape of rebuilding the team", he told Euskaltel's homepage. "Five new, young, inexperienced riders were incorporated into the team, while seven stayed on for another year. After a lot of work, we reached our goal: the riders adapted to the level and gained experience. Results of late have been very good. In the Vuelta a Burgos, the last race we participated in, we were protagonists every day. All our work has paid off, as Ion Izagirre and Mikel Landa will both get to ride the Tour de l'Avenir, one of the most important under-23 races on the calendar. Honestly, I'm very pleased with the obtained results and the work the lads have put in".

Euskaltel touch down in Sevilla

After their plane to Sevilla got delayed Wednesday morning, all Euskaltel riders and staff finally got to the Andalucian capital yesterday evening. Due to the late arrival, all they got to do was to grab a bite and go to bed. Today was better though, as the group went out for an easy two-hour spin just to keep the legs moving. Tomorrow will likely be similar for the riders, as they aim to get off the start ramp in Sevilla rested and in optimal shape on Saturday evening.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bilbao 6th in Gernika; still leads rankings

Stand-out Naturgas youngster Pello Bilbao grabbed yet another top 10 placing yesterday to hold on to his overall Torneo Euskaldun lead. Yesterday's LX GP San Bartolomé, in and around the historical city of Gernika, saw the ever-impressive Yelco Gomez of the powerful under-23 Caja Rural team take a solo win, coming in eight seconds ahead of the main group of favourites. In this group was Pello Bilbao who took sixth, Igor Merino who grabbed seventh, and Mikel Bizkarra who grabbed 13th. Aitor Ocampos came in at 1:23 in 22nd place. Due to another strong showing, Bilbao is still leading the prestigious Torneo Euskaldun, the Basque Federation's sub-23 rankings, overall. The climber, who's expected to join Orbea next year, is looking a very good bet for that overall win.

Izagirre and Landa in Avenir team

Orbea duo Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre will both get the honour of representing Spain at the season's most important under-23 race; the Tour de l'Avenir. Won last year by a certain Romain Sicard, the stage-race is known as the Tour de France for the youngsters and has been the breeding ground for many of cyclings biggest riders. Izagirre and Landa, who will both join Euskaltel at the turn of the year, have through consistently good results secured their places in the line up, and will be accompanied by the strong Higinio Fernández, Caja Rural duo Jesús Herrada and David de la Cruz, and Super Froiz's Vicente García de Mateos.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Euskaltel strong in ENECO TT

The Euskaltel youngsters once again showed their prowess against the clock in today's final stage of the ENECO Tour, a flat 17km out-and-back course starting and ending in Genk. Jonathan Castroviejo beat time trial illuminaries like Klöden, prologue winner Tuft, World Champ Grabsch , young powerhouse Boom and Italian wonderkid Malori, among others, to take an excellent eighth on the stage, just 27 seconds down on the untouchable Tony Martin. Romain Sicard also put in a strong ride by grabbing 18th ahead of specialists like Aussie TT champ Meyer, former under-23 World Champ Cornu and perennial contender Lang, just 50 down. Gorka Izagirre rode to a nice 43rd place, 1:21 adrift, while Rubén Pérez and Iñaki Isasi both ended up at 1:56, and Jorge Azanza at 2:28. These strong showings meant Euskaltel took a highly creditable 7th as a team on the day, and finished up fifth overall. Nice! Final GC looks like this:

  • 23rd, Jonathan Castroviejo
  • 25th, Romain Sicard
  • 30th, Iñaki Isasi
  • 58th, Rubén Pérez
  • 64rd, Gorka Izagirre
  • 98th, Jorge Azanza

Igor Merino 3rd in Elgoibar

Naturgas rouleur Igor Merino, current Basque sub-23 time trial champ, took an excellent third in Sunday's Memorial Etxaniz in Elgoibar. The hilly one-day race saw Jesús Herrada add another win to his rapidly-expanding palmares, the Caja Rural climber breaking away from Adrián López of Seguros Bilbao and Merino on the ascent to Azkarate. López edged out Merino for second, both coming in at 39 seconds, while Pello Bilbao claimed ninth and Jon Larrinaga 10th. These results mean Merino is still placed third overall in the Torneo Lehendakari rankings. After the race, DS Arberas was quick to praise Carlos Barbero, who spent the day in the main break but later suffered a crash. "I want to emphasize the work done by Carlos Barbero, who initiated a day-long breakaway", he said post-race. "He crashed towards the end, but his work was impeccable. Bad luck".

Antón playing down GC assault

Like his team boss Galdeano, Igor Antón was himself keen to downplay expectations ahead of the Vuelta. The race commences on Saturday, and Antón said he's looking more for stages than the overall. "I'm thinking more of a stage-win than the overall", he told the Diario Vasco. "But one thing can lead to another. The most important thing will be to stay with the best ones, then we'll see what happens. But yes, I'm feeling better than in previous years coming into this race. I'm feeling fresh as I didn't do the Tour. What happens on the road is another thing, but I'm feeling good and highly motivated." Antón has done some recconaissance work with his team-mates lately, and rates the stage to Cotobello as the hardest one: "I think the most difficult stage will be the one to Cotobello. By then we will have completed 15 stages, so it'll be very hard. The Bola del Mundo stage will be hard, but not as hard as the Cotobello. The GC should be pretty settled by the time we get to the Bola del Mundo, so I expect riders to protect their respective placings on GC rather than attack. I think it'll be similar to what we saw on the Tourmalet in the Tour this year. The only stage that I haven't checked out, is the one to Andorra." Antón seems to be aware of the fact he's a pre-race favourite, but rates Italian Vincenzo Nibali as the rider to beat. "He improved a lot between the Clásica Sán Sebastián and the Vuelta a Burgos. He finished third in the Giro, but to me it's as if he finished second. Menchov's assault depends on his preparation. If he's there or thereabouts, he'll fight for the win. But to me, the big favourite is Nibali".

Isasi 10th in penultimate ENECO stage

Iñaki Isasi sprinted to a fine 10th place in today's sixth and penultimate stage of the ENECO Tour. The veteran didn't quite get going, but still managed to beat sprint stalwarts like Henderson, Wrolich and Gasparotto. Rubén Pérez followed close behind in 13th place. Romain Sicard showed his form is still good by joining strong-men Machado and Devolder in pursuit of lone surviver Aerts of the original break. The trio jumped clear of the pack with some 20 clicks to go, but didn't really open up a sizeable gap and got reeled in with 15 left to ride. Still worth a try, though. Romain and Jonathan Castroviejo both finished inside the main pack, while Jorge Azanza and Gorka Izagirre finished with the second big group some nine minutes adrift. Unknown for what reason, young climber Miguel Minguez did not finish the race. I've learned there was a big crash quite early on that wiped out quite a few guys and forced some abandonments, but I'm not sure he was in that pile-up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trusting Antón

Can Igor Antón podium at the Vuelta? Can he even win the whole thing? Igor González de Galdeano certainly thinks so, but was keen to play down expectations in an interview with DEIA yesterday. "Igor has got the talent to win the Vuelta", the former rider said. "But we won't make that an objective for him." Antón has been tipped for great things for years now, and, though he's taken some big wins and showed flashes of his undoubted potential, he's yet to make a real impact as a general classification rider in a Grand Tour. According to Galdeano, the time is now. "His goal is to fight for mountain-stage wins and also for a place on the podium, like he did two years ago (when he crashed out of the race descending the Cordal). Igor is special to me. He's the present of t Basque cycling, the rider with the biggest talent. I don't think the pressure will get to him. He puts pressure on himself; to stay with the best ones. In that aspect he's matured a lot lately." Galdeano also went on to say that Beñat Intxausti will fully be at Antón's disposal throughout the race. Personally, I think Igor might just win the whole race outright. His biggest adversaries are likely to be Menchov, Mosquera, the Schleck brothers and Nibali as far as I can see. I don't think Menchov will pose a threat. That might sound ridiculous, I get that. After all he's won the race twice and the Giro once, not to mention he's taken two thirds at the Tour. But I think he's a spent force as far as this season goes. I think his Tour-form will have disappeared when the race kicks off in Sevilla. But I might be wrong. I often am. Anyway, he won't win it I think. Neither will Mosquera. He might finally grab that much-longed for and richly deserved podium place this year, but he hasn't got the talent nor the class to win a GT. No way. Nibali is a dark-horse. I don't think anyone really knows where his form is at these days. He recently took a mightily impressive win in Italy, but I'm not sure he's got the form to fight for yet another GT podium this year. He'll finish fifth I reckon. I don't think Andy Schleck will be top motivated after his Tour ride. He might take a stage-win or two, and maybe drop out underway, so he won't win the thing. Fränk will be motivated, but if Antón is in top shape Fränk won't be able to follow him. Trust me; this is a race for Antón to lose. So much for playing down expectations.

Naturgas off the pace in Llodio

Naturgas uncharacteristically failed to put their mark on the Llodio Saria yesterday. The Torneo Euskaldun race saw Yelco of Caja Rural escape to take an impressive solo win, with the red team's best man being Aitor Ocampos in 12th, followed by Mikel Bizkarra in 13th. Jon Larrinaga finished up 20th, Efrén Carazo 22nd and Urtzi Legarra 25th.

The team was equally anonymous in Saturday's race in Mañaria, with Mikel Bizkarra being the only one to finish the race in a distant 12th place.

Rubén Pérez 2nd in ENECO

Rubén Pérez came oh so close to taking his second win of the year. The speedster finished an impressive second in today's fifth stage of the ENECO Tour, winning the sprint for the second step on the podium some four seconds adrift of late-race attacker Jack Bobridge. The precocious Bobridge attacked his day-long breakaway companions with just two clicks to go, and, despite the efforts of Milram's Nerz, quickly got a gap which he maintained to the line. As anticipated, Rubén out-kicked the other remnants of the break for second, but it was mere consolation for the man from Zaldibar. "I'm pleased as I was finally feeling good again", he said post-race. "But I'm left with the feeling of what might have been. It could all have been different". The main peloton, of which Romain Sicard and the in-form Iñaki Isasi were a part of, rolled in 15 seconds back, while Jonathan Castroviejo was 37 seconds down, and Jorge Azanza, Gorka Izagirre and Miguel Minguez all more than 10 minutes adrift.

No joy in Plouay

Despite fielding a strong team on paper, Euskaltel failed to be in contention in today's GP Ouest France-Plouay. Well, Pablo Urtasun did manage to infiltrate the break of the day, so thumbs up to him, but besides that it was a bleak afternoon. Koldo, designated leader today, failed to stay with the pack and crossed the line 57 seconds back. So too did Beñat Intxausti. Juanjo Oroz was the only orange-clad rider in the main pack, coming in 35th. Javier Aramendía ended up way back in 30th place at 4:19, while Daniel Sesma and the aforementioned Urtasun ended up 6:24 in arrears. Amets Txurruka, making his return to competitive action following his Tour abandonment, and Alán Pérez, in as a late replacement for Aitor Galdós, both failed to finish the race.

Velasco signs on

Climber Iván Velasco has inked a new one-year deal with the team. The 30-year-old Arrasate native's current deal expires at the end of the year, but his impressive riding this year meant it was a no-brainer for Galdeano to offer him a new deal. The former Orbea rider, who made his Tour debut this year in fine style, has steadily progressed while with the team, and has now become a rider frequently picked for the team's biggest races. If he avoids injury and sickness for the rest of the year, look for him to take yet another step in the right direction in 2011. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Euskaltel quiet in ENECO stage 4

Euskaltel did not light up today's fourth stage of the ENECO Tour. No rider in the break, no rider in contention for the win, no nothing. But that's not to say it was a particularly bad day, they just didn't stand out. Everyone but Jorge Azanza, who finished 6:03 down, came in with the peloton. I don't really know what more to say about the stage as nothing really happened. But look out for Gorka Izagirre tomorrow; he's looking strong these days.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No Erviti for Euskaltel

Sought-after Caisse d'Epargne all-rounder Imanol Erviti will NOT join Euskaltel this year. It was reported a few weeks back that Galdeano was sounding out the availability of the young Navarran, but, after Movistar stepped in and made sure the team will stay afloat, he's penned a new deal with Unzue's outift. Erstwhile Euskaltel rider David López Garcia, still a very popular rider among Euskaltel aficionados, is also in negotiations over a new deal, while Xabier Zandio has yet to make up his mind on what to do in 2011. If Zandio was to decide against staying with Unzue, Galdeano is likely to jump at the chance of singing the versatile and strong 33-year-old.

Izagirre strong in ENECO

Several Euskaltel riders showed their worth in today's third stage of the ENECO Tour. Iñaki Isasi looked alert and strong when trying to get clear of the bunch along with Willems with some 20 clicks still to go. Eventually the duo didn't succeed, but still a sign of good form from the veteran. The peloton was shredded to pieces on the hilly closing kilometres, but both Gorka Izagirre and Romain Sicard managed to stay with the 20-something strong main peloton. Sicard suffered the misfortune of a puncture with just 5 to go and had to drop back, but Gorka stayed with the group all the way in and nabbed a fine seventh place. That's not shabby from such a young rider. Romain eventually ended up 2:01 back in 39th place, in a group also containing Jonathan Castroviejo, while Iñaki was made to pay for his earlier effort and finished 3:08 back in 44th place. Miguel Mínguez, Jorge Azanza and Rubén Pérez all rolled in with the gruppetto some 20 minutes adrift, while Aitor Hernández dropped out underway, though I don't know why.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Euskaltel name Vuelta team

Euskaltel today revealed the nine-man roster for the Vuelta a España, commencing next week-end: Igor Antón, Beñat Intxausti, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Nieve, Gorka Verdugo, Amets Txurruka, Koldo Fernández, Pablo Urtasun and Juan José Oroz. I like it, it's a solid, well-rounded team. Igor and Beñat for GC and the mountains, Koldo and Pablo for the sprints, while the others will take turns in protecting the two GC candidates and getting in to breaks. Easy! Great to see Amets and JJ being selected after their enforced DNFs in the Tour. Not surprisingly, Gorka Gerrikagoitia will direct the team from the car.

Txurruka and Verdugo extend

Two of the most reliable members of the team, Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo, have both decided to prolong their stays with Euskaltel. Stalwart Gorka has put pen to paper on a one-year deal, while Amets will stay at least 'til the end of 2012. The pair have now extended their contracts just like Egoi Martínez, Igor Antón, Samuel Sánchez, Rubén Pérez and Romain Sicard. Expect more riders to follow suit in the near future.

Minguez brave in ENECO stage 2

Miguel Minguez added colour to yesterday's rather boring stage two of the ENECO Tour by getting into the break of the day. The 22-year-old jumped away with Vitaliy Buts and Johan Coenen very early on to open up quite a substantial lead. Of course the trio never stood a chance due to the strength of the sprinter teams driving the pack, but still it was good exposure and a good ride by Miguel. None of the Euskaltel riders managed to mix it up in the dash to the line, but gladly they all came in with the peloton. Miguel did not though. Smarting from his day-long effort, the Bilbao native ended up 8:25 in arrears.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Plouay line-up

Euskaltel will field a quality eight-man team for Sunday's big one-day Pro Tour race, the Grand Prix Ouest France-Plouay. Fast-men Koldo, Pablo Urtasun and Aitor Galdós will spear-head the team. Further bolstering the team will be the presence of perennial attacker Amets Txurruka, who's making his return to racing following his collarbone break in the Tour, and Vuelta-bound Beñat Intxausti. JJ Oroz, Javier Aramendia and Daniel Sesma will add steel to a team capable of fighting for victory on all fronts.

Euskaltel toothless in ENECO

Euskaltel performed surprisingly bad in today's first stage proper of the ENECO Tour. Only Iñaki Isasi managed to stay with the main pack on the rather flat trek from Steenwijk to Rhenen. Jorge Azanza, Romain Sicard, Jonathan Castroviejo, Gorka Izagirre and Rubén Pérez all finished 1:12 down, while Aitor H was 2:27 back and Miguel Mínguez a massive 7:04. Some may not think that these bad results really matter; after all it's just the ENECO Tour, not exactly the main goal of the team's season. But it does matter, as the team's ranking is vital to stay within the top 17 teams in the UCI rankings which guarantees entry into the big races next season. Currently the team is ranked 20th in ENECO. That needs to change.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Castroviejo 10th in ENECO prologue

Jonathan Castroviejo got off to a brilliant start in the ENECO Tour today. The young powerhouse notched a strong tenth place in the prologue only 10 seconds down on victor Tuft. He also beat specialists in the discipline like Rosseler, JI Gutierrez and Flens, so he'll no doubt be pleased with his ride. The other Euskaltel riders didn't quite have it today; Romain next best in 51st, 22 back. Gorka Izagirre was 64th at 24, Jorge Azanza 107th at 35, Rubén Pérez 113th at 37, Aitor Hernández 148th at 47, Iñaki Isasi 153rd at 49 and Miguel Mínguez 155th at 52.

Ocampos and Bilbao top-10 in Aretxabaleta

Aitor Ocampos and Pello Bilbao grabbed yet another top-10 placing each in Sunday's Torneo Euskaldun race in Aretxabaleta. The 113,5km race was a little too flat for the duos liking, but they still managed to grab sixth and ninth respectively in the kick for the line.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Koldo out of luck in Hamburg

Euskaltel's main hope for glory in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg today, Koldo Fernández, did not enjoy the best of luck and ended up outside the fight for the win. Koldo got tangled up with compatriot JJ Rojas with 15 kilometres to go, meaning all hope was lost. Eventually he rolled over the line more than 5 minutes down. The only Euskaltel rider to come in with the main group was Iñaki Isasi, who ended up 41st. Igor was 12 seconds back in 75th place, while Mikel Nieve was 15 seconds further adrift. Samu was a disappointing 2:25 back, while Rubén came in alongside Koldo and Alán was another minute adrift. Not a good day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Provisional ENECO line-up

The annual eight-day ENECO Tour kicks off this coming Tuesday. Last-minute changes cannot be ruled out, but here's the provisional line up: Jorge Azanza, Miguel Mínguez, Aitor Hernández, Jonathan Castroviejo, Aitor Galdós, Romain Sicard, Rubén Pérez and Iñaki Isasi. The latter is rumoured to be close to inking a new one-year deal with the team, but more on that later when there's an official word from the team.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Izagirre and Landa in Spain selection

Soon-to-become Euskaltel riders Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre have both been selected into Spain's preliminary sub-23 16-man squad for the Tour de l'Avenir and the World Championships. The duo will meet up with their countrymen for a five-day training camp in Segovia on Thursday and will look to impress to assure a starting berth in the two most prestigious under-23 races on the calendar.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rubén Pérez prolongs contract

Speedy hard-man Rubén Pérez today extended his stay with Euskaltel for another two years. The Zaldibar native will thus stay with his home team through 2010 at least. Rubén was naturally delighted after putting pen to paper on the new deal, and said: "I'm very pleased to to able to stay on with my home team. I grew up in Orbea and turned pro with Euskaltel Euskadi. This (La Fundación Euskadi) is a project that I like, that I identify myself with and it's where I've found the place to progress. To sign a new two-year deal gives me added motivation to keep improving. Now I have to keep on working to pay back Igor (González de Galdeano) for the trust he's put in me for the two upcoming years."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stars turn up for Cyclassics

Euskaltel fill field a surprisingly strong eight-man team for Sunday's one-day Vattenfall Cylassics Pro Tour event in Germany. The rather flat race more often than not sees a sprinter prevailing from quite a big group, so no points for guessing Koldo's on the start-sheet. Whats more surprising though, and a lot more interesting, is the inclusion of Samu, Igor and Mikel Nieve, all ace climbers. The latter two are gearing up for the Vuelta later this month, so they probably want to get some racing in. Samu is probably looking at squeezing out the last bit of post-Tour fitness he's used to such devastating effect of late and possibly grab some more Pro Tour points. Filling out the roster will be the strong quartet of Aitor Hernández, Iñaki Isasi, Alán and Rubén Pérez.

Intxausti leaves Euskaltel

Beñat Intxausti has sadly decided to quit the team at the end of this season. The youngster has enjoyed a breakthrough first season at Euskaltel but has decided to pursue his goals elsewhere for the coming years. Beñat's agent, mister Antonio Vaquerizas, has a strained relationship with Miguel Madariaga and today he made that relationship even worse by informing the team that his protégé will indeed leave. The cause of Beñat's leaving is at the time being unknown, but it's been heavily rumoured in reliable Basque newspapers that it's down to money, so no surprises there. Upon joining in January, the excellent climber spoke of his dream at joining his home-team. Well, that dream is now over, but interestingly Benat didn't leave out the option of one day maybe coming back home. "I do not rule out the possibility of someday returning to Euskaltel Euskadi, the team of my country, which has totally defined me", he said after announcing the news. "But we've not reached an agreement, though, so I think it's better for me to continue my career with another team where I hope to keep improving. I want to thank the team Euskaltel Euskadi, Igor González de Galdeano and Miguel Madariaga for the confidence they have placed in me throughout the season. That allowed me to have a very good year and continue my progression." Beñat refused to be drawn on where his future lies, instead turning his attention to the Vuelta. "Right now I'm only thinking about the Vuelta a España. I hope to keep both mine and the team's momentum going there. I will decide later on where I'm headed." It seems to me a strange decision on Benat's half to leave the team if I'm being honest. He totally stagnated at Fuji, like a lot of other young, talented riders tend to do if I'm being critical, and he's really prospered this year. He's finally come in to his own. In his home team. In a team that will put their faith in him and give him freedom in the big races. In a team that are beginning to foster some big, big talents. In a team that are virtually guaranteed entry into the biggest races in the world for the next two years at least. Offers received from other team must have been huge ones. Like really huge. I bet he's going to a big-money team like Astana, Saxo or Sky. But there he'd most likely be forced to ride in the service of some big-name leader. No, this doesn't make sense. And it's hugely disappointing.

Euskaltel avoid bugdet cut

Contrary to what has been rumoured and anticipated, telephone company Euskaltel will NOT cut the economic support of the team and will continue to sponsor the outfit with 3,2 million euros a year up until at least 2012. It was widely thought the company would reduce it's sponsorship, but apparently they've had a change of heart. Euskaltel Euskadi's other major sponsors, the regional delegations and the Basque Government, will not cut back on the support either, meaning the team will have the same budget at their disposal as they've had in the last few years. Great news, couldn't have hoped for better. This will allow the team to keep it's current infrastructure and keep being part of the UCI Pro Tour. Hopefully it'll also convince Beñat Intxausti to stay. Igor González de Galdeano will from next season on be the sole responsible of the team from a sporting persepective, while Miguel Madariaga will now channel his energy towards the Fundación Euskadi, the development of young riders and the capture of sponsors. The team will now apply for a ProTour status for another few years.

Samu takes Emmen crit

Samu today took out the prestigious Criterium Emmen in the Netherlands ahead of Cadel Evans and Lars Boom. Samu proved the fastest of the trio in the pouring rain to once again show his form is at it's peak. Not really a win of great importance, but it's nonetheless good to keep the momentum going ahead of this weekend's HEW Cyclassics.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Zubeldia romps to win

Even though he's not an Euskaltel rider anymore, I was thrilled to see good old Haimar take his first win in 10 years, if I'm not mistaken, in today's Tour de l'Ain prologue. Probably the most well-deserved win in the peloton this year. Always cutting an affable figure, Haimar was immeasurably popular when with the team and remains a legend to this day. Haimar, you should come back home!

Key trio recon Vuelta climbs

Igor Antón, Beñat Intxausti and Mikel Nieve will tomorrow travel to the Asturias region in northern Spain to do some reconnaisance of the Vuelta route. The trio, ably supported by DS Gerrikagoitia, will take on stage 15's climb to the top of the Lagos de Covadonga and the Cotobello climb that marks the end of the following stage. The two stages will no doubt go a long way in establishing the final GC, so I reckon it's a good and necessary move to get familiar with them.

Martínez signs on

Following in the footsteps of Igor Antón, Romain Sicard and Samuel Sánchez, Egoi Martínez today opted to prolong his stay with the team. Egoi, Mr. Dependable if there ever was one, has, like the trio mentioned above, extended his stay with another two years, meaning he'll be around 'til at least the end of the 2012 season. Obviously great news for all parties involved, us fans as well, as he is equally good at getting great results for himself as well as working tirelessly for a captain. Speaking on the matter, Galdeano has this to say: "It's very important for the team that Egoi has decided to stay with us. He's a very experienced rider with a lot of quality. He always performs well in all the races he takes part in, and he's a dead-cert for the team's most important races; the Tour de France, the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Vuelta a España. I have a lot of confidence in him, and it's great to know we can count on his services through 2012." On his behalf, Egoi said: "The truth is I'm very content with the renewal. I feel valued and appreciated in the team and that's very important. This is the team that gave me the chance to go pro and understood and respected my decision to go to Discovery Channel when the chance arose. It was a completely new personal and professional experience for me. I don't forget things like that and I'll always be grateful. I have only good words for Euskaltel Euskadi. I feel very tied to this team, something which makes the renewal a great joy."

Bilbao 2nd; increases Torneo Sub-23 lead

Excellent young prospect Pello Bilbao further strengthened his lead in the Torneo Sub-23 rankings yesterday. The sylf-like climber took second to a completely dominant Alexander Ryabkin of Caja Rural in yesterday's San Román Saria de Muxika. Ryabkind made it into the decisive six-man move early on along with Naturgas pair Aitor Ocampos and Igor Merino and soloed home for the win while the rest of the group was usurped by a hard-chasing pack. Best of that pack was Pello Bilbao who outsprinted Marcos Miguel of Soplao and Ryabkin's team-mate Francisco Javier Moreno to take second. Completing a good day for the team, Igor Merino hung on to take an impressive sixth place.

Monday, August 09, 2010

De Lis retires from cycling

Sergio De Lis has surprisingly decided to quit Euskaltel and the sport altogether at the tender age of 24. The San Sebastián native joined Euskaltel ahead of last season at just 22 years of age after having spent a successful season at feeder-team Orbea. Sergio apparently made his mind up on the matter just before the Tour de France got underway. Igor González de Galdeano did his best to change his young charge's mind but there was nothing he could do or say to convince Sergio to keep riding. His contract was up at the end of the year but, according to El Diario Vasco, he would have gotten another one-year contract. It's said Sergio decided to hang up the wheels due to family commitments, something Galdeano neither confirmed nor denied. Remaining coy on the matter, all Galdeano would say was that "Sergio's behaviour and relationship with the team and his team-mates have always been good. He's been a disciplined and serious rider who did what he was told to do. I tried to convince him to keep on riding but there was no way." The under-23 Basque road race champ and junior national champion in the Madison no faces a life off the bike to everyone's amazement.


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