Thursday, March 31, 2011

Line-ups galore

  • Euskaltel's line-up for Saturday's GP Miguel Indurain was confirmed by the team today. Antón, Azanza, Martínez, Nieve, R Pérez, Sánchez, Txurruka, Urtasun, Velasco and Verdugo will compete just two days before País Vasco commences. As usual the finish line is at the top of the steep climb up to the Basílica de Puy. Watch out for Sánchez and Antón to maybe give the team it's first win of the year.

  • Euskaltel's team for the mid-week GP Pino Cerami will be identical to the team that will take on Vlaanderen and Roubaix, i.e.: Javier Aramendía, Jorge Azanza, Jonathan Castroviejo, Pierre Cazaux, Gorka Izagirre, Miguel Minguez, Alan Pérez and Daniel Sesma.

  • Naturgas for Saturday's Clásica San Ronkillo Balmaseda: Karl Baudron, Álex Bilbao, Damíen García, Alain González, Jon Larrinaga, Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez and Igor Merino.

  • Naturgas for Sunday's prestigious Memorial Valenciaga in Eibar, part of the Copa España: Álex Bilbao, Damíen García, Fernando Grijalba, Jon Larrinaga, Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez and Igor Merino. The race was won last year by Orbea rider Víctor Cabedo, then of Seguros Bilbao.

  • The Klasika Primavera Amorebieta, part of the Torneo Apertura, will be held the same day, and Naturgas will field the following seven riders: Eduardo Ardaiz, Carlos Barbero, Karl Baudron, Efrén Carazo, Loic Chetôut, Alain González and Alberto Guinea.

  • Orbea will send pretty much their whole arsenal to Saturday's eagerly-awaited GP Indurain, hoping to create an upset. At Díaz's disposal will be: Jon Aberasturi, Aritz Bagüez, Mikel Bizkarra, Víctor Cabedo, Aritz Etxebarria, Ricardo Garcia, Noel Martín and Beñat Urain.

Samu eyeing Arrate and Zalla

One of the charms of the Vuelta al País Vasco is that the race can be won or lost anywhere. With it's constant up and downs, nervous racing and often foul weather, País Vasco is unlike any other race in that matter. Samu Sánchez is all too aware of it. Having finished on the podium three times but never on the top step, Samu has unfinished business with his home race. The win has eluded him time and time again, but I, for one, am quietly optimistic that this might just be his year. Talking about the race, there's no doubting Samu holds the Vuelta al País Vasco dear. "It's a high-priority objective for me and my team", he told newspaper el Diario Vasco. "I will do everything in my power to win this race. This race means a lot to us, it always has done. In my case, I've three podiums and four stage wins. I've finished six times among the top 10. It's a race I know inside-out." While reticent about who his main challengers might be, Samu was not so reserved about where the race will be won or lost. "The crono in Zalla and the stage to Arrate are key", he said. "On paper at least that's where the gaps will be made. The overall winner will have to be at the front both days. Arriving in Zalla for the TT on the last day with all your options open will be important. It's a race against the clock that will create gaps. The distance of 24 kilometres is long enough to take, or lose, quite a few seconds." With noted time trialists like Klöden, Martin and, to a certain degree, Horner present, distancing those riders prior to the last day will be pivotal if Samu is to stand a chance of winning I reckon. While superb against the clock on his day, there's no hiding Samu is weaker overall in the time trials compared to the powerful trio I just mentioned. Riding aggressively throughout to get rid of them is the best, and only, option.

"Samu is the ideal rider"

Igor González is unequivocal in his assesment of País Vasco favourite Samuel Sánchez four days before the big rendez-vous kicks off: he's better than ever. "The Vuelta al País Vasco has always been a good race for Samu", the team manager told el Diario Vasco about the three-time podium finisher. "He's always feeling good in April. The only problem is that he sometimes catches a cold, but he's fine, he's in very good shape. He's the perfect rider in fact. He's quick, climbs well, time trials well, he's explosive, descends very well and has experience. For races like País Vasco and the Classics he's the ideal rider. He's better than ever".

Cobbled classics team revealed

Euskaltel's two favourite races are coming up in the space of just one week: the Ronde van Vlaanderen this coming Sunday, and Paris-Roubaix the Sunday after that. Euskaltel will actually send eight riders, the full allotment, to both races, instead of fielding just six like they did in Wevelgem almost a week ago. Two of the stand-out performers from that race, Gorka Izagirre and Javier Aramendía, are back, and will line up alongside Jonathan Castroviejo, who's back to full health after falling ill in the Critérium last weekend, Gorka's younger brother Jon, the ever-aggressive Daniel Sesma, sylf-like climber Miguel Mínguez, French all-rounder Pierre Cazaux and experienced stalwart Alan Pérez. Actually I quite fancy these riders to have a decent performance on Sunday. G Izagirre and Aramendía look adept at the cobbles, and I reckon they can stay with the main pack for quite a while alongside Castroviejo and Pérez if everything goes their way. Send Sesma or Cazaux up the road to give us a presence in the break, and this might just not turn out to badly.

Orbea Odin

As most of you probably will have noticed by now, Euskaltel are no longer sporting the unique Catlike Whisper helmets this year. Ahead of the new season the team announced that bike-supplier Orbea also would provide helmets for the team, after the Basque bike brand starting producing helmets ahead of the 2010 season. The Odin-model, which is the top-end helmet of choice, is said to be among the best out there, and it certainly looks the part as well. Take an in-depth look at Euskaltel's new helmet, the Orbea Odin, by clicking this link:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


  • Orbea DS Álex Díaz was very happy with his charges in Portugal this weekend. Jon Aberasturi sprinted to the team's first win of the year on the first stage, and eventually finished third overall to cap off a good team performance. Here's his low-down on the three days of racing: "On the first day everything went so smoothly: we were in most of the breaks and won the stage with Jon Aberasturi", he told the team's website. "On the second stage we had to take control of the peloton to keep the yellow jersey. It was an unusual experience for us but we succeeded. On the third stage it was obvious that the overall win would be decided in the intermediate sprints. Unfortunately Xabier Zabalo took a tumble with 400 metres to go, so we couldn't really set up the sprint too well. Jon Aberasturi eventually finished third overall, so we're more than satisfied. We've taken a big leap forward, both mentally and physically".

  • Third overall in País Vasco last year whilst riding for Euskaltel, prodigious Beñat Intxausti is again aiming for the podium. The Movistar rider has severely been set back by illness so far this year, though, and sees former team-mate Samuel Sánchez as a hurdle he needs to pass if he's to reach his goal. "I see four big favourites: Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner, Fränk Schleck and Samuel Sánchez", he told El Diario Vasco, sponsor of the event.

  • Speaking after his win in Portugal, Jon Aberasturi has admitted his win came as a big surprise. "It was totally unexpected", he told the team's website. "One thing is believing you can win because you're a fast sprinter. It's a whole different story to actually pull it off. So many factors have to be on your side, like luck, but without a doubt it's been a pleasant surprise. My team-mates did fantastically well and it was a joy for all of us." Click to see the win.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Samu and Antón a go for Amstel

Team leaders Samuel Sánchez and Igor Antón are both slated to take part in the first of the Ardennes classics, namely Amstel Gold, writes Together they'll form a lethal duo, and being backed by Martínez, Verdugo, Urtasun, Velasco, Cazaux and A Pérez, the team will no doubt be a force to be reckoned with.

Vuelta al País Vasco-team revealed

If Biciciclismo are to be believed, which they normally are, Euskaltel will field the following eight riders in Zumarraga in seven days: Samuel Sánchez, Iñaki Isasi, Egoi Martínez, Juan José Oroz, Pablo Urtasun, Iván Velasco, Gorka Verdugo and Amets Txurruka. Jonathan Castroviejo and Gorka Izagirre are down as reserves. Apparently Galdeano will only decide 100% on it later this week, but seem pretty convinced this is the team. Castroviejo fell ill during the opening stage of the Crit. International two days ago, something which explains his DNF, but he's still an option if someone else gets injured or anything. Sicard loses out, the website claims, as his crash in Catalunya left him with several stitches, a swollen eye and a blow to his coccyx. Add in tendinitis at Paris-Nice and a general lack of form and it's a no-brainer really. The team will have Sicard undergo some x-rays to make sure his coccyx is fine, and he'll likely be toeing the line in Estella on Saturday at the GP Indurain.

Talking País Vasco, Samu spoke to Alain Laiseka of DEIA after returning home from Corsica yesterday. Talking about his failure to stay with the best up L'Ospedale on Saturday, the man himself was adamant nothing was wrong. "There's no alarm", he stressed. "I ended up paying for my efforts on a very hard stage. I was disappointed, but it was only a blip, a moment of weakness. I would worry if it had happended at the foot of the climb. Then something would be wrong, I wouldn't have been okay. That wasn't the case. I was fine and suddenly I was not. It happens. I'm feeling good. I've done the work I had to do. I've trained well. I don't care about the results right now. We have to stay calm. Being nervous is no use in a race like País Vasco".

WorldTour rankings

After the conclusion of Catalunya and Wevelgem, the UCI updated the WorldTour rankings. Individually, Samu still has 59 points and is now placed 23rd. Rubén Pérez took his first points of the year after placing third on a stage in Catalunya and is 66th with two points. As Samu and Pérez are the only Euskaltel riders with points so far, it goes without saying the team is lagging behind in the team rankings. Of the 18 teams, Euskaltel are 15th, only ahead of Katusha, Vacansoleil and Astana. If everything goes to plan, the team, and Samu in particular, will accumulate quite a few points in País Vasco, so hopefully the rankings will make for better reading next time around.

Naturgas weekend results

Naturgas didn't get the win they perhaps were looking for this weekend in either Laukiz nor Bergara. In Laukiz on Saturday, a 100km Torneo Lehendakari race, no one had an answer to the all-conquering Caja Rural outfit. Not only did Domagalski win the race for the team, they even went on to occupy second, third and fourth through Garcia, Moyano and Van Geffen respectively. Guinea and Barbero both showed a quick turn of speed to finish 6th and 7th, while Larrinaga was 21st, González 67th, Grijalba 73rd, Á Bilbao 85th and Legarra 94th.

In Bergara the next day, Igor Merino showed his climbing prowess by taking 6th atop the Gorla. Highly-fancied Grijalba, at least by me, decided he didn't want to wait around 'till the end before making his move and joined the break of the day early on. Whilst not the badest of ideas, his day-long exploits took its toll towards the end as he went on to claim 12th. The youngster held a slender 20-second lead right at the foot of the climb, but eventually went on to finish 1:16 back on impressive all-rounder Omar Fraile. Results:

  • 6, Igor Merino, 0:22
  • 12, Fernando Grijalba, 1:16
  • 17, Jon Larrinaga, 1:40
  • 23, Alberto Guinea, s.t.
  • 33, Eduardo Ardaiz, 6:11
  • 35, Damíen García, 7:39
  • 60, Loic Chetôut, 11:07
  • 70, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 87, Urtzi Legarra, 14:22

The team claimed third in the team rankings.

Aberasturi 3rd overall in Portugal

Orbea sprinter Jon Aberasturi didn't succeed in holding on to his overall lead on the third and final stage of the GP Crédito Agricola in Portugal yesterday, and instead had to settle for third. Eventual overall winner Filipe Cardoso took out the win and some bonus points underway, meaning Aberasturi's otherwise solid ninth place on the last day didn't suffice. He'll no doubt be pleased anyway though, as a third overall in such a big race was way more than he'd probably have hoped for prior to the event. He also won the 'Best young rider'-category, so mission accomplished for him. Sáez, Martín, Urain and Zabalo all finished on the same time as the winner, while Bagües, Bizkarra and Etxebarria ended up no more than a few minutes adrift to cap off a good day out for the team. For some reason Xabier Zabalo doesn't seem figure on the final overall rankings. He did finish the last stage though, so it's probably just an administrative error. Final GC:

  • 3, Jon Aberasturi
  • 23, Adrián Sáez
  • 40, Noel Martín
  • 52, Beñat Urain
  • 95, Aritz Etxebarria
  • 102, Aritz Bagües
  • 105, Mikel Bizkarra

The team finished ninth as a team, while Aberasturi was fifth in the points classification and Sáez fifth in the climbers' competition.

Crit. round-up

True to form, the Critérium International concluded today with two separate stages: a short, flat road stage to begin with, before an afternoon ITT brought the racing to a close. Egoi Martínez animated the first one, getting into a four-man break early on and staying away 'till only three kilometres were left to race. Though he might not be in top shape just yet, he's still as aggressive as ever. Eventually he finished 35 seconds down on the stage, but that's of minor importance. The other four guys finished inside the pack. Samu had a decent ride in the 7km time trial, grabbing 14th on the stage, 25 seconds down on an in-form Andreas Klöden. Verdugo, not yet at the level he showed in the cronos last year, placed 48th at 42 seconds, while Martínez was 75th at 1:07. Txurruka was 83rd at 1:14, while Velasco, still searching for form, finished a lowly 96th at 1:32. These results lead to the following GC:

  • 16, Samuel Sánchez
  • 35, Gorka Verdugo
  • 54, Iván Velasco
  • 65, Amets Txurruka
  • 75, Egoi Martinez

  • With the Vuelta al País Vasco right around the corner, I reckon Samu is where he should be. He's been in decent shape so far this year, and, while he's still not at the very top of his game, I trust him to once again get it just right for País Vasco. He knows what he's doing, he always does. As for some of the other guys, Verdugo, Txurruka, Martínez, Sicard, Velasco to name a few, I'm not quite as optimistic. Galdeano recently said the team he'll field this year will be the best in the team's history. While there's still a week to go, there's no doubt some of the riders' form leaves a lot to be desired. I hope they'll prove me wrong, they certainly have the ability to be classed "best ever País Vasco"-team or whatever, but I'm not overly confident they will. If Samu is to challenge and grab that elusive, but oh so richly-deserved, win, he needs a team in top shape to help him out. I say get Jonathan Castroviejo and Gorka Izagirre in there.

    Trio out of luck in Wevelgem

    The speedy trio of Gorka Izagirre, Pablo Urtasun and Javier Aramendía were well placed to have a crack at a top 10 finish as the finale of Gent-Wevelgem approached earlier today. Then, with 20 flat kilometres to go, bad luck struck. A crash involving a host of riders split the peloton in two, leaving the Euskaltel trio desperately playing catch-up to the front group. The second group, also including the likes of Hushovd and Cav, never made it back to the Omega Pharma-driven first group, and thus their race was practically over just as it was about to conclude. Luckily none of the Euskaltel guys were involved in the crash itself, and they all escaped unscathed, but they'll be left to curse their luck as solid performances came to naught just like that. If the crash hadn't occurred, I'm sure they would have been close to the front in the sprint finish. Eventually they had to settle for 71st, 72nd and 73rd; placings not reflecting their sturdy performances. But that's the way it goes, especially in chaotic one-dayers on the cobbles in Vlaanderen, so they'll have to pick themselves up and hope for better luck next weekend in the Ronde. Isasi and Azanza both crossed the line inside the third big group, 11:28 adrift, while Sesma came home safe and dry with the last group at 16:30.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Catalunya stage 7

    Euskaltel concluded the Volta a Catalunya today with a subdued performance. None of the riders really animated the race, and none of them managed to mix it up in the sprint. On a positive note they all came home with the peloton, and Rubén Pérez won the intermediate sprints jersey overall (which he, mathematically, actually did yesterday). On a less positive note is the fact that Romain Sicard failed to take the start, presumably due to his crash yesterday and/or knee pain. More on Sicard's status will follow as news come through. The final GC looks like this:

    • 25th, Miguel Mínguez
    • 26th, Igor Antón
    • 27th, Mikel Nieve
    • 87th, Rubén Pérez
    • 147th, Alan Pérez

    Though Rubén Pérez's form in this race has been a plus, the overall team performance has not been up to scratch, a valuation I'm sure Galdeano would agree with. He would never say it though. Anyway, the team is still looking for it's first win, and with the Classics on the horizon I can't really see it coming anytime soon I'm afraid. It appears País Vasco might make or break the first part of Euskaltel's season once again.

    Antón and Zubeldia support Contador

    UCI appealing Contador's exoneration to the CAS was a relief to many, if not most, cycling fans. Not so much for Igor Antón and Haimar Zubeldia though. Speaking to el Diario Vasco ahead of the fifth stage of the Volta, the featherweight Euskaltel climber said: "It's a shame that this case isn't closed. This process is taking too long, but I hope that it ends happily for Contador". Former team captain Haimar Zubeldia, now with the Shack, elaborated on the case. "A decision has to be reached as soon as possible", he said, stating the obvious. "I had a small hope the UCI weren't going to appeal due to the fact that it took so long for them to do so, but this is damaging. But I'm still optimistic. The Spanish Federation cleared him and he's feeling confident. His team (of lawyers) is well prepared, and I think the final resolution will favour him".

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    Samu cracks on l'Ospedale

    Much was expected of Samuel Sánchez today on the first stage of the Critérium International. Just like last year, the stage ended atop the mighty l'Ospedale, a 14km climb suited to Samu's characteristics. To make sure Samu was in a position to duke it out for the win, the team took control of the peloton early on and made sure any breaks didn't get too far away. The team, consisting of only seven riders after Pello Bilbao had to withdraw from the roster due to a crash in training here the other day, did a fabulous job in controlling the race, and everything was set for Samu to have a dig. Have a dig he did, as he jumped clear with erstwhile team-mate David López and talented French grimpeur Geniez some six kilometres from the top in search of the elder Schleck and the unpredictable Taaramae, the duo having attacked a kilometre or so earlier. Samu set a relentless pace and looked just fine but, suddenly, out of the blue, he cracked and had to let López and Geniez go. It was a rare sight: Mr. consistent and dependable if there ever was one, always judging his efforts to perfection, had miscalculated and blew up just like that. Having gone out the back, he struggled all the way to the top, and by the end he'd condeded a full 1:48 to F Schleck. Finishing 18th was certainly not what he was hoping for, but he didn't seem to heartbroken at the finish. "I attacked in search of the win and ended up paying for a long and hard stage", he told the team's website. "The pace was frantic all day long. We went over seven categorized climbs in very demanding terrain, and at the end I was left without forces". As the other riders on the team had spent most day powering the pack along, they finished way back. Verdugo was 37th at 7:58, Velasco 53rd at 14:14, Txurruka 66th at 17:52 and Martínez was 74th at 20:08. JJ Oroz suffered the misfortune of finishing outside the time limit, whilst Jonathan Castoviejo failed to complete the stage.

    Aberasturi hangs tough in yellow

    Jon Aberasturi kept hold of his yellow leader's jersey on today's second stage of the Crédito Agrícola in Portugal. Despite not managing to repeat yesterday's win, he could only muster 17th today, he still holds a four-second lead over Cardoso overall. Together with Aberasturi, Zabalo, Urain, Martín and Sáez finished inside the main pack. Bizkarra ceded 1:18, while Etxebarria finished 2:52 back and Bagües 7:19.

    Gent-Wevelgem team

    Euskaltel will send only six(!) riders to tomorrow's Gent-Wevelgem. Though this might partly be down to injuries, is still speaks volumes about the importance of the race to the team. Josu Larrazabal will be in charge of Isasi, Gorka Izagirre, Sesma, Aramendía, Urtasun and Azanza. I'm not expecting any miracles, but watch out for Gorka who seems to be good on all terrain, inlcuding cobbles.

    Catalunya stage 6

    Rubén Pérez was once again the main man for Euskaltel in today's penultimate stage of the Volta a Catalunya. At the end of the 195km ride from Tarragona to Mollet del Vallès, he sprinted to a solid seventh place. And he even added to his lead in the intermediate sprints jersey competition by comfortably taking out the first sprint on offer after excellent work by team-mate Alan Pérez, who came second ahead of challenger Torribio. So no doubt good overall performance from him! The rest of the guys once again took it easy by staying with the peloton from start to finish, but the struggling Romain Sicard once again failed to keep up and finished 32 seconds back. The French wiz kid needs to pick up some form soon, or else País Vasco might very well go out the window for him.

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Aberasturi sprints to maiden win

    Orbea youngster Jon Aberasturi sprinted to his team's first win of the season, and his first ever, on today's opening stage of Portuguese stage-race GP Crédito Agrícola Costa Azul. The 2.2-ranked event opened with a 152,3km stage to Sétubal, and in the end 21-year-old Aberasturi had too much for Tsatevich and Sabido to grab a thoroughly deserved, if somewhat unexpected, triumph. Speaking to afterwards, the native of Álava said: "This is a rewarding and very nice win for the team. I was able to win thanks to my team-mates who protected me and kept me out of the win all day. In the finishing-straight I was able to take my first victory as a professional."

    Catalunya stage 5

    Rubén Pérez sprinted to an excellent third place on today's fifth stage of the Volta a Catalunya. The 205k stage to Tarragona ended with a mass-sprint up a short, but sharp climb. Not surprisingly, Dumoulin won it, but Pérez wasn't far off in third. Pérez was the first to jump, trying to surprise the peloton some 250 metres out. Eventually he was caught inside the last 100, but the powerful Zaldibar-native held on to record his best result of the year. He even took out the first intermediate sprint of the day to add to his lead in that competition, so a sublime performance from him today. Other than that not much to write about. Pierre Cazaux decided to quit the race on the way to Tarragone, unknown for what reason. Minguez was active early on and got into some promising moves, but it wasn't to be. Eventually all six remaining riders finished inside the pack.

    Talking about his near-miss post-stage, Rubén told the team's website: "I was the first to open the sprint as I had to take a chance (if I was going to win). If I'd waited 'till the last moment it would have been harder. That's why I tried to surprise the others with a long sprint. The ascent is really hard, and Dumoulin was really strong. I'm trying to win the intermediate sprints jersey, but Torribio is a tough rival, so I can't take it easy. The best news, though, is that I'm feeling better every day."


    • Orbea will send a team to the three-day Vuelta Crédito Agrícola Costa Azul in Portugal, starting this Sunday. The following eight riders will compete: Jon Aberasturi, Aritz Bagües, Mikel Bizkarra, Aritz Etxebarria, Noel Martín, Adrián Saez, Beñat Urain and Xabier Zabalo. The team's DS, Álex Díaz, was particularly optimistic on behalf of sprinter Aberasturi when speaking to the team's website yesterday. "Our sprinter, Aberasturi, is feeling good, so we'll go for it. Overall, the race is different to most races we take part in and the level is very high, so we're highly motivated. We'll work as a team".
    • Euskaltel will send a 10-man team to the Klasika Primavera/Amorebieta on April 10, writes Biciciclismo. Samuel Sánchez took out the win last year, and will be hoping for a repeat performance when he lines up alongside Iñaki Isasi, Egoi Martínez, JJ Oroz, Rubén Pérez, Romain Sicard, Amets Txurruka, Pablo Urtasun, Iván Velasco and Gorka Verdugo.
    • Naturgas will as usual take on two separate one-day races this weekend. Eduardo Ardaiz, Carlos Barbero, Karl Baudron, Álex Bilbao, Efrén Carazo, Loic Chetôut, Alain González, Fernando Grijalba, Alberto Guinea, Jon Larrinaga, Urtzi Legarra and Rory Martínez will take on the XVI Laukizko Udala BBK Saria tomorrow. On the hilly parcours, keep an eye out for on-fire Fernando Grijalba. On Sunday, the prestigious Subida a Gorla awaits the red team. Peio Bilbao came agonizingly close to take the win last year (, and once again Grijalba will probably be the main danger-man. Accompanying him, will be the exact same team that will race on Saturday, except for Rory Martínez and Alain González, who'll be replaced by Damián García and Igor Merino. Watch out for the latter as well, he's in for a strong ride I reckon.

    Catalunya stage 4

    Rubén Pérez reclaimed the intermediate sprints jersey in today's fourth stage of the Volta. Along with four others, Pérez got clear of the bunch some 50 kilometres into the stage, and before being reeled in approximately 30 clicks out, he'd won both sprints to retake the jersey he claimed after the second stage. The bad news of the day was that youngster Jon Izagirre decided to abandon. As of yet there's no word out on why he had to quit. More injuries is the last thing the team need, so hopefully it's something else entirely. The other guys had a comfortable day in the saddle and finished up safe and sound inside the peloton.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011


    • The following riders are set to represent Euskaltel at the upcoming Critérium International, starting this Saturday: Pello Bilbao, Jonathan Castroviejo, Egoi Martínez, JJ Oroz, Samuel Sánchez, Amets Txurruka, Iván Velasco and Gorka Verdugo. Romain Sicard was orginially down for a ride, but his enforced abandonment of Paris-Nice and subsequent participation in the Volta a Catalunya put paid to his Critérium aspirations.
    • Just hours after the line-up for Crit. Int. was revealed, news came through that 21-year-old Pello Bilbao had crashed in training and would not take to the start after all. The prodigious climber has broken the olecranon bone in his elbow, and will thus have to wait even longer for his debut in the orange kit. Euskaltel have communicated that they will not replace Bilbao with another rider.
    • Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo, Amets Txurruka, Iván Velasco, Gorka Izagirre, Jonathan Castroviejo, Pablo Urtasun, Iñaki Isasi and JJ Oroz accompanied Samuel Sánchez on his recent recce of the first stage of this year's Vuelta al País Vasco. "It's a País Vasco-stage with the same difficulties as always: a demanding parcous, no pauses, nervousness... It will be a very important day, the first of the race, the forces will be intact, and the end will be exciting", he told the team's website. "There will be gaps, but not big enough to win the race". Galdeano echoed his team captain's sentiments, saying: "It's a typical País Vasco stage. It's a stage with a lot of curves, and you're constantly going either up or down. It'll be a complicated day. Inside the last 40k there's no let-up and it'll be nervous. It'll be hard, and if it starts raining... There will be gaps, but the Vuelta will not be won before the last-day time trial."

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Catalunya stage 3

    Euskaltel failed to put their mark on today's hilly third stage of the Volta a Catalunya. The 183,9km ride from La Vall d'En Bas to the top of the hors carégorie climb to Andorra-Vallnord should have suited an Euskaltel team consisting of climbers like Antón, Sicard, Nieve and Minguez to a tee. As the racing got underway, though, they were nowhere to be seen. Antón and Minguez were the two furthest ahead, finishing in 31st and 32nd respectively, both at exactly two minutes. Okay ride by both I guess, as Antón is aiming for May and shouldn't really be approaching top form just yet, while youngster Minguez is still finding his feet at the top level. Nieve was a further 27 seconds adrift, while Rubén Pérez and Sicard both crossed the line 12 minutes back. Today's ride might suggest Romain isn't totally back to his best after knee trouble put him out of the Paris-Nice, and he faces a race against time to be fit for early April's big rendez-vous: the Vuelta al País Vasco. The trio of Alan Pérez, Pierre Cazaux and Jon Izagirre came home with the gruppetto at 23:38. So, as none of the riders are supposed to be in top shape at the moment, I guess one can't really expect more in what is a ProTour race after all. But on a hilly day like this, placing a rider in the main break wouldn't be a bad idea.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Catalunya stage 2

    Rubén Pérez animated today's 169km second stage of the Volta a Catalunya from Santa Coloma de Farners to Banyoles. The fast-man got into today's four-man break early on and took out both intermediate sprints underway to take the lead in that particular competition. He looked strong all day, but the quartet were never really given a chance by the peloton and were reeled in with approximately 25 clicks to go. In the sprint for the stage win, Petacchi predictably prevailed, and none of the Euskaltel riders got into the mix. All but one of them finished inside the pack, though, so that's good. The one exception was Alan Pérez, who, uncharacteristically, had ceded 1:32 by the end of the stage.

    Monday, March 21, 2011


    • Several Euskaltel riders, spearheaded by Samuel Sánchez, will tomorrow get familiar with the route of this year's first stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco. The stage, which starts and finishes in Zumarraga, includes seven (!) categorized climbs, and having done a reconnaissance will no doubt come in handy when the racing gets underway.
    • Some of you might have noticed that the Euskaltel riders were wearing black armbands in Milano-San Remo this past Saturday. Not for disaster-stricken Japan, though, but for the recently deceased Juan Carlos Urrutxurtu, one of the founders of la Fundación Euskadi back in the day.

    Catalunya stage 1

    The Euskaltel riders managed to slip under the radar in today's first stage of the Volta a Catalunya. No one infiltrated the break, and only three of the guys finished inside the main peloton. Luckily, those three were potential overall candidates Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve and Miguel Minguez. Rubén Pérez and Pierre Cazaux ended up 8:53 in arrears, while Sicard and Jon Izagirre both disappointed by ending up 13:17 adrift. Finally, Alan Pérez came home 14:14 back. Not the best way to start the race, but due to the race's hilly parcours, I expect to see an orange rider or two on the front of the pack in the coming days.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    WorldTour rankings

    Despite what most fans would call a disappointing start to the season, the team is still healthily placed in the UCI rankings. After the conclusion of the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, the team is ranked 12th, ahead of teams such as Katusha, Movistar, Astana and Saxo Bank. Not too shabby, but the individual rankings show the weakness in the team: Samuel Sánchez is the only rider who's scored points. Samu is ranked 16th with 59 points. And while that's good for him, is speaks volumes of the lack in depth in the team I'm afraid.

    Reds miss out in Villatuerta

    Naturgas failed to dominate today's Trofeo Lehendakari race in Villatuerta. Representing the team were: Carlos Barbero, Eduardo Ardaiz, Álex Bilbao, Rory Martínez, Urtzi Legarra, Fernando Grijalba, Alain González, Efrén Carazo, Igor Merino, Alberto Guinea and Jon Larrinaga. The 106km-race saw a 20-something group get away early on, and out of that big group a quartet got clear. That quartet stayed away all the way to the finish, with Van Geefen giving Caja Rural yet another win. Carlos Barbero was best of the reds, coming home in ninth place, 2:25 in arrears. The team finished third in the team ranks.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Milano-San Remo

    Not the best of days for Euskaltel at the Primavera today. Everyone but Egoi Martínez were stuck in the second group after the big pile-up off of the Manie climb halfway through, and thus the race was pretty much over for the team. Egoi performed admirably to stay with the top 15 to the top off the Poggio, but an untimely tumble on the descent put paid to his chances of glory. Eventually a bruised but otherwise unscathed Egoi Martínez crossed the line in 32nd place, almost two minutes down. The other guys didn't enjoy the best of luck either. Castroviejo went down with that big crash early on, but luckily remounted without any signs of serious injury. Castroviejo, Oroz and in particular Txurruka did their best to regain contact with the first group through some aggressive riding, but it wasn't to be. Oroz crossed the line in 57th place, while Velasco, Castroviejo and Txurruka finished 130th, 131st and 132nd respectively. Aramendía and Sesma, worn-out by their chasing at the front of the second peloton, finished inside the last group in 52nd and 153rd place. Everyone but Jon Izagirre finished the race, and that's no mean feat for young and inexperienced riders like Sesma, Aramendía and Castroviejo.

    Friday, March 18, 2011


    • "I'm not in top shape, I can still improve", Jonathan Castroviejo told DEIA after finishing a resounding eighth in Tirreno-Adriatico's closing ITT. "I can't complain, but if the course had been a bit longer and a bit harder, with a couple of climbs, I think I could have placed higher up in the standings. I still had some gas left in the tank when I crossed the line.
    • Euskaltel have renewed their partnership with local organizations ABRA and ADORA, producers of oil and wine. The team started their collaboration with the companies back in 2008, and since then the organizations' products have been on the dinner table at close to every race.
    • "I'm grateful for the trust shown in me by the Fundación Euskadi, they've sponsored me for many years. They've taken care of me, they've seen me progress and it's not by chance that they've now signed me. They've followed me for years." Pello Bilbao, speaking to DEIA, seems to have his feet firmly planted on the ground as he embarks on his Euskaltel career.
    • Koldo Fernández harbours hope of being back on the road competing within a month, writes his personal website. If his recovery from his broken collarbone, wrist and right finger goes to plan, he'll be pinning on a start-number sometime in April.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Castroviejo speeds to 8th in TT

    Jonathan Castroviejo once again showed his time trial pedigree by storming to eighth place in today's final stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico, a 9,3km individual race against the clock in and around San Benedetto del Tronto. The youngster finished just 25 seconds down on Cancellara, and went faster than noted 'crono-men' like Evans, Larsson, Nibali, Machado, Zabriskie, Lövkvist and Hincapie, to name but a few. When it comes to most Euskaltel riders, I'd easily term this kind of ride 'sensational' or something . The fact that I don't, speaks volumes of his qualities and what I've already come to expect from the guy. Watching Castroviejo time trial is a pleasure: it looks so smooth and elegant. His great ride propelled him into the top 20 on GC, 19th to be precise. He'll be one to watch for an early breakaway-attempt come San Remo this Saturday. Jon Izagirre had a decent day in the saddle and finished 56th, 57 seconds back, and thus finished a remarkable 24th overall. That is worthy of the 'sensational' tag. Make no mistake, this one is a big rider for the future. Egoi Martínez and JJ Oroz both had slightly disappointing rides: the former finished 82nd at 1:12, the latter finished 85th at 1:13. Txurruka ended up 1:25 down in 102nd place, Sesma 1:26 down in 103rd place, Aramendía 1:41 down in 122nd place, while Velasco finished a lowly 130th at 1:53. The final GC looks like this:

    • 19th, Jonathan Castroviejo
    • 24th, Jon Izagirre
    • 26th, Juan José Oroz
    • 39th, Egoi Martínez
    • 43rd, Iván Velasco
    • 44th, Amets Txurruka
    • 109th, Javier Aramendía
    • 133rd, Daniel Sesma

    Euskaltel finished a solid third in the team rankings - much higher up than I think anyone would have expected to begin with.

    Antón to lead Catalunya charge

    Igor Antón will as expected lead the team at the Volta a Catalunya. By his side will be: Alán Pérez, Rubén Pérez, Mikel Nieve, Pierre Cazaux, Miguel Minguez, Gorka Izagirre and Romain Sicard. The inclusion of the latter is a big plus as he was forced to withdraw from the recently-concluded Paris-Nice due to pain in his knee. It turned out his pain was caused by a change of shoes prior to the race, but it now appears that problem has been sorted out. This is just a prelimenary line-up, mind you, so there might be some changes to the roster before the racing gets underway this Monday.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Tirreno-Adriatico stage 6

    Good overall performance from the team in today's sixth and penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. The hilly 178km stage to Macerata saw Euskaltel place four (!) riders inside the top 30 on the stage. Castroviejo was once again brilliant and crossed the line alongside Kolobnev at just 26 seconds for 20th place. Velasco showed signs of form by taking the next spot at just 28 seconds, while the sensational Jon Izagirre claimed a stellar 26th place, just 36 seconds down on winner Evans, and JJ Oroz completed the good team performance by taking 27th at 29 seconds. Oroz even found time to attack the pack 11 kilometres out, and once again with just two clicks remaining, so he's definetely approaching top form. The superb performance of these riders made sure Euskaltel finished an impressive third in the team rankings today, and, with just one stage to go, they lay 4th overall. That's brilliant stuff after an all but brilliant start to the race. Amets Txurruka is quietly going about his business as he aims to peak in April, finishing 40th today, at 2:57. Egoi Martínez has his eyes fixed on País Vasco next month, but finishing nine minutes down means he's got a lot of hard work ahead of him if he wants to shine in the big rendez-vous. Sesma came home 105th at 13:52, while previous mountains jersey holder Aramendía ended up 21:31 in arrears.

    Just one stage remain of this year's edition of the race; a 9,3km ITT in San Benedetto del Tronto tomorrow. I have high hopes for Castroviejo, who's already a proven performer in the discipline, and a good ride tomorrow might just propell him into the top 20 overall. Going into tomorrow's final day, the riders are placed the following on GC:

    • 23rd, Jonathan Castroviejo, 2:16
    • 24th, Jon Izagirre, 2:41
    • 25th, Juan José Oroz, 3:55
    • 40th, Egoi Martínez, 13:19
    • 41st, Iván Velasco, 13:38
    • 44th, Amets Txurruka, 14:51
    • 114th, Javier Aramendía, 59:05
    • 140th, Daniel Sesma, 1:17:21

    Samu 5th overall in Paris-Nice

    After finishing twice already in this edition of the 'Race to the sun', Samu had earmarked the final stage into Nice as the perfect opportunity to finally grab that elusive win. With it's descent off the Col d'Eze preceding the finish, the stage was tailor-made for Samu to make good use of his unrivalled descending-skills and take what would have been Euskaltel's very first win of 2011. Try he did, but it wasn't to be.

    Gorka Izagirre cleverly got into the break of the day along with a whole bunch of strong riders early on in the race. When the race for GC hot up behind the break on the ramps of the Col d'Eze, the wily Izagirre dropped off the pace and decided to wait for his captain, who moments earlier had attacked the group of the main favourites. Together, the duo set about reeling in the remnants of the break ahead of them. It proved to be effective, as the duo in orange quickly caught one rider after the other. Still some riders were ahead, though, so, once at the top, Samu set off alone down into Nice in pursuit of runaway leader Voeckler. Despite being as 'aero' as ever, there was no catching the French champion, and Samu eventually had to settle for fourth at 1:06. Izagirre wasn't far behind in seventh, just six seconds further back. Great ride by the youngster. Despite his failed attempt at catching Voeckler, Samu still distanced his GC rivals by 16 seconds. As a result of this, he finished Paris-Nice ranked fifth. So early in the season, fifth is golden, and Samu will no doubt be encouraged by his early-season form. Urtasun finished 25th on today's stage (at 4:54) to make sure Euskaltel got an okay position in the team rankings, while Verdugo finished at 5:12, Isasi at 9:32, Cazaux at 11:31 and Azanza at 13:10. This made for the following GC:

    • 5th, Samuel Sánchez
    • 24th, Gorka Verdugo
    • 54th, Gorka Izagirre
    • 59th, Iñaki Isasi
    • 68th, Pablo Urtasun
    • 82nd, Jorge Azanza
    • 86th, Pierre Cazaux

    Team-wise, Euskaltel finished up 11th.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Almandoz & Aiztondo round-up

    The hilly GP Baztán in Almandoz, part of the Torneo Lehendakari calendar, was held earlier this Sunday. The guys in red missed out on the decisive break of the day that included eventual winner Van Geffel and second-placed Domalgaski, both of the impressive Caja Rural outfit, but partly made up for it by taking third and sixth after strong showings on the last cat. 2 climb, the Alto de Izpegi. Igor Merino, captured above by photographer sobresaliente Iñaki Azanza, stormed up the hill to take third, while the seemingly indefatigable Fernando Grijalba, fresh off his second place in Lizartza yesterday, came home sixth. Strong overall performance by the team.

    The guys that competed in the Aiztondo Klasikoa today, couldn't quite match the results posted in Almandoz. As far as I can see, only three Naturgas riders completed the demanding 136km race, best of those three being Jon Larrinaga in a decent 16th position. Rory Martínez finished 70th and Efrén Carazo 75th in what was, overall, a somewhat disappointing race for the 'red brigade'.

    Tirreno-Adriatico stage 5

    Up-and-coming duo Jonathan Castroviejo and Jon Izagirre once again showed excellent form in today's fifth stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. Another hilly, 240km stage was on the menu today, and just like yesterday they stayed very close to the big guns on the short and punchy climbs littered along the road to Castelraimondo. The duo came in a mere 27 seconds back Gilbert, Cunego and co., Castroviejo in 21st and Izagirre in 25th. In their small group were names like Garzelli, Nuyens, Velits and Albasini, and mixing it up with those guys in a race of this stature is no mean feat. JJ Oroz also showed his form is coming along nicely by placing 33rd at 37 second, while Martínez crossed the line flanked by German duo Wegmann and Sinkewitz at 1:43. Txurruka and Velasco were a disappointing 7:46 in arrears, while Aramendía, who relinquished his mountains jersey underway, finished 15:07 back. Sesma finished in the gruppetto at 31 minutes. In the team rankings, Euskaltel are ranked a highly-creditable 5th overall with two stages remaining. If they manage to hold onto that ranking, they will have done awfully well I reckon.

    Angulo outsprints Grijalba in Lizartza

    Fernando Grijalba went awfully close to taking his second win of the season in yesterday's Torneo de Apertura-race in Lizartza. The impressive youngster, who's proving to be almost just as fast as he's strong on the climbs, was only ousted by Cueva El Soplao rider Antonio Angulo. Alberto Guinea finished 9th to complete a good day for Naturgas. Due to his strong second place, Grijalba is still leading the overall rankings in that particular competition.

    Samu goes close

    Samuel Sánchez once again showed sensational early-season form by taking second on yesterday's seventh and penultimate stage of the Paris-Nice. The stage between Brignoles and Biot was 215 kilometres long and hilly. In other words: another demanding stage for an already tired peloton. Samu didn't look very tired, though, as he finished second only to a rejuvenated Rémy Di Grégorio, who took off from the lead group and was never seen again. Samu desperately tried to catch him, but it wasn't to be. At least the lead group split due to his acceleration, so he was able to advance from 8th to 6th on GC. He's still a minute and a half down on leader and likely victor Martin ahead of today's concluding stage, so we can't expect him to fight for the win, but the podium might be a remote possibility as he's "only" 48 seconds adrift of Klöden. Verdugo wasn't too far off yesterday, finishing 35th, 1:09 down. Sprint duo Isasi and Urtasun ended up no more than 2:59 back, while Azanza was 3:46, Izagirre 6:52 and Cazaux a big 20:21.

    Tirreno-Adriatico stage 4

    The youngsters put on an uplifting performance in yesterday's gruelling 240km fourth stage between Narni and Chieti. On such a long day, I for one didn't expect any big results from a team consisting mainly of riders in their early 20s. But gladly the riders defied the odds and showed a lot of promise for the future. The vastly talented and ever-improving Jonathan Castroviejo had a great ride, staying close to the favourites on the last climb to finish 14th, at no more than 24 seconds. Castroviejo came home with a small group containing, among others, last year's winnner Garzelli and Tiago Machado, and beat riders like Cancellara, Kolobnev, Gasparotto and Pinotti, to name but a few. Awesome ride. Newbie Jon Izagirre was perhaps even more impressive, defying his tender years by taking 21st at just 39 seconds, leading home a seven-man group including the aforementioned Cancellara and Kolobnev. Not bad for a 22-year-old! "Veteran" Velasco finished in a solid 31st at 47 seconds, while JJ Oroz was 43rd at 1:18, Martínez 49th at 1:38, Txurruka 50th at the same time, while Sesma and Aramendía ended up 110th and 111th respectively, both at 17:35. Gladly, Aramendía snatched a vital point on a climb early on to keep hold of his green jersey, but now he's leading by just a solitary point on Stangelj.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Samu TTs out of contention

    Samu probably lost all hopes of a Paris-Nice podium placing by finishing a solid, but not quite good enough, 16th in yesterday's 27km ITT from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence. With Martin winning, Wiggins 2nd, Klöden placing 4th and Taarame taking 8th, and most of his other rivals finishing further up the standings than Samu as well, he's now 8th overall, a full 1:37 adrift of runaway-leader Martin. Still, finishing 16th at a course most suited to powerful rouleurs is not bad, not bad at all. Especially considering his major goals this spring are further down the road. Stage results:
    • 16th, Samuel Sanchez, 1:43
    • 58th, Pablo Urtasun, 3:19
    • 75th, Gorka Verdugo, 3:37
    • 100th, Iñaki Isasi, 4:06
    • 116th, Gorka Izagirre, 4:27
    • 146th, Pierre Cazaux, 5:35
    • 147th, Jorge Azanza, 5:39

    Going solo

    Daniel Sesma enjoyed a great day out in the Tirreno-Adratico yesterday, spending in excess of 160 kilometres alone out in front. The aggressive all-rounder jumped clear just two kilometres in, and stayed ahead of the bunch for several hours before being caught with some 30 clicks to ride on the stage from Terranova and Corsa Vannucci. A heroic ride by the native of Arre, Navarra, but it was always doomed. Once he was caught, Amets Txurruka attacked, but he was quickly reeled in. Then Castroviejo took up the mantle and went clear with Cherel and Oss, but it just wasn't meant to be for Euskaltel yesterday. But they still put on a good show and no doubt made their DS' proud, hoepfully they'll keep that up throughout the race. Aramendía successfully defended his lead in the mountains classification, and so will get to wear the green jersey today as well. Everyone but Sesma stayed with the pack, the escape artist conceding 11:26 by day's end.

    Three-pronged attack for reds

    Naturgas Energía have an unusual hectic weekend coming up, with three races set to be contested in just two days. Here are the line-ups:

    • GP de Lizartza: Eduardo Ardaiz, Carlos Berbero, Karl Baudron, Efrén Carazo, Loic Chetôut, Damien Garcia, Alain González, Fernando Grijalba and Alberto Guinea.
    • GP de Almandoz: Eduardo Ardaiz, Damien Garcia, Urtzi Legarra, Alain González, Fernando Grijalba, Alberto Guinea and Igor Merino.
    • Aiztondo Klasika: Carlos Barbero, Karl Baudron, Álex Bilbao, Efrén Carazo, Loic Chetôut, Jon Larrinaga and Rory Martínez.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Samu 2nd in Paris-Nice stage 5

    Samu Sánchez came agonizingly close to grab the team's first win of 2011 today in the fifth stage of the Paris-Nice. The 193km ride between Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise and Vernoux-en-Vivarais included seven categorized climbs, two of which were of the first category, and it ended with an eight-man strong group sprinting it out for the win. In a group containing Samu, Martin, Kiserlovski, Tondo, Carrara, Taaramae, Brajkovic and Klöden, Samu and Vacansoleil's Carrara were heavily favoured to take the win due to their superior end-speed. Surprisingly, it was the ageing, but still oh so classy, Andres Klöden who claimed a rare win by beating Samu by the tiniest of margins. And by tiny, I mean tiny. Really tiny. If Samu had started half a second earlier he would have passed the German easily, but sadly he mistimed his jump and ran out of road so to speak. Samu was going way quicker, but the line came too soon for him. What makes it extra bitter is that a win would have secured him the leader's jersey as well. Ahead of tomorrow's testing 27km ITT, he's second to Klöden on GC by four seconds, and two seconds ahead of Carrara in third. Despite the bitter loss, Samu was far from down-beat when speaking to Euskaltel's website post-race. "It's been a typical Paris-Nice stage: hard and selective. All in all I'm very pleased. I'm optimistic as my preparation is going in the right direction and bearing fruits. That's obvious when you look at today's ride and the second place I got in the final stage of the Vuelta a Andalucía. It's always nice to win, though, so obviously it's annoying to come that close and lose. Especially considering we would have taken the jersey as well! Klöden was stronger, though, so all I can do is to congratulate him. There's still much racing to be done before we reach Nice, so I'll try to keep it up and ride well."

    Samu's ride was obviously pleasing, but the same can't be said for the other riders I'm afraid. Verdugo was the next-best Euskaltel rider, coming home a distant 56th at 5:12. The trio of Isasi, Izagirre and Cazaux finished at almost 21 minutes, while Azanza and Urtasun ended up ceding 25:47.

    Aramendía aggressive in Tirreno

    Euskaltel, and Javier Aramendía in particular, put their mark on today's first stage proper of the Tirreno-Adriatico. Just three kilometres in, Aramendía slipped away along with Giordani and Kaisen to form the main break of the day. The Euskaltel youngster successfully bested the Italian at both KOMs, and thus got the honour of donning the climber's jersey at stage's end. Going into the third stage, he holds a four-point lead on the Farnese Vini rider. Thanks to his day-long exploits, he's also second only to eventual stage-winner Farrar in the points classification. The trio were never even close to holding off the pack, though, and were reeled in a full 40 kilometres from the line. As the break was caught so soon, several riders subsequently tried to break clear again. Lanky all-rounder JJ Oroz was one of those, but he never really got far. In the sprint for the win, none of the Euskaltel guys managed to mix it up. Only Castroviejo, Martínez and Jon Izagirre managed to stay with the peloton all the way to the line, while Velasco and Oroz conceded 12 seconds. The remaining three, Txurruka, Sesma and Aramendía, ended up 1:31 adrift. In the team rankings, Euskaltel are still dead last.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2011

    Paris-Nice stage 4

    Another day at Paris-Nice has passed without Euskaltel really putting their mark on it. The hilly fourth stage would have suited several of the riders one would assume, but none of the riders managed to get into the break of the day and thus missed out on the chance of a stage-victory. To his credit, Pierre Cazaux gave it a good go early on, but picked the wrong move. Samu had a scare when he hit the deck on a descent 70 kilometres in, but luckily came through unscathed. Except for that there's not much to tell, it all went by with Euskaltel not really present. Gladly, all but two of the riders, i.e. Pierre Cazaux and Jorge Azanza, came home with the peloton. The duo crossed the line in a big group some 13 minutes back. Tomorrow's stage, with it's descent off the cat. 1 Col de la Mûre coming just 8 clicks from the line, should suit Samu to perfection, so watch out for him then.

    Team time trial travesty

    As feared, Euskaltel did not get off to a good start in the Tirreno-Adriatico. "The race of the two seas" commenced today with a 16,8km team time trial on an out-and-back course in Marina di Carrera, and the guys in orange came in dead last, 1:13 down on the impressive Rabobank team. Not much more to say really, as I didn't get to see the stage myself. Maybe they lacked rhythm, or maybe it just didn't click for them on the day. Anyway, they're facing a flat 202km trek from Carrara to Indicatore tomorrow, so hopefully they can get in the action then.

    Bilbao signs contract

    Pello Bilbao today put pen to paper on his two-year deal with Euskaltel, writes Biciciclismo. The 21-year-old was drafted in after Koldo Fernández crashed and broke his collarbone last month, making Euskaltel short number-wise for the spring. As the team is only assured of sponsorship through 2012, he only signed a two-year deal. But if the likely scenario of Euskaltel continuing to sponsor the team materializes, the team has an option for another couple of years, effectively meaning he'll be around 'till 2015 at least. It was revealed that the young climber will, to a certain degree, take part in the races he was scheduled for with Orbea, and that he'll make his debut alongside Samu Sánchez and Romain Sicard in the Criterium International. "Today is a big and important day for us", Miguel Madariaga told the assembled press at a low-key presentation at the team's headquarters in Derio. "Another young talent, just 21 years old, has come through the ranks and turned pro. We don't want to push him, but we need him. La Fundación Euskadi is putting in a lot of work at the grasroots level, and we'll continue that way." Madariaga also emphasized that Bilbao is not a direct replacement for Fernández. According to the Fundación president, he was fast-tracked to ensure Euskaltel have the needed personnel come spring. Bilbao is, like a few other riders with Orbea and Naturgas, studying physical education at the IVEF. But, despite him now being a full-time pro, he's likely to keep it up, at least for the time being.

    Martínez wins polkadots of '09

    Due to the CAS uphelding the UCI's suspension of Franco Pellizotti and subsequent cancellation of his results from May in 2009 and onwards, it seems like our own Egoi Martínez, orginally runner-up in that particular competition two years ago, will be declared the winner of the polkadot jersey that year. The duo fought a close battle for the jersey for several stages, but in the last week Pellizotti proved too strong and won by quite the margin. It now seems, though, that he'll get his jersey after all to go with his mountains jersey in the Vuelta. Not that I think Egoi himself will be too pleased about it all.

    Landa to have surgery

    Crash-victim Mikel Landa will undergo surgery on his broken right collarbone tomorrow afternoon, the team's official website writes. The 21-year-old is likely to be back on the rollers within a week, but as of yet there's no time-frame set on when he'll retake competition.

    Paris-Nice stage 3

    The biggest news of the day as far as Euskaltel were concerned, came before the race had even started. Romain Sicard decided not to start the stage as he's suffering from severe pain in his right knee. It's a major let-down for the rider and team alike, but hopefully it's short-term. There's no word yet on how long he might be sidelined for, but you can rest assured I'll tell you all as soon as I find out.

    As for the racing, it was unspectacular at best. After the day's breakaway-quintet had been reeled in, the wily Thomas Voeckler launched a perfectly anticipated counter-move. Gorka Izagirre tried desperately to go with him, but his legs let him down and he was soon back in the peloton. Euskaltel did not succeed in fighting for the top placings in the sprint, but at least the seven remaining riders came home safe and sound in the peloton.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011

    Larrinaga close in Llodio

    Jon Larrinaga put on a brave performance in yesterday's Torneo Euskdalun-race in Llodio. The youngster, a veteran of the team, got into the break of the day early on, and it proved to be a wise move as his group for once stayed away all the way to the line. He eventually had to settle for fifth, though, a mere 23 seconds down on victor Montenegro. Merino wasn't far off either, coming home 11th at just 28 seconds. Álex Bilbao grabbed a decent 17th at 1:44, while Alain González and Karl Baurdon came in side by side 8:06 in arrears. Rory Martínez and Saturday's hero Grijalba did the same 8:28 back. Post-race, Aritz Arberas was happy and rightly so, with his riders, and pointed out that the team finished second in the team rankings as well.

    Status quo in Paris-Nice

    Euskaltel continue to keep a low profile this season. In today's second stage of the Paris-Nice, none of the riders got in among the breaks or animated the race in any way. And in the sprint for the stage-win, all the team could muster was Urtasun's 21st place. Everyone came in with the pack, though, so Samu and co. have still got a chance for overall glory. Hopefully they'll start to mix it up later in the week when the stages get harder and more undulating. Watch out for Gorka Izagirre to give it a shot any day.

    Line-ups for Tirreno and San Remo

    Euskaltel Euskadi have revealed the eight-rider team that will contest, first, the Tirreno-Adriatico stage-race starting this Wednesday, then la classicissima on Saturday the 19th. Alvaro González de Galdeano, ably assisted by new-boy Domenico Cavallo, will lead the following riders: Javier Aramendia, Jonathan Castroviejo, Jon Izairre, Egoi Martínez, Juan José Oroz, Daniel Sesma, Amets Txurruka and Ibán Velasco.

    Sunday, March 06, 2011

    Paris-Nice stage 1

    The Race to the Sun kicked off today with a 154km stage starting and ending in the small town of Houdan just outside Paris. Gorka Izagirre was at his aggressive best and got into the day's dominating break together with Damien Gaudin of Europcar. The two were given no chance by the peloton, though, and were reeled in 40 kilometres out. On the day's one and only KOM, Euskaltel's representative was eventually out-paced by his breakaway companion, and thus missed out on the opportunity to don the polkadot jersey. Once the duo were caught, another break got up the road. This group was more successful and somehow managed to hold off the hard-chasing, but nonchalant, peloton. None of the riders managed to fight for the top positions, but everyone, bar the tired Izagirre and designated sprinter Urtasun, managed to stay with the hard-chasing pack. Izagirre trailed by 54 seconds, while Urtasun was way behind, 8:20 to be precise. On the menu for the riders tomorrow is a 199km flat trek from Montfort l'Amaury to Amilly.

    Murcia concludes

    The Vuelta a Murcia came to a close today with a concluding 12,4km long ITT in and around Murcia. Euskaltel were, just like they were the two previous days, nowhere close to recording a result of note. Jon Izagirre was the top finisher in 37th, 1:03 down, so at least the young Izagirre can be relatively pleased with his ride. Minguez did okay to finish 52nd at 1:14, while Rubén Pérez finished in 54th, a further second back. Alan Pérez was 71st at 1:31, Igor Antón a distant 77th at a big 1:35, and Nieve was 80th at 1:37. These results led to the following GC:

    • 23rd, Miguel Minguez
    • 49th, Mikel Nieve
    • 53rd, Igor Antón
    • 104th, Jon Izagirre
    • 105th, Rubén Pérez
    • 108th, Alan Pérez

    Obviously not the results you would hope for, but it's still early days. A first win of the season would no doubt lift the pressure on the team, though.

    Saturday, March 05, 2011

    Grijalba conquers GP Ereño

    Fernando Grijalba impressively prevailed in the mountainous GP Ereño (or the Ereñoko Udala Sari Nagusia if you want) today. Having won the race twice through former rider Noel Martín, who's now riding for Orbea, Naturgas continued their strong-hold on the race with a dominant performance throughout. Promising Frenchman Loic Chetout got into the break of the day and stayed out there for a while. Naturally it didn't come to anything, but the youngster impressively soldiered on to finish fourth after being reeled in by the pack. He went on to finish just 18 seconds down on his team-mate. Chetout also secured the 'intermediate sprint jersey' and the jersey for the best climber, while the team naturally took out the team award. Awesome performance. It doesn't really get much better than that!

    Euskaltel appoint DS duo

    Euskaltel Euskadi have decided to expand their staff by adding two new directors of sport. Iñigo Urretxua, a native of Algorta, has been working with the Naturgas Energía outfit along with main DS Aritz Arberas for a few years and will now be given the chance with Euskaltel in Paris-Nice. He'll join the seasoned and experienced Gorka Gerrikagoitia in the team car.

    Former Vitalicio Seguros and T-Mobile DS Domenico Cavallo will join Alvaro González de Galdeano in the team car for Tirreno-Adriatico. The Italian ex-pro, who count a certain Igor González de Galdeano among his former charges when with Vitalicio, will also join the team for the Giro in May, with Euskaltel hoping to capitalise on his expertise in everything Italian cycling. "We needed someone like Domenico", big-brother Galdeano told DEIA. "He's a good director who knows Italian cycling inside out. He'll be good for us."

    Murcia: Euskaltel no-show; Landa injured

    Euskaltel's already stuttering season today took a turn for the worse: in the second stage of the Vuelta a Murcia, young prodigy Mikel Landa crashed out of the race inside the last five clicks and was later diagnosed with a broken right collarbone. Add to that a lackluster performance from the team, and Euskaltel's season just doesn't seem to get going. The stage ending atop the Sierra Espuña was, on paper anyway, suited to quite a few in the team's line-up. The team failed to put a rider in the break of the day, and were subsequently forced to do the majority of the work at the head of the pack. They succeeded in keeping the break in check, and even sent neo-pro Jon Izagirre up the road in a late attack, but it was doomed from the off. The peloton naturally split into several small groups once the road started to tilt upwards. Landa was actually right up there when he crashed out, but I guess that's scant consolation for him now. Miguel Minguez was the first orange-clad rider to cross the line, coming home in 22nd place, 2:24 back. Not bad for the wiry climber, but still some way off a big result. Nieve, slowly builing his form for May, ended up 49th at 4:52, while Antón was 59th at 5:26. Jon Izagirre was made to regret his earlier attack by finishing a full 17:35 in arrears, while the Pérez's came home 23:15 back on winner Contador.

    Missing in Murcia

    Euskaltel had an off-day in today's opening stage of the Vuelta a Murcia. There's really not much more to it than that. No one figured in the breaks, and the best placed rider turned out to be Rubén Pérez in a distant 33rd place. Landa, Minguez and Nieve even conceded 20 seconds to the front group, while Antón and Alan Pérez ended up 37 seconds back. Jon Izagirre found the going tough and lost a full 5:33. Not a good day in other words, and already after the first stage the riders seem to be out of contention for GC. The one positive, though, was that none of the riders ended up on the floor, as numerous crashes plagued the last kilometres. Tomorrow will be hilly and hard, so hopefully they'll be there or thereabouts come the end of the stage!

    Friday, March 04, 2011

    Reds ready for busy weekend

    As usual, Naturgas Energía have two races coming up this weekend. First up is the hilly GP de Ereño this Saturday, followed by the GP Llodio the day after. Arberas will lead a team of nine for the first race, consisting of Damien Garcia, Loic Chetout, Karl Baudron, Fernando Grijalba, Efrén Carazo, Alberto Guinea, Carlos Barbero, Alain González and Eduardo Ardaiz, while on Sunday, the aforementioned Baudron, Garcia, Chetout, Grijalba, Barbero, Carazo, González, and Álex Bilbao, Urtzi Legarra, Jon Larrinaga and Igor Merino, will take to the start. Race results to come Sunday/Monday.

    Paris-Nice team

    According to the team's website, the following eight riders will represent Euskaltel Euskadi in the upcoming Paris-Nice, starting this Sunday: Jorge Azanza, Pierre Cazaux, Iñaki Isasi, Gorka Izagirre, Samuel Sánchez, Romain Sicard, Pablo Urtasun and Gorka Verdugo. Gorka Gerrikagoitia will lead the riders in their quest for glory. Personally, I can't really see much glory coming their way I'm afraid. Samu has said he's hoping to do well, but he's naturally some way off top form as he's aiming to peak for the Vuelta al País Vasco. Same goes for Romain Sicard. Sicard told L'Équipe yesterday: "I'm a realist - with only the Vuelta a Andalucía in my legs, I'm not competitive enough yet", so I'm not really expecting any miracles from him so early on in the season. Gorka Izagirre might well turn out to be Euskaltel's best hope, for a stage-win anyway, as he for one is in great shape. Urtasun might try to mix it up on the flatter stages, but I can't really see him pulling off a win against some top-class opposition. Azanza, Isasi, Verdugo and Cazaux also have bigger objectives further down the road, so don't expect any fireworks from the team just yet.

    High hopes for French trio

    This year's Naturgas Energía roster includes three Frenchmen: Karl Baudron, Loic Chetout and Damien García. The trio obviously hope to follow in the footsteps of Thierry Elissalde and a certain Romain Sicard by riding for Euskaltel one day. Though no one are doubting their talent, Naturgas trainer Iñigo Urretxua says they've got a lot to learn. The French way of riding is very different to the Spanish way, he argues. "For example, they're always attacking, it's like they're not thinking! We want them to adopt our philosophy, a philosophy that's built around the team. The team is essential", he told DEIA at the team's presentation yesterday. "They're brave and very strong. They're strong riders. They climb well, and they sprint well. Especially so Chetout, perhaps - who won, among other races, the junior edition of the Vuelta a Gipuzkoa in 2010 - but that doesn't count for much, as it's now, in the amateur ranks, that they'll start to develop the skills that they'll try to exploit in the professional ranks."

    Thursday, March 03, 2011

    Successful surgery for Fernández

    Koldo Fernández today underwent successful surgery on his broken right collarbone in Bilbao, writes his team's website. He'll head back home tomorrow, but will probably take two weeks completely off the bike before starting his comeback on the rollers. Team doctors were reticent on when the injury-prone sprinter will return to competition, but it's believed it'll be close to three months before he can once again pin on a start-number.

    Wednesday, March 02, 2011

    Samu set for Classics

    According to Biciciclismo, Samu Sánchez will take part in this year's Ardennes Classics. Samu opted not to take the start last year, but Galdeano confirmed to the Spanish website that he'll return for Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this season. Depending on his state of form after concluding the Vuelta al País Vasco a few days prior, he might also do Amstel Gold. Igor Antón, who stepped in admirably for Samu last year by taking 4th and 6th in Fleche and Liège respectively, is not likely to show. With both eyes fixed on the Giro, it's unlikely that the diminutive climber will line up, but Galdeano refused to rule it out entirely.

    Murcia line-up revealed

    According to the team's own website, Euskaltel will send the following seven riders to the Vuelta a Murcia: Igor Antón, Jon Izagirre, Mikel Landa, Minguel Minguez, Mikel Nieve, Alan Pérez and Rubén Pérez. The race commences this Friday with what's expected to be a sprinter-friendly stage, continues on Saturday with a summit finish atop the Interpretación de Sierra Espuña, and concludes on Sunday with an individual time trial in downtown Murcia.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2011

    Euskaltel duo scout Vuelta climbs

    Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón are both targeting the Vuelta a España later this season, and the featherweight duo are leaving nothing to chance as they aim to go even better than last year.

    The duo memorably grabbed three mountain-top stage-wins between them, and, just like last year, they'll be well prepared for what's to come in late August. Yesterday, the two climbers, accompanied by DS Josu Larrazabal, did the last 70 kilometres of stage four that ends atop the Sierra Nevada, writes El Correo. Inside those last 70 clicks were also the cat. 3 climb of Blancares, and in total they spent approximately three hours on the road. They both rode in Almería this past Sunday, and next up for the duo is the Vuelta a Murcia on Friday.

    Díaz optimistic despite losses

    Despite his team losing two riders on the day of it's official presentation, Orbea directeur sportif Álex Díaz retains an optimistic view of the year ahead. With his roster being reduced from 13 to 11 riders due to Peio Bilbao's signing for Euskaltel and Joseba Larralde's decision to retire, Orbea might look short number-wise, but Díaz thinks they'll cope. "Generally, 11 riders is enough", he told Biciciclismo in Mallabia earlier today. "We'll see how the season pans out, and we hope we'll be lucky when it comes to injuries." Quizzed about the season in front of them, he revealed Orbea will take part in some as of yet unfamiliar races. "Our intention is to expand the calendar. We'll dispute the races we did last year, and we'll add some new ones in France and Portugal. The team is different compared to last year. We're much more mature now. I feel the riders are more motivated and ready to work as well. I'm very pleased. And with Euskaltel Euskadi just 'above', they've got that added incentive".

    Orbea youngster retires

    Orbea rider Joseba Larralde has decided to retire from the sport, it was unveiled today at Orbea's official presentation in Mallabia. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has struggled to make an impression during his years with Euskaltel's feeder-team, but no reason was given for his somewhat surprising decision to hang up the wheels just a couple of months into the new season. Euskaltel's website writes: "he's decided to approach life in a different way and to look for work in other areas".

    Ocampos breaks collarbone

    Naturgas Energía youngster Aitor Ocampos has suffered a broken collarbone, team DS Arberas told . The versatile rider suffered the misfortune in Saturday's season-opener in Zumaia. It's a strong blow for the fourth-year Naturgas rider, as this year is probably his last to earn a 'promotion' to Orbea or face getting dropped from the team. Ocampos enjoyed a reasonably strong 2010 season, but it's hoped he'll take another step this year to show he's ready for racing on the Conti-level with Orbea.

    Bilbao joins Euskaltel

    Euskaltel have suprisingly decided to sign Orbea youngster Peio Bilbao with immediate effect. The 21-year-old climber only joined Orbea from feeder-team Naturgas ahead of this season, but only a month into his stay with the Continental team has impressed sufficiently to earn a 'promotion'. The lanky Bilbao has showed considerable promise and talent already this season with his performances in Mallorca and Andalucía, and he's now been drafted in to fill the place of the injured Koldo Fernández (who's expected to be sidelined for close to three months). "They (Euskaltel) told me this morning. I didn't know anything about it, and I'm very surprised", a delighted Bilbao told "I prepared well in the winter, and I've adapted to the level quite well." The Gernika native is likely to make his bow with his new team in either the GP Indurain or the Klasika Primavera in roughly a month's time.

    Fernández scheduled for operation

    According to, Koldo Fernández is scheduled for operation this coming Thursday in Bilbao. The crash-victim fractured his right collarbone in the recently-concluded Vuelta a Andalucía, and is sadly thought to be out of action for three months.


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