Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday round-up: Romandie, Asturias and Álava

Euskaltel placed three riders inside the top 20 on today's third Romandie stage and, perhaps more importantly, still harbour hopes of claiming a top 10 overall with two stages to go as Gorka Verdugo held onto his fifth place. Alan Pérez showed he's an allrounder to be reckoned with by taking an impressive eighth in the 80-man strong peloton, while Velasco and Txurruka took 17th and 19th respectively. Verdugo, of course, and the talented Jon Izagirre also managed to stay with the pack with no real degree of difficulty. Martínez ended up 56 seconds back, whilst Fernández and Castroviejo ended up in the gruppetto some 15 minutes down. Ahead of tomorrow's crucial 20,1km ITT Verdugo is just 46 seconds off the lead. His recent solid showings in the discipline should see him hold on to a top 10 overall if everything goes to plan I reckon. DS Gerrikagoitia was hoping for the same. "Gorka is doing a great race and he's aiming for a top 10 overall", he told the team's website after today's stage. "We set ourselves that goal in Martigny and we're working towards it. He will have to do a very good race tomorrow, and we aim for a top 10 in a race of top quality".

It was a hectic day in the Vuelta a Asturias today. The riders got up early for a short, flat 90km stage to Áviles, which was won by Förster eventually, before taking on a 14km ITT in Piedras Blancas, taken out by the not so popular Stefan Schumacher (if anyone remembers him?). Euskaltel were up there on both occasions but had to settle for creditable placings in the end. Rubén Pérez showed he's still fast by sprinting to sixth on stage 2a, and was closely followed by Isasi in 13th, Aramendía in 17th, Izagirre in 19th and Urtasun in 22nd. The rest of the guys, also including all Orbea riders, also crossed the line inside the peloton. The time trial didn't turn out great, but not too bad either, as Gorka Izagirre showed promise by taking a solid 13th at just 40 seconds. The rest of the riders performed below expectations to be frank: Oroz was 34th, Isasi 38th, Urtasun 40th, Sesma 54th, Pérez 59th and Aramendía 95th. Not too impressive in a rather low-key race. For reason unknown at the time being, Pierre Cazaux did not take the start. Orbea didn't succeed in setting the race alight either, Ricardo García being their best man in 21st place 48 seconds down. Cabedo was a solid 33rd, Martín 46th, Sáez 63rd, Xabalo 75th, Bagües 88th, Etxebarria 92nd and Bizkarra 101st. Going into the last two days Izagirre is the best man in orange so far, lying a healthy 10th overall.

Fernando Grijalba (pictured above) took a mightily impressive and equally important victory for Naturgas Energía in today's second stage of the Three Days of Álava. The punchy climber took off 300 metres out on the lumpy 134km stage ending atop a small climb to Lapuebla de Labarca and beat the rest by a pair of seconds. It capped off a brilliant day's work by the team, something the man himself was at pains to express post-race. "This win is thanks to my companions, I dedicate this victory to them", a diplomatic Grijalba told afterwards. "They did an excellent job throughout the day. Rory (Martínez) and Eduardo (Ardaiz) got into the breaks whilst the others kept me out of trouble in the pack. Towards the end Efrén (Carazo) and Carlos (Barbero) did a brilliant job. They took control of the pack and gave it their utmost on the last incline. It's a great win for everyone on the team and the whole of (the company) Naturgas Energía. I'm very happy to have won what for us must be considered to be our home race. It's a very special and a very nice win". As Grijalba's team-mates worked their socks off all day they naturally finished some way down the standings. Barbero was 51st at 28 seconds, Larrinaga 56th and Carazo 57th at 54, Merino 65th at 1:40 and Ardaiz came home 69th at two minutes twentyseven seconds.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday round-up: Romandie, Asturias and Álava

Gorka Verdugo rose from sixth to fifth on GC in the Tour de Romandie after another strong performance on today's 172km second stage. The stage, starting and finishing in the hilltop town of Ramont, saw Txurruka and A Pérez being active early on, trying to spot the right move. None of them succeeded though as Kern and Bouet made up the break of the day. From there on in Euskaltel didn't have a major role to play, but on the demanding finish Verdugo once again comfortably stayed with the favourites, placing 14th on the day, to stay in the hunt for a final podium place. Stage results:

  • 14, Gorka Verdugo, 0:02
  • 31, Amets Txurruka, 0:23
  • 40, Jon Izagirre, 1:20
  • 52, Iván Velasco, 1:28
  • 96, Egoi Martínez, 6:39
  • 104, Jonathan Castroviejo, s.t.
  • 117, Alan Pérez, 12:34
  • 118, Koldo Fernández, s.t.

The Vuelta a Asturias got underway today with a demanding trek from the region's capital of Oviedo to Gijón. Aramendía did his best to get into the break early on but failed, but Cazaux had more luck and got away with seven others. The break was naturally caught though, and comeback kid Schumacher somewhat surprisingly took out the sprint. Isasi and Gorka Izagirre were both up there, taking 7th and 10th respectively, but other than that the list of results made for dire reading. No one else managed to stay with the pack. Giro-bound JJ Oroz unexpectedly conceded 36 seconds, while R Pérez, Aramendía and Cazaux all lost 1:33. Urtasun and Sesma both ended up a massive 8:29 in arrears. Orbea didn't do too well either. Ricardo García was as anticipated their best finisher, but he's already out of the picture for the overall as he finished in Oroz's group 36 back. Cabedo was 1:58 down in an okay 50th place, while Sáez lost 9:40, Bagües 16:17 and the quartet Martín, Zabalo, Etxebarria and Bizkarra 19:01. Not too good a start for sure.

Naturgas Energía's 'home race', the Tres Días de Álava, kicked off today with a 129km ride starting and finishing in the Basque Country's capital Vitoria. The red's team consisted of fast-finishers Barbero and Larrinaga, allrounders Merino and Martínez, punchy climbers Guinea and Grijalba, the prodigious Loic Chetôut, and the trio of young hopefuls Ardaiz, Carazo and González. Though possessing lots of quality in depth, the Naturgas riders didn't succeed in setting the first stage alight. Larrinaga was their best finisher in 12th place, coming home with the peloton two seconds down on solo winner Edinson Bravo. Martínez and González could also be found in that main group. Larrinaga would have hoped for better than 12th, but can console himself with the fact that he's leading the 'Best Álavan rider' category after day 1. Results:

  • 12, Jon Larrinaga, 0:02
  • 23, Rory Martínez, s.t.
  • 40, Alain González, s.t.
  • 48, Efrén Carazo, 0:34
  • 71, Loic Chetôut, 0:44
  • 85, Alberto Guinea, 2:19

Asturias beckons

The six-day Vuelta a Asturias will get underway tomorrow without local hero Samuel Sánchez present. After concluding the Ardennes Classics he'll now have a break and will have to forego his home race, but both Euskaltel and Orbea will hope to shine nonetheless. The race features a short ITT, one medium-mountain stage, two sprinter-friendly affairs and two proper sufferfests, including, for the very first time, the last-day Subida al Naranco, which was incorporated into the race this year due to financial problems. Euskaltel will be lead by Pablo Urtasun, who's a two-time stage-winner in this race, while Ricardo García carries most of Orbea's hopes for the event.

Euskaltel: Javier Aramendía, Pierre Cazaux, Iñaki Isasi, Gorka Izagirre, Juan José Oroz, Rubén Pérez, Daniel Sesma and Pablo Urtasun.

Orbea: Aritz Bagües, Mikel Bizkarra, Víctor Cabedo, Aritz Etxebarria, Ricardo García, Noel Martín, Adrián Sáez and Xabier Zabalo.

Team loses jersey; Verdugo 6th overall

As I feared, Euskaltel were not able to hang on to the leader's jersey in today's first stage proper of the Tour de Romandie. The team never really took control of the pack and looked ready to relinquish the lead right from the start, allowing a strong four-man break to get too big a gap early on. Eventually BMC decided to act and were quickly followed by a few other teams, Euskaltel among them. But there was no catching the quartet up ahead on the last cat. 1 climb to the finish line in Leysin. Power-house Brutt took both the win and the overall lead while the group of favourites came in 2:05 down. In that group was the excellent Gorka Verdugo who rose to sixth on GC as a result, but Castroviejo was not present. The birthday boy had to let go of the first group inside the last 3 clicks and ended up losing 42 seconds to Verdugo, Evans, Vino and Spilak's group. He's now 31st overall at a full 2:42 and seemingly out of contention for the final rankings. Verdugo is everything but though, and will be looking to climb even higher on GC as the race unfolds. Stage results:

  • 23, Gorka Verdugo, 2:05
  • 39, Jonathan Castroviejo, 2:47
  • 62, Iván Velasco, 3:38
  • 73, Egoi Martínez, 4:21
  • 92, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 104, Alan Pérez, 7:46
  • 116, Amets Txurruka, 10:42
  • 119, Koldo Fernández, s.t.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Castroviejo delighted with maiden win

Hero of the day Jonathan Castroviejo did not hide his joy at taking out today's Romandie prologue when speaking to the press after the race. The victory was his first as a pro (if you discount his wins with Orbea two years ago), and the fact that tomorrow is his birthday only made the big day even bigger. "I'm really happy. Tomorrow's my birthday as well (he'll turn 24), so we will have two things to celebrate", he told the team's own website. "Until today I've always tried to do my best in the time trials, to finish high up the rankings. But after this I'll start the time trials to win; my mentality has changed. I've always done well in this discipline, but there's a big difference in doing well and winning the prologue in a race like Romandie." The Getxo native went on to reveal he actually crashed prior to the race when making his way to the start ramp. The former Orbea rider bumped into another team's mechanic and hit the deck as a result. But rather than putting him off, the scare spurred him on to go all out on the twisty and technical 3,5km course and eventually taking the win by the slimmest of margins over the phenomenon that is Taylor Phinney. "With it's tricky bends it was a time trial for specialist, but the race was won on the straights. I gave it my all and it turned out great. Now I'll go and enjoy this win with my team-mates".

Castroviejo wasn't the only one with a reason to be happy today. Gorka Verdugo once again showed his ability in the discipline by taking an excellent 11th just three seconds down. Not only was it a good ride, his split-times were also useful for his team-mate starting later in the day. Isasi was solid in 31st at 9, while Martínez ended up 11 seconds down, A Pérez 12, Velasco 19, Txurruka 21 and Fernández, who probably took it easy to avoid ending up on the tarmac once again, finished up 23 seconds adrift.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Castroviejo snatches brilliant Romandie win

A sensational Jonathan Castroviejo stormed to a somewhat surprising win in today's Tour de Romandie prologue. Like I said yesterday, the course was perfect for him, so it was hardly a surprise that he was up there. But that he beat Phinney, Howard, Millar, Grabsch, Vino and co. was unexpected. For a soon-to-be-24-year-old that's one hell of a win. And what a way to grab your very first one as a pro! Not only it it a major boost to Euskaltel's season, it's also the breakthrough he's been longing for since joining Euskaltel last year. What made the victory even sweeter is the fact that he beat Phinney and Howard by less than second. To be precise he beat the American by two tenths of a second. That feels like revenge after the team, and Samu in particular, have been beaten so narrowly numerous times already this season. Finally luck seemed to be playing along. Full results, reactions and photos to come later this evening.

Romandie line-up

The six-day Tour de Romandie gets underway today with eight Euskaltel riders on the start line. There's no word from the team itself who those eight will be, but according to the race's own website it'll be Castroviejo, Fernández, Isasi, Martínez, A Pérez, Txurruka ,Velasco and Verdugo. As usual it's quite the demanding parcours, starting with a prologue later today in and around Martigny. The prologue should suit Castroviejo to a tee, while the few flat stages on offer should be an opportunity for Fernández to fine-tune his sprint after a truncated start to the season. The hilly stages will hopefully see Verdugo, Martínez, Verdugo and Txurruka in the thick of it, picking up a few points towards the WorldTour rankings.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

LBL and Rioja

Euskaltel had a solid if somewhat low-key performance in today's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Samu had an anonymous ride but still mananged a very satisfying 10th at the end after going clear of the main chase group up the last incline to the line. Antón was way more aggressive and looked close to his best, pedalling efforlessly with his trademark high cadence, but eventually had to settle for 14th after never really getting away. Gorka Verdugo was the only other rider able to finish the race, ending up 60th, but the team still looked strong. Especially Martínez and Velasco played pivotal roles in setting up their leaders for a shot at glory through some unselfish riding.

In Rioja, luck was never really on the team's side. Urtasun got into the break early on and stayed out ahead for the majority of the race. When the racing got serious towards the end with Urtasun's group reeled in, the riders just didn't seem to have the legs. Azanza, Nieve and Txurruka, especially so the latter, looked in decent shape and was close to the front, but the trio eventually had to settle for 18th, 23rd and 24th, all at just eight seconds. They crossed the line inside a small group also containing the impressive Orbea duo of García (11th) and Cabedo (16th). Fernández, Aramendía and Pérez lead home the main peloton at 1:25, taking 31st through 33rd. Martín (35th) and Sáez (47th) was also in that group, while Zabalo, Aberasturi and Bagües ended up in a group three minutes fifteen seconds in arrears. Cazaux and Orbea youngster Etxebarria came in together at 7:54, both tired after being active throughout. Breakaway man Urtasun ended up 10:44 down.

Nieve strong in Llodio

Mikel Nieve was among the strongest yesterday in the GP Llodio and eventually grabbed a creditable 8th place. It was a reassuring performance from Antón's right-hand man with a view to the Giro which kicks off in less than two weeks.

The day started off with an eight-man break going clear. Among those were Jorge Azanza, making sure Euskaltel didn't have to pull in the peloton all day. For a while though they had to, as the peloton split in two midway through the race. Euskaltel were caught out and had to do a lot of work to bring it all back together. They succeeded though, and Mikel Nieve and JJ Oroz looked strong on the closing laps. Both were among the frontrunners in the last 20k, but eventually disgraced Santi Pérez escaped inside the last five clicks to win solo by four seconds over a small chase group. In that chase group was Nieve, taking eighth, while Isasi came home with a small group in 25th place 1:01 down. Txurruka was 39th at 1:36, while R Pérez, Oroz and Fernández - making a successful return to racing - ended up 2:59 back in 43rd through 45th place. Urtasun finished the race in 65th place, 4:18 down. Azanza, Sesma and Cazaux are not listed on the official results, so I assume they abandoned underway. Orbea did not have a particularly good day out. Ricardo García, fresh off that impressive eighth overall in Castilla y León, hung on with Isasi and his group and finished a respectable 30th. Only two other riders managed to finish the race: Bizkarra ended up 68th and Bagües 79th.

Mikel Nieve took time out to reflect on the race afterwards as he spoke to the team's website. "I felt really good", he stated. "Santi Pérez was the strongest, he attacked at the right time with real power, and all I can do is to congratulate him. It was a very active and aggressive race right from the start, and it was a little crazy towards the end as well. Rioja tomorrow (today actually) will be my last race before the Giro, so naturally I hope to do a good race."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Injury report

Several Euskaltel riders are out of action nursing various injuries at the moment. Earlier this week the team gave an update on how they're all doing:

  • Mikel Landa (broken collarbone): Out since March 5, he's been on the rollers for a couple of weeks and is nearing a return to competition. No set return-date.
  • Peio Bilbao (elbow fracture): Cast removed five days ago, has been on the rollers for ten days. No set return-date.
  • Pablo Urtasun (battered and bruised): After having to forego the Ardennes classics, versatility man Urtasun will be back on action this weekend in Llodio and Rioja.
  • Miguel Minguez (10cm gash on right arm): Taking a few days off after being patched up, the climber is back in training. No set return-date for him either.
  • Romain Sicard (knee pain): Will take a full month off the bike in the hope of getting rid of the recurring pain to his knees caused by a change of shoes at the start of the season. Should be back in late-May.

    Upcoming races

    • Euskaltel will take on both the GP Llodio and the Vuelta a la Rioja this weekend. The former, to be held on Saturday, will include 10 Euskaltel representatives: Azanza, Cazaux, Isasi, Fernández, Nieve, Oroz, R Pérez, Sesma, Txurruka and Urtasun. The race will mark sprinter Koldo Fernández's return to competition after a two-month lay-off. Everyone bar Sesma, Oroz and Cazaux will do Rioja the following day, whilst Aramendía will fill out the eight-man team.
    • Orbea will of course take part in the same races. For Llodio DS Díaz will field the following seven riders: Aberasturi, Bagües, Bizkarra, Cabedo, Etxebarria, García and Martín. Cabedo will be replaced by Adrián Sáez in Sunday's race. Both races, Llodio especially, are likely to come down to bunch sprints, so keep an eye out for in-form riders Aberasturi, Cabedo and García in particular.
    • Naturgas will take part in the Three Days of Álava towards the end of the month, the 28th, 29th and 30th to be precise. The race is organized by the Fundación Euskadi itself and is sure to be one of the team's biggest objectives of the year. To tune up for that race, as well as the prestigious Vuelta a Bidasoa coming up just a week or so later, the team is staging two collective training rides on the 21st and 22nd. A tentative roster for the races haven't been released yet, but the reds are expected to field their very strongest team.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Fleche Wallonne

    Brilliant display by Euskaltel in Fleche today. Third for Samu and fifth for Antón capped off a good team performance, and frankly there was no way to beat Gilbert today so a podium in a race of this calibre is no mean feat. Velasco and Verdugo kept the race under control inside the last 20k, and when the riders started to make their way up the Mur the last time the Euskaltel duo was in the mix all the way and secured vital points towards the WorldTour rankings. I have to say though that I believe both of them might have finished even higher if their position at the foot of the climb had been a little better. Samu was too far back when Gilbert and Rodríguez took off, and Antón somehow started the finale probably 3o riders back or something. Samu probably wouldn't have been able to go with the top two anyway so it doesn't really matter, and he comfortably held off Vino for third, but looking at the effortless pedalling of Antón I can't help but feel he could have finished top 3 as well if he'd just been where he ought to be to begin with. The tactics left something to be desired but most importantly Antón looks to be approaching top form with the Giro just 16 days away. He'll be one to watch on Sunday as well. If Samu and Antón can take advantage of the fact that they're two of the favourites on the same team, and ride aggressively, one of them might just grab the win in Liège. They've both got it in them that's for sure. Gladly all eight riders finished the race. Castroviejo came through his first Fleche unscathed is 85th, 2:18 down, while the trio of Martínez, Velasco and Verdugo all came in at 2:34 in places 90 through 92 respectively. Jon Izagirre, a last-minute call-up after Urtasun's enforced absence, acquitted himself well to come home five minutes down in 108th place, while the ever-dependable Alan Pérez finished up 10 minutes adrift in 130th place.

    Samu was as ever gracious in defeat (if you can call 3rd in Fleche a defeat that is), telling the team's website that "I can only congratulate Gilbert. He was really strong today and I feel he was impossible to beat". He did not hide his joy at finishing on the podium though: "I'm very happy with third. I think it was the best result possible today. To be on the podium in a classic this prestigious and with the quality of the riders present, I can't be anything but satisfied. The team did a great job all day. In 2006 I finished on the podium and five years later I do the same. I'll do my best in Liège. Top 3 will be hard though, so we'll enjoy this result".

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    García at the top of his game

    22-year-old Orbea rider Ricardo García made his breakthrough at the big stage at last week's Vuelta a Castilla y León. The third-year pro finished a lofty eighth overall after excellent climbing on the queen-stage and a solid concluding time trial. Speaking to Euskaltel's website on Monday, the man himself was naturally pleased. "I'm very content. I feel strong, stronger than ever, and I think I'm progressing year by year", he stated confidently. "But the result is not only a credit to me, it's a credit to the whole team. I had great support from all my team-mates and this eighth overall is in no small part thanks to them. I really struggled on the first climb on Friday's queen-stage, but Víctor Cabedo waited for me and brought me up to Contador's group. I tried to stay as far ahead as possible and eventually came home 15th. I was 13th in the time trial. I always believe in myself, but it was unexpected. I was surprised but obviously satisfied as well." Looking ahead, the youngster diplomatically stated that he hopes the team continues to perform well throughout the season and improve race by race, but he also said he's hoping to grab that very first win.

    Ocampos returns from injury

    Promising Naturgas Energía rider Aitor Ocampos finally returned to competition on Sunday after a collarbone fracture had sidelined him for almost two full months. The Gipuzkoan, who got to ride with Orbea last October as a reward for winning the 'Best Basque'-category at the Three Days of Álava, suffered the misfortune in the Trofeo Euskaldun race in Zumaia on 26 February and hasn't raced since. Speaking after finishing last in Durana on Sunday, the law and economics student was in a surprisingly upbeat mood when contacted by el Diario Vasco. "I feel I've learned to take advantage of the opportunities as they come along", he said. "After this I appreciate more the fact that I'm able to train and can take part in races. The injury has also taught me to stay relaxed and to do the best I can with what's at my disposal." While acknowledging that he's still short on form, and especially so on the climbs, the allrounder was looking ahead and hoping for better times. "I doubt that I can take part in the Vuelta a Bidasoa", he lamented, "but the summer has only just begun and I always feel better at this time of year compared to the other seasons". Drawing on the positives of being forced off the bike in such a crucial part of a very crucial season for him, Ocampos told the San Sebastián daily that at least he's now well prepared for the closing exams coming up at school.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Round-up: CyL, Amstel, Urtasun, Naturgas, Orbea

    • The Vuelta a Castilla y León came to a close earlier today after Saturday's 11,2km ITT and today's fifth and concluding stage into Medina del Campo. All in all it was a good weekend for the team as Antón impressed in the time trial to claim third overall, whilst Rubén Pérez once again showed his quick turn of speed to take third earlier today. In the time trial, Antón clung onto his 3rd place as he finished a lofty 6th on the day losing just 20 seconds to the indomitable Contador. Admittedly the level of competition wasn't the highest, but doing so well on a flat time trial course still shows he's approaching top form and might suggest all his work on the time trial bike is paying off. Earlier this year he lowered his position by close to a centimetre to get more aero and efficient and it certainly looks to be working. The other Euskaltel riders didn't perform that well though. R Pérez was 41st, Azanza 64th, Sesma 67th, Nieve 74th, Cazaux 84th and Aramendía 89th, all at more than a minute. The youngsters at Orbea fared better though. Ricardo García, who's taken considerable steps so far this year, placed an encouraging 13th at 43 seconds, while newbie Victor Cabedo was 21st at 48. Martín was 59th, Etxebarria 71st, Bizkarra 86th and Aberasturi 99th, all within two minutes ten seconds. That's an impressive performance no doubt. Adrián Sáez was forced to pull out before the racing got underway as a crash the day before had broken a bone in his right wrist. Today's road stage was one for the sprinters and, as I've already mentioned, Pérez impressed with third place, besting riders like Bos and Pelucchi. Aberasturi finished a solid ninth to cap off a few good weeks of racing for him. Five days of racing at such a high level seemed to be catching up on his team-mates, though, as only himself, García and Martín managed to stay with the pack today. Cabedo crossed the line 12 seconds down, while Bizkarra and Etxebarria finished 0:41 and 1:27 in arrears respectively. Nieve and Cazaux also ended up in the wrong peloton, coming home 15 seconds back. Final GC: Antón 3, Nieve 22, Aramendía 32, Pérez 47, Azanza 62, Cazaux 83 and Sesma 104. Ricardo García took an eyebrow-raising 8th place overall, while Cabedo was 36th, Bizkarra 39th, Martín 87th, Aberasturi 90th and Etxebarria 100th.

    • Pablo Urtasun has been forced to pull out of the team for the three Ardennes classics, the team's website reports. The versatile sprinter hit the deck on the last stage in País Vasco and has barely been able to train this week. While no serious injury is thought to have been sustained, it's still enough to force him off the roster. Jon Izagirre will take his place in what will be his first time taking part in the hilly one-dayers.

    • Naturgas sent seven riders to today's Torneo Euskaldun race in Durana. Those seven didn't have a lot of luck, though, and were never really in contention. Jon Larrinaga was the team's highest finished, clocking up 28th place. Álex Bilbao was 55th, Alain González 61st, Rory Martínez 64th and Aitor Ocampos dead last in 74th place. Urtzi Legarra and Alberto Guinea failed to complete the taxing race. Things didn't go much better on Saturday either in the Clásice de Estella/Memorial José Ciordia. The hilly Torneo Lehendakari race, ending atop the famed climb to the Puy basilica, saw Caja Rural annihilate the opposition. The red brigade, led by strong allrounder Igor Merino, lying second overall in the series going into the race, wasn't given as much as a look-in as Caja Rural made a clean sweep of the podium.

    • Amstel Gold Race didn't turn out as the team would have hoped earlier today. There's not a lot to tell actually as Samu just wasn't where you'd expect him to be when the peloton split up in the closing stages. Along with Garmin-Cervélo, Euskaltel were caught cold and failed to place a single rider in the first pack. I don't think Samu was feeling bad or anything, it just seemed like a tactical mistake. Eventually he finished a lowly 56th at a big 2:46, while Verdugo turned out to be the best on the day by coming home in 50th at 2:29. Velasco was 60th, Martínez 85th and Castroviejo 86th. Debutant Izagirre and A Pérez both pulled out.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Castilla y León: stage 3

    Igor Antón showed his form is picking up just at the right time for next month's Giro with a solid, if somewhat timid, display in today's queen-stage of the Vuelta a Castille y León. The third stage from Benavente to the top of the cat. 1 Laguna de los Peces was seen as an important one for Antón to gauge his form ahead of May's big rendez-vous, and the diminutive climber will be quietly pleased with his fourth place on the day. As anticipated, Contador took off inside the last five kilometres and looked to be at his swashbuckling best. A mistimed puncture put paid to his hopes of winning the stage and opened the door to an attack from the promising but unheralded Filippo Savini, who powered alone to win the stage solo by seven seconds over Mollema and team-mate Pozzovivo. In fourth, at ten seconds, was Antón, quickly followed by overall favourite Tondo. Though escorted expertly by lieutenant Mikel Nieve up the climb and the race almost inviting an attack after Contador's mishap, the expected surge from Antón just wasn't coming. Though fourth at such a race is nothing to be ashamed of, Antón admitted post-stage that his form wasn't at 100% just yet. "I felt pretty good but I'm just missing that little bit", he told the team's website. "Today's stage was an important test for the Giro and the result is satisfactory, my preparation is going well. The final climb wasn't really suited to me, but I was still ahead and kept Tondo in check. He looks to be the strongest rider in this race, yet when he attacked I could follow. Alas I'm happy." One who's not likely to be equally happy is Miguel Minguez. The young escalador hit the deck rather badly after only 30 clicks of riding or so, and was left with a huge gash on his right arm. Together with a few other riders he was rushed to hospital and naturally had to abandon the race. Reports coming in says he needed more than a dozen stitches to patch the wound up. Orbea rider Beñat Urain was also taken to hospital, more on his status later.

    Javier Aramendía spent the majority of the day up ahead in the break, showing his form has picked up considerably after taking part in all the cobbled classics. Nieve looked closed to his best on the last climb, shepherding Antón all the way, eventually finishing a nice 21st, just 1:o2 down. Breakaway hero Aramendía ended up 32nd at 3:35, while R Pérez and Azanza came in with a group 11:23 adrift. Cazaux and Sesma both ended up 23:20 in arrears. Orbea stage results:

    • 14, Ricardo García, 0:28
    • 27, Victor Cabedo, 2:35
    • 37, Mikel Bizkarra, 4:56
    • 74, Adrián Sáez, 15:46
    • 94, Aritz Etxebarria, 23:20
    • 104, Jon Aberasturi, 24:21
    • 105, Noel Martín, s.t.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Castilla y León: stage 2

    Rubén Pérez sprinted to a creditable fifth on today's 213km second stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León between Valladolid and Salamanca. The 30-year-old took 10th yesterday and improved on that today, meaning he's now a lofty fourth overall. He's not going to stay there for long, though, as the climbers will have their day in the sun tomorrow. Speaking of the climbers, Antón, Nieve and co. all made it in with the pack today. Sesma, who was once again off the front animating the break along with Orbea's Urain, in the end paid for his efforts and conceded 2:52 by stage's end. Not that he'd care too much about that though. Being aggressive and getting into the break was obviously his target and he succeeded. The Orbea youngsters found the going a little bit tougher. Aberasturi and García didn't have the strength to sprint at the end of the day, while Sáez lost 0:18, Bizkarra 0:51, Cabedo and Etxebarria 2:00 and Urain 4:13. Tomorrow's stage to Laguna de los Peces will tell us a lot about Antón's shape less than a month before the Giro, so he'll be hoping to finish at least top 10 I reckon tomorrow. Nieve should also be able to stay with the likes of Tondo and Contador, so it promises to be an exciting stage. Check back tomorrow afternoon for results.

    A Classic team

    Euskaltel will send both of their two main captains to the Ardennes Classics. Samuel Sánchez will take on all three, starting this weekend with the Amstel Gold, while Antón will take on the latter two as he joins up with the team after completing Castilla y León Sunday afternoon. Accompanying the pair will be Jonathan Castroviejo, who I expect will be a force to be reckoned with in these races in a couple of years, proven performer Egoi Martínez, in-form Gorka Verdugo, solid climber Iván Velasco, and strong all-rounders Alan Pérez and Pablo Urtasun. As Antón won't do Amstel, Euskaltel will face the first of the Classics with only seven riders.

    While I'm afraid Amstel isn't perfectly suited to Samu, both Samu and Antón might podium in Fleche and Liège if everything clicks on the day. Both have shown their worth in these races in years past and it looks as if both will bring their a-game. Make sure to catch the racing on TV and check back here for full results.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Castilla y León: stage 1

    Rubén Pérez sprinted to 10th on today's first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León into Palencia to give Euskaltel a solid start to the five-day stage race. Euskaltel were one of many teams who contributed to reeling the stage's main break back in to set it up for the sprint, but Pérez didn't find the perfect spot inside the last kilometres and had to settle for 10th. Up-and-coming Orbea sprinter Jon Aberasturi was hot on his heels in 11th place, while the speedy Ricardo García went even better to grab a respectable eighth. Orbea, who are represented by the two sprinters, Bizkarra, Cabedo, Etxebarria, Sáez, Urain and Martín, had an eventful opening day by placing the latter in the break and obviously getting into the mix at the end there. For Euskaltel, four of the riders lost time today: Nieve and Minguez both came in at six seconds, while Azanza was 1:40 down and Sesma 3:04. Five Orbea riders finished outside the peloton. Bizkarra, Etxebarria and Cabedo rolled in at 1:40, Urain at 1:54 and Sáez at 2:03.

    "You can't have everything in life"

    After missing out on one of the biggest goals of the season, you'd forgive Samuel Sánchez for feeling a little down. But as we've all come to learn the last few years, Samu is not one to dwell on defeats for too long. Speaking to el Diario Vasco yesterday, the Asturian was sounding reasonably upbeat. "You can't have everything in this life", he stated philosophically. "The worst would be to not win anything at all. I've got two victories and I have to be pleased with that. Of course I was disappointed, but you've got to pick yourself up." País Vasco done and dusted, the team captain has turned his attentions to the Ardennes classics. "I'll go to win. I'll try to take advantage of the form I've built up in the Vuelta. The after that I'll take a rest and start to prepare for the Tour".

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Giro team unveiled

    Euskaltel have revealed the list of riders that will take part in this year's first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia. Igor Antón will as expected lead the team, and by his side will be right-hand man Mikel Nieve who'll also be looking to shine in the high mountains. Veteran Iñaki Isasi and allrounder Juanjo Oroz, who both just completed País Vasco, will be present, and so too will Jorge Azanza and Pierre Cazaux. Youngsters Miguel Minguez, Javier Aramendía and Daniel Sesma will make their GT debuts in what promises to be an epic edition with torturous climbs littered across the route. Full team: Antón, Aramendía, Azanza, Cazaux, Isasi, Minguez, Nieve, Oroz and Sesma.

    Castilla y León coming up

    Remember Antón beating the mighty and seemingly indestructible Alberto Contador at the top of the Alto de Morredero at last year's Vuelta a Castilla y León? Antón will have the chance to repeat that performance as both riders will line up in Castilla y León on Wednesday. The five-day stage race will run through to Sunday, and stage 3 will again, just like last year, be a chance for the Galdakao native to flex his muscles as the stage ends atop the Laguna de Peces. Stage four is an 11,2km ITT so Contador will definetely win the race, make no mistake about it, but Antón should be in the mix as his form is picking up with the Giro just a month or so away. He'll have ample support from Vuelta-hero Mikel Nieve and in-form Gorka Izagirre. Joining the trio will be Rubén Pérez, who'll be hoping to show his worth on the flatter stages against the likes of Bos, Henderson, Rojas and Ventoso, Jorge Azanza, Javier Aramendía, Miguel Mínguez and Daniel Sesma.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Sunday round-up

    • Alan Pérez and Miguel Míngues both reached the hallowed Roubaix velodrome in today's Hell of the North. The former finished 103rd at 17:42 after avoiding the multiple crashes and mishaps underway. Sylf-like climber Minguez sadly finished outside the time-limit but still performed admirably to finish a race not exactly suited to his characteristics.
    • Jon Larrinaga grabbed an impressive third place for Naturgas Energía in today's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Igantzi. 22-year-old Caja Rural rider Yelko Gómez, born in Panama, once again showed his considerable promise by taking the win solo, two seconds ahead of a peloton lead home by Seguros Bilbao rider Salas and Larrinaga. Igor Merino completed a good day for the reds by taking seventh.
    • Igor Antón and Amets Txurruka both went for broke in today's Klasika Primavera. The former, who was second here last year, tried to go it alone on the last two climbs along with the ever-aggressive Etxebarria native, but none of them managed to stay away. Eventually it came down to a sprint between 15 riders, a sprint in which Txurruka took 7th and Antón 11th. Velasco wasn't far behind in 22nd place, while R Pérez, Azanza, Nieve and Isasi all finished at exactly 2:11 in 32nd, 33rd, 35th and 43rd place. Orbea rider Víctor Cabedo, new to the team this year, took a mightily impressive fifth place, showing his nice turn of speed. García was 20th, Sáez 34th, Bizkarra 72nd, Martín 84th, Urain 88th and Etxebarria 89th. Mikel Bizkarra spent most of the day off the front as part of the day's main breakaway.

    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    VPV 6: Samu off the podium

    The Vuelta al País Vasco ended on a disappointing note for Samu and Euskaltel today. Going into the deciding ITT, Samu was tied on time with leader Rodríguez and nr. 2 Klöden. While Rodríguez was never likely to pose a real threat, Klöden most certainly was. Samu just didn't seem to have the legs, pushing a (too?) heavy gear on the climb up to the first check-point, and at the halfway point in was already obvious that it wasn't going to work out for him this year either. Samu proceeded to lose even more time on the way to the line, finally ending up 13th at 1:17 down on winner Martin and, more importantly, 1:08 down on overall winner Klöden. Most of the other GC candidates also posted better times than Samu, resulting in a sixth place overall for the man ranked as the big favourite pre-race. While most likely being heartbroken at the result, the Olympic champion put on a brave face to the media afterwards. "In general I'm very pleased with the Vuelta al País Vasco", he told the team's website. "We've won the queen-stage and been in the fight for the win 'till the last minute. Obviously I'd have loved to finish on the podium. But like with Menchov at the Tour last year we failed at the last hurdle. But I don't want to dwell on this result too much as there are important races coming up. We gave it our all 'till the last day and take home with us the win on the queen-stage". While taking out the biggest stage in a WorldTour stage-race is not to be sniffed at, there's no hiding Samu, Galdeano et al. will be very disappointed with the final outcome. A course not selective enough and a rather weak squad compared to his rivals' have to take some of the blame, but in the end it's about having the legs on the day and sadly that wasn't the case this year either. Still 'only' 33, Samu still has a few years to put it right though and finally grab that elusive win in his and the team's home race. Here's to next year!

    Stage results:

    • 13th, Samuel Sánchez, 1:17
    • 29th, Gorka Verdugo, 2:03
    • 65th, Egoi Martínez, 3:00
    • 73rd, Amets Txurruka, 3:14
    • 101st, Juan José Oroz, 4:05
    • 106th, Iván Velasco, 4:18
    • 130th, Pablo Urtasun, 6:48

    Pablo Urtasun took a tumble 1500 metres from the line. Reportedly it's not thought to be too serious though, but he's pretty bruised up at the time being. Iñaki Isasi doesn't figure on the results sheet, so I assume he wasn't feeling too good this morning and decided to skip it.

    Final results:

    • 6, Samuel Sánchez
    • 15, Gorka Verdugo
    • 49, Amets Turruka
    • 54, Egoi Martínez
    • 58, Iván Velasco
    • 108, Juan José Oroz
    • 110, Pablo Urtasun


    • Juanjo Oroz has revealed he only reached the hospital where his pregnant wife was to have their first child three minutes before she gave birth. The 30-year-old drove all the way from Lekunberri, where the third stage of País Vasco ended, to the hospital in Pamplona and got there just in time, writes El Diario Vasco. Now that's what I call timing. Oihan is the kid's name. Can't say I've ever heard that name before, but it sounds kind of cool. According to the proud father, both child and wife are doing fine.
    • Orbea will send 10 riders to Sunday's Udaberri Saria de Zornotza (or just the Klasika Primavera if you like): Aberasturi, Bagües, Bizkarra, Cabedo, Etxebarria, García, Martín, Sáez, Urain and Zabalo.
    • Naturgas Energía will line up in Sunday's race in Igantzi with the stated goal of accumulating points for the Torneo Lehendakari overall race series. According to DS Arberas it's a "very nice race on an undulating course", and he's decided to field the following riders: Ardaiz, Barbero, Baudron, Carazo, Chetôut, García, González, Grijalba, Guinea, Larrinaga, Martínez and Merino.

    VPV 5: Time trial decider

    From Euskaltel's point of view, today's fifth and penultimate stage from Eibar to Zalla went by quietly. It was all about staying out of trouble and keeping the legs as fresh as possible for tomorrow's individual crono in today's finishing town. Samu had no troubles all day and rolled in to place 10th on the stage. Gorka Verdugo attacked the pack with only a kilometre to go but he couldn't hold the pack off and was reeled in some 300 metres out. That's probably the first time I've ever seen Verdugo pull off an attack like that, on the flat inside the last k, and it goes to prove he's approaching top form. Heading into the time trial the Etxarri native is lying a healthy 13th overall. Samu of course is stil tied on time with Purito and Klöden, whilst Horner is a second adrift. Ten riders are within ten seconds of the lead ahead of the big finale, but I reckon only Samu, the aforementioned Shack duo and Vino have a real chance of snatching the overall. Keep an eye on Gesink, though, he won the concluding ITT in Oman remember. Stage results:

    • 10, Samuel Sánchez, 0:00
    • 29, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
    • 31, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
    • 63, Amets Txurruka, 1:20
    • 66, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
    • 71, Iñaki Isasi, s.t.
    • 95, Pablo Urtasun, 6:49
    • 98, Iván Velasco, s.t.

    "There are no unknowns tomorrow; I know the course like the back of my hand", Samu confidently told the team's website upon crossing the line. "I have to give it 100% and then some more. So far we're pleased with the race. We've won the queen-stage, and that holds real value. The level of participation in this race is very high and we've not gone unnoticed. We'll fight for the win tomorrow".

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    Samu does it again!

    Told you! As I almost expected, and like Purito Rodríguez predicted before the stage, Samu Sánchez powered his way to a second win in Eibar in as many years today as the race's queen-stage was once again an enthralling spectacle. The iconic climb of Arrate, topping out some two kilometres before the line, failed to separate the main candidates as a strong headwind and the tiring heat took it's toll on the riders. As expected, though, Samu made his move on the downhill inside the last kilometre. There's no catching Samu on a descent if he gets a 20-metre gap, and so it proved as Samu held off a surging Klöden to send the patriotic home fans into delirium. A big win for Samu and the team alike. Sadly the pursuers were awarded the same time as Samu, and he thus remains in third place tied on time with Purito and Klöden. "Taking over the yellow jersey was very difficult as Klöden didn't look like he was struggling at all", Samu admitted afterwards. "Both Klöden and Horner look really strong, so they'll be tough adversaries. A lot of riders, strong riders, are within seconds of the lead. Anyone close to the lead can win this race. Klöden is doing phenomenal rides against the clock, but anyone can take it". Speaking about how the win came about, the naturalized Basque told the team's website: "It was a victory achieved through desire and knowledge of the course. On the climb I didn't feel good at all. I had to stay calm and bide my time. There was a headwind and we went up Arrate slower than in the recent past. Knowing the course helped me to grab this win. I'd like to dedicate it to the Basque fans that stand by us in good and bad times."

    It was by no means a win achieved alone though. The team did an excellent job throughout by keeping the break in check and setting the pace for large portions of the day. They set him up expertly, and at one time Amets Txurruka was even on the attack, going clear briefly with Tony Martin and a couple of other riders in pursuit of the break. Stage results:

    • 1, Samuel Sánchez, 0:00
    • 16, Gorka Verdugo, 0:47
    • 28, Amets Txurruka, 1:43
    • 58, Egoi Martínez, 6:03
    • 79, Iñaki Isasi, 11:40
    • 80, Iván Velasco, s.t.
    • 133, Juan José Oroz, 21:31
    • 140, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.

    GP Pino Cerami

    A young Euskaltel team put on a good performance in today's GP Pino Cerami, a relatively flat one-day race in Belgium held in the honour of Italian-born but naturalized Belgian Pino Cerami, who to this day is still the oldest rider ever to win a Tour de France stage. Pierre Cazaux successfully got into the break of the day and mopped up enough points on the day's climbs to win the climbers prize. Not bad from the Frenchman, but sadly the break was never really given a chance to stay away. Bert Scheirlinckx, who was so impressive in Vlaanderen last Sunday, escaped to grab the win. A group consisting of approximately 20 riders came in 59 seconds down to grab 6th through 27th. Castroviejo, still in good form, sprinted to a highly creditable 12th place and was thus the team's highest finisher. Jon Izagirre also had a good day out there today, taking 56th at 1:31. His brother, Gorka, evidently abandoned as he doesn't figure on the results sheet. Full results:

    • 12th, Jonathan Castroviejo, 0:59
    • 56th, Jon Izagirre, 1:31
    • 63rd, Javier Aramendía, 2:24
    • 66th, Miguel Minguez, 6:04
    • 67th, Daniel Sesma, s.t.
    • 92nd, Alan Pérez, 10:22
    • 93rd, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.

    VPV3: Status quo

    OK, so my headline is quite boring. Hands up. Using the same headline two days in a row is not very creative, but it's 2:00 AM and I've got to get up early tomorrow. Anyway, the racing was not boring, though. It rarely is in this race. Watching País Vasco is a virtual guarantee for entertainment actually. But today's stage didn't really result in any major changes to the overall classification. Egoi Martínez finally got into the break of the day after giving it quite a few tries earlier on in this race, and he stayed out there 'till something like five kilometres were left to be raced. Two clicks out Vino did his trademark move and stayed clear for a, let's admit it, unpopular stage win. Unpopular he might be, and he's certainly not one of my favourite riders, but his class on the bike makes it almost impossible not to like him in one way or another. Like Samu, everything Vino does on a bike just looks right. The same can't be said for what he does off the bike, but that's another story entirely. Samu, accompanied by Isasi, Verdugo and Velasco, stayed with the main group to keep hold of his third place on GC. Txurruka and Urtasun finished 1:52 and 1:54 down, while Martínez and Oroz ended up 9:05 in arrears. If today's stage didn't really pit the overall candidates against one another, tomorrow's stage to Arrate and down into Eibar certainly will. Samu describes the stage as the highlight of the whole Vuelta, so he for one will be fired up. He won there last year remember, so don't be surprised if he claims what will be a richly-deserved victory at around 5:00 PM tomorrow.


    • Samuel Sánchez will not be present at Sunday's Klasika Primavera to defend his title. Euskaltel will still send a strong team, though, consisting of Antón, Nieve, Sicard, Isasi, Velasco, Martínez, Txurruka, Oroz, R Pérez and Verdugo. The man himself, Igor González de Galdeano, will lead the team in this final race of the 'Basque week'. Good to see Romain Sicard having sufficiently recovered from his Catalunya crash and back in action.

    • Juan José Oroz's wife, Josune Murillo (a former rider herself), yesterday gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy. After completing yesterday's second stage into Lekunberri, the dependable domestique jumped straight into his car and got to the hospital just in time. The boy and his mother are both reported to be just fine.

    • The injury-prone Koldo Fernández is back in training and aiming for a return to competition at the GP Llodio on the 23rd of April, Deia and El Correo report. While admitting his form is everything but good at the moment, the sprinter is hoping racing and long, hard training rides will get him back into shape by early summer. That 'early summer' is likely to include the tours of Romandie, Madrid and Suisse, as well as the Dauphiné. His broken right collarbone is not causing him any problems anymore, but one of his fingers in his right hand, which was also fractured in Andalucía, is still troubling him somewhat.

    • Euskaltel put in a decent performance in today's penultimate big Belgian classic; the Scheldeprijs. Jon Izagirre, riding these races for the very first time, performed admirably to place 27th on the same time as Cavendish, who took out the win in a crash-marred sprint. Sesma and Aramendía both did well to come in just 20 seconds back in 53rd and 58th place respectively, while Gorka Izagirre ended up 32 down, A Pérez and Minguez 50 down, and Castroviejo and Cazaux 55. The Frenchman even tried to join up with the main break early on, but an untimely pinchazo put paid to that try. The same eight riders will line up in tomorrow's GP Pino Cerami.

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    VPV 2: Status quo

    There were no major changes to the overall after today's second stage of País Vasco. The 163km stage from Zumarraga to Lekunberri wasn't as selective as yesterday's opening stage, meaning the main front group consisted of no less than 22 riders coming into Lekunberri. Kiryienka escaped to take a deserved and, contrary to popular opinion it seems, non-surprising win (he's been in sublime form for some time now), while Samu and Verdugo calmly came home with the leading group two seconds down. Due to Klöden taking second today, Samu dropped to third overall and Klöden rose to first thanks to better stage placings. There's no need to worry though as there's still nothing separating the leading trio. Horner is fourth at one single second. The other Euskaltel riders once again put in decent shifts to help Samu out throughout the day. Velasco came home 46th at 1:08, Txurruka (who's looking thinner than ever by the way) was 59th at 2:18, Martínez was 87th at 4:30, Oroz 106th at 7:16, while Isasi and Urtasun both ended up at 18:46. After two days of solid riding, Verdugo is ranked 17th overall at just 36 seconds.

    VPV 1: Same old story as Samu goes close

    It just isn't happening for Samu in sprints this year, is it? Taking second today (his fifth second place so far this year I think, correct me if I'm wrong) surely felt like a defeat to fans at least, and I'm sure he felt just as aggrieved to come oh so close yet again this year. Though obviously a fantastic start to the race, what with taking second place on the stage and overall as well and distancing some big rivals in the process, there's just no way around it: coming second is the worst, especially so when a photo-finish is needed to decide the winner. It's also frustrating in the sense that Samu on paper should have won a sprint against Purito Rodríguez. Like in Paris-Nice when he was shut out by Klöden, he again left it a little too late against inferior competition and could only come around the Katusha rider half a metre or so after passing the line. Rodríguez is no mean sprinter, don't get me wrong, but nine times out of ten I reckon Samu will win. Just like against Schleck in the Tour last year and just like against Klöden in Paris-Nice this year. He seems to lose his nerve a bit and consequently mistimes it when it matters the most. That might not be the case for all I know, but it certainly looks like it and it seems to be a recurring problem. It's bound to go Samu's way sooner rather than later though, so he'll probably focus on the positive aspects of his performance and try to get it right tomorrow or later in the week. And there are indeed positive aspects to focus on despite yet again missing out. The team was rock solid all stage, taking control of the peloton along with Leopard-Trek all day. Top notch team performance; they all looked strong. Samu looked ever so strong as well, cresting the climb (or is that wall?) of Antigua on Horner and Purito's wheel, and putting seconds into all his rivals bar the aforementioned duo and Klöden, who caught back onto the group on the descent. Overall candidates like Gesink, Di Luca and Tondo lost six seconds, Vino, Uran, Sánchez, Basso and the Schlecks 18, and big challenger Martin had a day to forget, losing a whopping 9:55 by stages end. He's out of the picture obviously, so one less rider to worry about. The other Euskaltel riders naturally finished some way back as the pace-setting at the head of the pack took it's toll towards the end. Results:

    • 30th, Verdugo, 0:36
    • 45th, Velasco, 1:07
    • 73rd, Martínez, 3:43
    • 74th, Urtasun, s.t.
    • 90th, Txurruka, 9:49
    • 123rd, Isasi, 15:07
    • 133rd, Oroz, s.t.

    Talking post-stage, Samu as ever put on a brave face. "Obviously it's (second place) not the same as winning and taking yellow. But we've started the Vuelta with good sensations and that's the most important fact", he told the team's website. "The evaluation of today's stage is positive. The team did a great job and we've been where we ought to be. Urtasun and Isasi set the pace and didn't let the break's gap balloon on the first part of the stage. Amets and Egoi both set a blistering pace. Velasco, Juanjo and Verdugo supported me really well and we were among the best on the Antigua's steep slopes. Approaching the line in Zumarraga we were four riders together and Purito was a little bit faster than me. Thinking about what might have been is of no use. I think it's more important we appreciate the work of the team today. This is one of the best races in the world, and we've controlled the peloton and were in the fight 'till the last metre."

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Trio complete the Ronde

    The Izagirre brothers and Javier Aramendía all completed today's gruelling Ronde van Vlaanderen. As we all know the cobbles aren't exactly the Euskaltel riders' favourite cup of tea, but Gorka Izagirre once again showed his stamina and versatility by staying with the first group for more than 200 kilometres. The impressive 23-year-old eventually had to let go with some 40 clicks left to ride, but hung on to finish a creditable 62nd at 9:14. While 62nd doesn't sound too good, he came in just behind Quinziato, Paolini and Haussler, and three minutes ahead of riders like McEwen, Grivko, O'Grady and Van Impe, so he can be very pleased indeed with his performance. Aramendía and the younger Izagirre looked solid early on but faded slightly to finish in the gruppetto. They finished, though, and especially for debutant Izagirre that's no mean feat in the Ronde.

    Sunday, April 03, 2011


    • Orbea did not succeed in setting the GP Indurain alight yesterday. The youngsters failed in getting into the big moves of the day and Victor Cabedo was eventually their highest finisher in 32nd place at 2:03. Martín was 59th, García 63rd, Bizkarra 65th and Etxebarria 67th.

    • Samu Sánchez has revealed he can picture himself staying in cycling after hanging up the wheels. Still only 33, retirement is hopefully some way off, but speaking to El Correo he says he might stay in the sport when that day inevitably comes. "Yeah, I would like to stay involved in cycling", he said. "Either as a manager or a sports director, organizing a team. I love the sport, I'm experienced and cycling has always been my passion. But right now I'm 100% focused on my riding".

    • Naturgas went one-two in the third and final race of the Torneo Apertura series in Amorebieta earlier today. After a five-man break including reds duo Chetôut and Ardaiz had been caught, another five riders went clear close to the finish. Among the quintet were Barbero and Guinea, and impressively the former took first and the latter second in the sprint. Ardaiz rounded off a superb team performance by claiming sixth, and naturally the team took out the team classification. After prevailing in the series' opener in Ereño, Fernando Grijalba took out the overall win in this particular competition. The Torneo Apertura is reserved for 19 and 20-year-olds.

    • Naturgas didn't dominate Saturday's Clásica San Ronkillo in Balmaseda the same way as they did in Amorebieta today. Results: Larrinaga 11th, Merino 13th, García 29th, González 54th and Martínez 56th.

    • The reds only managed to place one rider inside the top 20 in the prestigious Memorial Valenciaga in Eibar today. The one-day classic saw Álex Bilbao getting into an early move but disappointingly it didn't go anywhere. After that the Naturgas riders didn't really have the strength or stamina to animate the race, Merino being the strongest of the red brigade in 14th place, a full 2:10 down on solo winner Evgeny Shalunov who totally annihilated the competition.

    • La Fundación Euskadi teamed up with the Vincente Ferrer Foundation recently, an organization striving to improve poor and disadvantaged kid's lifes and future prospects in India, to donate Euskaltel jerseys and Catlike helmets to kids in Anantapur and Bombay. Click for more info.

    Samu snatches maiden 2011 win

    Samu Sánchez proved his form is right where it should be ahead of Monday's Vuelta al País Vasco by taking both his and his team's first win of 2011 in the GP Miguel Indurain earlier today. The classy Asturian had too much for perennial classics contender Kolobnev and two-time winner Wegmann towards the top of the Basilica de Puy, eventually soloing in for a pressure-relieving and richly deserved victory. It was a team effort, though, make no mistake, as Azanza and Txurruka showed their form is coming along nicely by infilitrating in dangerous-looking breaks while the remaining Euskaltel riders controlled the peloton for large portions of the race. Speaking to media afterwards, the ever-gracious Sánchez was quick to point out that particular fact. "The team did a sensational job. My nine team-mates were strong and have done an enormous amount of work", a relieved and visibly exhausted Samu told the press after crossing the line. "It was very difficult to win today, but we pulled it off and I'm very pleased. It's our first of the year so obviously it was welcome." A strong showing by the team it was for sure: Velasco and Antón were 17th and 18th respectively, Verdugo 24th and R Pérez finished 60th. It was a relieving sight ahead of the season-defining País Vasco. Gorka Verdugo even took out the regional rider classification to complete a good day out for him. Now, bring on the Vuelta.

    Galdeano on earpieces and breakaway league

    Igor González de Galdeano discussed two contentious issues with El Correo yesterday: the use (or rather non-use) of earpieces, and the rumours of a separate professional league being set up. Galdeano was rather straightforward on the former, saying: "I advocate the use of earpieces. The management of a company pays it's employees and therefore has the right to lead them. In the Vuelta a Murcia, Mikel Landa crashed into a tree as we couldn't warn him over the radio that there had been a crash in front of him". On the latter topic, the team head remained coy however. "It's obvious that we must respect the decisions of the UCI", he said, perhaps saying that Euskaltel are not among the 11 teams planning to break away from the UCI. "We're in the teams' association as well and can voice our opinion there."

    Saturday, April 02, 2011

    Astarloza 2.0

    Remember this fellow? If you do, you probably either love him or loathe him. If you don't, you better get familiar with him, 'cause Mikel Astarloza is indeed making a comeback. The Tour de France stage winner of 2009 (not anymore though), will, according to team head Igor González de Galdeano, either return when his suspension's up in June or for the 2012 season at the latest. As we know all too well, the Gipuzkoan was caught red-handed after his Tour heroics, testing positive for EPO. He never came clean though and insists to this date that he's innocent. Exactly how his tests came up positive he never really had an explanation for, but in his homeland no one really gave a shit and he's still a hero to this day. "Mikel is dear to the Gipuzkoan people and our fans in the Basque country. And he's a good rider. Now we want his to come back to our team", Galdeano told Bilbao daily El Correo yesterday. "I was in touch with him a couple of months ago, but since our roster was pretty much finalized back then I didn't really give it much thought. But since then we've had a lot of problems with crashes and injuries. We're thinking about welcoming him back in (this season), and certainly he'll be with us in 2012 at the latest. He was important for us in the past and he'll be so again". I'm glad Galdeano said he's dear to the team's fans in the Basque country and not to the team's fans in general, because, frankly speaking, I don't think he is. If he had come clean back when he was caught I would have been more at ease with it, but I'm everything but right now. Galdeano, hiring disgraced ex-dopers is not the way forward. Yeah, sure, Vino's back, Basso's back, Valverde will be back etc, but no one really take them seriously, and their comebacks have reflected badly on their teams ever since. He's in his right to sign him up of course. Astarloza has done his time and is free to race, full stop. But it's the credibility of the team that's at stake. It's not really a surprise he'll return to racing, I heard it from several sources already last summer, but it's nonetheless a controversial move that's sure to provoke heated debate among Euskaltel and cycling fans alike. A debate that's not going to do Euskaltel any favours I'm afraid.


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