Monday, October 31, 2011

Sesma in the wilderness

Like pretty much every bike rider out there at the end of a contract, Daniel Sesma is struggling to find a team for next season. The 27-year-old will not be retained by Euskaltel and, according to the ever-aggressive rider, it's slim pickings out there.

"Every team I've been in contact with has either been full or out of money. Caja Rural, for one, have no places left on their roster. I'm still looking, but it's hard given that so many riders are looking and so few teams are hiring. I'm motivated to keep riding, but situations like these drains your morale", the Arre native told Gara.

Despite having failed to post any results of note during his two-year spell with the team, Sesma said he was surprised at not being offered a new deal.

"Yeah, I didn't expect this. I've always done what I've been told - be it getting into breaks or pulling the peloton. I think I've been improving every year as well. I did the Giro this year and overall I was pleased with my performance in Italy. I've grown as a rider and feel I have a lot to offer".

Sesma went on to rule out Portugal as a possible destination, citing the need to "stay in Spain".

Ocampos retires from cycling

Naturgas Energía rider Aitor Ocampos has decided to put an end to his cycling career with immediate effect. The 22-year-old will not be retained by his current team next year and was not offered a deal at Orbea - thus leading him to call it quits. He won't leave the sport altogether though: he'll still pursue a career inside the sport, just not as a professional rider.

"Seeing as I'll be 23 next year, I couldn't stay on with Naturgas as it's an under-23 team. There were some informal contact with a few amateur teams, but I've decided to retire and focus on another career", the affable youngster revealed to Iban Mayo Blog.

Ocampos has been studying Law and Economics concurrently with trying to forge a career as a professional bike rider. Now he feels ready to focus solely on his university degree.

"I'll further my other career now. I would love to stay in the sport - in one capacity or another. Maybe with a team or a federation or something like that. Time will tell. Obviously I would have liked to have turned pro and focused on the bike for a while longer, but then again I'm very happy with the life I'm leading now outside of the sport!"

Having left the Fundación Euskadi on "good terms", don't be surprised to see the once-precocious Ocampos back in the world of cycling in the not too distant future.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Samu goes close in Oviedo

Carlos Sastre ensured he exited cycling in the best way possible by taking out today's crit in Oviedo, Asturias. The former Tour champ edged local hero Samuel Sánchez into second mainly through a commanding victory in the elimination race. Samu emerged victorious from a hill-climb duel with Stefano Garzelli and surprisingly took out the win in the team time trial along with Egoi Martínez and Jorge Azanza, but it wasn't enough to overcome the soon-to-be former great that is Sastre. Azanza finished ninth and Martinez 11th - but of course the results are not of utmost importance in these kind of events.

Source: Oviedo Global Cycling

Friday, October 28, 2011

Briefs: Naturgas/cyclo-cross/Martín

  • Naturgas Energía will stage its first team camp of the pre-season this weekend in Derio, reports Euskaltel's website. Focus will be on team-building and getting to know the new riders on the team - as is the tradition for the first get-together of the new season. The team is yet to confirm its full roster for 2012, but big changes are expected.
  • The Basque cyclo-cross season will get underway this weekend with a race in Karrantza on Sunday and one in Muskiz on Monday. The Basque calendar comprises 19 races, and is likely to see seasoned riders like Larriñaga and Murgoitio fight it out for the overall win. Former Euskaltel stalwart Aitor Hernández is hoping to mix it up with the big duo though, and will do so in the colours of his new team Orbea. Hernández has already showed glimpses of form this year by taking sixth in Medina de Pomar and third in Ramales de Vitoria.
  • Noel Martín's fan club will hold its first party (read: dinner) tomorrow afternoon in El Arenal, a small village close to Ávila (where he hails from). Former team-mate at Orbea and Euskaltel revelation Mikel Landa will be present. Besides dinner, every attendee will be in the drawing for various Euskaltel and Orbea memorabilia. Martín was released by Orbea recently and is likely to compete on the amateur circuit in 2012.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Team's future not in danger, experts say

Off-season is usually the most hectic season at Euskaltel's headquarters. This year is no different: the team might or might no be part of the WorldTour next year, the team may be heading into its last year of existence in 2012, the general manager is leaving, the team chief has allegedly stopped looking for new sponsors and the sponsor's president is - at the time being at least - reticent on the company's future involvement.

The first of these worries, the fight for a WorldTour-licence, is all the UCI's making and can hardly be blamed on the team. The latter four though are. According to team leaders, riders and sponsors, the team might be heading into its last year on the road with the current agreement with telecommunications company Euskaltel up at the end of next year. Experts on Basque and Spanish cycling aren't worried though.

"I'm pretty confident the team has got a future", Alain Laiseka, DEIA's expert cycling journalist and an authority on everything Spanish cycling, told Iban Mayo Blog. "Obviously I'm not 100% sure, but this team isn't like any other team. By that I mean that it's not only a commercial project; it's a national project. That makes it special and, maybe, immune to these kind of troubles. Miguel Madariaga said after Antón won in Bilbao (stage 19 of the recent Vuelta): 'this team should last forever'. I agree with him. How they'll operate after 2012 and under what conditions is the million dollar question. I can't answer it, but I do think they'll be around in 2013."

One would believe a guy like Alain Laiseka knows what he's talking about, having witnessed the team at close quarters for a number of years. Marca's Nacho Labarga seems to echo Laiseka's sentiments.

"Yeah, I think the team will keep on going", Labarga told this very site a few days ago. "It is complicated though, but if Euskaltel decide to pull out I expect another sponsor to come on board. With very limited resources, the team has done magnificently; it's punched above its weight the last few years. Euskaltel deserve a future".

The chances of another sponsor coming on board seem less realistic now in the wake of Madariaga's comments, but that doesn't seem to worry Unai Iraragorri of BiciCiclismo. The Basque journo seemed assured of the team's future.

"I don't know if Euskaltel will stay on as sponsor. But I'm nonetheless confident the whole project will exist for another few years."

Ardanza and his co-workers over at Euskaltel are likely to make a decision on their future involvement in the early months of 2012.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Star turn-out for Oviedo crit

The traditional post-season criteriums are in full swing on the Iberian Peninsula. The annual prestigious event in Oviedo is up this Saturday and will see stars of the peloton turn out in their masses.

According to the event's own homepage, 19 riders will toe the line this weekend for five different mini races counting towards a final overall ranking. Samuel Sánchez, always a threat in these kind of show-races, will be on tap and in the company of team-mates Egoi Martínez and Jorge Azanza. The Euskaltel trio will have their work cut out for them though, as a host of illustrious riders - containing the likes of Basso, Sastre, Barredo, Garzelli, Madrazo, Navarro, Cobo and De La Fuente - will add a competitive edge to this end-of-season crit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Madariaga allegedly ends sponsor-search

In what is sure to set the alarm bells ringing in Spanish and Basque cycling, Velo-Club has it that Fundación Euskadi president Miguel Madariaga has ended his search for a sponsor to take over in case telecommunications company Euskaltel does pull out ahead of the 2013 season.

Euskaltel's uncertain future beyond next season is well documented, but - if the French website is to be trusted (and they normally are) - Madariaga's comments seem to indicate the team is pinning everything on the current sponsor staying on. If they don't... well then the team's in deep trouble and will probably cease to exist.

"I won't lift a finger to find a new backer", he purportedly told Eurosport. "I've been looking for sponsors for 19 years now, I give up".

The team chief added that next year might well be the last, but then again we've heard those exact words being uttered before and the team's still here. A full year before the team's sponsorship agreement is up it's still early days and no decision will be taken in the near future. It seems we're in for another year of tiring and damaging speculations.

Official ranking: Euskaltel 19th

VeloFutur got it almost right when they suggested Euskaltel would place 18th in the final UCI WorldTour-rankings: the UCI released its official rankings today and the team ended up 19th. That one place means nothing as it's still a competition between the teams ranked 16th to 20th for the last three places. What does matter though is the fact that - contrary to VeloFutur's rankings - Skil doesn't figure in the top 20 and is thus out of the running completely. In comes Geox-TMC, which is curious to say the least given that their sponsor pulled out last week. They're in all likelihood headed for extinction, so they're highly unlikely to obtain a licence. That means, theoretically anyway, that Euskaltel is up against a trio of French teams: Ag2r, Europcar and FJD. Given both Euskaltel and Ag2r are in possession of licences already, I'm guessing they're both safe and it'll be a straight duel between Voeckler's Europcar and the home of young French hopefuls that is FDJ for the last berth.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tentative ranking leave Euskaltel on the fringes

After all 27 WorldTour-races were done and dusted with in Lombardia a week or so ago, Euskaltel were placed 14th in the UCI's WorldTour-rankings - i. e. just inside the coveted top 15. A tentative ranking calculated by trustworthy Spanish website VeloFutur has it that Euskaltel will wind up 18th though, meaning Euskaltel are not guaranteed a WorldTour-licence for next year after all.

Taking into account all the coming and goings prior to the 20th of October (the day all transfers would have to have been submitted to the UCI if the arriving riders' points would count towards the rankings), VeloFutur deems it highly likely Euskaltel will finish 18th with only Europcar and Skil-Shimano behind them. Per the UCI's own guidelines, that means Euskaltel will fight it out with the aforementioned duo and Ag2r (16th) and FDJ (17th) for the remaining three spots. (Full rankings here)

The silver lining is that Euskaltel have got a WorldTour-licence in place for 2012. What's that? According to the UCI, Euskaltel are - incredibly - in possession of a valid licence. But where does that leave the team? "What do you need a ranking system for if you can buy yourself a place in the top league?", I hear you say. Well that's anyone's guess. I don't think anyone knows. The UCI surely don't. "But aren't they the ones making the rules?" Well that's the UCI for you I guess.

One of Euskaltel's competitors for one of those WorldTour-berths (if it really is a competition that is), are Ag2r. Or not. They've also got a licence for 2012 in place. So that practically leaves only FDJ, Europcar and Skil left. I'm guessing those three are not overly pleased with the UCI right now.

So on one side Euskaltel are in. On another they're everything but. Dependable sources has it that Euskaltel are as good as set for the 2012 WorldTour though. Let's hope those sources prove to be more trustworthy than the UCI.

Mind you: the numbers and rankings are all tentative. The UCI will release its full and final rankings on the first of November. Until then it's all mere speculation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Isasi to sign off in grand manner

The Basques sure love their cycling. In that regard it's no big surprise one of Euskal Herria's most popular riders, Iñaki Isasi, will be given the grandest of farewell-parties in his hometown next weekend.

The Respaldiza-native put an end to his 11-year career in professional cycling at the recent Paris-Tours in order to step into the role of directeur sportif in 2012. Regarded by some as 'Mister Euskaltel', Isasi has been a firm fans' favourite ever since he first raised eyebrows at the Tour de l'Avenir in 2002 and has donned the orange jersey of Euskaltel ever since. His home town will pay tribute to the rider affectionately known as 'the best sprinter in the world never to have won a race' next Sunday, reports BiciCiclismo.

The act will get underway with a reception in the city centre in the afternoon and will include a three-kilometre fun ride, a chance for fans to get their photos taken with the big man, a farewell-speech, a symposium on cycling, a children's bike race and a visit to the City Hall. To name but a few of the activities put on by the residents of Respaldiza.

Isasi may never have won a professional bike race, but he'll certainly be sorely missed by fans and riders alike.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Martín closing in on new team

Noel Martín, released by Orbea at the end of the season, is edging closer to finding a ride for 2012. Iban Mayo Blog reported earlier this week that the 21-year-old was struggling, like so many other young Spaniards, to find a team on a cycling scene mired deeper and deeper in crisis - highlighted by Geox-TMC's sudden demise a couple of days ago. The native of Ávila now reveals he's got a plan B in the increasingly likely scenario that no Continental teams come knocking.

"I'll ride for amateur outfit Supermercados-Froiz next year if I don't find a Conti-team", the likeable youngster told Iban Mayo Blog yesterday.

Big-hitting amateur team Supermercados-Froiz count former pro Moises Dueñas Nevado among its ranks and has at times this season dominated the Spanish circuit. Martín is hoping a strong season can catapult him back into the big-league in 2013.

"I'm still looking for a professional team, but if I don't succeed I'll aim for a strong season on the amateur circuit in the hope of getting back among the pros a year later."

The always-aggressive rider admits not being retained by Orbea was hard to take at first, but thanks fans and family for the support that got him going again.

"To be perfectly honest, I've been going through some bad times", he told Ciclista y Ciclismo. "But thanks to all of those who've showed their support and belief in me, I've realized I need to keep riding both for them and for my own part. I've still got many kilometres ahead of me."

"I'd love to ride with Contador"

Friends off the road and allies more often than not on it, Samuel Sánchez and Alberto Contador have formed a formidable duo on several occasions despite riding for rival teams. If the former gets his way though, the pair will some day ride in the same colours.

"Given the opportunity, every rider out there would want to ride with him", the always-gracious Olympic champ told Marca. "He's one of the best riders in the history of the sport. Besides, we've represented Spain together and it's always a pleasure".

He might get his will sooner rather than later if Euskaltel do decide to pull the plug at the end of next year. Samu is holding out hope though that the telephone company will prolong its sponsorship - and if it does, Samu is sure to be an integral part of the team for the ensuing years.

"If Euskaltel pull out, a lot of people will be left without a job. I really hope they'll continue to back the team or alternatively bring a new sponsor on board. This team deserves it!"


  • Euskaltel will pull the curtains down on the 2011 season with their annual end-of-season party on Sunday in Derio: the 'Fiesta de la Bici'. This 'Celebration of the bike'-event contains all the usual stuff: autograph-sessions, photo-sessions and fun rides. Plus pretty much every single Euskaltel, Orbea and Naturgas rider will be present. The event is, according to the team's website, aimed at "promoting the bike as a means of transport and source of joy".
  • Samuel Sánchez spent yesterday afternoon in the company of recent Vuelta-winner Juanjo Cobo and former runner-up in the same race Santiago Pérez at a children's school in Oviedo, the capital of Samu's home region of Asturias. The trio answered numerous questions from the hordes of children queueing up to catch a glimpse of their heroes, to one which Samu answered: "My aim is to finish on the podium in the Tour. Winning it will be hard - but not impossible". Cue raucous applause, writes El Comercio.
  • Being a professional cyclist isn't all about busting your ass six hours a day and living like a monk for the remaining 18 apparently. Samu, Nieve, Landa and co. will spent this coming Monday wine-tasting (or sort of anyway), writes The Euskaltel stars will head to winemaking team sponsor ABRA's headquarters to get an idea of how the wine's produced and all that. ABRA have sponsored the team since 2008, and visiting one the company's wineries post-season is quickly becoming a tradition.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Durán up for grabs?

Having turned pro at 19 and been touted as the 'new Miguel Induráin' ever since, Vitoria-born Arkaitz Durán has amazingly never been affiliated with Euskaltel or its Continental and sub-23 teams. That may, just may, be about to change now that Geox have sensationally decided to pull the plug on its sponsorship at the worst imaginable time on its eponymous team. Don't get me wrong: Geox-TMC disappearing just like that is bad for the sport, bad for Spanish cycling, bad for the riders and bad for the staff. But there might be a silver lining for Euskaltel.

Euskaltel are officially done and dusted with their transfer dealings for the year. 23 riders are contracted for 2012 and that's all the team's limited budget can take. But if it turns out Durán is indeed available, one would hope Madariaga and co. have got a bit of cash in reserve. Obviously Durán hasn't delivered on his promise - one would be forgiven for asking what all the hype's about. He's virtually got no results to show for whatsoever. But, to me at least, there's no denying the lanky 25-year-old is one of the most talented riders to come out from the Basque Country since, well, Induráin. The lovers of Basque cycling say he's got something special in him. Still only 25, I reckon he's still got time on his side - he might come good in a different environment. An unknown quantity to many, he'd be an exciting addition to the team. But for now it's just my wishful thinking. If the heads of Euskaltel would even consider it I don't know. But they most definitely should.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Samu analyzes Tour route

On the face of it, the Tour de France 2012 route has got something for everyone: one prologue, nine stages for the sprinters, two long individual time trials, five high-mountain days, four medium-mountain days and three summit finishes. Popular opinion has it that it favours the likes of Evans and Wiggins; riders strong against the clock and decent in the mountains. Here's Samu's take on it:

  • The mountains: The stages in the Alps will suit me to a tee I reckon. I really like the stage ending atop the Toussuire. The climbs preceding the final one - the Madeleine, Glandon and the Cruz de Hierro - are all long and hard but not overly steep. And in the Pyrenees we've got the Peyragades and the Bagneres de Luchón, with the Peyresourde also in there. I think I'll do well there.

  • The time trials: The two individual time trials total almost a 100 kilometres, and I feel that's an advantage for me as a lot of riders will lose loads of minutes there, maybe up to five in each one. I like the fact that they're long. Though, it's also an advantage for the crono specialists like Martin, Wiggins, Evans and, above all, Contador.

  • The lack of a team time trial: We've never really performed well in the TTTs (so it's a good thing there's no TTT this time around). The other teams gained a lot of time on us in that discipline.

  • The pre-race favourites: Evans, Wiggins and especially Contador are, to me anyway, the big favourites.

  • The lead-up to the Tour: I'll do the Dauphiné next year. And when I'm there I'll recce some of the stages for the Tour.

  • His overall impression of the route: I really like it. I'll aim to do as well as I did this year, or perhaps even better. The course is suited to an all-rounder who's good on the climbs.

Antón ruled out of Tour and Giro

Despite dancing his way to an epic win atop the Zoncolan in this year's Giro, Igor Antón will not return to the race next year. Or to the Tour for that matter. Those are the words of Gorka Gerrikagoitia, veteran directeur sportif and next year's man at the head of sporting affairs at Euskaltel.

"Obviously it's still early and we've got all winter to decide, but it's highly unlikely", he told Es Ciclismo Tuesday afternoon. "But next year's Giro will be very hard with seven summit finishes and no place to recover. The mountain stages in the Tour are nothing like those in Italy. His participation this year harmed his main target, the Vuelta, even though he won the stage finishing atop the Monte Zoncolan. We'll do what serves his Vuelta-preparation best. The Vuelta will be his one and only target next year."

In other words it looks like the GTs in 2012 will be divided much along the same lines as they were this year: Samu will aim for the Tour, Antón for the Vuelta and (possibly) Nieve for a Giro-Vuelta double. The stage-racing department will get a valuable boost next year with Romain Sicard back in action, but at this moment in time it's unclear whether it's in Italy, France or Spain he'll make his three-week bow.

Samu buoyant on 2012 Tour chances

Samuel Sánchez was present at the unveiling of the Tour's 2012 parcours in Paris earlier today, and offered his thoughts on the route to the assembled media afterwards. Heavy on kilometres against the clock, the course didn't seem to suit Samu at first glance. But the man himself was everything but pessimistic.

"In the Vueltas a España I've finished on the podium in the past (2007 and 2009) there were a similar amount of time trials. It's all about the state of form you're in. I think I can do well on this parcours", he told

The 2012 edition will feature close to 100 kilometres against the clock and only three summit finishes, and Samu readily admits it's more suited to a strong all-rounder than a pure climber.

"Obviously the route favours the time trialers more than the climbers. That's pretty clear with 96 kilometres against the clock. The climbers will really have to go on the attack before the last, decisive time trial. As always it'll be important to recce the route, adapt to the course and train a lot on my aero-bike beforehand. "

As the defending champion, Samu is almost obliged to put on a strong display at the Olympics coming up just a few days after the conclusion of the Tour. But unlike many of his compatriots, Samu is relishing the challenge of sustaining his form for a full four weeks in July in order to fight for gold in the streets of London.

"Obviously with it being an Olympic year the calendar is congested and everything's more complicated. But going to the Games is a fantastic experience and I'll put up a big fight if I'm selected to the team", the Euskaltel captain concluded.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Martín waiting on contract

Released by Orbea at the end of this season, 21-year-old Noel Martín is still hunting for a contract for 2012. After only two years at the Continental team, the highly-regarded youngster was somewhat surprisingly informed his services would not be retained next year. And finding a team at this time of year has so far proved futile.

"I'm looking for a team, but it goes without saying it's quite difficult. It's pretty late, and most teams are full by now", he told Iban Mayo Blog here the other day. "But if I find a decent amateur side I'll continue to compete on the Spanish amateur scene and do some racing on the boards as well."

Martín has a pedigree for track racing, highlighted by his bronze medal in the sub-23 scratch race at the recent national championships. Having competed regularly on the track as a junior, the Ávila-born rider decided to dust off his fixie in time for the nationals despite having done little specific training going into it.

"I really enjoyed the championships in Mallorca, but I think I could have gathered a few more medals if I had done more track racing beforehand. And with next year being an Olympic year and all, my competitors were very well prepared and thus the competition was stiff. I've always liked track racing though, so I'll no doubt focus more on it".

Hailing from Ávila in the Castilla y León-region, Martín has naturally entertained the idea of riding for fellow Conti-team Burgos 2016 - Castilla y León next year. But with a congested market and an ever-diminishing number of teams in Spain, he admits the chances of riding for his home team is a long-shot.

"It doesn't look likely (riding for Burgos 2016), but I still harbour hope of finding a team somewhere", he said.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Post-Lombardia WorldTour-rankings

Il Lombardia marked the end of this year's WorldTour. Euskaltel didn't succeed in obtaining any more points yesterday but are still placed 14th:


Lombardia results

  • 15, Igor Antón, 0:27
  • 30, Samuel Sánchez, 1:15
  • 36, Amets Txurruka, 2:39
  • 37, Mikel Astarloza, 5:30
DNF: Álan Pérez, Jon Izagirre, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just in: Antón animates Lombardia finale

Igor Antón put up a battling performance in today's Giro di Lombardia (or Il Lombardia I guess) to cap off what's been a remarkable season for the team. Coming into the last 30 kilometres the team had Antón, Samu and Txurruka in the front group and looked good for a tilt at the win. But once the Vergano climb commenced Samu went out the back and Antón wasn't quite able to stay with the top guys. Oliver Zaugg hung on to claim one of the most surprising wins in cycling the last few years, while Antón came in with the fourth group, placing somewhere around 15th. Full results and reactions to come later this evening.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Samu's chance to shine

Every rider has a love-hate relationship with one particular race; the race they'd love to win more than anything but that keeps eluding them time after time, year after year. For Andy Schleck that's the Tour. For Thor Hushovd it's Paris-Roubaix. For Igor Antón it's the Vuelta. For Samu Sánchez it's got to be the Giro di Lombardia. Having finished on every step of the podium but the top one an astonishing three times, he'll be wondering exactly what it takes to win the most beautiful of the five monuments. He'll have another shot at the 'Race of the Falling Leaves' tomorrow, and here's why Samu just might break his Italian hoodoo this time around:

1) Philippe Gilbert is not at the top of his game: That's obviously good news. No one beats an in-form Gilbert in Lombardia, of that I'm sure. In his own words he's "tired" after a long and successful season. I'm not saying he won't win it - discard him at your peril - but the fact that he's not at his invincible best gives the other contenders (for once) a realistic hope of beating him.

2) Euskaltel's line-up is strong: Euskaltel will be fielding a strong eight-man team to aid Samu in his quest. The presence of solid climbers Antón, Nieve, Landa, Txurruka and Astarloza, along with handy all-rounders J Izagirre and A Pérez, is a plus. In the finale, Samu might for once have a couple of team-mates to help him out.

3) He's reasonably fresh: Despite coming off a long and arduous season, Samu hasn't raced all that much since the Tour - notably no Vuelta - and should have some in reserve for Saturday. He didn't ride in Copenhagen and abandoned early on in Piemonte yesterday, so his legs should be up for it.

4) Route alteration: This year's edition will finish in Lecco and includes the three-kilometre Villa Vergano climb nine kilometres out. The added climb - and perhaps even more the descent off of it - should improve Samu's chances.

Piemonte results

Samu, Nieve, Antón and co. were not at their best in today's Lombardia dress-rehearsal: the Giro del Piemonte. A large 31-man break got clear early on with only Txurruka and J Izagirre in it representing Euskaltel. When the going got tough towards the end, ten riders or so broke clear and fought it out between them. The Euskaltel duo were not among them, and Amets came home 2:11 down in 20th place. A Pérez was 59th, Astarloza 61st and Antón 63rd, all at 18:53, while the rest of the riders all abandoned. DS Gerrikagoitia blamed the amount of travel to and from the Tour of Beijing as the main reason his riders weren't up to scratch. Coming up on Saturday is the 'Race of the Falling Leaves'; the Giro di Lombardia. All eight riders that lined up today in Piemonte will take the start this weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Team for Italian classics

Euskaltel will as expected field their strongest eight riders for this weekend's Italian double-header in Piemonte on Thursday and Lombardia two days later. And that means the same eight riders that recently concluded the Tour of Beijing: Antón, Sánchez, Astarloza, Nieve, J Izagirre, A Pérez, Txurruka and Landa. Gorka Gerrikagoitia, who'll take on a bigger role in the team next year, will be the team's DS.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grijalba to Caja Rural

Not promoted to Orbea after two years in the sub-23 category with Naturgas Energia, puncheur Fernando Grijalba has signed for direct rival team Caja Rural, writes BiciCiclismo. The youngster, who grabbed three wins this year, will thus embark on his third season among the amateurs.

Updated UCI WorldTour-rankings

Ahead of the last WorldTour-race in Italy this coming Sunday, Euskaltel are ranked 14th, 49 points ahead of Astana in 15th. Here's the full list:

6 LAMPRE - ISD (LAM) 755

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Beijing stage 5 & Paris-Tours

Antón (and the rest of the riders) came through today's final Beijing stage unscathed and thus won the inaugural event's climber's jersey. Which - gastroenteritis and all considered - is quite the achievement. The opening-day time trial, which obviously didn't turn out too good, proved decisive for the final overall standings. As a consequence no vital WorldTour-points were obtained.

Álan Pérez once again tried to get in on the action in the sprint but had to settle for 24th. On GC Anton was 40th, Nieve finished 50th, Samu 51st, Astarloza 63rd, Txurruka 65th, Pérez 68th, Landa 71st and Izagirre 86th. Euskaltel finished 11th in the team rankings.

Paris-Tours was once again everything but a happy hunting ground for the team. The riders failed to get into the main breaks and only three out of eight finished the event. One of those was Isasi, who bid farewell to his 11-year career today. The versatile sprinter came home 87th flanked by Jorge Azanza and Juanjo Oroz 15:11 down on winner Van Avermaet. Isasi will next year step into the role of directeur sportif.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tour of Beijing stage 4

Antón successfully defended his climber's jersey in today's penultimate Tour of Beijing stage and is therefore destined to wear it all the way to the end as long as he finishes tomorrow's processional final stage. The Galdakao-native holds an insurmountable four-point lead over Mondory. Other than that the team kept a pretty low profile throughout. A Pérez - aided by a strong-looking Mikel Astarloza - tried to mix it up in the sprint but ran out of gas towards the end and came home 15th. The rest of the riders all finished mid-pack.

Friday, October 07, 2011

2012 roster

By all accounts, Euskaltel are done and dusted with their transfer dealings. Four will leave, one will retire and three will join. Next year's roster will be made up of 23 riders. Here's the breakdown:

  • Leaving: Koldo Fernández (Garmin-Cervélo), Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), Javier Aramendía (Caja Rural), Daniel Sesma (unknown)
  • Retiring: Iñaki Isasi
  • Joining: Víctor Cabedo, Ricardo García and Adrián Sáez de Arregui (all Orbea)

Complete 2012 roster:

  • Igor Antón
  • Mikel Astarloza
  • Jorge Azanza
  • Peio Bilbao
  • Víctor Cabedo
  • Pierre Cazaux
  • Ricardo García
  • Gorka Izagirre
  • Jon Izagirre
  • Mikel Landa
  • Egoi Martínez
  • Miguel Mínguez
  • Mikel Nieve
  • Juan José Oroz
  • Álan Pérez
  • Rubén Pérez
  • Adrián Sáez
  • Romain Sicard
  • Samuel Sánchez
  • Amets Txurruka
  • Pablo Urtasun
  • Iván Velasco
  • Gorka Verdugo

Tour of Beijing stage 3

After suffering in the opening two days from the after-effects of a bout of gastroenteritis, today's performance on day three of the Tour of Beijing shows the riders are on the mend. Jon Izagirre tried his luck in the break of the day, while Antón scored points on the two last KOMs of the day to move into the lead in that particular competition.

The hilly nature of the stage saw the peloton split up considerably towards the end. Antón, Samu and Nieve all came in with the 50-man strong lead group, while Txurruka and A Pérez ended up 3:10 in arrears. Astarloza and Landa crossed the line a further 18 seconds down, with Izagirre finishing inside a small group 8:07 back.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


  • Igor Antón got into the break on today's second stage of the Tour of Beijing. It wasn't to be though as they were comfortably kept in check all day, and Antón didn't look to be at his best (probably down to the virus that's been sweeping through the team). It came down to the expected bunch kick and everyone finished mid-pack. Alan Pérez tried to mix it with the speedsters but got impeded and eventually had to walk, bike in hand, across the line.
  • Iñaki Isasi will make his final appearance in an Euskaltel shirt in Sunday's Paris-Tours and will hope to go out with a boom. Joining Isasi at the French one-day WorldTour-event will be Castroviejo, Minguez, Bilbao, Cazaux, Azanza, Aramendía and Oroz.

WorldTour-licence clear-up

I feel obliged to clear up some of the confusion that's arisen around the publishing of the UCI's list of applications for a 2012 WorldTour-licence:

Contrary to what's being said in various Spanish media this morning, Euskaltel is not guaranteed a place in the WorldTour next year.

The UCI yesterday published a list of the teams applying for a top-tier licence for the coming season. Among eight other teams, Euskaltel are listed to be in possession of a licence for 2012. This does not mean, mind you, that Euskaltel will in fact be a part of the exclusive series. Whether Euskaltel will be a WorldTour - or Professional Continental team next year hinges on the team's ranking position. If Euskaltel finish inside the top 15 of the UCI's rankings it's pretty much set in stone: the team will then be a part of the top tier league (as long as the ethical, financial and administrative criteria are fulfilled). If Euskaltel finish outside the top 15 (they're currently 14th), their possession of a WorldTour-licence for 2012 means practically nothing. Then it'll be up to the UCI's Licence Commission to decide, based on the sporting criterion, which of the teams ranked 16th-20th will form part of the league.

A final decision from the Licence Commission is expected before the end of November. Until then it's anyone's guess.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Virus wreaks havoc in Beijing

Euskaltel got the Tour of Beijing off to a terrible start today. Several riders have been suffering from gastroenteritis for days now, meaning their performances in today's 11,3km ITT were severely compromised. According to the team's webiste, Samu Sánchez and Mikel Nieve are thought to be worse off. Sánchez was caught and passed by Martin on his way to a lowly 133rd place a full 1:57 down, while Nieve was only seven seconds faster in 124th. As a result, Samu is now ruled out of the race for a top overall placing.

The team's top performers were Astarloza and J Izagirre who both ended up 1:05 down in 52nd and 53rd respectively. Stage result:
  • 52, Astarloza, 1:05
  • 53, J Izagirre, s.t.
  • 80, Antón, 1:19
  • 91, Txurruka, 1:26
  • 112, A Pérez, 1:39
  • 124, Nieve, 1:50
  • 133, Sánchez, 1:57
  • 134, Landa, 1:59

Facing the end?

Make no mistake: these are testing times for Euskaltel-Euskadi. With Igor González de Galdeano retiring, a WorldTour-licence looking increasingly unlikely and the team's current sponsorship agreement up in a year's time, it's unclear what the future holds for one of the worlds most iconic professional cycling teams.

José Antonio Ardanza, president of Basque telecommunication giant Euskaltel, admitted as much yesterday. "I think it'll be difficult for us to keep sponsoring the team beyond next season", he told ETB. "The team need to show us where they're headed for the future", he said, obviously referring to Galdeano's recent resignation.

Where they're headed isn't easy to predict. Least of all in sporting terms. The UCI's new points ranking system is making life hard for a team with a philosophy like Euskaltel's, and a place in the WorldTour in 2012 is everything but secure. While teams are scoping every corner of the globe for riders with UCI points in a bid to boost their all-important ranking position, Euskaltel are forced to recruit from within. And the pool from within is limited, very limited. Basque riders under the age of 23 - no matter how talented - don't bring a lot of points to the table. And thus Euskaltel lose out to pretty much every single rival team out there. And probably, I reckon, the WorldTour-licence with it.

So what? Euskaltel will probably get invites to the GTs and the most important races on the calendar anyway, I hear you say. That might be, but Fundación president and Euskaltel's returning general manager, Miguel Madariaga, isn't equally optimistic. The often controversial Madariaga, always ready to ruffle a few feathers, told Cyclingnews - ever so bluntly - that the team will cease to exist if a WorldTour-berth is not obtained. "Yes. If the team is degraded we will leave the sport", he said yesterday. "We've always been a part of the ProTour... it's better to quit the whole thing than going down."

Madariaga is, naturally, entitled to his opinion. He created the team, he's stuck by the team in the bad times and he's still going. He deserves all the respect in the world. But his latest statements doesn't really add up. If you can still take part in the Tour, Giro, Vuelta, País Vasco and the likes without being part of the WorldTour, why would you want to end the whole project? It's beyond me. It makes no sense. But Madariaga usually gets his will I'm afraid.

That being said, Ardanza didn't rule out continuing their sponsorship. He's just worried where the changes to its staff is taking Euskaltel and how the team is supposed to compete with the super-teams and their super-budgets of the new cycling era. He's rightly worried.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Lucky number eight

Samu Sánchez won the Olympic road race with bib number eight on his back on the eighth day in the eighth month of the year 2008. No prices for guessing what back-number he'll wear in the Tour of Beijing commencing tomorrow then. Yes, he'll wear the number eight. Speaking to Cyclingnews, Samu revealed he was appropriately offered the number one bib by the organizers, but opted to turn the offer down as he was more keen on the number eight.

"The Chinese fans would have wanted me to wear the same bib number", he said. "And that's what I wanted to do as well."

Samu added that he's aiming for a top result on the five-day race's stage three on Friday, but that the race overall isn't particularly suited to his characteristics. Igor Antón will get the honour of starting the inaugural event with the number one on his back.

"It was an easy choice"

Iñaki Isasi's career will be over in a few weeks' time, but the long-serving all-rounder in not dwelling on it. Being offered a job as a directeur sportif was an offer he simply couldn't turn down, he told DEIA.

"I didn't really need to think about it that long; this opportunity was not to be missed. I'm getting older, so it's a no-brainer really. I'm happy with my choice. But I was surprised though. Suddenly you realize you've only got a few races left in your career and you'll life will change. I'll miss the bike. Doing sports everyday is what I always dreamed of doing and now that's gone. But everything must come to an end, and top-level competition is one of them. Perhaps it comes to an end a bit sooner than I had expected, but then again I'm not young anymore. I wasn't really tired of it, but I'm looking forward to doing something different."

Reflecting on his 11-year career with Euskaltel, the versatile sprinter rates Igor Antón's win in Bilbao recently as one of the highlights of his career. "In recent times, the win in Bilbao and Igor's win in the Giro rank high. Also the races we won with Etxebarria, Laiseka and Mayo back in the day are highlights. They were important victories. From a personal point of view, getting third in a sprint in the Tour. It's annoying to finish without ever having won a race, but I've participated in many wins for the team and I've befriended a lot of people. I've been all over the world, so overall I'm very pleased."

Monday, October 03, 2011

García grateful for Euskaltel chance

Ricardo García is one of three Orbea riders that will make the jump to Euskaltel in 2012. Speaking after his stage-win in the season-ending Tour d'Empordá this weekend, the 23-year-old was grateful for the trust placed in him by a certain Miguel Madariaga.

"I would like to thank Miguel Madariaga for promoting three of us (Cabedo and Sáez will also join) this year", the Vitoria-native told Euskaltel's website. "Miguel has always been there, always trusted us, since we were children, and he's always helped us out. Now we have the chance to pay him back. We really should appreciate it all: not every Continental team have the technical and material support we have here at Orbea. I'll try not to let anyone down."

Saturday's win was his first as a pro and was just reward for a consistent season that has resulted in numerous honourable placings. Eighth at Castilla y León, fifth at the Volta ao Alentejo, sixth in the Trofeo Joaquim Agostinho and tenth in the Circuito de Getxo goes a long to prove that García is ready to make the step up to the WorldTour after three year's in the blue of Orbea.

Bilbao 2nd in Vendée

First-year pro Peio Bilbao took a strong second place in today's Tour de Vendée. The 21-year-old formed part of the 23-man break - along with team-mate Iñaki Isasi - that was allowed to go all the way in this last round of the French cup. The break was whittled down in the closing stages as the parcours took its toll, and approaching the line only Bilbao, Levarlet, Pichon, Bouet and Mercato were left to duke it out. The latter unsurprisingly beat the others to take a deserved win. Bilbao showed he's more than a pure climber though by coming home second. Isasi grabbed ninth to complete a good day out for the team.

"I was really unsure what my form was like going into this race", the youngster told the team's website post-race. "But I felt good right from the off, and I felt even better once I got into the break along with Isasi. To start with my task was to help out Isasi, but the break splintered and I ended up in the front group. Marcato is a good sprinter so I knew it'd be hard, but still it felt good just to be there at the front, fighting for the win. This boosts my morale going into the 2012 season."

D'Emordá: Garcia wins stage, Sáez 3rd overall

Orbea enjoyed a hugely successful end to their season this weekend at the Tour d'Empordá. Ricardo García took an impressive win on stage two, while Adrián Sáez - who'll join Euskaltel next year - took fourth on stage 1 and third on stage 3 on his way to third overall. In such a high-class field, it couldn't really have been better.

A break including Sáez was allowed to go all the way to the line on stage one. Paul Voss distanced his breakaway companions to take the honours, while the Orbea rider had to settle for fourth on the day, 25 seconds back. Aritz Etxebarria came home with a big group at 5:15, while the rest of the guys ended up in the gruppetto at 20:12.

García made the most of his day in the break on day two to snatch the win ahead of Ángel Vallejo - his first win of the year. Aberasturi sprinted to 12th place in the main pack at 5:16 - a pack also including Sáez. Bagües and Bizkarra came in eight seconds further back, while Etxebarria came in 25:25 in arrears.

Ahead of today's last stage into Figueras, Sáez was lying pretty in fourth overall. However, the peloton splintered on the run-in and Sáez was able to advance to third overall by grabbing third place on the stage behind the two Prades brothers of team Tarragona-Mopesa. A huge pile-up inside the last kilometre brought a lot of riders down, including overall leader Voss, but it had no effect on the GC. García placed seventh on the day at three seconds, Bizkarra was 20th at 34, Bagües 32nd at 1:41, Aberasturi 66th at 8:33 and Etxebarria 72nd at 13:36. On GC, Sáez placed third, García 24th, Bizkarra 38th, Bagües 46th, Aberasturi 58th and Etxebarria 72nd.


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