Sunday, December 11, 2011

Need for speed

With Koldo Fernández leaving the cycling-friendly Basque Country for chilly Colorado this Christmas, Euskaltel are left without a bona fide sprinter in their ranks for 2012. Granted, Euskaltel have never been a haven for the speed merchants. But it does leave the team increasingly dependent on their ace climbers to come up with the goods in the numerous multi-day races on the calendar, and may see the team returning to pre-Galdeano anonymity on stages suited to the speedsters and rouleurs.

A look back at Euskaltel's victories the last few years shows a team more built around sprint wins than popular opinion has it. Of the outfit's 48 wins the last half-decade, 14 have come from field sprints. That's approximately one third of victories obtained - 11 of which were the departing Fernández's. Though the wins have dried up for the 29-year-old of late - largely because of injuries it has to be said - it's undeniable that his leaving leaves a major hole in the team's arsenal. With the team's other recognized sprinter, Iñaki Isasi, retiring, key lead-out man (and decent finisher in his own right) Javier Aramendía heading for the exit, and Pablo Urtasun gradually evolving more into an all-round utility man, it leaves Rubén Pérez almost on his own in the speed department. And Pérez is no out-and-out sprinter - as his exploits in the high mountains of the Tour de France are testament to.

Although he only has that one win in the Bayern Rundfahrt last year to his name, Pérez possess a decent finishing kick and is set to take on a deservedly greater role in the dashes for the line in 2012. He is however arguably more consistent than spectacular, and is thus unlikely to bring in the same number of wins Fernández did in his pomp. Los hermanos Izagirre and new recruits Victor Cabedo and Peio Bilbao are all blessed with reasonably fast twitch muscle fibers, but those are more likely to come to the fore in small groups than in big ones. Meaning, again, that Rubén Pérez is the man the team will have to place their trust in more often than not.

A rider to share the burden with Pérez would do the team a world of good - but Euskaltel's recruitment policy naturally complicates the process of finding a top sprinter. One who does seem to fit the bill though, and who is Basque through and through, is Orbea's Jon Aberasturi. The 22-year-old, who joined the Continental team from the Fundación's sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, is gradually finding his feet at the top table, showcased by his first win among the pros last year. Contrary to some reports earlier in the winter, he was not picked up by Euskaltel, and will embark on his third season with the blue team next year. If he continues to develop at the speed (pun intended) he's done this year, he might be the answer to Madariaga and Gerrikagoitia's prayers. But until then, Rubén Pérez is left to his own devices. And even he, no matter how willing, can be there for the team in every flat race on the calendar.

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