Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Grijalba and Insausti picked for Spain

Former Naturgas prodigy Fernando Grijalba and Basque hotshot Jon Ander Insausti were both selected by spanish national coach José Luís De Santos to take part in a national team training camp starting tomorrow, BiciCiclismo reports.

De Santos picked eleven sub-23 riders, ten juniors and fourteen women for the get-together lasting from Wednesday through Sunday. Grijalba, who left Naturgas for Caja Rural this off-season, actually hails from Castilla y León, leaving the versatile 19-year-old Insausti, who's equally adept in the mud and on the road, Euskadi's sole representative.

Former Euskaltel and Banesto stalwart Ramón González Arrieta, famous for his quite epic fight with Leonardo Sierra at the '95 Vuelta, is responsible for picking the women, and the Bilbao native found place for seven Basques: Christina Alcalde, Dorleta Eskamendi, Irene San Sebastián and Ane Santesteban among the elite riders, along with juniors Ziortza Isasi, Lierni Lekuona and Lourdes Oyarbide.

Overview of selected riders:

Sub-23: Ramón Domene, Dario Hernández, Jon Ander Insausti, Victor Martín, Jon Ander Insausti, Diego Rubio, Ignacio Pérez, Fernando Grijalba, Sergio Angulo, Mario González, Antonio Pedrero and Carlos Antón Jiménez.

Junior: Daniel Alonso, Iván García, David Casillas, Gonzalo Serrano, Sergio Domínguez, Cristian Torres, Miguel Sáez, Borja Carracedo, Juan Camacho and Antonio Portela.

Women: Elena Lloret, Lucía González, Belén López, Anna Sanchis, Elisabet Bru, Alicia González, Ziortza Isasi, Lierni Lekuona, Lourdes Oyarbide, Sheyla Gutiérrez, Christina Alcalde, Dorleta Eskamendi, Irene San Sebastián and Ane Santesteban.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Team presentation

Euskaltel anno 2012 were today unveiled to the press in a rather subdued team presentation in the Gran Hotel Lakua in the Basque capital of Vitoria. All 23 riders were present, along with staff, Igor González de Galdeano, Euskaltel president Alberto García Erauzkin, Orbea head Jon Fernández, sponsor representatives and a host of local celebrities.

As team presentations go, inspirational speeches were aplenty. Here's what general manager Miguel Madariaga had to say:

"2011 was an unforgettable season for us. We triumphed in all three Grand Tours; the two biggest stages in the Giro, a stage in the Tour with Samu... We'll never forget winning the polkadot jersey. Considering what we represent and what we've achieved on the world stage, we can't disappear".

For a full overview of what the main players had to say, click this link.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brief: Cyclo-cross worlds

Saying the cyclo-cross world championships could have gone better for the Spanish delegation would be an understatement. The sandy course in the Belgian town of Koksijde took its toll on the juniors as well as the elites, leaving Suárez, Hernández, Larriñaga and co. hoping for better luck next year.

Elite race:

Despite promising showings in World Cup races leading up to the big day, the five Spaniards on the start line failed to deliver. Former mountain bike world champ José Antonio Hermída had a decent run to finish 20th - not bad for an off-roader, while Egoitz Murgoitio - arguably Spain's top rider - crashed right at the start, took a hit to the knee and posted a DNF. Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga, making his fifth appearance at the worlds, didn't find his rhythm and had to settle for 41st, three laps down. The former Kaiku pro was eliminated from the race by the judges upon crossing the line - along with new national champ Isaac Suárez, Orbea rider Aitor Hernández and everyone else bar the 24 first - and was seething when speaking to the press. "I'm pissed off. I don't understand the judges: when was the last time only 24 riders completed the world championships? I don't know why they were so harsh". No matter how harsh the judges were, it was a rather meek performance from the elite men.

Sub-23 race:

Entirely as predicted, Lars Van Der Haar ran away with the under-23 crown, beating Wietse Bosmans by a single second. Jonathan Lastra faired reasonably well to finish 37th at just one lap down, while Pablo Rodríguez finished four places further back. The Gómez brothers, Jon and Iñigo, found the going tougher and finished up 43rd and 45th respectively.

Junior race:

New national champ Kevin Suárez, Isaac's nephew, finished more than five minutes down on Raymond Poulidor's grand-son Mathieu Van Der Pool among the juniors to finish up 33rd. José Manuel Ribera was the Iberian Peninsula's top finished in 32nd, while Jaime Campo placed 49th.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

News round-up

  • Ricardo García made his Euskaltel bow at the recently-concluded Tour Down Under, deeming himself "satisfied" with his overall performance. While his schedule for the remainder of the year is far from complete at this early stage of the season, the former Orbea rider admits taking part in the Vuelta in August would be a dream. "It would be nice to be included in the team for the Vuelta", he told sprintespecial.blogspot.com. "But hey, I've got a lot of riding to do before embarking on a Grand Tour.
  • A new Basque has just turned professional: Pierre Cazaux's training mate Damien Branaa will don the jersey of Burgos 2016 this year after a few injury-plagued years. Click here to read more about the 25-year-old French Basque.
  • Upon returning from the training camp in Alicante, the team will pay parish priest of the Church of San Miguel, José Antonio Goitia, a visit, reports the team's website. Riders and staff will offer a signed jersey to the patron saint of the Basque capital - the Virgen Blanca.
  • The Basque Country, and the whole of Spain for that matter, will be left without a race on the UCI's cyclo-cross World Cup calendar next year. Igorre, Ibán Mayo's place of birth, were left off the schedule, with Italian capital Rome coming in to replace the cash-strapped Basque race.

Samu to head Andalucía charge

Euskaltel will honour one of the few Spanish stage-races left on the calendar with a star-studded line-up next month. The Vuelta a Andalucía will be held as normal over five days from the 19th to the 23rd of February, and the team will look to put their mark on the event with seven riders from the top shelf.

Samuel Sánchez will lead a team comprised of Igor Antón, Mikel Landa, Egoi Martínez, Juan José Oroz, Pablo Urtasun and Gorka Verdugo, writes esciclismo.es. The riders will take in one individual time trial and several relatively flat stages suited for the sprinters for a total of 635,4 kilometres.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Giro team shaping up

While the fact that Mikel Nieve will lead the team at this year's Giro d'Italia has been known for quite a while already, the name of the riders who'll accompany the featherweight escalador has largely been kept under wraps until now. As the riders were heading out for another day in the saddle in the warmth of Alicante yesterday, the team leaders shed some light on who'll form the crux of the team come May.

Gara reports Miguel Mínguez will return to the site of his breakthrough in 2011, while Jon Izagirre will be given his first taste of three-week action. Amets Txurruka, who's almost exclusively focussed on the Tour in the past, will be one of Nieve's key helpers on a terrain that should suit him more than the French countryside. Iván Velasco will be the other climber designated to aid Nieve in his search for a top ten on general classification, while the rock solid Juan José Oroz will also do his part to ensure the conqueror of Gardeccia keeps out of trouble.

New-boy Adrián Sáez, who made a solid impression at the Tour Down Under recently, is likely to make his Grand Tour bow, while there may also be room for youngsters like Peio Bilbao or perhaps even a fit-again Romain Sicard in the line-up.

Quite a few of the riders doubled up on the Giro and the Vuelta last year, and that's likely to be the case again this season. However, only one rider is likely to go on to the Grand Boucle in July after completing the Giro.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Team's future not worrying "Gerri"

While the team's future post-2012 continues to be the subject of conjecture in Spanish and international media alike, the man responsible for the whole team (on the sporting side anyway) refuses to let it bother him. Gorka Gerrikagoitia cut a relaxed figure at the team's training camp in Alicante when Gara asked for his opinion on the team's current predicament.

"I can't imagine cycling without Euskaltel", he said. "I consider that possibility (the team folding) so remote that I'm only concentrating on doing my job. If we do well, we won't struggle to stay afloat. The UCI's points system is not the most convenient for our team, but our objective is nonetheless to stay on in the WorldTour and give responsibility to riders so they can collect points towards the ranking."

In the hunt for points to boost Euskaltel's standing, the former professional says a good start to the campaign is key.

"It'll be important for us to start well given the changes in the team's structure. If we achieve results early on, the riders' motivation and confidence will grow and the whole team will be able to perform better. Igor (González de Galdeano) is no longer with us and Miguel Madariaga will take the helm, but we should all do our bit to ensure everything goes well. We're all united in this team, and we'll take this project forward."

Injured A Pérez sits out team camp

Álan Pérez has been forced to skip the team's training camp on the Costa Blanca because of a knee complaint.

Various Spanish sources this week report the versatile 29-year-old to be suffering from a mild knee injury. The injury is not expected to hamper the former Orbea rider's season in any meaningful way, but it is apparently still enough to set him out of action.

Pérez is, along with the seven riders who just got home from the Tour Down Under, the only rider missing in action in Alicante. He's likely to be one of the protected riders in the cobbled classics later this year.

Urtasun to spearhead sprint department

Pablo Urtasun will move away from the role as Euskaltel's utility rider and instead become the team's go-to-man in the sprint finishes. So says the team's main DS, Gorka Gerrikagoitia.

Basque newspaper Gara today reports from the team's training camp in Alicante, and says the 31-year-old is now the "fastest rider on the team" in the wake of Koldo Fernández's departure. Urtasun has been seen towing along the team's GC hopefuls in the Grand Tours as well the aforementioned Fernández and Isasi in the sprints ever since his move to the team in January 2009, but his days as a domestique are now evidently over.

The former team CSC stagiare will co-lead the team along with Álan and Rubén Pérez at Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen this spring, while he'll channel his energy the rest of the season on securing the team valuable top finishes on the flatter stages in week-long stage-races.

Notoriously underrated throughout his career, the speedy Urdiain, Navarra, native actually has five professional victories to his name, of which two stage-wins in the Vuelta a Asturias stand out. Check out his complete profile here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012 team presentation - online!

In a bid to please an ever-increasing fan base, Euskaltel's team presentation on Monday will for the first time be broadcast live over the internet.

The team's website reports this year's presentation will be staged in the Basque Country's capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz. As usual, all riders, staff, local celebrities and scribes will be present to view the class of '12 up close. If you fancy getting up close and personal yourself, click this link on Monday the 30th.

Seguros Bilbao reveal 2012 roster

Basque sub-23 talent-factory Seguros Bilbao have unveiled their class of 2012. The team will count on 18 riders - none born later than 1990 - to bring the outfit success on the national and regional calendar. The former home of the likes of Beñat Intxausti, Jonathan Castroviejo and the Izagirre brothers, will be led by former Euskaltel rider César Solaun as main DS, while erstwhile Orbea and Euskaltel pro Unai Uribarri will act as the team's mechanic.

Full roster:
  • Cristobal Sánchez (1990)
  • Miguel Abellan (1991)
  • Marcos Jurado (1991)
  • Alexander Unzueta (1991)
  • Eneko Corral (1992)
  • Egoitz Fernández (1992)
  • Sergio Rodríguez (1992)
  • Julen Amézqueta (1993)
  • Bernardo Ayusa (1993)
  • Aitor Bilbao (1993)
  • Angel Camarena (1993)
  • Imanol Díaz (1993)
  • David Galarreta (1993)
  • Alexis Gandía (1993)
  • Igor Gómez (1993)
  • Victor Guantes (1993)
  • Hector Sáez (1993)
  • Gotzon Udondo (1993)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

GP Induráin update: private sponsors pull out

It was reported last week that traditional Basque one-day classic GP Miguel Induráin might not see the light of day this year due to budgetary shortcomings. Public funding was likely to be reduced and sponsors from the private sector were having trouble coming up with the money needed to stage Navarra's only professional bike race. It now transpires there are no private sponsors. They've all pulled out, reports El Diario de Navarra.

In the coming days, organizers of the race will meet with the director of the Institute of Sport in Navarra to get some clarity on the issue. Head of the institute, Miguel Pozueta, was not giving anything away when speaking to the press a few days ago.

"It's an important race and therefore also an expensive one, but we'll have to talk it over with them (the organizers)", Pozueta said. "The budgetary cuts will affect everyone, them included".

The regional government will continue their backing of the race, but will reduce their support with approximately 10-15%. That means public money will cover just about half the budget. The local cycling club CC Estella, organizers of the hilly classic won last year by Samuel Sánchez, aren't having an easy time finding the other half.

"Private companies don't know if they'll be able to support us, so they prefer to be cautious instead".

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ispaster: Orbea double up on podium

Orbea put two riders on the podium in today's final Basque cyclo-cross race in Ispaster.

As ever, there was no beating Egoitz Murgoitio; the Hirumet rider outclassed his rivals to grab his 13th triumph of the year. Aitor Hernández and Rubén Ruzafa made sure Orbea didn't leave empty handed though by comfortably landing second and third respectively. The duo didn't leave fourth-placed Cofidis pro Arnaud Labbe with much of a chance, distancing the 35-year-old Frenchman with more than 60 seconds, while Aketza Peña closed out the top five a handful of minutes in arrears.

Murgoitio's team-mate Jonathan Lastra came home sixth and thus won the sub-23 classification, while Jaime Campo beat Alex Araburu in the juniors' race.

Hernández and Ruzafa's team-mate, the on-fire Rocío Gamonal, took out the women's race, while Eider Merino again proved strongest among the juniors.

Elite results:
  • 1, Egoitz Murgoitio, 1:03:03
  • 2, Aitor Hernández, 2:17
  • 3, Rubén Ruzafa, 2:41
  • 4, Arnaud Labbe, 3:51
  • 5, Aketza Peña, 5:00
Sub-23 results:
  • 1, Jonathan Lastra
Junior results:
  • 1, Jaime Campo
  • 2, Alez Araburu
  • 3, Simon
Elite women results:
  • 1, Rocío Gamonal
  • 2, Olatz Odriozola
  • 3, Naia Alzola
Women junior results:
  • 1, Eider Merino

Tour Down Under stage 6

Euskaltel closed out the Tour Down Under with a battling performance in today's early hours. The sixth and final stage of the WorldTour event wasn't particularly suited to the outfit, what with it's flat, 20-lap, 90km criterium in the streets of Adelaide, but the riders were nonetheless keen to put their mark on the race by featuring in the early breaks.

Gorka Izagirre, who failed to live up to his own lofty standards in yesterday's stage to Willunga, infiltrated the huge, early breakaway that quickly built up a decent lead. The strong-looking break was never likely to succeed though and was duly reeled in without too much of a fuss. Romain Sicard made a late and bold move in the closing stages, but there was no escaping the sprint finish. The dash for the line was as anticipated one for big German Greipel, who led home a 63-man first group. R Pérez and Sáez were part of that group, while Izagirre crossed the line in 91st at 36 seconds. García finished up his first WorldTour race in 110th at 1:05. Sicard was 125th at 4:28, while Urtasun and Cabedo both failed to finish.

These results made for the following final general classification:
  • 40, Gorka Izagirre
  • 56, Rubén Pérez
  • 65, Romain Sicard
  • 83, Adrián Sáez
  • 91, Ricardo García
The team finished 16th in the teams' classification.

Hernández dominates Talamillo-field

Aitor Hernández revved up for today's concluding Basque cyclo-cross race in Ispaster by taking out the Memorial Talamillo yesterday.

The Orbea rider cruised to his sixth win of a break-out campaign by besting José Antonio Díez Arriola by half a minute. The race, which also counted as the regional Castilla y León championships, was a rather closed affair right from the off. The duo quickly gapped the competition and were left to fight it out for the win between them. The fast nature of the course suited the erstwhile Euskaltel stalwart to a tee, while Díez Arriola had to settle for the second step on the podium ahead of Óscar Vazquez in third.

Reigning regional champ Martín Mata regained his title by coming home fifth.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"I'm my own biggest rival"

For the third year running, Igor Antón will line up at the Vuelta a España as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, favourite later this season. While the 28-year-old failed to come up with the goods in 2011, he's hoping foregoing the Giro and the Tour might propel him to glory this time around. With a number of the sport's top stage-racers likely to opt out of the Spanish GT, the stage is pretty much set for the native of Galdakao. It's telling he rates himself as his biggest rival.

"I'm more mature than I've been before", he told Marca. "I've grown. I'm not just a climber anymore, as I've improved in the classics and in the time trials. I'm not making the mistakes I used to. I hate to go out public saying I'll do this or that, but I do tend to reach the goals I set myself."

Antón refuses to say he's aiming for the Vuelta's top step of the podium, instead claiming he's just hoping to do as well as he did in 2008 and in 2010.

"It might be an advantage just doing one GT next year. I want to emulate what I did in 2008 and 2010. I know how far I can go, but I'm yet to finish it off. My biggest challenger might turn out to be myself".

After the unveiling of the race's 2012 parcours, team leader Samuel Sánchez was quoted as saying the race was made for perennial candidate Jaoquín Rodríguez. According to the Spanish daily, it was all part of a larger strategy from the team to keep the pressure off their featherweight escalador. Antón for his part thinks Euskaltel is the ideal team to help him achieve his goal.

"We all get along very well here. And the support we get from our fans is unlike what you'll find anywhere else", he concluded.

Tour Down Under stage 5

After setting himself up nicely for a tilt at the overall through a week of solid racing, Gorka Izagirre let himself down with an off-colour performance in today's all-important penultimate stage to the top of Old Willunga Hill. As a 30-or-so strong lead-group formed as the peloton went over the climb the first time around, Izagirre was conspicuous by his absence. As was Euskaltel altogether. The 24-year-old eventually went on to finish 44th at a big 4:02, and thus ceding all hopes of a top GC placing. R Pérez and García trailed 7:09 by stage's end in 64th and 65th respectively, while Sicard proved he's still finding his feet with a 70th place, 7:41 down on classy winner Valverde. Sáez finished up 88th at 12:02, while Urtasun and Cabedo crossed the line inside the gruppetto at 16:42.

Post-race, Izagirre was at a loss to explain his performance. "I didn't perform as I had expected to. The performance doesn't reflect my state of form though, but I don't know why I wasn't at my best. The heat... I don't know what happened. I didn't do well and I wasn't at my game", the 24-year-old told the team's website. "Though I didn't do well, I'd like to thank my team for the work they've done throughout this race. They've been with me all the time, and I hope I can pay them back in the future".

  • 40, Gorka Izagirre, 4:12
  • 55, Romain Sicard, 15:36
  • 57, Rubén Pérez, 17:15
  • 85, Adrián Sáez, 25:52
  • 88, Ricardo García, 27:29
  • 125, Pablo Urtasun, 46:23
  • 130, Victor Cabedo, 47:25

Friday, January 20, 2012

Briefs: Euskaltel/Naturgas/Comins

  • To finalize preparations for the Spanish season opener at Mallorca, all Euskaltel riders not racing in Australia at present will convene on the Costa Blanca this coming Sunday for a team camp. The 16 riders will stay on the east coast 'till Sunday the 29th, before heading up to Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz to meet up with the Tour Down Under-seven for another three days of training, reports the team's own website.
  • The team's affiliate, under-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, will get together all its riders for a team training session along the coast of Bizkaia this Sunday. "This session will be longer and more intense than the previous ones to enhance the riders' condition", DS Iñigo Urretxua told www.fundacioneuskadi.com
  • New Naturgas recruit Pablo Comins is harbouring hopes of featuring in the London Olympics, believe it or not. www.elperiodic.com reports the 18-year-old hailing from outside Valencia is a track specialist and is presently at Spain's long-list for the games. If Comins does indeed go to London, he'll be the youngest member of the team.

Tour Down Under stage 4

Rubén Pérez made sure Euskaltel got some exposure at the Tour Down Under by forming part of the fourth stage's four-man break earlier today. The ever-aggressive 30-year-old broke clear 25 kilometres into the stage from Norwood to Tanunda and quickly got company in the shape of Blel Kadri, Gatis Smukulis and Jay McCarthy. Despite the break's obvious strength on the flats, it wasn't to be, as the peloton kept them on a tight leash throughout and caught the escapees some 30 clicks out. On the hilly run-in to Tanunda, the pack was reduced to a mere 48 riders, of which Óscar Freire proved to be the strongest. The team's GC hopeful, Gorka Izagirre, comfortably handled the pace and crossed the line in 37th place - and thus staying in contention for the overall ahead of tomorrow's decisive stage to Willunga.

Ricardo García and Romain Sicard came home alongside previous holder of the ochre jersey, André Greipel, 7:45 in arrears, while Sáez and a naturally drained Rubén Pérez ended up 9:59 down. Urtasun and Cabedo cruised home 14:16 back.

  • 36, Gorka Izagirre, 0:12
  • 60, Romain Sicard, 7:57
  • 74, Rubén Pérez, 10:08
  • 85, Adrián Sáez, 13:52
  • 102, Ricardo García, 20:22
  • 126, Pablo Urtasun, 29:43
  • 130, Victor Cabedo, 30:45

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Basque races endangered

An already slim-looking Basque calendar is facing the dim prospect of losing another couple of races for 2012. According to various Spanish news sources, the GP Miguel Induráin and the GP Llodio are struggling to make ends meet and may be forced to cancel this year's stagings.

According to Diario de Navarra, the organizers of the GP Induráin (local cycling club CC Estella) are finding it hard to come up with the 130 000 euros needed to stage the event. President of the club, Ismael Martínez Monreal, admits it's an unknown if the race will go forward as planned on the 31st of March. "As we haven't yet covered the budget, the race is in danger", he said. "If we can't come up with the money, there won't be a race. We can not go ahead with a 30 000 euros deficit. If we were to that, the teams in the youth category would have to take the burden, and that's not an option. We're waiting to hear what the sponsors have to say, and then we'll have act accordingly."

The Government of Navarra usually coughs up 60 000 euros in support of the race. The economic crisis in Spain hasn't escaped the Basque Country though, so it's expected they'll cut their funding somewhat this year. At present, big-name riders like defending champion Samuel Sánchez, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquím Rodríguez and, quite possibly, also Alberto Contador, have committed to line up.

The GP Llodio, pencilled in for the 21st of March, is facing similar budget shortfalls. DEIA reports the race organizers are still waiting to find out if they'll receive the necessary support from the Provincial Government of Álava. The annual cost of running the region's only professional race is estimated to be 60 000 euros. Losing one of the longest-running races on the calendar would be a hard blow to Basque cycling considering the Euskal Bizikleta, Subida a Urkiola and Bira, to name a few, all disappeared off the radar a couple of years ago.

Tour Down Under stage 3

Euskaltel enjoyed mixed fortunes in today's third Tour Down Under stage from Unley to Victor Harbour. After the day's four-man break had been caught by a relentless peloton some 40 kilometres out, the seemingly in-form Romain Sicard gave it a go on the last climb with less than five clicks left. The Frenchman wasn't able to open up a threatening gap and was quickly reeled back in, but it was nonetheless a statement of intent from the 24-year-old. On the proceeding descent down to the line, main GC hope Gorka Izagirre suffered the misfortune of a double puncture and with it all ambitions of a top stage placing. Izagirre eventually came home a big 1:54 in arrears down in 128th place, but was rightly awarded the same time as the bunch once the race commissaires figured out what had happened. As a consequence he's still only 20 seconds down on overall leader Greipel, but dropped from 11th to 47th. Victor Cabedo once again struggled to keep up with the pace, ceding 1:02 by stage's end, but the rest of the riders all finished up comfortably mid-pack.

Stage results:
  • 48, Rubén Pérez, 0:00
  • 56, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 89, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 98, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 114, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 125, Victor Cabedo, 1:02
  • 128, Gorka Izagirre, 1:54 (later corrected to 's.t.')
  • 31, Rubén Pérez, 0:20
  • 36, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 47, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 85, Adrián Sáez, 4:01
  • 103, Ricardo García, 12:45
  • 122, Pablo Urtasun, 15:35
  • 129, Victor Cabedo, 16:37

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tour Down Under stage 2

Today's 148km trek from Lobethal to Stirling was the scene of one of the most spectacular solo breaks witnessed on the WorldTour circuit. Will Clarke decided to give it a go after a mere 1,5km of riding and extraordinarily stayed away all the way to the end. The sprinters' teams somehow totally miscalculated and were left to fight for second place. Matthews eventually brought home the peloton by a bike's length 1:02 in arrears ahead of Boasson Hagen in third and an impressive Alejandro Valverde in fourth.

Euskaltel joined in on the pace-setting at the head of the pack with some 30km left to ride, probably to set up fast-finisher Gorka Izagirre for a tilt at the win. As there was no win to sprint for, Izagirre rolled in mid-pack in 20th place. The native of Ormaiztegi was accompanied in that 65-man first group by team-mates Rubén Pérez and Romain Sicard, while the rest of the guys finished some way down the standings.

Stage results:
  • 20, Gorka Izagirre, 1:02
  • 47, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 57, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 86, Adrián Sáez, 4:43
  • 115, Ricardo García, 13:27
  • 126, Pablo Urtasun, 16:17
  • 127, Victor Cabedo, s.t.
On GC, Izagirre occupies 11th - incidentally the exact same placing he finished up in last year's edition. In the strangely-named 'Cycle Instead Young Rider Classification', the 24-year-old is third at eight seconds, closely followed by his French companion in fifth.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"The problem isn't solved yet"

Despite a successful off-season and a comfortable start to the new season in the heat of Australia, Romain Sicard admits he's still troubled by the long-lasting injury that kept him off the bike for most of 2011. Speaking to Cyclingnews, the young Frenchman says it's still a work in progress.

"To be honest, my problem isn't entirely resolved yet. It takes time to heal, so I'm still rehabilitating. With my muscular imbalance, I find it difficult to push hard with my right leg, so I'm therefore on a muscle-building program off the bike. I also get a lot of massages. But it's certainly positive to to able to train and ride normally again, and to be here at the Tour Down Under. I'm fairly pleased with my preparations over the winter", Sicard said.

The 2009 winner of the Tour de l'Avenir will next go on to the Challenge Mallorca, but says his schedule beyond that is dependent on his shape.

"We'll see how it goes and how I feel. If everything goes to plan, I should participate in Paris-Nice for example. Right now, it seems things can only get better. Having been able to train well all winter and now being here i Australia indicates I'll get better day by day. It's motivating".

Tour Down Under stage 1

Euskaltel escaped the havoc of the Tour Down Under's first stage earlier today to stay in contention for the remaining stages. A crash inside the last kilometre took out a fairly big group of riders, some of which were seriously hurt, but the guys in orange stayed upright and crossed the line mid-pack. Victor Cabedo found the going tough and ceded 1:40 eventually.

Greipel bested Petacchi by a centimetre or two in the soaring heat in South Australia to keep his winning run going. Top finisher in orange was Romain Sicard in 19th, closely followed by Gorka Izagirre in 20th. Tomorrow's stage will take the peloton 148km from Lobethal to Stirling.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday round-up

  • Aitor Hernández got his wish fulfilled today as national coach José Luis De Santos included him in Spain's five-man team for the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Koksijde next weekend. The Orbea rider claimed another triumph yesterday, and was rewarded for a successful and consistent season by being selected for the greatest race on the calendar. Lining up alongside Hernández, will be Egoitz Murgoitio, Isaac Suárez, Javier Ruíz de Larriñaga and José Antonio Hermida. Basques Jon and Iñigo Gómez and Jonathan Lastra, as well as Pablo Rodríguez from Galicia, will represent their country in the sub-23 race, while Jaime Campo, José Manuel Ribera and Isaac Suárez's nephew Kevin will compete for the junior crown. Rocío Gamonal will take part in the women's race.
  • Pierre Cazaux will build his season around the Giro d'Italia, according to Culturesport.info.
  • In the hoping of arriving at the Mallorca Challenge in top shape, Orbea sprint duo Illart Zuazubiskar and Jon Aberasturi have taken to the track. The two competed at the Anoeta velodrome in San Sebastián yesterday, and new DS Álex Díaz was pleased with the workout. "We're training hard, and the guys did a good job", he told BiciCiclismo. "Everything is going to plan and the riders are eager to start the season".
  • The season is still some way off for sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, but the youngsters in red are, like Orbea, keen to get off on the right foot once they start their first race. Fundación Euskadi's website reports the team got together for a workout on Saturday, mainly to enhance the team-work according to boss Iñigo Urretxua.
  • Euskaltel new boy Ricardo García lists Lance Armstrong as his main idol. Read a short Q&A with the climber here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Down Under Classic

Euskaltel did not succeed in putting their mark on today's prelude to the Tour Down Under, the Down Under Classic. The 51-kilometre race, run at an inexorable pace from start to finish, was bound to end in a sprint finish considering the number of speedsters present in Australia, and André Greipel duly delivered with a commanding win. The guys in orange, with no real sprinter in its ranks, failed to mix it up and had to settle for mid-pack finishes.

  • 24, Ricardo García, 0:17
  • 25, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 29, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 52, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 55, Victor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 78, Rubén Pérez, 0:37
  • 83, Romain Sicard, s.t.

"He's one of the best"

Alejandro Valverde's imminent return to professional cycling is causing a big stir in his home land as well in the entire pro peloton. After two years out of action, his form is naturally an unknown. Rival and friend Samuel Sánchez is not concerned though: Piti's still got it.

"I was shocked when I saw him a few months ago. He was so thin! He'll win in the first race he'll take part in (the Tour Down Under). For sure he'll take out the overall or at least a stage. He's one of the best riders in the world. Alas, I'm in no doubt he'll return to winning ways", Samu told Marca.

The Euskaltel captain, who'll kick start his season on Mallorca in February, says the two get along very well - but warns an already solid-looking Movistar outfit will become even stronger with their former leader back among its ranks.

"They did very well last year without a clear, defined leader. Imagine how good they'll be this year!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hernández strikes back

After a dismal run of it at last weekend's national champs, Aitor Hernández returned to the top step of the podium in today's race in Berriz.

The Orbea rider bested team-mate Rubén Ruzafa by a comfortable 40 seconds to claim his fifth success of the season. Last year's victor, José Antonio Díez Arriola, completed the podium. Aketza Peña, highly favoured after a strong fourth in Gandía, crashed out of the race.

Iñigo Gómez unsurprisingly took out the sub-23 classification, while Eneko Corrales once again displayed his potential by triumphing among the juniors. Naia Alzola and Eider Merino took out the women's elite and junior crowns respectively.

Also present at the race today, although not in a racing capacity, were friends and former team-mates at Euskaltel, Koldo Fernández and Beñat Intxausti. Señor Zikliamatore, mister Iñaki Azanza, sent over the
following image of the two:

Galdeano "open" to lead "different" Euskaltel

It seems Igor González de Galdeano might not have left Euskaltel for good after all. The former rider left his office exactly a fortnight ago, but says in an interview with El Diario Vasco that he's not ruling out leading a "different project" in the future.

The "different project" he's alluding to is of course the 2013 edition of the team - a financially sounder team under the control of telephone company Euskaltel, perhaps even with non-Basques making up the roster.

"Euskaltel haven't called me or told me anything about this 'case'. When I left the team, it was because I wanted some time off. That's why I told them I wouldn't join any other team. I explained to them why, but I also said I would be open to lead a different project".

Despite obviously not being alien to the idea, he's still not keen to talk about an imminent return.

"To be honest, it hasn't been an option. To this day, no one has called me. That's the truth. Now I just want to relax".

Team move to quell speculation

In the wake of reports on Friday morning claiming Euskaltel were contemplating opening the team up to non-Basques, the team has issued a statement on its own website aiming to play down the speculations. Like most statements of their kind though, they inexplicably fail to address the issue.

The team claim they'll "continue to work for the good of Basque cycling", and that Madariaga's talk of a "modern cycling" and "a new way" is merely a way of saying that staying in the WorldTour will be a big challenge with the sport 'going global' and all. The press release neither denies nor confirms if the team will stay true to its unique philosophy of only recruiting riders from the Basque Country. Interestingly, they don't even mention it. If that's a good or a bad thing, I'll leave to you to decide. Make no mistake though, they probably would have discarded opening the team up to foreigners if it wasn't an option.

If you want to read the statement for yourself, click here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Report: Euskaltel secure future, leaves Basque-only philosophy

Telephone company Euskaltel will secure the team's continuation for another four years beyond 2012, and will open the team up to non-Basques and foreigners. So says reliable Spanish newspaper AS.

The newspaper quotes Miguel Madariaga as saying "I trust Alberto García Erauzkin (new Euskaltel president), who's said he believes in a new project with a new captain. We're the only team in the world relying on the Fundación's support to stay alive. Modern cycling is a headed in another direction. It's the only viable option I can envisage".

AS goes on to claim the team will stay on at least 'till the end of the 2016 season, and that Euskaltel will leave it's unique Basque-only philosophy as of next year. The budget will reportedly rise to approximately nine million euro, while the team will also get a new president and manager. AS does, interestingly, not say where they've got this information from, and Madariaga is the only person quoted in the report. Stay tuned for more news on this case later today.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hernández admits to "psychological blow"

Aitor Hernández's no-show at last weekend's cyclo-cross national championships was as surprising as it was damaging, the former road racer told BiciCiclismo yesterday. After four wins and close to a dozen podium appearances so far this season, 14th in Gandía was a major let-down for the Orbea man.

"It was a psychological blow. Right from the off things started to go wrong. I punctured straight after the first lap, and what's more, I didn't notice the entry point to the first pit area. I don't know why, perhaps the area was so crowded, or perhaps I was just too nervous. Anyway, I had to keep riding with that flat for half a lap. Once I swapped my bike for a new one, I was way back. I advanced little by little, but I had to take risks. And the risks led to crashes. So I had virtually lost it all already on such a fast and dangerous course."

To put the disappointment behind him, Hernández reveals he'll be focussing on gaining selection for the Worlds.

"Now I'm only thinking about the end of the season. I'll stay here in the Comunidad Valenciana region for four more days in order to train well".

Morrás hangs up the wheels

Onda-Boavista rider Miguel Morrás has decided to retire from the sport of cycling at the ripe old age of 24, BiciCiclismo.com reports. The young Basque did not succeed in finding a team for the upcoming season, and was thus forced to put an end to his 30-month long professional career.

"I've come to this decision due to the lack of opportunities to continue. It ends a stage of my life, a stage full of opportunities I did my utmost to seize through effort, sacrifice and belief. But mostly through enjoyment. To enjoy the experience was always in the back of my mind".

Though no doubt disheartened with his enforced retirement, the native of Vítoria is first and foremost grateful for the opportunity he got to ride his bike for a living.

"Although my life as a pro was shorter than I'd hoped, I feel privileged to have met the people I've done and learnt so much. It's been an enriching experience on a personal level."

The former Seguros Bilbao prodigy reserved special praise for Xabier Artetxe, his highly-taught off former DS.

"I would like to highlight Xabier Artetxe who, besides showing me that cycling can be a way of life, instilled values in me that will last a life-time. Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who's cheered for and followed me. I've always felt supported."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Stage to Cuitu Negru the hardest"

Though the Vuelta a España's 2012 course features a rather over-the-top seven summit finishes, there's one in particular that stands out to Samuel Sánchez: stage 16 to the top of the untested, but already infamous, Cuitu Negru.

The climb, which is a 2,8km extension of the Pajares ski station, includes slopes of up to a vicious 25% and hasn't even been surfaced. Yet the pro peloton will tackle it on the third of September, and the Olympic champ is perhaps glad he won't be around to ride it himself.

"It'll be a really hard stage. Even before you arrive at the base o that last climb, you'll have done the Alto de San Lorenzo and the Cobertoria. In addition, you'll already have done 16 stages. The rider who comes out of that stage with the leader's jersey on has got a great chance to keep it all the way to the end", Sánchez told the gathered media at today's route unveiling.

With half of the stages classed as 'mountainous', the winner of five stages at the race is naturally in no doubt who the race is suited to.

"It's one for the climbers", he said straight away. "The riders able to ascend at speed will have an advantage as ten of the stages end at the top of some sort of climb. And the only individual time trial is not for specialists as it's quite strenuous with a third-category climb in it. On a course like this, the race will be quite a spectacle".

Vuelta route to Antón's liking

Unsurprisingly, Javier Guillén today presented a 2012 Vuelta a España course littered with mountains and short on time trialling kilometres. Featuring a pretty incredible seven summit finishes, among them beasts like Bola del Mundo, Lagos de Covadonga and Cuitu Negro, the parcours seems very much tailored to the likes of home favourites Igor Antón, Joaquim Rodríguez and, perhaps, a certain Alejandro Valverde. Antón will, like last year, target the overall win, but is foregoing the Giro in the hope of reaching the start in Pamplona in optimal shape.

The diminutive climber was present at the unveiling of the course along with Miguel Madariaga, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, Samuel Sánchez, Alán Pérez (who hails from nearby Zurucuain), Gorka Verdugo, Jorge Azanza, Egoi Martínez and Mikel Nieve, and Antón was pleased with what he saw at the presentation.

"I love this Vuelta; it's ideal for climbers", he told Spanish news agency EFE. "That being said though, I'm yet to check out the details of the course. It's perfect for mountain goats, but I would have preferred fewer kilometres against the clock. Every stage will be spectacular, with climbs at the end of them, tension will be running high... It's obvious I'll have to pay attention from the very first day (to avoid mishaps)."

"Without the Giro d'Italia on my schedule, everything should be set for a good Vuelta. I'll aim to at 100% in Pamplona. I hope and believe that this will be my Vuelta".

The native of Galdakao touched the ceiling of Basque stardom with his win in Bilbao's Gran Via last year, and is delighted the Spanish GT will once again visit his home region in this year's edition. The first four stages will run through the region, and Antón is eager to put his mark on one or more of them.

"I'm glad the Vuelta returns to the Basque Country. Last year was a success in that aspect. This year the stages will come early on; we reach Arrate on day three. I'll do my best".

While Antón is annually touted as a favourite for the overall win ahead of the race, fact is he's never even finished on the podium. The 28-year-old recognizes as much, and says a top three finish is his main goal.

"I hope I can be in the fight for the podium. I don't know about the first step - I've never achieved a top three, and I don't want to set myself too lofty aims. A place on the podium would be just fine".

Monday, January 09, 2012

"We're like puppets"

This rather unusual and hard-worded claim belongs to Mikel Astarloza. The 32-year-old at times lashed out in an interview with El Diario Vasco today - but also revealed he's in good spirits ahead of the upcoming season.

"(To maintain my fitness level) I used to simulate racing in training when I was out of the sport. I did a lot of motor-pacing. I rode from Behobia to Santesteban and back aiming to sustain 60km/h all the way. When my suspension ended, I started to compete. I did the Tour of Beijing and some other races, but I would have preferred to take part in more races than I did. I finished up in Lombardia, took two weeks off the bike, and resumed training in early November. Returning to competition was much easier that I had expected. I felt a bit rusty in the Vuelta a Burgos, but still my condition was better than I had imagined it would be. That being said, obviously I reflect on what happened (when I tested positive). I lost two years of my life, from 29 to 31, allegedly the best in an athlete's career. I will never get those years back. I realized we (the riders) were just needles in a haystack, puppets at a circus. In stead of being the protagonists in all this, we're like puppets".

Judging by his performances at the tail end of 2011, Astarloza hadn't lost much physically. Psychologically though, the suspension took its toll.

"Mentally I took a hit. But I did my best to improve also in that respect day by day. I started to feel better little by little, and my motivation came back. I just couldn't understand why this was happening to me! I continued with my life though, just how I'd always done. There were no big changes in my life", he explained.

Despite retirement representing a tempting option, the former Ag2r rider kept at it. According to himself, because he just loves riding his bike.

"My desire is still there. If I was only interested in the money, I wouldn't have returned. I'm still motivated for taking by bike out for a spin. But above all, I was keen to compete again. I don't like to ride my bike, I like to race."

Being accepted back into the fold more often than not represents a tough proposition for former cheats. The peloton was kind on him though, and not only the Euskaltel riders.

"My relationship with the riders and staff is still good. Riders welcomed me back, and they were glad to see me. That also goes for the riders and directors at Ag2r. During my time out, I came to realize I had more friends than I though I did."

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Big days ahead for Sáez

Euskaltel newcomer Adrián Sáez has been given anything but a newcomer's schedule for his first season in the WorldTour. The 25-year-old will kick off his season Down Under, then go on to Paris-Nice, before likely closing out his first part of the year in the mighty Giro d'Italia. No wonder he's looking forward to it.

"When they told me I'd be doing Paris-Nice, I got really excited", he told El Correo. "It's a top-level race, so it'll be important to give the team some exposure. I've also been told I'm on the long-list for the Giro, but time will tell if I'll be there or not."

In between the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice, Sáez will take part in the Spanish season opener: the Mallorca Challenge. Racing in Australia is a first though, and it's an experience he's relishing.

"We've been told what to expect, but being there in person is a completely different thing. It'll be a great experience. I feel ready and in pretty good shape as well. I'm in better shape at this time of year than I was last year - though it remains to be seen how I'll feel when we start the race."

The riders touched down in Adelaide, host town of the Tour Down Under, some ten hours ago. The six-stage race starts off with the annual Down Under Classic in a week, before the race proper gets underway two days later.

Cyclo-cross nationals round-up

Elite men:
The national chamionships in Gandía was a race to forget for former Euskaltel man and one of the pre-race favourites, Aitor Hernández. The lanky Orbea rider was dislodged early on and never quite recovered, eventually finishing a disappointing 14th. Another former Euskaltel rider, Aketza Peña, was on a better day, staying with the favourites pretty much all the way en route to a fourth place. Top favourite Egoitz Murgoitio didn't find the course to his liking and had to settle for second after failing to break clear on numerous occasions. Cantabrian Isaac Suárez took a mightily impressive win, while Sergio Mantecón grabbed the last step on the podium. Orbea rider Rubén Ruzafa placed a notable seventh, triple champ Ruiz de Larriñaga eighth, while cross-country world champ Merida abandoned.

1. Isaac Suárez
2. Egoitz Murgoitio
3. Sergio Mantecón
4. Aketza Peña
5. Óscar Vázquez
6. Daniel Guerrero
7. Rubén Ruzafa
8. Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga
9. Mauro González
10. Agustín Navarro
(14. Aitor Hernández)

Under-23 results:
1. Marcos Altúr
2. Iñigo Gómez
3. Jon Gómez
4. Abel García
5. David Hidalgo
6. Pablo Rodríguez
7. Ismael Felíx Barba
8. Javíer Hernández
9. Fernández San Emeterio
10. Gonzálo De Luis
(17. Peio Goikoetxea, 27. Xabier Portillo, 36. Jonathan Lastra, 37. Alexander Bilbao)

Junior results:
1. Kevín Suárez
2. José Manuel Ribera
3. Jaime Campo

Women results:
1. Rocio Martín
2. Isabel Castro
3. Lucía González
4. Olatz Odriozola
5. Elena Lloret
(10. Eider Merino, 11. Lierni Lekuona, 12. Naia Alzola, 13. Maite Murgia, 18. Amaia Martioda)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Victory galore

Missed out on a few of the team's wins last year? Don't worry. By clicking this link, you can relive all of the team's ten wins of 2011 in twelve minutes. A kind reader made me aware of his quality production a few days back, and I feel obliged to share it with you. Enjoy!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Three more years for Martínez

Despite admitting he's approaching the twilight of his career, 33-year-old Egoi Martínez has no plans to retire anytime soon. If everything goes to plan, the former Discovery Channel rider envisages staying in the professional peloton 'till the end of the 2014 season.

"I know I'm approaching the end of my career", he intimated to DEIA. "But I'm still motivated to perform, so I'll do my best to keep at it for as long as possible. I'll do this season and probably two more after that."

Martínez went on to say that "training and taking care of my body" is harder now than it has been in the past. Yet what worries him the most is what he'll fill his life with after hanging up the bike.

"It'll be hard to find a job that gives me the same level of satisfaction riding my bike does. That will be tough", he said.

Unlike most of his companions and compatriots, Martínez will start off 2012 at the Vuelta a Andalucía. After Andalucía, he'll embark on a packed spring calendar: Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-San Remo, Critérium International, GP Miguel Indurain, Vuelta al País Vasco, the three Ardennes Classics and the Tour de Romandie.

GP Indurain and País Vasco will be his main goals in the first half of the season. The second part will be exclusively centred on the Tour de France. Unlike other years though, he won't go on to the Vuelta after completing the Tour.

"As it looks, I'll only do the Tour this year, not the Vuelta. I've done both of them the last seven years, so that will be different. What my calendar will look like after the Tour depends on my state of form and the needs of the team".

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Koldo snubbed WorldTour duo for Garmin

Despite an injury-ravaged 2011, Koldo Fernández was a much-sought after rider this winter. The sprinter, who eventually opted for heavyweight Garmin-Cervélo, reveals he rejected overtures from at least two other WorldTour rivals before settling on the American outfit.

"The team is well structured and strong - they showed as much by winning the teams classification at last year's Tour de France. I liked Garmin right from the start, so I therefore turned down offers from Katusha and Quick Step", the 29-year-old told El Correo.

Fernández will start off 2012 at the Mallorca Challenge, before heading to Algarve, Almería, a race in France and then Paris-Nice. Later on, he's down for Catalunya, Romandie and the Dauphiné. And the Tour?

"I would love to go back to the Tour de France", he admitted. "But it depends on my state of form."

How he acquits himself as Tyler Farrar's right-hand man in the months leading up to the Grand Boucle, though, is likely to be just as important as his form. If he should miss out, he's likely to line up at the Vuelta instead.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


  • Released Naturgas Energía rider Álex Bilbao has managed to land a spot on Cafés Baqué's team for 2012, www.biciciclismo.com reports. The 21-year-old failed to come up with the top results his talent merits during his three years at the red team, and will hope to kick on under former Euskaltel rider and DS Rubén Gorospe's tutelage.
  • The seven Euskaltel riders set to take part the Tour Down Under will depart for Australia tomorrow, the team's website says. It'll be a long journey though: they're set to spend nights in Paris and in Singapore before touching down in Adelaide on Saturday, eight days ahead of the annual Down Under Classic. Iñaki Isasi will get his DS bow at the event. Roster: Romain Sicard, Rubén Pérez, Victor Cabedo, Ricardo García, Pablo Urtasun, Gorka Izagirre and Adrián Sáez.
  • Six sub-23 riders and seven juniors have been selected by the Basque Cycling Federation to ride the cyclo-cross national championships this coming weekend, BiciCiclismo writes. Jon and Iñigo Gómez, David Hidalgo, Jon Ander Insausti, Jonathan Lastras and Peio Goikoetxea will take part in Saturday's under-23 race, while Jonathan Bilbao, Alex Aranburu, Julen Quintano, Eneko Corrales, Xabier Goikoetxea, Aritz Hernández and Josu Urretarazu will line up in the junior race on Sunday.
  • Click this link to see up and close photographs of the Down Under-bound riders in training.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Izagirre aiming for Down Under overall

Having finished eleventh last year, Gorka Izagirre is ready to make a run for the GC at the Tour Down Under in a couple of weeks. The 24-year-old reckons he's well prepared for the opening WorldTour event of 2012, and aims to take advantage of this edition's comparatively difficult parcours.

"I feel great. I've done close to 5000 km in training, and as per usual they're more often than not intensive kilometres. We'll get there pretty early to get in some training as well. I'm aiming to finish as high up as possible on the general classification. Last year I finished up 11th, but the course is harder this time around", he told El Diario Vasco yesterday.

The punchy speedster will hope to leave his mark on the race on the revised stage to the top of the Willunga Hill - normally the stage where the GC gets sorted out. After doing Down Under, he'll aim for two of the biggest races on the calendar: País Vasco and the Tour de France.

"I'll go to Mallorca after Australia, before I'll head on to Haut-Var, Paris-Nice, Critérium International and the Vuelta al País Vasco. Then I'll enjoy some down-time and, seeing as I'm in the frame for the Tour in July, see what the sports directors have got planned for me."

While Igor González de Galdeano's resignation is by many seen as a big loss to the team as a whole, the elder Izagirre is keen to accentuate the positives, claiming the heir to the crown, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, has got what it takes to take on the mantle.

"I was pleased with Igor, and I get along very well with Gorka at the races. I like the way this team is developing. Now all that's left to is to perform on our bikes. I firmly believe the team has got several riders able to make a leap in quality (next year)."

Family guy

Igor Antón, only yesterday voted "Vizcaya's top athlete 2012" by Bilbao-based newspaper El Correo, is no party animal. The diminutive climber prefers spending New Year's Eve at home with his family rather than paying the night clubs a visit - but admits not being too strict with his diet over the holidays.

"I like to enjoy dinner with my family, and I especially enjoy the dessert. How can I not look forward to the dessert when cheesecake is being served! Normally I'd be careful with that kind of food, but I'm not as strict with it over Christmas and New Year's", he told El Correo.

As expected, Antón reveals the fireworks in Bilbao is a sight to behold when 2011 turns into 2012. Looking towards the new year the fireworks are supposed to signal, the ever-modest Euskaltel man says he wants more of the same from the year that just ended.

"I hope things remain the way they are: my family, my health, my job. I'm privileged to be doing what I do for a living. If I can take a small step forward that's fine, but it's more important not to take a step back".

Monday, January 02, 2012

"It was a hard year"

Despite having come through 2011, his first year in the pro ranks, with flying colours, Jon Izagirre reveals it's been a taxing year. The 22-year-old teamed up with Euskaltel prior to last season and made a name for himself with some impressive performances throughout the year. In the end though, all the racing caught up with him.

"It was a hard year for me. I did 65 days of racing. I competed a lot right at the start of the season, as injuries in the team forced me to alter my schedule. I wasn't able to take a break before after the Vuelta a Madrid", Gorka's younger brother told el Diario Vasco.

"But from another perspective, it was a good way to see what the WorldTour is like. I didn't aim to peak for any specific races, so it was all about taking it all in and absorbing every experience. After Madrid I got some time off, so then I could rest up and prepare well for Circuito de Getxo and the Tour de Pologne. At those races I felt pretty good. I ended up relatively exhausted though: starting the season in January and ending it in October means you spend a lot of time away from home. The two-month break has come in handy."

Izagirre's transition from Orbea to Euskaltel seemed to be, from the outside anyway, seamless. The rider himself, though, says it was a big change.

"It's a big leap (going from Orbea to Euskaltel). When I was riding for Orbea I tried to reach peak form for the first few months of the campaign. Now, riding for a WorldTour-team, I realize everything, from meals, to rest, to your training, matters. The level is so high. You're forced to up your training and ride in a completely different way."

If 2011 was hard, 2012 is promising to be even harder. The native of Ormaiztegi is planning on making his Grand Tour bow in what's probably the most spectacular of the three-week races.

"I'm slated for the Giro d'Italia. I've enjoyed the races I've taken part in over there. I'm definitely looking forward to it, and I'll aim to take advantage of any opportunity that may present itself. I'll try to learn from the experience, including the mistakes I might make, and I'll be attentive to detail. I'll kick my season off in Spain though at the Mallorca Challenge. Afterwards I'll head for Haut-Var, Murcia, Tirreno-Adriatico and eventually the cobbled classics. Those races are beautiful, but I'm aware of the fact that they're hard."

The former Orbea rider revealed his affection for Tirreno-Adriatico, a race he says boosted his morale last year, but perhaps learned the most from his Tour Down Under experience. Izagirre recalled an interesting episode from last year's race involving Johnny Hoogerland, a rider, seemingly mistakingly, often referred to as one of cycling's 'good guys'.

"In Australia, I was up ahead along with Hoogerland. I took pull after pull, and when I asked him to chip in, he said he was too tired. A group of 20 riders was fast approaching from behind (so I pulled even harder), and when I was done, Hoogerland attacked me and left me for dead. It seems you have to be on the receiving end of dirty tricks like that to learn."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Ormaiztegi reactions

Yesterday's race in Ormaiztegi was important in itself - but perhaps even more important as a final test-run ahead of next week's national championships. Aitor Hernández showed his prowess in the absence of runaway favourite Egoitz Murgoitio, but several candidates, Aketza Peña and Iñaki Lejarreta among them, displayed improving form. Here's what the main players had to say post-race:

Aitor Hernández (winner): It was a good test facing the nationals next weekend. I showed I'm in good shape and that I'm consistent. In a race featuring big-name riders like Larriñaga, Peña and Suárez, I was able to come out tops. I hope to finish on the podium next weekend in Gandía, and I also hope to continue improving ahead of the Worlds".

Aketza Peña (runner-up): It was a very tough race in which fewer and fewer riders were left in the front group. I felt very good, and I feel like I'm improving race by race on muddy courses like this. I also feel my form is improving week by week. Now I'll concentrate on the national champs. It'll be the most open champs in years, as the fast course will present a big number of riders with options. Murgoitio is the favourite, but a lot of other riders can compete on a course like that as well. I hope to do a good race and land a good result".

Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga (fourth): I started out well and stayed with the favourites in the first few laps, but then Aitor (Hernández) turned the screw midway through, I ceded a few metres, and then I just sank. I don't know if it's because of Aitor and Aketza's (Peña) strong riding, or just myself, but after a few good races I'm struggling to figure out where I'm at form-wise. It's not optimal facing the defence of my title next week, but I'm hoping to turn it around and focus solely on that race next week. Obviously it hasn't been a great year. I haven't been able to reproduce the kind of form I've enjoyed the last three years, when everything worked out well, but in the difficult moments it's important to keep on going and don't give up. It's in times like these you remember what it took to reach the top. The champs will be unpredictable, anything can happen, and the result will depend on a lot of circumstances, not just my own riding. Whatever happens though, it won't change my situation that much".

Kevin Suárez (winner, junior): "I'm one of the favourites for gold in Gandía, and I won't hide that I'm aiming for the max, but in one-day races like this everything can happen. I'll have to be attentive to everything".

Hernández ends year on top step

Aitor Hernández put the seal on a breakout year on the cyclo-cross scene with victory in today's race in Ormaiztegi. The Orbea rider prevailed in a duel with former Euskaltel team-mate Aketza Peña on the muddy course in the Gipuzkoan town, while Orbea companion Iñaki Lejarreta closed out the podium half a minute in arrears. Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga, who'll not be sad to see the back of 2011 after an off-colour campaign thus far, came in fourth a big 2:12 down, with former great Isaac Suarez snatching fifth. Movistar's Fran Ventoso came in eighth, while Basque Caja Rural duo Aitor Galdós and Garikoitz Bravo grabbed 11th and 12th respectively.

The Gómez brothers, Iñigo and Jon, once again dominated the sub-23 category. The former bested the latter with close to a minute. Ismael Barba of Enbici-Stevens-Mecha came home in third place. Kevin Suarez beat Pablo Fernández and Jonathan Bilbao to the junior crown. Mercé Pacios took out the women's elite race in crushing fashion, coming in 2:28 ahead of her nearest competitor.

Elsewhere, Spain's undisputed number one, Egoitz Murgoitio, put his mark on the last race in the Fidea Classics-series yesterday in Leuven, Belgium. The 28-year-old finished up a noteworthy ninth in the race won by Sven Nys.


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