Sunday, April 29, 2012

Intxausti wins Vuelta a Asturias

Beñat Intxausti emerged victorious overall in the Vuelta a Asturias today through second place on the last stage. Rémy Di Gregorio took out the win atop the mythical climb of Naranco, while an Euskaltel bereft of Jon Izagirre's services were forced to settle for sixth place through Amets Txurruka.

Going into the stage, Izagirre was naturally the team's protected rider what with lying second overall and demonstrating such impressive form the day before. His crash and subsequent abandon meant the team needed to improvise, and Peio Bilbao was soon on the attack along with Russian Shalunov, but the powerful duo never got far. Once the final climb of the Naranco started, Amets Txurruka was right up there with Intxausti, Di Gregorio, Moncoutié et al. for quite a while, but had to let go in the last few clicks. The diminutive climber eventually crossed the line in sixth place, while Urtasun was an astonishing eighth and Bilbao 13th.

On GC, Txurruka naturally became the team's top finisher in sixth - his best general classification result in his career - while Urtasun ended up eighth after another strong Vuelta and Bilbao came home tenth.

As for Orbea, future Euskaltel man Omar Fraile was their top rider in 28th.

Stage results (Orbea riders in cursive):

  • (1, Rémy Di Gregorio (Cofidis), 40:30:05)
  • 6, Amets Txurruka, 0:48
  • 8, Pablo Urtasun, 0:59
  • 13, Peio Bilbao, 1:33
  • 22, Miguel Minguez, 2:04
  • 26, Omar Fraile, 2:36
  • 33, Pierre Cazaux, 3:32
  • 36, Mikel Bizkarra, 4:15
  • 45, Xabier Zabalo, 5:42
  • 54, Haritz Orbe, 9:28
  • 55, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 70, Victor Cabedo, 14:47
  • 77, Illart Zuazubiskar, 16:58
  • 78, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 86, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 87, Aritz Bagües, s.t.

General classification (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), 10:55:33)
  • 6, Amets Txurruka, 1:14
  • 8, Pablo Urtasun, 1:41
  • 10, Peio Bilbao, 2:16
  • 17, Miguel Minguez, 3:12
  • 26, Pierre Cazaux, 5:56
  • 28, Omar Fraile, 6:24
  • 37, Mikel Bizkarra, 8:50
  • 43, Igor Merino, 11:08
  • 52, Xabier Zabalo, 13:35
  • 63, Victor Cabedo, 18:57
  • 65, Adrián Sáez, 19:04
  • 66, Haritz Orbe, 19:56
  • 85, Illart Zuazubiskar, 30:48
  • 91, Aritz Etxebarria, 32:54
  • 93, Aritz Bagües, 33:06

Euskaltel finished second in the team rankings, Orbea ninth. 

Full results here

Disappointing end to Romandie

Euskaltel ended an otherwise encouraging Tour de Romandie on a low ebb today with an anonymous time trial performance.

Mikel Astarloza was lying pretty in 16th going into the concluding 16,1km hill time trial on Crans-Montana, but failed to make an impression, finishing 34th, and thus ending up 25th on GC. Verdugo, so strong throughout the week in Switzerland, didn't find the course to his liking, coming in 36th en course to a 28th overall. Climbing specialist Mikel Landa was off-colour, finishing in 63rd place.

Stage results:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 28:56
  • 34, Mikel Astarloza, 1:36
  • 36, Gorka Verdugo, 1:41
  • 63, Mikel Landa, 2:27
  • 79, Egoi Martínez, 2:56
  • 84, Ricardo García, 3:01
  • 89, Romain Sicard, 3:08
  • 94, Jorge Azanza, 3:16
  • 127, Alán Pérez, 4:53
Final general classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 18:05:40)
  • 25, Mikel Astarloza, 1:55
  • 28, Gorka Verdugo, 2:06
  • 35, Mikel Landa, 3:00
  • 71, Egoi Martínez, 18:13
  • 78, Jorge Azanza, 20:56
  • 80, Romain Sicard, 22:36
  • 97, Ricardo García, 29:04
  • 133, Alán Pérez, 50:02
Full results here


Salas wins Tres Días de Álava

Young Basque Ibai Salas took out the overall of the Tres Días de Álava earlier today through second place in the race's final stage. Lizarte's Rafael Marquez took the stage win in a sprint.

The final stage, a 108km ride from Elciego to Lapuebla de Labarca, went ahead without any major problems (contrary to what happened yesterday), and as anticipated a small group duked it out for the win in a sprint. Lizarte's 20-year-old climber, who placed 11th on day one and seventh in the prestigious Subida a Gorla earlier this year, beat Salas and Jesús Alberto Rubio from Andalucía for his maiden win of the year. Caja Rural's Salas had no trouble hanging on to his overall lead though, winning the race outright ahead of today's victor and Koplad-Uni2's Iñigo Ojeda in third.

As for Naturgas, Loïc Chetout showed he's in shape with a sixth-place finish, catapulting him to fifth overall. Chetout was active throughout and merited his top overall placing, while Jon Larrinaga, heavily favoured pre-race, struggled to keep up today after an encouraging performance on day one, and had to settle for 12th overall.

Stage results:
  • (1, Rafael Márquez (Lizarte), 2:44:22)
  • 6, Loïc Chetout, s.t.
  • 17, Jon Larrinaga, 0:30
  • 40, Mikel Iturria, 4:38
  • 64, Imanol Estévez, 14:53
  • 68, Damien García, 15:01
  • 70, Pablo Comins, 15:03
  • 84, Karl Baudron, 15:07
General classification:
  • (1, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 5:08:52)
  • 5, Loïc Chetout, 0:04
  • 12, Jon Larrinaga, 0:34
  • 44, Mikel Iturria, 11:25

Chetout ran away with the Metas Volantes-prize, whilst Larrinaga finished as best-ranked local rider. As a team, Naturgas ended up fifth.

Full results here

Just in: Izagirre crashes out

Jon Izagirre has been forced to abandon the Vuelta a Asturias today after a crash.

The 23-year-old, who won yesterday's time trial and was in prime position to attack race leader Alejandro Marque on today's demanding final stage, suffered a puncture on the descent off of the cat.2 Cordal after approximately 35 kilometres. Trying to chase back on, he went to ground, but remounted and got going again. Allegedly he received some attention from the race doctor before deciding to call it quits. It was reported he was heading for the hospital, but it now transpires he's in the team car without any major injuries.

More later.

Izagirre takes maiden win - and it's a time trial!

Jon Izagirre showed everyone what a future star he is in the making with a convincing afternoon time trial win in the Vuelta a Asturias today. It was the youngest of the Izagirre brother's very first professional win, and propels him up to second overall with only tomorrow's queen-stage left.

The native of Ormaiztegi secured Euskaltel its fifth triumph of the year by beating former Euskaltel star, and winner of this exact stage in orange colours two years back, Beñat Intxausti by six seconds over 14 kilometres. Overnight leader Alejandro Marque, who's strength is the crono, finished a solid seventh to hold on to his overall lead by 17 seconds over the Euskaltel man - but has got his work cut out if he wants to keep hold of his leader's jersey in tomorrow's finale against the better climber that is Izagirre.

Speaking to the team's website after claiming the somewhat surprising win, the affable 23-year-old didn't hide his ambitions looking towards tomorrow's decider.

"I'm very pleased with this win - it's my first as a pro, so it's special. Speaking of the general, we've got four riders in the top ten. We have to be ambitious and go for the victory. Sure we'll celebrate the win, but we've got bigger goals to fight for tomorrow".

Izagirre's reasoning seems reasonable: after a strong all-round performance today, Txurruka is fifth overall, Urtasun ninth and Bilbao tenth. It's really all in their hands, but they'll face stiff competition from Movistar. Intxausti is third, David López sixth and the in-form Javier Moreno is eighth. The stage is set for quite the showdown on the ramps of the Alto de Naranco tomorrow.

Movistar's all-round ability shone through earlier today as Jesús Herrada took an impressive solo win in the 93km morning stage. Herrada formed part of the main break and managed to hold off the peloton, but every Euskaltel rider made it in with the pack to keep their options for tomorrow open.

Speaking of the time trial itself, Izagirre drew on past experience to good effect he revealed.

"I knew the course from when I competed here with Orbea two years back. My DS in the car gave me references throughout, and my legs felt great. I'm preparing for the Giro and knew I was going well, but on the other hand I hadn't competed since Paris-Roubaix, and then you never really know where you're at. And, of course, it's always tough to win, so I'm most pleased."

Stage 2A results, Teverga-Avilés 92,9 km (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Jesús Herrada (Movistar), 2:03:10
  • 12, Pierre Cazaux, 0:12
  • 16, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 17, Adrián Sáez, 0:15
  • 18, Victor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 21, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 22, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 32, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 41, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 42, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 59, Illart Zuazubiskar, s.t.
  • 78, Haritz Orbe, s.t.
  • 80, Mikel Bizkarra, s.t.
  • 81, Omar Fraile, s.t.
  • 82, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 95, Xabier Zabalo, 0:36
  • 100, Aritz Bagües, 0:41
Stage 2B results, Piedras Blancas 14 km (Orbea riders in cursive)
  • 1, Jon Izagirre, 18:11
  • 11, Amets Txurruka, 0:28
  • 21, Illart Zuazubiskar, 0:42
  • 22, Igor Merino, 0:45
  • 24, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 26, Omar Fraile, 0:47
  • 29, Pablo Urtasun, 0:53
  • 46, Miguel Minguez, 1:10
  • 47, Adrián Sáez, 1:11
  • 64, Pierre Cazaux, 1:32
  • 66, Mikel Bizkarra, 1:34
  • 75, Xabier Zabalo, 1:47
  • 92, Haritz Orbe, 2:16
  • 104, Aritz Bagües, 2:33
  • 108, Aritz Etxebarria, 2:47
  • 116, Victor Cabedo, 4:12
Cabedo later took to Twitter to explain he punctured after five kilometres and had to keep on riding with the flat tyre for another six kilometres before being able to change bikes. No wonder he finished last.

General classification (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Alejandro Marque (Carmin-Prio), 6:25:09
  • 2, Jon Izagirre, 0:17
  • 5, Amets Txurruka, 0:45
  • 9, Pablo Urtasun, 1:01 
  • 10, Peio Bilbao, 1:02
  • 20, Miguel Minguez, 1:27
  • 26, Igor Merino, 1:59
  • 31, Adrián Sáez, 2:25
  • 35, Pierre Cazaux, 2:43
  • 45, Omar Fraile, 4:07
  • 47, Victor Cabedo, 4:29
  • 53, Mikel Bizkarra, 4:54
  • 71, Xabier Zabalo, 8:12
  • 80, Haritz Orbe, 10:47
  • 93, Illart Zuazubiskar, 14:09
  • 104, Aritz Etxebarria, 16:15
  • 105, Aritz Bagües, 16:27
For full results, click here

It's a fact: Jon Izagirre becomes only the fourth rider (after Samuel Sánchez, Beñat Intxausti and Jonathan Castroviejo) to win an individual time trial for Euskaltel since 2006. 


Verdugo fourth in Romandie queen-stage

Euskaltel continued their red-hot form in the Tour de Romandie today with aggressive racing and a brilliant fourth place for Gorka Verdugo.

The race's 184km queen-stage from Bulle to Sion was unsurprisingly taken out by the ever-classy Luís León Sánchez from a 37-man strong lead group. It could well have been another rider in orange who ended up on the top step of the podium though. First, Jorge Azanza made it into the break of the day, before Mikel Landa showed just what a capable climber he's become on the WorldTour with a dangerous attack along with Gadret and Nocentini on the last major climb. It wasn't to be though for the youngster, but Euskaltel weren't done just yet. Mikel Astarloza launched a bold solo move inside the last ks, but was swept up without much fuss shortly thereafter. Sánchez prevailed in the sprint, beating Nocentini, Samoilau and Verdugo to the line.

Landa and Astarloza also finished inside the first group, meaning the latter rose to 16th on GC, and is thus well on course for a strong overall result with only tomorrow's 16,5km hill time trial on the Crans-Montana left. On current form, look out for the likes of Verdugo and Landa in particular as well to shine in the cronoescalada. 

Stage results:
  • (1, Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank), 4:56:13
  • 4, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 30, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 36, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 76, Jorge Azanza, 14:46
  • 88, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 103, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 105, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 119, Alán Pérez, 18:39
General classification:
  • (1, Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank), 17:36:35
  • 16, Mikel Astarloza, 0:27
  • 28, Gorka Verdugo, 0:34
  • 35, Mikel Landa, 0:41
  • 72, Egoi Martínez, 15:25
  • 79, Jorge Azanza, 17:49
  • 83, Romain Sicard, 19:36
  • 99, Ricardo García, 26:11
  • 137, Alán Pérez, 45:18

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Just in: Álava off

Stage two of the Tres Días de Álava has been cancelled.

The race was well underway when the organizers took the bold step of annulling the stage. Approaching the finale in Vitoria, the peloton somehow managed to take the wrong direction. The organization then deemed the four loops in the city centre the peloton were supposed to do before crossing the line to be unsafe, and decided to call it a day.

Some of the riders have taken to Twitter to voice their displeasure. Mikel Aristi of Debabarrena called the stage "the worst day ever on a bike", while Naturgas' very own Karl Baudron said "a number of incidents meant the stage had to be cancelled".

Friday, April 27, 2012

Verdugo cracks top 10 in Romandie

Euskaltel enjoyed another strong, if somewhat unspectacular, showing in today's third stage of the Tour de Romandie. The 157,6km stage to Charmey featured a hilly finale in which Gorka Verdugo placed ninth.

Luís León Sánchez edged a tight sprint with a protesting Gianni Meersman to take the honours, while Bradley Wiggins held on to his overall lead (just!) by a single second over the Rabobank Spaniard. A peloton consisting of 73 riders made it to the line on the same time as Sánchez, among them the aforementioned Verdugo, as well as Landa, Martínez, Azanza and Astarloza. Verdugo looked nice and composed near the front in the finale, but doesn't possess the explosiveness of many of his peers and was forced to settle for a place just inside the top ten.

On GC, everything pretty much remains the same. Wiggins heads up the pack, looking solid in yellow, while Astarloza continued to be the best-placed in orange in 21st place.

Tomorrow's penultimate stage from Bulle to Sion contains three cat.1 climbs, with the last one, the St. Martin, tops out some 25 kilometres from the line.

Stage results:
  • (1, Luís León Sánchez (Rabobank), 3:58:29
  • 9, Gorka Verdugo, s.t
  • 42, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 44, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 60, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 65, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 102, Ricardo García, 3:33
  • 103, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 146, Alán Pérez, 6:15
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 12:40:31
  • 21, Mikel Astarloza, 0:18
  • 45, Gorka Verdugo, 0:25
  • 55, Egoi Martínez, 0:30
  • 56, Mikel Landa, 0:32
  • 72, Jorge Azanza, 2:54
  • 79, Romain Sicard, 4:41
  • 107, Ricardo García, 11:16
  • 148, Alán Pérez, 26:30
Full results can be found at here

Photo courtesy of

Urtasun just misses out - again

Pablo Urtasun once again showed excellent form in today's Vuelta a Asturias opener, but once again missed out on the win.

The 34-year-old placed second on the 162km stage from Oviedo to Gijón after unknown Spaniard Alejandro Marque sensationally took his maiden career win by attacking his breakaway companions 40 kilometres from the line and soloing in half a minute ahead of a rather inattentive peloton. Euskaltel, with the number one favourite for the stage in their ranks, inexplicably only helped out Movistar at the head of the pack with some 17 clicks to go. And by then it was too late. The Carmin-Prio rider, who's spent his entire career at lower-level Spanish and Portuguese outfits, was not to be caught after managing to keep up a decent rhythm on the last climb of the day, the cat.2 San Martín de Huerces. The 31-year-old from Vigo only held a one minute advantage with 14 kilometres to go, but Euskaltel and Movistar somehow managed to eat up only half of that gap.

Another chance for a much-needed win thus went missing, adding to Urtasun's recent run of near-misses. The Euskaltel hardman finished second in Rioja last week after young Russian Shalunov was allowed to sneak away with the victory, while bad luck prevented Urtasun from making two third places in Castilla y León into two wins a few days prior. Though Urtasun will no doubt feel a little blue about his recent missed opportunities, he can console himself with the fact that there's still everything to play for tomorrow and on Sunday

Amets Txurruka looked recovered from his bout of bronchitis, staying with the select 22-man chase group to keep his options of a good overall placing open.

As for Orbea, it was an altogether different day. Illart Zuazubiskar showed his aggressive side by forming part of the eventual winning break, but had no answer when Marque upped the pace. Sadly for the blue team, none of its riders managed to stay with the first pack and thus lost all hope of a top GC placing.

There were reportedly quite a few crashes today, but none from Euskaltel or Orbea are reported to be injured.

Stage results (Orbea riders in cursive):

  • (1, Alejandro Marque (Carmin-Prio), 4:03:21)
  • 2, Pablo Urtasun, 0:29
  • 13, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 15, Victor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 16, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 17, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 19, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 28, Pierre Cazaux, 1:26
  • 30, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 34, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 44, Omar Fraile, 3:32
  • 57, Mikel Bizkarra, s.t.
  • 70, Xabier Zabalo, 6:16
  • 80, Haritz Orbe, 8:43
  • 93, Illart Zuazubiskar, 13:40
  • 106, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 113, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.

Salas snatches Álava opener

Entirely as expected, Ibai Salas took out today's opener of the Tres Días de Álava. The Caja Rural rider beat his team-mate and former Naturgas Energía stalwart Fernando Grijalba to the victory.

Today's 96km first leg from Amurrio to Llodio was the shortest, yet probably the hardest, stage of the three-day race, featuring three categorized climbs: the Alto de Mendieta and two ascensions of the Malkuartu. The peloton, racing under murky skies, went up the Malkuartu for the final time only five clicks from the line, and a trio, made up of the Caja Rural duo and Gomur's Jesus Herrero, held off a small hard-chasing group to the finish. The trio came home four seconds ahead of a strong ten-man group, including in-form Naturgas riders Larrinaga (fifth) and Chetout (seventh). The two are therefore very much in contention for high overall placings heading into Saturday's leg to Vitoria.

Follow #TresdiasdeAlava and #EuskaltelEuskadi on Twitter for live, if sporadic, updates.

Stage results:

  • (1, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 2:24:30)
  • 5, Jon Larrinaga, 0:04
  • 7, Loic Chetout, s.t.
  • 37, Karl Baudron, 1:19
  • 50, Pablo Comins, 4:27
  • 57, Alain González, 6:47
  • 58, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 59, Alain Santamaría, 12:05
  • 62, Francisco Javier Martín, 13:08
  • 70, Imanol Estéves, s.t.
  • 72, Damien García, s.t.
Some 60 riders abandoned today, among them eight riders from Hostal Latorre and six each from Lanaldi-Gopar, Reyno de Navarra-Conor, Ibaigane Opel, Kanpanzar Harrobia and Debabarrena (including Lehendakari-leader Aitor González). 

Teams: Caja Rural (6, Naturgas Energía)
Metas Volantes: Loic Chetout
Best local rider: Jon Larrinaga
Young rider: Fran Medina (Andalucía)

Full results here.


Antón back in two weeks

Igor Antón might be back in training in a fortnight and back in competition in little less than a month, according to the man himself.

The 29-year-old climber spoke to el Pedal de Frodo of his recovery process yesterday, and was at his optimistic best. The crash and subsequent collarbone fracture sustained in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last week is unlikely to hamper the rest of his season.

"I'm optimistic because the bone was operated on so quickly. In two week's time I might be out on the bike, and on the rollers perhaps even before that. But I'm in no rush, and there's still a lot of racing to be done this season", he told the popular Spanish website.

Antón will once again center his season around his country's national tour, and says he'll have plenty of time to prepare for the last GT of the year even if he was to miss the Tour de Suisse - his potential comeback race.

"I'm already preparing for the second part of the season. It's not a certainty, but perhaps I'll be ready for Suisse. I'll probably be a little green at that race, but even then it's still two months to go before the Vuelta start. I've got time, so I'm not stressed out".

While the Tour de Romandie, one his main goals of the first part of the season, has been taken away from him, Antón is adamant that the first few months of the 2012 season haven't lived up to expectations.

"No, it hasn't been satisfactory", he admitted. "I had hoped to turn my season around in Romandie and in the Vuelta a Madrid, but now... The only positives were seventh in Critérium International and third in the Klasika Primavera, where there was nothing I could do. I'm not happy with how 2012 has been so far, but it's worth saying I'm often performing better in the second part of the season."


Txurruka on the mend

Amets Txurruka is hoping his health woes are behind him as he readies himself to embark on the Vuelta a Asturias tomorrow. The 29-year-old revealed he's been suffering from bronchitis of late - only ten days before the Giro d'Italia.

"I'm not feeling as good as I should have, as I've been sick with bronchitis", the affable climber intimated to on the eve of Asturias. "If I'm feeling good, I'll give it a go in the race, but it'll be tough to return to competition. There's a limit for how bad it can go, though, as I've been training really well".

Seemingly born to climb mountains, Txurruka is naturally looking forward to a Vuelta a Asturias rich on climbs. He highlights one of his team-mates though as the team's go-to guy.

"Jon Izagirre is riding at a very high lever now. The team is mainly made up of youngsters, interspersed with speedy veterans like Pablo Urtasun. The parcours is really great, like it always is in this race. It's very hilly; constantly up and down. And there's the Naranco climb, which is very interesting. Because of the many mountains, I've always liked this particular race".

Team: Amets Txurruka, Pierre Cazaux, Victor Cabedo, Adrián Sáez, Jon Izagirre, Pablo Urtasun, Miguel Minguez and Peio Bilbao. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Euskaltel at their game in Romandie stage 2

Euskaltel put on a solid display in today's second stage of the Tour de Romandie, a 149km trek from Montbéliard to Moutiercon. On the uphill finish, none of the team's main contenders ceded any time towards the overall favourites.

Jonathan Hivert increased his reputation as a dangerous man on hilly terrain by pipping Rui Alberto Faria da Costa and Luisle Sánchez to the line. Just like yesterday, though, the guys in orange weren't far behind. Landa came home 14th and Verdugo 17th on the same time as the winner, while Astarloza, Martínez, García and Azanza also finished inside the main peloton.

Stage results:

  • (1, Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun), 3:48:11)
  • 14, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 17, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 40, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 45, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 60, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 69, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 95, Romain Sicard, 0:29
  • 150, Alan Pérez, 8:29
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 8:42:02)
  • 21, Mikel Astarloza, 0:18
  • 46, Gorka Verdugo, 0:25
  • 59, Egoi Martínez, 0:30
  • 61, Mikel Landa, 0:32
  • 69, Romain Sicard, 1:08
  • 85, Jorge Azanza, 2:54
  • 111, Ricardo García, 7:43
  • 153, Alan Pérez, 20:15

Naturgas finalize team for Álava

Naturgas Energía have included all of their big-name riders for the Tres Días de Álava, reports today.

Ten riders will take the start, from which Jon Larrinaga seems to be the main contender for stage wins and  the overall.

Full roster: Jon Larrinaga, Alain Santamaría, Imanol Estévez, Alain González, Pablo Comins, Damien García, Mikel Iturria, Karl Baudron, Loic Chetout and Francisco Javier Martín. Iñigo Urretxua will of course lead the team from the car.

"We'll give it our all and be as aggressive as possible", was Urretxua's comment on his young charges' goal for "one of the most important races of the year".


Guide to Tres Días de Álava

The fourth edition of the Three Days of Álava, organized in part by the Fundación Euskadi, will kick off this coming Friday. The big names of the amateur ranks will be out in force in search of a triumph in what's becoming an increasingly prestigious race on the calendar. The Fundación's own sub-23 team, Naturgas Energía, is based in the region and has the race marked in big red letters on its calendar eash season. Here's the run-down of the stages, the participating teams, Naturgas Energía's prospects and the main contenders for the overall prize.

The race:

Stage one takes the riders 96 kilometres from Amurrio to Llodio. It's the shortest stage of the three, but contains the most categorized climbs; three cat.2s are on the menu for the 130-man strong peloton. The opener is likely to see the contenders for overall glory emerge over the hilly parcours. The last climb tops out some 10 clicks from the line.

Stage two is a 110km hike from and to the capital of the region, and the Basque Country as a whole for that matter, that is Vitoria-Gasteiz. It's not the most demanding stage, only one categorized climb is included, but the wind that traditionally is prominent in this part of the Basque Country may be a deciding factor. A sprint is on the cards if the team of the overnight leader manage to keep it together.

The last stage from Elciego to Lapuebla de Labarca is neither particularly hilly nor particularly flat. The one categorized climb in the middle of the 108km course is not likely to separate the guys still in the running for the overall, and a sprint from a medium-sized group is a probable outcome.


16 teams will line up for the start in Amurrio. Those are: Naturgas Energía, Seguros Bilbao, Gomur-Cantabria Deporte, Kanpanzar Harrobia, Azysa-Telco'm Conor WRC, Caja Rural, Ikolan Lanaldi-Gopar, Hostal Latorre, Andalucía, Cafés Baqué, Ibagaine Opel, Reyno de Navarra-Conor, Debabarrena, Lizarte, Bidelan-Kirolgi, Koplad Uni2.

Naturgas Energía team:

The team is yet to be picked, but the four locals, Jon Larrinaga, Alain González, Imanol Estévez and Francisco Javier Martín, will be keen to make the team. Larrinaga has been the team's standout performer this year, while Alain González has also chipped in with his fair share of top 10s, not least with third place last week in Durana. Estévez and Martín have both adapted well to the team in their debut season with the 'red brigade', while Loic Chetout, Victor Etxebarria and Karl Baudron are also sure to make their mark if selected.

Last year's edition was quite successful what with Fernando Grijalba's impressive win on day two. Things haven't been going quite as well this year though, with the team still winless so far in 2012. If the team's top players line up, i.e. Larrinaga, Chetout, González et al., there is every chance that maiden win might arrive though, and Larrinaga in particular looks like a potential GC podium finisher.

The riders to watch:

Extramadura-Spiuk's Chilean hotshot Edison Bravo took the spoils in 2011 with a commanding display throughout. He won't be back this year, thus opening the door to a bunch of riders.

The aforementioned Larrinaga will be one to watch if he takes the start, while Debabarrena's Aitor González, who leads the Basque Federation's Torneo Lehendakari-series overall with a single point over Larrinaga, has stated his intent to make his mark on the summer stage-races. The Vuelta al Bidasoa in May will be his main goal, but he'll also be one to keep an eye on this weekend.

Caja Rural will as always field a cobble of strong riders. Ibai Salas and Nick Van Geffen will be a fearsome duo if they make the squad, whilst Carlos Antonio Jiménez (winner in Laukiz in March) and Johann Van Zyl (winner in Lizarta in March) shouldn't be discounted either.  

Bidelan have left out Euskaldun-leader Julén Mitxelena and the strong Imanol Iza, who's third overall in that particular series, but will as always be competitive. Jon Ander InsaustiUrtzi Murgia and, winner in Pitillas earlier this month, Ibai Daboz might all leave their mark.

Former Naturgas prodigy and able cyclo-cross rider David Hidalgo hails from the region and has enjoyed a consistent season so far. The Cafés Baqué man will be backed up by a strong team, perhaps including another former Naturgas rider, Alex Bilbao.

Krzysztof Tracz of Hostal Latorre (second last weekend in Durana), Santiago Ramirez of Lizarte (winner in Bergara in March) and Azysa's Ariel Sivori might also be found close to the top of the standings.

Quite a few former legends will also be present at the race - if not in a racing capacity. David Etxebarría, who needs no further introduction, will lead Koplad-Uni2, while Joseba Beloki's little brother and former pro, Gorka, will call the shots in the Lizarte team-car. Former Euskaltel rider and DS Rubén Gorospe will lead Cafés Baqué, erstwhile CSC climber Manuel Calvente will direct Andalucía, whilst former Euskaltel DS Jon Odriozola will as usual take his seat in the Bidelan car.

Naturgas Energía photo courtesy of

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Euskaltel strong in Romandie stage 1

On today's unexpectedly hard first stage proper of the Tour de Romandie, Euskaltel placed four riders in the front group to stay in contention on GC.

A climb 30 clicks from the line at the end of the 184,5km leg from Morges to La Chaux-de-Fonds saw the  specialist sprinters dropped, and Wiggins emerged victorious with a powerful late-race surge to edge Lieuwe Westra into second and Paolo Tiralongo into third. 59 riders made up the first group, in which Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo, Mikel Landa and Mikel Astarloza all featured along with the rest of the pre-race favourites. Romain Sicard couldn't quite keep up and finished 11 seconds back.

Stage results:

  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 4:50:23
  • 12, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 14, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 18, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 33, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 69, Romain Sicard, 0:11
  • 90, Jorge Azanza, 2:27
  • 115, Ricardo García, 7:16
  • 155, Alan Pérez, 11:17
Going into tomorrow's stage from Montb to Moutier, Astarloza is the top placed rider overall in 20th place.

Urtasun on the hunt in Asturias

Pablo Urtasun will continue to chase that elusive first win of the season as he spearheads Euskaltel in the Vuelta a Asturias this weekend.

The veteran has come close on several occasions recently, placing second in the Vuelta a La Rioja and third on a stage and overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, and will on Friday embark on the three-day event with a strong support crew. Giro-bound Amets Txurruka, Pierre Cazaux, Adrián Sáez, Victor Cabedo, Jon Izagirre and Miguel Mínguez will be present, as well as young climber Peio Bilbao, the team's website today reports. Urtasun already has two stages to his name in Samuel Sánchez's home race, and will be looking to build on that on Friday's stage to Gijón and Saturday's early-morning stage to Avíles.

Profiles of the three stages, of which the last will count as the Subida al Naranco, can be found here

Photo courtesy of

Intxausti returns

Beñat Intxausti will return to competition on Friday in the Vuelta a Asturias after a prolonged stay on the sidelines.

The Movistar ace was ruled out of the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this month after coming down with flu-like symptoms, and hasn't competed since the conclusion of the Tirreno-Adriatico on the 13th of March. The former Euskaltel prodigy will hope for a change in fortune for the remainder of the season though, having only 13 race days in his legs thus far in 2012. He started his season with a 91st-place finish in the Trofeo Deía in February, before going on to finish 38th in Andalucía and 34th in Tirreno.

Movistar team for Vuelta a Asturias: Marzio Bruseghin, David López, José Iván Gutiérrez, Enrique Sanz, Ignatas Konovalovas, Jesús Herrada and last year's winner, Javier Moreno. 

Prolonged recovery for Antón

Igor Antón's recovery from his broken collarbone at Liège-Bastogne-Liège will take slightly longer than normal, the team informs in a press release.

The unlucky 29-year-old had surgery on his left clavícula on Monday, only 24 hours after the crash, as it was decided to take action as fast as possible to speed up the healing. As it happens, it's not just a simple broken collarbone for Antón. It's a so-called 'refracture', and the Galdakao-native will have two plasma injections with a high amount of growth factors in the coming weeks.

Antón famously broke the same collarbone on stage 13 of the Vuelta a España to the Angliru four years back.

Doctors Elorriaga and Azurmendi of the Clínica Igualatorio Médico Quirúrgio (IMG) San Sebastián in Bilbao performed the surgery.

No time scale has of yet been set on his rehabilitation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prologue woe for Euskaltel in Romandie

The Tour de Romandie kicked off today with a 3,3km prologue in Lausanne, and Euskaltel's main men for the discipline failed to shine.

 Mikel Astarloza, pre-ban a man to be reckoned with in the discipline, was the team's top finisher in a distant 55th place, 17 seconds down on winner Geraint Thomas. Like many of the top riders though, Astarloza suffered under the changing weather conditions and in fact placed ahead of riders like Karpets, De Gendt, Evans, Hesjedal, Kreuziger, Brajkovic and Peraud. The course in the capital of the Vaud canton was of course not best suited to the team, and everyone bar the Pasajes-native finished outside the top 100.

Prologue results:
  • (1, Geraint Thomas (Sky), 3:29:00
  • 55, Mikel Astarloza, 0:17
  • 113, Gorka Verdugo, 0:24
  • 129, Jorge Azanza, 0:26
  • 131, Ricardo García, 0:26
  • 136, Romain Sicard, 0:27
  • 142, Alan Pérez, 0:28
  • 145, Egoi Martínez, 0:29
  • 151, Mikel Landa, 0:31
Full results here

Monday, April 23, 2012

Antón goes under the knife

Igor Antón will have surgery on his broken left collarbone today.

An assessment by the doctors at the San Sebastián clinic in Bilbao earlier today concluded it would be wise to operate on the fracture as soon as possible. It's not yet known when he'll be back in training.



García replaces Antón for Romandie

Ricardo García will come in for the injured Igor Antón for the Tour de Romandie commencing tomorrow.

So reports the team's own website today. Antón was set to lead the team in which he won a mountainous stage five years ago, but will be forced to skip the Swiss six-day WorldTour-race because of a broken collarbone sustained in the very first kilometres of yesterday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The full line-up is as follows: Mikel Landa, Romain Sicard, Ricardo García, Jorge Azanza, Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez and Alan Pérez.

Iñaki Isasi will lead the team from the car.

Full startlist here.

Stage profiles here

Unlucky Samu delivers in LBL

Luck was once again not on Samuel Sánchez's side in this year's Ardennes Classics. The 34-year-old still managed to finish a commendable seventh though.

You got the feeling it just wasn't meant to be when Samu punctured on the demanding Côte de Stockeu. The pace was high, a mammoth effort would be needed to bring him back on, and Igor Antón, Samu's main lieutenant, had already abandoned after breaking his collarbone in the neutralized section. The team naturally dropped back and paced him back up to the peloton, but it was hardly ideal.

When the real race started inside the last 30 kilometres, Samu was always there or thereabouts, but never looked like winning the race once Nibali, Iglinsky et al. moved off the front. He did remarkably well to stay with the main chasers though, even putting in a dig himself at one point, to finish seventh ahead of a cluster of big-name riders.

Sánchez rose back into third in the WorldTour-rankings as a result, and closed out his first part of the season on a high. No wonder his DS, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, was happy.

"Because of Samu's seventh place, we're pleased with the race overall", he told Euskaltel's website. "He did ever so well, making use of his intelligence to grab a creditable seventh place."

Results (full results here.):
  • 1, Maxim Iglinsky, Astana
  • 7, Samuel Sánchez, 0:36
  • 69, Mikel Nieve, 8:22
  • 70, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 96, Romain Sicard, 12:18
  • DNF: Gorka Izagirre, Jorge Azanza, Rubén Pérez and Igor Antón
It's a fact: Rubén Pérez has abandoned all three Ardennes Classics this year.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Urtasun goes close in Rioja

Pablo Urtasun lived up to his billing as one of the pre-race favourites by taking second in today's Vuelta a La Rioja.

The 32-year-old grabbed third in the Vuelta a Castilla y León a few days back and so nearly went two better in the 1.1-ranked race. Well, 'nearly' hardly reflects how the race unfolded and just how strong winner Evgeny Shalunov was. After numerous attacks that petered out one after another, including the likes of Landa, Txurruka, Minguez and Urtasun himself, the Lokosphinx rider took off in company of countryman and Caja Rural rider Alexander Ryabkyn with some 50 kilometres to go. Behind them, a select group, including, at one time, six Euskaltel representatives and five from Movistar, formed. Incredibly though, this select group was never able to catch the plucky and, to the general public at least, unknown duo. All the responsibility were left to Euskaltel as Movistar and Caja Rural neglected to cooperate, and just how they failed to control the Russians is beyond me.

Shalunov left his compatriot with some 25 clicks to go and never looked back, eventually winning solo ahead of Urtasun in third half a minute down. Iván Velasco showed his top form is coming along right in time for the Giro d'Italia with 10th in the last tune-up ahead of the Italian GT, while Landa was once again up there in seventh. The remaining riders all finished several minutes back as they paid the price for trying to catch the eventual winner all by themselves.

Speaking post-race, Urtasun reflected on a win that got away.

"I'm left with the same sensations as I had after Castilla y León: a mixture of happiness and grief. I had the legs to triumph, but I couldn't pull it off. The chance of winning doesn't come along too often, but I still accumulated 90 points towards the UCI's Europe ranking this week. Let's see if we can get the win we've been working so hard for in the Vuelta a Asturias", he told


  • 1, Evgeny Shalunov, Lokosphinx
  • 2, Pablo Urtasun, 0:28
  • 3, Mikhail Antonov (Lokosphinx), s.t.
  • 7, Mikel Landa, 0:54
  • 10, Iván Velasco, 0:54
  • 37, Amets Txurruka, 6:25
  • 45, Miguel Mínguez, 11:56
  • 47, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 55, Ricardo García, 16:32
  • 56, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
Full results here

González sprints to third in Durana

Alain González continued his upward trajectory by grabbing third place for Naturgas Energía in today's Trofeo Eusebio Vélez, the fifth race of the Euskaldun-series.

González has numerous top ten placings to his name already this season, but was never really close to the win today as Víctor De la Parte, formerly of Caja Rural but now without a team, went on a flyer with a massive 80 kilometres left to ride. The 25-year-old was not to be seen again and finished 43 seconds ahead of a trio made up of Krzysztof Tracz, González and Bidelan's Julen Mitxelena. Victor Etxeberria completed a good day for the team with sixth place a further handful of seconds back.


  • 1, Víctor De la Parte, 3:01:20
  • 2, Krzysztof Tracz (Hostal Latorre), 0:43
  • 3, Alain González, s.t.
  • 6, Victor Etxeberria, 0:48
  • 23, Loic Chetout, 3:11
  • 24, Pablo Comins, s.t.
  • 25, Imanol Estévez, s.t.
  • 55, Damien García, s.t.
  • 57, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 58, Alain Santamaría, s.t.
  • 71, Francisco Javier Martín, 5:39
  • 72, Karl Baudron, s.t.
Naturgas took out the team classification.

Antón breaks collarbone

Igor Antón has crashed out of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and broken his left collarbone.

The 29-year-old reportedly crashed in the neutralized zone and will now be forced into a break from racing. According to DS in Liège, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, is was an avoidable fall.

"It was a most stupid crash", the normally soft-spoken ex-pro told "He got tangled  up in something and hit the tarmac. He broke his collarbone. A great shame".

Antón was planning on taking part in the upcoming Tour de Romandie, but will now be forced to give that race a miss naturally.

Euskaltel is thus left with seven riders in the ongoing la Doyenne. Follow the race live here

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sicard: "Sánchez has big ambitions for Liège"

Romain Sicard is likely to form a key part of an Euskaltel team hoping to launch Samuel Sánchez towards the podium in tomorrow's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Having done reasonably well in both Amstel Gold (64th) and Fleche Wallonne (51st) as a domestique, the young Frenchman is looking forward to lining up in the doyenne of the classics - and says Samuel Sánchez will be going for the win.

"I'm very pleased to be here. Lining up in a Monument like this is always motivating", he told "The team will do its utmost to aid Samu, who's got big ambitions for this race. He'll try to fight for the win. We'll do our best to set him up for a tilt at it."

The 2012 edition is set to be one of the most open in years what with Philippe Gilbert failing to reproduce last year's form and a number of other contenders showing strong from in the past week. Sicard is aware a whole host of names could end up on the podium.

"Many riders can win tomorrow. We'll see Gilbert and Vanendert, as well as Spaniards like Joaquím Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde. The list is very long."

It's a fact: Sicard has had 22 racing days so far this season (including the non-UCI ranked Cancer Council Classic). That's already three more than last year.

Startlist can be found here


Lejarreta wins on the road

Orbea's top mountain biker Iñaki Lejarreta showed his impressive versatility by taking a victory on the road today. The 28-year-old triumphed in the Torneo Euskaldun-race in Lazkao, Gipuzkoa.

The Olympic Games hopeful cleverly outfoxed Azysa-Telco'm duo Sivori and Terpstra to snatch an unlikely victory after the trio had escaped early on and distanced the peloton by some margin. Another Azysa rider, Borja Abásolo, displayed his rich vein of form with fourth at 1:58. The 23-year-old, formerly of Cafés Baqué, finished a striking third in the Memorial Valenciaga a few weeks back and proved to be the strongest of the rest. Bidelan pair Mitxelena and Murgia finished fifth and sixth respectively.

Naturgas Energía did not field a team.

  • 1, Iñaki Lejarreta, Orbea MTB
  • 2, Ariel Alejandro Sivori (Azysa-Telco'm), 0:00
  • 3, Mike Terpstra (Azysa-Telco'm), s.t.
  • 4, Borja Abásolo (Azysa-Telco'm), 1:58
  • 5, Julen Mitxelena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 2:01

Full results here.

Another Euskaldun-race is on the menu tomorrow: the XLIV Trofeo Eusebio Vélez in Durana, Álava.

Photo from

Friday, April 20, 2012

Samu to lead Liège charge

After much back and forth, Samuel Sánchez will lead Euskaltel in Sunday's big one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

So says the team's official website this afternoon. Igor Antón will as expected line up alongside the Olympic champ, and will potentially form a fearsome twosome if can rediscover some of the chispa that's been lacking thus far in 2012. Giro-bound Mikel Nieve will also take the start, but is unlikely to make much of an impression as he's only got 10 days of racing in his legs so far this season.

Full team: Igor Antón, Jorge Azanza, Gorka Izagirre, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Nieve, Rubén Pérez, Samuel Sánchez and Romain Sicard.

Izagirre: "I'm fine"

Gorka Izagirre might still make it to Liège on Sunday. The Flèche Wallone crash victim insists he's ready for the brutal conclusion to the Classics season - despite only yesterday being bandaged up from top to toe.

"My right hand and shoulder are worst off - I'm struggling to lean on the handlebars. But I have no problem turning the cranks. Of course, I've got scrapes all over: both my knees, both hands, my shoulders, my chin, my hips and my butt. I haven't gotten a full night's sleep yet, but I've gotten some sleep. I went for a 75-minute training ride with my team-mates though, and everything worked just fine. My legs? They're good. I told Gorka Gerrikagoitia I'll do Liège-Bastogne-Liège", he told el Diario Vasco.

Speaking of the fall itself, Izagirre is adamant it was all his own making.

"I was eating an energy bar, some guys ahead of me hit the brakes, I ran into them, and I crashed. It was my own fault".

Despite his strong desire to take part in the fourth Monument of 2012, the 24-year-old is aware it really isn't about him. If he's not recovered sufficiently to make a difference on Sunday, he'd rather see a completely fit team-mate take his place on the team.

"I'll be honest with myself and the team. We'll see how it evolves, but it's obviously not in Euskaltel's best interests if a guy at 50 percent lines up. I'll ride if I'm willing up for it. If I'm not ready, I won't mislead anyone".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"He looks like a mummy"

A nasty-looking crash took Gorka Izagirre out of Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne. The 24-year-old escaped serious injury, but is quite banged up at the moment and will be forced to sit out Sunday's big rendezvous: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. According to directeur sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia, he's looking like everything but a bike rider.

"He's entire body is bruised and he's got bandages all over the place. He looks like mummy! It's been a while since I last saw such a heavy crash", the former Euskaltel-pro told el Diario Vasco.

The oldest of the Izagirre brothers crashed at heavy speed - but incredibly came away from the incident without any fractures whatsoever.

"It happened with 38 kilometres to go, at approximately 60 km/h. The road was quite dangerous, and he looked quite bad after the crash. He hit his shoulder, his face, his knees, his hands, his arms, both sides... I think he virtually hit every single body part. We originally thought of taking him to the hospital, but we eventually dropped that idea."

He added: "He's done with his first part of the season now. He was scheduled to return to racing in May at the Tour of Bavaria, and he'll do so if he's healed by then, but he'll take it easy in that race. After that, he'll head to the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France".

Euskaltel call on Samu for Liège

After Igor Antón failed to animate la Fleche Wallonne yesterday, Euskaltel will be forced to call on Samuel Sánchez services in Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia admitted as much when talking to el Diario Vasco today.

"Samuel was good in Amstel, and Antón was disappointing in Fleche. Antón didn't perform well in the Vuelta al País Vasco and is not at his game. We have a sure bet for the Classics in Samu, and in these conditions we have to put our trust in him.

"It's not set in stone that he'll line up, but that's the plan - unless he isn't feeling good. I was hoping for more from Antón in Fleche, so we have to give Samu a ring. I think he's still got the kind of form we saw of him in País Vasco", he explained.

Samu himself seemed to be at peace with the idea - even if he's feeling a bit under the weather.

"I'm only at about 50 percent, but it's most likely that I'll be in Liège on Sunday. I'm still recovering from Amstel as I arrived at that race with a cold I contracted in País Vasco because of the chilly temperatures. My form is good though, and I'm pleased with how Amstel turned out. If my legs didn't feel right I wouldn't do Liège, but they're working just fine. Let's hope I recover quickly", Samu said.

Teams for La Rioja

Euskaltel and Orbea will both send eight-man team's to Sunday's 1.1-ranked Vuelta a La Rioja. Pablo Urtasun, coming off a third-place overall finish in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, is likely to lead an able Euskaltel line-up in the 190km race. Orbea will as always count on the youngsters, and Bizkarra and Bagües particularly look primed for strong showings after a solid run of form of late.

Euskaltel squad: Pablo Urtasun, Amets Txurruka, Mikel Landa, Peio Bilbao, Miguel Minguez, Adrián Sáez, Iván Velasco and Ricardo García. DS: Álvaro González de Galdeano.

Orbea squad: Mikel Bizkarra, Andoni Blázquez, Aritz Etxebarria, Xabier Zabalo, Igor Merino, Haritz Orbe, Aritz Bagües and Illart Zuazubiskar. DS: Aritz Arberas.


Complete list of teams can be found here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fleche Wallonne no-show for Euskaltel

Euskaltel showed just how dependent they are on Samuel Sánchez these days with a muted performance in Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne. Team leader Igor Antón failed to shine and had to settle for 17th.

It wasn't for the lack of help though - of for trying for that matter. Antón was taken excellently care of by his team-mates and was brought to the bottom of the the vicious Muur de Huy by Peio Bilbao and Romain Sicard. Once the climbing started though, he was poorly positioned and never really had the legs to go with Rodríguez, Albasini et al. The 29-year-old didn't manage to replicate the results of the last two years (fourth and fifth in 2010 and 2011 respectively), and crossed the line in 17th place, 11 seconds off Rodríguez's blistering time.

"We can't be pleased with this race", DS Gerrikagoitia said unequivocally to the team's website upon completing the race. "The Muur is perfect for Antón, and 17th doesn't correspond with the quality he possesses. Alas, we're not satisfied".

His younger team-mates showed more encouraging signs though. Peio Bilbao delivered another fine Classic performance, coming home 44th, just 47 seconds in arrears. Sicard ended up a further 11 seconds back in 51st place.

On a less positive note, Gorka Izagirre tumbled heavily with just less than 40 clicks to go. The punchy rider was forced to abandon immediately, but the 24-year-old is doing well considering the circumstances.

"It was a very hard fall, but I don't think anything's broken. He's pretty banged up though," 'Gerri' said.

Izagirre will naturally sit out Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Peio Bilbao, who was supposed to go home and put his feet up after Fleche Wallonne, will take his place.

  • (1, Joaquim Rodríguez, Katusha)
  • 17, Igor Antón, 0:11
  • 44, Peio Bilbao, 0:47
  • 51, Romain Sicard, 0:58
  • 79, Egoi Martínez, 2:13
  • 102, Jorge Azanza, 5:04
  • 141, Ricardo García, 11:10
Full results here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"On a scale from one to ten, we earned a ten"

Orbea DS Aritz Arberas lauded the team's performance in the recently concluded Vuelta a Castilla y León. On the team's website, the former Naturgas prodigy (as pictured above) expressed his delight with his young charges.

"I'm very pleased - we were at our game. We did a good Vuelta. We fought and succeeded in being present in all the breaks. It was very positive", he enthused.

The blue team failed to make an impression results-wise, but for Arberas that's not the most important thing at this stage of the riders' careers.

"Don't forget that one of our goals at this team is to learn. Our team is filled with young riders eager to do just that and eventually turn pro. Our chance is to animate the racing. We addressed the mistakes we made and learned from them. In that sense, it was a very enriching experience".

Next up for the Continental-ranked team in Sunday's Vuelta a la Rioja, now a single-day race.


"Samu could have won Amstel"

While Samuel Sánchez's seventh place in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race was no mean feat, directeur sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia was left contemplating what might have been hadn't his star rider been forced to change bikes at the worst possible moment. Talking to BiciCiclismo, 'Gerri' didn't mince his words.

"He had to swap bikes after 230 kilometres, the worst possible moment, because of a mechanical. If it wasn't for that mishap, he could have landed a podium spot and, why not, won the whole thing. The way he got back on in the final 20 kilometres showed he was one of the strongest".

Despite showing such good form in Amstel, it's still an unknown whether he'll line up in Liège on Sunday.

"He won't decide until the last minute. It depends on how this week goes for him. He's already completed his schedule for this part of the season and was strong in Amstel."

Igor Antón's inclusion on behalf of Samu is the only change for tomorrow's Fleche Wallonne. Gerrikagoitia has high hopes for Antón, but admits the man himself isn't so sure about his state of form.

"We hope he'll be able to fight for, at least, the podium. Antón doesn't know how he'll perform though. Two years ago, when Evans won, he was very close to the victory. It's a race well suited to him. We hope to see the best of Antón this year on Wednesday, but he has his doubts", he said.

The native of Galdakao didn't sound so cautious, saying he expects to be among the favourites. Grabbing a top five would be difficult though, he warned.

For Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Ricardo García and Peio Bilbao will be the only ones from the Amstel roster to drop out. Mikel Nieve and one more, perhaps Samu, will replace the young duo.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Samu stays third in UCI rankings

Samu maintained his third place overall in the UCI's WorldTour-rankings after yesterday's Amstel Gold Race.

Samu scored 14 points for his seventh place, meaning he rose above Simon Gerrans who failed to grab a single point yesterday. Peter Sagan moved above both men though courtesy of his third-place finish. Samu is currently on 222 points, while Sagan is on 229. Tom Boonen continues to lead the way at the top of standings after his impeccable campaign, having amassed a gigantic 366 points. No other Euskaltel riders have accumulated any points.

In the team rankings, Euskaltel are still in eighth place on 222 points. Omega Pharma - QuickStep are top with 547.

Source: UCI.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Unlucky Samu grabs 7th in Amstel

Despite being set back by a mechanical with less than 20 kilometres to go and getting his sprint interrupted by Cunego and Nordhaug's crash on the steepest ramps ofthe Cauberg, Samuel Sánchez persevered to grab a satisfactory seventh place in today's Amstel Gold Race.

The defining moment for the team came when Sánchez suffered the misfortune of a puncture/mechanical problem with approximately 20 clicks to go. The team, with the likes of Sicard and Martínez particularly prominent, dropped back instantly to help their leader bridge back up to a flying peloton. Approaching the Keutenberg some ten kilometres later he was finally back among the leaders, but naturally suffered from his exertions on the unforgiving ramps of the Cauberg. Still though, he had enough left in the tank to distance pre-race favourites like Mollema, Schleck, an off-colour Rodríguez, Henao, Valverde and Gerrans. Italian Gasparotto powered his way to a relatively surprising win ahead of Vanendert and Sagan.

Samu earned the team 14 valuable UCI WorldTour-points courtesy of his seventh place.

Another rider who enjoyed a good day in the saddle was young Peio Bilbao. The stand-out 22-year-old, impressive in the break of the day in Flanders a fortnight ago, once again made it into the main break in a big classic. The featherweight climber formed part of the early-race nine-man break and, as some of the more experienced heads in the group went out the back as the pace was upped inside the last 50 clicks, Bilbao put in a ride that belied his tender years and stayed away 'till only 27 kilometres were left to race. On this form, the native of Gernika might go on to animate Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège on Sunday.

  • (1, Enrico Gasparotto, Astana)
  • 7, Samuel Sánchez, 0:02
  • 54, Egoi Martínez, 2:03
  • 64, Romain Sicard, 2:21
  • 69, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 137, Peio Bilbao, 11:31
  • DNF: Rubén Pérez, Jorge Azanza, Ricardo García.
Full results here.

Urtasun third in Castilla y León

Pablo Urtasun hung on to his third place overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y León's final stage earlier today. The 34-year-old cleverly got into the race-deciding break on the 173,5km stage into Segovia that eliminated overnight leader Luisle Sánchez from contention, and placed ninth on the day to secure a highly creditable third overall behind Movistar's Javier Moreno and Saur's Guillaume Levarlet. Yelko Gómez of Caja Rural sprinted to the stage win.

It could have been even better for Urtasun though if it wasn't for a mishap inside the last 500 metres. With both the stage and the overall to sprint for, Urtasun, on the wheel of second-placed Levarlet, was forced to unclip both pedals just when the sprint was about to start as Levarlet lost control of his bike. Both escaped hitting the ground, but the incident meant both lost any chance of the stage and the overall. Urtasun rolled in in ninth place, four seconds down, while the Saur rider took tenth and second overall.

Talking to the press post-stage, the Euskaltel hard-man didn't hide his disappointment.

"It's a pity I had that misfortune with 400 metres to go", he told the team's website. "After suffering a lot on the Nevacerrada and cresting it on (eventual overall winner) Moreno's wheel, not being able to dispute the stage and the general classification makes me a tad angry. If you end up third because there are two guys that are stronger than you, you might be satisfied, but finishing third like this annoys me. Now I'm just looking towards the upcoming races. I've shown I'm in good form, so I'll keep fighting".

Iván Velasco put in a good shift to place 22nd on the stage and thus maintained his ninth place overall.

Cazaux, Nieve and A Pérez failed to finish. Zuazubiskar dropped out for Orbea.

Orbea put both Mikel Bizkarra and Aritz Etxebarria in early breakaway attempts today, but none of them managed to stand the pace when the going got tough towards the end. Carlos Barbero finished as the team's highest placed rider on GC, 49th.

Stage results (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Yelko Gómez, Caja Rural)
  • 9, Pablo Urtasun, 0:04
  • 22, Iván Velasco, 1:37
  • 29, Mikel Landa, 2:07
  • 40, Mikel Bizkarra, 6:25
  • 44, Miguel Mínguez, 8:27
  • 46, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 52, Carlos Barbero, 8:47
  • 58, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 60, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 66, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 69, Xabier Zabalo, 9:00
  • 74, Aritz Etxebarria, 15:07
Final general classification:
  • (1, Javier Moreno, Movistar)
  • 3, Pablo Urtasun, 0:03
  • 9, Iván Velasco, 1:50
  • 30, Mikel Landa, 12:08
  • 42, Miguel Minguez, 18:06
  • 43, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 49, Carlos Barbero, 18:26
  • 54, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 59, Jon Aberasturi, 22:25
  • 65, Mikel Bizkarra, 25:18
  • 71, Aritz Etxebarria, 28:45
  • 80, Xabier Zabalo, 35:03
  • 81, Igor Merino, 37:54
Full results here.

Team classification: Euskaltel third, Orbea 11th.

Spanish rider classification: 2, Pablo Urtasun, Euskaltel.

Regional rider classification: 1, Carlos Barbero, Orbea.

Samu unaware of revised Amstel route

Quite sensationally for a pre-race favourite, it appears Samuel Sánchez is not aware of the changes made to this year's Amstel Gold Race parcours. The organizers have this year decided to cut two kilometres between the penultimate climb (the Keutenberg) and the final climb (the Cauberg) in order to encourage more aggressive racing. The change should suit a rider like Samu to a tee, but the man himself was surprised when quizzed about the route a day prior to the race.

"What, Amstel? Tomorrow? The finish is different?", he uttered to Cyclingnews on Saturday.

When informed about the change, he naturally seemed content though.

"Ah, that's much better. That'll make it harder for riders to catch back on after the Keutenberg".

Samu has been touted as one of the main favourites by rivals and pundits alike leading up to the Dutch race, but the Euskaltel captain was keen to downplay expectations.

"Joaquin Rodríguez showed in the Vuelta al País Vasco that he's got more power on the climbs. There's also the likes of Valverde, Sagan, Nibali and Evans to contend with. I'm not the favourite."

The 34-year-old was originally not slated for the hilly classics this year, but decided at the last minute to do Amstel. First of all, it's good training for the World Champs as this year's event will run over much the same terrain. Secondly, he's on strong form. Thirdly, Euskaltel need the WorldTour-points. Despite that, he'll head for home after Amstel and pass the torch to Igor Antón for Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"I'll only do Amstel - then I'll travel home and relax. Perhaps I'll come back for Liège if my legs are up for it. If not, I'll start my holiday. I'll return in time for the Dauphiné and the Tour de France. Then the Olympics are up".

Samu will wear dossard number 31 tomorrow. Check out the full start list here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Urtasun grabs third in Castilla y León

Pablo Urtasun snatched Euskaltel an excellent third place in today's second stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León. The 34-year-old formed part of a late-race break, also including team-mate Iván Velasco, on the hilly 158,7km stage to Ávila, but was beaten to the win by compatriot Luis León Sánchez and Guillaume Levarlet.

Watch a short resume of the stage here.

The stage started off with a dangerous seven-man break going clear after 30 kilometres. In it was Euskaltel's main man, Mikel Landa, a certain Andreas Klöden, David Arroyo, Rein Taaramäe and Brice Feillu to name but a few. A few others, including Amets Txurruka, bridged up later, but it wasn't to be. A new group, this time counting 12 riders, formed at the head of the race with some 30 clicks to go. Among them were Euskaltel duo Velasco and Urtasun, but also a host of other strong names. Luisle Sánchez proved too strong with a trademark move inside the last kilometre, while Urtasun was just pipped to second by Frenchman Levarlet two seconds down. Velasco secured his best result in a while with ninth, 12 seconds down on the classy Rabobank allrounder. The main peloton, containing most of the big names, finished up a big 9:38 back, meaning the race will by all accounts be played out between the forerunners on today's stage.

Heading into tomorrow's final and quite mountainous stage, both Urtasun and Velasco are well placed to grab top general classification placings. When quizzed about his chances of landing what would be one of his most impressive GC results, Urtasun was quite optimistic.

"Let's see how it goes tomorrow - Rabobank will probably control the race for Sánchez. The Navacerrada (the last climb) tops out at some 50 kilometres from the line, so the goal will be to reach the line as close as possible to him. It'll be important to stay calm, position myself well, eat and drink enough and get enough protection. If I'm in the front group approaching Segovia (the finishing town), then of course I'll aim for the win", he told the team's website.

Stage results (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Luis León Sánchez, Rabobank)
  • 3, Pablo Urtasun, 0:02
  • 9, Iván Velasco, 0:12
  • 34, Miguel Mínguez, 9:38
  • 38, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 43, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 46, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 49, Illart Zuazubiskar, s.t.
  • 61, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 65, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 72, Mikel Landa, 10:00
  • 87, Aritz Etxebarria, 13:37
  • 90, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 100, Mikel Bizkarra, 14:09
  • 106, Alan Pérez, 23:52
  • 115, Xabier Zabalo, 26:02
  • 122, Igor Merino, 26:07
Complete results here.


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