Thursday, May 31, 2012

Status quo in Navarra as Wippert nabs it

21-year-old Wouter Wippert of Lotto-Belisol-Davo sprinted to the win on stage two of the Vuelta a Navarra today, with Azysa's Ignacio Pérez maintaining his overall lead.

For Naturgas, day two covering 141,7km from San Adrián to Pitillas turned out to be quite a testing day. The strong trio of Víctor Etxeberria, Jon Larrinaga and Mikel Iturria managed to hold the peloton's pace, but the remaining four ended up way down the standings along with quite a few big-name riders, Caja Rural's Ibai Salas being one of them.

Stage two results:

  • 1, Wouter Wippert (Lotto-Belisol-Davo), 3:27:05
  • 2, Jonathan Perdiguero (Supermercado Froiz), s.t.
  • 3, Thomas Sprengers (Lotto-Belisol-Davo), s.t.
  • 31, Víctor Exteberria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 50, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 52, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 90, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 9:02
  • 106, Francisco Javier Martín (Naturgas Energía), 13:49
  • 108, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 110, Alain Santamaría (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
Full results here

Sáez pleased with maiden GT

First-year Euskaltel rider Adrián Sáez made it through his very first Grand Tour in Italy last weekend. The 26-year-old finished up next to last in 156th place, and deemed himself happy, if a tad exhausted, with the experience.

"I'm a bit tired right now, but I'm happy with how it turned out. I knew some days would be worse than others", he told El Correo. "Mentally, the second week was hard on me, but this race (a GT) is another kind of competition and I really like to ride these kind of races".

He admitted he struggled to cope with the "scandalous pace" in the closing clicks on the flatter stages, adding he'd need a bigger chain ring to keep up, but praised the team's effort.

"The performance was positive. Besides Izagirre's stage win, Txurruka was active and Nieve finished top ten overall".

Much like fellow GT debutant Izagirre, the native of Araia, Álava, will now put his feet up and take some time off before returning to competition in time for the nationals in late June. As for the remainder of his season, he "would love to go the Vuelta, but that would be unexpected".


Euskaltel's future assured

As has been rumoured for quite a while, telephone company Euskaltel will indeed keep the team alive next year.

So reports Basque newspaper Gara. According to the trustworthy daily, Fundacion Euskadi president and General Manager of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Miguel Madariaga, along with main directeur sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia, visited the riders during the recent Giro d'Italia to inform the riders that their team would continue to exist beyond the current season.

It's not official as of yet, but it's expected that the telecommunications giant will go public with their plans in a few weeks' time.

"They (Madariaga and Gerrikagoitia) gave us peace of mind by informing us that the team would go one in one way or another", Giro hero Ion Izagirre said. "We don't know the make-up of the team though."

Team leader in the Giro, Mikel Nieve, added that "perhaps we will know more in a few days. Let's hope we get lucky and everyone on the team can stay on".

There is no further news on whether the team will change its Basque-only philosophy.


Blázquez bags jersey in Gironde

Orbea rider Andoni Blázquez proved his mettle at a high level of racing by winning the climber's jersey in the recently-concluded Tour de Gironde.

The three-day, 2.2-ranked event in France ran from the 26th to the 28th of May, and saw Orbea line up with the following sextet: Andoni Blázquez, Jon Aberasturi, Aritz Etxebarria, Xabier Zabalo, Aritz Bagües and Mikel Bizkarra. Having amassed plenty of points on the first and last stage, the 24-year-old Blázquez, who was sidelined for large parts of last campaign due to injuries, just edged Drapac's Australian Adam Phelan and Rabobank Continental's Daan Olivier to the purple jersey. It was a landmark achievement for the native of Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa.

"It was incredible for me", Blázquez told Iban Mayo Blog. "Not only pulling on the jersey, but also to feel I was finally contesting a race again. It's been a while."

"The team set out with the idea of winning a stage, but as the stages passed by we came to realize we lacked that little something to achieve that. When I claimed the jersey, all of my team-mates worked a 100 percent for me and protected me. That gave me a lot of confidence".

Rabobank's Nicky van der Lijke of Rabobank's ever-potent satellite team took out the overall ahead of team-mate Daan Olivier and GSC Blagnac's Fabien Fraissignes. Xabier Zabalo ended up as the team's highest placed rider on GC with 27th, while Aritz Bagües was one place further back. As a team, Orbea ended up 12th. Sprinter Aberasturi mixed it up with a seventh and a 14th on stage two and three respectively, while Zabalo came in 11th on day one.

Final general classification:
  • (1, Nicky van der Lijke (Rabobank Continental), 12:16:04)
  • 27, Xabier Zabalo, 1:13
  • 28, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 37, Aritz Etxebarria, 1:24
  • 78, Jon Aberasturi, 8:11
  • 86, Mikel Bizkarra, 11:02
  • 88, Andoni Blázquez, 11:19
Photo: Alban Cordoba and Hervé Bidou

Sicard happy with season

Romain Sicard has declared himself pleased with 2012 so far after enjoying a virtually uninterrupted series of races. The Frenchman has been troubled by injuries in the past but appears to have put those troubles behind him. He's taking pleasure from being able to race - even if the results haven't necessarily been the best.

"The first half of the season finished with the Tour de Romandie. For the moment I'm pleased considering where I came from. I have to be patient, go step by step and work hard", he said in an interview with Velo 101.

"In Romandie my role was to be active and hunt for results along with the other riders able to perform on the harder stages (he eventually ended up 80th). But many riders were strong in that race, so it was complicated."

Concerning the Tour de France, the 24-year-old was a well of secrets.

"We'll see about the Tour in the coming weeks. I'll know more soon, but for the moment I can't say anything. I'm not sure about my program - we'll see".

Despite missing virtually a whole year of racing due to injuries in 2011, as well as a well-publiced run-in with the police, the Frenchman interestingly terms the year "rewarding".

"In terms of sport, 2011 didn't give me much as I didn't race a lot. But on a personal level, it was very enriching - perhaps the most enriching one since I started riding a bike. Sometimes you take the biggest steps in the difficult moments. It was an important year."

It was previously reported on this site that Sicard would do the Dauphiné commencing this Sunday. This will not happen after all as Ricardo García has taken his place.


Nieve: "We should improve in the time trials"

While Mikel Nieve got what he came for in the Giro d'Italia, a top ten overall, he was left to rue a preparation blighted by injury and the usual big time losses against the watch. The Grand Tour specialist ceded the grand total of seven minutes and 33 seconds combined in the time trials compared to the winner of each stage (prologue, team time trial, individual time trial) en route to finishing tenth at 8:08 from winner Ryder Hesjedal. No wonder he's targeting improvement in the crono.

"We should improve in that discipline", he said frankly to Gara. "In the team time trial we suffered bad luck to go with it. We had punctures as well as Amets Txurruka's crash".

Overall though, Nieve was content with his showing all things considered.

"It's not easy to finish top ten in this race. To do it, you have to be switched on every single day and never relax. I felt the fatigue in the last week - I noticed I couldn't up the pace. It's a shame I didn't get to prepare well for this race. One month before the race I had just been off the bike for 15 days, which naturally caught up with me. If everything had gone smoother, I might have done better. I was not on my best day on the stage to the Stelvio and De Gendt deservedly took the spoils. I realized he was stronger than me. I just couldn't take the pace."

One who did handle the pace for quite a while was Ion Izagirre, who gave Nieve a vital hand in his attack at the base of the climb that eventually sealed Nieve's top ten placing. Izagirre's strength surprised even his team leader.

"I was expecting him to do well, but not that well! I knew he was strong, but him winning a stage and staying with the 10-15 best in the Dolomites in the last week surprised even me. He performed really well - just like the entire team."


Izagirre: "I might turn into a stage-racer"

Ion Izagirre's win in the Giro d'Italia caught quite a few by surprise and had people reaching for the superlatives. Yet what might have impressed the most about the 22-year-old's Grand Tour debut was in fact his prowess in the mountains the last weekend. On the decisive stages to the Alpe di Pampeago and the Stelvio, the Ormaiztegi-native was up there among the 10-15 strongest riders performing domestique duties for captain Mikel Nieve, showing a motor and a capability to recover that belied his young years. While Izagirre is keen to take things step by step and avoid predictions about what the future may hold, he does admit he might turn into a GC rider at one point.

"It's too early to say whether I'll be a man for the general classification in three-week races or not", he told Gara. "But staying with the best on those type of stages gives reason to believe I might have those characteristics. I was going pretty well in the last week, but I have to keep my feet on the ground".

"It was satisfying to reach the last week feeling good physically and mentally in my first Grand Tour. In the last two hard stages in the Dolomites I felt good and was able to help Nieve. It was a very hard Giro, but it worked out better than I expected it to. Speaking for myself and the team, I'm very happy with the whole Giro, from the first to the last day. It was a great race."

After emerging victorious on stage 16 into Pfalzen, Izagirre had praise for pretty much everyone who'd been there for him so far in his burgeoning career. One man deserved special praise though.

"Our second directeur sportif, Domenico Cavallo, kept me calm. He knew how to treat me; he saw I could do something great, provided me with the needed confidence and I'm therefore indebted to him. He'd studied the route, knew the Italians in the break and knew I had to go hard on the last climb if I was to drop the fastest riders in the group. Crossing the line, a lot of things entered my mind and I started to think of all the people who's been by my side. I burst into tears."

"I thought about my family and my girlfriend who'd brought her family along for a few days. She was at the cite of the stage start that day. When they got the news I had made the break, they stopped for an ice cream in order to watch the end of the stage on television. They were screaming like crazy when I triumphed - the Italians there didn't believe their eyes. I didn't know they were coming at all, but they gave me a lot of strength. You're away from home for a long time, so to see them waiting for me at the bus gave me a lot of support and happiness. I'm thankful to them and everyone else who've supported me. Now I'm enjoying what I've achieved".

Having accumulated 39 days of racing thus far in 2012, Izagirre, who's father was twice the national champion in cyclo-cross but never made it as a pro, is now taking a well-deserved rest. He'll be back in time for the national champs in Salamanca in late June, before embarking on the Tour of Poland (thus no Tour), Klasika Ordizia, Circuito de Getxo and the ENECO Tour.

It's a fact: It's not Jon Izagirre, not Jon Izaguirre, not Ion Izaguirre, but Ion Izagirre. There you go.

"The Tour nine is chosen"

According to the man in charge of sporting affairs at the team, DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia, the Tour de France team is pretty much set in stone. It's not yet clear who these nine are, but the former professional was adamant he'd rather not call on the Giro d'Italia riders.

"We've pretty much selected the nine riders", he confided to El Desmarque Bizkaia. "We've got four reserves who've all done the Giro, but we'd rather not have to count on them."

French website Velo-Club revealed which riders were in the running for those nine spots a few weeks back, and the following 14 were listed: Astarloza, Azanza, G Izagirre, Martínez, Verdugo, A Pérez, R Pérez, Sánchez, Urtasun, Sicard, Nieve, Txurruka, Velasco and Oroz. Gerrikagoitia's comments indicate the latter four can be discounted, leaving ten riders to chose from for the nine berts available. From how the season has developed for the riders, it would be no bad guess to suggest the main battle appears to be between Romain Sicard and Alan Pérez.

No matter who ends up going, though, "Gerri" is strong in the belief that his team has got what it takes to shine in the biggest race of the year.

"If we are at the level we ought to be, we'll bring a lot of pleasure to our fans", he said.

Mikel Nieve and Iván Velasco will head up Euskaltel's Tour de Suisse squad, while Samu will lead the charge in the Dauphiné the coming weeks. About what just happened on the roads of Italy, the DS could hardly be more pleased.

"I'm satisfied. Nieve proved his credentials as a leader, while the young riders also put their name out there. Ion Izagirre, who's capable of winning a time trial in the Vuelta a Asturias and a stage in the Giro in his first season among the pros, is only 22 and capable of making big strides in the future. All in all we've got a very strong team for the years ahead."

"After these two years doing the Giro, we will continue to go for the race. It's not the best race for us considering our small, 23-man roster, but still", he concluded.

Video: Jon Izagirre interview

Click on the link below to see what Jon "Rockstar" Izagirre has to say about his famous Grand Tour bow in the Giro d'Italia.

Ion Izagirre, con Italia en el corazón


Pérez blasts to Navarra opener

Ignacio Pérez of Azysa-Telo'm-Conor put on a show to win the first stage of the Vuelta a Navarra at a canter by soloing clear from 50 clicks out. Naturgas Energía got off to a decent start and has three riders still in contention.

The prestigious five-day event kicked off with a 148,2km leg from Lizarte to San Adrián. The 25-year-old Argentinian made his move on the cat.3 Alto de Olejua 48 kilometres from the line and was never to be seen again, finishing a potentially decisive 1:08 ahead of the first group of riders. This group was brought home by Wouter Wippert ahead of Eduard Prades, and contained reds Jon Larrinaga, Mikel Iturria and local boy Víctor Etxeberria.

It was a popular win for local outfit Azysa, who also brought with them powerhouse names like Borja Abasolo, Arkaitz Durán, Ariel Sivori and Nikki Terpstra's little brother, Mike. With such a huge gap going into the four remaining stages, it'll take one heck of an effort to dislodge Pérez, winner of the 2011 edition of the Vuelta a Extramadura.

Stage 1 results:
  • 1, Gustavo Ignacio Pérez (Azysa), 3:34:39
  • 2, Wouter Wippert (Lotto-Velisol), 1:08
  • 3, Eduard Prades (Mopesa), s.t.
  • 14, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 40, Víctor Etxberria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 57, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 79, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 15:26
  • 81, Francisco Javier Martín (Naturgas Energía), s.t
  • 109, Alain Santamaría (Naturgas Energía), 17:02 
  • 110, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
Results from BiciCiclismo.


Insausti crowned regional champ

Bidelan-Kirolgi rider Jon Ander Insausti powered his way to the Gipuzkoan time trial championship win earlier today.

The 19-year-old, who excels in cyclo-cross, beat team-mate Ibai Daboz by 20 seconds over the 21km course in Aizarnazabal, while Gopar-Ikolan's Asier Unanue edged out fellow Gopar rider Eñeko García to the bronze medal.

  • 1, Jon Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 27:43
  • 2, Ibai Daboz (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 28:03
  • 3, Asier Unanue (Gopar-Ikolan), 28:34
  • 4, Eñeko García (Gopar-Ikolan), 28:42
  • 5, Unai Intziarte (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 28:44
Results courtesy of


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Naturgas a go for Navarra

Naturgas Energía have unveiled their team for the five-day Vuelta a Navarra starting tomorrow.

According to the team's website, the following seven riders will be present: Karl Baudron, Víctor Etxeberria, Alain González, Mikel Iturria, Jon Larrinaga, Javier Francisco Martín and Alain Santamaría.

The team will start out with the stated goal of securing a stage win, as DS Iñigo Urretxua pointed out: "It's a hard race with elite riders at a high level. The goal will be to learn the ropes in races like these and, why not, fight for a win".

Several of the team's riders, namely Larrinaga, González, Etxeberría, Baudron and Iturria, have shown a high level of form of late, not least when Alain González took the team's first win of the year on Saturday. They'll face stiff competition, though, above all from former pro Arkaitz Durán who bagged yet another victory on Sunday.

Check out the stages here

Monday, May 28, 2012

Duo enter WorldTour-rankings

The UCI's World Tour-rankings after the conclusion of the Giro were unveiled today, and Mikel Nieve and Jon Izagirre now both appear in the standings. The former is ranked 51st in the world after scoring 42 points, whilst the latter is 77th with 16 points. Samuel Sánchez remains the team's top man though, lying a lofty fourth with 252 points. Gorka Verdugo is the team's fourth representative, having scored a solitary point. Rodríguez is naturally the new leader after his sensational showing in Italy.

Of the 18 teams, Euskaltel is ranked 12th on 311 points. Vacansoleil in 11th is just seven points ahead, while Movistar in 13th is 13 points off Euskaltel. Saxo Bank, shorn of Contador's services, continue to prop up the standings with a paltry 43 points. Katusha are at the other end of the standings courtesy of Rodríguez's second place and pair of stage wins.  

Star duo satisfied with Giro performance

Jon Izagirre and Mikel Nieve made sure Euskaltel achieved what they set out to do prior to the commencement of the Giro d'Italia: grab a stage win and finish in the top ten overall. Izagirre of course made the stage into Pfalzen everything but a contest by soloing clear with alarming ease to land the team a victory, while Nieve was at his consistent best by taking tenth overall. No wonder they were happy after reaching Milano.

"It's been a positive Giro", team leader Nieve told "If you finish tenth in a race as testing as the Giro you've got be satisfied. In addition, we've shown we're a united and valiant team by attacking from far out and taking risks. Jon's win was spectacular and provided us the motivation we needed to keep going 'till the end of this race. We've been in breaks and showed ourselves everyday, so we're going home a happy bunch".

Izagirre was equally unequivocal in his evaluation of the race, saying "the team has done ever so well and I'm very pleased with my win. I came into the race with the respect a three-week race deserves, especially as a debutant, and I'm very satisfied with how it turned out. We fought 'till the last minute for Mikel's top ten GC bid and came through, so we can be happy with what we accomplished."


Euskaltel conclude Giro on high

The final weekend of racing in Italy turned out to be a magnificent one for Euskaltel as Mikel Nieve landed the 10th overall he craved after animating the racing in some manner on the road to Stelvio on Saturday.

Through his third place on the mighty Stelvio, after which he declared himself not totally satisfied, Nieve went into Sunday's concluding ITT lying ninth overall. Despite a rather lacklustre race against the clock (he came in 100th at 3:52 off Pinotti), he was only passed on GC by Henao, meaning he ended the 2012 edition in tenth place. After the losses of time in the prologue and the TTT, that's no less than a massive performance from a rider who's lead-up was severely hampered by injury. Chapeau!

Jon Izagirre turned out to be exactly the revelation of the race I suggested he would, grabbing a sensational solo win in Pfalzen, climbing with the best of the best on the race's two hardest stages, turning himself inside out for leader Nieve and going on to finish 48th on GC. And all this at the tender age of 23 in his very first three-week race - he'll be a sought-after rider after this performance. Perhaps most impressive was his racing in the mountains on Friday and Saturday. Not being a pure climber, doing what he did at the end of a gruelling first GC was far beyond what I think anyone expected. Big future.

Another rider to impress was Amets Txurruka. His climbing seemed to come on in leaps and bounds as the race developed, and he did ever so well to grab 36th on the Stelvio. Oroz finished the race in a decent 51st, while youngsters Minguez, Sáez and Cabedo deserve praise for getting through the three-week ordeal. The former put his name out there with three breaks and took out the dubious honour of finishing dead last on GC, while the latter pair persevered despite struggling a fair bit at times. Cazaux had a couple of days in breaks, not at least on Friday when he had a great day in the saddle on the road to Pampeago.

Amid all these positives though, you have to feel for Iván Velasco. The climber had fought through the pain ever since his crash on day ten and further aggravated his injuries by crashing on Friday. The next day he was surprisingly thrown out of the race along with Guardini, Hunter and Rollin for allegedly hanging on to the team car for too long. Tough luck for a true warrior.

Final general classification:
  • (1, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), 91:39:02)
  • 10, Mikel Nieve, 8:08
  • 42, Amets Txurruka, 1:34:42
  • 48, Jon Izagirre, 1:48:54
  • 51, Juan José Oroz, 1:59:28
  • 123, Pierre Cazaux, 4:11:33
  • 129, Víctor Cabedo, 4:19:04
  • 156, Adrián Sáez, 5:16:13
  • 157, Miguel Minguez, 5:27:06
As a team, Euskaltel ended up seventh after dropping a few places the last few days. More importantly though, the riders animated the racing in a spectacular manner through numerous "two-up"-attacks, either through the combo of Nieve and Txurruka, or through Nieve and Izagirre. The move is quickly becoming Nieve's trademark and sets the team apart from other teams that increasingly seem to retort to boring, catenaccio-style tactics (yes, Liquigas is one of these teams). Though most of the attacks are unlikely to come off, you're unlikely to win if you don't give it a real good go. 

Alain González grabs team's maiden win

Alain González handed Naturgas Energía its very first victory of the year in Beasain on Saturday. The youngster sprinted to win the prestigious Torneo Lehendakari-race from an eight-man strong lead group to land his first triumph in the category.

González was launched by team-mate Mikel Iturria to best Bidelan's Jon Ander Insausti and Lizarte's Víctor Moleón, and the native of Vítoria was a relieved man post-race.

"I've just fulfilled one of my dreams", he told Bilbao-based daily El Correo. "To win a race as an amateur is big". And it was just reward for a recent run of strong form that's seen him finish third in Amorebieta and Durana.

Iturria closed out a good day for the team by taking sixth, while Loïc Chetout took out the Metas Volantes-competition. As a team, Naturgas ended up second.

Yesterday, another promising Basque, Ramón Domene, took out the San Pentekostes Saria in Bergara. The Caja Rural rider proved the strongest from a 15-man group that formed going over the final climb of Asentzio, and finally kick-started his season that's so far been troubled by injury. Jon Larrinaga and Loïc Chetout placed sixth and seventh respectively in the race that was won by a certain Peio Bilbao two years back.

Bergara results:
  • 1, Ramón Domene (Caja Rural), 3:02:02
  • 2, Diego Rubio (Diputación Ávila), s.t.
  • 3, Cristóbal Sánchez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 6, Jon Larrinaga, s.t.
  • 7, Loïc Chetout, s.t.
  • 32, Mikel Iturria, 1:09
  • 49, Imanól Estévez, 4:26
  • 55, Pablo Comins, s.t.
  • 85, Karl Baudron, 10:16
  • 99, Oier Sánchez, 12:22
After such a strong weekend of racing, Naturgas seem ideally placed form-wise going into the Vuelta a Navarra that gets underway on Wednesday. More on that race later.

As for the overall Torneo Lehendakari-standings, results are yet to come in.


Bayern Rundfahrt round-up

After a couple of agonizing days without an internet connection, searching the streets and cafés of Warsaw in wane for a wireless internet hotspot, I've finally been able to locate one and will thus try to round-up all of Euskaltel and Naturgas' racing action over the weekend.

In Germany at the Bayern Rundfahrt, the individual time trial once again proved to be the team's downfall. Ricardo García was lying in tenth going into friday's 26,4km test against the clock at just 36 seconds, but he struggled to impose himself on the course and dropped down the GC ladder. The 24-year-old from Vítoria-Gasteiz could only muster 50th on the day and as a consequence ended the day in 39th overall. Gorka Izagirre was unsurprisingly the team's top finisher, placing a decent 33rd and moving up to 27th on GC.

Michael Rogers cemented his lead at the top of the standings by coming out tops in the ITT.

The final-day stage into Bamberg was an altogether uneventful one for the team. Petacchi grabbed his third win of the race from a bunch sprint, a sprint in which Rubén Pérez was the team's highest-placed rider in 17th. All Euskaltel riders finished up inside the pack, but the GC was pretty much sewn up the day before and saw no major changes. Izagirre thus finished up the German 2.HC-ranked event in 27th.

Final general classification:
  • (1, Michael Rogers (Sky), 19:26:20)
  • 27, Gorka Izagirre, 2:25
  • 34, Ricardo García, 2:49
  • 44, Alan Pérez, 3:27
  • 53, Peio Bilbao, 3:54
  • 55, Mikel Landa, 4:28
  • 72, Rubén Pérez, 9:24
  • 91, Pablo Urtasun, 12:34
For a full run-down of the results, click here

On a good note, Alan Pérez seems to be rediscovering his form after injuries put paid to his early part of the season, while I'm slightly surprised to see strong rouleurs and sprinters Pablo Urtasun and Rubén Pérez finish so far down. A race like the Bayern Rundfahrt should normally suit the duo, but for all I know they might have struggled with sickness or something down that road. 

Next up for Bilbao, A Pérez and Landa is the Dauphiné that gets going this coming Sunday, while I suspect quite a few of the others will form part of a Mikel Astarloza-led team in the Tour de Suisse.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Brief: García 10th in Bayern stage 3

Ricardo García continued his push for a top ten overall placing in the Bayern Rundfahrt today with a tenth place on day three that took him up to 12th overall.

Petacchi sprinted to his second win of the race from a bunch sprint. All Euskaltel riders finished up inside the pack.

Everyone bar Rubén Pérez and Pablo Urtasun are placed 36 seconds down on GC.


Just in: Nieve 8th on stage - climbs GC

Mikel Nieve put in another stout display in the Italian mountains to climb to 13th on GC - just 20 seconds off the top ten.

The 19th stage from Treviso to the top of the Alpe di Pampeago took in a myriad of climbs over 197 kilometres, and it started out well enough with Pierre Cazaux getting into the big 17-strong group that was established some 20 clicks into the stage. As the climbs came into play in the latter half of the stage, the lead group was continuously whittled down as Liquigas' strong-arm tactics put paid to a lot of riders' aspirations. Nieve stayed close to the front throughout, ably supported by a phenomenal Jon Izagirre who stayed with the lead group 'till some five kilometres were left to ride, and eventually crossed the line in eighth just 1:18 down on breakaway winner Roman Kreuziger. More importantly he distanced the likes of Gadret, De Gendt, Cunego, Henao, Moreno, Cataldo, Brambilla and a sick Beñat Intxausti, meaning he climbed to 13th on GC. Going into tomorrow's penultimate leg to the behemoth that is the Stelvio, the Euskaltel leader is only 19 seconds off Cunego in tenth overall.

Izagirre put in a ride that belied his age, persevering to grab 23rd on the day. Cazaux, who spent most of the day courageously hanging on in the break, also had a great day in the saddle and came in 37th.

Stage 19 results:
  • (1, Roman Kreuziger, 6:18:02)
  • 8, Mikel Nieve, 1:18
  • 23, Jon Izagirre, 2:53
  • 37, Pierre Cazaux, 7:27
  • 57, Juan José Oroz, 21:10
  • 58, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 59, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 121, Miguel Minguez, 34:44
  • 130, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 131, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.

Sánchez: "Lack of teams the achilles heel"

A short but interesting interview with Samuel Sánchez appeared on CMD Sport's website this morning. Here's a transcript:

Question (Q): What achievement on the bike makes you most proud?

Sánchez (SS): Perhaps winning Olympic gold in Beijing 2008. That was very special. It was beautiful, an unforgettable moment, and the dream of every athlete came true that day. I received recognition from the whole world.

Q: What's Samuel Sánchez's everyday life like? What do you do when you're not riding?

SS: I basically train and rest, but I also try to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. I'm a quiet person; I like to stay home and play with my kids and my German Shepherd.

Q: What does your training plan consist of?

SS: I train with a Power Meter and, from there, I do what they tell me to do. It's also important to plan the season as a whole, the rest periods, the training periods etc.

Q: Do you follow your diet?

SS: I try to eat healthy and watch what I eat, but I'm not obsessing and doing things that lead to nothing.

Q: How does a case like the one of Alberto Contador affect the image of cycling in Spain? Are we going through a bad patch?

SS: It negatively affects both cycling and sport in general. Spain have the best cyclists in the world, but, somehow, not enough teams to house them all. That's the achilles heel at the moment.

Q: It seems that more and more people are following cycling, though. Why do you think that is?

SS: It's probably down to the good performances of the Spaniards. We're in one of the best epochs of Spanish cycling - Spaniards are shining in all cycling disciplines worldwide. That engages people and make them fond of the sport.

Q: What would you do for a living if you weren't a cyclist?

SS: I'd be a motorcycle rider.

Q: What are your next challenges? You've said that the Tour de France is one of your biggest goals...

SS: This part of the season is centred on the Tour, in which I'll try to do the same as I've done in the last few years.

Q: And what do you make of the Olympics? Are you going there to win gold?

SS: It's still a long way off. First up is the Tour, and we'll see how I progress there. But if I do to London, sure, I'll be gunning for the maximum.

Read it in Spanish here

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bayern: Landa misses out on race-winning move

Mikel Landa nearly made it into the race-deciding five-man break that went on to fight it out for the win in today's second stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt. Michael Rogers sprinted to glory and seized control of the GC.

The gifted Euskaltel climber was the first rider over the first climb of the day, but just wasn't able to join Rogers, Katusha's Gusev, Saur's Coppel, RadioShack's Zubeldia and Sky's Sivtsov at the head of the race as the quintet built a gap over the peloton with some 50 clicks left to ride. The five made it to the line (in the above order) 23 seconds ahead of the pack, a pack of which Ricardo García (14th), Alan Pérez (19th), Peio Bilbao (37th), Gorka Izagirre (48th) and Landa (68th) were part of.

Rubén Pérez crossed the line in 85th place 6:21 down, while Pablo Urtasun came in 9:15 in arrears down in 111th.

With the days to go, García is the best placed in 17th at 36 from Rogers.

Full results here.


Giro 18: Euskaltel stay calm as decider looms

While an average speed of close to 50 km/h for an entire stage hardly can be called a "calm day", the Euskaltel riders took it easy in today's 18th Giro d'Italia stage from San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago in anticipation of what's to come the next couple of days.

With the Alpe di Pampeago and the Stelvio on the menu tomorrow and on Saturday respectively, it was probably a wise decision not to infiltrate any breaks on a stage destined for a bunch sprint in light of the demanding days to come. Mikel Nieve stayed well protected and out of trouble, finishing safe and sound inside pack to maintain his 16th overall. Only GT debutants Víctor Cabedo and Adrián Sáez finished outside the pack; the former a mere 25 seconds, the latter 4:47.

Looking ahead, the upcoming two stages should suit Nieve to perfection with its long and numerous climbs. They'll be long days in the saddle, and no one quite handles long, tough, marathon-like days in the high mountains as well as the Euskaltel captain.

Tomorrow, I say launch an identical move to the one Nieve and Txurruka did yesterday - just, this time,  not from so far out. Give it a go on the third to last climb, the cat.1 Passo Pampeago. He's well capable of holding off the lead group of riders if the racing among the GC candidates so far in this race is anything to go by. If he was to attack and get a, say, one-minute gap going into the last climb, you'd do wise to back Nieve for a stage win if Basso and Liquigas continue to deploy their catenaccio tactics. A stage win is definitely within reach.

Stage 18 results:
  • (1, Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini), 3:00:52
  • 58, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 60, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 70, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 80, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 91, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 103, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 118, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 152, Víctor Cabedo, 0:25
  • 167, Adrián Sáez, 4:47
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), 77:47:38)
  • 16, Mikel Nieve, 5:42
  • 45, Amets Txurruka, 53:55
  • 46, Juan José Oroz, 53:57
  • 60, Jon Izagirre, 1:26:55
  • 85, Iván Velasco, 1:58:04
  • 136, Víctor Cabedo, 3:05:38
  • 148, Pierre Cazaux, 3:18:18
  • 164, Adrián Sáez, 3:56:21
  • 167, Miguel Minguez, 4:08:11
It's a fact: Euskaltel are one of only five teams, along with Astana, Omega Pharma, Lampre and Androni, with nine riders still in the Giro. 

Sánchez heads Dauphiné line-up

Samuel Sánchez will ramp up his preparation for the Tour de France with an appearance at the Critérium du Dauphiné in ten day's time, heading a strong Euskaltel team.

The Dauphiné, traditionally a happy hunting ground for the team, will take place from 3-10 of June, and the following eight riders will pull on the orange jersey according to the race's own website: Samuel Sánchez, Peio Bilbao, Jorge Azanza, Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Landa, Alan Pérez and Romain Sicard.

The race will likely be the last chance for guys like Sicard and Pérez to make their case for a berth on the Tour squad. Both have struggled for form so far this year but are still, reportedly, in contention for a place in the nine-man line-up.

A wealth of stage-racing talent have chosen the Dauphiné over the Tour de Suisse this year. The likes of Evans, Wiggins, Rodríguez, A Schleck, Menchov and Nibali will all be present.

Click here for the full start list.
Check out the stages here

Bayern Rundfahrt opener

Euskaltel kicked off the 2012 Bayern Rundfahrt today with a discreet opening performance.

The 215km stage from Traunstein to Penzberg saw Alessandro Petacchi emerge victorious from a bunch sprint. Euskaltel's best representative was Rubén Pérez who placed 11th on the same stage he won two years ago.

The rest of the riders, all six of them, all crossed the line inside the peloton.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Brave Nieve climbs GC

Mikel Nieve made an audacious solo attack with some 60 clicks to ride in the first foray into the Dolomites, was eventually caught, persevered on the mighty Giau and placed a remarkable 12th on the stage. As a result, the Euskaltel leader made a big jump on GC.

It was reminiscent of the epic breakaway he completed in the 2010 edition of the Vuelta a España: Amets Txurruka gave Nieve a lead-out worthy of a sprint train on the third to last climb with the break some 1:40 up the road, Nieve broke clear, reeled in the break with consummate ease, but was, unlike two years ago, never given much leeway by a obstinate Liquigas. Nieve's gap never stretched beyond 1:10, and he was caught, along with the remnants of the early break, on the Forcella. Impressively, he managed to handle the pace, and somehow managed to distance the likes of Henao, Moreno, Cunego, Intxausti and De Gendt on the slopes of the Giau. Eventually he crossed the line in 12th place, in a small group 1:22 in arrears, and thus rose to 16th on GC, passing Gianluca Brambilla and Astana's Kreuziger (who's implosion on the Forcella ruled him out of the running for overall honours).

It was an astounding performance from the Euskaltel leader. First of all, attacking the peloton solo approximately 60 click from the line with three mountains left to climb takes some guts. It was a bold move, and one unlikely to work out, but it's the kind of move that makes the team stand out in a Grand Tour and animates the racing. It obviously didn't work out, but I still reckon it was worthwhile - chapeau!

Then managing to cling onto the lead group on one of the Giro's hardest stages and finishing among the  first chase group showed Nieve is in peak form. Additionally, he seems to possess the ability to pace himself on the climbs and ride smartly - much like a certain Samuel Sánchez.

The Leitza-native is now 16th overall - a single minute behind tenth-placed Henao.

Honourable mentions go out to Amets Txurruka, who gave it his all for his captain and still managed to finish 25th, and the team as a whole. The pace-setting at the head of the pack to set up Nieve was the work of a well-oiled machine and it worked out perfectly. More of that, please!

Speaking post-stage, Nieve intimated jumping clear of the peloton relatively early was planned.

"We took a risk and were ambitious", he told the team's website. "In the meeting prior to the race we talked about going for broke from afar. No one went with me though, and it was impossible to make it on my own."

Stage 17 results:
  • (1, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), 5:24:42)
  • 12, Mikel Nieve, 1:22
  • 25, Amets Txurruka, 8.36
  • 45, Iván Velasco, 21:01
  • 67, Juan José Oroz, 26:35
  • 148, Adrián Sáez, 38:26
  • 149, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 154, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 156, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 158, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Izagirre's win in pictures

Video: recap Izagirre's win + interview

If you somehow managed to miss Jon Izagirre's barnstorming win in the Giro d'Italia today, check out the video below to see how it all unfolded:

And here's a short interview with the stage-winner. Check it out if you want to find out why he's called the rockstar of the peloton!

Izagirre storms to famous win

Jon Izagirre singel-handedly ensured Euskaltel's Giro d'Italia (and the entire season for that matter) can be classified as a success after soloing to a quite sensational win on stage 16.

The 23-year-old formed part of the the stage from Limone sul Garda to Pzalfen's decisive ten-man break, and with consummate ease distanced his rivals on the three-kilometre rise to the line. The GT debutant maintained and even augmented his gap on the flatter parts towards the finish line (yes, that is quite amazing for an Euskaltel rider), and even had time to savour his win as he crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of his nearest challengers. Zorionak, Jon!

The trio that formed behind Izagirre, consisting of Movistar's classy José Herrada, Androni's De Marchi and BMC's seemingly exhausted Frank, never really cooperated, leaving Izagirre with plenty of time to take it all in, put his hands to his face in disbelief and grabbing a win that will now, surely, make him known to the wider public.

In the slow-moving peloton behind, Mikel Nieve, JJ Oroz and Amets Txurruka all stayed with the first group and thus secured Euskaltel a noteworthy, yet wholly meaningless, triumph in the team rankings.

The win was naturally Euskaltel's first of this year's Giro, and Jon was adamant is was a fully deserved one upon crossing the line.

"I'm in a cloud, I'm so excited", he's quoted as saying according to the team's own website. "I crossed the line and broke into tears. I'm happy for the team; we've been working hard in this race, and everyone nine of us deserves this victory. Also there's my family, my bride, the people who've always supported me... A lot of things are going through my head, and this is the reward for all the hard work and sacrifices I've made. Winning in a Grand Tour is something special. The victory in Asturias (his first as a pro) really excited me, but to win in the Giro d'Italia is amazing".

Today's stage, with its short but steep ascent and the possibility of a sprint finish from a small group of riders at the end, was ideally suited to the youngest of the Izagirre's characteristics, and I was personally sure he would win it once he made it into the break. But despite possessing a decent finishing kick, the 23-year-old explained he was not confident in his sprinting and felt attacking on the climb was pivotal if he was to stand a change of triumphing.

"I had the feeling some of the riders in the break would be quicker than me, therefore I decided to give it a go three clicks from the line, at that was the steepest part. I managed to open up a little gap, and  through a lot of suffering we took an important win."

Looking towards the remaining five stages, the versatile Basque said the focus would now turn towards Mikel Nieve's general classification bid.

"We prepared well for this race, and this result motivates us even more to complete a good Giro. We've got a great leader in Mikel - he's feeling good and will probably climb even higher in the GC. We'll do our utmost to help him out. We've already reached our goal of a stage win, and now we'll keep on working".

Stage 16 results:
  • 1, Jon Izagirre, 4:02:00
  • 24, Juan José Oroz, 8:57
  • 28, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 30, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 84, Iván Velasco, 11:39
  • 102, Pierre Cazaux, 12:08
  • 110, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 125, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 169, Víctor Cabedo, 13:43
It's a fact: Jon Izagirre is now Euskaltel's youngest ever winner of a stage in a Grand Tour at 23 years, three months and 18 days - beating Igor Antón (who triumphed atop Calar Alto in the 2006 Vuelta) by some three months. 

Trio line up Samuel Sánchez

Three teams have offered a contract for 2013 and beyond to Euskaltel leader Samuel Sánchez, reports coming out of Spain suggests.

Bilbao-based newspaper El Correo today reports that a trio of "serious" offers have been made, but that the Olympic champ is waiting for a decision on what will happen to his current team before making a decision. As has been extensively reported, uncertainty reigns as to what will happen to Euskaltel beyond this year, as the Fundación Euskadi is likely to pull out and telephone company Euskaltel likely to take full control of the team.

The same newspaper also says that "a good number" of the younger riders on the team have received offers, which should come as no surprise given the wealth of talent coming out of the Basque Country right now.

While Samu seems intent on staying on with Euskaltel as long as there's a project in place next year, it's more worrying that the youngsters on the team are being tempted. If the team doesn't sort out its future pretty soon, they risk seeing their most promising riders snapped up by rival teams.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Strong team for Bayern Rundfahrt

The Bayern-Rundfahrt will get underway on Wednesday, and, like in recent years, Euskaltel will send a team.

The five-day race will see a versatile seven-man squad take to the German roads in the hope of building on Rubén Pérez's win in the same race two years ago, reports. Man of the moment Pablo Urtasun will be present, and will be ably assisted on the flats by Alan and Rubén Pérez, as well as Gorka Izagirre. The strong climbing trio of Mikel Landa, Peio Bilbao and Ricardo García will also be present.

Álex Díaz will be the DS in charge of affairs.

The race is quite hilly throughout, but the penultimate day's 26,4km ITT is likely to settle the score among the riders in contention for the overall win.

Check out the stages here

Here's the startlist

Rest day conclusions

With six stages to go in the year's first Grand Tour, the peloton today takes a well deserved breather before the racing gets underway again with a punchy stage to Pfalzen tomorrow. For Euskaltel's part, the search for a stage win goes on, but Mikel Nieve is not too far off a top ten overall and should have plenty of chances to climb the standings in the traditionally hard last week. Here's what we've learned from the first 15 stages:

A top ten is realistic for Nieve:
Mikel Nieve have surprised quite a few with solid racing in the mountains, especially as his season up to the Giro was a nightmare. After a disastrous first week of racing (time loss-wise that is), he's now a healthy 18th on GC. He's 4:20 off Rodríguez in the pink jersey, so that's never going to happen, but he's no more than 2:07 off Sandy Casar in tenth. With stages to Pfalzen, Cortina, Alpe di Pampeago and Stelvio to go, he's in line to better his placing of last year. Some of the guys ahead of him, like Cunego, Moreno, Tschopp, De Gendt, Casar and Cataldo, to name but a few, should be within his reach if current form is anything to go by, while Pozzovivo and Urán's travails yesterday should further encourage him. Stage 19 to Pampeago should suit him to a tee what with the distance and numerous climbs, meaning a stage win isn't a utopia either. If he is to achieve his goals of a top ten and a top stage placing though, there's no hiding his team-mates have to provide better support in the high mountains than what they've been able to provide thus far. He's been well looked after on the flats, but equally isolated on the climbs.

The Giro is hard on Euskaltel's debutants:
While Euskaltel have done their faire share in animating the race through breaks, the race is taking its toll on the team. The likes of Cabedo, Sáez and Izagirre deserved credit for toughing it out in their maiden three-week race and looking out for their leader expertly on the flats, but they've been rather anonymous up until this point. The breaks have been Minguez and Txurruka's property (and Cazaux's to a lesser extent), and it would be ideal if they could share the burden with more members of the team. A few of the stages, Wednesday's ride to Cortina in particular, should suit a punchy guy like Izagirre, while tomorrow's ride to Pfalzen is tough to call.

Oroz should get into a break:
One of the most versatile riders on the team, Juan José Oroz, has enjoyed a relatively strong, if somewhat subdued, Giro so far. The 31-year-old is 42nd overall and has been climbing solidly whilst helping out Nieve, but could be a dangerous man for the team if he was to get into a break on one of the remaining stages. He climbs and descends well, and is no mean rouleur, so he'd be tough for any break to shell out the back. He's probably tasked with road captaining duties in this race, but should be given the freedom to hunt breaks.

Velasco is a warrior:
Iván Velasco deserves huge credit for keeping at it in this Giro after his hard fall in stage 10. His injuries, which have seen his whole left side bandaged up, would have given the majority of the riders a welcome excuse to abandon (hey Fränk!), but he's still in there. We all remember how he broke his collarbone towards the end of stage five in last year's Tour but still got up and finished the stage, so he's quickly establishing a reputation as one of the peloton's hard guys. The rest day could have not come at a better time for him.

Txurruka is back:
The Amets Txurruka we all know seem to have returned in this Giro. Injuries have ruined his last few seasons, but he's stayed out of trouble thus far (except for a minor crash in the TTT) and is now reaping the benefits. His climbing seems to be improving by the day, and the last week offers a plethora of chances for breaks to go all the way. If he's interested, the blue jersey of best climber should also be up for grabs as he's eighth in that particular competition, 30 points off Rabottini.

Larrinaga takes Lehendakari lead

Former Naturgas Energía rider Fernando Grijalba gave his team Caja Rural yet another victory in yesterday's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Markina, but more importantly Jon Larrinaga moved into the overall series lead through his second place.

The race, which is officially known as the Memorial Sabin Foruria, takes place around the small town of Markina-Xemein, and was held under grueling conditions. Torrential rain forced almost half the peloton to abandon, but it was not enough to stop Fernando Grijalba continuing his impressive campaign by besting Jon Larrinaga and Lizarte's Antonio Pedrero to the line in a sprint from a small, elite group. Larrinaga's main adversary in the fight for overall honours, Debabarrena's Aitor González, could "only" claim fourth, hence Larrinaga is now in sole position of the top step having entered the race tied on points with González.

Karl Baudron, fourth last week in Natxitua, continued his strong run of form with tenth yesterday. The Frenchman said later on Twitter that he felt strong enough to win the race, but that he was obliged to work for Larrinaga - which in the end turned out great.

  • 1, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), 2:36:54
  • 2, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 3, Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 4, Aitor González (Debabarrena), s.t.
  • 5, Ibai Daboz (Bidelan Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 6, Bernardo Ayuso (Seguros Bilbao), 0:12
  • 7, Ramón Domene (Caja Rural), 0:17
  • 8, Jorge Arcas (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 9, Krzysztof Tracz (Hostal Latorre), s.t.
  • 10, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), s.t.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

All hail Txurruka!

Amets Txurruka was once again on the attack in today's 15th Giro d'Italia stage, being in contention for a podium place up until the last kilometre and eventually placing 10th after an epic day of racing in the Italian mountains.

The 172km stage from Busto Arsizio to the top of the Pian dei Resinelli was packed with exciting racing, as break after break formed, riders crashing right and left, the GC contenders attacking each other and man of the day, Matteo Rabottini, sensationally hanging on to take the win (though with a little help from the magnanimous Rodríguez) after a day-long Mikel Nieve-esque adventure in the mountains - a true etapón. I won't go into detail on how it all unfolded, I'd be stuck in front of the computer all evening if I did, but suffice to say it was a day of some great racing.

Click this link to read how it all unfolded

One of the great animators was Amets Txurruka, the little climber forming part of a huge, dangerous-looking break that broke clear on the first cat.1 of the day. As rider after rider got shelled out the back, the Etxebarria-native hung tough to claim a creditable 10th on the stage and for a while even looked like he might bag a top three before Joaquim Rodríguez and co. lit the blue touch paper in the last three clicks. And all this on the back of an attempt on the last climb yesterday and a day-long break three days ago. His attacks might not always make much sense (yes, I'm talking about yesterday's stage), but his fighting spirit is second to none and he continues to embody much of what Euskaltel profess to be all about: grit, determination and heart. Eskerrik asko, Amets!

Mikel Nieve had another solid day in the saddle to climb 11th on the day and rise to 18th on GC. Nieve just lacked that tiny bit of spring in his step to stay with Henao, Scarponi and Basso as they went in pursuit of the on-fire Rodríguez, but had enough in the tank to hold off the likes of Hesjedal, Intxausti and the off-colour Urán and Pozzovivo. As a result he's now just two minutes off Casar in tenth.

Juanjo Oroz once again showed decent form by placing 36th, while Izagirre looked stronger than yesterday with 53rd. The latter, two weeks into his first Grand Tour, will no doubt relish tomorrow's rest day and will hopefully feel strong enough to get into a break or two in the last week. Another one undoubtedly looking forward to tomorrow is Iván Velasco who continues to tough it out amid much pain.

Miguel Minguez continues to lead the way at the very bottom of the standings, still wearing the invisible maglia neri, while another Basque, Beñat Intxausti, is making quite a Giro at the other end of the standings. The 26-year-old, still revered among Euskaltel aficionados, is 7th overall - with the last-day time trial, his forte, still to come.

Stage 15 results:
  • (1, Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini), 5:15:30)
  • 10, Amets Txurruka, 0:29
  • 11, Mikel Nieve, 0:36
  • 36, Juan José Oroz, 5:09
  • 53, Jon Izagirre, 11:50
  • 66, Pierre Cazaux, 18:02
  • 104, Iván Velasco, 26:49
  • 113, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 138, Miguel Minguez, 38:48
  • 158, Adrián Sáez, s.t. 
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), 65:11:07)
  • 18, Mikel Nieve, 4:20
  • 42, Juan José Oroz, 27:22
  • 52, Amets Txurruka, 45:19
  • 61, Jon Izagirre, 57:46
  • 91, Iván Velasco, 1:34:21
  • 139, Víctor Cabedo, 2:22:01
  • 153, Pierre Cazaux, 2:36:41
  • 171, Adrián Sáez, 3:09:57
  • 175, Miguel Minguez, 3:26:34

Fraile distanced as Lecuisinier steals the show

Omar Fraile was not able to hold onto his top ten overall placing in the final stage of the Ronde de l'Isard today, while Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier took second on the stage to sensationally wrestle the overall crown from leader Sergei Chernetskyi.

Day four from Auterive to Saint-Girons took in a solid three category one climbs, the cols of Lers, Agnès and Core, over 182,5km - the longest stage of the sub-23 race. The climbs naturally took its toll on the peloton, something the fact that 46 (including Orbea's Igor Merino) riders abandoned reflects. 21-year-old Belgian Niels Vandyck of Jong Vlaanderen took an impressive win, beating Lecuisinier to the line. The duo held off number three on the day, leader Chernetskyi, by a full 1:33, meaning the Frenchman, junior world champ on the road last year, claimed the overall win by a mere 10 seconds. Vandyck closed out the overall podium.

Omar Fraile was Orbea's highest placed rider on GC going into the stage, but fell from his seventh place to 16th, as the youngster could only muster 21st on the day, 10:31 in arrears. Haritz Orbe was the blue outfit's top man today, coming in 15th ahead of riders like Pacher and Rybalkin.

Stage four results:
  • (1, Niels Vandyck (Jong Vlaanderen), 5:05:08
  • 15, Haritz Orbe, 10:18
  • 21, Omar Fraile, 10:31
  • 24, Illart Zuazubiskar, 20:34
  • 27, Carlos Barbero, 38:54
  • DNF: Igor Merino
Final general classification:
  • (1, Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (Vendée U)
  • 16, Omar Fraile, 10:49
  • 23, Haritz Orbe, 26:35
  • 26, Carlos Barbero, 40:51
  • 27, Illart Zuazubiskar, 44:54
Orbea ended up a strong third in the team rankings, whilst Fraile was third in the fight for the climber's jersey.


Videos: Txurruka, Nieve, Minguez and stage 14

Watch what Amets Txurruka had to say ahead of stage 10 of the Giro below:

And here's a small interview after day 12:

And, bueno, here's Mikel Nieve's thoughts on the race:

And here's a funny interview with Miguel Minguez, where he mixes up Spanish, Italian and Basque:

If you missed the action yesterday, watch the video below to see Nieve in the thick of the action:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nieve attack the favourites on Giro stage 14

Mikel Nieve made a daring attack inside the last few kilometres on today's first real summit finish in the Giro, but, despite opening up a decent gap at a tactically good moment, was caught and crossed the line in 19th place, advancing to 27th overall in the process.

All in all it was an encouraging performance from the Euskaltel leader. Isolated for big parts of the final climb up to Cervinia, the fact he felt strong enough to attack the group of favourites on the peloton's first real foray into the high mountains is a good sign of what's to come. Despite faltering to 19th on the stage, he only trailed Hesjedal, new pink jersey, by 35 seconds, and was only nine seconds down on the first group lead home by Tiralongo. He's now approximately two minutes and thirty seconds off the top ten.

Another one on the offensive, although not in an equally constructive manner, was wily Amets Txurruka. Exactly why he attacked the pack on the early slopes of the last climb, with eventual winner Amador and co. eight minutes up the road, is lost on me. While his legs looked fresher than on the stage to Sestri Levante, he was easily reeled in by the peloton a few clicks later. While it's hard, and perhaps excessively critical, to criticize a rider for attacking on a the last climb of a stage in a Grand Tour, you have to wonder if his energy could have been better spent helping out Nieve.

Juan José Oroz looked to be in decent shape by staying with Nieve for quite a while en route to a 44th place-finish, while Iván Velasco once again deserves credit for getting through a grueling day in the saddle.

Reactions to come later tonight.

Stage 14 results:
  • (1, Andrey Amador (Movistar), 5:33:36)
  • 19, Mike Nieve, 0:55
  • 44, Juan José Oroz, 4:08
  • 46, Amets Txurruka, 4:26
  • 119, Iván Velasco, 32:04
  • 139, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 167, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 173, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 175, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 177, Jon Izagirre, s.t.

Fraile stays in contention as Pacher triumphs

Omar Fraile took another step towards a top ten overall in the Ronde de l'Isard today with a ninth place on stage three. Unsurprisingly, Entente Sud Gascogne's Quentin Pacher took out the win.

Day three from Rieumes to Aspet took out the mighty climb of the same name, the Col de Portet d'Aspet, and created differences between the top contenders. Pachet, one of the pre-race favourites, won solo two seconds ahead of countryman Paillot of Top 16, and moved into second on GC as a result. Fraile came in with a select 13-man group including big-name riders like Squire, Warbasse, Chernetskiy and Lecuisinier 22 seconds down, and is now ranked seventh on GC going into tomorrow's decider from Auterive to Saint-Girons. Russian Chernetskiy holds a commanding 1:13 lead over Pachet.

Carlos Barbero spent the day up ahead in the breakaway, but was eventually forced to settle for 33rd on the day.

Stage three results:
  • (1, Quentin Pacher (Entente Sud Gascogne), 4:04:34)
  • 9, Omar Fraile, 0:22
  • 22, Igor Merino, 0:36
  • 23, Haritz Orbe, s.t.
  • 33, Carlos Barbero, 0:49
  • 49, Illart Zuazubiskar, 6:36

Friday, May 18, 2012

"The team will be strong in the final week"

Two weeks in, Euskaltel are yet to put a real mark on the Giro d'Italia. But with the mountains (finally) coming up, the man in the team car, former pro Álvaro González de Galdeano, is quietly optimistic. And with a relatively clean bill of health, there's hardly a reason not to.

"So far, we've worked to get in the breaks and being protagonists. After a slightly hesitant start, in which we didn't do too well in the time trials, we've improved and been active. All in all I'm satisfied with the first two weeks", he told the team's website,

"There's been 11 road stages and, unsurprisingly, we've been in breaks on six of those. Minguez, Cazaux, Sáez and Txurruka have all been up the road, and Velasco's recovery from his stage ten crash makes me believe we'll be strong in the final week and able to help out Nieve. Oroz and Izagirre's work for Nieve makes us confident".

Looking forward to the two mountainous stages coming up tomorrow and on Sunday, Galdeano believes the weather may play a decisive role in deciding the outcome.

"The cold may turn out to be a key factor, as temperatures aren't expected to be much higher than freezing point. This might result in a more "compact" race, and will further complicate the stages", he warned.

"Tomorrow's stage includes two long climbs and a summit finish. First you climb 20 clicks, then a quick descent, and then another 27 kilometres. It's a litmus test for the GC aspirants. We'll try to be as close to the front as possible."


Naturgas set for Markina test

Naturgas Energía will send a big 12-man squad to Sunday's Lehendakari-race in Markina in search of overall leadership for Jon Larrinaga.

Larrinaga goes into the event tied on points at the top of the Torneo Lehendakari-standings along with Debabarrena's Aitor González, and will look to finally take the lead outright after a tense duel so far this season. If he is to claim the lead, it's not unthinkable he'll have to seal the team's first win of the season, and in the process emulate the likes of Jonathan Castroviejo and Peio Bilbao (who've both stood atop the podium, in 2007 and 2010 respectively).

Team DS Iñigo Urretxua told the team's website today that grabbing the lead is exactly what they'll aim for, and said the team will be represented by: Jon Larrinaga, Karl Baudron, Damien García, Mikel Iturria, Imanol Estévez, Loic Chetout, Pablo Comins, Víctor Etxeberria, Alain González, Oier Sánchez, Javier Francisco Martín and Alain Santamaría.

Debabarrena's Sergio Ruiz took out last year's edition of the race that's known as the Memorial Sabin Foruria in impressive fashion, besting Haritz Orbe, now with Orbea, and Raul Fernández of Caja Rural. Igor Merino, also with Orbea now, was Naturgas' top finisher in sixth.


Status quo in Giro stage 13

There were no major incidents during today's 13th stage of the Giro d'Italia, and all Euskaltel riders got through the stage unscathed.

Stage 13, a short 121km trek from Savona to Cervere, will not go down in the Giro history books as a classic by any means. While the short distance and late race start was no doubt well received by a weary peloton, it was a drag for most onlookers as virtually nothing happened - except for what we all knew would happen, i.e. Keizer getting into a doomed break and Cav taking out the stage in a field sprint.

Euskaltel and Mikel Nieve stayed out of the little trouble there was, and crossed the line safely inside the peloton along with Oroz and Txurruka. How the rest of the team managed to finish more than five minutes down on a day like this is a mystery to me, for all I know someone might have crashed or suffered a mechanical, but it doesn't really matter anyway. A big thumbs up goes out to Iván Velasco who once again fought the pain and got through the stage, his entire left side bandaged. Chapeau!

Stage 13 results:
  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Sky), 3:02:07
  • 58, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 66, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 94, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 168, Miguel Minguez, 5:01
  • 173, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 179, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 180, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 181, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 185, Víctor Cabedo, 5:50

Fraile shines in Ronde de l'Isard stage two

Omar Fraile showed his form is strong by claiming fifth in today's second stage of the Ronde de l'Isard. The 21-year-old now occupies the same placing overall.

Day two of the French sub-23 stage-race was taken out by Sergei Chernetskiy - and in some style. The Russian soloed to the stage win, finishing 1:26 ahead of a select group of five, and thus took a commanding lead in the overall standings. This select second group, of which Fraile was a part, consisted of Pierre-Henri Lecuisiner, who took second, his compatriot Maxime Le Lavandier (third), a certain Alexey Rybalkin and  Louis Varvaeke. This group finished up eight seconds ahead of a 20-man group containing Orbea's Igor Merino.

Fraile, who'll ride for Euskaltel in 2013 and 2014, thus continued his strong riding that recently netted him a solid 28th overall in the Vuelta a Asturias, and the former Subida a Gorla-winner has now put his name into the ring of contenders for a high overall placing. With the two remaining days taking in quite the amount of climbs, not least the Col du Portet d'Aspet tomorrow, the strong Orbea climber will look to make his mark.

Stage two results (full results here):
  • (1, Sergei Chernetskiy (Russia), 3:49:56)
  • 5, Omar Fraile, 1:26
  • 20, Igor Merino, 1:34
  • 30, Carlos Barbero, 2:38
  • 39, Illart Zuazubiskar, 2:39
  • 55, Haritz Orbe, 2:44


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