Friday, June 29, 2012

Tour kick-off

The Tour de France gets underway tomorrow with an ill-suited 6,4km prologue in and around Liège. Here are the start times for the guys in orange:

  • 14:18 - Rubén Pérez
  • 14:40 - Gorka Verdugo
  • 15:02 - Amets Txurruka
  • 15:24 - Jorge Azanza
  • 15:46 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 16:08 - Egoi Martínez
  • 16:30 - Pablo Urtasun
  • 16:52 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 17:40 - Samuel Sánchez
Full start list here.

The Euskaltel riders got in two and a half hours of training in the rain today, while they reconned the closing stages of stage 1 to Seraing in between the health checks and team presentation yesterday. 

Click this link for a video interview with Mikel Astarloza. The Gipuzkoan makes his first Tour appearance in three years. 

"Euskaltel should be like Rabobank"

As the debate as to whether Euskaltel should stay exclusively Basque or not in 2013 continues to rumble, team leader Samuel Sánchez has voiced his opinion. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only non-Basque thinks the team should open up its doors somewhat.

"The team should adopt a model similar to the one over at Rabobank", Samu told El Correo. "Seventy percent of the roster should be made up of locals, while the rest should come from outside the Basque Country, guys with experience who could guide the youngsters".

Samu is the only non-Basque on the team and without a doubt the most important rider. He continues to reiterate his dedication to the team, but is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal.

"I'm not short on offers from other teams, but my intention is to stay", was his short reply.

And what about his career post-racing?

"I'd like to be a kind of technical advisor. Not a DS, but more like a bridge between the riders and the directors. That way I'd get to share my experience".

Samu doubts Vuelta participation

While Samu said he'll make a decision on whether or not to take part in the Vuelta a España this year only after the Tour de France, the Euskaltel captain has played down the chances of lining up for the Spanish GT. Talking to Cobbles&Hills, the 34-year-old said it looked "complicated".

"The start of the race is very close to the end of the Olympics, only two weeks", he said. "Practically there's no time to recover, because I'm likely to ride the Clásica San Sebastián on the 14th, and therefore it's hard to get to the Vuelta with the needed motivation and fitness to do well. It'll be complicated. Besides, Igor Antón will only be doing the Vuelta of the GTs this year, and he'll have to take the responsibility".

As the defending champion and with his all-round ability, it was no surprise to see Samu selected in the Spanish team for London 2012 alongside Luis León Sánchez, Óscar Freire, Alejandro Valverde and José Joaquín Rojas. The Asturian believes all five are in with a chance of grabbing a medal.

"Yes, we'll all get our chance. It'll be a strategic race, a complicated one, but I think anyone on the team can finish on the podium. We're all capable to finish high up, that's what's important."

Details of VPV '13 leaked

Having just received a four-year extension to its WorldTour-license, the organizers of the Vuelta al País Vasco have released details of next year's parcours.

And, yes, the Arrate does feature. So I guess we've already won one stage. Half-jokes aside, the race gets underway on April 1. with a stage to and from Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa, writes Later on they'll head to a mountain top finish at La Lejana, where Moncoutié edged out Aitor Osa in 2005, before they'll embark on the traditional fourth stage to Alto de Arrate.

The location of the final stage is yet to be decided, but the race is likely to end in either Gipuzkoa or Bizkaia.

The man on the picture of course took out this year's race, but as Samu has flirted with the idea of doing a Giro-Vuelta double next year, it remains to be seen if it'll be a goal for him in 2013.


Pre-Tour Euskaltel guide

I was planning on doing this big preview thing of the Tour de France this year, but time's running short and there's no way I'll be able to find the time to rate the riders, the stages, the team and all that. Instead you'll have to make do with a round-up of what's being written and said by and about the Euskaltel riders in the media. Here's a few interviews, videos, and updates on Euskaltel and other Basque riders taking to the start in Liège on Saturday.

Asked by to name the final podium, Rubén Pérez didn't hesitate in saying team captain Samuel Sánchez would finish top ahead of Evans and Wigging. Rating his own form, he says he's approaching 100 percent after a somewhat troubled early part of the season. Check out a video interview with the ever-aggressive 31-year-old below:

Samuel Sánchez is always a journalist's dream what with his friendly demeanour and broad smile. Watch a short video clip with the 34-year-old just before he got on the plane to Liège:

In an interview with VeloNews, Samu says he's feeling "rested and ready" to mount a challenge for the podium. Read-up on Samu's state of form here.

Another rider who should be ready for what the next three weeks will bring, is former Euskaltel-rider Haimar Zubeldia. The native of Usurbil will embark on his 11th Grand Boucle - to find out how he's gearing up for the biggest race on earth, read his diary at here.

DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia says riders like Gorka Izagirre will be given the chance to hunt for stage wins, and admits he's no fan of the parcours in an interview granted to Gara. Click this link to find out why. Warning: interview's in Spanish!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

VPV and Clásica to stay WorldTour

The Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco and the Clásica San Sebastián have both gotten their WorldTour licenses extended, the UCI revealed today.

Both races ran into trouble earlier this year when it was unveiled that the races' budgetary shortcomings threatened their existence. Eventually a new sponsor, Basque banking group Sabadell Gipuzkoano, stepped in and saved them from extinction, and today's news mean they'll stay a part of the UCI's top tier until 2016.

Samuel Sánchez of course won the latest edition of the País Vasco, whilst Philippe Gilbert triumphed on San Sebastián's sea side last year. Euskaltel is yet to come out tops in Spain's only one-day WorldTour event.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sánchez: "I'm pain free"

Samu's crash and subsequent struggles in the Dauphiné left a lot of people worried Euskaltel's Tour de France was over before it had even started. He got through the entire race though, and, speaking to, the team captain brought reassuring news just four days before the big kick-off.

"I'm free of pain", the 34-year-old said. "I'm not at 100 percent just yet, but I've been training well".

Samu has just concluded 22 days of altitude training in the Sierra Nevada, and will head for Liège from Oviedo tomorrow. He ended up fifth last year after the disqualification of pal Alberto Contador, and hopes to go a few places better this time around.

"I got third overall after Contador was removed from the standings in 2010, but this time I want to grab that podium place by myself. Everyone would love to win, show themselves, be a the top... but it's really difficult. I'd love to shine and bask in glory. The Tour gives you that possibility, and that's what I'm after. I'd like to finish the race knowing that I've given it my utmost."

With Contador and Andy Schleck out of the picture for different reasons, the road to the podium may never have been so open for the Asturian. Yet Samu is deploring the loss of the eternal rivals.

"It's a loss for cycling, for the Tour and for us that they won't be present. I love the way Alberto and Andy ride, the way they try to shake things up in the mountains. Their absence is not a positive. You lose some of the spectacle without the two best climbers. And, yes, it might turn into conservative racing. With the potential Sky possess, it's only natural that they'll try to control affairs and make the difference in the time trials. They're strong in the cronos race after race, and they're able to defend themselves well on the climbs. Everyone's pointing to Evans as the number one favourite - he knows what it takes to win - but my top candidate is Bradley Wiggins".

But what exactly does a professional rider take with him for three weeks in France?

"I'll bring my laptop -  I always do. In addition, I'll bring my pajamas, some underwear, a book on fitness and nutrition, the pillow I use at home, and some music".

Monday, June 25, 2012

Team to keep name; no secondary sponsor

President of telephone company Euskaltel, Alberto García Erauzkin, discussed the team's future today at the outfit's presentation ahead of the Tour de France. BiciCiclismo carries an overview of what was said, and below I've tried to summarize the most important points one by one.

There'll be no name change:
Euskaltel Euskadi will stay Euskaltel Euskadi in 2013.

There'll be no secondary sponsor:
No Festina, nothing. "There's no place for a new sponsor", says Erauzkin.

Galdeano will return:
Igor González de Galdeano will take the reins of the team, starting in 2013. "He'll be the general manager and the head of the team".

The budget will increase:
No one knows by how much at this moment in time though. The team will still rely on institutional support.

There will be changes:
But none of great importance, says Erauzkin. "Some parts are working just fine, some need to be modernized - we have to adapt to the UCI's rules".

The team will stay true to it's philosophy, but...:
Galdeano is free to add non-Basques to the team as he sees fit. "We'll keep our philosophy - this team will stay as it is. The team will continue to rely on the Basque amateur scene, but the manager will decide if anything it to be added to the cantera."

Team ready for take-off; release 2012 t-shirt

Euskaltel today staged their traditional "going away to France"-celebration-like act in Zamudio, Biscaya. The riders, the big guys at the Euskaltel headquarters, team staff, local politicians and the like all showed up as the riders posed for photographs, gave interviews and all that. Watch a video of the whole thing, including a short speech from Miguel Madariaga, below.

Also unveiled was the 2012 camiseta naranja - a t-shirt in Euskaltel colours launched every year ahead of the Tour for supporters to use in the Pyrenees. Click this link to check it out.

The team will head for France on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Euskaltel miss out in road race champs

Euskaltel were no match for Movistar in today's national road race champs in Salamanca. While Francisco Ventoso grabbed the title pretty much everyone knew he would, Pablo Urtasun was the team's top finisher in ninth.

It wasn't for the lack of trying though - neither on Euskaltel nor Orbea's part. Gorka Izagirre, Adrián Sáez, Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo and Rubén Pérez, not to mention Orbea's Igor Merino, Omar Fraile and the highly rated Aritz Bagües, made sorties off the front at various points in the race, but Movistar always had a rider or five more in every meaningful break and set it up perfectly for Ventoso to claim the win. Former Euskaltel sprinter Koldo Fernández added another medal to his collection with silver, while the always underrated Francisco Pacheco of Gios-Deyser grabbed bronze. Verdugo, A Pérez and Astarloza also finished top 20 to make sure it wasn't a total write-off for the team.

  • (1, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), 5:08:48)
  • 9, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 11, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 13, Alan Pérez, s.t.
  • 19, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 23, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 24, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 31, Egoi Martínez, 0:11
  • 35, Jon Izagirre, 0:48
  • 36, Adrián Sáez, 0:49
  • 40, Aritz Bagües, 1:18
  • 41, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 58, Mikel Bizkarra, 10:49
  • 59, Omar Fraile, 11:47
  • 60, Xabier Zabalo, s.t.

'Gerri' welcomes Galdeano return

Current head of sport at Euskaltel, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, would have no trouble seeing Igor González de Galdeano back in the fold at the team. It's widely expected Galdeano will lead the team from 2013 and onwards, thus seeing 'Gerri' move back into his old role as directeur sportif. 

"I couldn't say no when Miguel Madariaga asked me to become manager last year", he told Gara. "It would be unfair of me seeing as I owe him a lot, but it was not something I wanted. Therefore I'd be positive to see Igor back, but it has to be done the right way."

Gerrikagoitia confirmed what reports earlier this week suggested, that Galdeano would not come back in time to lead the team in France. From next year on though, he'll be an important addition to the team.

"Our relationship has always been good. We've worked side by side for six years, and it would be good if the team continued and he came in as manager. He was an important person for this outfit and he'll continue to be so in the future. I have no trouble with him returning, all I ask is that it's clarified. That's what we all want."

Who'll lead the team next year wasn't the only thing he wanted sorted out. While it's no secret Euskaltel will stay on in the peloton, as of yet there's been no official word from anyone. It's time, says the former pro.

"We know what we read in the press, that Euskaltel will take control of the team, and the sooner that's official, the better. To stay in this state of uncertainty is not good for the team with a view to the Tour de France. I wouldn't say I'm especially nervous about the future - my job is to do the best I can on the road, focus on doing a good season and keeping the sponsors happy."

The make-up of the team next year continues to be the subject of conjecture, but Gerrikagoitia appears to know no more than anyone else despite his position within the team.

"If a new project starts up and the owners want to grow the team bigger, of course there'll be changes. I don't know what those changes would be, but surely changes to the team structure would be made. If those would concern the sports directors, the infrastructure or whatever, I don't know... It all depends on the main sponsor. Our unique philosophy is nice, but it's difficult to maintain. If we could accumulate the necessary WorldTour points without signing anyone, that would be good. But it's clear that it'll be difficult to stay at the head of this sport with our philosophy".


Iturria impressive 24 hours after nationals

Mikel Iturria powered his way to fifth place in today's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Tolosa, south of San Sebastián in Gipuzkoa. Bidelan-Kirolgi showed their strength by taking out first, second and third.

Despite four of its riders (Larrinaga, Iturria, Santamaría and Etxeberria) taking part in yesterday's under-23 national champs, Naturgas fielded an able seven-man team for today's 116 kilometres. The former three, along with Baudron, Chetout, Comins and González, took to the start.

A sextet formed at the head of the race, featuring Bidelan trio Txoperena, Insausti, Intziarte, Naturgas' Iturria, newly-crowned sub-23 TT champ Jurado of Seguros Bilbao and Villalobos of Koplad-Uni2. Txoperena and Insausti eventually proved too strong for the others and crossed the line together in that order, while Intziarte made it a day to remember for the local team by taking third ahead of Jurado 40 seconds in arreas. Iturria came in fifth, 1:23 back, showing his form is still strong despite an underwhelming road race yesterday in which he ended up 72nd.

  • 1, Beñat Txoperena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 2:58:08
  • 2, Jon Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 3, Unai Intziarte (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 0:40
  • 4, Marcos Jurado (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 5, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), 1:23
  • 6, Ramón Villalobos (Koplad-Uni2), s.t.
  • 7, Mikel Aristi (Debabarrena), 2:54
  • 8, Alex Unzueta (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 9, Mario Noriega Rodríguez (Koplad-Uni2), s.t.
  • 10, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 3:04

García's wrist still in cast

Ricardo García's wrist will still take some healing before he's back on the bike.

Basque daily Deia reports that the 24-year-old will be forced to wear a cast on his wrist for at least another three weeks. The climber, who came over from Orbea in the winter, crashed heavily on stage three of the Dauphiné - a crash that took him out of the race. After a consultation yesterday with an orthopedic surgeon in Bilbao, the native of Vitoria was told to keep the joint immobilized until a new check-up on the 13th of July.

His wrist is not broken though - that would have kept him out of play for a few months - he suffered a fissure, an injury which normally heals faster than a fracture.

"It's an injury that should be given time to heal, as it would be a source of pain otherwise. In addition, the wrist is a very sensitive area for a cyclist", he said.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tour team: a bunch of question marks

While Euskaltel's team for the Tour de France this year is bereft of surprises and pretty similar to what it's used to be the last few years, several of the riders' form is an unknown only seven days before the grand départ in Liège. With the man himself, Samuel Sánchez, crashing badly and compromising his preparations in the Dauphiné, it may be all or nothing for Euskaltel in France.

That being said, the team includes the usual set of the experienced guys designated to lend Samu a hand on the flats as well as in the mountains. No one were surprised to see Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo, Mikel Astarloza and Rubén Pérez, all proven Grand Tour riders, feature in the line-up. This quartet has shown their ability to peak at the right time in the past, and their lead-ups to the race have been reassuring. Astarloza looked solid in the Swiss mountains, Pérez was at his aggressive best throughout, whilst Martínez and Verdugo looked to be on track in the Dauphiné. The latter's performances may have been unspectacular, but he's always a reliable performer in the Tour and placed a highly creditable 25th last time out. In addition, the team's plans were scuppered by Samu's stage 1-crash, hence restricting some of the riders' chances to go on the offensive.

Gorka Izagirre may have had an underwhelming last 18 months after storming onto the professional stage with two wins in 2010, but the 24-year-old proved his mettle at this race last year with some aggressive performances en route to a 66th place overall. Izagirre looked the part in Suisse, finishing a noteworthy 22nd overall, and would be a good bet for a stage win. What a year that would make for the Izagirre family!

The other riders though don't look to be in the same shape. Pablo Urtasun enjoyed one of his best, if not  the best, springs of his career this season, picking up a raft of top three placings in Spanish races right through to early May. After that, though, results have dried up, and his showing in Suisse was not quite what one would have expected. He's already accumulated 45 days of racing this year, and may be feeling the effects of a hectic first part of the season that took in the Tour Down Under, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Bayern Rundfahrt and the Tour de Suisse, to name but a few. Enjoyed a solid Tour debut last year, but may just have peaked too soon this time around.

Amets Txurruka is the only Giro rider included in the line-up. He's been an attraction and a safe bet in the Tour for years, and looked to be approaching some climbing form reminiscent of years past in Italy, but it remains to be seen how he copes with another three weeks in the saddle so shortly after completing the Giro. Txurruka has clocked up the same number of racing days as Urtasun, but hasn't raced since reaching Milan. Naturally one can only speculate on what his form is like, but it seems certain that he'll need quite a few days in the Tour to get the feel for racing again. He might just come good in time for the climbs in the second and third weeks, but it appears to be a bit of a gamble. Despite his stature, though, he's got quite a motor, so he might just cope.

Jorge Azanza hasn't ridden the Tour since his first year with the team back in 2007, but remains a mainstay of the team despite never picking up results for himself. He's been a valuable and trusted domestique this season, doing big races like País Vasco, the Ardennes classics, Dauphiné and Romandie, but only has a 15th place in Almería to show for his efforts. A true all-rounder, who's decent on the climbs when in shape, he'll be a workhorse for the team on all kinds of terrain. Whether that's enough to significantly aid Samu in his charge for the podium, or pick up results in breaks for that matter, is an altogether different question though.

And then there's poor Samu, who got his lead-up partly ruined by that crash in the Dauphiné. Prior to that though, he enjoyed one of his best seasons to date by finally triumphing in País Vasco and also picking up a stage-win and second overall in the Volta a Catalunya. He's been training at altitude in the Sierre Nevada since completing the Dauphiné, but he'll probably need a few days, much like Txurruka, to get his racing legs on. Luckily this is not the Giro though, so the climbs will only kick in for real in the second week. It's impossible to tell just how much that Dauphiné crash put him back, but I suspect he'll be okay. Whether he's capable of a top three overall remains to be seen, but he'll probably never have a better chance what with Contador and Schleck both not present.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Low-key time trial nationals for Euskaltel

Euskaltel's sole representative in today's national time trial championships, Adrián Sáez, placed 14th, as Luisle Sánchez of Rabobank took his third win in the discipline.

The 42,3km course in Béjar, Salamanca, was always going to be Sánchez and Movistar's Castroviejo's playground, but it wasn't a particularly close contest. Sánchez bested the former Euskaltel rider by a massive 1:23, while Alejandro Marque, who surprisingly took out the Vuelta a Asturias earlier this year, posted another strong result by taking out the final podium place. Sáez, coming off his maiden GT in Italy, ended up 4:01 in arrears.

Orbea duo Omar Fraile and Illart Zuazubiskar had good days in the saddle to claim 11th and 12th respectively, while Igor Merino, who was slated to start, doesn't figure on the result sheet (as of yet at least).

Erstwhile Euskaltel stalwart Iker Camaño, now plying his trade for British-based Endura Racing, proved he's still got it with fourth place, a mere 21 seconds off the podium.

Complete results here

As for the under 23s, 22-year-old Marcos Jurado sprung a surprise by taking out the title. The non-Basque Seguros Bilbao rider edged out the more fancied Albert Torres, who's a former junior European champion in the pursuit and 2010 sub-23 national champ on the road, by a mere two seconds over the 19,7 kilometres. Alberto Just closed out the podium, while Naturgas prodigy Jon Larrinaga, who prior to the race expressed his wish that the parcours would have been a tad tougher, came in 15th. Bidelan's Jon Ander Insausti was the Euskadi team's top finisher in ninth. Aitor González ended up 33rd.

Full results here.  


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nieve to skip Vuelta

Despite a solid first part of the season that saw him place 10th in the Giro and fifth at the Tour de Suisse, Mikel Nieve will as anticipated forego the Vuelta a España later this year.

So says team DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia. Talking to BiciCiclismo, 'Gerri' says there's "no way" he'll line up for the Spanish GT in late August. Instead, he'll take on a lighter racing schedule and concentrate on shorter stage-races and the fall classics.

"He's deserved a break, so he'll take some time off and prepare for the last part of the season", the Euskaltel directeur sportif told the Spanish website. He'll make his return to competition, either, at the Tour of Britain (9-16 September), or at the Canadian WorldTour events GP Québec and GP Montréal (7th and 9th of September respectively). He'll then go on to the Giro di Piemonte, Il Lombardia and the Tour of Beijing.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Euskaltel stars give nationals a miss

There'll be no Samuel Sánchez, no Igor Antón, and no Mikel Nieve in this weekend's Spanish national championships.

The trio have all opted out of the race, but for different reasons: Samu will continue his Tour preparations in the thin air of Sierra Nevada, Antón will be looking to recover from the Tour de Suisse and continue his training towards a return to competition at the Tour of Poland, whilst Nieve just finishes his first part of the season in Switzerland. Though the three won't be present, Euskaltel are still in with a shot at a medal on the taxing circuit in Salamanca.

There'll be 13 orange-clad riders on the start line for the road race on Sunday, including the entire Tour team (bar Samu of course). These are: Egoi Martínez, Jorge Azanza, Mikel Astarloza, Rubén Pérez, Gorka Izagirre, Gorka Verdugo, Amets Txurruka, Pablo Urtasun, Miguel Minguez, Alan Pérez, Juan José Oroz, Jon Izagirre and Adrián Sáez. The latter will also double up in Friday's 43,2km individual time trial.

Considering the parcours is said to be quite demanding, the Tour-bound riders and guys like Jon Izagirre should be in contention. Make no mistake though, unseating the might Movistar (albeit without Valverde) will be tough.


No Galdeano-return for Tour de France

Despite earlier reports that it might happen, it now seems Igor González de Galdeano will definitely not lead the team in the upcoming Tour de France.

Gara today reports much of what's been said earlier: that Euskaltel will run the team on its own, increase the budget, look for a secondary sponsor (heavily rumoured to be Festina) and (re)hire Galdeano as the head of the team. The Basque daily confirms he's taken the job, but that he can't return in time for the Grand Boucle as he doesn't have the required license. Additionally, it's said he won't take over the team for the biggest race of the year "out of respect for the current directeurs sportif". 

Further, Gara goes on to say that the team will not be looking to sign non-Basques unless it's needed to keep hold of their place in the WorldTour. The guys at the Euskaltel headquarters will be looking to tie up the team's most reliable performers on new deals to avoid losing them (and the points they've accumulated with them). There's no news on anyone re-upping as of yet - but then again that's unlikely to happen before Euskaltel themselves go official on the team's future. If the team continue in the same vein they've been doing so far this year they might not need to either: Gara says the team has already accrued 79,4% of last year's total. The team is currently ranked 12th in the World with 374 points.

Tour team set

Euskaltel's nine-man team for the Tour de France was revealed today, and Amets Txurruka is the surprise inclusion.

The team will as expected by headed up by Samuel Sánchez - who's reported to be approaching some solid form at altitude in the Sierra Nevada - and will be completed by Tour veterans Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez, Rubén Pérez and Mikel Astarloza, while the trio of Gorka Izagirre, Pablo Urtasun and Jorge Azanza will all line up for the second time.

There's no official word from the team, but trustworthy news outlets like BiciCiclismo and Gara carry the news, so it should be the real deal.

The team will head for France on Wednesday the 27th - Samu from Oviedo, Asturias, and the rest from Bilbao.

Picture: Iñaki Azanza

Monday, June 18, 2012

Time for a change?

The blog will most likely undergo a name change in the coming days - a change which I'd admit is long overdue.  After all, it's been a while since Ibán Mayo last competed and I think everyone checking into this page does so for Euskaltel-related news. Sticking by the Mayo-theme doesn't really make sense. The name, I know, also confuses some. I'm writing this so that you won't get all "what happened to this site?"-ish, and I'll probably stick to the current address for a while so that people still will be able to find it.

This post will stay at the top of the blog for a few days, meaning news will be posted below this one. Feel free to let me know if you think changing the name makes sense, and I'm always open to name suggestions. I've figured out another name I'll probably opt for, but it's kind of boring and serious so please don't hesitate in letting me know what you would have called it.

In the meantime, let's hope Nieve bags a top result in Switzerland. Aupa!

Orbea gain experience in France

Orbea headed to France and the Boucles de la Mayenne this past weekend to try their hand at unseating the top domestic teams over four days of racing.

The team sent Aritz Etxebarria, Carlos Barbero, Omar Fraile, Haritz Orbe, Jon Aberasturi and Illart Zuazubiskar to the 2.2-ranked race containing a 4,5km prologue and three road stages just short of the 200km mark.

With teams like Europcar, Cofidis and Saur-Sojasun lining up, it was always going to be a big ask to come away with any meaningful results. And so it turned out, as Carlos Barbero's creditable sixth place on stage one, from Saint-Berthevin to Lassay-les-Châteaux, was the team's top result. That result shouldn't be sniffed out though, as Barbero showed what a potentially deadly finishing-kick he possesses by beating the likes of Niko Eeckhout, Samuel Dumoulin and Gediminas Bagdonas to the line. Add in the fact that he'd gone approximately a month without competing prior to the race, and the result speaks volumes. He reportedly suffered a few crashes over the four stages, but there's no indication he's injured in any way. 

Jon Aberasturi tried to equal Barbero's result on the last day, but had to contend with 11th as the finish line in Laval came a little too soon for the speedy 23-year-old. The on-song Omar Fraile, who'd started out well enough with 37th in the prologue, was forced to pull out along with team-mate Etxebarria on the final day. Fraile had, according to his Twitter account, struggled with pain in his achilles in France. 

Bretagne-Schuller's Laurent Pichon eventually took overall honours, while Barbero was the team's top man in 42nd.

Final general classification:
  • (1, Laurent Pichon (Bretagne-Schuller), 12:36:19)
  • 42, Carlos Barbero, 1:31
  • 43, Jon Aberasturi, 1:32
  • 76, Haritz Orbe, 6:44
  • 94, Illart Zuazubiskar, 20:17

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brave Nieve comes up short

Mikel Nieve put it all on the line with several daring attacks on today's final stage in the Tour de Suisse, but the Euskaltel captain was forced to settle for fifth overall.

The race's queen-stage, a 215,8km trek from Näfels-Lintharena to Sörenberg, saw plenty of aggressive riding as overall leader Rui Costa's nearest challengers, namely Schleck, Nieve, Gesink and Danielson, made their moves at various points in the race in an attempt to wrestle the yellow jersey off the shoulders of the Portuguese.

Nieve lit the blue touch paper with a somewhat surprising acceleration on the second HC.-categorized climb of the day, a full 45 kilometres out. Nieve soon got the elder Schleck and Danielson for company, but the Euskaltel climber equally quickly had to let go off the duo as the pace put him too far into the red. Despite holding a significant gap at the top of the climb with a descent and a cat.2- climb to the line to come, Schleck took the weird decision to sit up and wait for the group of contenders behind, seemingly not too keen on riding the final 30 clicks on his own. It proved his undoing though as the final climb was much easier than what the stage profile made it out to be, and Movistar's Costa was able to hang onto his lead pretty easily as the attacks dried up.

Nieve had a dig inside the last kilometre in a desperate attempt to dislodge Gesink and Leipheimer and thus move into the top three, but it wasn't to be and he crossed the line alongside all the other GC players almost two minutes down on breakaway winner Tanel Kangert of Astana.

The 28-year-old native of Leitza thus ended up fifth on GC - by far his best overall result so far in his career.

Gorka Izagirre and Mikel Astarloza, so strong yesterday, found it tougher to keep up today and couldn't keep up on the second HC.-climb. Nieve was thus awfully isolated, and the duo's travails put paid to Euskaltel's hopes of hanging on to their lead in the team standings. Astarloza led home a small group containing Izagirre, who earlier on had tried to get into the break of the day, 8:49 down, meaning they went on to finish a respectable 20th and 22nd respectively.

Sicard had a decent day in the saddle, setting the pace at the head of the pack for a while as the break's lead hovered around the 10-minute mark. Perhaps he's coming into some kind of form just at the right time - the Tour de France roster will probably be revealed next week.

Stage nine results:
  • (1, Tanel Kangert (Astana), 5:54:22)
  • 13, Mikel Nieve, 1:48
  • 29, Mikel Astarloza, 8:49
  • 33, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 64, Romain Sicard, 20:10
  • 85, Rubén Pérez, 29:17
  • 91, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Movistar), 35:54:49)
  • 5, Mikel Nieve, 0:40
  • 20, Mikel Astarloza, 10:22
  • 22, Gorka Izagirre, 10:41
  • 69, Rubén Pérez, 1:02:20
  • 79, Romain Sicard, 1:15:37
  • 91, Pablo Urtasun, 1:46:43

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nieve: "We'll fight for the podium"

Mikel Nieve made a big leap up the GC in the Tour de Suisse today by placing second on the eighth stage to Arosa. Heading into tomorrow's decider, he's only 15 seconds off the podium and 40 away from leader Rui Costa. With the stage being another day in the high mountains, the Euskaltel leader is naturally aiming high.

"Let's see how the stage turns out, but I hope it'll be fast and hard", he told the team's website. "I'll give it my all, just like I did today, and I hope my legs will respond. My rivals are top class and they'll be on form. Depending on how the day develops, we'll try to fight for the stage win, the podium, perhaps both if that's possible, but it's hard to tell. First of all we'll recover, and we'll see how it goes tomorrow".

Despite looking fresh and full of chispa in the finale, Nieve explained the racing is taking its toll.

"I'm exhausted. We've been racing for eight days now and the fatigue is accumulating. It was very hard out there today - I'm feeling the strain".

Euskaltel continue to lead the team rankings, and the 28-year-old had a few words for his team-mates.

"I think we're doing a good race. The team has helped me out a lot, and both Mikel (Astarloza) and Gorka (Izagirre) got good results. It's noteworthy we're heading the team standings in a high-calibre race like the Tour de Suisse".


Report: Festina onboard

Reports coming out of France this morning suggest Swiss watch company Festina will be a secondary sponsor to Euskaltel Euskadi next year.

Usually reliable French sports daily L'Équipe carries the story, saying Festina, no stranger of course to cycling sponsorship, have already cut a deal with Madariaga and co. for 2013, and that the team will be known as Euskaltel-Festina. There's no official word though from either the team or the watch brand as of yet, but it looks like there's some substance to the rumours as pretty much every big cycling site out there is saying the same thing.

Stay tuned for further news.

Nieve within reach of the big prize

Mikel Nieve climbed to second on today's penultimate stage of the Tour de Suisse and thus threw his hat into the ring of candidates for the overall win.

The 28-year-old out-sprinted Fränk Schleck and Levi Leipheimer at the top of the HC-ranked climb of Arosa to take second and advance to fifth on GC - only 40 seconds down on a seemingly fragile Rui Costa in yellow. The trio had made their move on the steepest pitches of the last climb at the end of the 148,2km leg starting in Bischofzsell, and gradually built up a decent gap over their nearest challengers. Gesink, Pinot and Danielson came in 21 seconds down, while the likes of Kruijswijk, Kreuziger, Fuglsang, Valverde, Caruso and Costa ceded even more time.

The stage was taken out by local rider Michael Albasini, the GreenEdge rider holding off the bunch by 1:15 having left his breakaway companions trailing in his wake on the proceeding cat.2-climb. Mikel Astarloza and Gorka Izagirre yet again showed good climbing form by staying with their leader up until the five kilometre to go-sign and persevering to claim 19th and 20th respectively, only 1:23 down in their team-leader.

Movistar's Portuguese clung onto his lead by a mere 14 seconds, with Leipheimer just a further seven seconds in arrears. Gesink is 25 down, while Nieve is fifth at 40. Tomorrow's stage, which takes in two HC-climbs before tackling a final cat.2-climb, should leave the on-song Nieve with plenty of chances to
further better his placing overall.

Incredibly (by Euskaltel's standards anyway), today's second place marks the team's third runner-up spot in a WorldTour-race in seven days after Egoi Martínez's effort in the Dauphiné and Rubén Pérez's close loss to Vladimir Isaychev earlier in this race. 

Stage eight results:
  • (1, Michael Albasini (GreenEdge), 3:45:39)
  • 2, Mikel Nieve, 1:15
  • 19, Mikel Astarloza, 2:38
  • 20, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 97, Rubén Pérez, 25:31
  • 108, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 109, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Movistar), 29:58:39)
  • (2, Fränk Schleck (RadioShack), 0:14)
  • (3, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma), 0:21)
  • (4, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), 0:25)
  • 5, Mikel Nieve, 0:40
  • 19, Mikel Astarloza, 3:21
  • 21, Gorka Izagirre, 3:30
  • 72, Rubén Pérez, 34:51
  • 117, Romain Sicard, 57:15
  • 142, Pablo Urtasun, 1:19:14

It's a fact: today's second place is Mikel Nieve's very first as a professional.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Euskaltel strong in Suisse TT

Mikel Nieve put on one of his best performances in an individual time trial ever as Euskaltel placed three riders inside the top 40 in today's 34km ITT in the Tour de Suisse.

The seventh stage of the Swiss WorldTour-race was thought to be a major handicap for Nieve's overall ambitions, but the Leitza native rode a consistent crono en route to a 35th place finish, only 1:51 down on surprise winner Fredrik Kessiakoff of Astana. More importantly he only ceded 1:10 to overall leader Rui Costa and less than half a minute to the likes of Valverde, Schleck, Danielson and Fuglsang. Nieve is now 12th on GC, and has ample opportunity to improve on that placing in the two mountain stages to come this weekend. Position-wise he also looked much more aero than what I've seen in the past. His position still needs work, he's still all over the place at times, but it seems he's getting there.

Mikel Astarloza showed his form is on the up with a decent 25th place, while another Tour-bound rider, Gorka Izagirre, wasn't far off in 37th. Amazingly, Euskaltel is still top of the team standings after the ITT.

Igor Antón did not take the start today. According to the team's website, it was always planned he'd head home after stage six, as another three days in the saddle would be too much considering he hasn't raced since he broke his clavicle in Liège. Next up for him is the Tour of Poland, a race which runs concurrently with the Tour this summer.

Stage seven results:
  • (1, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), 46:36)
  • 25, Mikel Astarloza, 1:34
  • 35, Mikel Nieve, 1:51
  • 37, Gorka Izagirre, 1:59
  • 60, Romain Sicard, 2:52
  • 86, Pablo Urtasun, 3:56
  • 111, Rubén Pérez, 4:40

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nieve stays vigilant in Switzerland

Mikel Nieve enjoyed a calm day in the saddle ahead of tomorrow's decisive individual time trial.

Nieve, as well as his key team-mates, finished inside the peloton to stay ninth overall. The stage was again taken out by the simply awe-inspiring Peter Sagan on the slightly uphill finish to the line in Bischofszell after a 198,5km ride from Wittnau. Nieve was seen near the front towards the end to avoid any potential trouble and cruised home in 28th.

The team remain atop the team standings with three days to go.

Stage six results:
  • (1, Peter Sagan (Liquigas), 4:30:08)
  • 21, Gorka Izagirre, 0:03
  • 28, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 46, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 60, Rubén Pérez, 0:15
  • 116, Igor Antón, 4:52
  • 121, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 134, Pablo Urtasun, 9:43

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pérez: "I'm a little angry"

They say there's no podium placings in cycling; either you win or you don't. Feel free to disagree, but at the end of the day coming second counts for little at this level. As such it was no big surprise to hear Rubén Pérez feeling a wee bit aggrieved to come up short on today's fifth stage of the Tour de Suisse.

"A chance to win a bike race doesn't come along too often, and in a race like the Tour de Suisse it's even more rare", he told "That's way I feel a big of anger inside me."

Yet he was also somewhat content to know he'd done his utmost.

"I think I played my cards right, though, and in that sense I'm calm and satisfied to have fought all the way 'till the end. Isaychev was the strongest, so I can only congratulate him", he added diplomatically.

Looking towards the Tour de France, a race in which he's always put his name out there, the likeable all-rounder sounded optimistic.

"After a start to the season where I was hampered by allergies, being in contention for a win in a race as  prestigious as the Tour de Suisse is encouraging. In the first months of the year I wasn't able to perform to my capabilities and my confidence suffered. Fortunately I started to feel better in the Bayern Rundfahrt, and here in Switzerland I'm starting to ride the way I like. I was in the break yesterday, today... It boosts my morale for the Tour de France."

It's a fact: Rubén Pérez has started eight Grand Tours in his career - and finished them all.

No fracture for Velasco

Iván Velasco escaped another collarbone fracture when he crashed out of the Tour de Suisse in today's stage five.

It was initially feared the 32-year-old broke his clavicle when he hit the deck 21 kilometres into the stage from Trimbach to Gansingen. It now transpires he "only" suffered trauma and a "painful inflammation" to his left shoulder, the team's website reports.

How long Velasco's latest injury will keep him out of play was not disclosed.


Pérez 2nd in Suisse stage 5

Rubén Pérez came within inches of doubling his win tally as a professional by running second in today's fifth Tour de Suisse stage.

The Euskaltel hard-man was only just beaten to the line by Katusha's Vladimir Isaychev in the sprint from the break that was allowed to contest the stage win by an apprehensive peloton. It was the 31-year-old's fourth second place in his career - win mass-sprint win in the 2012 edition of the Bayern Rundfahrt is still his sole triumph. While coming away empty handed from such a gold-tinted opportunity might be hard to take, he can at least take comfort in the fact that he put another few WorldTour points into Euskaltel's needy pocket.

Pérez is, on paper anyway, a faster finisher than the 26-year-old Russian, but just couldn't pip the un-fancied Isaychev despite reaching a higher top speed inside the last 50 metres. The line came 15 metres too early for the ever-aggressive Zaldibar-native, who also spent yesterday in the break of the day.

There were no major changes to the GC on today's calm 192,9km stage from Trimbach to Gansingen - Mikel Nieve thus remain ninth. And, by the way, the team is heading up the team classification.

Results stage five:
  • (1, Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha), 4:58:28)
  • 2, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 41, Mikel Astarloza, 11:07
  • 44, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 45, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 55, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 66, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 100, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • DNF: Iván Velasco (crashed out, see earlier post)

Report: Galdeano back - might lead team in Tour

Igor González de Galdeano will return to lead Euskaltel Euskadi and might even lead the team in the upcoming Tour de France, Spanish newspapers write today.

Trustworthy Basque daily Deia carries the story that claims that Igor González de Galdeano will return to the team he led from 2009 up until this season. The former Equipo Euskadi rider (the forerunner to the Euskaltel team we know today) has allegedly been chosen to lead the "new Euskaltel", a team that will be telecommunications company Euskaltel's property and run outside the auspices of the Fundación Euskadi from 2013 and onwards.

Galdeano's return is one of the worst kept secrets in cycling, only a fortnight after he stepped down as Euskaltel manager he hinted at returning, but it will no doubt be welcomed by the current riders and staff; Álvaro's older brother was immensely popular with the riders, especially so with star rider Samuel Sánchez, and was widely seen as the main reason for Euskaltel's upswing in fortunes and results during his tenure.

What's more surprising, though, is that he might return before the turn of the year. According to the same paper, it's "more than possible" that he'll direct the team in the Tour de France in little more than two weeks' time. Gorka Gerrikagoitia, who somewhat unwillingly inherited Galdeano's job (the sporting side of his job anyway), was pencilled in to lead the team, but as it stands now it's quite unclear exactly who will do what on the roads of France.

Galdeano is reported to have already started working on the make-up of the team for next year, but there's no further news on whether or not Euskaltel will be opened up to non-Basques.

What must be pointed out is that Galdeano is yet to sign on any dotted lines. If the reports are to be believed though, it's merely a matter of time.

Further news on the team's future is expected before the end of the week.


Just in: Velasco suffers suspected broken collarbone

Iván Velasco crashed and quite possibly broke his collarbone in today's fifth stage of the Tour de Suisse.

According to reports, the 32-year-old hit the deck after 21 kilometres and was immediately taken to hospital. Velasco had been on Euskaltel's long list for the Tour de France despite riding the Giro in May, but the Grand Boucle is now naturally out of the question for the Arrasate, Gipuzkoa, native.

More on Velasco's state later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Naturgas duo selected for nationals

Naturgas Energía riders Jon Larrinaga and Mikel Iturria have both been chosen by the Basque Cycling Federation to contest this year's Spanish sub-23 championships, the federation's own website reports.

The duo will take on the road race alongside six others, while Larrinaga, who's enjoying his best season to date, will also do the individual time trial.

Full road race team (to be held 22 June): Mikel Aristi and Aitor González (Debabarrena), Ibai Daboz, Unai Intziarte and Ion Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), Ibai Salas (Caja Rural) and Jon Larrinaga and Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía).

Full time trial team (to be held 21 June): Aitor González (Debabarrena), Ion Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi) and Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía).

Larrinaga and Iturria have both secured strong results of late; they placed second and third respectively in the sub-23 Euskadi champs road race last weekend (pictured above alongside winner Insausti).


Pérez animates Suisse stage 4

Euskaltel put on an attacking display in today's fourth leg of the Tour de Suisse.

Mikel Astarloza was the first rider in Orange to try his luck with a breakaway attempt after some 30 kilometres on the road from Aarberg to Trimbach. The stage's many hills would have been perfectly suited to the veteran, but the large break of which he was a part of was never given much leeway and was swept up less than 20 clicks later.

Next off was Rubén Pérez, who jumped clear with eight others 80 kilometres in. This nine-man move made is stick for a while, but never grew their gap bigger than three minutes and were inevitably reeled in, one by one, inside the last 30. The 31-year-old Zaldibar-native was one of the first in the group to go out the back as the climbs took its toll, and only 56 riders made up the main peloton that sprinted for the win at the finish.

Sagan naturally bagged yet another victory, his third in four tries in this race, while Euskaltel placed three riders in the first group. Nieve, G Izagirre and Astarloza all managed to hold the pace, meaning the former is still ninth on GC.

Up tomorrow is a 192,7km trek from today's finishing town, Trimbach, to Gansingen.

Stage four results:
  • (1, Peter Sagan (Liquigas), 4:36:55)
  • 35, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 38, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 47, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 72, Iván Velasco, 4:53
  • 79, Rubén Pérez, 7:37
  • 125, Romain Sicard, 15:40
  • 126, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 133, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.

Estévez strong as Azysa dominate

Imanol Estévez grabbed a strong seventh in yesterday's GP San Antonio - Memorial Fernando Expósito, a race that also counted as the regional Cantabrian Championships. Azysa-Telco'm-Conor did as they pleased and took out all three podium placings.

The Azysa trio of Niki Terpstra's 25-year-old brother Mike, Argentinian powerhouse Ignacio Pérez and Arkaitz Durán, who needs no further introduction, made their move 60 clicks into the race and were never to be seen again. Local rider José Manuel González of Gomur initially went with the three, but was forced to let go on the climb of San Mateo, paving the way for a Azysa to run riot. Terpstra crossed the line ahead of Pérez and Durán to take top honours, a full 2:37 ahead of the nearest competitor. Mario Gómez (CAI) led the pack home in fourth to be crowned elite Cantabrian champ, while number five, Jesús Herrero (Gomur), took the sub23-title.

Estévez took a solid seventh just six seconds behind Gómez, while Javier Francisco Martín came in on the same time to take 26th.

  • 1, Mike Terpstra (Azysa), 3:12:37
  • 2, Ignacio Pérez (Azysa), s.t.
  • 3, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa), s.t.
  • 7, Imanol Estévez, 2:43
  • 26, Francisco Javier Martín, s.t.
  • 37, Mikel Iturria, 2:48
  • 39, Jon Larrinaga, 2:52

Samu heading for altitude

Samuel Sánchez will head to the thin air of Sierra Nevada to hone his form for the Tour de France.

So says Tuesday morning. The website reports the Euskaltel captain will take in a ten-day stint of altitude training in the Spanish mountain range, starting tomorrow and ending on the 23rd of June. As a consequence, he'll forego (as he usually does) the Spanish time trial champs, which are being held on June 22nd this year, and in all likelihood also the road race being held a pair of days later. It was reported yesterday that the reigning Olympic champ suffers from an oedema in one of his ribs on the right side of his body as well as having strained his left latissimus dorsi muscle because of his crash on stage one of the Dauphiné, but it's now confirmed it won't stop him lining up in Liège on June the 30th.

"If I'd abandoned the Dauphiné, I would be a step behind in my preparations and could almost have said goodbye to the Tour", he stated. "But I managed to press on and now have at least eight days of top-level competition in my legs.

"As for predictions for July, Wiggins is very strong and his team, Sky, look to be top motivated. Evans also looked to be going really well - and don't discard Andy Schleck".

Sánchez ordered to rest

As a result of his crash in the recently concluded Critérium du Dauphiné, Samuel Sánchez will be forced to take a couple of days off the bike.

The Euskaltel captain hit the deck hard on day one of the French stage-race. Medical check-ups discarded any fractures though, and the Tour de France podium hopeful duly went on to complete the entire race, stating it was essential if he is to be competitive come July.

An MRI was done this morning to provide a clearer view on the state of the 34-year-old's injuries, and he was diagnosed with an oedema in rib number four on his right side and a muscle strain in his left latissimus dorsi muscle. The team's website reports he'll rest for at least two days before he'll be able to resume training.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Nieve maintains top ten in Suisse

While today's third stage of the Tour de Suisse was everything but normal, it was a relatively uncomplicated one for Euskaltel as Mikel Nieve stayed ninth on GC.

The 194,7 kilometres between Martigny and Aarberg will forever be remembered for a poorly timed railway crossing and the ensuing chaos that split the peloton in two with some 55 clicks to go. Movistar, who got pretty much all of their riders across just in time, used the occasion to make fools of themselves by deciding to press on and distance the rest of the peloton instead of sitting up and wait - as it the custom. After some discussions with the race officials, and embarrassing protestations from Marzio Bruseghin, the team of overnight leader Rui Alberto Faria da Costa eventually decided to wait for the rest of the pack. The break up the road, who profited massively from the anarchy ruling behind, was reeled in inside the last kilometre and Peter Sagan went on to take the win everyone expected him to. Rubén Pérez figured near the front of the peloton in the last five clicks, seemingly intent on giving it a go in the sprint, but never really found his place and had to settle for a distant 21st.

Nieve stayed out of trouble and crossed the line among the other GC contenders, while Romain Sicard had to concede 31 seconds by stage's end. Urtasun and Antón amazingly managed to finish more than 13 minutes in arrears - the former thus not doing his chances of being picked for the Tour de France any good.

Stage three results:
  • (1, Peter Sagan (Liquigas), 4:35:32)
  • 21, Rubén Pérez, 0:03
  • 29, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 39, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 45, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 55, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 122, Romain Sicard, 0:31
  • 158, Igor Antón, 13:22
  • 159, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.

Bagües makes his mark in Portugal

Aritz Bagües came away from the GP Abimota in Portugal this weekend with the 'Special sprints'-classification in the bag.

Orbea sent an eight-man team to the three-day Gran Premio Abimota, featuring Jon Aberasturi, Mikel Bizkarra, Andoni Blázquez, Aritz Etxebarria, Aritz Bagües, Xavier Zabalo, Haritz Orbe and Omar Fraile. But while the team failed to grab any significant stage placings over the three days, Bagües made sure the race wasn't a total write-off for the blue team with the classification win mentioned above.

22-year-old Bagües gathered six points over the weekend, enough to hold off team-mate Blázquez by one point and Gios-Deyser's once-promising Salvador Guardiola by three. The native of San Sebastián, who made the move to Orbea ahead of the 2011 season after a promising campaign with Bidelan, has struggled for results so far in his Orbea career, and will undoubtedly look to kick on after his classification win in Portugal.

Aberasturi was unsurprisingly the rider who bagged the team's top placing, sprinting to sixth on day one. Disgraced former pro Moisés Dueñas took out day two en route to the overall win. Omar Fraile was again the team's highest-placed rider on GC in 17th.

Final general classification:
  • (1, Moisés Dueñas (Supermercados Froiz), 11:41:17)
  • 17, Omar Fraile, 0:27
  • 24, Aritz Bagües, 0:42
  • 27, Mikel Bizkarra, 1:01
  • 51, Xabier Zabalo, 16:51
  • 56, Andoni Blázquez, 21:09
  • 65, Haritz Orbe, 25:24
  • 67, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 72, Jon Aberasturi, 30:19
Photo: Iñaki Azanza.

Three riders to sign

If the current rumours surrounding the team's future turn out to be true, i.e. Euskaltel backing the team with some nine million euro from 2013 and onwards, the team's chiefs will no doubt be looking to recruit from outside the Fundación Euskadi-institution in order to keep their place in the WorldTour. The likes of Intxausti and Castroviejo, to name but a few of stand-out Basques plying their trade away from Euskaltel, are both under contract in 2013 - otherwise they would of course have featured in this short list. Those aside, here's the trio of riders they should sign:

Ibai Salas:
The 20-year-old is showing signs of his true potential this year with Caja Rural and belongs at a higher level. The native of Bilbao has had a successful season to date, taking out the prestigious Three Days of Álava in April among other races, and would likely be tempted to ride for his home team. He's an all-rounder with a decent motor who will surely be picked up by the professional Caja Rural outfit this year or next if he continues in the same vein. One for the future.

Arkaitz Durán:
A no-brainer. Has been riding with Azysa-Telco'm-Conor in the amateur ranks this year after the implosion of Geox late 2011, and would jump at the chance to return to the pro ranks - his stated aim for 2013. Has already racked up 10 (!) wins on the competitive Spanish circuit and we're not even halfway through June. Despite seemingly having been in the peloton for ages, the Vitoria-native is still only 26 and should, logically, be about to enter the best years of his career. Having bypassed the amateur ranks by going straight from the juniors to the pros under Joxean Matxin's tutelage back in 2005, Durán has flattered to deceive ever since. A year in the amateur ranks, rediscovering the feeling of winning bike races, may actually do him good. As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. Undoubted potential - time to give him a shot.

Imanol Erviti: 
With two Vuelta-stages to his name, it's hard to grasp that 28-year-old Imanol Erviti is still a relatively unknown rider to the wider cycling public. The Pamplona-born Movistar rider has five wins on his palmares, but has almost exclusively been used as a domestique in his career. Rock-solid, big motor, extensive Grand Tour-experience, good all-rounder and with a penchant for picking out the winning breaks, Erviti would be a valuable asset to Euskaltel. He's still got many years left in him at the highest level and may prosper if given freer reins. One for the present.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Suisse: Nieve third on Verbier

Mikel Nieve made good use of his post-Giro d'Italia form to climb to third on today's second stage of the Tour de Suisse.

The 28-year-old, fresh off 10th overall in the Italian GT, looked lively and at his best on the steep finishing climb of the Verbier at the end of the mammoth 218,3km stage starting in Verbania. Fränk Schleck left it all on the road with a daring attack six clicks from the top, but Nieve, along with the likes of eventual victor Alberto Rui Faria da Costa and John Gadret, soon went on the attack as well, putting in several digs to eventually distance a small group containing most of the GC favourites. While Movistar's Portuguese wonderkid managed to catch and pass the ailing Schleck inside the last 400 metres, Nieve couldn't quite keep up but still had enough in the tank to grab a creditable third and with it a ninth overall. And, perhaps more importantly, a few WorldTour-points to go with it.

The team at one point had a trio of riders in the lead group, but Gorka Izagirre and Mikel Astarloza were forced to let go of the front-runners once Schleck made his move. The two still did well though to finish 26th and 27th respectively at 1:40, while Antón, still easing his way back into shape after breaking his collarbone in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, came home with the gruppetto some 13 minutes back.

Stage two results:
  • (1, Rui Costa (Movistar), 6:21:13)
  • 3, Mikel Nieve, 0:12
  • 26, Gorka Izagirre, 1:40
  • 27, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 70, Iván Velasco, 4:50
  • 124, Romain Sicard, 10:10
  • 125, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 150, Pablo Urtasun, 13:24
  • 151, Igor Antón, s.t.
It's a fact: Nieve's third place marks only his second third place in his career - the other one came a few weeks ago atop the Stelvio. 


Durán doubles up as Euskadi champ

Arkaitz Durán offered further proof of his class by taking out both the road and time trial titles in the Euskadi Championships this weekend.

The champs were held in Villarreal de Álava, or Legutio as it's called in Basque, in the region of Álava on Saturday and Sunday, and the local hero, Durán hails from the region's capital, Vitoria, left everyone  in his wake as he further strengthened his case for a return to the pro peloton in 2013.

The 110km road race, ending atop the Santa Barbara de Urretxu, was everything but exciting as the 26-year-old soloed to a crushing win 1:29 ahead of team-mate at Azysa, Kepa Vallejo, and a further three seconds ahead of Debabarrena's Aitor González. The latter took out the sub-23 title by beating Naturgas' Jon Larrinaga by seven seconds into third, while another Naturgas prodigy, Mikel Iturria, grabbed a strong 11th. Former Euskaltel stalwart Aitor Hernández had a decent day in the saddle en route to eighth.

Road race results (full results here courtesy of
  • 1, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa), 2:38:58
  • 2, Kepa Vallejo (Azysa), 1:29
  • 3, Aitor González (Debabarrena), 1:32 - Sub23 champ
  • 4, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 1:39 - Sub23 runner-up
  • 5, Antton Ibarguren (Caja Rural), 1:44
  • 6, Markel Anton (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 1:46
  • 7, Martin Iraizoz (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 8, Aitor Hernández (Orbea), s.t.
  • 9, Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet-Taldea), s.t.
  • 10, Joseba del Barrio (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 11, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 18, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 2:26
  • 19, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 27, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 3:14

In the crono, Durán bested Bidelan's Jon Ander Insausti, who last week won the Gipuzkoan champs, by 21 seconds over the 23,7km course. Jon Larrinaga once again showcased his strong state of form by taking bronze, only 31 seconds off Durán's winning time.

Time trial results, elite and under-23:

  • 1, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa), 30:42
  • 2, Jon Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 0:21 - sub23 champ
  • 3, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 0:31 - sub23 runner-up
Time trial results, junior:
  • 1, Yerai Ruíz (Aranako-Toyota Armentia), 21:19
  • 2, Ander Alonso (Ordiziako Tx. E-Caja Rural), 0:06
  • 3, Aitor Morález (Zirauna-Iturribero), 0:27

In further Naturgas-related news, the team will send a sextet to the regional champs in Cantabria tomorrow, the team's website reports. Here's the team: Karl Baudron, Jon Larrinaga, Alain Santamaría, Alain González, Imanol Estévez and Francisco Javier Martín.


Discreet ending to Dauphiné

The Dauphiné finally came to a close today with an anonymous performance from Euskaltel on the stage to Châtel.

The demanding concluding stage, that took in five categorized climbs, was another orange no-show as Egoi Martínez again was the team's top man in 23rd, 23 seconds off Dani Moreno's winning time. Martínez has by far been the team's stand-out performer in the dress rehearsal for the Tour, and looks on course for another aggressive month on the roads of France in three weeks' time.

Samuel Sánchez got through another day, coming in some six minutes down in the company of loyal servant Jorge Azanza, and was pleased to have finished the whole race after coming a cropper on day one.

"I'm pleased to have completed the Dauphiné, above all because of the hit I took on the first stage, but I haven't been able to fulfill the work I set out to do at the desired level - the crash complicated it all", he told the team's website upon crossing the line. "Tomorrow I'll undergo a more extensive medical check-up to determine the exact state of my injuries. Now I'll continue to train to reach the Tour in optimal shape".

On GC, Martínez was the team's top finisher in 45th, while the team ended up 17th out of the 22 teams taking part.

Stage seven results:
  • (1, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), 2:59:37)
  • 23, Egoi Martínez, 0:23
  • 53, Jorge Azanza, 6:11
  • 90, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 101, Gorka Verdugo, 9:03
  • 140, Peio Bilbao, 13:45
  • 141, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 149, Alan Pérez, 18:36
Final general classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 26:40:46)
  • 45, Egoi Martínez, 19:43
  • 67, Jorge Azanza, 31:05
  • 83, Mikel Landa, 36:46
  • 95, Gorka Verdugo, 44:13
  • 126, Samuel Sánchez, 56:56
  • 143, Peio Bilbao, 1:20:13
  • 151, Alan Pérez, 1:31:10

Dismal Dauphiné d-day

Yesterday's queen-stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné was an altogether unsuccessful one for Euskaltel. None of the riders managed to finish inside the top 50 on the 167km road from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine.

Egoi Martínez did his part to ensure the team some visibility with another day in the main break - his third in this race alone and his second in two days. The big-size group he was a part of didn't manage to hold off the pack though, being reeled in on the early ramps of the massive Joux Plane. Sky set a ferocious pace on the climb, shredding the lead group, and none of the guys in orange were close to standing the pace. Jorge Azanza was the team's top finisher in a decent 57th, while top climber Mikel Landa stayed with Samu Sánchez to come in almost 14 minutes in arrears.

All in all an unsatisfactory day, and there's no hiding the form some of the riders are showing, or not showing to put it more accurately, is quite worrying with the Tour kick-off in Liège less than three weeks away.

Today's final stage takes the riders 126 clicks from yesterday's finish town to Châtel.

Stage six results:
  • (1, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 4:46:12)
  • 57, Jorge Azanza, 8:13
  • 71, Egoi Martínez, 10:36
  • 110, Mikel Landa, 13:54
  • 111, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 135, Gorka Verdugo, 16:31
  • 138, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 153, Alan Pérez, 25:33


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