Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Euskaltel miss out in Getxo

It wasn't for the lack of trying, but Euskaltel, the big favourites, failed to put the finishing touches to their excellent team work early on in the Circuito de Getxo as Movistar's Giovanni Visconti came out tops.

With the Izagirre brothers, Igor Antón and Mikel Landa in their line-up, Euskaltel were red-hot favourites after last week's convincing triumph over in Ordizia. The team duly assumed control of the pack as a five-man group went off the front on the first of the ten 17km laps. Orbea's Mikel Bizkarra featured in the break alongside Caja Rural's Karol Domagalski, Androni's 23-year-old Spaniard Francisco Moreno, Luis Mas of Burgos BH - Castilla y León and South African Johann Rabie of Team Bonitas, but they were never really given a look-in as Euskaltel, and after a while Movistar and Andalucía too, kept the break on a tight leash. Bizkarra and Domagalski were the last ones standing, but were reeled in on the penultimate lap.

Peio Bilbao, 13th last year, tried his hand with a late-race move with five others a few clicks out, but a crash in the lead group disrupted their rhythm and they were brought back inside the last three kilometres. Miguel Minguez crashed inside the last k and hindered team captain Gorka Izagirre's chances, leaving Alan Pérez, who did a lot of work at the head of the pack early on, to fight for a result. The veteran came across in a decent 15th - by far his best performance of the year. There was no stopping Movistar's Visconti though, who claimed the big prize at the top of the Txomintxu-Arkotxa ahead of compatriot Di Luca and team-mate Enrique Sanz.

"I was well placed at the base of the final climb, but it was a bit too long, and it's not really a finish suited to me", Pérez told www.fundacioneuskadi.com post-race. "Anyway, I'm pleased to have been near the front. My legs were feeling good in what's so far been a hard season, with injuries at the start of the season... it's motivating to have been up there."

Gorka Izagirre had this to say: "I didn't feel good in the first few laps, but in the latter three I improved and I felt ready to fight for the win. The fall at the start of the climb happened right in front of me and I thus lost the opportunity to grab a good result and fight for the victory".

Results (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • (1, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), 3:56:11)
  • 15, Alan Pérez, 0:09
  • 28, Igor Antón, 0:27
  • 29, Haritz Orbe, s.t.
  • 32, Juan José Oroz, 0:36
  • 37, Iván Velasco, 0:50
  • 47, Aritz Bagües, 1:14
  • 52, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 53, Omar Fraile, s.t.
  • 67, Xabier Zabalo, 1:32
  • 68, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 72, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 74, Illart Zuazubiskar, s.t.
  • 80, Miguel Minguez, 1:54
  • 81, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 83, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 100, Mikel Bizkarra, 3:41
  • 106, Igor Merino, 6:01
  • 108, Aritz Etxebarria, 6:30
  • 109, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Photo: Fundación Euskadi Ciclista

Durán climbs to victory

Arkaitz Durán grabbed his 16th (!) win of the year in Wednesday's Subida a Altzo hill time trial.

The former youth prodigy spent eight minutes and 16 seconds on the 5,2km course, besting Lizarte's Santi Ramírez by three seconds, www.biciciclismo.com reports. Third was for crono specialist Ion Ander Insausti, the Bidelan rider who was crowned regional time trial champion of Gipuzkoa in late May and should attract the interest of Orbea after a stellar season.

Full results are yet to come in.

Provisional results:
  • 1, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa), 8:16
  • 2, Santi Ramírez (Lizarte), 0:03
  • 3, Ion Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 0:08
  • 4, Julen Amezketa (Seguros Bilbao), 0:13
  • 5, Adrián González (Ibaigane Opel), 0:14
Photo: www.bikezona.com

Gunning for Getxo

After last week's triumph in Ordizia, Gorka Izagirre and Euskaltel are back in action at the Circuito de Getxo-Memorial Ricardo Otxoa today looking for back-to-back wins on home terrain.

The route is similar to last year, covering ten rounds of a 17-kilometre circuit for a total of 170 clicks. Like last year, when 23-year-old Andalucía sprinter Juan José Lobayo emerged victorious in the 1.1-ranked event, the race will end atop the "wall" of Txomintxu-Arkotxa, a 800m climb featuring pitches of up to 14 percent. The ascent should suit Euskaltel's stand-out riders like Ion and Gorka Izagirre and Igor Antón to a tee, but that should also be the case for the likes of Movistar's Rojas and Visconti, Acqua&Sapone's trio of Betancur, Di Luca and Garzelli and Androni's precocious Fabio Felline - not to mention defending champ Lobato.

As reported earlier, this is the make-up of the orange team:
  • 81 - Igor Antón
  • 82 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 83 - Pablo Urtasun
  • 84 - Juan José Oroz
  • 85 - Peio Bilbao
  • 86 - Mikel Landa
  • 87 - Miguel Minguez
  • 88 - Iván Velasco
  • 89 - Alan Pérez
  • 90 - Ion Izagirre  
DS: Josu Larrazabal.

Here's Orbea's line-up, led, as ever, by Aritz Arberas:
  • 61 - Omar Fraile
  • 62 - Xabier Zabalo
  • 63 - Aritz Etxebarria
  • 64 - Mikel Bizkarra
  • 65 - Jon Aberasturi
  • 66 - Igor Merino
  • 67 - Haritz Orbe
  • 68 - Illart Zuazubiskar
  • 69 - Aritz Bagües
  • 70 - Carlos Barbero

The race is underway, and a quintet, including Orbea's ever-aggressive Mikel Bizkarra, currently hold a four-minute gap over an Euskaltel-led peloton. Click here to following the racing live

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Castroviejo makes Spain proud

Young Basque Jonathan Castroviejo honoured his national jersey with an immense display of strength and courage in today's Olympic Games road race.

The 25-year-old Movistar rider, who came in as a reserve after Óscar Freire and Samuel Sánchez were ruled out through injury, did what he was asked to do and got into the day's early break along with a host of big names. The former Euskaltel prodigy did his share of the work as the group built up a healthy lead over the team GB-led peloton. As more and more riders bridged up in the closing 50 kilometres, among them team-mates Alejandro Valverde and Luis León Sánchez, the native of Getxo was still there to take massive turns on the front for his two team-leaders. Castroviejo, who's not had the best of spells in the Movistar jersey since leaving Euskaltel ahead of the 2012 season, stayed with the group all the way to the finish and came in 26th, having sacrificed himself for his captains.

Unfortunately for the time trial specialist and his country, Valverde and Sánchez were never in the mix for the medals and Spain thus failed to repeat their gold of the Beijing Games. Spain can look forward to Wednesday's crono, though, given Castroviejo's performance today and the shape Luis León seemed to be in at the Tour de France.

As he gets older, Castroviejo, who's also got a fast finishing kick, will surely be a mainstay of the Spanish seleccion along with the likes of former team-mates Ion and Gorka Izagirre and current team-mate Jesús Herrada.

Naturgas resume competition

After a 14-day hiatus, Naturgas Energía will return to competition this weekend in Altzo on Tuesday, and in Oiartzun next Sunday.

The red team hasn't competed since Jon Larrinaga got the team another second place in Beasain almost two weeks ago, but will send a competent team to Tuesday's traditional hill time trial starting in Alegia, Gipuzkoa. The 5km Subida a Altzo will see Jon Larrinaga, Víctor Etxebarria, Loic Chetout and Mikel Iturria take the start, Euskaltel's website reports. 23-year-old Yelko Gómez of Caja Rural took out last year's race, the rider from Panama besting current Orbea rider Illart Zuazubiskar. The previous year, in 2010, Orbea rider Igor Merino was third, while Euskaltel duo Peio Bilbao and Víctor Cabedo were fourth and fifth respectively. No less a figure than Giro hotshot Andrey Amador took out the 2008 edition.

On Sunday the 5th of August, the whole team will line up in the Clásica de Oiartzun. The race in Oiartzun, the place Allan Davis calls home, counts towards the Torneo Euskaldun series, a race series currently led by Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC rider Borja Abasolo ahead of team-mate Mike Terpstra.

"It's the Torneo Euskaldun, so we'll compete with older riders (the series is upon to both sub-23s and elite riders). Our goal is to return to activity, maintain our level of form, be combative and do our best to be ahead", DS Iñigo Urretxua says.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Quartet secure Vuelta place

The team's website today confirmed that Amets Txurruka, Gorka Verdugo, Juan José Oroz and Mikel Landa will form part of Euskaltel's Vuelta a España line-up.

www.fundacioneuskadi.com reports that the four, along with Igor Antón, reconnoitered the start of the race's third stage from Faustino V (Oion) to Arrate. The five are "certain starters" in the race, thus leaving only four places up for grabs.

The quintet were accompanied on their recce by none other than Samuel Sánchez. As reported earlier, Samu will not take part in this year's edition.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stars line up for Getxo appointment

Euskaltel will field the likes of Igor Antón and the Izagirre brothers in next Tuesday's Circuito de Getxo.

The one-day race, taken out in 2009 by then-Euskaltel rider Koldo Fernández, will see recent Clásica Ordizia victor Gorka Izagirre line up alongside his brother Ion, as well as Vuelta-bound duo Igor Antón and Mikel Landa. Juan José Oroz, Peio Bilbao, Pablo Urtasun, Iván Velasco, Miguel Minguez and Alan Pérez complete the line-up, according to the team's website.

The race will be held on Tuesday the 31st of July on the traditional 170km circuit taking in the usually decisive climb of Txomintxu Arkotxa. The race is run in the memory of the late Ricardo Otxoa, the brother of the more famous Javier. Ricardo died when a car ran into him and his brother while out training back in the early months of 2011. His brother became seriously disabled, but has continued to compete on the bike in para-cycling events.

Euskaltel's top finisher last year was the young Peio Bilbao in 13th.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Zubeldia in demand

Haimar Zubeldia is, perhaps unsurprisingly after his sixth place overall in the recent Tour de France, being courted by several WorldTour teams at the ripe old age of 35.

The native of Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, looked to be in his best shape for almost a decade by being right up there with the very best in the hardest race in the world. And that on the back of a three-month enforced break from racing due cardiac problems. According to trustworthy Basque daily el Diario Vasco, Vincenzo Nibali, third in France, is keen to take the Euskaltel legend with him to what is presumed to be Astana.

"On Sunday, in Paris, Nibali came over and asked me if my contract with RadioShack was up", Zubeldia said. "I told him I've got another year left on my contract and that I'm comfortable here. I'm yet to talk about it with Johan Bruyneel. He was at the team dinner in Paris on Sunday, but we didn't discuss it".

While the always-polite elder brother of Joseba says he's happy where he is, his team-mates behaviour on the final mountainous stage to Peyragudes, where Klöden, Horner et al. didn't seem to care that their captain was in desperate need of help as he went out the back, begs the question if he is indeed content, or if he's just, well, polite. Coupled with the fact that his current team seems set to implode any minute these days, it wouldn't be a shock to see the former Euskaltel stalwart donning a new jersey in 2013.

"It's always nice to be acknowledged, but all that's happened is Nibali asking about my contract situation. Nothing more. I'm comfortable where I am", he says.

Perhaps inevitably in light of the news that Euskaltel will go bigger in 2013, I've also heard rumours linking him with a return to his home team. Whether there's any substance to those rumours I can't tell, but it sure seems Euskaltel will have a fight at their hands if they really are interested.

Photo: Team RadioShack

No Samu, Nieve or Martínez in Vuelta

BiciCiclismo claim to know the 12 riders in the running for a spot on the Vuelta a España team in August. Samuel Sánchez, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Nieve and Peio Bilbao do not feature on the long-list.

Here are the 12 candidates: Igor Antón, Romain Sicard, Alan Pérez, Amets Txurruka, Mikel Astarloza, Pierre Cazaux, Miguel Minguez, Mikel Landa, Rubén Pérez, Gorka Verdugo, Iván Velasco and Juan José Oroz.

Antón's participation is naturally a given as the race represents his one and only goal of the year. Landa has been down for a berth all season and should feature, and the same goes for Sicard. Astarloza, Txurruka and Verdugo all abandoned the Tour injured, and especially the former and the latter should be in with a good shot given they've not completed any other GTs this year (unlike Txurruka, who rode the Giro d'Italia).

Rubén Pérez is fresh off another Tour finish, while Minguez, Velasco, Oroz and Cazaux all did the Italian GT. A Pérez is, along with Sicard, the only one without a GT in his legs this year, but has been in indifferent form all season and is a question mark form-wise little more than three weeks before the big kick-off.

Unsurprisingly, there'll be no Samuel Sánchez as he'll channel his energies on the Worlds and the late-season WorldTour-races, while Nieve also has a full calendar, including the Canadian races. Martínez will give the race a miss after his phenomenal ride in France, while it's slightly disappointing not to see the precocious Peio Bilbao feature on the list.

Who do you think should make the team?

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Antón to head up Burgos challenge

Igor Antón will ramp up his preparation for the Vuelta a España by leading the team in the Vuelta a Burgos, www.biciciclismo.com reports.

The five-day stage-race running from August 1-5, in which Samuel Sánchez triumphed overall in 2010 and Ibán Mayo likewise in 2006, is likely to see the following Euskaltel riders line up: Igor Antón, Romain Sicard, Mikel Landa, Juan José Oroz, Iván Velasco, Alan Pérez, Ricardo García and Peio Bilbao.

The race comes to a close a fortnight before the Vuelta gets underway in Pamplona, and will as such be a vital testing ground for Antón. The Galdakao native struggled with gastroenteritis last year on his way  to a subdued eighth overall.

Last year's victor, the indomitable Joaquín Rodríguez, will be back to defend his title.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gorka's Ordizia win in pics

Professional photographer Iñaki Azanza was kind enough to send over these exclusive images of Gorka Izagirre's triumph in the Prueba Villafranca - Klasika Ordizia on Wednesday. Check out more brilliant photography at Iñaki's webpage here.

Iván Velasco, JJ Oroz and co. kept the breaks in check throughout

Ion and Gorka Izagirre with their father, José Ramon

Izagirre's triumph was the third in his career

Two wins in two starts for Gorka in Ordizia

No shortage of fans of the Izagirre brothers

Mikel Landa extends Euskaltel stay

Mikel Landa has extended his contract with Euskaltel for another two years, www.eitb.com reports.

The 22-year-old climbing ace is regarded as one of the team's most talented riders, and incoming General Manager of the team, Igor González de Galdeano, said yesterday that the team will be built around the punchy escalador in the future. The native of Murgia triumphed in the queen-stage of last year's Vuelta a Burgos, and this year added a second place in the prestigious GP Induráin to his collection of top results.

Landa is reported to have reached a verbal agreement with the team heads stretching to the end of the 2014 season, but is yet to put pen to paper.

Mikel Landa is in line for his GT bow in the Vuelta a España in a month's time.

Gorka Izagirre wins Ordizia - again

Gorka Izagirre has just won the Prueba Villafranca - Clásica Ordizia for a second time.

The 24-year-old capitalized on his excellent post-Tour form to grab a mightily important victory in the team's own backyard, topping the sprint from a four-man group to raise his arms for the first time since he won the same race two years ago. Watch the final seconds of the race below:

It was a thoroughly deserved victory for the team as they controlled proceedings right from the off and never let breaks get too much of a gap. Miguel Minguez set a deadly pace going up the key climb of Albaltzisketa the final time, and Izagirre duly paid his team-mates back by out-sprinting Colombia Coldeportes rider Johan Chaves, Miguel Angel Rubiano of Androni Giocattoli and Movistar's prodigiously talented Costa Rican Andrey Amador.

It was the team's seventh win of the season, and Izagirre's third in all.

"First of all I'd like to thank my team-mates", he said post-race. "It was a very difficult day. We did a great job and I have to thank the whole team. Everyone did an exceptional job.

"Minguez did a great job on the Albaltzisketa. I managed to follow Chaves and the two of us got away.  On the final ascent we were caught by Rubiano and Amador, put I waited before opening the sprint and I judged the effort to the line well".

Away from Izagirre, Gorka Verdugo made a successful comeback from his Tour de France injuries, coming in some six minutes in arrears.

Full results (Orbea riders in cursive):
  • 1, Gorka Izagirre, 4:03:17
  • 16, Miguel Minguez, 1:16
  • 25, Haritz Orbe, 2:25
  • 39, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 41, Omar Fraile, s.t.
  • 48, Mikel Bizkarra, s.t.
  • 54, Juan José Oroz, 4:04
  • 55, Xabier Zabalo, s.t.
  • 56, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 57, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 61, Peio Bilbao, 6:28
  • 62, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 68, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 70, Alan Pérez, 7:35
  • 71, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 88, Carlos Barbero, 11:06
  • 89, Illart Zuazubiskar, s.t.
  • Outside the time limit: Aritz Etxebarria, 20:15
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

This is the new Euskaltel

Incoming General Manager of Euskaltel Euskadi, Igor González de Galdeano, and president of telephone company Euskaltel, Alberto García Erauzkin, today held a press conference in Zamudio in which they offered an insight into the direction the team is taking for the next few years. While some of it was old news, there was also some new information disclosed.

Here are the key points of what was said (courtesy of BiciCiclismo):
  • The objective is to stay in the UCI WorldTour while maintaining the team's cantera philosophy
  • The team has to adapt to the current demands of elite cycling to ensure the project's sustainability
  • The cycling team will integrate into the Basque Cycling Pro Team society, owned by Euskaltel SA
  • Euskaltel will have a budget of approximately nine million euro
  • Igor González de Galdeano will be the General Director of the Basque Cycling Pro Team and General Manager of the cycling team
  • The backbone of the team will still be Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón, Mikel Landa and Ion Izagirre

"As of January 1. 2013, the cycling team will embark on its second big cycle in the spirit of continuing the project that has brought success over the last two decades", said García Erauzkin. "The project's objective will be to keep the team in the WorldTour, the highest level in international cycling, to adapt the structure of the team to the rigours of modern cycling, and to promote Basque cycling's cantera and the values behind it. We'll aim to maintain the cantera philosophy as the basic principle of the team".

Carlos Barredo and Dani Navarro were earlier on yesterday linked to the team, but Galdeano refused to  get specific on if and how many riders from outside the Basque Country the team would be looking to recruit.

"The team must evolve, take solid steps to remain at the top level and avoid making mistakes", he said. "If we need to adapt in the future, we will. But the captains of the team must be Basque, and we won't change that philosophy. We won't be making any rash decisions that might break the current philosophy."

García Erauzkin echoed Galdeano's sentiments that the core of the team will remain Basque.

"Euskaltel Euskadi is unique in the world of cycling. It's a team that represents much more than a commercial brand. The team represent a country, a certain way of doing things and values we're proud of. A project like this should be sustained and strengthened", he said.

He went on to confirm that the team will indeed have nine million euro a year at their disposal for the next three years, but, contrary to earlier reports, new sponsors may come onboard after all. Orbea is likely to stay on as bike supplier, but the team is also "open to other possibilities". 

As for the riders that will make up the team, pretty much everyone on the roster will stay on. Galdeano "guarantees that Igor Antón and Samuel Sánchez will remain in orange" despite the pair not having signed on the dotted line, and that the duo represents, along with Landa and I Izagirre, the "base of the team" for the coming years. 

The roster for next year will as expected be made up of 28 riders - five more than this year.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

News on Euskaltel future later today

After speculation back and forth on the team's future for the better part of six months, team heads will at a press conference go official on the "new project" later today.

BiciCiclismo reports that Euskaltel will stage a press conference at noon today, Tuesday, "to inform about the future of Euskaltel Euskadi". Click this link to get all the latest during the day.

Some information has already been disclosed though. According to el Diario Vasco, the company behind the team will be called Basque Cycling Pro Team, and all the big-name riders will stay on in orange. That includes the likes of Sánchez, Nieve, Antón, Landa, Izagirre x 2, Bilbao, Astarloza etc.

The team is likely to be made up of 28 riders (possibly 30), meaning Igor González de Galdeano will dip into the non-Basque transfer market to make up the numbers. Carlos Barredo of Rabobank and Daniel Navarro of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, both former team-mates of Galdeano at the now-infamous Liberty Seguros outfit, are rumoured to be possible signings. The signing of the two Asturians would, allegedly, go hand in hand with the company's new commercial interests in Samu's home region.

More on Euskaltel's future later today.

Photo: www.images.businessweek.com

Monday, July 23, 2012

What we learned from the Tour

While it's hard to rate a team bereft of its captain and three strongest climbers, Euskaltel's Tour performance still deserves an evaluation. There were plenty of positives over the three-weeks, but there's still quite a lot to work at in the upcoming editions.

Euskaltel should have brought a younger team.
The orange outfit was one of the oldest of the 22 participating teams, with only 24-year-old Gorka Izagirre under the age of 30. Jorge Azanza wasn't up to much and Pablo Urtasun found it tough after his near-miss on stage five. In a year in which several of the sport's future greats (Sagan, Pinot, Van Garderen, Rolland etc.) made names for themselves, you wonder if the likes of Sicard might have thrived as well. The team is right to field Landa in the Vuelta before sending him to France, but along with Sicard, Ion Izagirre and Peio Bilbao, he should be given a shot at the greatest race of all next July.

Gorka Izagirre is a star in the making.
Seemingly equally adept at all kinds of terrain, Ion's elder brother eventually came through with flying colours after some questionable performances in the Alps. He's already become a mainstay of the team in the biggest races, and his performances over the last few years bodes well for his own, not to mention his team's, future.

Egoi Martínez is everything but a spent force...
The 34-year-old stepped up to the plate and pulled out his best Tour performance ever when his team needed him the most. His 17th place overall showed he's still got a few years left in him at the top table,  and the former Tour de l'Avenir victor showed some of the form that attracted the mighty Discovery Channel back in the winter of 2005.

...yet Euskaltel remain, decidedly, a one-man show
While the team deserves the utmost praise for their aggressiveness and presence throughout, Euskaltel without Samu is a pretty toothless outfit. Not that that's anything new. Yet it's hard to see what the sporting directors can do differently. With only three (as of yet) real general classification riders in the squad, you can hardly field them all in the Tour and send reserve teams to the Giro and the Vuelta. Sending Nieve, Samu and Antón to one GT each is the only reasonable option, but it leaves the team in a perilous state if one of them falters or crashes out - as has been the case more often than not the last couple of years what with Antón's enforced DNFs over in Spain and now with Samu in France.

The team has grown up.
The way the team took care of Samu and kept him out of trouble expertly in the first week shows the progress that's been made under the tutelage of Gorka Gerrikagoitia and, earlier on, Igor González de Galdeano. While the orange jerseys were easily spotted towards the rear end of the pack in the days of Mayo, Zubeldia, Laiseka et al., Euskaltel look much more like a "proper" GT team nowadays.

Updated UCI rankings + prize money

Seven Euskaltel riders have now scored WorldTour points this season - already one more than what was the case at the end of last season.

The UCI today published their post-Tour updated rankings and, despite losing their captain and three key lieutenants early on in France, Euskaltel are still healthy placed as a team. Sky naturally top the rankings by quite a margin, while Euskaltel maintain their 12th place with 424 points. Movistar occupy the place above, while Lampre is 24 points adrift in 13th.

Samu naturally remains the team's top rider on the individual rankings in seventh place on 252 points. Nieve is 38th (98 points), Ion Izagirre 64th (46 points), Egoi Martínez debuts at 95th (20 points), Gorka Izagirre comes in at 130th (eight points), Rubén Pérez is 161st (four points), while Gorka Verdugo is 197th with a single point.

Check out the full rankings here.

The big prize money on offer in France didn't go Euskaltel's way as high overall placings, stage-wins and jerseys went missing for the team. Still though, they amassed a healthy 19 830 euro during the three weeks, more than seven of the other teams.

Click here for the full overview. 

Gerrikagoitia "proud" of Tour team

Despite coming away from the Tour empty-handed as far as stage-wins and jerseys are concerned, Euskaltel DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia, himself a veteran of four Vueltas but no Tour, was happy with what his riders achieved in a Grand Boucle plagued by crashes and bad luck.

"We arrived in Liège with clear objectives, but when four riders, including our captain, crashed out, everything changed", he told the team's own website. "In Samuel we had a solid leader to fight for the podium and a stage victory. An ambitious challenge we had to alter after Samu's abandonment.

"The five cyclists who made it to Paris responded to the adversity and completed a noteworthy Tour. We fought every day, we were brave and we took risks. We got into many breaks and played our cards to get a win. I'm very proud of the whole team for their effort, attitude and commitment. What's more, Egoi Martínez finished a prominent 17th overall. Therefore we'll head home happy with our work".

Zubeldia reveals heart problem

Haimar Zubeldia today revealed he's been struggling with a cardiac problem for the better part of the season.

The Euskaltel legend made the shocking revelation just hours before going on to clinch an astounding sixth place overall in the Tour de France - a place obtained without too much help from his beleaguered RadioShack-Nissan outfit. The 35-year-old sat out racing from the end of February to the end of May with what was reported at the time to be a thigh injury, but it now transpires that his "injury" was a tad bit more dangerous.

"Now that the Tour is practically over, I just wanted to say that this race has been a very important one for me this year", he said on his own homepage before the stage into Paris got underway. "It's been important because three months ago I suffered a persistent atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat), and the doctors told me it could spell the end of my career. I had four weeks of complete rest and treatment.

Up until today, everything's been fine, and thanks to Dr. Bodegas, the unconditional support of my family, my friends and my team (who at all times were aware of the situation), I've returned to enjoy cycling like never before.

Some asked me why I didn't ride at the time and I said because of a hamstring injury... I couldn't say anything else back then, and I hope you understand. But now I can.

Thank you for your support during the Tour and for your understanding".

Photo: Team RadioShack

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tour conclusion wrap

The Tour de France came to a close with an anticipated win by Mark Cavendish on his own street earlier today. Rubén Pérez came across the line in 15th.

It was a decidedly low-key performance from Euskaltel, as the quintet still left failed to infiltrate the doomed late-race moves. Martínez had no trouble hanging on to his 17th overall though, so at least the race came to a satisfactory end for the team.

Stage 20 results:

  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Sky), 3:08:07)
  • 15, Rubén Pérez, 0:04
  • 76, Egoi Martínez, 0:09
  • 77, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 97, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 133, Gorka Izagirre, 0:44
Final general classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 87:34:42)
  • 17, Egoi Martínez, 31:46
  • 39, Gorka Izagirre, 1:32:19
  • 74, Jorge Azanza, 2:18:58
  • 87, Rubén Pérez, 2:37:56
  • 134, Pablo Urtasun, 3:21:34
Gorka Izagirre finished up fifth in the young riders' classification, and 15th in the team rankings.

Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

The siblings Izagirre

Gorka and Ion Izagirre are two of a kind. Or so one would think anyway. They're brothers, 24 and 23 respectively, they both ride for Euskaltel, they've both got a pair of wins to their names, and they look similar. Alain Laiseka in Deia asked the brothers, two of Euskaltel's most valuable commodities, to describe one another, and found out they're not that similar after all.

Here's a transcript of what they said of each other:

Ion's take on Gorka:
He's negative. He always sees the glass half empty. He almost always blames himself for everything. He easily gets demoralized even without a reason. I try to encourage him, to make him a little less negative. When he told me everything was going awry (after the team's four abandonments in the Tour), I told him that wasn't the case and that he was in excellent shape.

Everything happens because he's so hard on himself. It's like he isn't allowed to fail. He sets himself very lofty targets, and when he doesn't reach them he gets depressed and blames himself. I don't know many athletes as disciplined as he is. He's very methodical with his preparation, his diet, rest. He pays a lot of attention to detail. (Gorka's famous for bringing his own food to the family's dinner on Christmas Eve and New Years).

He's a rider who reads the races well. He's courageous and brave, good on all terrain but without that one big strength, except for going downhill well. He's a complete rider, who can chase stage-wins in GTs or win one-day races. He's good at everything. As a person he's a guy of extremes. When all's black he needs support, but when things are going well you don't have to say anything. He goes alone. And flies. 

Gorka's take on Ion:
He's very relaxed. He's got his own ideas, his own way of thinking and doesn't really care what goes on around him. I'd say he's a simple guy - not complicated at least. He lives happily in his own world. When he was younger, he was always annoying. And I quickly got fired up. I was warm blooded. Ion says he's more alive. That may be, but when in a race I'm sure he's very much alive. He's got a very relaxed way of riding and reads everything that happens very well. 

While riders like Sagan and others have ridden the Worlds since they were juniors, Ion's evolved gradually to reach a very high level. He's 23, and he'll go far, very far. Now he's showing it, but I always saw the small things that made me imagine how good he could become. 

A few years ago, when he was to join Orbea, he went to Ireland for three months as an Erasmus student. He came back in January fat, very fat. He was eight kilos overweight. 

Martínez maintains 17th

Despite a somewhat subdued performance in today's 53,5km ITT, Egoi Martínez clung onto his 17th place overall ahead of tomorrow's processional stage into Paris.

The 34-year-old, who had earlier on voiced his disenchantment at being one of the lucky few to be transported to today's start town of Bonneval by helicopter instead of by car as his team-mates were forced to, crossed the line a distant 65th, a full 6:14 in arrears. His overall placing was never troubled though, and the former Discovery Channel rider will post his best general classification result ever if he gets through tomorrow's stage unscathed.

"At the end of this race, I'm happy", he told the team's website post-race. "At 34-years-old I've been disputing a high overall placing in the final long time trial. That's never happened before, so I'm very pleased. I felt good on the bike today and finished totally empty. Gorka (Gerrikagoitia) directed me in a masterly fashion, he's a great DS. Along with Óscar Guerrero, he's the best I've come across. He's been able to motivate us throughout, and the end result has been great.

Overall it's been a difficult Tour for us. We lost four riders, including our leader. We travelled to Liège with specific targets and suddenly everything changed. We responded and fought every day for a stage victory. We're proud of our Tour performance".

Click here to read Pablo Urtasun's thoughts on the race.

None of the other riders managed to crack the top 100 today. Gorka Izagirre came through a lowly 116th, meaning he dropped to 39th overall.

Stage 19 results:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 1:04:13)
  • 65, Egoi Martínez, 6:14
  • 102, Jorge Azanza, 7:57
  • 108, Rubén Pérez, 8:09
  • 109, Pablo Urtasun, 8:10
  • 116, Gorka Izagirre, 8:46
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 84:26:31)
  • 17, Egoi Martínez, 31:46
  • 39, Gorka Izagirre, 1:31:44
  • 74, Jorge Azanza, 2:18:58
  • 87, Rubén Pérez, 2:38:01
  • 134, Pablo Urtasun, 3:21:34
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Last chance goes begging

Euskaltel left it all on the road in today's penultimate road race stage, but will more than likely head home to Spain without the stage-win their effort merited.

The 223km leg from Blagnac to Brive-le-Gaillarde was the last real chance the team had of grabbing a victory, seeing as tomorrow's ITT is out of the question and beating the sprinters at their own game on the Champs-Elysées without an sprinter in the team is nigh on impossible. Rubén Pérez gave it a go early on, but his six-man group was never given more than a minute's gap and was quickly reeled in. The decisive 16-man move that formed later on included no Euskaltel representatives, meaning Gorka Izagirre, Jorge Azanza and Pablo Urtasun were left to keep the break in check along with Rabobank to ensure the group would be caught.

They did a tremendous job keeping the pace high at the front, but once the break was usurped there were no orange to be seen. With everyone but Egoi tired from leading the peloton all day, there were simply no riders left to chase the win they were after.

Speaking post-race, DS Gerrikagoitia highlighted the team's attitude.

"It's been a day of nonconformity", he told www.fundacioneuskadi.com. "Every team wanted to be in the break, but we missed out. We talked it over and decided to work to bring it back together to give us a chance of a win. We knew the Tour would come to an end for us today, so we had to give it our all. Today's stage was just as important as the last ones, and we battled to the very end. We didn't give up".

Stage 18 results:
  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Sky), 5:54:12)
  • 25, Rubén Pérez, 0:04
  • 38, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 98, Jorge Azanza, 2:07
  • 150, Pablo Urtasun, 8:54
  • 151, Gorka Izagirre, 11:55
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Friday, July 20, 2012

"I'm getting the hang of the Tour"

Gorka Izagirre has done his family name proud with a battling performance in this year's Tour de France. Ion's elder brother has featured in the day's main break on a number of occasions, and thus far has a third and a fifth place to show for his efforts. Speaking yesterday, the 24-year-old said he's never felt better.

"I'm feeling better than I've ever done in my career", he told Bilbao-based daily El Correo. "Getting into breaks in this race is always hard. I don't know how, but I've gotten the hang of this race. To infiltrate the right break you have to have the legs, the strength. To win, you have to be a fox."

The win has eluded Gorka in this race and for the better part of two years overall, but DS at the Tour, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, had praise for both Gorka and his younger brother.

"Gorka and Ion are both noble riders. They're disciplined. And Ion is an extremely talented rider. He's recovering well from the demands of a three-week race."

With his all-round ability, you sense it's only a question of time before Gorka opens his Grand Tour stage account.

Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Samu bids farewell to Olympics

Samuel Sánchez will not defend his Olympic gold in London after all. Despite being seemingly optimistic after a couple of training sessions earlier in the week, a statement on the team's website yesterday afternoon says he's still in good shape, but that "his injuries do not respond to the kind of intensive effort needed at a high level of competition". He's having "difficulty absorbing road irregularities", and he's allegedly not able to break with his right hand. Here's Samu's statement in full:

It's the most painful sporting decision I've been forced to take in a long time. I'm the reigning Olympic champ, and I would have liked to defend a medal that changed my life. After that victory, a street's been named after me, a life-size statue of me has been raised resembling me biting the medal... It was a very significant triumph, and for four years I've been able to wear a jersey identifying me as the Olympic champion. A new Olympic Games is coming up, and I won't be able to defend my role title, but that's cycling. The important thing is to stay strong and keep walking.

I'm a little sad, but there was nothing else to do. I did my utmost to recover, but as I've already said, health comes first. To compete in this state, when I'm not able to break, would be dangerous for myself as well as my colleagues in the peloton. I have to responsible, I can't put anyone at risk. I'll continue to work on my recovery. There's a big part of the season and ambitious goals still left. We have to keep adding WorldTour-points, the Worlds are coming up... I'll continue to work with optimism. There are many challenges ahead, and the first thing I'll do is recover completely to be able to face those in good shape and with illusion.

I want to thank all the professionals who helped me with my recovery. The services of IMQ, the support of the team with Miguel Madariaga at the head, the trust of the Olympic Committee and the Natioal Cycling Federation to give my the needed time to see if I could make it. I'm very grateful to them all, and hopefully I can bring them joy in the near future. And, of course, all the fans. I've received many messages of support, and I've come to see the situation differently. I'm most grateful, and such displays of affection is my gold medal of 2012.

Photo: www.deia.com

"We'll go home happy"

Euskaltel once again showed they're one of the most aggressive teams in this Tour de France by placing a trio of riders in the break on yesterday's Pyrenean stage from Bagnères de Luchon to the previously untested climb of Peyragudes.

Impressively, the same three riders in the break on Wednesday got into yesterday's breaks. Egoi Martínez, Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza all repeated the feat from the day before, but unlike on stage 16, the break weren't keen on letting the group up the road stay ahead and divide the stage spoils between them.

Alejandro Valverde persisted and just about held off Froome, Wiggins and co., but everyone else from the original break was swept up unceremoniously. Martínez was the one in orange who held on the longest, being reeled in on the final climb as only "Piti" could ride away from him.

Martínez went on to place a creditable 25th on the stage, meaning he moved up to 17th overall ahead of the final weekend. With only four support riders for two weeks and to have been in as many breaks as he has, there's only one word for him: chapeau!

"We have to be proud of the team's ride", he told the team's website post-stage. "We've been five riders since the first weekend, so you notice the effort. We've been very active every day and you notice you're only five at the end of the stages. Just like on Wednesday, today (Thursday) we were attentive and intent on infiltrating the breaks. And we made it both days. Gorka was strong on stage 16 and today (yesterday) I had a good day. It's a shame we weren't both on good days on the same stage. But we'll head home very pleased. It's been a very difficult Tour, and I think we've performed on a high level. We've given our all, so we'll return home happy".

Stage 17 results:
  • (1, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 4:12:11)
  • 25, Egoi Martínez, 4:10
  • 39, Gorka Izagirre, 10:42
  • 51, Jorge Azanza, 16:06
  • 52, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 134, Pablo Urtasun, 30:57 
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 78:28:02)
  • 17, Egoi Martínez, 25:32
  • 35, Gorka Izagirre, 1:11:07
  • 74, Jorge Azanza, 2:08:58
  • 91, Rubén Pérez, 2:29:52
  • 127, Pablo Urtasun, 3:04:34
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"It was spectacular"

Gorka Izagirre showed once again what a complete rider he's turning into with third on today's queen-stage of the Tour de France.

The 16th stage over 197 kilometres from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon took in the behemoths of the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde, and was as such every Basque's dream stage. The team duly went on the offensive, placing a trio of riders in the main, gigantic 38-man breakaway. The aforementioned Izagirre, Jorge Azanza and Egoi Martínez were all there, showing off their colours in front of their fanatic fans.

Entirely as expected, Thomas Voeckler ran away with the race, finishing solo ahead of the wily Dane Sörenson of Saxo Bank. Izagirre, initially dislodged on the Aspin and then again a few times at the foot of the Peyresourde, put on one of his best performances this year by out-sprinting the ever classy Vinokourov to the line, 3:22 down on the Frenchman.

Talking post-stage, the 24-year-old paid tribute to the people who lined the road.

"It was spectacular", he told the team's website. "I want to thank the fans, my friends, the whole world, the "Orange tide". You all made this day special."

Egoi Martínez, who earlier on had said he was enjoying "the best Tour of my life", had everything but his best day on the bike, falling off the pace of the break unexpectedly early, but doing just enough to hang onto 18th overall. Azanza was out the door considerably earlier, but Izagirre applauded the team's never-say-die attitude.

"The team is doing a great race. We're only five, but we put three in a 30-something break. Jorge and Egoi were in there today, other days it's been Rubén or Pablo... As for today, I felt good. I had good sensations, but Voeckler was super. When he's on a day like today, it's almost impossible to stay with him. To get this far in the Tour and still be ahead of the race's queen-stage makes me happy. You can't ask for more than to give everything".

Stage 16 results:
  • (1, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), 5:35:02)
  • 3, Gorka Izagirre, 3:22
  • 24, Egoi Martínez, 10:46
  • 43, Pablo Urtasun, 11:56
  • 49, Jorge Azanza, 15:17
  • 94, Rubén Pérez, 27:33
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 74:15:32)
  • 18, Egoi Martínez, 21:41
  • 35, Gorka Izagirre, 1:00:44
  • 77, Jorge Azanza, 1:53:11
  • 99, Rubén Pérez, 2:14:05
  • 125, Pablo Urtasun, 2:33:56
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Samu ever nearer Olympics

As reported yesterday, Samu had his first training ride on the road yesterday. And the sensations are reported to be good.

The team's website writes Samu got through the three hours he intended to. He allegedly covered 80 clicks "at a good pace", resulting in him "retaining his enthusiasm for being able to defend his Olympic crown". His physical state is said to be "good", but a decision is yet to be taken.

Stay tuned for additional info in the coming days.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Izagirre moves up on final day + Tour

Ion Izagirre moved up from eighth to seventh on today's concluding stage in the Tour of Poland, thus securing the team some vital WorldTour points.

The last stage, a 131km ride in and around Krákow, was wholly uninteresting from an orange point of view, as it was a day for the sprinters to shine. Argos-Shimano's Teutonic speedster John Degenkolb duly delivered, besting impressive veteran Matthew Hayman and team colleague Ben Swift. Izagirre had no trouble staying with the pack, crossing the line in 21st.

"I'm very pleased with my result", he told www.fundacioneuskadi.com upon crossing the line. "I haven't competed since the Giro d'Italia, so to return in this manner is satisfying. Well, I did the national champs (where he finished 35th), but that's only one day. So to return in a week-long WorldTour stage race and finish seventh overall makes me content. The season is turning out well for me. I felt good in Tirreno-Adriatico, I was on-song in the Classics, and I came around in the Giro. Do to a good Giro was the goal in the first part of the season and it was a success, the stage-win included", he said, adding that he'll line-up in the Ordizia and Getxo classics next.

He was once again pretty much on his own though, as none of his team-mates managed to go the distance. Antón came in half a minute in arrears, while Sicard, who's rumoured to be on the move after this season, continues to jo-jo from the solid to the lacklustre. The Frenchman came in 90 seconds back, finishing the race in 39th.

Adrián Sáez posted a DNF.

Stage seven results:
  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 2:50:32)
  • 21, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 66, Juan José Oroz, 0:28
  • 72, Igor Antón, 0:30
  • 73, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 112, Romain Sicard, 1:29
Final general classification:
  • (1, Moreno Moser (Liquigas), 30:15:49)
  • 7, Ion Izagirre, 0:29
  • 29, Igor Antón, 4:14
  • 39, Romain Sicard, 8:10
  • 54, Miguel Minguez, 17:05
  • 99, Juan José Oroz, 37:45
Over in France, Euskaltel missed out on the main break and therefore had a relatively easy day in the saddle. The 159km 15th stage from Samatan to Pau was the last before the final rest day, meaning the riders in orange are likely to confront the Pyrenees from Wednesday and onwards well rested and ready to go.

Egoi Martínez stayed with the pack and hung onto his 18th overall.

Stage 15 results:
  • (1, Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ), 3:40:15)
  • 33, Egoi Martínez, 11:50
  • 95, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 104, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 110, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 137, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.

Samu Olympic decision imminent

Samuel Sánchez will today conduct his first training session on the road since abandoning the Tour de France. In a day or two, he'll make up hid mind on whether to travel to London or not.

"If I can't stay three hours on the bike, there's no use in going to England", he told Deia. "If my hand doesn't improve, I won't be assured of being able to break normally and thus won't be able to go."

His hand isn't his only worry though. His should is giving him quite a bit of headache as well.

"I'm still doing my best to be able to do the Olympics, but I want to see how my body responds to the tarmac".

If he ends up not going, he'll likely return at the Tour of Great Britain before focussing on the Worlds, the Tour of Beijing and Il Lombardia.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Impatient Izagirre misses out

An impatient but impressive Ion Izagirre didn't get the stage win he craved, but still rose to eighth overall on the penultimate stage of the Tour of Poland.

The 191,9km stage from Bukovina to Bukowina Tatrzanska was always going to be decisive when it came to overall honours, and the strong climbers were duly to the fore in the closing 20 kilometres in the Polish hills. Ion Izagirre was the most active along with Sky's diminutive Colombian Sergio Henao, but perhaps played his cards too early and were left to pay in the finale. Izagirre went after the first time Henao surged clear some 13 clicks out, and made repeated accelerations as the pack closed in on the final climb. As Henao jumped clear yet again some two kilometres from the top, Izagirre was again the strongest of the rest and gave chase. His efforts took their toll though as he faded slightly inside the last 1500 metres, but he still had enough left in the tank to grab a highly creditable ninth on the day. As a consequence he moved up to eighth overall with only tomorrow's processional final stage left.

Igor Antón had his best day in the race by figuring in the finale and hanging on for a decent 21st at half a minute. While the race hasn't been the best for the Galdakao-native, at least he seems to be on the right track with a view to the Vuelta.

Neither Alan Pérez nor Pierre Cazaux crossed the finish line.

Stage six results:
  • (1, Moreno Moser (Liquigas), 5:16:32)
  • 9, Ion Izagirre, 0:07
  • 21, Igor Antón, 0:30
  • 45, Miguel Minguez, 1:47
  • 55, Romain Sicard, 4:06
  • 87, Juan José Oroz, 15:23
  • 117, Adrián Sáez, 19:04
General classification:
  • (1, Moreno Moser (Liquigas), 27:25:17)
  • 8, Ion Izagirre, 0:29
  • 34, Igor Antón, 3:44
  • 41, Romain Sicard, 6:41
  • 63, Miguel Minguez, 16:35
  • 111, Juan José Oroz, 37:17
  • 166, Adrián Sáez, 1:16:15
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Larrinaga second in Beasain

Naturgas Energía are yet to open their victory account this year as Jon Larrinaga went oh so close to winning Sunday's race in Beasain.

Seguros Bilbao's Marcos Jurado made it two wins in consecutive days as he triumphed in the Prueba Loinaz de Beasain. His win in Gipuzkoa comes on the back on yesterday's triumph in Sopelana. Jurado won sole, coming in four seconds ahead of Naturgas's stand-out performer this year. Third was Alberto Gallego of Andalucía.

"The truth is I felt good right from the off", Larrinaga told El Correo. "On one of the last climbs I went with force to so solo and finish second. I'm happy".

Naturgas fielded nine riders in the event: Larrinaga, González, Chetout, Baudron, Iturria, Estévez, Martín, Santamaría and Etxeberría, but only the latter was the only besides Larrinaga able to complete the 148km race. Etxeberría came in 39th.

  • 1, Marcos Jurado (Seguros Bilbao), 3:38:12
  • 2, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 0:04
  • 3, Alberto Gallego (Andalucía), 0:09
  • 4, Unai Intziarte (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 5, Andres Sánchez (Lizarte), 0:11
  • 39, Victor Etxeberría (Naturgas Energía), 2:01
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Sánchez leaves Izagirre in his wake

Gorka Izagirre was left to ponder what might have been after finishing fifth in today's 14th stage of the Tour de France.

The stage from Limoux to Foix was on paper perfectly suited for Izagirre's talents, and the 24-year-old duly made it into the break of the day. In the company of Luis León Sánchez, Philippe Gilbert, Sandy Casar and Peter Sagan (not to mention the huge group that was broken up on the last cat.1 climb), it was always going to be a big ask to emerge victorious. And when the classy Rabobank rider went solo in trademark style, it was immediately clear he'd stay away. The remaining quartet looked pretty knackered and aware of the fact that they had an almost impossible task at their hands when he first had built up a ten-second gap.

In the sprint for second, Izagirre lost out and were forced to settle for fifth. Still a great performance though, and a reassuring one at that given his rather indifferent results of late.

"At the start of the Tour I said I'd like to get into a break and fight for a win, and today I did just that", he told the team's website post-stage. "The breakaway was made up of high-quality riders, winners, and  I did the best I could. At the end I was a fair bit tired and ended up fifth, but I'm feeling good in this Tour and I'm pleased with my ride. I didn't have much time to think about a strategy. In the last descent I gave it a go and tried to stay away with Casar and Sagan, after all three is better than five, but it wasn't to be and I left quite a lot of energy there. I don't know he was the strongest, but Luisle has done this numerous times before and was the most attentive. He jumped when Sagan was about to go back to the car. I though twice, and with Luisle that's way too much."

The main talking point after the stage wasn't the outcome though, but rather the tacks thrown onto the road which saw 30+ riders puncture at the top of the last mountain. Egoi Martínez got a flat twice, according to the team's website, and Jorge Azanza and Rubén Pérez also suffered punctures. It wasn't enough to keep Martínez out of the running for a high overall placing though, as he stayed with the main group to preserve his 18th overall.

Stage 14 results:
  • (1, Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank), 4:50:29)
  • 5, Gorka Izagirre, 0:47
  • 64, Egoi Martínez, 18:15
  • 73, Rubén Pérez, 21:19
  • 84, Jorge Azanza, 23:33
  • 128, Pablo Urtasun, 28:18
General classification:
  • (1, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 64:41:16)
  • 18, Egoi Martínez, 18:04
  • 40, Gorka Izagirre, 1:04:31
  • 88, Jorge Azanza, 1:45:03
  • 104, Rubén Pérez, 1:53:41
  • 151, Pablo Urtasun, 2:29:09
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Izagirre stays in contention ahead of decider

Jon Izagirre stayed in contention for a high overall placing in the Tour of Poland by keeping pace with the pack on today's fifth stage from Rabka Zdrok to ski jumping-mad Zakopane.

Tomorrow's leg to Bukowina Tatrzanska is likely to play a huge factor in deciding the overall winner of the WorldTour stage-race, and the youngest of the Izagirres is lying in a healthy 15th, just 13 seconds in arrears, going into the penultimate stage. Miguel Minguez had his best day in Poland thus far , staying with the peloton all the way to the line.

As for the others, it's been a decisively below-par performance all around as there's no representation whatsoever in the breaks, and the riders seem to struggle with the high pace.

Stage five results:
  • (1, Ben Swift (Sky), 4:01:22)
  • 19, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
  • 33, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 72, Alan Pérez, 0:22
  • 77, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 93, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 118, Igor Antón, 1:43
  • 164, Pierre Cazaux, 9:11
  • 182, Adrián Sáez, 15:08
Photo: www.deia.com

Iturria continues strong form in Sopelana

Mikel Iturria added to his collection of top ten placings this year with eighth in today's Lehendakari-race in Sopelana.

The first-year Naturgas Energía rider grabbed eighth a week ago in Antzuola, and repeated that performance today. There was no beating Seguros Bilbao's Marcos Jurado though, the newly-crowned sub-23 national time trial champion went solo 30 clicks out and reached the line 21 seconds ahead of his team-mate Sergio Rodríguez. Mutua Levante's Cristian Cañada grabbed the last podium spot ahead of Bidelan's Beñat Txoperena.

  • 1, Marcos Jurado (Seguros Bilbao), 2:51:50
  • 2, Sergio Rodríguez (Seguros Bilbao), 0:21
  • 3, Cristian Cañada (Mutua Levante), s.t.
  • 4, Beñat Txoperena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 5, Miguel González (Diputación de Ávila-Smileekers), 0:42
  • 8, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), 0:44
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Urtasun makes the break on stage 13

Pablo Urtasun proved there's more than just one Euskaltel rider left in the race by animating today's 13th stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Cap d'Agde.

Urtasun went clear immediately after the start, getting Dumoulin, Ladagnous, Mörköv, Curvers, Engoulvent and Bouet for company pretty quickly. It was never likely to work out though, as the sprinters still left in the race had all singled out this day as an opportunity that couldn't be missed. They were duly reeled in, but at least Urtasun grabbed some of the limelight for the team after several days with Egoi Martínez in the thick of the action.

Stage 13 results:
  • (1, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), 4:47:59)
  • 27, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 66, Rubén Pérez, 8:36
  • 113, Pablo Urtasun, 12:31
  • 156, Jorge Azanza, 14:04
  • 157, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Friday, July 13, 2012

Martínez third in Tour stage 12 + Poland

Egoi Martínez was left to bemoan a lack of cooperation in his breakaway group as he missed out on a stage win in today's 12th stage from Saint Jean de Maurienne and Annonay Davézieux.

After Rubén Pérez and Gorka Izagirre had both tried their best to infiltrate the break of the day, it was once again Egoi Martínez who succeeded in getting into the right move on the transitional stage. Sky had no interest in reeling in the group consisting of Martínez, Peraud, Millar, Kiserlovski and Gautier, and the quintet were left to play it out for the win. Martínez, perhaps a wee bit too impatient, was the first to give it a go, but had no response when Peraud and Millar moved away from the rest with approximately two clicks to go. Despite the duo ahead spending most of the time looking at each other and the guys behind them, the trio behind could never figure out how to cooperate and let a golden opportunity go begging. Martínez was seen taking most of the pulls, but an either exhausted or unwilling Gautier never really contributed, so Martínez winning yet another sprint from a small group was only good enough for third.

Post-stage, the 34-year-old said the toll of merely making the break tool its toll in the finale.

"I didn't make the break to begin with, I had to fight hard to get into the right group, and I was therefore never comfortable when it settled down", he told Cadena Cope. "The end of the stage wasn't for me with the constant change of pace, the curves, the roundabouts... I've got a diesel engine."

Speaking of the winner, Martínez was as always magnanimous in defeat.

"David Millar was the strongest. He worked hard in the break throughout, and he looked good right from the start. I've never been the first to attack earlier, so I gave it a go to see if they would let me go. The trio of us never really cooperated when Millar and Peraud were up the road. I was hoping to do well, as I have been going well in sprints from small groups of late".

Having finished almost eight minutes ahead of the pack, he rose to 18th overall.

Stage 12 results:
  • (1, David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), 5:42:46)
  • 3, Egoi Martínez, 0:05
  • 72, Jorge Azanza, 9:08
  • 121, Rubén Pérez, 11:59
  • 140, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 149, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.

Over in Poland, Euskaltel continued to fly under the radar. At least everyone but Pierre Cazaux (183rd at 3:25) and Adrián Sáez (190th at 4:06) finished up inside the pack, and Izagirre is now placed 15th on GC with three stages to go.

Stage four results:
  • (1, Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEdge), 2:43:04)
  • 58, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 73, Alan Pérez, s.t.
  • 91, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 105, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 130, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 154, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
  • 183, Pierre Cazaux, 3:25
  • 190, Adrián Sáez, 4:06
Photo: www.fundacioneuskadi.com

Galdeano talks Olympics 1992

Samuel Sánchez has been Euskaltel's representative in recent Olympic Games, starring, of course, in Beijing 2008 and, health permitting, lining up again in London in a few weeks. Former rider and now Euskaltel directeur sportif Álvaro González de Galdeano has also competed in the biggest sport event in the world. He wasn't an Euskaltel rider yet, but at 22 years of age he lined up in Barcelona 1992 as part of Spain's team time trial team. Twice a bronze medallist at the time trial nationals, he was a strong rodador in his pomp. Along with Miguel Fernández, Eleuterio Mancebo and David Plaza, the youngest of the Galdeano's raced to fifth behind Germany, Italy, France and Russia. Watch the video below to watch Álvaro's take on the race:


Photo: www.orbea.com

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tour and Poland round-up

Euskaltel were pretty anonymous on today's spectacular stage 11 to the top of the Toussuire. Rubén Pérez and Gorka Izagirre both tried their hand early on, but none were able to get into the right moves. Egoi Martínez put in another strong ride just a day after being in the main break, coming home 26th to climb to 22nd on GC. A highly respectable performance from the veteran, who's leading the team by example so far in this Tour.

Stage 11 results:
  • (1, Pierre Rolland (Europcar), 4:43:54)
  • 26, Egoi Martínez, 12:04
  • 67, Jorge Azanza, 25:43
  • 68, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 86, Pablo Urtasun, 29:32
  • 122, Rubén Pérez, 33:20
Over in Poland, Euskaltel had another low-key performance as the team once again failed to infiltrate the main break. Antón and Izagirre stayed with the pack to stay in contention for a decent overall placing, but other than that there's not much to write home about.

Stage three results:
  • (1, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick.Step), 5:01:51)
  • 38, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 39, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 65, Romain Sicard, 0:42
  • 89, Miguel Minguez, 3:14
  • 106, Juan José Oroz, 6:11
  • 163, Pierre Cazaux, 10:46
  • 165, Alan Pérez, s.t.
  • 188, Adrián Sáez, 12:25

Izagirre brothers head to Ordizia

Both Ion and Gorka Izagirre will be at the start line of the 2012 edition of the Clásica de Ordizia in late July, BiciCiclismo reports today.

Gorka, currently in France racing the Tour, is of course a previous winner of the Spanish 1.1-ranked event, and will be back at the race for the first time since his win two years ago. Ion, at the moment racing in Poland, was sixth last year, and together they should stand a good chance of bagging a top result.

Peio Bilbao, Ricardo García, Mikel Landa, Alan Pérez, Juanjo Oroz, Miguel Minguez, Gorka Verdugo and Iván Velasco will complete the line-up on July the 25h.

Full start list here.

Photo: www.deia.com

Martínez makes his mark in France

Egoi Martínez put on the kind of brave display the team needed after its recent travails on today's stage ten. While the win eluded the ever-aggressive 34-year-old, he finished up a respectable seventh.

The first real day in the mountains was a 194,5km trek from Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, a day seemingly made for the breakaway artists of the peloton. As such it was no surprise to see Martínez, a usual suspect, escape with a couple of dozen other riders relatively early on.

A natural selection was made on the demanding Col du Grand Colombier, and the Euskaltel rider was not able to keep up the pace enforced by Luisle Sánchez, Voeckler, Devenyns and Scarponi. Stuck behind in the second group was Martínez, Voigt, Casar and Fofonov, but, despite never letting the lead quartet get too far away, this group was never able to catch up with the frontrunners. Except for Voigt though, who used his superhuman will and tremendous power to bridge up just in time to contest the stage. Voeckler timed his move to perfection, while Martínez had to settle for seventh in the end.

As a consequence of coming in some 30 seconds ahead of the first part of the peloton, Martínez advanced to 24th on GC.

"I'm happy with my ride", he said to the team's website post-race. "It was a high-quality break; you only need to look at their names and their palmares. To be ahead up until the very last moment is very difficult, and I wasn't far off, so I'm pleased with my level of form. I felt good, and you can't ask for more when you give it your all. Our goal is to be in the breaks and fight for stages now, and we'll do our best", he said.

And will he get into more breaks?

"Efforts like today take their toll, so tomorrow I'll try to take it easy in the hope of recovering well. But I hope to have one more chance later on in the race".

Gorka Izagirre made me look like a fool today with a performance that ruled him out of the running for a top 20 overall. The 24-year-old somehow managed to come in dead last more than half an hour back, but there's no indication he struggled with sickness or mechanical trouble. Perhaps he was just saving up some energy for a breakaway attempt tomorrow, who knows? Anyway, tomorrow's stage to La Toussuire - where Ibán Mayo triumphed in 2006 - promises to be an enticing one. Expect to see a rider or two in orange up the road.

Stage ten results:
  • (1, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), 4:46:26)
  • 7, Egoi Martínez, 2:44
  • 117, Jorge Azanza, 27:27
  • 118, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 159, Pablo Urtasun, 31:55
  • 175, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Izagirre stays strong in Poland

Ion Izagirre gave further proof of his relatively strong form in Poland today with a solid ride on day two.

The marathon-like 240km ride from Walbrzych to Opole was always destined for a bunch sprint, and that's how it turned out as Swift edged out Liquigas' Viviani and Omega Pharma's Boonen to claim the win. A 99-man strong peloton came home on the same time as the speedy Brit, among them Ion Izagirre and Romain Sicard. Izagirre thus rose to 15th on GC, and might well challenge for a top ten overall in light of the hilly stages to come later on in the race. He's now ten seconds off overall leader and yesterday's victor Moreno Moser of Liquigas.

Igor Antón had a somewhat disappointing day in the saddle, crossing the line a minute and nine seconds in arrears.

Stage two results:
  • (1, Ben Swift (Sky), 5:49:57)
  • 44, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 93, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 124, Alan Pérez, 1:09
  • 128, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 129, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 142, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 177, Adrián Sáez, 4:23
  • 189, Miguel Minguez, 7:22
Photo: www.cyclingnews.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Samuel Sánchez video interview

Crocked Euskaltel captain Samuel Sánchez is hoping to get back on the rollers in the near future. "As soon as the pain in my back disappears", he'll try to keep his legs turning with a view to making the London Olympics, he told Gijon-based newspaper El Comercio. Watch the video below to see Samuel, sporting a pique with the Norwegian flag on it, talk the reporter through his recovery and hopes for the remainder of the season:


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