Friday, August 31, 2012

Naturgas ready for Euskaldun test

Naturgas will send pretty much their whole team to Monday's Euskaldun-race in Lekeitio, looking for glory that has so far eluded the riders in red and white this year.

The team boast two wins this year, courtesy of Alain González and Imanol Estévez, but both were taken in the Basque Cycling Federation's other race series, the sub23 Torneo Lehendakari. The youngsters at Naturgas are yet to taste triumph in the Torneo Euskaldun though, a series largely dominated by Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC's powerful trio of Arkaitz Durán, Borja Ábasolo and Mike Terpstra (all above 23).

Azysa will be back to defend the win they obtained in Lekeitio last year, through Argentine Gastón Agüro, but Naturgas will send an able 11-man team in the hope of derailing Azysa's plans.

According to, the following riders will be present: Jon Larrinaga, Loïc Chetout (pictured above), Karl Baudron, Alain González, Mikel Iturria, Imanol Estévez, Oier Sánchez, Pablo Comins, Alain Santamaría, Francisco Javier Martín and Víctor Exteberria.

"We'll try to be in the fight", said DS Iñigo Urretxua. "The riders are in good shape after the Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen, and we have to take advantage of that".

The XI Memorial Oier Elorriaga - Gran Premio San Antolin in Lekeitio, Vizcaya, is the third from last race in the Torneo Euskaldun. Only the races in Alsasua (15/9) and Zaldibia (23/9) will remain to decide the overall winner after this weekend.

The race, normally decided in a small-sized bunch sprint, will cover its usual 118 kilometres.

Overall Euskaldun standings pre-Lekeitio:
  1. Borja Ábasolo (Azysa), 151 points
  2. Markel Antón (Bidelan), 132 points
  3. Arkaitz Durán (Azysa), 119 points
  4. Mike Terpstra (Azysa), 119 points
  5. Imanol Iza (Bidelan), 110 points
Photo: Pascal Baudron

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Euskaltel's best not enough on hellish climb

Euskaltel put it all on the line in Thursday's 12th Vuelta a España stage to the top of the equally enthralling and vicious Mirador de Ézaro, but once again came away empty handed.

The 190,5km stage starting in Vilagarcía de Arousa and ending atop a short, 1,9km steep climb (including pitches of almost 30 percent), turned out to be as perfectly tailored to Joaquím Rodríguez as experts would have it to be prior to the stage, the diminutive red jersey seemingly easily dispatching of Contador in the last 200 metres en route to a commanding solo win.

Mikel Astarloza infiltrated the break of the day and was impressively the last man standing as he attacked his breakaway companions on the early slopes of the climb and held off the pack 'till approximately 1000 metres left to ride. He looked in great shape on a climb one would think was too steep for his liking and eventually clung on to a more than decent 31st on the stage.

"We knew we needed around a minute and a half at the base of the climb to stand a chance of making it, but they were going fast behind us. It was a shame. Yesterday I did a good crono and today we were also ahead, but it seems we need a bit more time to win. But I'm feeling good and we'll continue to fight", Astarloza, riding his first Vuelta since 2008, told the team's website post-stage.

Igor Antón wisely realized it would be practically impossible to best Rodríguez in a sprint at the top, and tried his luck from afar. The 29-year-old attacked some 1200 metres out and quickly got a small gap, but it never looked likely to succeed as he was always kept on a tight leash by the Katusha riders. He was duly reeled in some 400 metres later, but he still had enough in the tank to grab seventh on the line and thus maintain his 11th place overall. Gorka Verdugo once again looked to be his best shape in a while, snatching 10th on the stage and moving up to 19th on GC.

"I'm satisfied with the outcome of the stage, with the climb", Antón told the media atop Galicia's Mur de Huy. "I attacked early to try and surprise the others, but it wasn't to be. But I'm happy as I was feeling good. I haven't gotten the best of results each day, but I know I'm in good form, evidenced by my attacking today and not losing a lot of time by the top. There's still a lot of racing left and the important thing for me is to know that I'm on form", he said.

Stage 12 results (full results here):
  • (1, Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha), 4:24:32)
  • 7, Igor Antón, 0:27
  • 10, Gorka Verdugo, 0:36
  • 23, Amets Txurruka, 0:57
  • 27, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 31, Mikel Astarloza, 1:13
  • 54, Juan José Oroz, 1:58
  • 95, Mikel Landa, 3:08
  • 96, Romain Sicard, 3:19
  • 104, Rubén Pérez, s.t.

Santi Ramírez tops quality field in Lakuntza

Santiago Ramírez of Lizarte took his second win of the year on Wednesday when he came out tops in the Premio Lakuntza Fundaciones Sakana.

The race, taken out by a certain Adrián Sáez back in 2009, is part of the Torneo Euskaldun series, and was held over 129 kilometres in Lakuntza, Navarra. 21-year-old Ramírez, already a winner of the prestigious Subida a Gorla earlier this year (pictured above) and second only to Arkaitz Durán in the Subida a Altzo hill time trial, broke clear with ten others some 20 clicks from the line (according to the Basque Cycling Federation) and soloed in a full minute before Bidelan's speedy Unai Iparragirre in second place. Cespa-Euskadi's track specialist Unai Elorriaga came in third.

The cyclo-cross season is getting ever closer, showcased today by the presence of the likes of Orbea mountain biker Iñaki Lejarreta (fifth) and the all-conquering cyclo-cross star Egoitz Murgoitio of Hirumet-Taldea (tenth).

Three races remain in the Euskaldun series (Lekeitio 3/9, Alsasua 15/9 and Zaldibia 23/9). Azysa's Borja Abásolo continues to head up the overall standings.

Naturgas Energía did not line up.

  1. Santiago Ramírez (Lizarte), 3:06:28
  2. Unai Iparragirre (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 0:59
  3. Unai Elorriaga (Cespa-Euskadi), s.t.
  4. Sergio Rodríguez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t
  5. Iñaki Lejarreta (Orbea), s.t.
  6. Robert Lee Hassan (Ibaigane Opel), s.t.
  7. Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), 1:25
  8. Johan Van Zyl (Caja Rural), 1:37
  9. Niek van Geffen (Caja Rural), 1:50
  10. Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet Taldea), s.t.
Photo: el Diario Vasco

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Antón time trials out of top 10

The Vuelta a España's stage 11 individual time trial turned out to be just as detrimental to Igor Antón's general classification ambitions as was feared: The Euskaltel captain finished 49th, 3:38 down on winner Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), and thus dropped to 11th overall.

While Contador, Froome, Rodríguez and Valverde impressed and all finished inside the top seven, Antón was off the pace right from the off and had ceded a big 1:17 by the first time check after only 13,5 clicks. Way down in 77th prior to the cat.3 climb, he naturally advanced a few places by the second time check (52nd) at the top, and pretty much maintained this position all the way to the line.

By stage's end he had ceded time to every single rider inside the top ten prior to the stage, and duly dropped from eighth to 11th. Now a full 5:28 down on red jersey Rodríguez and 3:02 back on Gesink in fifth, getting close to the top five will now be a major challenge.

Speaking post-stage, Antón admitted it hadn't been his best day before going on to repeat what he's been saying pretty much since day one: he's optimistic and looking forward to the rest of the race.

"It was a time trial that sort of mirrored this whole race for me; feeling good some days, and then feeling not so good other days. In Andorra and Barcelona I felt better, but today wasn't as good. But I remain calm; I know I did a good job prior to this race and sooner or later it will pay off. The Vuelta is still long and I'm still optimistic. I'm confident in my abilities and the job I did to reach the Vuelta in good form", he told the team's website.

Mikel Astarloza had an okay day in the saddle on his way to 25th, while Gorka Verdugo and Romain Sicard weren't far off in 32nd and 39th respectively.

Results stage 11:
  • (1, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), 52:36:00)
  • 25, Mikel Astarloza, 2:37
  • 32, Gorka Verdugo, 2:51
  • 39, Romain Sicard, 3:05
  • 49, Igor Antón, 3:38
  • 61, Amets Txurruka, 4:03
  • 95, Rubén Pérez, 5:18
  • 108, Juan José Oroz, 5:51
  • 112, Mikel Landa, 6:05
  • 118, Iván Velasco, 6:14
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha), 40:26:15)
  • 11, Igor Antón, 5:28
  • 21, Gorka Verdugo, 7:24
  • 28, Amets Txurruka, 11:11
  • 32, Mikel Astarloza, 13:29
  • 38, Iván Velasco, 18:17
  • 40, Juan José Oroz, 19:55
  • 41, Romain Sicard, 20:39
  • 86, Rubén Pérez, 49:15
  • 92, Mikel Landa, 51:13
Check out tomorrow's stage here.


10 non-Basques set for Euskaltel

Approximately one third of Euskaltel's 2013 line-up is likely to be made up of riders from outside the Basque Country.

So says Igor González de Galdano, the man charged with leading the 'new Euskaltel' as of next season. It's previously been said the team will count on 28 riders from 2013 and onwards, five more than this year, but that number doesn't appear to be set in stone. The oldest of the Galdeano brothers says the team will hire between 26 and 29 riders, of which a majority will be Basques - but only just.

"Samuel Sánchez, Igor Anton, Gorka and Ion Izagirre, Mikel Nieve, Romain Sicard, Mikel Landa and Egoi Martínez will be part of the team, but we'll have to wait before completing the roster. I want to have as many Basques as possible on the team, 18 or 19, and the rest will come on board from elsewhere", he told

Despite earlier reports, no riders (including Jure Kocjan) have thus far been signed. Saying only 18 or 19 of next year's team will be Basques though, means quite a few will have to be let go at the end of the season, but no names has of yet been mentioned. Galdeano is looking to hire riders that will guarantee Euskaltel a top 15 place in the UCI's rankings - a proposition he admits is a tough one.

"We don't want to rely on invitations to the big races, nor do we want to convince the Licence Commission every year (that we're worthy of a place in the WorldTour). My goal is to get that top 15 place, but it's not easy".

As well as looking to hire riders, the team is also on the look-out for new staff. Gorka Gerrikagoitia, Álvaro González de Galdeano and Iñaki Isasi will stay on as sport directors, but Galdeano disclosed they're looking for an additional non-Basque one.

Report: Martínez prolongs; Aberasturi an 'option'

Euskaltel veteran Egoi Martínez has agreed to extend his stay with the team, according to reports.

A piece by respected cycling journalist Benito Urraburu of carries the news. It's said the 34-year-old former Discovery Channel rider reached an agreement with the team "a few days ago", and thus joins Samuel Sánchez, Mikel Nieve, Igor Antón, Ion and Gorka Izagirre and Mikel Landa in pledging their futures to the orange team.

Former Tour de l'Avenir winner Martínez has been with Euskaltel ever since signing turning professional as a 24-year-old ten years ago, only interspersed by a two-year spell at Lance Armstrong's side at Discovery Channel in 2006 and 2007. 

Interestingly, but perhaps not too surprising, is a statement from incoming General Manager Igor González de Galdeano that 23-year-old Orbea sprinter Jon Aberasturi might join Euskaltel in 2013. Euskaltel have been desperately off the pace in bunch sprint finishes this year after flogging Koldo Fernández off to Garmin last winter, and Galdeano might dip into the Fundación Euskadi's own talent pool to find a solution.

"We need a sprinter", he said to the same newspaper. "Jon Aberasturi is one of the options".

As was reported yesterday, Fundación Euskadi product Aberasturi has accumulated 30 UCI Europe Tour points this year and would as such be a useful signing for a variety of reasons. The speedy Vitoria native has had a somewhat dismal season though, his best result being a second and a fourth place on stages of the Volta ao Alentejo back in March. Aberasturi grabbed his one and only professional win at the same race back in 2011, but has ever since struggled to come up with strong results.

Relive Aberasturi's day of glory in Portugal below (fast forward to 10:15):

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why signing Kocjan makes little sense

Now, first off, I'm not even going to pretend I know how the UCI's points system works (does anyone?). But obviously if you're going to sign riders with points on the UCI's Europe Tour ranking to help you gain a new WorldTour licence, you might as well sign riders with a lot of points. That much seems obvious. And that's why signing Jure Kocjan doesn't really add up.

As I've pointed out earlier, and which Joseba Iturria points out in a brilliant article in today's GARA, signing foreigners doesn't seem like the best option if you want to convince the governing body's Licence Commission to hand Euskaltel another year at cycling's top table at the expense of other (and often stronger results-wise) teams. Being 'unique' and representing something totally different to the other teams (representing a country and a people i.e.) is Euskaltel's strongest card.

Signing foreigners with fewer points than Basques on the Europe Tour therefore seems a tad odd. As of August the 25th., Slovenian Kocjan had 86 points to his name. That's less than Cofidis' Egoitz García (pictured above), who's got 100, and 26-year-old Víctor de la Parte of Vitoria and Greek team Tableware, who's amassed 102. Even erstwhile Euskaltel rider Iker Camaño, now 33, has accumulated 77 points. Why signing Kocjan instead of locals is therefore beyond me.

De la Parte rode on the amateur circuit up until this spring before rejoining the professional ranks with the mediocre SP Tableware outfit in early May, and would be easy to pick up for the Euskaltel bosses if they were interested. Still only 26, despite seeming to have been around for ages, he would be a decent acquisition. García, who was not contacted by Madariaga et al. when his contract at Caja Rural was up last year, penned a two-year deal with Cofidis and has gone on to enjoy a stellar campaign. While they would have to come up with a few euro to get him out of his current contract as it still has a year to run, coughing up a small sum in compensation would likely be worth it, as Iturria also said.

Iker Camaño has been linked with a return to Euskaltel, but as of yet there's been no more than rumours. Another former Euskaltel stalwart, Aitor Galdós over at Caja Rural, also has a decent chunk of points to his name (54), while 23-year-old Orbea fast-man Jon Aberasturi has 30 and would naturally come for free.

24-year-old Jon Pardo, who's riding for French outfit Entente Sud Gascogne, has 24 points, while Garikoitz Bravo, who crashed out of the Volta a Portugal last week, has seven. Neither would have said 'no' to an Euskaltel offer, obviously.

As Fran Reyes so cleverly has worked out, Euskaltel desperately need a sizeable injection of points if they wish to remain in the WorldTour. Staying exclusively Basque might be the only way if average Eastern Europeans is the only alternative.


Euskaltel to keep riding Orbeas

Euskaltel have renewed their partnership agreement with Basque bike manufacturer Orbea for another three years, according to a press release.

Euskaltel have been riding Orbeas ever since the team's inception back in 1994, and that will continue to be case until 2015 at least. The riders will also keep on donning the Mallabia-based company's helmets, as they've been doing since January 2011.

The press release is quite frankly too boring and too formal to be worth the time it takes to translate the whole thing, but if you want to read it in Spanish you can do so here.

What's more interesting though is the new TT steed the riders in orange will ride in the future. The new-look Ordu was launched today, and it certainly, as ever I have to say, looks the part. Check it out here.

"It was our best race this year"

Euskaltel's affiliate team, Orbea, closed out its Volta a Portugal campaign on Sunday with a 16th-overall placing for Omar Fraile and four stage placings among the top ten the highlights of a combative showing from the youngsters in blue. Naturally, given their age and relative inexperience, a ten-day race like the Volta is easily the longest race of the year for Aritz Arberas' boys, and the DS was happy with his charges post-race.

"Without a doubt the best race we've done this year", he told "Despite it being a very hard race with a high-quality field, the team showed itself very well and everyone got a chance on almost every stage. Moreover they acquired a lot of experience and the race served as an appetizer to a Grand Tour. It was a very rewarding race."

The team, stil winless this year, will close out its season at the Tour de Gevaudan late next month, a hilly two-day race in the Lozère department in southeast France. Current Euskaltel rider Adrián Sáez was the team's top man last year in 24th on GC, while Ricardo García, also him with the orange squad now of course, grabbed the team's top stage-placing on day one with 11th. Saur-Sojasun Frenchman Guillaume Levarlet took both stages and the overall crown.

Haritz Orbe, one of the riders not in action in Portugal, had gotten through day one and day two of the Tour de l'Avenir with flying colours. The 21-year-old came in 18th on Monday and 17th on Tuesday.

Antón OK as TT looms

Igor Antón got the perfect lead-up to Wednesday's decisive individual time trial with a calm, laid-back and focused ride on Tuesday's stage ten.

The tenth stage, a 190km ride from Ponteareas to Sanxenxo in Galicia, was the first one after Monday's día de descanso, and the racing resumed with a typical GT sprinter's stage. A duo got away early on, fully aware there was no way they were going to go the distance, while the peloton and the GC candidates took it relatively easy throughout. Former Euskaltel rider Javier Aramendía was yet again part of the main break in what must be, what, his fifth breakaway so far in this race? Impressive stuff from the 25-year-old, who's most definitely shown he was worthy of a place in Caja Rural's starting line-up.

German powerhouse John Degenkolb was once again untouchable in the sprint, while Euskaltel's Rubén Pérez came in 13th after a stop-start sprint. Antón was well looked after by his team-mates throughout, and came in mid-pack along with the other overall contenders.

Decisive time trial coming up

All the riders with GC ambitions were looking to save forces on Tuesday for Wednedsay's potentially decisive one and only ITT in this year's edition. Antón's time trialing has been dreadful all year - and his current form doesn't offer hope of a marked improvement tomorrow - so it's likely to do Antón's overall aspirations even more harm after a troubled first week. At least he can draw comfort from the fact that a cat.3 climb is included on the route, but he might well tumble out of the top ten by stage's end.

Alberto Contador and Christopher Froome, the two main favourites for the overall win of course, will likely be two of the main players given their pedigree against the clock. So how much will the Euskaltel leader lose tomorrow compared to the 'Big four' of this year's race? A look back at Antón's performances in relatively long flat GT time trials over the last few years should offer an indication though Contador and Valverde have been absent at times over the last few years for different reasons:
  • 2011 Vuelta: Salamanca, 47 clicks. Finished 104th, 6:18 down on victor Tony Martin. Ceded 5:17 to Froome, 2:55 to current red jersey Rodríguez. Contador and Valverde not present.
  • 2011 Giro: Milan, 26 clicks. Finished 97th, 3:25 down on winner David Millar. Ceded 2:49 to Contador, 1:11 to Rodríguez. Valverde and Froome not present.
  • 2009 Vuelta: Valencia, 30 clicks. Finished 79th, 2:52 down on winner Cancellara. Ceded 1:47 to Valverde, gained 26 second on Rodríguez. Contador and Froome not present. 
  • 2009 Vuelta: Tolede, 26 clicks. Finished 100th, 3:50 down on victor David Millar. Ceded 3:14 to Valverde, 1:48 to Rodríguez. Contador and Froome not present.  
The course, run on at times hilly and narrow roads sheltered from too much wind, should see to that Antón doesn't lose in excess of four minutes on Froome/Contador. Valverde can pull off a good crono when in shape, whilst Rodríguez has taken big strides in the discipline the last 12 months. Antón should be content if he avoids ceding more than two and a half minutes to each one of them. 
Stage ten results (full results here):
  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 4:47:24)
  • 13, Rubén Pérez, 0:01
  • 33, Gorka Verdugo, 0:04
  • 45, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 47, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 59, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 69, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 71, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 86, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 183, Mikel Landa, 3:49

Monday, August 27, 2012

Antón's secret love

Igor Antón has never been your average Spanish cyclist, and an interview with Norwegian TV2 yesterday only served to confirm that notion. The 29-year-old, currently eighth overall in the Vuelta a España, admitted to being a big black metal fan, and says he frequently listens to that type of music to get in the groove before the stages commence. Antón says he's got quite a few band t-shirts, and is even the owner of a spike wristband.

"It's powerful music that helps me perform", he said. "It gets my energy levels up, and I'm a big fan of (Norwegian band) Dimmu Borgir. I've seen them live several times, and they make the best of Norwegian music."

Like his fellow black metal fanatics, he says it's not solely a music genre - it's a way of life.

"It's not just music, it's a way of seeing life. It attracts me. But no, I don't know a lot of other people who are into that kind of music", he said with a wry smile. "But I do remember talking to Kurt Asle Arvesen about it, and he told me he liked it.  In general though, it's not easy to find people who are into black metal. It's more common up in Northern Europe", he said.

Watch the interview here.

Larrinaga falters in Piémont Pyrénéen finale

Jon Larrinaga dropped out of the top ten overall on the Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen's final stage on Sunday.

21-year-old Larrinaga was lying in a healthy seventh overall going into the final stage from Lembeye to Serres-Castet after taking second on Saturday's stage, but couldn't keep pace with the leaders. He crossed the line in 54th place, meaning he dropped to 12th on GC.

It was a discreet performance all around from the team today, as the usual suspects, Mickaël Larpe, Julien Alaphilippe, Yoann Barbas, Arkaitz Durán, Julien Loubet and the likes, took centre stage. Just like on Saturday, GSC Blagnac rider Loubet took stage honours, pipping Top 16 Cycliste's Frenchman Sylvain Blanquefort and Tecnics Abutriek CT's 21-year-old Belgian Edward Theuns by four seconds.

24-year-old Basque Jon Pardo, a former pro but now with Entente Sud Gascogne, came in fifth on the stage, while 11th on the day was good enough for Azysa's Arkaitz Durán to claim third overall behind victor Jerome Mainard and Mickaël Larpe.

Stage three results (full results here):
  • (1, Julien Loubet (GSC Blagnac), 3:14:21)
  • 54, Jon Larrinaga, 1:54
  • 73, Víctor Etxeberria, 3:38
  • 79, Alain González, 19:00
  • 80, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 81, Loïc Chetout, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Jerome Mainard (CR4C Roanne), 10:21:26)
  • 12, Jon Larrinaga, 4:28
  • 27, Víctor Etxeberria, 7:57
  • 76, Mikel Iturria, 48:51
  • 83, Alain González, 1:01:56
  • 84, Loïc Chetout, 1:05:18
Larrinaga was eighth in the climbers' competition, ninth in the points classification and eighth in the combined classification. As a team, Naturgas ended up 14th.

As for another Fundación Euskadi-related news, Orbea rider Haritz Orbe got his Tour de l'Avenir campaign underway with a 3,7km prologue. Orbe came in an okay 94th, 22 seconds down on winner Jay McCarthy. Results here.

Photo: Michel Masseing

Vuelta and Plouay round-up

Igor Antón and co. had a decent day in the saddle in Barcelona, while over in France, at the GP Plouay, the team was as aggressive as ever.

In the Vuelta a España's ninth stage, ending just outside of Barcelona's Olympic stadium, Joaquín Rodríguez took advantage of his strong side, his explosiveness, to add slightly to his overall lead. The Katusha rider escaped along with a Philippe Gilberto seemingly on the mend going up the familiar Montjuic climb some four clicks from the line, and held off the pack by 12 seconds. Gilbert edged 'Purito' for the win, but the diminutive Catalan, riding on home roads, will be more than pleased to have distanced his main rivals for the overall ahead of tomorrow's rest day.

Antón and Verdugo were always there or thereabouts in the finale, the duo coming in 10th and eighth respectively at 12 seconds, meaning the Euskaltel leader clung on to his eighth place overall. If they'd been a bit keener to ride instead of looking at others to do the work in the final 1000 metres, the orange duo might just have caught, or at least have gotten closer, to Gilbert and Rodríguez, but post-race Antón at least seemed content to have the first week of racing behind him.

"It's been a very intense week", he said. "Every day there's been some kind of trouble. If it wasn't the wind, it was finding my place in the pack, the explosive finishes... We had to be near the front each day and stay focused, so for me it's been a very difficult first part of the race. Some days I ceded time... It's been hard both physically and psychologically, but I think I have the ability to turn it around. I felt better in Andorra, but I was fighting hard, staying focused. But I've reached the first rest day and I'm content, as I notice I'm growing into this race. I came here to do a good GC, and I advanced a few places in Andorra. Let's hope I step by step get in better shape and continue to climb the overall standings".

The team will do a 90-minute ride on tomorrow's rest day, the team's website reports.

Results stage nine (full results here):
  • (1, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), 4:45:28)
  • 8, Gorka Verdugo, 0:12
  • 10, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 33, Iván Velasco, s.t.
  • 53, Mikel Astarloza, 0:28
  • 54, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 56, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 59, Rubén Pérez, 0:41
  • 102, Romain Sicard, 2:20
  • 161, Mikel Landa, 6:59
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), 34:44:55)
  • 8, Igor Antón, 3:07
  • 22, Gorka Verdugo, 5:50
  • 30, Amets Txurruka, 8:25
  • 34, Mikel Astarloza, 12:09
  • 37, Iván Velasco, 13:20
  • 39, Juan José Oroz, 15:21
  • 43, Romain Sicard, 18:51
  • 87, Mikel Landa, 42:40
  • 91, Rubén Pérez, 45:18
As for the GP Ouest France - Plouay, a race Euskaltel never have come close to tasting success at, the team had one of its better showings. Pierre Cazaux formed part of the break of the day and as such did his job to perfection, while Egoi Martínez, seemingly on a never-ending good run of form, figured in a dangerous late-race move alongside Voeckler, Coppel and Galland. It came to naught of course, but still a great effort from the veteran.

Edvald Boasson Hagen broke clear towards the end and soloed in at a canter, beating Portuguese all-rounder Rui Costa and Heinrich Haussler, who led home the pack. Gorka Izagirre, Mikel Nieve and Peio Bilbao all featured in that first group.

  • (1, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), 5:55:28)
  • 35, Gorka Izagirre, 0:05
  • 45, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 55, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 85, Ricardo García, 0:58
  • 95, Egoi Martínez, 1:20
  • 129, Ion Izagirre, 8:27
  • 130, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • DNF: Pablo Urtasun
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Orbea conclude positive Volta a Portugal

Orbea closed out a solid Volta a Portugal with a low-key ride on Sunday's tenth and final stage.

The closing stage from Sintra to Lisboa was taken out by the ever-impressive Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg, the MTN Qhubeka finishing the race like he started it, by triumphing. He bested United Healthcare's speedy once-promising Boy van Poppel and Carmim-Prio's veteran Samuel Caldeira.

Jon Aberasturi tried his hand in the sprint, but, as has been the case pretty much all year, couldn't quite get up to speed and had to settle for 12th. Mikel Bizkarra was active early on and grabbed a few points on the only categorized climb of the day, but never got away and rolled in mid-pack along with the majority of his team-mates.

Omar Fraile had no trouble hanging on to his creditable 16th overall, a noteworthy result against more senior rivals over ten days. David Blanco of home team Efapel grabbed his fifth (!) overall win.

Stage 10 results:
  • (1, Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka), 3:56:45)
  • 12, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 42, Omar Fraile, s.t.
  • 69, Carlos Barbero, 0:43
  • 70, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 74, Mikel Bizkarra, 0:50
  • 96, Xabier Zabalo, 4:25
  • 116, Illart Zuazubiskar, 9:30
  • 117, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 120, Aritz Etxebarria, 12:03
Final general classification:
  • (1, David Blanco (Efapel-Glassdrive), 41:30:06)
  • 16, Omar Fraile, 6:16
  • 32, Mikel Bizkarra, 16:20
  • 54, Aritz Bagües, 37:41
  • 65, Xabier Zabalo, 54:06
  • 86, Jon Aberasturi, 1:19:27
  • 94, Carlos Barbero, 1:25:21
  • 116, Igor Merino, 1:52:49
  • 117, Illart Zuazubiskar, 1:56:11
  • 119, Aritz Etxebarria, 2:08:12

Bidelan reign in Zegama

Bidelan-Kirolgi lay down the law in Zegama today as Markel Antón won and the outfit placed four riders in the top five.

The race of the Torneo Euskaldun series, a series open to both sub23 and elite riders, was a rather uninspiring one, if the Basque Federation's report is to be believed, as meaningful breaks were far and few between over the 117,4km course. The Alto de Liernia, tackled three times, didn't turn out to be as pivotal as one would have expected, as the race kept coming back together on the descents.

In the end, 23-year-old Antón of Zalla, Vizcaya, got a small gap on the pack along with team-mate Alejandro Cobo and José Manuel Gutiérrez of Gomur Cantabria, and the trio divided the podium spots between them. Former Seguros Bilbao prodigy Antón claimed his maiden win of the season, pipping the Gomur rider to the line (who was second at this race in 2011 as well). 24-year-old Unai Iparragirre, who excels both on the track and in the sprint finishes, brought home the pack four seconds later ahead of exciting 19-year-old team-mate Jon Ander Insausti. Insausti, who's equally adept at racing slightly knobbier tires in the mud, is coming off a stellar year, and edged out fellow cyclo-cross specialist Jonathan Lastra for fifth.

Up on Wednesday is another Euskaldun-race in Lakuntza, taken out last year by Caja Rural's Polish 22-year-old Karol Domagalski.

Naturgas Energía and Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC, who hold the top three spots in the series overall through Borja Abásolo, Mike Terpstra and Arkaitz Durán, did not field squads at the race that is officially known as the LXXXI San Bartolomé Saria de Zegama.

  • 1, Markel Antón (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 3:01:26
  • 2, José Manuel Gutiérrez (Gomur Cantabria), s.t.
  • 3, Alejandro Cobo (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 4, Unai Iparragirre (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 0:04
  • 5, Jon Ander Insausti (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 6, Jonathan Lastra (Hirumet Taldea), s.t.
  • 7, Mario Gutiérrez (CAI), s.t.
  • 8, Unai Elorriaga (Cespa), s.t.
  • 9, Julen Mitxelena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 10, Iván González (Lizarte), s.t.


The real winners of the Tour

While the Armstrong case is for global and not Basque-only websites to discuss, the fact that he was racing (and winning) at the same time as some of the Basque Country's best ever cyclists, Laiseka, Mayo, Zubeldia, Beloki et al., makes taking a look at what the overall standings at the Tour from 1999 to 2005 would look like without Lance's now tarnished name at the top of them an enticing proposition.

If Lance does indeed get stripped of all his victories from 1998 and onwards, it would make Ibán Mayo, a totally random example of course, a two-time Dauphiné Libéré winner and a two-time Tour de France stage-victor. Not that that would make much sense as Ibán's been proved to be just as full of performance enhancing drugs as the Texan, but that's what's likely to happen. What's more interesting though, is to take the top ten overall from each Tour de France Lance won and rid them of riders that have either been convicted of doping, have been involved in doping-related investigations and/or are widely known to have been cheating (either through admittance post-career or otherwise). That means the likes of Beloki (Puerto), Moreau (Festina) and Zülle (Festina), to name but a few, are removed from the results along with the likes of Lance, Basso, Ullrich, Mayo, Vino and all those. It's purely hypothetical, and doesn't really mean much I know, but here's what the final overall standings would look like for the Basques. And, by the way, Haimar Zubeldia won the 2003 Tour.

1999Abraham Olano of Anoeta, Gipuzkoa, would have been number two overall instead of number six. If the ONCE rider can be classified as 'clean' is debatable though, as he was known to be a client of the infamous Ferrari and rode for ONCE. Still though, one can't for sure say that all Ferrari's clients have been doped, so I wouldn't take him off the overall. In first place would be Fernando Escartín of Kelme, the team accused of systematic doping a few years later. So there you go. Makes sense, doesn't it?

2000: Escartín wins again even though he ended up eighth. Bilbao native Javier Otxoa, now a paracyclist, would have been third.

2001: Vino's best mate, Andrei Kivilev, would have triumphed ahead of Francois Simon and Michel Boogerd. Iñigo Chaurreau of San Sebastián would have been fourth, Roberto Laiseka tenth.

2002: No (clean) Basques close.

2003: Haimar Zubeldia wins. Easily. Roberto Laiseka would have been fourth.

2004: Iker Camaño (!) would have been ninth.

2005: Haimar Zubeldia would have grabbed his second podium with second place behind Cadel Evans, while Xabier Zandio would have been sixth.

I don't think it will make much difference to Haimar, a former team-mate of Lance of course, but still. Along with Carlos Sastre, he's the only rider in the top ten of 2003 with an as of yet untarnished reputation.

Larrinaga shows potential in Piémont Pyrénéen

Jon Larrinaga once again showed he's ready for the blue jersey of Orbea next year with second place on today's second stage of French three-day race Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen.

Larrinaga, who's been up there consistently all season and until recently held the overall lead in the Trofeo Lehendakari sub-23 race series, was only beaten by 27-year-old former Ag2r pro and u23 French road race champion Julien Loubet on the stage from Rebenacq to Lac de Fabrèges. 23-year-old Yoann Barbas of French team Armée de Terre closed out the podium, while new overall leader Kévin Pigaglio, second yesterday, came home in fifth. Arkaitz Durán, who may or may not be set for Movistar next season, ceded vital time today by coming in 21st, but he's still ranked a healthy fifth overall, two places ahead of his compatriot Larrinaga.

As for the other riders in red and white, none made it into the break of the day and finished the stage some way down the rankings. Local rider Karl Baudron, who's had a solid season up until now, posted a DNF.

Stage two results:
  • (1, Julien Loubet (GSC Blagnac), 3:25:08)
  • 2, Jon Larrinaga, 1:13
  • 32, Víctor Etxeberria, 2:58
  • 41, Mikel Iturria, 4:53
  • 64, Alain González, 17:58
  • 77, Loïc Chetout, 23:04
Tomorrow's concluding stage will take the peloton on a 140km ride from Lembeye to Serres-Castet

Photo: Michel Masseing

l'Avenir and Plouay bib numbers

Orbea will be represented by Haritz Orbe at this year's Tour de l'Avenir, or the Tour del Porvenir as they call it in Spain, starting tomorrow. The 21-year-old first-year pro will be wearing dossard number 185, while fellow Basque Ibai Salas will pin the 186 on his back. Spain's team will be led by former Euskaltel rider Ramón González Arrieta. Here's their line-up:

  • 181 - Carlos Verona
  • 182 - Jesús Ezquerra
  • 183 - Rubén Fernández
  • 184 - Victor Martín
  • 185 - Haritz Orbe
  • 186 - Ibai Salas
For full start list, click this link.

For stage profiles and general info, click here.  

As for Euskaltel, they'll send a contingent to one-day WorldTour event GP Plouay. The team will send pretty much the same team that competed at the Tour de Poitou-Charentes earlier this week, with the only changes being the inclusion of the Izagirre siblings in Víctor Cabedo and Alan Pérez's places. Peio Bilbao has been named as the injured Samuel Sánchez's substitute, . Bib numbers:
  • 101 - Ion Izagirre
  • 102 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 103 - Pierre Cazaux
  • 104 - Pablo Urtasun
  • 105 - Mikel Nieve
  • 106 - Egoi Martínez
  • 107 - ? Ricardo García
  • 108 - ? Peio Bilbao
For full start list, go here.

For info, this is the place.


Fraile shows TT pedigree in Portugal

It wasn't spectacular, but Omar Fraile's 14th place finish in the Volta a Portugal's ninth and penultimate stage, a 32,4km ITT, gives hope of better times ahead for future Euskaltel riders in the race against the clock.

The crono has of course always been Euskaltel's achilles heel, but the next batch of youngsters likely to "graduate" to the WorldTour outfit have consistently shown they're no pushovers in the discipline. The likes of the aforementioned Fraile, who is still, contractually at least, set to join the orange team next season, former Seguros Bilbao rider Illart Zuazubiskar and Fundación Euskadi product Igor Merino have always been at ease in the time trials, and once again showed their credentials with solid results against older and more seasoned riders in a quality field on Saturday afternoon.

Fraile clocked the 14th best time, climbing to 16th overall, Zuazubiskar was 32nd and Merino 48th. Top honours was again taken by that guy Alejandro Marque (the guy who, seemingly out of nowhere, pipped Pablo Urtasun to a stage win at the Vuelta a Asturias this spring), ahead of South African hotshot Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg and Onda's José Goncalvez. Overnight leader David Blanco placed fourth and added to his overall lead.

The race concludes tomorrow with a 149,5km ride from Sintra to the capital of Lisboa.

Stage nine results (full results here):
  • (1, Alejandro Marque (Carmim Prio), 38:15)
  • 14, Omar Fraile, 1:06
  • 32, Illart Zuazubiskar, 1:56
  • 48, Igor Merino, 2:26
  • 62, Mikel Bizkarra, 2:54
  • 76, Aritz Bagües, 3:23
  • 87, Xabier Zabalo, 3:51
  • 88, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 107, Carlos Barbero, 4:51
  • 108, Jon Aberasturi, 4:53

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Antón improves in Andorra

It wasn't quite enough to pull off a repeat performance of his stage-winning exploits in Andorra two years back, but Euskaltel leader Igor Antón looked to be on the mend on the eighth stage of the Vuelta a España with seventh place at the top of the Collada de la Gallinda.

It's been everything but a satisfactory start to the race for the 29-year-old, but the diminutive climber shows he's not that far off decent form by staying close to the best, if never really with them, on the cat.1 climb in order to move up to eighth overall. The stage played out like pretty much everyone had anticipated with a four-way battle for the triumph between Contador, Froome, Rodríguez and Valverde, with the latter, somewhat surprisingly, digging deep to pip the Saxo Bank rider to the line and deny him his first victory since being suspended for doping.

Antón, along with erstwhile team-mate Beñat Intxausti, stayed within sight of the leading quartet all the way and only ceded some 30 seconds to Valverde. While it was an encouraging performance after his much-criticized start to the final GT of the year, he still seems to be lacking quite a bit to stay with the forerunners, but, as it stands now, at least fifth place overall should be within reach.

His team-mates, though, were nowhere to be seen on the last ascent. Iván Velasco was the first to cross the line after Antón, a full two minutes back in 26th, so it's safe to say they were of no particular use to their captain when he would have needed them to help close to the gap to Contador et al. Landa, still troubled by the injuries sustained in a crash the other day, was again off-colour and came in almost four minutes in arrears.

Post-race comments from Igor Antón:

"I'm happy. I had a bad day at Valdezcaray, but I was better today and I was up there. Right now there are five riders who are stronger than me, but there's still a lot of racing to be done and I'm feeling better. The arrivals in Andorra are always taxing. The roads leading up to the final climbs are always going upwards as well, we're climbing for a long time and you accumulate fatigue. Everyone wants to be well placed, well wrapped up by team-mates... The team did a great job in positioning me and in the finale, on the ramps of la Collada, I ended up satisfied".

Results stage eight (full results here):
  • (1, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 4:06:39)
  • 7, Igor Antón, 0:33
  • 26, Iván Velasco, 1:58
  • 30, Gorka Verdugo, 2:24
  • 31, Amets Txurruka, 2:31
  • 42, Juan José Oroz, 3:27
  • 44, Mikel Astarloza, 3:48
  • 45, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 59, Romain Sicard, 6:30
  • 110, Rubén Pérez, 14:49
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), 29:59:35)
  • 8, Igor Antón, 2:47
  • 22, Gorka Verdugo, 5:31
  • 29, Amets Txurruka, 7:49
  • 34, Mikel Astarloza, 11:33
  • 38, Iván Velasco, 13:01
  • 40, Juan José Oroz, 14:45
  • 43, Romain Sicard, 16:23
  • 63, Mikel Landa, 35:33
  • 98, Rubén Pérez, 44:29

Euskaltel stand behind Antón

There'll be no change in tactics for Euskaltel despite Igor Antón's underwhelming Vuelta a España campaign thus far. Heading into Saturday's summit finish at Collado de la Gallina in Andorra the 29-year-old is ranked 14th overall at two minutes six seconds, but directeur sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia refuses to give up on the erratic climber.

"We came here to get a good overall placing in order to secure ranking points", 'Gerri' told DEIA. "We didn't come here to win the race. So far things haven't turned out as we'd hoped, but we won't change our approach. We won't tell him to take his it easy (and aim for stages). We're thinking about what's coming up. The climb of la Gallina, for example, is a good place for Igor to show that he's in good shape, something we don't doubt. There we'll see his true level of form, but he shouldn't have any problems staying with the best and start climbing the overall".

Antón, touted pre-race as a real podium contender, has ceded time at every mountain top finish thus far, but the veteran DS and former pro believes the nature of the race is more to blame than the rider himself for failing to live up to expectations.

"He's fine, but the tension in the pack leading up to the climbs, especially before the climb of Valdezcaray but not at Arrate, is what's really hurting his chances. When the peloton is going full speed he's spending more energy than necessary, and he's paying for that when his moment to shine comes".

Make what you want of Gerrikagoitia's excuses, but he's onto something about today's climb. The Collado de la Gallina will be the first test proper to see who's got the legs on longer and steadier climbs in this race, the climb in Andorra being somewhere in excess of seven kilometres long and averaging approximately eight percent. There'll be no place to hide for the top favourites, and the gaps should be considerable.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Naturgas at two fronts

Naturgas competed both at home in Spain as well as in France today, but top results were not obtained in either country.

In France, the Naturgas Energía six-man contingent got the Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen underway with the 151,3km opening stage starting in Gan and ending in Billère. A 12-man group got up the road and stayed away, CR4C Roanne's 22-year-old Thomas Girard eventually emerging victorious after besting compatriot Kévin Pigaglio, three years his senior, of Charvieu-Chavagneux IC in a two-up sprint. Mickael Larpe (the drug cheat, remember him?) of A.PO.GE-Super U Maritime closed out the podium six seconds down, edging big favourite Arkaitz Durán.

As for Naturgas, Jon Larrinaga (pictured above) was the team's top man in 23rd, 3:17 down on the winner. Chetout and Baudron, riding on home roads, didn't get the best of starts, finishing far down the rankings.

Stage one results (full results here):
  • (1, Thomas Girard (CR4C), 3:40:01)
  • 23, Jon Larrinaga, 3:17
  • 42, Víctor Etxeberria, s.t.
  • 88, Loïc Chetout, 26:10
  • 93, Alain González, 26:54
  • 94, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 111, Karl Baudron, 28:18
Up tomorrow is a 119km ride from Rébénacq to Lac de Fabrèges in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the Aquitane region.

On the domestic scene, the top placings escaped the team in the XLII San Bartolomé Saria Nagusia in the historic town of Gernika, a race part of the Trofeo Lehendakari series. Caja Rural once again had it all their own way by taking all three podium spots: Darío Hernández, ninth yesterday in Elgoibar, claiming the win ahead of Antonio Molina, fourth yesterday, and Miguel Ángel Bonito, third yesterday.  20-year-old Beñat Txoperena, formerly of Caja Rural but now with Bidelan, went one better than Thursday by taking fourth at approximately a minute, while Scottland's Robert Lee Hassan of Ibaigane-Opel closed out the top five. 

  • 1, Dario Hernández (Caja Rural), 2:40:43
  • 2, Antonio Molina (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 3, Miguel Ángel Bonito (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 4, Beñat Txoperena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 1:17
  • 5, Robert Lee Hassan (Ibaigane Opel), 2:27
  • 6, Julio Alberto Amores (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 7, Ion Iriarte (Bideal-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 8, Niek van Geffen (Caja Rural), 2:30
  • 9, Unai Cortes (Ibaigane-Opel), s.t.
  • 10, Imanol Estévez, 2:58
  • 41, Pablo Comins, 9:31
  • 44, Oier Sánchez, 9:56
Team classifications:
  • 1, Caja Rural
  • 2, Bidelan-Kirolgi
  • 3, Ibaigane-Opel
  • 4, Seguros Bilbao
  • 5, Gopar-Ikolan Lanaldi
  • 6, Naturgas Energía
  • 7, Debabarrena
Mountains classification:
  • 1, Miguel Angel Bonito (Caja Rural)
Metas Volantes classification:
  • 1, Johann Abraham Van Zyl (Caja Rural)
Photo: Pascal Baudron

Samu update: long recovery awaits

An MRI done Friday morning revealed no fractures but a longer than anticipated recovery process for Euskaltel captain and crash victim Samuel Sánchez.

The MRI confirmed the sprained acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder, but also revealed a contusion of the spine of his right scapula (shoulder blade) and in the deltoid and pectoral muscles. The doctors advised conservative treatment for two or three weeks for a full recovery, a team press release says.

As a consequence of the long recovery phase, the Worlds in Limburg, Netherlands in the middle of September is now at risk.

"I'm a bit tired", Sánchez said. "I started the year so well, but bad luck's been haunting me since June. The main thing now is to recover and and look towards the future with optimism. Worlds participation will depend on how my injuries evolve, I really can't say yes or no right now. Time will tell".

Friday racing round-up

Low-key performances in Spain, France and Portugal for Euskaltel and Orbea today. Here's a quick sum-up.

In the Vuelta a España, Igor Antón stayed out of trouble on the race's seventh stage and even advanced a few places on GC as some GC aspirants ceded time on the motor track circuit in Alcañiz. He's now 14th overall, but is still 2:06 adrift of red jersey Joaquín Rodríguez. Mikel Landa struggled after his crash yesterday and ended up more than seven minutes down. Sicard, Velasco and Txurruka once again showed they're not the most versatile of riders by getting off-hooked in the final clicks.

Up tomorrow is the second major summit finish of the race, ending atop the untested Collada de la Gallina in Andorra. Speaking to Cyclingnews some time ago, Antón had this to say about stage eight:
"It's the first of the tough summit finishes, at a point where fatigue will be starting to have an effect. We'll see who's come for the GC and riders will lose ground due to the attritional nature of the stage rather than as a result of attacks".

Antón will need to put in a few attacks of his own if he's to revive his now distant hopes of a final overall podium placing. He's ceded time at every mountainous stage so far in this race.

Former Euskaltel man Markel Irizar was taken down in a mid-pack crash some 12 kilometres out, but the RadioShack rider got up, remounted and finished the stage 10:11 down alongside fellow crash victim Linus Gerdemann.

Stage seven results (full results here):
  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 3:48:30)
  • 25, Rubén Pérez, 0:02
  • 42, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 47, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 54, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 55, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 83, Amets Txurruka, 0:51
  • 87, Romain Sicard, 0:57
  • 149, Iván Velasco, 3:38
  • 182, Mikel Landa, 7:18

Euskaltel won't have been too sad to see the Tour de Poitou-Charentes come to a close today. The French race's concluding stage was another no-show for the riders in orange as none managed to get into the first half of the peloton as it split shortly after the start on the 188km stage from Melle to Poitiers. Pablo Urtasun and Alan Pérez called it quits, while the remaining five riders crossed the line with a big group more than eight minutes in arrears. Egoi Martínez in a lowly 67th was the team's top overall finisher.

Stage 5 results (full results here):
  • (1, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), 4:05:19)
  • 75, Egoi Martínez, 8:52
  • 81, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 87, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 97, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 108, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • DNF: Pablo Urtasun, Alan Pérez.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), 16:37:13)
  • 67, Egoi Martínez, 10:35
  • 72, Mikel Nieve, 10:54
  • 85, Pierre Cazaux, 11:28
  • 115, Víctor Cabedo, 14:43
  • 119, Ricardo García, 23:12

Over at the Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta, Orbea put on a decent show as they placed two riders inside the top 15 on the race's etapa reina to the Alto da Torre. David Blanco of Portuguese team Efapel-Glassdrive, a four time winner of the race overall and twice victor at this very climb, easily soloed home ahead of team-mate Rui Sousa and 24-year-old Colombia-Coldeportes rider John Darwin Atapuma Hurtado. Blanco, last year at team Geox-TMC and of course the one who came up with a rather ridiculous defence of the disgraced Ezequiel Mosquera a year or so ago, also claimed the overall lead from LA Aluminios Antarte's Hugo Sabido. He'll look to defend that jersey in tomorrow's 32,6km ITT from Pedrogao to Leiria. 

Anyway, enough about Blanco, Mikel Bizkarra climbed to an impressive 11th just a minute or so adrift, while Omar Fraile wasn't far behind in 15th. Their bad start to the race mean they're still some way off on GC, but Fraile is now a respectable 17th with two stages to go.

Stage 8 results (full results here):
  • (1, David Blanco (Efapel-Glassdrive), 4:37:43)
  • 11, Mikel Bizkarra, 1:11
  • 15, Omar Fraile, 2:10
  • 53, Xabier Zabalo, 11:48
  • 72, Aritz Bagües, 24:36
  • 81, Igor Merino, 28:38
  • 100, Illart Zuazubiskar, 36:49
  • 101, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 103, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 109, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, David Blanco (Efapel-Glassdrive), 36:54:34)
  • 17, Omar Fraile, 5:42
  • 33, Mikel Bizkarra, 13:08
  • 54, Aritz Bagües, 34:07
  • 65, Xabier Zabalo, 46:22
  • 89, Jon Aberasturi, 1:15:06
  • 94, Carlos Barbero, 1:20:19
  • 117, Igor Merino, 1:41:25
  • 120, Illart Zuazubiskar, 1:45:17
  • 121, Aritz Etxebarria, 1:52:50
Photo: Karlis Medrano

Kocjan denies Euskaltel move

Reported to have become Euskaltel's first non-Basque rider (or non-Basque related anyway) a few days back, Slovenian Jure Kocjan has himself dismissed signing with the orange WorldTour outfit.

"I've not yet signed a contract", he told (reproduced by "I'd already reached an agreement with another team when I received the offer from Euskaltel a few days ago. We're still negotiating".

It's rumoured his current team Team Type 1 are aiming at becoming a team exclusively for riders with diabetes, meaning Kocjan (and the vast majority of his team-mates) should be on his way out of the US team at the end of this year. Regardless of whether he does sign a deal with Euskaltel or not, he's still assured of a ride in 2013 though.

"If I don't join Euskaltel, I'll ride for a French team", he said.


Samu's season in jeopardy

The injuries Samuel Sánchez sustained in yesterday's third stage of the Tour de Poitou-Charentes might turn out to be more serious than first anticipated.

It was at first reported he only suffered a sprain to the acromioclavicular joint, but judging by the rider's own statements in today's El Correo, it might be worse than that.

"It hurts just like it did when I crashed in the Tour. Something must be broken", he said. "This is not good. It all happened so quickly. Popovych wasn't paying attention and caused the crash. I didn't try to stop the fall with my right hand (which he broke in the Tour) and hit the deck on my back."

Prior to this season, the Euskaltel captain had never broken a single bone in his professional career as a bike rider. Hitting the deck yesterday for the fourth time this year alone naturally marks the 2012 season as one to forget for the rider who recently prolonged his Euskaltel career.

"Of course this year is the worst in terms of injuries", he said. "I've crashed four times, and three times in France. In addition, I crashed with the same back number I did in the Tour, number 31."

Hopefully Samu won't get superstitious over the whole thing, but he now runs the risk of having to put an end to the current season. If a fracture is indeed diagnosed, his season is over. If there's no broken bones, he should be in line to make the Worlds and the late-year classics.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Antón flops; Landa crashes

Stage six was another day of agony for Euskaltel at the Vuelta a España as Igor Antón went from bad to worse and Mikel Landa crashed hard.

Igor Antón, flanked by team-mates, was visibly struggling prior to the start of the final cat.3-ascent that was bound to decide the outcome of the stage from Tarazona to Jaca, and on the climb he did struggle. Big time. He was never near the front and ceded 57 seconds to victor and red jersey Joaquín Rodríguez by stage's end, looking as spent as he did throughout last year's edition. The 29-year-old consequently dropped to 17th overall, and is now a pretty big 2:06 adrift of the diminutive Katusha rider.

It was a sorry sight to see the Euskaltel captain grinding his way up the vicious ramps to Jaca, and it only got worse as it was revealed post-race that Mikel Landa, who's failed so spectacularly to live up to expectations thus far, had hit the deck quite hard about halfway through. The 22-year-old has got a banged up shoulder, hip and leg, but kept at it and crossed the line a full 18:45 down.

As for Antón, he admitted it hadn't been his day.

"I had a very bad day", he said straight up. "I felt bad right from the off. I think the heat is affecting me a lot. The stage was also quite demanding, there were no breaks, the roads were narrow, the tension... I accumulated fatigue throughout and paid for it in the end. I didn't start the last climb in a good way, but I improved and finished better than I started. I'm not in the shape I would have liked, but I got through another day and both tomorrow, to Alcañiz, and on Saturday, to Andorra, I have to feel better. I'm optimistic, and I hope I'll feel better these next two days".

Antón was seen being escorted by Astarloza, Txurruka, Verdugo and the likes at the start of the ascent, but crossed the line alone ahead of his companions.

Stage six results (full results here):
  • (1, Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha), 4:35:22)
  • 27, Igor Antón, 0:57
  • 31, Gorka Verdugo, 1:09
  • 38, Iván Velasco, 1:42
  • 45, Amets Txurruka, 2:19
  • 47, Mikel Astarloza, 2:25
  • 58, Juan José Oroz, 4:03
  • 72, Romain Sicard, 5:45
  • 105, Rubén Pérez, 9:42
  • 140, Mikel Landa, 18:45
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha), 22:04:32)
  • 17, Igor Antón, 2:06
  • 24, Gorka Verdugo, 2:59
  • 29, Amets Txurruka, 4:21
  • 41, Iván Velasco, 7:19
  • 43, Mikel Astarloza, 7:37
  • 44, Romain Sicard, 8:50
  • 49, Juan José Oroz, 11:10
  • 92, Mikel Landa, 24:24
  • 103, Rubén Pérez, 29:32

Poitou-Charentes and Portugal round-up

Okay, so we'll start off with the most interesting of the two races. And considering how the Euskaltel riders are doing, or rather not doing, in France, watching the Orbea youngsters thrive in the Volta a Portugal is that much more interesting.

Stage seven of the Tour of Portugal was the first one after Wednesday's rest day, and the day off certainly seemed to do 21-year-old Orbea prodigy Carlos Barbero the world of good. The former Naturgas Energía rider got into the break of the day early on in the 185,3km ride from Gouveia to Sabugal, and nearly came away with what would have been his very first professional victory.

Comeback kid Kai Reus of United Healthcare, as well as a trio of other seasoned pros, crossed the line ahead of him, but the ever-aggressive rider from Burgos held on for a creditable fifth, five seconds down on the Dutchman. All of his team-mates, except for Igor Merino (107th at 4:26) and Illart Zuazubiskar (121st at 12:20), came in with the pack some four minutes down on the breakaway group.

23-year-old Basque Garikoitz Bravo of Caja Rural was involved in a grave-looking crash some 40 clicks from the line. He was immediately taken to a local hospital, and seems to be doing well under the circumstances. Click here for his own reaction to the fall

Stage seven results (full results here):
  • (1, Kai Reus (United Healthcare), 4:32:43)
  • 5, Carlos Barbero, 0:05
  • 32, Jon Aberasturi, 4:01
  • 45, Omar Fraile, s.t.
  • 76, Aritz Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 78, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 80, Mikel Bizkarra, s.t.
  • 95, Xabier Zabalo, s.t.
  • 107, Igor Merino, 4:26
  • 121, Illart Zuazubiskar, 12:20
General classification:
  • (1, Hugo Sabido (LA Aluminios Antarte), 32:16:10)
  • 25, Omar Fraile, 4:13
  • 42, Aritz Bagües, 10:12
  • 47, Mikel Bizkarra, 12:38
  • 76, Xabier Zabalo, 35:15
  • 82, Jon Aberasturi, 38:58
  • 88, Carlos Barbero, s.t.
  • 118, Illart Zuazubiskar, 1:09:09
  • 119, Igor Merino, 1:13:28
  • 121, Aritz Etxebarria, 1:16:42 

Over at the Tour de Poitou-Charentes, Samu's abandonment is naturally the biggest talking point of the day. The performances of his team-mates is better not being talked about, as the remaining guys in orange once again failed to light up the racing in neither the morning's short road stage nor in the afternoon's time trial in what is, it must be said, a pretty low-quality field.

The riders stayed sheltered in the pack on the 99km first stage taken out by Luke Durbridge, while Egoi Martínez's 40th place was the best it got from Euskaltel in the 22,1km ITT. The team's website reports Alan Pérez hit the deck, but the 22-year-old soldiered on despite considerable knee pain.

Results stage 3 (full results here):
  • (1, Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan), 2:14:37)
  • 64, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 78, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 92, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 133, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 143, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.
  • 144, Alan Pérez, s.t.
  • 150, Ricardo García, 11:24
Results stage 4:
  • (1, Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), 26:30)
  • 40, Egoi Martínez, 1:43
  • 46, Pablo Urtasun, 1:51
  • 52, Mikel Nieve, 2:02
  • 80, Pierre Cazaux, 2:36
  • 82, Alan Pérez, 2:38
  • 89, Víctor Cabedo, 2:52
  • 91, Ricardo García, 2:56
General classification:
  • (1, Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), 12:31:54)
  • 46, Egoi Martínez, 1:43
  • 53, Pablo Urtasun, 1:51
  • 59, Mikel Nieve, 2:02
  • 85, Pierre Cazaux, 2:36
  • 101, Alan Pérez, 2:58
  • 140, Víctor Cabedo, 5:51
  • 149, Ricardo García, 14:20

Report: Kocjan not signed

Jure Kocjan is not yet an Euskaltel rider, writes Deia.

The Basque daily claims that no deal has been signed by the 27-year-old Slovenian, but that there's been "contact" and that the fast-finishing Team Type 1 rider "figures in Galdeano's portfolio of riders that fit the profile". The attributes needed to "fit the profile" is claimed to be "rich on points, young and not a leader" - in keeping with Galdeano's stated aims of keeping the team leaders Basque.

The "news" of Kocjan penning a deal with Euskaltel was hardly well-received by supporters yesterday, and neither was the reported imminent arrival of countryman Robert Vrecer. As of yet, incredible as it may sound, there's been no word from the team on the matter.


Nieve re-ups with Euskaltel

Despite rumours to the contrary, Mikel Nieve has decided to extend his stay with Euskaltel 'till the end of 2015.

Trustworthy Basque journalist Alain Laiseka of Deia, who knows the team like the back of his own hand, is the one who carries the news. Reportedly Nieve has agreed to stay with Galdeano and co. for another three years, joining the likes of Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón and the Izagirres in tying their futures to the WorldTour outfit.

Nieve teamed up with the orange squad back in 2009 after a year with Orbea, and has since then established himself as one of the team's most high-profile and consistent performers.
If Laiseka's report turns out to be true, it's still to be confirmed by the team mind you, it makes El Periodico journo Sergi López-Egea look bad. López-Egea took to Twitter a few days back to announce the "breaking news" that Nieve had signed for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, which now transpires to be wide off the mark. The same man also brought the news back in May that Mikel Landa had signed a deal with Movistar - which he of course hasn't. Along with BiciCiclismo's erroneous reports of Durán signing with Movistar and Bennati going to Saxo Bank, it seems "silly season", to borrow a much-used expression from the world of football, is well and truly underway.

Estévez continues hot streak

Imanol Estévez grabbed yet another podium placing in a stellar season in today's Lehendakari-race in Elgoibar.

The youngster, who earlier this month won in Lemoiz and was third in Busturia, finished second to former Naturgas Energía rider 'Nano' Grijalba in the Memorial Etxaniz in Elgoibar, a small town in Gipuzkoa between San Sebastián and Bilbao.

"The team rode well", DS Iñigo Urretxua told "It's a shame we didn't win though. Imanol got away with a group, but they got caught in the last few metres. But the feeling I'm left with is positive", he said.

  • 1, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), 2:44:37
  • 2, Imanol Estévez, s.t.
  • 3, Miguel Angel Benito (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 4, Antonio Molina (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 5, Beñat Txoperena (Bidelan-Kirolgi), s.t.
  • 6, Aitor González (Debabarrena), s.t.
  • 7, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 8, Robert Lee Hassan (Ibaigane Opel), s.t.
  • 9, Dario Hernández (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 10, Eddy Valdespino (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 14, Jon Larrinaga, 0:35
  • 21, Loïc Chetout, s.t.
  • 37, Alain Santamaría, 3:15
  • 40, Alain González, 4:45
  • 46, Pablo Comins, 5:33
Team rankings: 
  • 1, Caja Rural
  • 2, Naturgas Energía
  • 3, Bidelan-Kirolgi
The 111km race precedes tomorrow's Lehendakari-race in Gernika. Estévez will line up there as well, alongside Alain Santamaría, Oier Sánchez, Pablo Comins and Francisco Javier Martín. According to Urretxua, the red squad will aim for the win, so be sure to check back tomorrow to see if Estévez et al. deliver.

Racing in France

While some riders will be doing the domestic races, another contingent will head over the border to France to take on the three-day Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen. The race, taken out by no less a quality rider than Euskaltel stalwart Pierre Cazaux in the inaugural edition of 2006, starts out tomorrow and carries on through Sunday.

Check out the stages here.

Naturgas will be the sole sub-23 team on the line, and will have their work cut out if they want to beat the likes of Quentin Pacher (Entente Sud Gascogne), Armée de Terre's Julien Alaphilippe and Azysa's always competitive line-up to name but a few.

Naturgas will send French duo Karl Baudron (who used to ride for organizing club Lescar Vélo Sprint) and Loïc Chetout, as well as Alain González, Jon Larrinaga, Mikel Iturria and Víctor Etxeberria.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Sánchez crashes and quits Charentes

Samuel Sánchez crashed in the beginning of today's third stage of the Tour de Poitou-Charentes and was forced to abandon, reports the team's website.

The 34-year-old was taken down early on and took a hit to his right collarbone. The first check-ups at a local hospital showed no fracture, but it seems the acromioclavicular joint, the ligaments that join the acromion to the collarbone, is sprained. It's thought to be a second-degree sprain, which should mean some of his ligaments are torn. I'm no doctor, but I'm quite sure that's what a second-degree sprain mean.

A more thorough check-up will be done once the Euskaltel captain returns home, and he'll be forced to take a week's rest.

At the moment it's unclear when Samu, who had been targetting the Worlds and the late-season Classics after an injury-enforced DNF in the Tour de France, will return to the road.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No show as sprinters take centre stage

It was a quiet day for Euskaltel both in Spain and in France today as the sprinters duked it out in both the Vuelta a España and the Tour de Poitou-Charentes.

In Spain, the guys in orange did what they had to do, i.e. staying out of trouble, as the speedsters weren't about to let the 168km stage five from and to Logroño, Rioja, pass them by. Argos' Teutonic speed machine John Degenkolb put on another great display of power and guile to edge out Leopard's comparatively less imposing Daniele Bennati for his second triumph in the race. Rubén Pérez was seen near the front of the pack in the closing stretches, but couldn't quite find neither his finishing-kick nor his place in the pack and eventually had to settle for 20th.

The 31-year-old all-rounder has never really found his top form this year, starting off the year on the wrong foot and never really getting up to speed. There should be plenty of opportunities for breaks in this year's race though, so he'll probably try to sneak into one of those if his team bosses let him.

As for Antón, Sicard, Txurruka and co. expertly took care of him and kept him near the sharp end of the peloton when it mattered. Tomorrow's fifth stage to Jaca, where Haimar Zubeldia spends quite a lot of his time, may give us another indication of the team leader's form as it ends with a short, but steep, incline to the line.

Here's all you need to know about the race's sixth stage in Aragón from Tarazona to Jaca in the midst of the Pyrenees. 

And here's a selection of Iñaki Azanza's photos from day five. 

Full results can be found here.

Stage five results:
  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 4:10:37)
  • 20, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 67, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 69, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 71, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 78, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
  • 80, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 93, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 122, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 130, Iván Velasco, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquin Rodríguez (Katusha), 17:29:22)
  • 16, Igor Antón, 0:57
  • 24, Gorka Verdugo, 1:38
  • 25, Amets Txurruka, 1:50
  • 36, Romain Sicard, 2:53
  • 45, Mikel Astarloza, 5:00
  • 47, Iván Velasco, 5:25
  • 48, Mikel Landa, 5:27
  • 55, Juan José Oroz, 6:55
  • 115, Rubén Pérez, 19:38
In France at the Tour de Poitou-Charentes, it was stage one all over again: Orica-GreenEdge's Aidis Kruopis won the stage from a bunch sprint, Euskaltel stayed in the pack, and everyone finished up inside the peloton. None mixed it up in the sprint; Nieve was the first to cross the line in 95th place. Samuel Sánchez came in 117th and now occupies 110th overall.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Report: Euskaltel sign Kocjan

According to various reports, Euskaltel have signed Slovenian Team Type 1 rider Jure Kocjan.

The 27-year-old will thus become the team's first rider with no Basque links, if are to be believed. Neither Euskaltel nor Team Type 1 have confirmed the deal.

Kocjan, who's been a pro since 2005 and has 12 wins to his name (among them a pair of stages in this year's Tour de Limousin), had allegedly received several offers from Italian teams, but opted for Euskaltel. BiciCiclismo reports the speedy all-rounder finished 16th in last year's UCI Europe Tour, and will therefore bring some much-needed points to the team's bid for a WorldTour-licence for next season.

The French website concludes its report by stating that another rider from the "same geographic area" is likely to join Euskaltel in the near future. 31-year-old compatriot Robert Vrecer has previously been linked with the team.

More on this story as it develops.

Check out Kocjan's history and results here.


Report: Landa was close to Movistar

According to Sergi López-Egea, the same journalist who broke the "news" yesterday that Mikel Nieve might leave for Movistar, Mikel Landa was awfully close to joining the same team before opting to renew his contract with Euskaltel.

The 22-year-old climber allegedly started negotiating with Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué back in January, and a deal was practically in place to take the Fundación Euskadi product to Spain's biggest team.

This happened without the Euskaltel bosses knowing a thing, according to the El Périodico scribe.

All that was lacking was Landa's signature, but by May the rider supposedly got impatient and wanted the deal done and dusted with. Unzué wasn't in a hurry though, and Landa thus went on to prolong his stay with Euskaltel not long after.

If this is the whole truth, and why Landa suddenly got a change of heart, I don't know and he doesn't say. What is true though is that Landa will stay an Euskaltel rider at least 'till the end of the 2014 season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Antón's hopes dwindle at Valdezcaray

Igor Antón's GC ambitions at the Vuelta a España took a major hit today as he was distanced on the slopes of the Valdezcaray.

The cat.1 climb at the end of the 160,6km fourth stage wasn't supposed to be a decisive climb given its relative gentle ramps, and it wasn't to everyone but the Euskaltel leader as a 23-man strong select group reached the line together a minute or so behind surprise winner Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEdge. Antón went out the back once the climbing started though and came in 30 seconds down. Hadn't it been for the excellent pace-setting of loyal domestiques Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo, as well as the stalemate up ahead among the favourites, it might have been a lot more though.

The 29-year-old looked shattered upon crossing the line, a pale shadow of the Antón of 2010 he hoped to replicate in this year's edition.

"I didn't feel good", he admitted post-race at "The first part of the stage went well, but I think the tension in the latter part, coupled with the heat, affected me. Still, I didn't lose a lot of time, and I think I managed to save the day on a stage that turned out difficult for me. Txurruka and Verdugo did a great job on the climb, just like the rest of the team during the whole stage. There's still many stages of the Vuelta left and I didn't lose a lot, so I'll continue to stay optimistic", he said.

While him staying positive is a good thing, there aren't many positives to draw from his and the team's situation. As I touched upon yesterday, he's not looking even close to top form and he seems some way off the likes of Contador, Froome, Purito et al. His explanation, that the heat and the tension affected him, is as unconvincing as his form. It's still early days, granted, but it already looks like Antón can wave goodbye to the overall podium for another year. So much for leaving Nieve at home, huh?

Mikel Landa continued his inexplicably bad form by losing more than four minutes. On a positive note, Iván Velasco showed his form is on the up by making a brief appearance off the front on the early ramps of the Valdezcaray. He didn't get anywhere as Contador soon jumped after him, but at least he's less likely to fracture his collarbone if he's ahead of the field.

As for the GC, Antón is now 16th - already a minute down on Katusha's Purito Rodríguez.

Stage four results:
  • (1, Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), 4:30:26)
  • 32, Amets Txurruka, 1:34
  • 33, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 34, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 47, Romain Sicard, 2:08
  • 50, Iván Velasco, 3:15
  • 59, Mikel Astarloza, 4:15
  • 61, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 63, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 126, Rubén Pérez, 12:14
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquin Rodríguez (Katusha), 13:18:45)
  • 16, Igor Antón, 0:57
  • 24, Gorka Verdugo, 1:38
  • 25, Amets Txurruka, 1:50
  • 36, Romain Sicard, 2:53
  • 45, Mikel Astarloza, 5:00
  • 47, Iván Velasco, 5:25
  • 48, Mikel Landa, 5:27
  • 56, Juan José Oroz, 6:55
  • 117, Rubén Pérez, 19:38
Photo: Iñaki Azanza


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