Sunday, September 30, 2012

Durán grabs Cantabria as Naturgas' season ends

Naturgas Energía sent seven of their strongest men to this weekend's two-day Vuelta a Cantabria season finale, but there was no denying Arkaitz Durán and his Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC team in taking the spoils.

Durán's veteran team-mate Kepa Vallejo took out the opening 133,8km stage to Meruelo, crossing the line just ahead of the former professional as the pair came in five seconds ahead of nearest chaser Quentin Pacher, the budding French rider, of Entente Sud Gascogne. GSport - Valencia Terra i Mar's 35-year-old Josep Betalu, still going strong apparently, took out Sunday's finale, but seeing as Durán came in ninth on the same time, he easily claimed the overall race win.

Karl Baudron's 11th on the last stage was the team's top finish of the weekend, while man-of-the-moment Imanol Estévez (who's featured in today's Deia) came in 17th on day one. On GC, the aforementioned Frenchman ended up a solid 25th overall.

Results stage 1 (full results here):
  • 1, Kepa Vallejo (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC), 3:21:37
  • 2, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC), s.t.
  • 3, Quentin Pacher (Entente Sud Gascogne), 0:05
  • 17, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 0:43
  • 26, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 34, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), 1:16
  • 37, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 64, Pablo Comins (Naturgas Energía), 13:19
  • DNF: Francisco Javier Martín and Alain González
Results stage 2 (full results here):
  • 1, Josep Betalu (GSport), 3:21:19
  • 2, Jesús Herrero (Gomur-Cantabria), s.t.
  • 3, Mario Gutiérrez (CAI), s.t.
  • 11, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 32, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), 0:12
  • 50, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 17:18
  • 51, Pablo Comins (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • DNF: Imanol Estévez
Final general classification:
  • 1, Arkaitz Durán (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC), 6:42:56
  • 2, Josep Betalu (GSport), 0:05
  • 3, Quentin Pacher (Entente Sud Gascogne), s.t.
  • 25, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), 1:16
  • 27, Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía), 1:28
  • 38, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 18:01
  • 59, Pablo Comins (Naturgas Energía), 30:37
Photo: Pascal Baudron

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Samu second in Lombardia

Samuel Sánchez displayed immense grit and burgeoning form to grab a vital second place for Euskaltel in today's 'Race of the Falling Leaves', the Il Lombardia.

Samu outsprinted Sky's Rigoberto Urán for the second spot on the podium after Joaquín Rodríguez only seconds earlier soloed in to what was Spain's very first win in the race. While Samu's result in itself is brilliant, and even more so for his UCI points-strapped team, he's likely to be in two minds over whether to be pleased as it was his third runners-up spot in the Italian classic and his fourth podium placing. As he patted 'Purito' on the back and congratulated him afterwards, he admittedly appeared more content than frustrated.

"It's very important to be on the podium of a race of Il Lombardia's prestige. I'm very happy", he stated afterwards. "It's been a very vibrant and demanding race, so I expect the fans to have enjoyed it. 'Purito' beat me, but I can only congratulate him as he was simply the best. I would also like to thank my team-mates for the great work they did".

Rather more interestingly than his traditional post-race speech, Samu, according to various sources, went on to claim that he hoped the UCI points the team obtained through today's race might enable Amets Txurruka and Iván Velasco to stay on into next year. The statement's potentially controversial nature makes sure there are no such words on the team's website, but the fact they have indeed been uttered should give Igor González de Galdeano and co. food for thought. Is Galdeano strong enough to say no to his most important rider? Only time will tell.

Back to the race, Samu's team-mates did really perform well. Txurruka, recently linked to Caja Rural, showed there's still a fire burning within him as he made a daring attack with some 85 clicks left to ride that as per tradition, I'm afraid to say, came to naught. Gorka Verdugo once again displayed his late-season shape by attacking together with Alexandr Kolobnev in the finale, while Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón both stayed with the lead group deep into the decisive stages to help out their team captain.

  • (1, Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha), 6:36:27)
  • 2, Samuel Sánchez, 0:09
  • 27, Gorka Verdugo, 1:30
  • 32, Mikel Nieve, 2:38
  • 36, Igor Antón, 4:07
  • 54, Peio Bilbao, 20:03

Photo: Fundación Euskadi Ciclista

Fraile to delay Euskaltel move

While either the teams, Euskaltel or Orbea, nor the rider himself have confirmed it, it appears to be set in stone that Omar Fraile will spend another season in the Continental ranks before teaming up with the orange squad in 2014.

22-year-old Fraile signed a contract with the Fundación Euskadi last year; a contract tying him to Orbea in 2012 and to Euskaltel the ensuing couple of years. The foundation's decision to part ways with Euskaltel has cast Fraile's future in doubt though, but it now appears that the parties have reached some sort of agreement.

Basque daily Deia claim that both Fraile and incoming General Manager at Euskaltel, Igor González de Galdeano, think another year in cycling's virtual third division will do his progress good. The rider, equally adept on the climbs and in the race against the clock, initially found top results hard to come by this year, but finished the season strongly with 11th in the national time trial champs and 16th overall in the Volta ao Portugal.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Il Lombardia bib-numbers

The 2012 season's final Monument, the Il Lombardia, is staged tomorrow, and here are the numbers to look out for:
  • 91 - Samuel Sánchez
  • 92 - Igor Antón
  • 93 - Mikel Nieve
  • 94 - Mikel Landa
  • 95 - Miguel Minguez
  • 96 - Peio Bilbao
  • 97 - Gorka Verdugo
  • 98 - Amets Txurruka

PS! While team captain Samuel Sánchez will certainly be one to keep an eye on, two of the team's domestiques could likely outshine their more favoured team-mates. The likes of Antón, Nieve and Landa have not been at their best recently, while the opposite could be said about Miguel Minguez and Gorka Verdugo. The former placed top 20 in both the GP Québec and the Giro del Piemonte recently, while Verdugo of course grabbed third in Piemonte on Thursday and was a strong 11th in the Vuelta. Look for them to animate the race.

Photo: DEIA

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maiden win escapes Verdugo in Piemonte

Gorka Verdugo is edging ever closer to that elusive first professional triumph, but was left to curse his luck in the Gido del Piemonte on Thursday as the most unfortunate of incidents consigned him to third place.

The Euskaltel veteran, continuing his strong end to the season that just netted him 11th overall in the Vuelta a España, broke clear with Sky's Rigoberto Urán the last time going up the Favaro climb a few kilometres from the line. The pair held a sufficient lead over a hard-chasing quartet coming under the 1km to go banner, but, just as it was about to be decided mano-a-mano, Verdugo inexplicably hit the ground with one of his pedals in the last curve. The ensuing impact almost brought the Euskaltel man to a halt and the victory was thus Urán's to cherish, but luckily for Verdugo only Katusha's ever-impressive Luca Paolini was able to come past him, meaning he salvaged his podium placing.

"The team was strong, so I'm pleased", DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia told the team's website afterwards. "Seeing as we have as demanding a race as Lombardia coming up on Saturday, today's "test result" is pleasing. (As for Verdugo), he showed he's in top form and is a very important rider for us at this late stage of the season. He was the strongest man today along with Urán. It's a shame that his pedal hit the ground at the last moment, but I'll take the strong performances he's come up with since the Vuelta and the fact that, today, he was on the podium in a very important Italian race".

As for Samuel Sánchez, who'll be eyeing to close off a roller-coaster of a season on a high in two days' time, he was conspicuously absent from the front groups. The 34-year-old came in with the third group, 1:32 in arrears, along with Amets Txurruka, over a minute down on the main chase group consisting of some 25 riders. In that group was Miguel Minguez, who came in a satisfactory 16th and continued to show he's one for the one-day classics, and Mikel Nieve, who crossed the line in 23rd.

Results Giro del Piemonte:
  • (1, Rigoberto Urán (Sky), 4:30:21)
  • 3, Gorka Verdugo, 0:06
  • 16, Miguel Mínguez, 0:27
  • 23, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 42, Amets Txurruka, 1:32
  • 45, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 63, Mikel Landa, 4:58
  • 68, Peio Bilbao, 6:27
  • 75, Igor Antón, 8:27

Picture: Sirotti

Spanish youth star joins Naturgas

Highly promising Óscar González del Campo, fresh off representing his country at the junior World Championships in Valkenburg, will join Naturgas Energía next year.

The 18-year-old, who hails from Daimiel in the Castilla-La Mancha region, will leave his current team, Fenavin, in order to represent the Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 outfit, writes Lanzadigital. González, who finished 27th in the time trial and 97th in the road race in the Netherlands, will alternate between staying in Daimiel and the team's headquarters in Derio the coming season, but is expected to move to the Basque Country permanently in time for the 2014 season.


Larrinaga joins Orbea; joined by Mikel Aristi

Naturgas Energía rider Jon Larrinaga has been rewarded for his strong season in the sub-23 ranks by being given a contract with Orbea for next year.

So reports BiciCiclismo, who were present as Miguel Madariaga revealed the future of the Fundación Euskadi early on Thursday. The foundation will continue to run the Continental-ranked Orbea team, as well as the highly-successful sub-23 team Naturgas Energía, while Euskaltel, as has been extensively reported in the past, will not be run under the Fundación Euskadi banner from 2013 and onwards.

Madariaga revealed that the Orbea team is as of today made up of eight riders. Six of those, namely Carlos Barbero, Haritz Orbe, Aritz Bagües, Igor Merino, Illart Zuazubiskar and Mikel Bizkarra, have contracts in place for the coming season, while the other two join from other teams. Larrinaga is, as has been widely expected, one of them, and will be joined by current Debabarrena rider Mikel Aristi.

19-year-old Aristi, hailing from Bergara, Gipuzkoa, has made quite a name for himself in his very first season in the amateur ranks, putting his name out there as one of the most promising riders in Spain. Aristi won't turn 20 until May next year, meaning he'll start riding professionally at the tender age of 19 - proof enough of what is expected of him in a few year's time.

Where this leaves the remaining current Orbea riders, those being Omar Fraile (who's future is still up in the air), Xabier Zabalo, Andoni Blázquez and Aritz Etxebarria, is unknown at the time being, but it's sure to be sorted within the next few weeks.

As for Naturgas, "pretty much everyone" from this year's roster will stay on next year, while four riders from other teams are set to join.

Concerning the worrying lack of major sponsors, Madariaga invited interested companies to get in touch, and also hoped the current sponsors would stay on beyond this year.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Final Lehendakari standings

Imanol Estévez closed out a promising first season in the sub-23 ranks last weekend by claiming the overall Torneo Lehendakari-series win on the last day in Oñati. Finalizing the standings have taken the Basque Cycling Federation considerable time, but finally they've come through with the top ten riders. Naturgas Energía stand out as the team with the most representatives in the top ten with four, while the team finished runner-up to the mighty Caja Rural in the team rankings.

Official final Torneo Lehendakari results:
  1. Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía) - 200
  2. Aitor González (Debabarrena) - 194
  3. Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía) - 184
  4. Rubén Fernández (Caja Rural) - 160
  5. Mikel Iturria (Naturgas Energía) - 147
  6. Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía) - 147
  7. Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural) - 144
  8. Beñat Txoperena (Bidelan-Kirolgi) - 143
  9. Cristobal Sánchez (Seguros Bilbao) - 140
  10. Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural) - 136
Team rankings:
  1. Caja Rural - 243
  2. Naturgas Energía - 233
  3. Seguros Bilbao - 213
The Basque Country's other race series, the Torneo Euskaldun, open to both elite as well as sub-23s, was taken out by Azysa - Telco'm - Conor WRC's Borja Abásolo ahead of Bidelan's Basque Markel Antón and current Azysa rider (but soon to be Movistar rider) Arkaitz Durán.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The non-Basques likely to sign

Six days to go for the WorldTour teams to submit their list of 12 riders with the most points to the UCI, six days to go 'till we know for sure who and how many non-Basques will be riding in orange next year. Here's a list of those who have been linked to the team, in order of likelihood of joining - as far as I can tell anyway. Use the 'comment'-section to let me know who you think should join and who you think should stay away.

*** Carlos Baredo, Robert Vrecer, Jure Kocjan, Ricardo Mestre
**   André Schulze, Luka Mezgec
*     Linus Gerdemann, Joaquín Rodríguez, Alberto Losada

Aberasturi to fill the gap

As if the lack of sprinters in the Basque Country wasn't big enough, Euskaltel flogged off Koldo Fernández, easily the team's best ever sprinter, off to Garmin and America ahead of the current season. Pablo Urtasun and Rubén Pérez were supposed to chip in with a few bunch-gallop triumphs in his place, but either they've lost their once-decent finishing kicks, or they've not been given the help they would have needed. Anyhow, to address the lack of speed currently at Gorka Gerrikagoitia's disposal, Igor González de Galdeano decided a few weeks back to elevate Jon Aberasturi from the Continental ranks at Orbea to the very elite of professional cycling at Euskaltel. The 23-year-old says it's a dream come true being able to don the iconic orange jersey - but is fully aware of what is expected of him.

"We haven't got many sprinters in the team, and Igor said he wanted me to channel all my energy into becoming one", he told Marca. "There's a lack of sprinters among the Basque cyclists. There have never been any particularly good ones save for Koldo. We do have fast guys like Urtasun and Pérez, but I'm aware of the fact that they're expecting a lot from me".

Since teaming up with the Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 team Naturgas Energía as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, the native of Vitoria-Gasteiz has steadily improved over the last three years in the blue jersey of Orbea. He admits riding professionally for Euskaltel was his dream ever since he started imposing himself on the local scene in his mid-teens, but doesn't hide away from the fact it's been a hard few years of work in reaching the top of the Fundación pyramid.

"It's been many years of hard work. After spending three years at Orbea, I knew that it was now or never. But they've always treated me well here at this set-up. My dream was always to ride for Euskaltel, but it's not an easy goal to achieve. Igor was the one who called me two weeks ago, and it took some time before it sunk it. But now, all I want to do is prove my worth and pay them back (the team) for the confidence they've had in me".


Velasco axed from final races

In what is likely to be regarded as a cynical move by the team management, Iván Velasco has been dropped from this weekend's Italian classics.

The outgoing Euskaltel rider, who, along with Amets Txurruka, was told to find a new team by Igor González de Galdeano amid much controversy last week, was slated to ride this week's Italian double-header: The Giro del Piemonte on Thursday, and the Il Lombardia on Saturday. That is now not going to happen, as he's been replaced by Mikel Landa for both races.

"I was told a few hours before travelling that I wasn't going to Piemonte or Lombardia (after all)... it's a difficult situation to assimilate, the end...", the 32-year-old climber tweeted Tuesday evening.

The decision to remove Velasco from the team was likely made with a view towards the UCI's rankings, as any points accumulated by the Arrasate, Gipuzkoa, native this season won't count towards the team's total for 2013. On the other side, it's not likely to make Velasco's search for a new employer any easier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stars to align in Piemonte

According to, Euskaltel will send quite a team to Thursday's Lombardia tune-up, the Giro del Piemonte.

If the usually reliable website is to be believed, this is not confirmed by the team as of yet mind you, the likes of Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve, Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo will all take the start. This quintet will be joined by an in-form Iván Velasco, for whom this will be his third last outing in the orange jersey, promising youngster Peio Bilbao, who'll look to salvage something from an otherwise largely forgettable season, and trusted domestique and all-rounder Miguel Minguez.

Luckily, though, there'll be no sensational Iñigo Landaluze return as the picture might suggest.

The 1.HC-race will get underway at 10:55 Thursday morning, and will cover 188 clicks between Fossano and Biella.

Check out the profile and start list here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Quartet signs on

As was expected, Gorka Verdugo, Rubén Pérez, Juan José Oroz and Miguel Minguez have prolonged their stays with the team.

So writes BiciCiclismo Monday afternoon. The four were reported to being close to extending their stays with the orange outfit ahead of the past weekend, and it now seems the four have put pen to paper on their respective deals. The length of their contracts was not revealed.

This latest development means the team now has 17 riders signed up for 2013:
  • Jon Aberasturi
  • Igor Antón
  • Peio Bilbao
  • Garikoitz Bravo
  • Ricardo García
  • Gorka Izagirre
  • Ion Izagirre
  • Mikel Landa
  • Egoi Martínez
  • Miguel Minguez
  • Mikel Nieve
  • Juan José Oroz
  • Rubén Pérez
  • Adrián Sáez
  • Samuel Sánchez
  • Romain Sicard
  • Gorka Verdugo
Jorge Azanza, Mikel Astarloza, Pierre Cazaux and Pablo Urtasun are set for showdown talks this weekend, with Igor González de Galdeano reportedly keen to get his complete roster set by the end of the week.

The four riders not staying on for sure is Amets Txurruka, Iván Velasco, Alan Pérez (retired) and Víctor Cabedo (deceased).

The number of foreign riders to join naturally depends on whether Astarloza, Azanza and co. can reach an agreement with the team directors, but if they do, they would leave seven spots on the roster open to non-Basques as the team is likely to consist of 28 riders next year.

Txurruka: "I'm not a martyr"

The news of Amets Txurruka being deemed surplus to requirements at Euskaltel has been met by anger and dismay by a considerable part of the Euskaltel following. Fans have voiced their disenchantment and even current riders have vented their frustration at the way things are being done at the team's headquarters in Derio. For the whole of last week, the man at the centre of the polémica kept to himself, declining to give any interviews. In today's Deia he decided to speak his mind - and the amiable 30-year-old put a brave face on.

"I cannot criticize them for not renewing my contract", he stated matter-of-factly. "Ultimately, it's Igor González de Galdeano's call to make. He's creating this new project, and it's his right to decide I'm not going to be a part of it. What I oppose to, though, is the way this has been handled. On one hand, they're saying the "new Euskaltel" will be a continuation of the current team, but on the other hand, today, in September and in the closing stages of the season, no one, or few, know what that means. They're not being transparent. Velasco and I are out. That's irrevocable and something I accept. But there's a lot of people who don't know anything about their futures. I'm talking about the human aspect of it all."

On the topic of why he'd kept quiet for so long, the native of Etxebarria said the timing just wasn't right last week.

"To start with, Igor's decision left me in a mess. I didn't expect it. I was speechless. Then when I started to process the whole thing, the hard blow of Víctor Cabedo's death hit us. It wasn't the time to talk about this nor anything else. But now days have passed, and people have been talking a lot about what happened and generated much controversy. That made me think a lot about what to say and what I think of this whole thing.

"I don't think (releasing me) is fair. At the Tour they told all of us who were there that the team was continuing and that they were counting on all of us. They said they would try to maintain the team's philosophy and that, if we wanted, we could stay on. Then we got to the start of the Vuelta in Pamplona, and the message was the same: they would try to maintain the philosophy, we shouldn't worry about anything and we should concentrate on team work, helping out Igor Antón, as always, so that he could obtain the points we needed to stay in the WorldTour. And they said we would talk again after the race. One week after finishing the race they called me up to inform me I was out. Igor said the reason was that I didn't have any UCI points and that he needed people who did to stay in the elite category, as was the company's wish. He also said he felt I hadn't progressed as I should have, and that the Amets of 2007 hadn't followed an upward trajectory. Therefore he felt that a change of scenary would be good for me".

Txurruka admits he hasn't come close to fulfilling his potential, lamenting the toll his injuries took on his career.

"I've had difficult seasons with all my injuries, and I've always given it my all to recover and be of use to the team. I spent many hours on the rollers to stay fit; my house has been drenched in sweat and I've been cleaning the floors each days. I've cried a lot. I've always fought to be available to the team. But if that's not sufficient for them, then good on them to not keep my on the team".

He says there's no personal issue with incoming General Manager Galdeano, but says the direction the team is taking might not be for the better.

"I felt valued, but now I'm sad. I was part of a team that was something special. Part of my sadness is seeing that that's now over. The atmosphere suffered under the burden of trying to get UCI points, and also because of the team's new direction. It won't be the same. It's always been like a national team, but that era seems to have come to an end. But I do not want to become a martyr or some kind of symbol. I'm not the main actor in this story. Me staying on or not has nothing to do with the team's philosophy. They didn't renew my contract the same way they didn't renew many else's contracts in the past. And never has anything happened. The team went on like they should now go on without me. It's just that now it seems it won't go on the same way. I'll continue to cheer for my friends I now leave behind, but the team will be something different. It won't be anything special anymore".

Do you fear not finding a new team?

"I sure hope that won't be the case", he concluded.

Low-key season finale for Orbea

Orbea were not able to claim a win their efforts throughout the season merited at the Tour de Gévaudan this weekend, and as such closed out their 2012 campaign with no triumphs to their name.

Slovenian Team Vorarlberg rider Robert Vrecer did his chances of signing with Euskaltel no harm as he captured the first stage ahead of Davide Rebellin and Cofidis' Rudy Molard. Vrecer is rumoured to become one of Euskaltel's first non-Basque signings this year, along with compatriot Jure Kocjan, and his triumph on the opening leg to La Grand-Combe will only make him an even stronger candidate for pulling on the orange jersey in 2013. Mikel Bizkarra, pictured above, was the team's top rider on the stage with his 24th place finish, just ahead of Omar Fraile in 28th.

Results stage 1 (full results here):
  • (1, Robert Vrecer (Team Vorarlberg), 3:27:46)
  • 24, Mikel Bikzarra, 2:00
  • 28, Omar Fraile, 4:00
  • 34, Aritz Bagües, 5:30
  • 35, Igor Merino, 7:31
  • 64, Illart Zuazubiskar, 19:22
  • DNF: Jon Aberasturi
Davide Rebellin got revenge for his near-miss on Sunday, soloing in ahead of Jonathan Bibby of Endura on his way to claiming the overall win. Omar Fraile, who's not likely to join Euskaltel next year after all according to reports, came in tenth. Bizkarra's 18th place was enough for him to finish the race ranked 16th overall. 

Results stage 2 (full results here):
  • (1, Davide Rebellin (Meridiana Kamen Team), 4:08:10
  • 10, Omar Fraile, 0:10
  • 18, Mikel Bizkarra, 1:06
  • 29, Aritz Bagües, 3:12
  • 51, Igor Merino, 6:52
  • DNF: Illart Zuazubiskar
Final general classification:
  • (1, Davide Rebellin (Meridiana Kamen Team), 7:35:40)
  • 16, Mikel Bizkarra, 3:42
  • 18, Omar Fraile, 4:26
  • 30, Aritz Bagües, 8:58
  • 43, Igor Merino, 14:39

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Samu the perfect team-mate in Valkenburg

It might not have been a performance that will grab the head-lines in tomorrow's papers, but Samuel Sánchez assured and honourable ride at the World Championships road race on Sunday bodes well for the end-of-season Classics.

Samu played his part in ensuring Spain came away from the Worlds with a medal to show for their efforts, as his and Alberto Contador's aggressive and hard racing throughout set up Valverde, Freire and Rodríguez perfectly for a tilt at the big prize in Valkenburg. While Valverde added yet another bronze medal to his enviable collection of Worlds medals by finishing behind Gilbert and Boasson Hagen but ahead of a charging John Degenkolb, Freire wasn't able to stay in touch going up the Cauberg and had to settle for a slightly underwhelming tenth at the line in what was his last professional bike race. Afterwards, Freire wasn't best pleased with Valverde's tactics.

"None of my team-mates were with me on the Cauberg", he told Cyclingnews. "It was agreed we'd ride for me on the last lap. We didn't race well. Valverde should have waited for me, he was going well but was all alone. It really makes you angry, and what's worse is that it was decided but then not respected".

While Valverde was given short shrift by the outgoing legend, he had words of praise for the Euskaltel captain.

"Samuel was different. He wanted to work for me but couldn't make it".

While Samu paid for earlier efforts on the last time going up the Cauberg, he did his part by instigating one attack in the finale and kept the pace high on the run-in to the last and decisive ascent. He eventually came across in 41st, 1:37 in arrears, just behind Alberto Contador and a disappointing Joaquím Rodríguez. Samu's result might not be up to his usual standard, but his showing, coupled with that at the Tour of Britain last week, should set him up nicely for a successful late-season classics campaign.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"For a Basque like me, this is the best"

The news of Garikoitz Bravo signing for Euskaltel was hardly surprising. The prodigious Caja Rural rider has shown plenty of promise in his first few years in the professional ranks, and admits he's been trying to hitch a ride with the orange team for quite some time.

"For a Basque like me, riding with this team is the best", he told Marca. "I've been trying for years. I did some tests some years ago in Derio (the team's headquarters outside Bilbao), but the time's right now, I've been a pro for three years. I've been given a fantastic opportunity, and I'll try to grab it with both hands. I know I'll be fine here and, as I've shown this year, I've got what it takes to do well".

Amets Txurruka leaving the team has caused quite an uproar in Euskal Herria this week, and the 23-year-old admits "it's a shame" he won't be around next year. Euskaltel are set to unveil a batch of non-Basque signings before the end of the month, and the native of Lazkao intimated that Carlos Barredo, who's been heavily linked to the team for the last couple of months, is set to join him at Euskaltel.

Photo: Caja Rural

Estévez wins the big one

Imanol Estévez closed out a sensational season in the best way possible by claiming the overall win in the Torneo Lehendakari race series on Saturday.

The former Team Alimco prodigy, who burst onto the scene in mid-August by claiming top honours in Lemoiz, wrestled the top spot from Debabarrena's Aitor González by finishing in ninth place in today's concluding race in Oñati, Gipuzkoa. González could only muster 28th on the day, and was thus forced to relinquish his long-held lead at the last hurdle. It represents a major triumph for Estévez though - taking out the Basque Country's sub-23 race series in your first year in the age group is quite a feat.

The race in Oñati was unsurprisingly taken out by in-form Caja Rural rider Miguel Ángel Benito, the youngster profiting from the battle between Naturgas Energía and Debabarrena, both fighting for the overall, to slip away in the closing stages of the 100km race to solo in ten seconds ahead of team-mates Dario Hernández and Ibai Salas. Estévez's ninth was just enough to usurp González as the latter came in with a group some 50 seconds further back.

Jon Larrinaga, who's likely to make the jump to Orbea after a stellar year in which he held the overall series lead for quite some time early on in the year, was also in with a chance of claiming the top gong and left it all on the road today. Larrinaga made it into many dangerous breaks if the Basque Cycling Federation's website is to be believed, and the last group he infiltrated was only caught inside the last five clicks. He eventually finished 26th though, and should (still awaiting the official overall results) finish third overall in the Torneo.

Final overall Torneo Lehendakari results will be posted here as soon as they're in.

Results XXV Oñati Proba, Oñati:
  • 1, Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural), 2:28:54
  • 2, Dario Hernández (Caja Rural), 0:10
  • 3, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 4, Adrián González (Ibaigane Opel), s.t.
  • 5, Krzysztof Tracz (Hostal Latorre), s.t.
  • 6, Pim Klaver (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC), s.t.
  • 7, Antonio Molina (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 8, Sergio Rodríguez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 9, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 10, Cristobal Sánchez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 26, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), 0:50
Photo: Pascal Baudron

Friday, September 21, 2012

Legends protest team's new direction

In an open letter to the public, seven former Euskaltel riders give the team's new management and their decision to part ways with Amets Txurruka and Iván Velasco short shrift - very short shrift indeed. Below is a translated version for you to read, and don't hesitate in commenting on what you think of Jonathan Castroviejo, Beñat Intxausti, David López, Haimar Zubeldia, Markel Irizar, Iker Camaño and Koldo Fernández's take on the situation.

There was a time when we were all dreaming of becoming professional cyclists. And more, there was a team in our homeland we placed all our hopes in to fulfill those dreams. And, eventually, we all managed to fulfill that dream, though life has taken us on new paths since...

As currently active riders who have grown up as professionals at Euskaltel Euskadi - in its different stages - during parts of our sporting careers, we've still got strong ties to the people who make up the team.

We lament the way this project is headed after it got into the hands of the new management. The recent news of the non-prolongation of Txurruka and Velasco's contracts was the straw that broke the camel's back of our silence: Amets is a team-mate highly appreciated by everyone and a true icon for the supporters of his team for the team spirit he embodies and his dedication and courage; and Velasco is another one who's never stopped giving it his all for his team-mates and therefore putting his ambitions for personal results aside.

IGG's (Igor González de Galdeano) excuse for not offering them new contracts - their lack of points and progression - is a blow to the values and spirit this team has always embraced and defended since the very start with Miguel Madariaga at the head. 

We hope there's still enough time to straighten out what we're calling attention to here, and to correct the direction of this team - a direction we do not understand. It's also paradoxical that there are Basque riders with strong results out there in other teams who could have helped the team stay afloat. 

Photo: Noticias de Gipuzkoa

Orbea set for season finale

Orbea will close out their season at the Tour de Gévaudan over in France this weekend - hoping to dedicate a win to the fallen Víctor Cabedo, writes

The Continental-ranked Euskaltel Euskadi feeder team will send six riders to the two-day French race, taken out last year in commanding fashion by Guillaume Levarlet. Omar Fraile, fresh off a rather disappointing Worlds time trial showing, will be there, as will Illart Zuazubiskar, Igor Merino, Aritz Bagües, Mikel Bizkarra and the fast-finishing Jon Aberasturi. The latter, set to join Euskaltel next season, will look to conclude his stay in the characteristic blue jersey in the best possible way by giving the team its very first victory of the season.

"It's a tough and demanding race, perfect for the riders reaching the end of the season in strong form", DS Álex Díaz said. "The terrain is challenging; we'll climb the Col du Mendé, part of the Tour de France every year. It'll be a big challenge for us (seeing as most French pro outfits will be present), but we're ready to fight  and play our cards in the hope of winning".

Díaz added that Bizkarra in particular should be looked out for, as the youngster is apparently in "top shape".

Adrián Sáez, now with Euskaltel of course, was the team's highest placed rider on GC last year, coming in 24th after claiming 30th on day one and 18th on day two.

Check out the route and the start list here.

Cabedo's funeral

Watch the video below to see pictures of young Víctor Cabedo's funeral and short interviews with Miguel Madariaga, Mikel Nieve and Igor González de Galdeano:

Source: eitb/BiciCiclismo

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The phone call lasted a minute"

One of the team's more trusted domestiques in the mountains over the last few years, 32-year-old Iván Velasco, was together with fellow climber Amets Txurruka told there would be no place for him on the "new Euskaltel" next year. While Amets Txurruka has decided to keep away from the newspapers by declining to comment on the situation thus far, Velasco hasn't been as reticent to pick up the phone. And, if what he says is to be believed, there's no reason he shouldn't vent his anger either.

"I got a call from Igor González de Galdeano on Monday, and he said I wouldn't get to prolong my stay with the team because the new project need points to stay in the WorldTour. And as I don't have any, I won't be needed. The conversation lasted one minute", he revealed in today's Gara.

The normally soft-spoken rider admitted he "was caught by surprise", as he was told prior to the commencement of the Vuelta a España (where he would finish a career-best 26th overall) that "he should stay calm, and that everyone would work for Antón to score points".

"They didn't guarantee I'd stay on, I didn't take it for granted, but I was relaxed. And then they tell me this now, when most teams have finalized their rosters."

Velasco went on to lament the UCI's already much-maligned points system, by many regarded as a detrimental one to the helpers of the peloton.

"In this team we had instilled a certain way of doing things, that we all would work for one leader, but I don't know if it should remain that way. The one who's told to work (for his leader) would say that if he works and scores no points, he'd be on the street next year. I gave all I could give. Many times you have to put your personal aspirations to one side and pull the peloton, get in the breaks, get bottles, to be strong in the mountains alongside your leader... and then you get this. It was surprising."

Discussing the change in philosophy that is set to change the team, he was rather more pragmatic though.

"The team has changed hands. Miguel (Madariaga) did things differently, a new person to lead the team comes in, he's decided to take this road, and you've got to respect that. I'm not one to judge. The supporters will have their say".

Fundación "not involved" in Txurruka decision

The news of Amets Txurruka being deemed surplus to requirements at Euskaltel has stoked the ire of quite a few Euskaltel aficionados. One of them appears to be no less a figure than team founder Miguel Madariaga. According to Madariaga and his Fundación Euskadi, they had nothing to do with the cult hero that is Amets Txurruka leaving the team.

"The Fundación Euskadi, with its president Miguel Madariaga at the head, would like to express that this foundation and Miguel Madariaga have nothing to do with the sporting aspects of this new project", a statement on the team's website reads. "Therefore, the decision to let these two riders (Txurruka and Iván Velasco) go was one taken by the people in charge of the sporting aspects of the project behind Euskaltel, without ever including the Fundación Euskadi Ciclista in the decision making process.

"We'd like to use this opportunity to show our utmost support for both riders, as well as thanking them for their work and commitment over the years, with whom the Fundación Euskadi Ciclista share a very special bond."

There's been no word from Igor González de Galdeano and co. on the matter as of yet, but it's being speculated that the most extreme of reasons (i.e. Víctor Cabedo's passing) might just open up a spot on the team for one of them. Cabedo had a deal in place for next year, but that spot is now of course open.


Remembering Víctor Cabedo

"This is a very hard hit. We're in pieces. We've come across tough times in the past, but we've never before seen one of our boys die".

Fundación Euskadi president Miguel Madariaga is as shocked as everyone else at 23-year-old Víctor Cabedo's death Wednesday afternoon. Innumerable condolences and moving obituaries have been written, but as I've only ever spoken to him once myself, I won't reflect too much upon the person that Víctor Cabedo was or the joy he undoubtedly brought to the people around him. I'll leave that to the ones who knew him better. So what I'll do is to provide you a few links to articles written in the memory of Cabedo in the aftermath of his passing.

Here's a selection worth reading:
Samu, himself a great friend of Cabedo's, has spoken of his sadness. Read Samu's thoughts here.

The riders at Euskaltel have also gotten together to write a short open letter. Read what the guys have to say about their fallen team-mate here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Víctor Cabedo dies

News has just come in that 23-year-old Euskaltel Euskadi rider Víctor Cabedo has been killed in a training accident today, Wednesday afternoon.

According to BiciCiclismo, Cabedo crashed into a car and fell into a ravine coming off of a descent while out training near Almedíjar in the province of Castellón, Comunidad Valenciana. The accident took place at 13:50, and he died immediately.

The native of Onda was in his first year with Euskaltel, and had recently pulled out of the Tour of Britain because of a fever. Last season, in his last with Orbea, he offered proof of his vast potential by claiming the fourth stage of the Vuelta a Asturias solo at the tender age of 21. reports he'll be buried in his home town of Onda Thursday evening.

Basque Cycling News would like to extend its condolences to family and friends on this dark day for sport in Spain.

Alan Pérez retires

Euskaltel Euskadi rider Alan Pérez has put an end to his career as a professional cyclist.

The 30-year-old revealed as much on his own Twitter account a few hours ago. The native of Zurucáin, Navarra, was, according to earlier reports, set for contract talks with incoming team boss Igor González de Galdeano one of these days, but the former Orbea rider has now decided to pursue other interests in life.

Pérez has been a professional for eight years, seven of those with Euskaltel, and has for the majority of those years been a vital part of the orange team. The closest the likeable all-rounder got to a professional win was a second place on stage six of the Giro d'Italia in 2008, but has otherwise mainly been used as a domestique.

Speaking at the social networking site, Pérez said "I'm very thankful for the opportunity Orbea gave me to turn professional and for Miguel Madariaga for having be in this team for all these years. And a special thank you goes out to all the supporters, my friends and my family, all of whom have supported me all this time."


Bravo and Aberasturi join Euskaltel

Euskaltel have signed young Basque duo Jon Aberasturi and Garikoitz Bravo for next year, a team press release reveals.

The duo, both born in 1989, will, as expected some would say, team up with the orange outfit from 2013 and onwards. They will be team-mates with, among others, Gorka Verdugo, Miguel Minguez, Rubén Pérez and Juan José Oroz - the quartet today agreeing to prolong their stays with Euskaltel.

The fast-finishing Aberasturi will join from feeder team Orbea, having ridden with the Continental team since 2010. The 23-year-old has proved his worth in mass finishes in the last couple of years, and will be looking to add to his one professional victory (at the Gran Premio Crédito Agrícola de la Costa Azul) as Euskaltel's main sprinter next year.

See how Aberasturi has fared this year here.

The much-sought after Bravo will leave Caja Rural in favour of a move to Euskaltel. The native of Lazcao, Gipuzkoa, currently nursing an injury sustained in the Volta a Portugal, has a number of top 20 places on general classifications to his name this year, and placed 15th in national champs road race earlier this summer. Among his strongest results, though, is his climber's jersey from the 2010 edition of the Tour de l'Avenir and last year's 15th overall in Portugal.

Check out a profile of him here.

No future for Txurruka

Amets Txurruka has been informed by team management that he will not be part of Euskaltel Euskadi next year.

Basque daily DEIA, always well-informed, broke the news earlier today. Allegedly, incoming General Manager Igor González de Galdeano called the ever-aggressive 29-year-old after the conclusion of the Vuelta a España and told him his lack of UCI points will cost him his place on the team.

Txurruka, ever a fans' favourite since joining from Barloworld ahead of the 2007 season, has not confirmed the news himself, nor has the team confirmed it, but it appears certain that the Etxebarria-native will now need to start looking for a new team in order to save his career.

Txurruka's likely departure will only serve to fuel the ever-ongoing discussion about the UCI's revamped points system, a system seen by many to devalue the domestiques of the peloton. Txurruka has this year taken on all Grand Tours, but was forced to pull out of the Tour de France in July because of a collarbone fracture.

Fellow climber and trusted team-mate Iván Velasco will also have to look for a new employer, writes the same paper. The injury-prone 32-year-old joined the team along with Txurruka back in 2007, and recently enjoyed a renaissance of sorts with a strong 26th overall in the Vuelta, having spent the majority of the race watching out for team-leader Igor Antón. The lack of points obtained is, in his case as well, supposed to be the reason he's being let go.

Galdeano, who's got 12 riders signed for next year, will in the next few days be hoping to renew the current deals of Pablo Urtasun, Gorka Verdugo, Rubén and Alan Pérez, Mikel Astarloza, Jorge Azanza, Pierre Cazaux, Juan José Oroz and Miguel Minguez.

Here's the list of the 12 riders who's services Euskaltel have, at the time being, secured for 2013:
  • Igor Antón
  • Peio Bilbao
  • Víctor Cabedo
  • Ricardo García
  • Gorka Izagirre
  • Ion Izagirre
  • Mikel Landa
  • Egoi Martínez
  • Mikel Nieve
  • Adrián Sáez
  • Samuel Sánchez
  • Romain Sicard

Camaño prolongs; no Euskaltel return

Former Euskaltel rider Iker Camaño will not be making a return to Euskaltel in the near future, as the 33-year-old has agreed to stay on with what will next year be known as Team NetApp - Endura.

It was rumoured that Camaño, who's scored a healthy amount of UCI Europe Tour points this year (77,2) for British outfit Endura Racing, might be on his way back into the orange fold as the Euskaltel bosses keep chasing riders in possession of points that will help the team stay in the WorldTour from 2013 and onwards. His current team, which will merge with German Pro Continental outfit NetApp for next year, on Wednesday released the list of riders that will prolong their stay into next season, and the erstwhile Phonak and Saunier Duval all-rounder, who spent three years with Euskaltel between 2004 and 2006, figures on that list.

In other news regarding ex-Euskaltel employees, the wife of RadioShack-Nissan's Markel Irizar yesterday gave birth to the couple's third child. Unai, weighing 3,990 kilograms, becomes the couple's third son, with Alaitz, his wife, having already given birth to Xabat and Aimar in the past.

"The labour was hard as we needed a suction cup to help the baby out, but both the baby and the mother are doing really well", he said on his personal website. "Now we're one big family".

While both Camaño and Irizar are winding down their seasons, former Euskaltel climber Aitor Hernández has just started his. The Ermua native, now one of Spain's stand-out cyclo-cross riders, geared up for the 'cross-season by taking out a mountain bike event in Zegama, Gipuzkoa, this past weekend, writes BiciCiclismo. The Orbea rider also took out last year's race, a race forming part of the Open de Euskadi de BTT series.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fraile fails to shine in Worlds TT

Much was expected of Spain's two representatives in Monday's sub-23 World Championships time trial in Limburg, the Netherlands, but neither came away happy as Orbea's Omar Fraile finished 34th and Seguros Bilbao's Marcos Jurado came in 43rd.

Antony Vorobyev of Russia was the slightly surprising victor of the event, besting highly-fancied Antipodean duo Rohan Dennis and Damian Howson over the taxing 36,6km course. None of the Spaniards got even remotely close to the places of honour though, and 22-year-old Fraile went as far as calling the race "pure hell".

"The wind made it very hard. It was so hard to find my rhythm, it was pure hell", he told the Spanish Cycling Federation's website. "I wasn't comfortable, but I improved markably on the ascents. I still finished way below what I expected to though."

Team coach José Luis De Santos, always softly spoken, wasn't as negative though, saying simply "they did well, but they weren't lucky with the wind".

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Anton Vorobyev (Russia), 44:09:02)
  • 34, Omar Fraile, 3:29
  • 43, Marcos Jurado, 4:25
In the juniors' crono, Spain's sole representative, 18-year-old Óscar González del Campo García - Villarrubia of Daimiel, Castilla - La Mancha, came in a discreet 27th, 1:28 down on Norwegian Oskar Svendsen. 


Estévez ever closer to overall lead

Imanol Estévez's second place in Sunday's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Bergara, Gipuzkoa, leaves him tantalizingly close to claiming the overall series win ahead of Saturday's concluding race in Oñati.

The fast-finishing first-year Naturgas Energía rider was six points behind Debabarrena's overall leader Aitor González going into the 108km race, taken out last year by that man Karol Domagalski (Caja Rural) again en route to the overall series triumph. Fellow Caja Rural rider Rubén Fernández, enjoying a stellar campaign, claimed his fifth triumph of 2012 in some style, soloing in 19 seconds ahead of a an eight-man group led home by Estévez. Overall leader González was in that group, but could only claim seventh, meaning (by my calculations anyway) that González now only holds a one-point lead over the young Naturgas prodigy. Jon Larrinaga, through his sixth place, solidified his third place overall.

What's more, the red and white team claimed the team's prize to close out a job well done.

"In the first part of the race we were in most of the breaks. Facing the San Asentzio climb (where Fernández made his winning move), Víctor Etxeberria and Mikel Iturria helped out Estévez and he eventually claimed second", DS Urretxua told "I would also like to highlight the work done by Jon Larrinaga, who grabbed a creditable sixth. Facing the last race in the Torneo Lehendakari in Oñati, we'll look to make a last push for the general classification".

Then Naturgas Energía rider Fernando Grijalba claimed last year's race in Oñati, so at least history will be on the team's side at the weekend.

Results Martin Deunaren Saria, Bergara:
  • 1, Rubén Fernández (Caja Rural), 2:32:15
  • 2, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 0:19
  • 3, Juan Ignacio Pérez (Diputación de Ávila - Smileekers), s.t.
  • 4, Cristobal Sánchez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 5, Adrián González (Ibaigane Opel), s.t.
  • 6, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 7, Aitor González (Debabarrena), s.t.
  • 8, Pim Klaver (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor), s.t.
  • 9, Miguel Abellan (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 10, Iñigo Ojeda (Koplad-Uni2), 0:22
As for the Euskaldun-race on Saturday in Alsasua, close to Pamplona over in Navarra, young French hotshot Alexis Guérin claimed top honours in his first race in the Basque Country. The 20-year-old time trial specialist from the Entente Sud Gascogne outfit, earlier this year a part of France's Tour de l'Avenir squad and a winner of a stage in the Ronde de l'Isard and a silver medallist at the French nationals for juniors in the race against the clock, beat Basque Unai Elorriaga of Cespa-Euskadi by two seconds, while Azysa's Mike Terpstra, always there or thereabouts, took the last spot on the podium.

Rubén Fernández, hoping to do like Domagalski did last year and take out the race, had to settle for seventh ahead of Sunday's triumph.

Naturgas did not field a team.

Results LXXXIII Prueba Ciclista Alsasua:
  • 1, Alexis Guérin (Entente Sud Gascogne), 3:01:08
  • 2, Unai Elorriaga (Cespa-Euskadi), 0:02
  • 3, Mike Terpstra (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor WRC), 0:26
  • 4, Unai Iparragirre (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 1:06
  • 5, Dario Hernández (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 6, Ibai Davoz (Bidelan-Kirolgi), 1:24
  • 7, Rubén Fernández (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 8, Pim Klaver (Azysa-Telco'm-Conor), 1:27
  • 9, Mathieu Malbert (Entente Sud Gascogne), s.t.
  • 10, Santiago Ramírez (Lizarte), 1:33
Photo: Pascal Baudron

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Samu shows intent on final stage in Britain

Samuel Sánchez sought to prove his fitness ahead of next Sunday's road race Worlds by going on the attack constantly on today's eighth and final Tour of Britain stage.

The 34-year-old, wearing a red bib number due to him being awarded the 'Most aggressive rider'-prize yesterday (pictured above), got into the break of the day and was a constant live wire as he put the finishing touches to his Worlds' tune-up. There was to be no stage win for the Euskaltel captain despite several tries at going clear, but the Asturian has no doubt showed enough over the course of the week to warrant his inclusion in Spain's nine-man squad. Whether he's in the necessary shape for being awarded a leader's role remains to be seen, but with another seven days to go he might just get there in time.

Pablo Urtasun also tried his luck in the closing stages, but yesterday's victor couldn't sustain his small gap and was easily reeled in by the pack. Talking about the 32-year-old, if you didn't get the chance to watch it live, check out the video below:

As for the GC, Samu ended up as the team's best rider in 14th, closely followed by a resurgent Pierre Cazaux in 15th.

Results stage 8:
  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Sky), 3:33:05)
  • 16, Adrián Sáez, 0:03
  • 24, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 27, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 47, Samuel Sánchez, 0:12
  • 48, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing), 33:11:22)
  • 14, Samuel Sánchez, 6:02
  • 15, Pierre Cazaux, 6:15
  • 38, Adrián Sáez, 21:03
  • 44, Ricardo García, 26:14
  • 46, Pablo Urtasun, 27:50
Photo: Rob Lampard

Respectable Worlds debut for Euskaltel

The team time trial World Championships in Valkenburg was nothing like the embarrassing showing many might have expected beforehand from an Euskaltel-point of view, 'the Carrots' claiming a decent 16th out of the 32 participating teams.

The six Euskaltel riders, who were forced to rely on Miguel Minguez in the place of the sick Juan José Oroz, looked dialled-in and coordinated throughout, and took advantage of the short and tough climbs on the 53,2km course to post a provisional best time. Eventually, they, "they" being Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Romain Sicard, Minguez and the Izagirres, ended up 2:30 down on gold winners Omega Pharma - Quick Step in 16th place, a few seconds behind Ag2r and just ahead of Lotto - Belisol. Only one non-World Tour outfit managed to go quicker than the men in orange (RusVelo).

Movistar, featuring Basque powerhouse Jonathan Castroviejo, ended up sixth, while Haimar Zubeldia and RadioShack finished up eighth. Egoitz García's Cofidis ended up way back in 21st, while former Euskaltel man Javier Aramendía and his Caja Rural team came in 29th.

Full results here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Urtasun finally finds gold

Pablo Urtasun grabbed the win he's been craving all year by profiting from team-mate Samuel Sánchez's lead-out to best his breakaway companions on the Tour of Britain's seventh and penultimate stage.

The versatile 32-year-old has a pair of second and third places to his name already this year, not to mention that near-miss on stage five of the Tour de France this summer, and was finally able to raise his arms in triumph for the first time in two years at the end of the 172,9km leg from Barnstaple to Dartmouth. As indicated above, though, it was a real team effort.

Both Samu and Urtasun made it into what would prove to be the race's decisive ten-man break early on, and the two were still there when only four of them were left to duke it out for the win at the end of the day alongside Ivan Basso and Thursday's victor Marc de Maar of UnitedHealthcare. Ever the generous captain, in stead of chasing a win that would have made quite a statement ahead of next weekend's worlds, Samu decided to help out his faster-finishing team-mate by leading out the sprint. Urtasun edged de Maar to nab the team its eighth victory of the season, and rarely has an Euskaltel triumph been as deserved. After enjoying one of his best ever season's but repeatedly come up short, the erstwhile Kaiku and Liberty Seguros rider was able to add another first place to his quite decorated palmarès.

Pierre Cazaux continued his rich vein of form by taking 14th in the midst of a small select group 46 seconds down on Urtasun, completing a flawless day for the team.

"It was a very beautiful and hard-worked victory", Urtasun told the team's website afterwards. "It was a very hard stage, very hilly, very demanding, I had to suffer a lot, but in the end it was worth it. I've maybe been in better shape in other races, and I didn't expect this at all, but today I managed to come out tops. Cycling's like that sometimes. Yesterday, with an eye on making today's break, I was one of the first to go out the back. As one gets older one learns when it's wise to ease off. I spent four days off the bike after the Vattenfall Cyclassics because I felt tired. (After those four days) I got back on my bike again with motivation and, though I'm still not in super shape, we obtained a great result. I'm very pleased."

DS Álex Díaz was equally pleased, hailing the work of the whole team.

"We raced like a great team and we got a great victory. There were some tough moments underway, but we got through them through spirit. I'm very content with the whole team's performance. Every single one did a great job and the sum of it all is this triumph."

Results stage 7:
  • 1, Pablo Urtasun, 4:21:31
  • 4, Samuel Sánchez, 0:02
  • 14, Pierre Cazaux, 0:46
  • 22, Adrián Sáez, 1:27
  • 42, Ricardo García, 2:57
General classification:
  • (1, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing), 5:38:14)
  • 14, Samuel Sánchez, 5:53
  • 15, Pierre Cazaux, 6:15
  • 41, Adrián Sáez, 21:03
  • 49, Ricardo García, 26:14
  • 50, Pablo Urtasun, 27:41

"Worlds course suits me"

Samuel Sánchez won't be the Fundación Euskadi's sole representative at the upcoming World Championships. 22-year-old Omar Fraile of Orbea has been selected to ride the individual time trial by national team coach José Luis De Santos, and the promising stage-racer says the course should favour him.

"The recorrido is very hard and contains hard climbs, so it should be good for me", he told 200 Pulsaciones. "If my task was to make the course, I'd make it just like this! The Spanish National Championships time trial and the crono at the Volta a Portugal were also quite long. After completing the race in Portugal I took a short break, returned to training motivated and I'm still feeling very good".

Bilbao-born Fraile deemed himself "very happy" with being given the chance to represent Spain at such a big occasion, saying "it's every cyclist's dream". Fraile signed a contract with the Fundación last year, a contract that would see him ride for Orbea for one year before taking the step up to Euskaltel and the WorldTour at the start of 2013. With Miguel Madariaga's foundation now set to step back and telephone company Euskaltel set to assume full control of the team, no one seems to be really sure where that leaves Fraile from 2013 and beyond. His performances in the latter half of the season have given proof he's ready for the step-up though, and Fraile admits his recent 16th overall at the Tour of Portugal was a highlight of his season.

"There's been ups and downs this year because of injuries, but overall I'm happy as I was at a good level in Portugal. A crash on the first day forced us to lose a lot of time, so in the remaining stages we were looking to recover the lost time. I ended up 16th and the experience was therefore a good one, I'm satisfied".

Friday, September 14, 2012

Erviti "saw worlds snub coming"

Normally one of national team coach José Luis De Santos' first names on the team sheet for World Championships, Movistar's ever-reliable Imanol Erviti was left out of the selección this time around. The Pamplona-native isn't too down-beat, though, saying it was inevitable he wasn't going to be among the nine chosen ones for the Limburg worlds.

"I saw it coming. I knew it would be difficult to get into the team even though I finished (the Vuelta) well", the 28-year-old, who's done the last two World Championships road races, told Spanish sports daily Marca. "Two crashes at the Tour and at the Vuelta didn't do my chances any favours."

Spain will field a star-studded team, even by their standards, at the road race, with quintet Contador, Sánchez, Rodríguez, Valverde and Freire among the starters. On a course seemingly adapted to every single one's characteristics, an ugly fight for leadership duties might not seem out of the question - for Erviti that's not likely to happen though.

"We've got a really great team with Freire, Samuel, Purito, Valverde and Contador. With them on the team, there's not much place for workers. I think it's more correct to say they're candidates for the win rather than favourites though. We've got a lot of big riders, so one of the keys to success will be that De Santos manages the group well. To avoid a fight for the captain's role between the riders, I think it's important to have a clear strategy from the start and, later on in the race, that everyone of them are honest, direct and clear on the fact that eventually it's the team that wins."


Samu with step in right direction at ToB

Samuel Sánchez will have reassured Spanish national team coach José Luis De Santos by staying with the very best riders on Friday's queen-stage of the Tour of Britain.

His 11th place finish on the 189,8km leg from Welshpool to Caerphilly comes off the back of a slightly less reassuring ride on Thursday's fifth stage, in which he made the split but seemed (naturally) to be lacking his usual punch as he faded dramatically in the last click. Today's stage saw vastly underrated German Leopold König of NetApp beat soon-to-be Team Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke in a two-up sprint after the duo escaped on the penultimate climb of the day. Behind them, a select group of 11 riders formed, including household names like Damiano Caruso (Liquigas), Nathan Haas (Garmin), Luke Rowe (Sky) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp). Samu was a part of that group and crossed the line in 11th place on the same time as the rest of the group (19 seconds back on the winner), catapulting him to a decent 18th overall with two stages to go.

For a moment Samu had company of an in-form Pierre Cazaux. The Frenchman was dispatched out the back though when König and Tiernan-Locke made their move, eventually coming in alongside Leigh Howard, Boy Van Poppel and David Clarke a mere 14 seconds behind Samu and co. Due to his strong performances all through the week, the former FDJ man is a healthy 14th overall.

Results stage six (full results here):
  • (1, Leopold König (NetApp), 4:38:02)
  • 11, Samuel Sánchez, 0:19
  • 18, Pierre Cazaux, 0:33
  • 58, Ricardo García, 5:18
  • 75, Adrián Sáez, 8:32
  • 76, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing), 25:16:57)
  • 14, Pierre Cazaux, 6:15
  • 18, Samuel Sánchez, 6:37
  • 49, Adrián Sáez, 20:22
  • 54, Ricardo García, 24:03
  • 59, Pablo Urtasun, 28:37

Samu not yet there as break rules Britain

Samuel Sánchez showed he's ready for a World Championships berth at the Tour of Britain's fifth stage on Thursday, but his lack of protagonism in the finale showed a start at the worlds is probably going to be as good as it gets.

Samu, along with Pierre Cazaux and, initially, Pablo Urtasun too, infiltrated the decisive 23-man group that was left to fight it out for stage honours on the 149,6km Stoke on Trent-stage. The stage would, in normal circumstances anyway, had suited Samu to a tee what with it's lumpy nature, but the Euskaltel captain (and his French team-mate) was quickly dispatched out the back of the lead group as soon as the pace ratcheted up inside the last click. UnitedHealthcare's former Rabobank-pro Marc de Maar was somewhat surprisingly allowed to sweep home for a solo win, while a rather biggish group, led home by Sep Vanmarcke, came in 15 seconds back. Samuel crossed the line a distant 1:18 down though in 20th place, signalling he might be set for domestique duties at the Valkenburg worlds. Cazaux came in 19th, while the rest of the team came in with the pack some six and a half minutes in arrears.

Sánchez will have another chance to prove his fitness tomorrow though, as the sixth stage takes the peloton on an at times hilly ride from Welshpool to Caerphilly.

Results stage five (full results here):
  • (1, Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare), 3:30:27)
  • 19, Pierre Cazaux, 0:40
  • 20, Samuel Sánchez, 1:18
  • 46, Ricardo García, 6:34
  • 56, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 58, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Photo: Roz Jonez Photography

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"I hope I'll be at the Worlds"

Euskaltel captain Samuel Sánchez was yesterday included in Spain's nine-man selection for next weekend's world championships road race. On one condition though: that his form is adequate. Samu is aiming to recapture some of that form at the Tour of Britain after a crash-marred summer, and told Cyclingnews he thinks he's ready for the challenges the course in Limburg, the Netherlands, will pose.

"As long as I don't crash during this race, things look good for me", the 34-year-old told arguably the world's leading cycling website. "I'm taking it day by day. My arm is fine now. It's healed a lot faster than what was expected when I crashed at the Tour - it was one hell of an impact, very hard. It meant that I had to go back to kilometre zero in terms of competition. But I've been working very hard".

Samu spent days on the mighty Angliru's unforgiving slopes leading up to the British race, hoping to rediscover the form that carried him to the Vuelta al País Vasco overall crown earlier this season. In Britain he's not after results though; it's all about getting the kilometres in.

"My only objective here is to get several days of competition under my belt - it's all about rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. It's quite a long race over 1300 kilometres, almost half as long as a Grand Tour, but the good thing is that I'm not going to get the fatigue that always affects you at a Grand Tour."

Read the whole interview here. 

Want to write?

Due to restrictions on my time, I'm looking for someone to help keep this site up to date with all the latest on Basque Cycling. If you feel like contributing in one way or another, be it through race reports, longer articles, short news briefs or whatever, feel free to contact me by mail ( and we'll take it from there. As it's quite time consuming to keep track of the different teams and riders, bringing in a few extra writers would ease the burden somewhat and give the site some much-needed new input.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Baudron reflects on "mixed season"

Young Frenchman Karl Baudron has been one of the mainstays of the Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía the last year. The 19-year-old, who teamed up with the red and whites ahead of last season along with countrymen Loïc Chetout and Damien Garcia, has placed numerous times inside the top ten in races throughout the season, and on the look of it seems like a future Orbea rider in the making.

With the season almost at an end, Basque Cycling News talked to the young hopeful after the conclusion of the Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen. Get to know Karl, the son of Pascal, who's been kind in sharing his photos of the team with this site, below.

Question: You've got a lot of top ten placings to your name this season. How do you evaluate your season: better or worse than expected?

Answer: Yes, I've been in the top ten a few times this year, but so far it's been a mixed season. My performances have been very irregular throughout the season, and I've constantly alternated between feeling good and not feeling that good. I've also taken part in several stage races (Vuelta a Bidasoa, Vuelta a Navarrra, Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen), but for some reason I've never felt good in those races and abandoned all of them.

Q: And the season of the team? At the time being, Naturgas have only accumulated two victories.

A: Though we "only" have two wins, I think the team's season has been rather decent. We've often been up there, but we've lacked that little bit extra that would have enabled us to win more frequently. We're also in the fight for the overall triumph in the Torneo Lehendakari (the Basque Cycling Federation's sub-23 race series), both for the individual rankings, which Jon Larrinaga led for a long time, and the team rankings, where we've been alternating with Caja Rural in being the top ranked team.

Q: What races remain for you this year?

A: There are races for me to do until the end of September. At the end of the month, if the form's good, I might also head to the Vuelta a Cantabria.

Q: Will you be with Naturgas Energía next year, or do you hope to join Orbea?

A: I'll stay at Naturgas next year. With the lack of consistency I've shown in the one-day races as well as in the stage races this year, it's clear I need to progress if I am to hope of joining Orbea one day.

Q: What's the atmosphere like in the team?

A: The mood's good, everyone gets along very well, and that's why winning the Torneo Lehendakari's team ranking would be a big reward for the team.

Q: For people who don't know you that well, what kind of rider would you say you are?

A: I'd say I'm an all-rounder or a puncheur.

Q: You're born in Angoulême, right? How come you're riding for Naturgas, a Basque team?

A: Yes, I was born in Angoulême. I came to Pau six years ago along with my father for professional reasons. After that I started riding in Euskadi. The Fundación Euskadi contacted me and, though I had other offers, joining the Fundación was the most appealing. Today I have no regrets; it's been a very enriching experience!

Q: More and more French riders are riding with Naturgas, Euskaltel... Did you know Loïc Chetout and Damien Garcia prior to signing with the team?

A: Yeah, we knew each other before joining the team as we all came from the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region. It facilitated our integration I think.

Q: I suppose you've talked a bit with Miguel Madariaga. What's he like?

A: Of course. Madariaga is a really super guy. He's very accessible for everyone and he treats all the teams in the Fundación Euskadi the same. The foundation is like a big family, and Miguel Madariaga is our father!

Q: You're 19 now, and as such it might be a bit early to speak of it, but what are your biggest dreams as a cyclist?

A: Obviously it's a bit far ahead, but my biggest goal is certainly to one day win a stage in the Tour de France. For the French, the Tour's a big party and a very important race. Every French rider dreams of shining at that race. It's the race we've always dreamed of.

Q: Are you going to school as well as being a cyclist?

A: Yes, and that was an important factor in my joining Naturgas. For the Fundación, studying is an essential part of forming a cyclist. The Fundación's goal is not only to educate cyclists, but also to educate men. For this reason the Naturgas riders study at the same time as riding. Even at Orbea, some guys continue to study. I'm studying STAPS (which roughly translates to Sciences and Techniques of Sports and Physical Activities) and will embark on my third year of Sports Management.

Q: Who's the best rider you've ever raced with and against?

A: The best rider I've raced with is Loïc Herbreteau (former French elite national champion). I raced with him when I was a junior at VS Lescar and learned me a lot. More recently, last year I raced with excellent riders like Fernando Grijalba (now at Caja Rural), Carlos Barbero (Orbea) and Efrén Carazo (Burgos 2016 - Castilla y León). It's more difficult to pick the best riders I've raced against. Moreno Hofland, Bryan Coquard, Olivier Le Gac, Pierre Henri Le Cuisinier and Arkaitz Durán are all very talented riders.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Euskaltel's TTT-sixtet set

The dreaded team time trial world championships are up this Sunday, and a press release from Euskaltel reveals the six riders that will get the dubious honour of representing the orange squad at the event.

The team bosses have opted for six of the more capable in the discipline: Romain Sicard, Juan José Oroz, Mikel Astarloza and Gorka Verdugo will all line up after completing the Vuelta the past weekend, and will be joined by the Izagirre brothers.

The course is a rather long one with its 53,2 kilometres, and will take in the ascents of Cauberg, Lange Raarberg and Bergseweg. The top 20 teams from the Europe Tour, the top five from the American and Asian Tours, and the top ranked team from both the African and Oceanian Tour will all line up.

So is Euskaltel as bad in the team crono as everyone would like to have it? If you consider this year's results, they very much are. A look at the team time trials the team has participated in earlier this year doesn't make for satisfactory reading. In the Tirreno-Adriatico right at the start of the season, the team ended up 21st out of 22 teams. In the Giro d'Italia in May, the team went on to finish dead last out of all 22 participating teams. In the ENECO Tour in early August, Euskaltel were next to last in 20th place, while there was a considerable upturn in fortunes at the Vuelta (which can be explained by the race being one of Euskaltel's main season goals, contrary to what's the case at most other teams), where the riders in orange ended up a respectable ninth out of the 21 teams on the start line in Pamplona, Navarra.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza


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