Thursday, January 31, 2013

Euskaltel off the radar in Bessèges

Euskaltel stayed out of trouble and out of the action on today's second leg of the Etoile de Bessèges.

Just like yesterday, the riders in orange were nowhere to be seen when the stage from Nîmes to Les Fumades was to be decided. Europcar's young speedster Bryan Coquard grabbed an impressive win, while Rubén Pérez was the first Euskaltel rider across the line in 47th place.

All riders managed to stay with the pack, though, and thus avoided slipping further down the overall classification. Ahead of tomorrow's lumpy stage three, Pérez (30th) and Sicard (41st) are both within touching distance of leader Van Staeyen, 16 seconds adrift.

Results (full results here):
  • 1 (Bryan Coquard (Europcar), 3:45:18)
  • 47, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 49, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
  • 54, Jure Kocjan, s.t.
  • 64, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 83, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 102, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 129, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Euskaltel off pace in Bessèges opener

Euskaltel's assembly of fast-finishing rouleurs failed to impose themselves on the competition on today's first stage of the Etoile de Bessèges.

The 156km opening leg from Bellegarde to Beaucaire was on paper suited to the speedy legs of Kocjan, Urtasun, Pérez et al., but the high speed in the closing clicks put paid to 'The carrots''s chances as the majority were left off-hooked as the peloton split up.

Pérez and Sicard managed to stay with the frontrunners, though, but neither had enough left in the tank to mix it up with the relatively modest collection of sprinters on show. Pérez crossed the line in 22nd place, while Sicard followed close behind in 27th.

The rest of the riders all ceded precious seconds with an eye on GC, but the team's captain, Sicard, is firmly in the hunt with another five stages to go.

Worst off was Ricardo Mestre, though, who crashed nine clicks out and rolled in way back. Luckily, the Portuguese is reported to have escaped serious injury.

Up tomorrow is 157 kilometres between Nîmes and Les Fumades.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), 3:24:23)
  • 22, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 27, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 76, Pablo Urtasun, 0:16
  • 81, Jure Kocjan, s.t.
  • 105, Adrián Sáez, 0:39
  • 112, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 137, Ricardo Mestre, 1:04
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Cabedo gets his own race

Fallen cyclist Víctor Cabedo will be honoured with a race in his name this spring.

The "I Trofeo Víctor Cabedo", a race open to junior teams, will be staged this May over four days, on a recorrido yet to be decided upon. The race will "aim to pay homage to the cyclist from Onda, as well as contribute to the growth of grassroots cycling", and will see the light of day thanks to the support of the city council of Onda, Víctor's town of birth.

"Víctor would not have wanted to be paid homage to", said brother José in a press release. "He was always saying he was no one, that he was just getting started. But he never refused to lend a hand when we were seeking support for youth cycling, so I think he would have liked this idea".

Visit the race's website here, and follow them on Twitter here.

Photo: Sky Sports

Orbea becomes Equipo Euskadi and sign duo

The Fundación Euskadi's Continental team has gotten a complete make-over in time for the 2013 season: Miguel Madariaga today revealed a team that will be called Equipo Euskadi, that will don the iconic jersey of the foundation's formative years, and the two new riders that have been signed.

Gone are Orbea as title sponsor and their traditional blue theme, in comes Euskadi to replace them in the lack of a new title sponsor. Orbea will stay on as bike supplier, but the riders will no more wear their logo on their jerseys. Instead, they'll wear the white, red and green colours of the Basque Country, in a jersey reminiscent of the nascent Euskadi-Petronor team of 1994.

It was reported late last week that Madariaga was in talks with a company from Gipuzkoa in order to sign a pair of riders from the region, and it now appears those talks panned out well. The foundation's website can reveal that Mikel Iturria and Unai Iparragirre have inked deals with the team.

20-year-old Mikel Iturria is of course a familiar rider to the followers of the Basque amateur scene, having competed for the foundation's sub-23 outfit, Naturgas Energía, in 2012 after joining from Belca-Oriako in the winter of 2011. The former winner of the Vuelta a Pamplona for juniors grabbed a host of top ten finishes last season, and made his mark at the national championships.

24-year-old Unai Iparragirre will also be a familiar name to many, especially for those who keep a close eye on proceedings on the track. The native of Azpeitia has forged an impressive career on the tracks already despite his young age, and was only a couple of weeks ago crowned winner of the regional championships on the Antonio Elorza-track in Donostia. He's also represented Spain at World Cups on numerous occasions, and his strong finishing-kick has also come in handy on the road. Representing Bidelan-Kirolgi for the last four years, Iparragirre has taken loads of top finishes in the Lehendakari and Euskaldun race series over the years, his win in Zumaia last February among them.

These two new riders will team up with the following octet:
  • Mikel Aristi
  • Aritz Bagües
  • Carlos Barbero
  • Mikel Bizkarra
  • Jon Larrinaga
  • Igor Merino
  • Haritz Orbe
  • Illart Zuazubiskar
Photo: BiciCiclismo

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Landa - It's not nice to see your idol fall

Lance Armstrong's seemingly never-ending fall from grace continues to surprise, shock and disappoint many a fan and professional cyclist. One who belongs to the latter category is Euskaltel's Mikel Landa. The ace climber admits to having been a huge fan of the Texan while growing up, but doesn't think the IOC should punish the current generation of riders for the mistakes of yesteryear.

"I became a cyclist through watching how he won", he told Ciclismo a fondo. "He was always my idol. Now I'm disappointed - it's never a pretty sight to watch one of your heros fall.

"But I don't think excluding cycling from the Olympics is necessary", he added. "We started from scratch a while back, and we're already doing well."

While the Texan made his career at the Tour de France, the 23-year-old Landa says he'd prefer winning a stage at one of the other two Grand Tours rather than at the Tour.

"Today, I'd rather win at the Giro or the Vuelta", he said. "And if I achieve that, who knows if I might be able to do the same at the Tour.

"Of course I'd like to make my debut at the Tour", Landa, who'll once again build his season around the Vuelta this year, said. "At the Tour you've got a lot to win and little to lose - you might save the entire season with a good Tour performance. But to be honest, I'm still young, and I don't think I'm ready for it yet".

Landa will kick-start his campaign at the Challenge Mallorca this coming weekend, and will from there go on to take part in races like the Vuelta a Andalucía, Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al País Vasco, the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de Romandie. Asked what he'd like to read about himself at the end of 2013, Landa said the following:

"Mikel Landa surprises at País Vasco" - and just like that, the pressure is on.

Photo: Fox News

Monday, January 28, 2013

Solid debut for Mestre in GP Marseillaise

Ricardo Mestre saved the day for Euskaltel at the Gran Prix la Marseillaise on Sunday, finishing inside the top 20 in his first appearance for the team.

The French one-day cup race marked the kick-off for Euskaltel's European season, and DS Iñaki Isasi had brought a potent seven riders to the start in the hope of seeing the likes of Jure Kocjan and Pablo Urtasun impose themselves in the likely scenario of a sprint finish.

The sprint finish materialized, but the duo was by then several minutes in arrears. Left to fend for the team's honour were new signing Ricardo Mestre, the Portuguese all-rounder, and Ricardo García. They got away with 18th and 26th respectively in a race won by home rider Justin Jules of La Pomme Marseille.

Romain Sicard was on course to finish in that first group alongside them, but got caught up in a pile-up two clicks out. The Frenchman hit the deck, but avoided any serious injury and got up and finished the race in 77th place.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille), 3:40:05)
  • 18, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
  • 26, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 42, Rubén Pérez, 1:04
  • 77, Romain Sicard, 3:18
  • 89, Jure Kocjan, 3:45
  • DNF: Pablo Urtasun, Adrián Sáez
Watch the finale below:

The same septet will take part in the five-day Étoile de Bessèges starting this coming Wednesday, January 30, and running through Sunday February 3.

Photo: BiciCiclismo

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This man just can't stop winning

Aitor Hernández did as he pleased in Ispaster on Sunday, cruising to his 20th win of the campaign.

The closing race of the Basque season was as expected a stroll in the park for the Orbea rider, with nearest challenger Jonathan Lastra finishing almost a minute and a half in arrears. Belgian Vinnie Braet was, according to the Basque Cycling Federation's website, the only one who could stay with Hernández for a while, but dropped off eventually and had to settle for third.

Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga, who'll accompany the former road rider and Jonathan Lastra to the US next week, could only muster fourth place.

Results, elite men (only 11 riders finished the race):
  1. Aitor Hernández (Ermua-Orbea), 1:04:01
  2. Jonathan Lastra (Hirumet-Taldea), 1:22
  3. Vinnie Braet (Sunweb Revor), 1:39
  4. Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (MMR-Spiuk), 1:58
  5. Tim Merlier (Sunweb Revor), 2:26
  6. Erlantz Uriarte (Ibaigane Opel), 4:06
  7. Carlos Hernández (Enbici Grupo Salvaje) 4:26
  8. Iñigo Gómez (Bio Racer-Caravanas Erandio), 4:54
  9. Loïc Herbreteau (France), 5:39
  10. Asier Arregi (, 5:59
  11. Aketza Peña (KV Sport-BH Bikes), 7:06
Results, elite women:
  1. Olatz Odriozola (Conor Saltoki Berrianz)
  2. Eider Merino (Lointek)
  3. Zaloa Trevilla (Bizkaia-Durango)
Junior, men:
  1. Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural)
  2. Eneko Corrales (Mendiz Mendi)
  3. Simon Vozar (Slovenia)
Junior, women:
  1. Lierni Lekuona
  2. Paula Lanz
  3. Maitane Pérez
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Euskaltel take 13 riders to Mallorca

Igor Antón headlines a big contingent of Euskaltel riders ready to tackle the Challenge Mallorca next weekend.

The team will send 13 riders to the four-day event, famous for being one of the very few races where the riders can opt in and out of the stages at their choosing. The race kicks off on Sunday the 3rd of February with the Trofeo Palma, and follows up with the Trofeo Campos-Santanyí-Ses Salines, Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (Deià-Lluc) and the Trofeo Alcúdia-Can Picafort-Playa de Muro over the next three days.

According to the race's own homepage, these riders will line up under the guidance of director deportivo Iñaki Isasi:
  • 46 - Igor Antón
  • 47 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 48 - André Schulze
  • 49 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 50 - Gorka Verdugo
  • 51 - Jon Aberasturi
  • 52 - Juan José Oroz
  • 53 - Miguel Mínguez
  • 54 - Mikel Landa
  • 55 - Steffen Radochla
  • 56 - Adrián Sáez
  • 57 - Garikoitz Bravo
  • 58 - Robert Vrecer
The race will thus mark Schulze, Radochla and Vrecer's debuts in the orange jersey, while Verdugo, Mínguez and Landa will make their first competitive appearances of the year. Sáez will pin on a bib number for the first time this season later today at the GP Marseillaise, while the rest of the riders all competed at the Tour Down Under.

The race on Mallorca will see a host of big-name riders take part, among them Bradley Wiggins, Christopher Froome, Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Urán, André Greipel, Jurgen van den Broeck, Tony Martin, Alejandro Valverde, Roberto Gesink, Luis León Sánchez, Rui Costa, Alessandro Petacchi, Tyler Farrar, Damiano Cunego and Filippo Pozzato, to name but a few. 

If you still haven't met all the riders who make up Euskaltel's 2013 roster, watch the team's video below:

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Wild Finale Down Under leads to strong GC finish

In a wild last day of racing at the final day of the Santos Tour Down Under, where Euskaltel's Izagirre brothers were fighting to keep their high GC positions, the team successfully defended Ion and Gorka's 4th and 7th places overall. The SKY team was hellbent on putting their leader Geraint Thomas on the podium and were using their strength to try and catapult Thomas past Ion Izagirre (4th) and Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Leopard, 3rd) via the sprint bonifications during the 20-lap circuit race.

The setting was beautiful for the final stage in Adelaide and while the temperature was balmy, the racing from the gun was red hot. Multiple breakaways attempted to get away but SKY controlled the race, not allowing anyone to get too far up the road. The first sprint point on lap 8 was hotly contested as Ion and Gorka, along with Jon Aberasturi and Juan José Lobato, pushed their way to the front, tagging onto the end of the SKY train. When the dust settled, Geraint Thomas took the full 3 seconds and Wilco Kelderman (Blanco), who was even with Gorka, took a 1 second bonus, which left Ion visibly frustrated in 4th place; banging the bars in frustration. At this point, Ion and Gorka had both moved down to 5th and 8th place overall. The 2nd sprint point was more successful for Euskaltel as J.J. Lobato was able to take 2nd place, allowing Gorka to keep his 8th place secure for the time being.

As SKY accomplished their mission of getting Thomas on the podium, there was still a stage to be contested. The Lotto-Belisol team pushed the pace as they looked to take their leader Andre Greipel to his 3rd stage win. Gari Bravo was able to get himself into a breakaway after the 2nd sprint and grabbed himself the 2nd on the 2nd KOM of the day on the slight hill on the course. As the laps wore down, Lotto, SKY and Lampre took to the front as they attempted to get their sprinters in order. Edvald Boasson Hagen pushed the pace hard and created gaps in the peloton, which in turn helped the Euskaltel riders. As Greipel took the sprint win, Ion and Gorka were able to come in at 4 seconds down, which allowed them to move back into 4th and 7th overall, respectively, thanks to less attentive riders who were caught out.

Euskaltel were able to gain 91 World Tour points for their efforts over the week, which accounts for ~16% of their total haul last season. While the season has only just begun, Euskaltel now sits second on the UCI World Tour rankings and they should be able to pick up more points at the next World Tour races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.

Results (full results here)

  • 1. (Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 1:52'59")
  • 20. Gorka Izagirre +4"
  • 30. Ion Izagirre s.t.
  • 48. Jon Aberasturi +9"
  • 60. Juan José Oroz +25"
  • 77. Juan José Lobato +37"
  • 78. Garikoitz Bravo s.t.
  • 99. Mikel Astarloza +57"
  • 1. (Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) 18:28'32")
  • 4. Ion Izagirre +32"
  • 7. Gorka Izagirre +36"
  • 38. Juan José Oroz +7'00"
  • 54. Garikoitz Bravo +11'17"
  • 103. Jon Aberasturi +27'03"
  • 104. Juan José Lobato +27'29"
  • 122. Mikel Astarloza +36'00"
Final Lap Video

Hernández coasts to win number 19

Aitor Hernández showed his form is still intact just a week before the World Championships by strolling to his 19th win of the season in Burgos on Saturday.

The Ermua-Orbea rider will head to Louisville next week to face off with the best in the business in the elite worlds, and used the race in Burgos, Castilla y León, as preparation for next Sunday's big one. It wasn't really a good test, though, as he hardly had to break a sweat, beating nearest rival Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga by more than a minute. Sub-23 prodigy Kevin Suárez tried to catch the former Euskaltel man cold with an early attack, but from the third lap on it was all about Hernández.

Speaking post-race, Larrinaga said he wasn't on the best of days, but admitted "there's not much you can do against a rival like that. He was really strong".

The duo will square off again on Sunday in Ispaster, in what will be the final tune-up for both riders ahead of their American adventure.

The race was also the regional championships of Castilla y León, and road rider Óscar Pujol was crowned champion of his home region courtesy of his seventh place.

Results, IV Memorial José Luis Talamillo, Burgos:
  1. Aitor Hernández (Ermua-Orbea), 1:00:32
  2. Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (MMR-Spiuk), 1:03
  3. Kevin Suárez (Bio Racer - Caravanas Erandio), 1:31
  4. Erlantz Uriarte (Ibaigane Opel), 1:32
  5. Júlen Zubero (Ciclos Zubero), 2:01
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Euskaltel ready for European season-opener

Euskaltel will bring riders from four different countries to the first race of the European season on Sunday, the Gran Prix d'Ouverture La Marseillaise.

While a septet is quietly impressing Down Under as we speak, another seven orange-clad riders will hope to get their season off to an equally inspired start tomorrow. The 148km French Cup-race will see the following riders at the start:
  • 71 - Romain Sicard
  • 72 - Jure Kocjan
  • 73 - Adrián Sáez
  • 74 - Pablo Urtasun
  • 75 - Ricardo Mestre
  • 76 - Rubén Pérez
  • 77 - Ricardo García
The race will of course mark the 2013 kick-off for all of them, and Romain Sicard, racing on home roads in a season that will likely see him debut at the Tour this summer, should find the lumpy course to his liking, though he told French newspaper La Provence a few days ago that his shape is "always a big doubt at the start of the season".

One who'll definitely look to shine in his first race for the team is Slovenian Jure Kocjan. His top-end speed should stand him in good stead at a race that traditionally ends in a small-sized bunch gallop, and the 28-year-old proved he's got what it takes in this race by taking fourth two years ago.

For start list, race profile and what's more, click here

To gear up for the race, check out Sicard's ride to the sub-23 worlds crown in Mendrisio below to get a glimpse of the rider he aspires to rediscover this year:

Photo: Orbea

New Orbea team in race against time

Little is known about the future of the Fundación Euskadi's Continental-ranked Orbea team, but Miguel Madariaga today shed some light on where the blue team is at little more than a week ahead of its scheduled season start at the Challenge Mallorca.

As has been reported earlier, the team, still to be given a new name, currently has eight riders in its ranks, and will be unveiled to the public on Wednesday the 30th of January in Derio. Talking to Gara on Friday, alma mater Miguel Madariaga revealed he's in talks with a local company regarding sponsorship, and that an eventual deal might see two more riders join Euskaltel's former feeder team.

"I have an important meeting in Gipuzkoa today (Friday), and that meeting might result in two more riders from the region being added to the team", he said. "At the moment we have Aritz Bagües and Mikel Aristi from Gipuzkoa, riders I consider to be future jewels of Gipuzkoan cycling and who are called on to replace the Izagirres, Zubeldia, Astarloza and co".

So far, Jon Larrinaga (Naturgas Energía) and Mikel Aristi (Debabarrena) have joined the team, while the trio of Aritz Etxeberria, Xabier Zabalo and Andoni Blázquez have been let go. Counting on only eight riders for the entire season might be too big an ask though, Madariaga admits.

"We'd like to have 10 riders on the team - eight is not much for our calendar of races. But economically we cannot go further than that (and expand the roster). For the whole foundation, including the base, Naturgas Energía with 18 riders and the Continental team, we need 1,1 million euros, and we only have 350 000 to start with. We'll have 220 000 more if the 1732 Fundación members we have now stick with us. We'll start collecting the money this month, but as many might not continue, we may end up losing money".

In other words, Madariaga is looking for half the money they had last season. He's allegedly looked "everywhere" for a new title sponsor, and is still holding out hope that he might reach a deal with one of the three companies he's been in touch with to replace Orbea as naming rights sponsor.

The Basque bike brand will continue to supply the team with bikes and material, but the foundation will have to pay Orbea in order to race their bikes. Still, Madariaga only has words of gratefulness for the Mallabia-based bike manufacturer.

"Of all the companies we've collaborated with, Orbea have been the ones who've behaved the best. Chapeau!", he said. "They've realized they've grown alongside the foundation for the last 20 years, and they've helped out with equipment in the hard times. They're not giving us the bikes, they can't afford to, but they're handing them over at a very reasonable price".

That the Fundación Euskadi and Euskaltel didn't cease their collaboration on the best of terms is no secret. Madariaga's wish for Euskaltel to buy the team's vehicle fleet to help balance the foundation's books was eventually grantes, but Igor González de Galdeano et al. got them on the cheap, according to the founding father of the whole project.

"The deal we reached wasn't anything near what it should have been", he argued. "But as time was running out, we had to accept it. Now we're in a race against time to get all the paperwork done to be able to start our season on February 3 on Mallorca".

The presentation of the team and its jersey will be held in Derio outside of Bilbao on the coming Wednesday, January 30, at 11:00 am.

Positive Day for Euskaltel on Willunga Hill

Euskaltel have nearly wrapped up a great start to the season after Ion Izagirre finished 4th on the queen stage on Old Willunga Hill at the Santos Tour Down Under while brother Gorka finished 7th. Neither were able to match the accelerations of stage winner Simon Gerrans and new overall leader Tom-Jelte Slagter but were able to keep up with the main pack and in Ion's case, distancing the pack to grab precious seconds on the overall leader board. If both maintain their overall positions, Euskaltel will be able to score 90 precious World Tour points, nearly 20% of their total haul last year.

The peloton began the stage with a lively start out of McLaren Vale with multiple attacks being launched and brought back by an attentive peloton. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) was a main driver in initiating a breakaway as he took to the front multiple times. After De Gendt attacked with his teammate Tomas Marczynski, a group of 6 riders bridged and the break was formed. The pace was lively on the 3 flat circuits as the break was cooperating well with each other as the gap extended to 4'30". At the beginning of the 3rd circuit, the SKY-led peloton began to up the pace; bearing down on the breakaway as they began to near the first loop of Old Willunga Hill. The break was caught early on the ascent while a group of 4, including 2 Movistar riders, was able to gain an advantage.

On the approach to the final ascent of Willunga Hill, SKY and Orica-GreenEdge ramped up the pace as the peloton turned onto the climb and absorbed the breakaway. Attacks were launched as the road went upward, including by Tiago Machado (RadioShack), as SKY continued to lead the peloton, insistent on protecting Geraint Thomas' ochre leader's jersey. As the 2km flag was passed, Javier Moreno (Movistar) launched his attack and bridged to the small breakaway; taking to the front as he was only 6 seconds down on the overall classification. In the peloton, Simon Gerrans (OGE) launched an impressive attack, which Gorka Izagirre attempted futilely to follow, and brought him to to wheel of Moreno. As Gerrans and Moreno were in sight, Ion Izagirre attempted to distance the peloton but was out done by Tom-Jelte Slagter, who exploded out of the group and up to Gerrans. The duo were able to create a large gap with the latter taking the stage win.

Ion's move was not all-for-naught as he took 4 seconds out of the main bunch and 4th on the stage, good for 1 World Tour point. Ion now sits in 4th place on G.C., 28" behind Slagter and only 1" ahead of Geraint Thomas in 5th. Gorka was able to grab 7th on the stage but slipped two spots on the overall classification to 7th, 32" behind Slagter.


  • 1. (Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) 3:36'25")
  • 4. Ion Izagirre +12"
  • 7. Gorka Izagirre +16"
  • 25. Juan José Oroz +43"
  • 43. Garikoitz Bravo +1'36"
  • 85. Mikel Astarloza +7'49"
  • 119. Juan José Lobato +12'49"
  • 120. Jon Aberasturi s.t.
Final 3km

Tomorrow is the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under with a circuit race around Adelaide, which will be the final chance for sprinter Juan José Lobato. Ion will have to be attentive to both Geraint Thomas (SKY) and Tiago Machado (RadioShack) as either is only one second back on GC and could pass him if they attempted to go for any bonus seconds. If the overall remains status quo, Euskaltel will be very happy with the effort in Australia.

Euskaltel duo avoid serious injury

Euskaltel's pair of young sprinters, Jon Aberasturi and Juan José Lobato, both hit the deck in the closing stages of Friday's fourth stage of the Tour Down Under, both the duo emerged relatively unscathed from the pile-up.

The two, looking for the perfect spot from which to start their sprint in a galloping bunch closing in on the finishing town of Tanunda, crashed hard in the final clicks and brought with them, among others, Garmin-Sharp's Tyler Farrar. They both got back on their bikes to finish the stage, though, and both will line up for Saturday's penultimate leg.

"Today, we thankfully managed to save the day with the Izagirre brothers. The bad luck was me and Aberasturi's fall", 'JJ' Lobato tweeted post-stage, adding they only sustained cuts and bruises and were ready to go "full gas" tomorrow.

The team's own website later reported much of the same, only adding that Lobato's left quadriceps also took a hit.

Going into tomorrow's GC decider over the iconic Willunga Hill, Lobato and Aberasturi (seen above helping fellow crash victim Graeme Brown across the line) are 100th and 101st overall respectively, both at 14:04.

Photo: Orbea

Friday, January 25, 2013

Up and Down Day for Euskaltel

It was an up and down day for the Euskaltel squad on the 4th stage of the Tour Down Under. Gorka and Ion Izagirre both stayed up high on the general classification while Jon Aberasturi and Juan José Lobato crashed in a multi-rider pileup with less than 3 kilometers to go. The finish was littered with multiple crashes on the final straight that was described by multiple riders as dangerous with multiple parked cars along the roadside.

The mild, breezy day was animated by a two-man break, initiated by World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Damien Howson (UniSA), who attacked within the first kilometers and gained a quick advantage. The duo were given a leash, though nothing too outrageous, and dominated the action on the flat parcours. SKY and Orica-GreenEdge dominated the chase efforts to bring back the tandem, while Euskaltel made themselves present near the front with 30 kilometers to go.

As the action began to heat up, the peloton bore down on the break and their advantage became slim. With around 15 kilometers to go, the two riders were swallowed up as the sprinters teams wound up their respective trains with the pace raising to speeds of 60 kilometers per hour. The first crash happened around 10 kilometers with multiple riders crashing while mere kilometers later, a couple more riders rode off the edge of the road. With 3 kilometers to go, a large crash happened mainly between Abersturi, Lobato and Garmin-Sharp's sprinter Tyler Farrar. On the final approach as the sprint ramped up, another crash hit the rear of the peloton with 750 meters to go as even more riders went down. As the dust settled, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) claimed his 13th stage victory in the Tour Down Under as he beat Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff).

With Gorka and Ion finishing safely in the bunch, they kept their high placings on the general classifications as Gorka leapfrogged to 5th place while Ion remains at 6th overall. Ion remains 2nd in the youth classification, 10" behind Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco). Tomorrow's stage over Old Willunga Hill will be pivotal to the GC outcome and Euskaltel's chance at valuable World Tour points.

Results (full results here)

  • 1. (Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 3:02'52")
  • 19. Gorka Izagirre s.t.
  • 33. Ion Izagirre s.t.
  • 34. Garikoitz Bravo s.t.
  • 45. Juan José Oroz s.t.
  • 101. Mikel Astarloza s.t.
  • 121. Jon Aberasturi s.t.
  • 126. Juan José Lobato s.t.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lobato - I'm only partly pleased

New recruit Juan José Lobato has gotten his Euskaltel adventure off to a more than decent start Down Under. The 24-year-old placed 11th in Sunday's People's Choice Classic, before going on to take 12th on the first stage of the Tour Down Under itself.

Most WorldTour first-timers would doubtlessly be pleased with such results, but 'JJ' was expecting more.

"I'm only half-happy", he told VeloFutur"It's the first race of the year and I don't know where I'm at physically. What's more, those two finishes weren't ideal for me - they were completely flat and required a lot of power. I'm a lighter sprinter, which means I need the finish line to come at the top of a short climb or that the race is quite selective. But overall it hasn't been a bad start".

The man from Andalucía was protected and marshalled well by his team-mates on both occasions, and he admits he can't fault anyone but himself.

"I got it totally wrong on the first stage", he said. "I though it was going too fast and that I would blow up, so I dropped back a little bit. However, when I got close to the line I realized I had some power left and could pass some riders, which goes to show I didn't calculate well. It was the first race of the year, and it's normal that stuff like that happens.

"I have the complete support of my team, though, and I appreciate that".

Lobato finished 112th, 7:34 in arrears, on today's third stage. Up tomorrow is a relatively sprinter-friendly 126,5km ride from Modbury to Tanunda.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Status Quo for Euskaltel Down Under

There was no change for Euskaltel on the general classification on stage 3 of the Santos Tour Down Under as both Gorka and Ion Izagirre finished safely in the first group, on the same time as stage winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco). While Gorka finished 10th on the stage, both Ion and Gorka stayed 6th and 7th overall, respectively.

On a rolling day from Unley to Stirling, the pace started quickly with an early KOM prize being the carrot for the peloton. Euskaltel's Gari Bravo went for it on the KOM spot but was only able to grab 3rd place behind Jack Bobridge (Blanco) and Daryl Impey (Orica). After the KOM spot, a break of 8 slipped away and would not be brought back for the majority of the race. Meanwhile, the oppressive heat took its toll on the peloton with many suffering including Mikel Astarloza, the victim of a hard crash yesterday, who would eventually roll in last place over 21 minutes down on Slagter.

The breakaway began to attack itself with approximately 15km to go while the peloton began to breath down their neck. As the break was finally swallowed up with ~3km to go, the peloton made a few accelerations on the final uphill before the finish line. Tom-Jelte Slagter was the first to accelerate and pull away on the false flat uphill finish and stayed away ahead of Matt Goss (Orica) and World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC). Gorka rolled in 10th while Ion came in 23rd, both safe for another day and still in contention for World Tour points. Ion is still 2nd overall in the young rider's classification, now 10 seconds down on Slagter.

Results (full results here)

  • 1. (Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) 3:36'46")
  • 10. Gorka Izagirre s.t.
  • 23. Ion Izagirre s.t.
  • 72. Juan José Oroz +4'31"
  • 107. Garikoitz Bravo +7'34"
  • 108. Jon Aberasturi s.t.
  • 112. Juan José Lobato s.t.
  • 130. Mikel Astarloza +21'36"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Astarloza all stitched up after crash

The Izagirre brothers ensured Euskaltel's performance on the second stage of the Tour Down Under was by all means a positive one, but there were less positive outcomes for a veteran duo of the team. Juan José Oroz and Mikel Astarloza were both taken out by a big pile-up six clicks from the line, and lost valuable time on GC.

Oroz eventually came in 33rd, no more than 1:09 in arrears, while Astarloza ceded considerably more. The winner of the 2003 edition of the race came in 5:26 back in 88th place, and, worse, needed to stitch up his elbow afterwards. Five were needed to fix up his wound, while Oroz was luckier and didn't need treatment, the team's website reports.

For Astarloza it would no doubt have come as a hard hit, having told El Diario Vasco the day before that he was coming off a winter of intense training.

"I've been training more than ever", he said, revealing he took three weeks off the bike after last season before resuming training in early November. "I have a packed calendar. In February I'll run "everything" in order to reach Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco in top shape. It takes time for me to get into shape, so I need to get in a lot of kilometres. To start the season with a lot of races might therefore be good for me".

Astarloza's 2013 race schedule was revealed on Christmas Eve - check it out here.

The veteran former Ag2r rider hasn't won a race since 2009 or 2003 - depending on how you look at it - and the Pasajes-native is eager to expand his palmarès in the season that's just started.

"My objective is to win a race again, I want to win something again", he said. "I'd love to rediscover the form of 2009. I didn't manage to do that last year. My fall in the Tour, and the elbow injury that came with it, stopped me in my tracks and prevented me from going to the Vuelta a España in good shape.

"(All in all though), 2012 was a good year, but I missed the win and the consistency. The Tour crash left me feeling bitter. The Tour can save your year, but the opposite can also be the case. I'm left wondering what could have been", he concluded.

Murgoitio out of Worlds; ends season

Egoitz Murgoitio's already unsatisfactory season has come to an altogether more unsatisfactory end, with the Hirumet-Taldea rider forced to pull out of the World Championships and put an end to his season.

The former seemingly invincible 'crosser has seen his domestic crown slip into the hands of Orbea's Aitor Hernández this season, and has had mixed success on the international scene. Now, he won't get the chance to show his stuff in Louisville in a week and a half.

While training in Benidorm, the 29-year-old started feeling sharp pain in his right knee, a press release reads. He was eventually diagnosed with patellar tendinitis, more commonly known as jumper's knee.

"After having to skip a lot of training rides the last three weeks because of knee trouble, it's enough. The season is over for me", the Abadiño-born rider said.

One Hirumet-Taldea rider who will line up in America next weekend is of course sub-23 star Jonathan Lastra. He'll be accompanied by elite riders Aitor Hernández and Javier Ruíz de Larrinaga.

The last race of the Basque calendar will be held this coming Sunday in Ispaster, Vizcaya. Murgoitio is the reigning champion.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza 

Izagirre Brothers ascend the GC on the Corkscrew

Ion and Gorka Izagirre ascended into the top ten of the overall on the 2nd stage of the Santos Tour Down Under after finishing comfortably in the front chase group, a few seconds behind a trio containing stage winner Geraint Thomas (SKY). With the impressive ride by the Euskaltel men, they now occupy 6th (Ion) and 7th (Gorka) on the general classification, 14" down on Thomas. While nothing is decided and with the difficult Wilunga hill stage still to come, it does look good for Euskaltel to take some early World Tour points.

The action started early today with a break of four going up the road containing Will Clarke (Argos-Shimano), Calvin Watson (UniSA), Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r) and Christopher Juul-Jensen (Saxo-Tinkoff). After Bonnafond was dropped from the break, the peloton began to dial the pace up, with multiple Euskaltel riders being seen near the front. As the race hit Corkscrew Hill, the break imploded and the pace ramped up. Multiple attacks were launched by riders such as Andrey Amador (Movistar), Matt Lloyd (Lampre-Merida) and most notably, George Bennett (Radioshack-Leopard) before Geraint Thomas launched an impressive attack on some of the steeper stretches of the hill, which topped out at 17%.

Thomas cleared the hill in front but was quickly joined by a trio of chasers, including Bennett, his Radioshack teammate Ben Hermans and Movistar's Javier Moreno. The Radioshack duo kept the pace high as a chasing group that included the Izagirres was closing in. As the race entered the final kilometers, Bennett was dropped from exhaustion but the chasing pack was not able to make the junction. Thomas surprised his companions with an attack from behind, catapulting him to an impressive win while Ion Izagirre came home in 9th place on the stage.

Ion is now 2nd overall in the young rider's classification on the same time as Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco). Euskaltel is also laying 2nd overall in the team classification behind Radioshack-Leopard

Results (Full Results Here)

  • 1, (Geraint Thomas (SKY) 2:44'48")
  • 9, Ion Izagirre +04"
  • 15, Gorka Izagirre s.t.
  • 33, Juan José Oroz +1'09"
  • 42, Garikoitz Bravo +1'18"
  • 88, Mikel Astarloza +5'26"
  • 99, Juan José Lobato +6'19"
  • 122, Jon Aberasturi s.t.
  • 1, (Geraint Thomas (SKY) 6:19'32")
  • 6, Ion Izagirre +14"
  • 7, Gorka Izagirre s.t.
  • 31, Juan José Oroz +1'19"
  • 40, Garikoitz Bravo +1'28"
  • 81, Mikel Astarloza +5'36"
  • 88, Juan José Lobato +6'29"
  • 95, Jon Aberasturi s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mujika - Sport free of doping is no utopia

One of Euskaltel's least publicised signings this winter (and one that didn't provoke outrage among Euskaltel aficionados), might turn out to be one of the most important ones over the course of the next few years. As part of the team's wider strategy to renew itself, team manager Igor González de Galdeano took a leaf out of Team Sky's handbook and brought in a physical trainer with no or remote prior experience in cycling: Iñigo Mujika.

As it happens, Mujika, renown for his work in swimming, triathlon and football, is a good friend of Tim Kerrison's, the Australian who's been lavished with praise in the aftermath of Bradley Wiggins' Tour triumph. The story about how Kerrison completely changed Wiggins' training and approach to the bike is by now an old story, but Mujika's just getting started. No one's expecting the 44-year-old to work miracles with the 'new Euskaltel' and turn Gorka Verdugo into a Tour winner, but Mujika certainly has ideas on how a cyclist should live his life - on as well as off the bike.

Among other things, the native of Pamplona will look to modernize the orange-clad riders' approach to training.

"For a while now I've been thinking that cycling has been stuck in the past", he told acclaimed sports writer Carlos Arribas of El País. "I think cycling is now trying to do what other sports have been doing for decades, which is to pay attention to the four pillars of exercise: training, recovery, nutrition and psychology. In cycling, this has been neglected, it's been put aside. Perhaps not nutrition, but certainly training and recovery. My view is that teams that have recently started focussing on this are reaping the rewards.

"We'll do our best to focus on those four pillars."

When asked whether doping has played its part in training being neglected, Mujika, who's got Ph.D.s in Biology of Muscular Exercise from the University of Saint-Etienne and Physical Activity and Sport Sciences from the University of the Basque Country, provided a relatively firm answer.

"Yeah, I think so", he said. "The cyclists have always trained, and they've trained hard, but in the end there's always been a shortcut, a quick fix. But with the improved controls and the introduction of the biological passport, those shortcuts couldn't replace quality training, though there were still people who thought you could ride hard for two, three hours a day and then take the shortcut afterwards.

"We know a doping program could give you between an eight and ten percent performance gain. And because of this a lot of riders have asked themselves "why should I kill myself in training if I could improve through other means?". But that option no longer exists.

"Cycling without doping is not a utopia. That's becoming clearer to me with every passing day, and as well for the riders, the public and the environment. That's what's important. The risk of returning to what it used to be like is getting smaller".

Mujika received the title of "Head of Physiology and Training" upon returning to Galdeano's outfit, having previously worked under Galdeano between 2006 and 2008. Spells at Athletic Bilbao and Spain's national swim team followed in between, and his return to cycling has so far been successful.

"The integration of the new 'model' has been good", he said. "I get the feeling they're accepting my ideas. We have a new type of cycling with lots of possibilities ahead of us. That's why I'm here. Now is the time people who work like me can make a difference. This is the moment".


Euskaltel survive Down Under opener

All seven Euskaltel riders came through this morning's first Tour Down Under stage with their general classification hopes intact - though their sprint train still needs some work.

The 135km trek from Prospect to Lobethal saw German powerhouse André Greipel, entirely as expected, come out tops - and with some margin. Euskaltel, fielding a reasonably fast-finishing bunch of riders at the race, tried to get in on the act: The Izagirre brothers tried to set up new boy JJ Lobato for a tilt at the top placings, but the 24-year-old could only come away with 12th. Not far behind were Ion (14th) and Gorka (23rd).

The rest of the orange-clad riders, Bravo, Astarloza, Aberasturi and Oroz, also came in with the pack, and avoided ceding any time.

Results (full results can be found here):
  • (1, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), 3:35:24)
  • 12, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 14, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 23, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 40, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 47, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 54, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 63, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Check the finish of the stage below:

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Monday, January 21, 2013

Giro on the horizon for Tamouridis

Despite being 32 years old, Ioannis Tamouridis is a relative newcomer to road racing. The multiple Greece national champion has only focused on the road exclusively for the last four years, having largely dedicated his maiden years as a cyclist to the boards.

This year, Tamouridis will take it to the next level of course, donning the famous orange garment of Euskaltel at the sport's top table. He won't take it easy to get accustomed to the longer distances and generally heavier work loads, though, with his first Grand Tour only four months away.

"I'll start the season at the Volta ao Algarve, before going on to the Tirreno-Adriatico", he told El Pedal de Frodo. "And, yes, I'll do the Giro d'Italia. I couldn't be happier to be given the chance to do that race, as I'll then become the first from my country to take part in a three-week race as well as riding on the WorldTour. I'm very pleased".

Speaking of season goals, the erstwhile SP Tableware stalwart become reticent, refraining from mentioning any races in particular. Obviously, though, given his background from the track, the time trials will be an aim.

"I hope to do well, help the team captains and generally just do the work I have to do", he said. "As well I hope to perform in races that include time trials and in hard races without big climbs - for stuff like that, this team already has a number of strong riders."

To round things off, Tamouridis added another voice to the chorus of riders waxing lyrical about the integration of the new riders into an already tight-knit group at the mainly Basque team.

"People here are very friendly, and therefore I'm glad to have joined this team. I'm very content, and I want to pay them back for the trust they've shown in me.

"For now, this team is like my second family. I feel at home here".


Ermua pays up for Hernández

Spanish national champion Aitor Hernández will after all get to compete at the upcoming World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was reported last week that the Ermua-Orbea rider would have to skip the worlds after the RFEC opted against paying for the riders' travel expenses. But now, less than two weeks before the race, his home town has come to his rescue.

The town council of Ermua has, according to BiciCiclismo, decided to chip in economically, allowing the former Euskaltel rider to test himself against the very best in the business.

The worlds will be held on Sunday the third of February.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spain's top 'crosser misses worlds

Despite dominating the domestic cyclo-cross scene in a fashion rarely seen before from any rider, Aitor Hernández will not get to dispute the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, in two weeks' time.

It's the same reason that has kept the Ermua-Orbea rider from competing internationally this season: he can't afford it. The RFEC, the Spanish Cycling Federation, decided earlier this week that they would not cover the riders' expenses, hence Hernández, Larrinaga, Murgoitio et al. have to dip into their own pockets to make their way over the Atlantic. The former Euskaltel roadie can't afford it, and Spain will thus be without its top representative in the first American worlds.

Hernández yesterday took his 19th triumph of a year that's seen him win the overall Superprestigio-crown, the Euskadi championships and the national championships.


Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Lobato shows form in season opener

New Euskaltel rider Juan José Lobato showed glimpses of his sprinting capabilities in today's precursor to the Tour Down Under, the People's Choice Classic.

The 24-year-old joined from Andalucía in the winter to bolster Euskaltel's sprint department, having earned a reputation as a budding top class sprinter with three impressive seasons behind him at the Professional Continental level.

He showed flashes of his ability Sunday morning, coming from far behind to finish a creditable 11th in a fractured dash for the line in which eventual victor André Greipel's Lotto-Belisol outfit split the leading group in two in the closing hundred metres.

The native of Trebujana, Cádiz, ended up just behind Yauheni Hutarovich and in front of big-name speedsters like Fenn, Farrar, Renshaw, Kittel and Van Hummel. Following not far behind were fellow Euskaltel debutants Jon Aberasturi in 30th and Gari Bravo in 33rd.

Today's results of course do not count towards the Tour Down Under proper, set to start Tuesday morning CET.

  • (1, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), 1:04:01)
  • 11, Juan José Lobato, 0:02
  • 30, Jon Aberasturi, 0:08
  • 33, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 49, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 53, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 123, Gorka Izagirre, 1:08
  • 124, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Tour Down Under bib numbers

The Tour Down Under warm-up, the People's Choice Classic, is underway as we write this, with seven Euskaltel riders showcasing the new jersey.

Here are their start numbers:
  • 151 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 152 - Jon Aberasturi
  • 153 - Juan José Oroz
  • 154 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 155 - Garikoitz Bravo
  • 156 - Ion Izagirre
  • 157 - Juan José Lobato
You can find the complete start list here.

Live streaming of the race can be found here.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Hernández wins in memory of Lejarreta

Aitor Hernández's magic run of form seems to have no end: on Saturday, the former roadie clocked up his 18th win of the season in Berriz, Bizkaia.

The race counted as the Championship of Bizkaia, and was held in the late Iñaki Lejarreta's hometown of Berriz to pay homage to the fallen mountain biker. Lejarreta was of course no slouch on the cyclo-cross circuit himself and spent his whole career riding for Orbea, so it was most fitting that current Orbea rider Hernández, born just up the road in Ermua, could lift his arms in jubilation upon crossing the line.

In fact, he could probably have lifter his arms in triumph long before that. On a terribly muddy and technical circuit, no one was able to match Hernández's furious pace, with the recently crowned national champion going on to win by a big 1:25. Kevin Suárez, 2012 senior national champ Isaac's nephew, initially gave it a shot along with the likes of former Orbea road professional Júlen Zubero, Erlantz Uriarte and José Antonio Díez Arriola, but no one was able to shake of the stubborn Hernández and was no match for him on the closing circuits.

Díez Arriola went on to take second, while the ever-improving Jonathan Lastra, despite detrimental crashes, grabbed third.

  1. Aitor Hernández (Ermua-Orbea), 57:03
  2. José Antonio Díez Arriola (Tus Bicis - Maglia Sport), 1:25
  3. Jonathan Lastra (Hirumet Taldea), 1:33 - sub-23 winner
  4. Erlantz Uriarte (Ibaigane Opel), 2:41
  5. Iñigo Gómez (Bio Racer - Caravanas Erandio), 3:20
  6. Júlez Zubero (Ciclos Zubero), 4:26
  7. Ion Gómez (Bio Racer - Caravanas Erandio), 4:43
  8. Asier Arregi (, 5:10
  9. Antonio Suárez (La Paz Club Ciclista), 6:19
  10. Abel García (Patria Hispana), 6:50
Eider Merino was crowned regional champ among the women by besting Lierni Lekuona and Monica Carrascosa. Caja Rural's Alex Aranburu took out the junior men's race, but seeing as he hails from Ezkio-Itsaso in Gipuzkoa, the regional crown went to number two, Eneko Corrales, while Álvaro Carral closed out the podium. 

Of note, three-time national champion Jokin Mujika triumphed in the Máster 50 category. Mujika, once a highly-promising road rider who took in spells with illustrious teams like Orbea and Banesto in the 80s, switched to the mud in the latter stages of an underwhelming career, going on to win the Spanish Championships in 1993, 1994 and 1996. Mujika once beat two real greats of the sport, Robert Millar and Charly Mottet, to win the Bicicleta Vasca (later the Euskal Bizikleta) taking in the famed Arrate climb in 1988 - just a few clicks away from today's host, Lejarreta's beloved Berriz.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Video: Euskaltel gear up for 2013 debut

Watch a video of Euskaltel training on antipodean roads in preparation for the Tour Down Under below, shot by the race organizer. The race kicks off with the People's Choice Classic on Sunday, and the race proper gets underway two days later.

By the way, the man talking is Euskaltel's expert directeur sportif, Álex Díaz.

Nieve relishing facing the unknown

You'd be hard pressed to say Mikel Nieve is one of the best Grand Tour riders out there. Granted, he's always up there in the top ten and is the very definition of consistency, but he's yet to do better than tenth overall.

He's easily the best Grand Tour first-timer, though: He grabbed the queen-stage and tenth overall in his maiden Vuelta a España three years ago, and went on to replicate that exact same feat in his first ever Giro d'Italia a year later.

This summer, Nieve is set for leadership duties in his first ever Tour de France. So will he be celebrating a stage win and a top GC result at the Grand Boucle?

"Man, winning a stage in the Tour would be better than what I achieved in the Vuelta or the Giro, but we'll see", he told El Pedal de Frodo. "First I have to get there in shape, and then we'll see what I can do. I want to show myself at the top of my game. Where that will take me I don't know - I've never done the Tour and it's hard to predict anything. But, yeah, I would like to be among the frontrunners and fight for a stage win, of course I would like that... But before that, I've got to prepare myself as best I can and be in top shape when the race kicks off".

Leading Euskaltel in France, a team created to ride the Tour mind you, can be a burden for anyone. Nieve is no different, but says the pressure he puts on himself is just as big.

"Yes, (leading the team) comes with pressure", he said. "But it's also pressure I put on myself. I want to give the best of myself at that race, and if I give it all I've got, I can't ask for more.

"I imagine the Tour to be more or less like everyone says it is: that there's much tension, that it's the best race in the world, and that it's the race with the highest level of racing. Everyone who's going to that race prepares for it, and everyone's in shape.

"There's been a lot of crashing in the first week of the race the last few years, so you have to go there with respect, be careful and hope you avoid the spills and get to the mountains in good shape".

Despite taking on a number of high-calibre races last year, the Giro, the Tour de Suisse, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia and the Tour of Beijing to name but a few, the 28-year-old "only" clocked up 55 race days - that's 17 less than fellow team captain Igor Antón and even fewer than Samuel Sánchez, who was of course ruled out through injury for a big part of the year.

He didn't start out until the Clásica de Almeria came around in late February last season, and, though his calendar is yet to be released, he admits his 2013 race appointments differ from those of 2012 - and he's looking forward to it.

"I'm motivated. We've changed my racing schedule around a little bit from what we've done the last couple of years, and this year we'll be changing everything somewhat. And I've done my homework this winter - at least I've tried", he added half-jokingly. "Now we will see the results of it, but I think I've worked well, I've avoided mishaps, and I aspire to perform to high standard.

The Paris-Nice will be one of his biggest goals for the first half of the season, but he's reluctant to set any concrete objectives.

"First off we have to see how I'm feeling, and the race will put me in my place. To start with I'll try to be as far up as I can and see where it takes me", he said.

Euskaltel have of course been through a major overhaul this off-season what with the incorporation of non-Basques and the severing of ties with the Fundación Euskadi. Nieve isn't too worried though, predicting big things to come from some of his young team-mates.

"If Romain Sicard gets back to where he was, he's one of the biggest talents I've ever seen. And Ion Izagirre's Giro performance last year was really impressive", he enthused. "I think they can be the future of this team".

Had it with all the Armstrong news lately? Watch the epic clip below to be reminded of what cycling really is all about:

  Photo: Orbea

Thursday, January 17, 2013

35 Basque pros in 2013

While there's still room for movement in the transfer market, 35 riders are, as of the turn of the year, set to make up the professional Basque peloton in 2013.

So says Euskadi cycliste, a newly-created webpage whose authors have collected the complete list. Besides the 19 at Euskaltel Euskadi, there's 16 in other World Tour or Professional Continental teams.

Complete list:
  • Aberasturi, Jon (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Antón, Igor (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Aramendía, Javier (Caja Rural)
  • Astarloza, Mikel (Euskaltel)
  • Azanza, Jorge (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Bilbao, Peio (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Bravo, Garikoitz (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Camaño, Iker (Team NetApp-Endura)
  • Castroviejo, Jonathan (Movistar)
  • Erviti, Imanol (Movistar)
  • Fernández, Koldo (Garmin-Sharp)
  • Fraile, Omar (Caja Rural)
  • Garate, Juan Manuel (Team Blanco)
  • García, Egoitz (Cofidis)
  • García, Ricardo (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Inxausti, Beñat (Movistar)
  • Irizar, Markel (RadioShack)
  • Izagirre, Gorka (Euskaltel)
  • Izagirre, Ion (Euskaltel)
  • Landa, Mikel (Euskaltel)
  • López, Davíd (Sky)
  • Martínez, Egoi (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Minguez, Miguel (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Nieve, Mikel (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Oroz, Juan José (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Pérez, Rubén (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Sáez, Adrián (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Sanz, Enrique (Movistar)
  • Sicard, Romain (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Txurruka, Amets (Caja Rural)
  • Urtasun, Pablo (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Velasco, Iván (Caja Rural)
  • Verdugo, Gorka (Euskaltel Euskadi)
  • Zandio, Xabier (Sky)
  • Zubeldia, Haimar (RadioShack)
Photo: RadioShack

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sicard set to realize dream

Romain Sicard's Euskaltel adventure has so far been a story of unfulfilled potential. After a promising maiden year at the World Tour level in 2010, injuries ruled him out for the better part of a year before he returned to fitness in 2012. While last season was low on high-profile results, the now 25-year-old got to ride a full season and made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España.

He now wants to "take another step ahead", and will hope to do so by taking part in the biggest race there is. Igor González de Galdeano has time and again showed his faith in the Frenchman, and has now decided to include him in the team for the Grand Boucle alongside Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve.

"I'm looking forward to discovering the Tour", he told BiciCiclismo. "I'm already 25 years old and has the experience of doing the Vuelta last year. The Tour is the race we all want to take part in, but before that we have to show we're at the needed level".

To gear up for the French GT, Sicard will tackle a calendar including Paris-Nice, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Ardennes and the Dauphiné:
  • 27 of January: GP Cycliste la Marseillaise
  • 30 of January - 3 of February: Etoile de Bessèges
  • 6-10 of February: Tour Méditerranéen
  • 3-10 of March: Paris-Nice
  • 23-24 of March: Critérium International
  • 1-6 of April: Vuelta al País Vasco
  • 14 of April: Amstel Gold Race
  • 17 of April: La Flèche Wallonne
  • 21 of April: Liège-Bastogne-Liège
  • 23-28 of April: Tour de Romandie
  • 2-9 of June: Critérium du Dauphiné
  • 29 of June - 21 of July: Tour de France
Sicard is these days taking part in the team's training camp in Villajoyosa on Spain's Costa Blanca, and insists the injuries that dogged him for so long are finally behind him.

"I'm feeling much better, and the best thing is that I can concentrate on training and racing", he said. "It's been two hard years during which I've learned a lot. Now, it'll be like starting over from zero".


Monday, January 14, 2013

Mestre - Winning a race would be huge

Saying Ricardo Mestre is heading into unchartered territory this year would be an understatement: The Portuguese is 29 years old, has never ridden for a team outside his own country (let alone a team ranked higher than Continental-level) and the Volta a Portugal is the biggest race he's ever done. Yet an overall title at the aforementioned race and consecutive GP Torres Vedras - Joaquim Agostinho triumphs suggests the native of Faro has the legs to compete at a higher level.

Mestre will of course get that opportunity in a few weeks, and he's naturally looking forward to it.

"I'm happy to be here, and hopefully it will go well", he told El Pedal de Frodo. "I'll do my best. It's a big change, but it's also a sign I'm still developing. I hope to learn more and perform better this year.

"I like it here, and I've been welcomed with open arms. It's what I expected it to be, and hopefully it will continue like this".

He wasn't too keen to discuss specific goals, but seemed aware he's likely to ride shotgun for the team's captains most of the time.

"If I'm able to be there and help the team win races, I'd be happy", he said. "And, of course, it would be huge to win a race on my own as well.

"Doing the Volta ao Algarve would be nice (as it's my home race), but I aim to get into shape at a later stage. I know part of my schedule, and I'll do Bessèges, Méditerranéen, Algarve, Murcia, Catalunya and more..."

And what headline would he like to see written about him at the end of the year?

"Ricardo Mestre surprises".

Photo: BiciCiclismo

Vrecer set for Grand Tour bow

New Euskaltel rider Robert Vrecer is set to get his Grand Tour debut this spring at the ripe old age of 32.

The Slovenian joined the team in the off-season from the Continental-level Team Vorarlberg to help secure Igor González de Galdeano's outfit the WorldTour licence it craved, and will get to experience one of the very hardest races there is already in his first season. According to the team's own website, Vrecer is set to line up at the Giro d'Italia in May.

Speaking from the team's training camp in Villajoyosa, the team's General Manager said the team's been divided into three groups for the training rides, with each group focussing on roughly the same races.

"The first group consists of riders who have to get into shape early on, and they are therefore doing more intense riding. (Igor) Antón, (Mikel) Nieve, (Gorka) Verdugo and (Romain) Sicard are some of these riders", he said. "In the second group you've got riders who are in with a real shot of doing the Giro, and who therefore need to go a little bit easier in training. Samuel Sánchez, Egoi Martínz, Jorge Azanza, Miguel Minguez and Robert Vrecer are shoo-ins for the Corsa Rosa. And then, finally, you've got the group of the sprinters, who are doing specific training. (André) Schulze, (Steffen) Radochla, (Alexandre) Serebryakov and (Adrián) Sáez de Arregi are in this group, joined occasionally by (Pablo) Urtasun, Rubén Pérez and (Jure) Kocjan".

Vrecer, who specializes against the clock and took six triumphs in all last year, will thus get a tough introduction to top-level racing - but, having ridden all career on Continental teams, he's likely relishing it.

As for the rest of the training camp, Galdeano hopes to "finalize the racing schedules for the riders", adding that "camps like these are important both to be able to train at intensity in a milder climate than further north, and to become a tight-knit group. Directors, mechanics, masseurs, soigneurs, riders... We're all a big family, and this week represents an ideal opportunity to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and to establish a good team atmosphere for the upcoming season".

The team will stay on the Costa Blanca through this week, returning home on Sunday the 20th. 

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aitor Hernández crowned Spanish Cyclocross Champion

In an intense, actioned-packed race, Aitor Hernández (Ermua-Orbea) was able to cap off his spectacular season by beating out Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet-Taldea) for the Spanish cyclocross crown.  Hernández caps off a year that saw him claim 17 victories, the Euskadi championship and the overall Superprestigio title. Rounding out the all-Basque podium was Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (MMR-Spiuk), who nearly overtook Murgoitio in the end.

The race started off quick with Egoitz Murgoitio and Isaac Suárez (Bio-Races Caravanas) pushing the pace on the first lap. Aitor Hernández and Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga made the junction on the 2nd lap and the group of four were away. Murgoitio pushed the pace again on the next lap, breaking away and forcing Hernández to chase. Hernández was able to make the junction while Larrinaga and Suárez stayed together. Hernández subsequently pushed the pace, dropping Murgoitio on the 4th lap but the two were back together on the 5th lap. While Hernández and Murgoitio dueled up front, Larrinaga was able to drop Suárez on the 6th lap and rode a faster lap then either of the front duo. The hammer blow came for Murgoitio after a counter-attack by Hernández on the 7th lap, which instantly gapped the Hirumet-Taldea rider.

Hernández continued to ride smooth on the muddy course while Murgoitio faltered, trying desperately to keep 2nd place from a hard charging Larrinaga. Murgoitio finally regained some rhythm on the last lap and was able to hold off Larrinaga, who had to settle for 3rd place. While Murgoitio has been one of the more successful Spaniards on the European cyclocross circuit, he has yet to win the Spanish elite title in his career.

  • 1, Aitor Hernández
  • 2, Egoitz Murgoitio +17"
  • 3, Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga +20" 
  • 4, Isaac Suárez +2'00"
  • 5, Constantino Zaballa +3'08"
  • 6, Jose Antonio Diez Arriola +3'46"
  • 7, Aketza Peña +4'01"
  • 8, Agustin Navarro +4'07"
  • 9, Mauro Gonzalez +4'27"
  • 10, Julen Zubero +4'33"
  • 17, Erlantz Uriarte +8'21"
Photo: Aitor Hernández

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lastra grabs Spanish U23 CX Crown

(l-r, Kevin Suárez, Jonathan Lastra, Iñigo Gomez)

Jonathan Lastra (Hirumet-Taldea) rode to victory in the U23 race at the Spanish Cyclocross Championships in Navia, Asturias, holding off Kevin Suárez and fellow Basque Iñigo Gomez. Jon Ander Insausti bounced back from a poor start and tried to catch Gomez on the muddy course but had to settle for 4th in the end.

Lastra was able to dominate the race by wearing down his competition on a muddy and slick course and then riding within himself to victory. Suárez and Iñigo Gomez started the race off with attacks but both eventually fell off the pace set by Lastra. Defending champion Suárez settled into a steady pace, eventually dropping the flagging Gomez, and was riding similar laps to Lastra, albeit 20 seconds down on the Baque rider. Gomez stated post-race that he didn't want to blow up trying to stay with Suárez and concentrated on keeping 3rd place from fellow Basque Jon Ander Insausti, who rode some of his fastest laps at the end of the race.

Euskadi ended up taking 5 places out of the top 10 in the U23 race with Iñigo Gomez' brother Ion riding to 7th place while Peio Goikoetxea finished in 9th place. Lastra capped off an impressive domestic season by sweeping the U23 championships for Spain and Euskadi and the U23 overall Superprestigio crown.


  1. Jonathan Lastra
  2. Kevin Suárez +27"
  3. Iñigo Gomez +1'09"
  4. Jon Ander Insausti +1'15"
  5. Paulo González +1'18"
  6. José Manuel Ribera +1'31"
  7. Ion Gomez +1'50"
  8. Abel Garcia +1'57"
  9. Peio Goikoetxea +2'30"
  10. Marcos Altur +3'14"

Sánchez - The Vuelta route draws my attention

With 11 summit finishes spread over three weeks of intense riding, it would be something of a surprise if an Euskaltel rider and Grand Tour specialist was not enticed by the Vuelta a España recorrido presented today in Vigo, Galicia. 'Samu' is of course set to channel his energy on the Giro this spring, but has left his options open for a participation in his team's home three-week race if he isn't feeling up to tackling the might of the Tour in July - just a few weeks after the Giro comes to a close.

A decision on whether or not he'll line up in Spain is therefore quite a few months away, but it appears the route itself won't be the reason if he opts against taking to the start.

"The route draws my attention", he told Teledeporte.

The route is as mentioned heavy on climbing, and the climbers are likely to figure right from the very first day.

"There will be differences created in the first few days", he said. "Team time trials usually takes in 15-20 clicks, but this one is 30 kilometres long. And the first stage doesn't just include a tough ending, it's got a first category climb. Maybe there are not as many explosive climbs as last year, but, in general, it's for sure more climbing."

The recent Vuelta routes have, much like it's Italian equivalent, been accused of being too hard. Sánchez wasn't keen to voice his opinion, at least not straightforwardly, preferring to say "the debate over the route is over when you look at the number of spectators. We are paid to race against each other. I think it's good".

Team head Igor González de Galdeano, who'll team up with his riders at their training camp at the Costa Blanca later today, was rather more direct, though, saying the organizers are taking a big gamble.

"They're taking a risk with so much climbing, so we'll just have to hope it turns out as well as it did this year", he said. "It could be decided too soon though, and that could really block the race. It's a big gamble".

The 34-year-old has yet to decide where and when to start his season, but it's likely to be either at the Vuelta a Andalucía in February or at Tirreno-Adriatico in March. 

Photo: Podium Café

Larrinaga hit by car - escapes injury

Current Orbea rider and former Naturgas Energía stalwart Jon Larrinaga was hit by a car while out training on Friday, but did not sustain any serious injuries.

So reports the Fundación Euskadi's web page this morning. The 22-year-old was about to embark on a training ride in his home town of Amurrio, Álava, when a parked car, allegedly not seeing the rider, suddenly backed into him. Larrinaga took a hard hit to the elbow, but escaped relatively unscathed.

The accident comes hot on the heels of the deaths of Víctor Cabedo, Iñaki Lejarreta and Burry Stander, and the foundation duly took the opportunity to ask drivers to respect cyclists to avoid similar fates to those mentioned above.

Larrinaga is about to commence his first season in the professional ranks with the foundation's Continental team (formerly Orbea; the team's new name is yet to be decided upon) after numerous solid, yet winless, seasons with the foundation's sub-23 outfit.

This sub-23 outfit, which will remain Naturgas Energía in 2013, will start their season in France on February the ninth, and will today, Saturday, gather for a 120km-team training ride in the area around the Basque Country's capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Photo: Pascal Baudron


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