Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oroz survives Flanders hammering

Juan José Oroz put his all-round ability and never-say-die attitude to good use at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, managing to complete the race less than 15 minutes down on runaway victor Fabian Cancellara.

On a less positive note, though, the lanky 32-year-old was the only rider in orange to finish the Monument as the team's Classics squad took another hit with a sub-par performance. The new recruits, Ioannis Tamouridis, Alexandre Serebryakov, André Schulze et al. all posted DNFs yet again, leading DS Óscar Guerrero with a lot of work to do ahead of next Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.

Peio Bilbao, who's professed his love for the cobbled races, tried to infiltrate the break of the day but came up short, eventually deciding to quit the race as well.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack), 6:06:01)
  • 91, Juan José Oroz, 13:35
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Winless run extended after Rioja miss

Euskaltel will line up for Monday's Vuelta al País Vasco opener without a single win to their name as Juan José Lobato came up short in Sunday's Vuelta a La Rioja.

Caja Rural's speedy Italian Francesco Lasca came away with the win in a race that'll be best remembered for the peloton being sent in the wrong direction with 50 kilometres to go, leading the race officials to pause the race and then restart it once the riders had been directed back on track.

When the pack was sent the wrong way, three Euskaltel riders were in a breakaway group off the front alongside four Movistar riders and seven (!) of Orica-GreenEdge: Jorge Azanza, Mikel Astarloza and JJ Lobato. That move didn't stick, though, and neither did one including Euskadi's Jon Larrinaga, meaning a sprint finish was inevitable.

In the dash for the line, Lasca prevailed ahead of Michael Matthews (Orica) and Ken Hanson of Optum. Lobato came through for sixth, while Euskadi's Unai Iparragirre showed he's got speed as well with tenth.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural), 3:55:50)
  • 6, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 10, Unai Iparragirre (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 13, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 23, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 28, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 31, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 32, Haritz Orbe (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 35, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 36, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 40, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 43, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 45, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 47, Igor Merino (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 50, Mikel Aristi (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 57, Mikel Iturria (Euskadi), s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Antón climbs the podium in GP Miguel Indurain

Igor Antón was so close, yet so far, from grabbing Euskaltel Euskadi's first victory of the season on Saturday afternoon, finishing in second place behind Simon Spilak at the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain.

While the one-day race in Estella, run on the training roads of the great Miguel Indurain in Navarra, is usually a close-fought affair, this year's edition was anything but.

Katusha's Simon Spilak emerged victorious after a mammoth 150km breakaway, leaving his fellow escape artists behind with 40 clicks to go and soloing to the line. The Slovenian had originally formed part of a 12-man strong group that broke clear only 25 kilometres in at the 180km race, and the 26-year-old had enough in the tank to leave them behind, hold off a charging Euskaltel-led peloton and claim a famous win atop the steep finishing climb of Puy.

Mikel Landa, second at this race last year, was one of the 12 riders up the road for the majority of the race, but, once the prodigious young climber had been dropped by Spilak's infernal pace, Euskaltel were left to resume control of the peloton in order to set up Igor Antón for a tilt at the win.

Despite the fact it became apparent Spilak wasn't to be caught, Antón attacked the peloton inside the closing ten kilometres and dragged Garmin-Sharp's Peter Stetina with him. Antón bested the young American for second, a minute and a half in arrears, and sounded pleased with his effort when he spoke to the press afterwards.

"Spilak was very strong, and, despite my team working really hard, it was impossible to catch him", he said. "I'm feeling better, and I attacked in the finale. Stetina accompanied me and I ended up second. You always want to win, and that was indeed the goal, but this second place is morale-boosting ahead of the Vuelta al País Vasco".

Gorka Izagirre also showed he'll be there or thereabouts at País Vasco by taking 14th, while Mikel Astarloza and Mikel Nieve ended up 18th and 20th respectively. Samuel Sánchez, set to spearhead the team from Monday and onwards, could only muster 39th.

As for the Continental-ranked Euskadi team, Igor Merino gave the outfit some presence by being a part of the day's main break. Like all but Spilak, though, he was reeled in. Carlos Barbero, seemingly in a rich vein of form, ended up as the team's top rider in 35th.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Simon Spilak (Katusha), 4:50:46)
  • 2, Igor Antón, 1:32
  • 14, Gorka Izagirre, 2:07
  • 18, Mikel Astarloza, 2:14
  • 20, Mikel Nieve, 2:17
  • 35, Jorge Azanza, 8:06
  • 36, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 39, Samuel Sánchez, 9:18
  • 40, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 48, Igor Merino, 13:40
  • 54, Haritz Orbe (Euskadi), 14:15
  • 55, Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 56, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), 14:16
  • 61, Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), 21:06
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Friday, March 29, 2013

Zubeldia set for the race he always fails at

For one of the standout Basque cyclists on the international scene for a decade and a half, Haimar Zubeldia's struggles at his local race, the Vuelta al País Vasco, is startling.

The 35-year-old, who turns 36 on the start of the race on Monday, has never found success at the race in his 15 previous seasons as a professional bike rider. He's taken the start six times but has never managed to crack the top 10. His best result, achieved back in his maiden season with his current outfit, RadioShack, in 2010, is 12th.

Finding form at this time of year has always proved difficult for the native of Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, but the experienced erstwhile Euskaltel rider claims he's feeling good coming off a consistent Volta a Catalunya performance last week.

"I made a big step in the right direction at the Volta. I've improved a lot", he told Benito Urraburu of el Diario Vasco after ending the race in Catalonia in 26th overall. "Now the Vuelta al País Vasco is coming up, as always, at a time of year that I struggle to get into top shape. There have been years I've put in a lot of training but simply haven't gotten it right".

In Elgoibar on April Fool's Day, he'll form part of a team looking to propel Andreas Klöden to overall glory. Zubeldia rates his German team-mate highly - but unsurprisingly rates a certain Tasmanian as the number one favourite.

"Klöden knows the race well, has the experience and is in good shape. He's won the race once before. He'll be at the front.

"But my favourite for the overall win is Richie Porte. He was very strong at Paris-Nice and second at Critérium International only because he had to work for Chris Froome. As for Samuel Sánchez, he might have his mind set on the Giro d'Italia and might not be in the form he was in last year, but he's the type of rider that always shows up in a race".

One of the decisive moments of the race is likely to be the ascent of the mythical Arrate climb on day four - and to Zubeldia, it's not just any climb.

"Arrate marked the start of my career", he said, referring to the key point of the 2000 edition of the Euskal Bizikleta that he would go on to win. "I've climbed it a few times", he said, before going on to climb it once more to be as prepared as he possibly can be for his local WorldTour race.

Photo: Cyclingnews

Intxausti sets the bar high

"Yes, I think I can win the race. I'm brave. I set myself big goals. I might seem a bit of a dreamer, but one have to dream in order to reach one's goals".

Those are the philosophical words of Beñat Intxausti three days before the peloton gets the 53rd edition of the Vuelta al País Vasco underway.

As a former runner-up at the event and on his day a force in hilly, medium-length time trials like the ones that every year conclude the Tour of the Basque Country, the 27-year-old will line up as one of the many contenders to Samuel Sánchez's crown of 2012.

Like the Euskaltel captain, Intxausti has mainly centered the first half of 2013 around the Giro d'Italia. Still, though, there's no reason he shouldn't be in contention, according to himself.

"This race should in theory suit me well. The climate, the ambience, the roads... I won't be at 100 percent as I'm focusing on the Giro, but I have no excuses", he told Bilbao-based daily El Correo.

"I've matured as a rider - I have taken care of myself more than ever".

The Movistar rider will take the start in Elgoibar with only ten days of racing in his legs, having only done three days of the Challenge Mallorca in February and the seven stages that made up the Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this month.

"I notice I'm missing a bit of competitive racing, but I know that I'm strong. I haven't suffered any setbacks. Everything has gone to plan", he concluded.

Movistar for Vuelta al País Vasco: Beñat Intxausti, Jonathan Castroviejo, Ángel Madrazo, Juan José Cobo, Javier Moreno, Pablo Lastras, José Herrada and Rui Costa.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Video: The big pre-Vuelta al País Vasco interview

Watch Eitb's extensive interview with Iñigo Mujika, Euskaltel's new physio, to get all the latest info on the riders' state of form ahead of Monday's big kick-off below:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Video: The pain of Milano-San Remo

The 2013-edition of Milan-San Remo was quite the ordeal for every single rider that took the start and every single spectator that lined the roadside. Watch the skillfully-crafted video below to see epic images of the first Monument of the year - and you can't help but feel for poor Garikoitz Bravo when you see the look on his face at 0:32.

Video: The stars of tomorrow

Check out the Subida a Gorla recap below to get a glimpse of how Cristian Cañada followed in the footsteps of Joaquin Rodríguez, Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre et al. in etching his name into the race annals last weekend.

Vuelta al País Vasco through Intxausti's eyes

The mercurial Beñat Intxausti got his big break with second place overall at the 2010 edition of the Vuelta al País Vasco.

The native of Amorebieta, who turned 27 exactly a week ago, will be back this year with his Movistar team-mates, and brought Eitb along with him on a training recce of the fifth stage from Eibar to Beasain - a stage predicted to separate the overall contenders.

Euskaltel's Classics team set to go

While most orange-tinted eyes will be firmly set on Samuel Sánchez and his associates' exploits at the Vuelta al País Vasco from Monday and onwards, a sizeable contingent of Euskaltel riders will be trying to hunt glory on the cobbles in Northern Europe.

Six races are on the horizon for Euskaltel's chosen eight over the coming fortnight, commencing with Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen and concluding with the GP de Denain on March 11, writes

The first few races on Belgian and Dutch soil this year haven't gone entirely according to plan for Óscar Guerrero's mix of young locals and experienced foreigners. The team failed to get a rider across the line in both the E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, but 'the Carrots' will be hoping for better luck, and better weather at that, for the remainder of the races up north on the continent.

The team will line up in the following races:

  • 31/3: Ronde van Vlaanderen
  • 3/4: Scheldeprijs
  • 4/4: Pino Cerami
  • 7/4: Paris-Roubaix
  • 9/4: Paris-Camembert
  • 11/4: GP de Denain
And the following riders will represent the team:

Alexandre Serebryakov, Steffen Radochla, Juan José Oroz, Peio Bilbao, Ricardo García, Ioannis Tamouridis, André Schulze and Adrián Sáez.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Euskaltel ready to defend Sánchez's crown

Defending Samuel Sánchez's victory in the Vuelta al País Vasco will be no easy task, but Euskaltel have picked the strongest possible team in order to be in with a shot when the race commences on Monday, April 1st.

Sánchez will line up on the start line in Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa, with the 'number one'-bib on his back, having taken a much-sought after victory at Euskaltel's local WorldTour race in 2012.

To defend the team captain's interests, and in order to have several riders in general classification contention throughout the six-day event, team manager Igor González de Galdeano has picked what can only be described as the a-team.

Igor Antón, fresh off 15th overall at the recently-concluded Volta a Catalunya, will be present, as will the ever-reliable super domestique that is Egoi Martínez. The Izagirre brothers, Gorka and Ion, will both be on hand to assist their leader and perhaps hunt glory themselves on select stages, while Rubén Pérez will again take the start after giving the race a miss the last two years.

Completing the team will be young climbing duo Mikel Landa and Romain Sicard - both of them making their bow at the race.

"We've tried to put together a team that mixes the future of the team, that being the Izagirre brothers, Landa and Sicard, with experienced riders like Martínez, Sánchez and even Antón", de Galdeano told Radio Euskadi on Tuesday. "Through these riders we have to show that Euskaltel have a present value as well as a future one, and this race is a step on that road".

Samuel Sánchez will, as per tradition, spearhead the team's charge. But with the 34-year-old's eyes firmly trained on the Giro d'Italia in May, de Galdeano is keen to play down expectations of a repeat performance from the 2012 victor.

"Sánchez will not be at the top of his game, we know that", he said. "But one can't just show up at this race to hang around. It's a very hard race. You have to be in good shape to ride this event, and Sánchez will certainly be up for it. We won't discard anything, but it's clear he's still fine-tuning his form for the Giro.

"He's a bit of an unknown quantity, but he is in good shape. A Samuel Sánchez at 80 percent might surprise us", he concluded.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

The race for first win intensifies

SP Tableware rider Víctor de la Parte remains the only Basque to have won a professional bike race this season - and that was the 2.2-ranked Tour de Argelia, hardly the biggest race in the world.

With the Vuelta al País Vasco around the corner, though, most anticipate Euskaltel, the only remaining WorldTour team without a win to its name in 2013, to break their duck sooner rather than later. They'll even have quite a few chances before that: this weekend, the orange team will line up in the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain on Saturday and the Vuelta a la Rioja the following day.

For the former, run on the roads of 'Big Mig' in Navarra, the following nine riders will aim to do what Samuel Sánchez did in 2011 and get the team's victory count up and running:

GP Indurain line-up: Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve, Ion Izagirre, Gorka Izagirre, Mikel Landa, Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Pablo Urtasun and Jorge Azanza.

On Sunday in Rioja, a race now run as a single-day event, eight riders will line up in the hope of becoming the first Euskaltel rider to ever triumph at the event:

Vuelta a la Rioja line-up: Mikel Nieve, Miguel Mínguez, Juan José Lobato, Garikoitz Bravo, Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Jorge Azanza and Pablo Urtasun. 

While Igor González de Galdeano will bring his a-team to the Vuelta al País Vasco the very next day, on April Fool's Day, he'll also be sending a ten-man contingent to the 59th edition of the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta the following Sunday (April 7.).

Klasika Primavera line-up: Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve, Pablo Urtasun, Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Robert Vrecer, Miguel Mínguez, Jorge Azanza, Juan José Lobato and Garikoitz Bravo.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Monday, March 25, 2013

Euskaltel duo go for broke in Catalunya finale

In a last-ditch attempt to find glory at the Volta a Catalunya, both Juan José Oroz and Mikel Nieve went on the attack on Sunday's seventh and final stage of the WorldTour event.

Garmin-Sharp's Daniel Martin, who held the race lead ever since his barnstorming run to victory on stage four, kept hold of his overall leader's jersey in downtown Barcelona to claim the overall win ahead of Katusha's local rider Joaquin Rodríguez and Italian Michele Scarponi of Lampre-Merida.

But the bunch wasn't about to sit back and give Martin an easy ride on Sunday. The 122km leg starting in El Vendrell and ending in the city centre of Barcelona, taking in eight circuits of the fames Montjuïc park, saw ten men break clear early on to establish the day's main break. Euskaltel's Juan José Oroz made the cut and did his part to give the group a chance to make it to the end, but the frantic pace in a Katusha-led peloton saw to it that the escapists were reeled in with some 20 clicks to ride.

Another, more threatening move soon jumped clear of the pack, consisting of erstwhile Euskaltel climber David López (now of Sky), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil). Sensing this could be the winning move, Mikel Nieve made several bursts of acceleration in order to bridge the gap to the leading trio, but it wasn't to be. Instead, the aforementioned Scarponi and RadioShack's Robert Kiserlovski attacked and made their way to the leaders, forming a quintet that would hold off the peloton to the line.

De Gendt ousted López in the dash for the line to take the win on the day, while Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve both came in with the first major group behind the leaders at 21 seconds.

Due to his consistent riding all week, the latter ended up as the team's top-placed rider overall in 13th - two placed ahead of his team-mate Antón.

In the team rankings, Euskaltel finished up fourth.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), 2:45:42)
  • 31, Igor Antón, 0:21
  • 38, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 65, Mikel Astarloza, 0:45
  • 67, Mikel Landa, 1:15
  • 87, Ricardo Mestre, 6:15
  • 97, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), 29:02:25)
  • 13, Mikel Nieve, 2:42
  • 15, Igor Antón, 2:52
  • 33, Mikel Landa, 8:05
  • 54, Mikel Astarloza, 22:32
  • 95, Juan José Oroz, 48:00
  • 96, Ricardo Mestre, 48:14
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cañada upsets the odds to win Subida a Gorla

Mutua Levante's Cristian Cañada climbed to a potentially career-changing win at the prestigious Subida a Gorla on Sunday.

The mountainous one-day race, part of the Basque sub-23 Torneo Lehendakari race series, has an eye-catching honour roll featuring a number of past and present stars of the cycling world. If Cañada, who turned 22 on Saturday, can follow the likes of Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre and Joaquim Rodríguez on the path to greatness remains to be seen, but he did his chances of being noticed by the pro teams no harm with a resounding win at the top of the mythical climb of Gorla.

Cañada reached the line in two hours, 22 minutes and one second - seven seconds ahead of Arnau Solé of Coluer who relegated Seguros Bilbao's 20-year-old Basque Júlen Amexketa of Navarra to the third and last step on the podium.

Finishing fourth was Caja Rural's Ibai Salas, hotly tipped for the win pre-race, while Lizarte's Antonio Pedrero closed out the top five.

There was little in the way of success for Fundación Euskadi's outfit, Naturgas Energía, with Víctor Etxeberría being their top man on the day in 14th. Overall Torneo Lehendakari leader Loïc Chetout didn't find Gorla's steep gradients to his liking and finished 20th.

Alain Santamaría gave the team some presence in the race, though, as he was part of a small breakaway group for a while.

Results (full results here):
  • 1, Cristian Cañada (Mutua Levante), 2:22:01
  • 2, Arnau Solé (Coluer), 0:07
  • 3, Júlen Amezketa (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 4, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 0:25
  • 5, Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), 0:36
  • 6, Jaime Roson (Caja Rural), 0:46
  • 7, Francisco Medina (Caja Rural), 0:51
  • 8, Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 9, Federico Moreira (Reyno de Navarra), s.t.
  • 10, Carles Ruiz (Mutua Levante), 1:00
  • 14, Víctor Etxeberría (Naturgas Energía), 1:10
  • 20, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), 1:23
  • 39, Francisco Javier Martín (Naturgas Energía), 3:20
  • 53, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), 6:01
  • 55, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 65, Noel Gil (Naturgas Energía), 10:27
Photo: Pagina66

Euskaltel repeat E3 no-show in Wevelgem

Euskaltel did like they did on Friday in E3 Harelbeke by failing to get a rider across the line in the prestigious WorldTour-ranked Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

Euskaltel were notorious for their lack of presence in the weather-shortened and bitingly cold 75th edition of the race. 'The carrots' didn't put a single rider in the big 60-something group that got away early on in the day and eventually stayed away, leading the whole team to abandon.

Full results here.

According to the team, the riders were "caught off guard at the start of the race", a start that led to a "very anonymous performance". On a brighter note, though, none of the riders are reported to have hit the ground or suffered any meaningful injuries.

Entirely to script, Peter Sagan stormed to the win by going solo inside the final four kilometres. Second place went to Borut Bozic of Astana ahead of BMC's Greg Van Avermaet.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Equipo Euskadi: Alentejo stage 3-5 round-up

Carlos Barbero was the stand-out performer as Equipo Euskadi closed out the Volta ao Alentejo on a high this weekend.

The Burgos-born prodigy, a product of Naturgas Energía and tipped for an Euskaltel contract in the future, followed up his tenth place on stage one with eighth on stage three. The third leg took the riders 179,9 clicks from Vidigueira to Mértola and saw Optum rider Ken Hanson emerge victorious.

Full stage three results here.

Unai Iparragirre took up the mantle as a fast finisher on the following day, finishing an impressive fifth in Odemira after a mainly flat, 153,3km ride from Oirique. Barbero was once again on hand to give his team another top ten, though, crossing the line in ninth on a stage that was won by another Optum rider, Thomas Zirbel.

Full stage four results here. 

Sunday's fifth and concluding leg, a 135,4km ride in the hills from Vila Nova de Santo André to Santiago de Cácem, saw Bontrager youngster Jasper Stuyven hang onto his overall lead to win the race outright. The stage was taken out by Portuguese LA Aluminios rider Antonio Carvalho, with Barbero once again in close attendance in fourth only two seconds in arrears.

Full stage five results here.

Barbero's strong final showing and consistency throughout the race netted him ninth overall.

Illart Zuazubiskar dropped out on day five, while Mikel Bizkarra quit the preceding day.

Final general classification (full results here):
  • (1, Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager), 19:30:47)
  • 9, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), 1:36
  • 27, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), 3:31
  • 53, Unai Iparragirre (Euskadi), 15:18
  • 58, Mikel Aristi (Euskadi), 16:03
  • 76, Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi), 19:38
  • 82, Igor Merino (Euskadi), 22:42
In the team rankings, Euskadi finished a noteworthy third. 

Photo: Ciclismo a fondo

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Astarloza of old goes close in Catalonia

Mikel Astarloza put on a performance reminiscent of the good old days when he went within a few clicks of triumph on day six of the Volta a Catalunya.

The sixth and penultimate stage, taking the riders 178,7 kilometres from Almacelles to Valls, eventually ended in a medium-sized bunch sprint from which Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans proved to be the fastest. The versatile antipodean just about pipped Gianni Meersman of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, already a two-time stage winner in this race, and Ag2r's wily Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin to the line at the end of a hilly day of racing.

Just prior to that, though, Astarloza, who'd formed part of the day's main break that formed over halfway through the stage, had attacked his breakaway companions inside the last four kilometres. With the group just about to be reeled in by a hard-chasing peloton, the Euskaltel veteran gave it one last go with a burst of acceleration that briefly took him clear of the pack. It wasn't to be, though, and he eventually had to settle for a mid-pack finish.

The team's climbing trio, consisting of Igor Antón, Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve, all finished inside the top 35 and maintained their overall placings going into Sunday's concluding stage.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), 3:55:46)
  • 31, Igor Antón, 0:05
  • 34, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 35, Mikel Nieve, 0:10
  • 65, Mikel Astarloza, 0:56
  • 76, Juan José Oroz, 1:28
  • 112, Ricardo Mestre, 6:15
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Some Basques do know how to time trial

While Euskaltel are experiencing familiar troubles in the races against the clock this season, the same can hardly be said about the younger riders on the Basque circuit: Naturgas Energía grabbed second in Saturday's team time trial event in Laukiz, only bettered by Caja Rural.

The Torneo Lehendakari ranked event, created by the Fundación Euskadi itself this year, was held over 34,8 kilometres in the Biscaya region, taking the riders from Laukiz to Maruri, Gatika, Mungia and back to Laukiz.

In what was the first ever time trial event to feature on the Basque sub-23 calendar, the powerful Caja Rural team came out tops entirely as expected. The green-clad riders blitzed the competition with a time of 44 minutes and 56 seconds, finishing a full 39 seconds ahead of Naturgas in second. Baqué-Campos, led by David Etxebarria this year, closed out the podium.

  1. Caja Rural, 44:56
  2. Naturgas Energía, 45:35
  3. Baqué-Campos, 45:37
  4. Seguros Bilbao, 45:42
  5. Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport, 46:25
  6. Koplad-Uni2, 47:37
  7. Reyno de Navarra-WRC-MAKO, 48:00
  8. Ikolan Lanaldi-Ordiziako, 49:18
  9. Ibaigane Opel, 49:22
  10. Debabarrena, 49:26
  11. Lizarte, 49:35
  12. Kanpazar Harrobia, 52:11
The result should bode well for tomorrow's big rendezvous, the prestigious Subida a Gorla. Illustrious names like Juan Manuel Gárate (twice), Mikel Landa, Beñat Intxausti, Andrey Amador, Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodríguez, Carlos Sastre, Iñigo Cuesta, Julián Gorospe, Peio Cabestany and Alberto Fernández have all triumphed in Bergara, Gipuzkoa, ever since the race's inception in 1975.

The race was somewhat surprisingly taken out by Lizarte's prodigious Santiago Ramírez last time out, but the competition is expected to be fiercer on Sunday as, unlike last year, the race doesn't coincide with a Copa de España race.

The aforementioned Etxebarria rates Caja Rural due Ibai Salas and Fernando Grijalba as the biggest favourites, while Naturgas will have a few aces up their sleeves as well in the shape of the on-fire Loïc Chetout, Imanol Estévez and the consistent Víctor Etxeberría.

"This race is getting more important every year", Naturgas DS Ion Lazkano told Deia. "It's a prestigious race; the winners list is impressive and the climb in itself is long, hard and for pure climbers... Both the riders and the fans like that".

Naturgas roster: Loïc Chetout, Noel Gil, Víctor Etxeberría, Imanol Estévez, Aitor González, Eder Sáez de Ocariz, Alain González, Karl Baudron, Alain Santamaría, Oier Sánchez, Álvaro Trueba and Francisco Javier Martín.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Friday, March 22, 2013

Euskaltel disappear at E3 Harelbeke

Euskaltel got the worst possible start to their WorldTour Classics campaign on Friday by failing to get a single rider on the results sheet at the E3 Prijs Harelbeke.

While Fabian Cancellara stormed to the win and grabbed all the headlines, the Euskaltel riders quietly flew under the radar. Not one orange-clad rider managed to get to the line, prompting the team's website, usually always so optimistic, to state, ever so dryly, that "the team needs to improve by Sunday for the Gent-Wevelgem".

The same team will line up on Sunday, those being: Juan José Lobato, Garikoitz Bravo, Peio Bilbao, Adrián Sáez, Rubén Pérez, Steffen Radochla, Ioannis Tamouridis and Alexandre Serebryakov.

Check out the results of the race here.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Volta stage 5: Parisien triumphs as Euskaltel stay low

Francois Parisien surprised everyone when he emerged victorious from a bunch sprint at the end of the fifth stage of the Volta a Catalunya.

The Canadian of Argos-Shimano ousted French duo Samuel Dumoulin and Stéphane Poulhies to win the 156,5km stage from Rialp to Lleida. On a relatively uncomplicated stage for the general classification contenders, overnight leader Daniel Martin of Garmin-Sharp easily maintained his overall lead.

The Euskaltel riders stayed out of the limelight and the action in an effort to save their energy for the remaining two stages that should be more suited to their strengths. Igor Antón happened to be the team's highest-placed rider on the stage, coming in 41st.

Mikel Nieve remains the team's top man overall in 15th. 

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Francois Parisien (Argos-Shimano), 3:32:02)
  • 41, Igor Antón, 0:09
  • 51, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 71, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
  • 83, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 91, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 96, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), 22:20:39)
  • 15, Mikel Nieve, 2:29
  • 18, Igor Antón, 2:44
  • 36, Mikel Landa, 7:03
  • 63, Mikel Astarloza, 21:09
  • 104, Ricardo Mestre, 36:02
  • 115, Juan José Oroz, 40:36
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Equipo Euskadi: Alentejo stage 1 & 2 round-up

The Fundación Euskadi's Continental team, Euskadi, have been hard at work in Portugal this week, taking part in the Volta ao Alentejo.

Despite their late entry into the race, Aritz Arberas' boys made their mark on the opening stage.

The first leg, taking the peloton 167 kilometres from Castelo de Vide to Marvão, saw Rádio Popular-Onda's Daniel Silva coming out tops, besting Karel Hnik of Etixx and Spaniard Eduard Prades of OMF-Quinta da Lixa. Carlos Barbero, pictured above, finished tenth in the bunch sprint, while Illart Zuazubiskar spent the majority of the day up ahead in the main break.

"We did well", DS Arberas said after the stage. "The most important thing was to avoid losing time, and we even finished third in the team rankings".

For full stage 1 results, click here.

Lose time they did on the second stage, though. Bontrager's Belgian Jasper Stuyven emerged victorious over the 172,1 clicks from Sousel to Portel, ousting American Chad Haga of Optum and Carlos Oyarzun of Dunas de Oro.

The speedy Unai Iparragirre was the team's top finisher on Friday, taking 16th in a big group coming in 1:15 down. In that group was also the aforementioned Barbero and Aritz Bagües, the former the team's top-placed rider on GC in 13th with three stages to go.

For full stage 2 results, click here.

The race concludes on Sunday.

Euskaltel off pace in Dan Martin masterclass

Euskaltel Euskadi's subdued Volta a Catalunya continued apace on Thursday's summit finish at Port Ainé as the guys in orange went missing as Daniel Martin stole the limelight with a breathtaking solo win.

The team's leader in Catalonia, Igor Antón, spoke yesterday evening of how disappointed he was with losing half a minute at Vallter 2000, expressing a desire to right the wrongs on today's leg. It wasn't to be, though, as the ace climber (and his team-mates at that) were quickly distanced once the main overall contenders upped the pace in the finale.

Click here to see how it all unfolded! 

Martin had formed part of a large, 25-man strong group that got clear of the pack early on, and contained Euskaltel veteran Mikel Astarloza. The Irishman was to be the break's only survivor, holding off nearest challengers Joaquim Rodríguez and Nairo Quintana by an impressive 36 seconds.

Speaking post-stage, Astarloza likened Thursday's effort to those of the Tour de France.

"I've been on my bike for more than six hours and twenty minutes, I've consumed more than 6300 calories, and in total we climbed more than 4000 vertical metres", he told the team's website. "Those numbers are Tour de France-like. The course was a tough one and, to top it off, we went full gas, really intensive and without a break. Without a doubt, it was much like a stage of the Tour de France".

Mikel Landa tried to surprise the favourites with a bold attack with some 18 clicks to go but, despite momentary assistance from a fading Astarloza, he was comfortably brought to a halt by the peloton.

Mikel Nieve eventually finished as the team's top man, coming in 1:51 down in 16th place. Antón was in close attendance, though, crossing the line 20 seconds later in 20th.

Facing the last weekend of racing, Nieve is now the team's top rider in 15th overall.

Tarik Chaoufi and Jon Aberasturi both found the going exceedingly tough, deciding to throw in the towel and post DNFs.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), 6:02:40)
  • 16, Mikel Nieve, 1:51
  • 20, Igor Antón, 2:11
  • 37, Mikel Landa, 4:56
  • 77, Mikel Astarloza, 19:38
  • 110, Ricardo Mestre, 28:13
  • 140, Juan José Oroz, 34:13
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Multinational Euskaltel ready for the cobbles

Euskaltel will continue their adventure in the north of Europe this weekend with a Classic double-header in Belgium.

As per the WorldTour regulations, Igor González de Galdeano's team will take part in Friday's E3 Prijs Harelbeke and Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.

One Russian, one Greek, two Slovenians, three Basques and one from Andalucía will be tasked with putting the team on the map, and those eight are:

Alexandre Serebryakov, Ioannis Tamouridis, Jure Kocjan, Robert Vrecer, Peio Bilbao, Rubén Pérez, Garikoitz Bravo and Juan José Lobato. 

The race will mark Kocjan's return to competition after a virus forced him out of Paris-Nice and has laid him low ever since, while young Peio Bilbao will continue his belated start to the season.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Antón falls short in first Catalunya test

Igor Antón and his Euskaltel team-mates showed there's still work to be done to reach top form as the guys in orange were comprehensively out-climbed at the Volta a Catalunya's first summit finish on Wednesday.

Movistar's pocket-sized ace climber Nairo Quintana came out tops at the end of the 180km stage to the top of the Vallter 2000/Setcases climb, besting fellow blue-clad rider Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodríguez. Valverde holds the overall lead going into day four, though, leading Wiggins and Rodríguez by four seconds in second and third respectively.

Igor Antón's consistent ride landed him 14th on the day, 27 seconds down, but his lack of racing days showed as his lack of spark left him drained towards the end and well and truly buried any overall ambitions he might have had going into the race.

He was ambitious, though, dragging with him a healthy number of team-mates towards the pointy end of the peloton at the start of the 12km final climb, but when the favourites lit the blue touch paper inside the final four clicks it was obvious he wasn't to emerge victorious.

Mikel Nieve came in five seconds further back in 23rd place, never really figuring near the front, while Mikel Astarloza climbed better than he's done in a long time to finish 40th, 1:25 back.

With four stages to go, Antón is the team's best rider on GC in 17th.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 5:01:20)
  • 14, Igor Antón, 0:27
  • 23, Mikel Nieve, 0:32
  • 40, Mikel Astarloza, 1:25
  • 48, Mikel Landa, 2:01
  • 86, Juan José Oroz, 6:17
  • 96, Ricardo Mestre, 7:43
  • 142, Tarik Chaoufi, 14:36
  • 161, Jon Aberasturi, 16:54
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Euskaltel turn to stars for home race

The Vuelta al País Vasco will as usual and for obvious reasons form the crux of the first half of Euskaltel's season. In keeping with the race's elevated status at Igor González de Galdeano's team, defending champion Samuel Sánchez will - again as per tradition - be there to lead the orange team to success in their local race. For once, though, he's not necessarily going there to win the race.

"I won't be as strong this year as I've been in years past", he told Deia. "Though I'm feeling good, the goal this year is the Giro d'Italia - the Vuelta al País Vasco is a stop on the way.

"If I'm thinking about winning a stage? Or about the overall podium? We'll see where the road leads us".

Galdeano is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to that particular race, deciding to pick the strongest team he can assemble. Alongside Samuel Sánchez on the start line in less than two weeks' time will be Ion and Gorka Izagirre, Igor Antón, Egoi Martínez and Rubén Pérez, el Diario Vasco reports, leaving only two places up for grabs.

The team boss revealed four riders - Mikel Astarloza, Gorka Verdugo, Romain Sicard and Juan José Lobato - are vying for the final two spots on the team, but adds it'll still be a few days before he makes the tough choice as to who to leave out.

"We already have the spine of the team for the race set", the former wearer of the Maillot Jaune said. "Unless we encounter any problems, there's only two places left. We'll see how the riders concluded the Volta a Catalunya and decide after that".

As mentioned above, and as has been known for some months already, 'Samu' won't be at peak form come April Fool's Day. Still, Galdeano has no hesitancy in naming his team captain.

"Sánchez will be the leader", he insisted. "He's prepared, as he always is, and he knows you can't come to a race like País Vasco to hang around - you have to be in shape and in form for it.

"He might not be in his very best shape, but he's a rider who's competitive at 80 percent. He's got what it takes to stay with the best".

Photo: Vavel

Zubeldia - We knew it was coming to an end

Reports emanating this morning has it that electronics retailer RadioShack will stop sponsoring their eponymous team come the end of the current season.

While it's yet to be confirmed by official sources, it appears the riders have known for quite some time.

"This is not new to us", former Euskaltel rider Haimar Zubeldia told the press ahead of Tuesday's second Volta a Catalunya stage.

"We knew that RadioShack as a firm was having trouble and that they would cease to sponsor the team".

As a result of the likely break-up, the Tour de France specialist's future is in jeopardy - yet he doesn't seem all that worried.

"Members of the team have been working on finding a new title sponsor for some weeks already, so we're calm. We've now got a year to show our worth - we won't let this change our plans".

Heading into the third stage in Catalonia, Zubeldia is lying in 64th overall - 48 seconds in arrears.

Photo: RadioShack

Euskaltel avoid hiccups on Volta day two

Euskaltel followed up Monday's sub-par opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya with a low-profile performance on day two.

The 160km leg from Girona to Banyole saw little in the way of Euskaltel-related action, Álvaro González de Galdeano's boys preferring to play it safe and easy ahead of tomorrow's first foray into the mountains.

The stage was won by on-fire Belgian Gianni Meersman, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider prevailing for the second day in a row. Euskaltel's new recruit Jon Aberasturi was seen jostling for position at the pointy end of the pack inside the last few clicks, but struggled to catch the right wheel all on his own and eventually would only finish 17th - the speedy finisher's wait for a top level result in 2013 thus continues.

Wednesday's stage will take the riders to the top of the strangely-named Vallter 2000 climb at the end of a 180km leg starting in Vidreres, and the team's DS stressed that he expects his charges to be at their game on the 12km climb.

"We'll have to play our cards intelligently and fight to win a stage", the youngest of the Galdeanos told the team's website. "We've now got two summit finishes in a row coming up, and we're looking forward to them. We have to be in the running on those", he concluded.

One of the team's go-to guys will undoubtedly be the mercurial Igor Antón. The diminutive climber is fresh off a ten-day stint at altitude, though, and admits his form is somewhat of an unknown.

"I've been to Sierra Nevada to prepare, and now we'll get to see the fruit of that work in competition", he stated. "I've gone almost a month without competing, and that always leaves its mark, but I aim to be among the best. I haven't set myself any concrete objectives, though. First off I'd like to see how I'm feeling, and from there on we'll see how far we can go".

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), 3:48:10)
  • 17, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 45, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 46, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 54, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 83, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
  • 97, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 108, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 117, Tarik Chaoufi, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Monday, March 18, 2013

Euskaltel miss the train in Catalunya opener

Euskaltel were caught off guard as a bunch of overall favourites slipped away on the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday. Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve et al. now face a major task in rescuing their race.

The race took a surprising turn when a Bradley Wiggins-inspired burst of acceleration on a descent with some 10 kilometres left to ride saw 13 riders slip off the front and open up a dangerous gap back to the pack. Inside that 13-man group was a host of overall contenders, among them Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, Daniel Martin, Wiggins, Joaquim Rodríguez, David López and Michele Scarponi.

The elite group managed to hold off the peloton and well, Gianni Meersman leading them across the line in Calella 28 seconds ahead of the bunch. Inside that bunch was Euskaltel's GC aspirants Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa, but they're now already, only a day in, left with a mountain or two to climb to make it back into the general classification frame.

A rider in orange who experienced an even tougher day in the saddle was Tarik Chaoufi, the Moroccan, making history in his first ever WorldTour race, struggling with cramps en route to a lowly 165th place finish.

"I was struggling more on the descents than on the ascents", he revealed on the team's website. "There were a lot of curves, the speed was high and I was cramping up, so I went out the back. Riders were passing me all the way to the line. Right now I'm only thinking about recovering - tomorrow represents a new day, and to ride in the WorldTour is very motivating. Taking part in races like this is a big thing for me, and I'm looking to continue to improve".

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), 3:55:56)
  • 50, Juan José Oroz, 0:18
  • 58, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 77, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 85, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 88, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
  • 105, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 165, Tarik Chaoufi, 5:53
  • 167, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Gorka Izagirre prominent in epic Milan-San Remo

Gorka Izagirre showed he's bang on form by finishing inside the first group of favourites behind winner Gerald Ciolek in Milan-San Remo.

In a race that will be remembered in equal measures for its terrible weather conditions and spectacular racing, the older of the Izagirre brothers showed himself worthy of leadership duties at the season's first Monument.

The 25-year-old survived the snow, rain and freezing temperatures that saw part of the race neutralized to form part of the lead group approaching the decisive climbs of Cipressa and Poggio. The Ormaiztegi native was not able to go with the attacks that made the finale of the race such a captivating spectacle, but more than held his own in the company of many of the world's finest Classics specialists.

Click this link to see a miserably cold, but motivated as ever, Ioannis Tamouridis on the bus transfer.

A six-man group containing eventual winner Gerald Ciolek of MTN-Qhubeka slipped away going over the Poggio and, despite the group behind being strong number-wise, the lead group wasn't to be seen again.

The German powerhouse surprisingly ousted pre-race favourite Peter Sagan for the big prize, with third going to Fabian Cancellara.

A 30-man strong first chase group crossed the line 14 seconds in arrears, a group of which Gorka Izagirre (31st) was a part.

"It was my hardest ever day on a bike", Izagirre told the team's website upon finishing the race. "I've neither lived nor seen anything like it. The cold, the snow, the break, the restart... It was on the limit. It was my first Milan-San Remo, I didn't know the route all that well and, to top it off, the race radios didn't work well. I felt a bit lost, but I managed to come in with the first group and I'm of course pleased with that.

"I don't think I'll ever forget this day", he concluded.

Five of the team's eight riders managed to complete the race, with Robert Vrecer, Egoi Martínez and Miguel Mínguez being the three to post DNFs.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), 5:37:20)
  • 31, Gorka Izagirre, 0:14
  • 62, Ricardo García, 5:13
  • 81, Jorge Azanza, 7:49
  • 88, Ioannis Tamouridis, 11:19
  • 98, Garikoitz Bravo, 11:44

Chetout maintains Cope de España podium

Man of the moment Loïc Chetout maintained his third place overall in the Copa de España series by taking ninth in the GP Macario on Sunday.

The on-fire native of Bayonne, France, was not able to stop former Naturgas Energía rider Fernando Grijalba from taking the win in Alcalá de Henares just north of Madrid, with second going to Grijalba's Basque Caja Rural team-mate Ibai Salas and track specialist Sebastián Mora of Atika Sport taking third.

His ninth on the day was sufficient to maintain his third overall, though, as Grijalba assumed leadership ahead of Russia's Vadim Zhuravlev. Leader prior to the race, Pablo Lechuga of Cajamar, experienced an off-day and came in 39th. Chetout's Naturgas companion Imanol Estévez, lying in second going into the race, could only muster 47th.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), 3:44:00)
  • 9, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 47, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 5:52
  • 73, Noel Gil (Naturgas Energía), 5:59
  • 74, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas Energía), 6:03
  • 82, Francisco Javier Martín (Naturgas Energía), 11:36
  • 93, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
The Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 outfit were also in action closer to home on Sunday, taking part in the Trofeo Lehendakari-ranked Memorial Cirilo Zunzarren in Estella, Navarra. 

The 120km race, with its finishing line right next to the famed Basílica del Puy, was taken out by another rider in green and white, this time the ever-consisten Miguel Ángel Benito. Lizarte's Antonio Pedrero came in second, pushing Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport's Beñat Txoperena down to third. 

Naturgas' protected rider for the race was Víctor Etxeberría, but the promising youngster was forced to abandon the race after having struggled with a cold all week, according to the team's website.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Euskaltel rue missed Classic chances

Euskaltel's start to Classics season in the north of Europe hasn't gone entirely to plan. Foul weather has seen to it that an unusually high number of races have been cancelled, and while Friday's Handzame Classic went ahead as planned, the team missed out on both the Dwaars door Drenthe on Sunday and the Nokere-Koerse on Tuesday.

For a team aiming to get used to the rigours of racing over cobbled roads in sub-zero temperatures in strong winds and foul weather, missing out on those races was hardly ideal, sports director Óscar Guerreo admits.

"The police didn't want to take any risks", he explained to El Diario Vasco. "The snow moves with the wind and creates layers of ten to 15 centimetres some places - meaning there's always a dangerous stretch of road.

"It's been quite cold as well. When we got to the hotel we were staying at, the temperature was one degree above freezing. At night it's been minus ten at times, meaning the roads get icy. It's been quite cold, but that's not really been the problem. They are high-quality races that some of our riders would have needed to get into racing rhythm. For Peio Bilbao, racing four races rather than two would have been good for him as he started the season late. For Pablo Urtasun and Juan José Lobato, Nokere-Koerse on Tuesday, with its slightly hilly finale, would have been perfect. But you can't do anything about the weather".

Guerrero explains the riders have been mixing riding on the tarmac with indoor sessions on the rollers to make up for the lost racing kilometres, but, as he says himself, "it's hardly the same as racing".

For Moroccan recruit Tarik Chaoufi, riding in the snow and cold in the north of Europe must be quite a challenge. However, his DS is rather impressed with how the national champion is adapting to his new surroundings.

"He's improving and fast", Guerrero enthuses. "He's doing well in competition, and he's also making strides with the language. He's going through some big changes, but he'll turn out to be a very profitable rider for us".

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lobato misses out in Handzame Classic

Juan José Lobato failed in his attempt to open his and Euskaltel's victory account in today's Handzame Classic in Belgium.

The young sprinter from Andalucía was the orange team's best chance of success in a race anticipated to come down to a bunch gallop, but could do nothing to hinder Kenny Dahaes storming to the win in the Belgian 1.1-ranked race.

After the mandatory doomed break had been reeled in, Galdeaon's men tried to set it up for the 24-year-old powerhouse. The chaotic nature of the run-in put paid to those ambitions, though, as Lobato never got in the required position to be able to mix it up. He eventually came in a distant 19th, nine placed better off than team-mate Serebryakov.

Pablo Urtasun had to give in to illness, abandoning in the latter stages of the race, according to the team's website.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Kenny Dahaes (Lotto-Belisol), 4:49:12)
  • 19, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 28, Alexandre Serebryakov, s.t.
  • 63, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 83, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 95, Tarik Chaoufi, s.t.
  • 97, Steffen Radochla, s.t.
  • 130, Adrián Sáez, 7:40
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Star duo check out key País Vasco stages

Samuel Sánchez and Ion Izagirre are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the team's biggest early-season goal, the Vuelta al País Vasco.

Accompanied by Euskaltel Euskadi's General Manager, Igor González de Galdeano, the duo spent Friday reconnoitering the last two stages of this year's edition, according to the team. They rode the last 40 clicks of the fifth stage from Eibar to Beasain in the Goierri region in Gipuzkoa, taking in, among others, the climbs of Gabiria (cat. 3), Barbaris (cat. 2) and Olaberria (cat. 2).

Later on they inspected the concluding stage's 24km individual time trial starting and finishing in Beasain.

With Sánchez's eyes firmly set on the Giro d'Italia in May, the 2008 Olympic champion is not expected to be in peak form for the race in which he's the defending champion. Ion Izagirre, on the other hand, has made the team's home race, starting on April Fool's Day, one of his main goal of the first half of the season.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Euskadi get surprise Alentejo call-up

Due to a Russian team pulling out, the Euskadi team has gotten a surprise invite to the upcoming Volta ao Alentejo.

The Lokosphinx outfit has decided to pull its team from the Portuguese five-day 2.2-event due to what the organizers call "regulatory issues" with the UCI, reports BiciCiclismo. In comes the Fundación Euskadi's Continental team with a youthful eight-man team looking to equal or better last year's three top five finishes courtesy of current Euskaltel sprinter Jon Aberasturi.

To get his team into the race, Miguel Madariaga allegedly had to pay the neat sum of 2300 euros to the organizers, according to Gara.

The race runs from Wednesday the 20th through Sunday the 24th.

Line-up: Igor Merino, Carlos Barbero, Illart Zuazubiskar, Jon Larrinaga, Unai Iparragirre, Aritz Bagües, Mikel Bizkarra, Mikel Aristi. 

Photo: Fundación Euskadi

Antón ready for top performance in Catalunya

Igor Antón will take on his first goal of the year when he leads Euskaltel Euskadi at the upcoming Volta a Catalunya.

The lightweight climber, who for the first time has made the race an early-season target, has just spent 10 days at altitude following the conclusion of the Clásica de Almería in a hope to rediscover the spark that once made him one of the world's most feared climbers.

Joining the mercurial escalador will be Mikel Nieve, fresh off an underwhelming ride at Paris-Nice.  Mikel Landa, who on Thursday completed Italian one-day race GP Nobili, Tarik Chaoufi, Jon Aberasturi, Mikel Astarloza, Ricardo Mestre and Juanjo Oroz will also be on hand to assist Antón in his fight for WorldTour points in the hills of Catalonia.

The latter duo, Mestre and Oroz, have recently spent time training in Villajoyosa on Spain's eastern coast, hoping to find form beneath the clear blue skies and sun that almost without exception greets the riders at the Costa Blanca.

Check out the stages running from Monday 18th of March through the 24th here.

Full team: Jon Aberasturi, Igor Antón, Mikel Astarloza, Tarik Chaoufi, Mikel Landa, Ricardo Mestre, Mikel Nieve, Juan José Oroz. (Source: Euskaltel Euskadi)

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

'Chetout is almost unbeatable'

While Imanol Estévez and Jon Larrinaga grabbed most of the headlines for Naturgas Energía last season, this year has so far been all about Loïc Chetout.

Not that Messrs. Estévez and Larrinaga have disappeared off the radar - the former has enjoyed a strong start to his second year with the Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 team, while the latter has been lively in his first few months with the re-named Orbea team, Equipo Euskadi.

It's just that Chetout has been that impressive. The Frenchman has won two out of two Trofeo Lehendakari races to take a commanding lead in the overall series, while he placed fifth in the year's first Copa de España race in Don Benito and won the mountains jersey.

It's been a long time coming for a man that's been hailed as the next big thing coming out of the French part of the Basque Country ever since signing with Miguel Madariaga's outfit before the 2011 season. According to his team bosses, it was only a question of time before he delivered on his promise.

"When I first joined the team, Loïc was already here", sports director Ion Lazkano told Deia. "The first year he was a team-worker who did a lot of work for his leaders and sacrificed himself like no one else. Last year we gave him various chances to ride for himself, and he showed us he had a big motor. This year he's taken further steps. Now he's 100 percent focused on the bike - the two previous years he combined riding with studies".

As part of his push to get more French-Basques into the Fundación structure, Madariaga brought Chetout, Karl Baudron and Damien Garcia to the red and whites in the winter of 2010. Whiel Chetout has taken his time to come up with the results, Madariaga is in no doubt he's the real deal.

"He's a very complete rider. He can do everything", the foundation president argued. "He goes very well on the climbs. We still haven't seen what he can do in the high mountains, but he's a good climber. In addition he's a smart rider, a rider who senses when to go on the attack and get into breaks. He's strong in small bunch sprints and is a good finisher".

Lazkano echoes Madariaga's statements, saying Chetout is a man for every occasion.

"He's fast, good in small-sized bunch sprints, defends himself well on short climbs... Even in time trials he can protect his interests. The truth is he's a todoterreno."

Lazkano further revealed Chetout mainly will channel his energy on the Torneo Lehendakari this year, while Imanol Estévez will look to the Copa de España. While Chetout looks well primed to succeed Estévez as overall winner of the Basque sub-23 race series, he's still got aspects of his racing to work on.

"He has to learn when to save his energy sometimes, relax a bit more and go hard when he needs to go hard. He sometimes gets nervous", the DS intimates.

Chetout will get a chance to work on his perceived weaknesses already this weekend when he spearheads Naturgas' charge alongside Estévez in the Copa de España race GP Macario in Madrid. The team will also send a line-up to Sunday's Lehendakari race in Estella, Navarra, that finishes at the Basílica del Puy - the same finish used at the GP Miguel Indurain.

Team for Cirilo Zunzarren, Estella, Torneo Lehendakari: Karl Baudron, Víctor Etxeberría, Aitor Morales, Alberto Barrón, Oier Sánchez, Alain Santamaría.

Team for GP Macario, Madrid, Copa de España: Álvaro Trueba, Imanol Estévez, Loïc Chetout, Eder Sáez de Ócariz, Alain González, Javier Francisco Martín, Noel Gil.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Euskaltel anonymous as Jungels storms Milan-San Remo precursor

The riders in orange disappeared off the radar as RadioShack-Leopard-Trek's precocious 20-year-old Bob Jungels stole the show in the GP Nobili Rubinetterie.

Igor González de Galdeano had decided to field a comparatively strong team for the Italian one-day race, including the likes of Egoi Martínez and Mikel Landa in the line-up. Once the racing got underway, though, Euskaltel were found wanting.

A four-man break including eventual winner Jungels, Movistar's Eloy Teruel, Katusha speedster Marco Haller and Colombia's Edwin Ávila broke clear some 12 kilometres in and quickly built up a decent lead. The man from Luxembourg found the pace a tad too slow, though, deciding to attack his breakaway companions and going for glory himself.

Incredibly, he pulled it off, crossing the line almost a minute ahead of the pack. Saxo-Tinkoff's Daniele Bennati came through for second ahead of Astana's Simone Ponzi.

Euskaltel's top man on the day was Miguel Mínguez, the wiry climber finishing 19th.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Bob Jungels (RadioShack), 4:33:04)
  • 19, Miguel Mínguez, 0:52
  • 23, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 29, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 65, Jorge Azanza, 3:10
  • 66, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 78, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 79, Robert Vrecer, s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Vrecer - I'm still on track for Giro d'Italia

It's hardly been the start to his Euskaltel career Robert Vrecer would have wanted. The Slovenian's bow in the orange jersey was cut painfully short by a collarbone fracture in February, and he failed to finish his comeback race - a brutally hard edition of Tirreno-Adriatico - when the gruppetto of which he was a part decided to pull out with some 50 kilometres to ride on the penultimate day.

Still, the 32-year-old is in high spirits. The national time trial champion's main goal this season is the year's first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia in May. And, according to the man himself, his Italian spring adventure is not in jeopardy despite getting 2013 off to a rocky start.

"I fell and broke my collarbone on Mallorca. Since then I've focused on my goal, the Giro d'Italia, and I've done everything in my power to stay fit", he told Velofutur. "Eventually I was able to ride Tirreno-Adriatico and thus stay on schedule. Obviously I wasn't in the shape I had wanted to be, but the racing days helped me improve in that regard.

"There's still plenty of time left before the Giro kick-off to train. I might not have gotten off to the best of starts, but I'll make it to the Giro", he concluded.

In order to stay on an upward trajectory form-wise, Vrecer will on Thursday line up in Italian one-day race GP Nobili Rubinetterie before taking on the mighty Milan-San Remo on Sunday. The Slovenian finished a noteworthy second to Danilo Di Luca at the GP Nobili last year, and will this time around line up as part of an eight-man Euskaltel team.

Euskaltel for GP Nobili Rubinetterie:
Egoi Martínez, Mikel Landa, Jorge Azanza, Garikoitz Bravo, Ricardo García, Miguel Mínguez, Ioannis Tamouridis and Robert Vrecer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Izagirres show skill off the bike

Euskaltel brothers Gorka and Ion Izagirre took time off from riding today to show off their cooking skills. At a market in Ordizia, Gipuzkoa, the duo helped promote the market and even tried their hand at cooking artichokes, according to local photographer Iñaki Azanza who was kind enough to send over these exclusive images:

Izagirre brothers fall on WorldTour rankings

Gorka and Ion Izagirre have both taken a tumble on the UCI's WorldTour standings in the wake of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.

The brothers were top 10 early on in the year after finishing fourth and seventh overall at the Tour Down Under, but less successful appearances in France recently have seen to it that they've both dropped down the list.

Ion Izagirre now finds himself in 12th on 61 points, while his older brother is 20th with 32 after picking up a few points for third place on stage three in Paris-Nice.

Courtesy of his fifth place on stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico, Samuel Sánchez debuts on the ranking in 57th place with one solitary point.

As for the team rankings, Euskaltel are now ninth.

View the full rankings here.

Low-key time trial concludes Tirreno-Adriatico

Euskaltel and Samuel Sánchez closed out the Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday with a sub-par 9,3km individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto.

Sánchez, at his best a contender in this discipline, could only finish 90th on the day, a full 1:20 in arrears on winner Tony Martin. It was enough to maintain his 18th overall placing, though, and he therefore finished as the team's top rider on GC.

"The team did a good job in this race, and now we have to continue to work with an eye on the Giro", a satisfied team captain told the team's website. "I'm tranquilo. I've showed that I'm fit, and everyday I've been feeling a little bit better".

In order to get a clue of what the Giro d'Italia will be like, 'Samu' and sports director Gorka Gerrikagoitia will stay in Italy for a few days more to recce two key stages of the race: stage 19 that finishes atop the Val Martello, and stage 20 to the top of the mythical Tre Cime Lavaredo. 

While both top stage and overall placings eluded the team in 'The Race of the two seas', Gerrikagoitia
was relatively pleased with what his charges came up with throughout the race.

"We knew that winning a stage would be a tall order", he admitted. "Stage six was the one most suited to us, and the team duly did well on that stage. Egoi Martínez got into the day's break and Samu stayed with the strongest riders 'till the end. What's positive about this race for us is that we seem to be on track for the big goal: the Giro d'Italia. There's approximately two months to go before the big kick-off, and we have to keep progressing.

"The racing was of a very high level this year, and the race will be a good experience for the new riders on our team. They have to get used to working for one leader, and in that regard this was a good race for them."

The team's top rider on the day was one of those "new riders", Greek national champion Ioannis Tamouridis. The track specialist came through for 36th place, 43 seconds down, and closed out the race in 92nd overall.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), 10:25)
  • 36, Ioannis Tamouridis, 0:43
  • 72, Jorge Azanza, 1:06
  • 74, Egoi Martínez, 1:07
  • 75, Miguel Mínguez, 1:08
  • 90, Samuel Sánchez, 1:20
  • 101, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:40
Final general classification:
  • (1, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 28:08:17)
  • 18, Samuel Sánchez, 6:49
  • 30, Egoi Martínez, 19:00
  • 42, Jorge Azanza, 25:01
  • 69, Miguel Mínguez, 42:46
  • 92, Ioannis Tamouridis, 59:01
  • 103, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:09:36


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