Friday, March 15, 2013

'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

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