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


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