Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sánchez - My numbers are good

Samuel Sánchez will line up in Naples on Saturday with two clear goals staked out: get a stage win and preferably an overall podium placing to go with it.

'Samu' has stages and podiums to his name in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, meaning his Grand Tour career would come full circle if he was to reach his double-target.

It won't be easy, though - he readily admits that.

"It's an achievable goal. A realistic one? I can't say", he told assembled media in Derio, just outside Bilbao, four days before the year's first Grand Tour gets underway. "It's not impossible. I've twice been on the podium in the Vuelta and I've been third in the Tour after Alberto Contador got disqualified.

"I've got my goals, but I'm aware they'll be hard to reach as there'll be high-calibre riders present that have won Giros and Tours and have finished on the podium in both. They'll be tough to beat. I'd say two spots on the podium are safe bets; those of Wiggins' and Nibali's. The final step on the podium will be keenly contested".

In addition to Wiggins and Nibali, proven Grand Tour contenders like 2011 Tour de France victor Cadel Evans, reigning Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal, perennial candidate Michele Scarponi and wild-cards like Robert Gesink, Beñat Intxausti and Mauro Santambrogio will line up.

While those riders are likely to fear Sánchez just as much as he fears them, a stage victory might be easier to obtain.

"The most realistic goal is to at least win a stage and, with it, complete my collection of Grand Tour stage wins", he stated. "But I won't lose eye of the general classification. Getting a stage win and aiming for the overall do not conflict".

The Euskaltel leader is yet to raise his arms in celebration this year as he's been building steadily for the 'corsa rosa'. He's taken on some of his most cherished races, the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Ardennes Classics to name but a few, fully aware he wasn't at his peak, and he's confident he's taken the right road in the lead-up to the Giro.

"I used Liège-Bastogne-Liège more like a long training ride than competition. There are a few stages in the Giro that are more than 200 kilometres in length, and at home one can't do six and a half hours at race pace. I was lacking the rhythm of competition in Liège, but as I only finished a minute down on the winner I'm pleased. Since then I've been taking it easy at home. I've done my tests, and the numbers indicate I'm in good shape. Now all that's left is to replicate those sensations in the race itself", he concluded.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Sánchez doesn't rule out Tour de France

Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve will headline Euskaltel's Tour de France charge this summer, but they might yet be joined by their team leader and icon Samuel Sánchez.

The 35-year-old has earmarked the Giro d'Italia, set to commence this upcoming Saturday in Naples, as his main goal of 2013, but his plans post-Giro are yet to be decided upon.

Speaking at a press-conference at the team's headquarters in Derio, Biscay, 'Samu' kept his cards close to his chest.

"Of course I'm not ruling out the Tour de France", he said. "But right now I'm only thinking about the Giro d'Italia. When the Giro is done with, we'll figure out what I'll do next".

Team manager Igor González de Galdeano says an appearance at the Grand Boucle in July partly hinges on his performance in Italy.

"If he reaches his goals in Italy, being at the top of his game, winning a stage or being in the fight for the top overall placings that is, I'd say it's more reasonable he rests up and prepares for the Vuelta a España. But first of all, let's see what happens at the Giro. But I think he'll need a break afterwards anyway, as many of those who go to the Tour after doing the Giro end up completely fatigued. There are plenty of goals for 'Samu' after the Giro - why not go for the win at the World Championships?"

If Sánchez does opt to forego the Tour, he says his team-mates will have their chance to shine without him.

"It's time to look towards Italy and let the younger generation get to know the essence of the Tour without a leader. It's a golden opportunity for them", he concluded.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Loïc Chetout for the win

At this time tomorrow, Naturgas Energía rider Loïc Chetout might well have grabbed the biggest win of his life.

The speedy Frenchman is lying third overall going into the final and deciding Copa de España race in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, tomorrow: the Clásica Santa Cruz/Santikutz Klasika.

Coluer's elite rider Airán Fernández took over the leader's jersey two days ago (having accumulated 568 points), but only leads Caja Rural's Fernando Grijalba and Chetout by five and 17 points respectively.

Not far behind is Pablo Lechuga of Cajamar in fourth on 542, and Ibai Salas of Caja Rural in fifth on 541 points. Number six on the list, Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport's Júlen Mitxelena, on 519 points, shouldn't be discarded either.

With the fight for the overall crown serving as a backdrop, the 80th edition of the race promises to be quite a thriller. The route takes in 141,5 kilometres and seven ascents: Aztiria (to be climbed twice), Liernia (also to be climbed twice), Eizaga, Atagoiti and the infamous Descarga, to be climbed with only six clicks to go.

The racing kicks off at 9:15 AM, and the winner should be known by 13:00.

The winner of the last two editions of the race, Eduard Prades, will not be present this time around.

Naturgas Energía will send both Chetout and Imanol Estévez, though, marking them out as one of the teams to watch.

Karl Baudron, Loïc Chetout, Imanol Estévez, Alain González, Víctor Etxeberría, Francisco Javier Martín and Álvaro Trueba.

Azerbaijan next for Barbero and Insausti

Promising Basque duo Carlos Barbero and Jon Ander Insausti will both get to cut their teeth against some of the Continent's finest talents in Azerbaijan for the rest of the week.

The pair have been picked to represent Spain at the Tour of Azerbaijan, the first race for the Spanish sub-23 team this year.

According to the Spanish Cycling Federation, the following riders will be present:

Jon Ander Insausti, Fran Medina and Diego Rubio (Caja Rural), Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), Juan Carlos Ruitort (BH-Burgos) and Óscar Hernández (GSport-Valencia Terra i Mar).

The race starts Wednesday, May 1, and runs through Sunday.

"We'll go there motivated, and we're sure we'll do well", team selector Pascal Momparler commented. "All the riders are up for it, they've prepared themselves to the max and, though the level of racing will be high, we're bringing riders who're capable of animating the racing every day".

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Sánchez - Don't compare me with 'el Tarangu'

José Manuel 'el Tarangu' Fuente is undoubtedly one of the greatest climbers ever seen in cycling, as much for his panache and flair as for his results.

Almost 20 years after his passing, the two-time winner of the Vuelta a España is still one of Spain's most cherished cyclists. Fellow native of the Asturias region, Samuel Sánchez, is a big fan of the former KAS rider, and has carved out quite the decent career for himself in the colours of Euskaltel Euskadi.

Fuente was King of the Mountains in the Giro d'Italia four times, and with this year's edition less than a week away, Euskaltel's captain for the race sat down with Deia to discuss the late and great Fuente's legacy.

According to 'Samu', comparisons between himself and 'el Tarangu' are wide off the mark.

"A lot of people say I'm the best cyclist from Asturias ever", he said. "But that's not true. To compare me to Fuente is stretching it. Take a look at his palmares and you see he's got two Vueltas to his name, podiums in the Tour and in the Giro, stages in all three... And then look at me: I've never won a Grand Tour.

"No one compares to Fuente. But it's difficult to talk about different eras, seeing as everything's changed: the bikes, the way to train, the roads, the races... To compare anyone of today's cycling with Fuente is complicated. Perhaps Alberto Contador can compare with some of the stuff that he's achieved - when he attacked on the Col de Télegraphe in the 2011 Tour or in last year's Vuelta".

Fuente, of course, lit the international racing scene alight well before Samuel Sánchez was even born. His father was a friend of Fuente's, and together they would use to hang around in 'el Tarangu''s bike workshop.

'Samu' barely recalls the affable climber despite bumping into him from time to time, but is nonetheless full of praise for the type of rider Fuente was.

"He was one of a kind", he enthused. "A guy who could turn a race upside-down at any moment. He made life miserable for Eddy Merckx, especially in the 1974 edition of the Giro d'Italia.

"I went to his funeral in 1996, and to his tribute in Oviedo. Merckx was there, Felice Gimondi was there, and so were other great cyclists. A lot of people showed up. I even went to visit him in the hospital with my father when he was getting a kidney transplant".

José Manuel Fuente would never go on to win the 'corsa rosa'. Sánchez will have his chance when the action gets underway in Naples on Saturday, but, above all, he's looking for a stage win or a podium placing to go with those he's conquered in Spain and in France.

"I always start a race with big aspirations, focused on winning or trying to win. But I'm aware a lot of things will have to go my way if I'm to win. In addition, I haven't raced in Italy in a long time. Therefore I go to Italy looking for a stage and a top overall placing. The podium? That's my goal, but there are plenty of riders that will be hard to beat".

The penultimate stage of this year's race concludes on the famed Tre Cime de Lavaredo. Watch the video below of Fuente trashing Merckx, Baronchelli et al. by more than a minute back in 1974.

Photo: Orbea

Monday, April 29, 2013

Euskaltel fall on WorldTour standings

Euskaltel are paying for their below-par WorldTour performances by falling like a rock on the UCI's team rankings.

The team was ranked fourth after the Tour Down Under in January, but had fallen to 15th by the conclusion of the Ardennes Classics as victories and podiums have proved hard to come by for the orange team.

The most recent standings, released on Monday after the conclusion of the Tour de Romandie, sees Euskaltel ranked 16th of the 19 WorldTour teams. Only FDJ, Vacansoleil and Argos-Shimano have fewer points to date.

See the full overview here.

Ion Izagirre continues to be the team's top ranked individual in 38th with 61 points. Team leader for the Giro d'Italia, Samuel Sánchez, is only 94th with five points to his name.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Salas to ride with the pros

Young Basque Ibai Salas has been rewarded for his consistent riding this season by being picked to represent the national team at the upcoming Vuelta a Asturias.

The Caja Rural rider, who hails from Zamudio right next to Euskaltel's headquarters in Derio and Athletic Bilbao's training facilities in Lezama, recently took out the Copa de España-ranked Trofeo Guerrita and is in the running for the overall Copa crown with only one race remaining. That was enough to impress national coach Pascual Momparler, who's picked the 21-year-old alongside seven other promising riders for a start at the Vuelta a Asturias.

The race, to be held in Samuel Sánchez's region next weekend, will see the following octet present, reports the Spanish Cycling Federation:

Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), Airán Fernández (Coluer), Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), Víctor Martín (Lizarte), Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), Cristian Cañada (Mutua de Levante) and Vicente García de Mateos (GSport-Valencia Terra i Mar). 

Photo: Twitter

Aberasturi - I want to challenge Cavendish

Euskaltel brought in a bunch of fast finishers over the winter in a quest to bolster a department of the team that traditionally has been an Achilles heel.

The score board thus far in 2013 shows that both of the team's wins have come in mass sprint finishes, yet the vast majority of Igor González de Galdeano's sprinters have flattered to deceive.

Juan José Lobato has shown promise by taking one of those triumphs and placing consistently in medium-sized bunch gallops, but German pair Steffen Radochla and André Schulze are yet to crack the top ten. Jon Aberasturi, a true Fundación Euskadi graduate having passed through the ranks of both Naturgas Energía and Orbea, has similarly failed to grab results.

The 24-year-old has mainly been used as a domestique and lead-out man in his maiden year at WorldTour level and counts 17th on the Volta a Catalunya's second stage as his best result to date. With years on his side, though, he's still hopeful of one day challenging the greats of the discipline.

"Yes (I'm a pure sprinter), and my sprint is what I'm working the most on", he tells Pablo Martín Palermo at Ciclismo Internacional. "To fight the best sprinters like Cavendish and Greipel for the wins is what I aspire to do some day. If that's possible or not only time will tell".

Aberasturi has taken part in races ranging from the Tour Down Under to the Handzame Classic so far, and the native of Álava says there's a notable difference in racing at WorldTour level as compared to Continental.

"I have had the chance to do a bit of everything so far", he says. "For example, I started the year at the Tour Down Under, a WorldTour race, and, yes, I did notice the difference in pace when the stages were nearing conclusion... Then again, in races like the Trofeo Mallorca and Castilla y León, I didn't come across anything new as I already know those. I've also done some classics, and I've come to realize they're different type of races. It's full gas from start to end".

Aberasturi, who rates Alejandro Valverde and Óscar Freire as his biggest idols, will next up take the start of the Vuelta a Madrid before taking on the Vuelta a Asturias, Bayern Rundfahrt, Tour de Suisse of the Tour of Luxembourg, and then the national championships.

The team was just before Paris-Roubaix rocked by the news of Russian recruit Alexander Serebryakov testing positive for EPO, making a lacklustre season for the team up to that point that much worse.

According to Aberasturi, Serebryakov committed an "irreparable" mistake.

"It's a shame a team-mate took shortcuts that harm us all, knowing that what he did was an irreparable mistake", he states. "We were all surprised, as sacrifice is what's make the difference in the cycling of today, and he took the easy road.

"I met him in a couple of the classics I did, and he appeared to be a normal guy, with a lot of life in him, and a very strong cyclist".

After a slow start to the season, Euskaltel appear to be on the right way after solid showings in both the Vuelta a Castilla y León and the Tour de Romandie.

The new sprinter on the block believes his current employer will stay in the sport for the foreseeable future.

"Yeah, Euskaltel will be around for a while. Right now Samuel Sánchez is the one who's leading the charge, but behind him there are young riders and Nieve and Antón who can take up the mantle", he concludes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Time trial weakness punishes Antón

Igor Antón was yet again left to rue a below-par performance against the clock as he slipped from 13th to 18th on the last stage of the Tour de Romandie on Sunday.

The final-day 18,7km ITT threw up few surprises with Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) taking stage honours and Chris Froome (Sky) claiming the overall crown.

Euskaltel's top man, Igor Antón, was 13th going into the stage after a strong showing on Saturday's queen-stage, but slipped five places after finishing 71st a full 2:11 in arrears.

The team's top man on the day was Mikel Astarloza, with the former crono specialist coming in 46th.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 21:07)
  • 46, Mikel Astarloza, 1:45
  • 71, Igor Antón, 2:11
  • 75, Romain Sicard, 2:14
  • 101, Peio Bilbao, 2:52
  • 105, Garikoitz Bravo, 2:57
  • 108, Adrián Sáez, 3:01
  • 114, Mikel Landa, 3:40
Final general classification:
  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 19:24:51)
  • 18, Igor Antón, 3:35
  • 31, Romain Sicard, 5:16
  • 32, Mikel Astarloza, 5:21
  • 77, Garikoitz Bravo, 33:38
  • 78, Mikel Landa, 34:56
  • 98, Adrián Sáez, 50:39
  • 103, Peio Bilbao, 56:17

Benito breaks out to win Inguanzo as Chetout loses lead

One of the hottest properties of Spanish cycling, Miguel Ángel Benito, took one of the biggest victories of his young career when he emerged triumphant in the penultimate Copa de España race in Cantabria on Sunday, the Memorial Rodríguez Inguanzo. Airán Fernández edged into the overall lead ahead of Wednesday's final and decisive race in Legazpi.

The 165km race was marked by a 90km breakaway that made it all the way to the line. 19-year-old Benito, a Caja Rural team-mate of overall hopefuls Fernando Grijalba and Ibai Salas, ousted Hector Sáez of Seguros Bilbao and Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport's Ibai Daboz to take the spoils.

The group of overall contenders came in almost a minute and a half in arrears. Airán Fernández led the group home for ninth place, with Grijalba taking tenth, Chetout 14th and Salas 15th. That means the Coluer rider is the new overall leader with only one race to go.

Results (full results here):
  • 1, Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural), 4:19:42
  • 2, Hector Sáez (Seguros Bilbao), 0:02
  • 3, Ibai Daboz (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), 0:03
  • 4, Mario González (Café Baqué-Conservas Campos), 0:10
  • 5, Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), 0:11
  • 6, Júlen Mitxelena (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  • 7, Alberto Gallego (Bicicletas Rodríguez), 0:13
  • 8, Antton Ibarguren (Telco'm), 0:20
  • 9, Airán Fernández (Coluer), 1:22
  • 10, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 14, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 44, Víctor Etxeberría (Naturgas Energía), 1:35
  • 50, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), 4:15
  • 88, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas Energía), 8:24
Overall classification:
  1. Airán Fernández (Coluer), 568
  2. Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), 563
  3. Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), 551
  4. Pablo Lechuga (Cajamar), 542
  5. Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 541
Photo: Caja Rural

Santi Ramírez solos to day two Álava win

The highly promising Santiago Ramírez of Lizarte escaped the clutches of the peloton to take the second and final stage of the Dos Días de Álava on Sunday.

The 21-year-old, who turns 22 next weekend, escaped in the closing stages of the race to solo across the line four seconds ahead of a peloton led home by Federico Moreira (Reyno de Navarra) and Marcos Jurádo (Seguros Bilbao). Fourth across the line, Naturgas Energía sprinter Alain González, was crowned best local rider.

The day's racing had been animated by a break including strong-men Imanol Estévez of Naturgas Energía and Ramírez's team-mate Marc Soler, but they weren't able to get too far as Estévez suffered an ill-timed puncture and Soler was reeled in comfortably.

That set it up for Ramírez to go solo and add yet another trophy to his fast-growing collection of mantlepiece decoration. The native of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria - in his third year with the team from Navarra - already has races like the Subida a Gorla and Premio Lakuntza to his name.

  • 1, Santiago Ramírez (Lizarte), 3:06:55
  • 2, Federico Moreira (Reyno de Navarra), 0:04
  • 3, Marcos Jurádo (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 4, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 5, Sergey Vdovin (Lokosphinx), s.t.
  • 6, Alexis Gandia (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 7, Vadim Zhuravlev (Lokosphinx), s.t.
  • 8, Unai Intziarte (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  • 9, Alexander Vdovin (Lokosphinx), s.t.
  • 10, Mikel Ezkieta (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 13, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
Photo: www.teldeporte.com

Salas ready for battle of his life

With two races to go, the race for the overall Copa de España crown is wide open.

Naturgas Energía's prolific Frenchman Loïc Chetout heads up the standings with 488 points ahead of Sunday's Memorial Rodríguez Inguanzo in Cantabria, but has three big-name rivals all within seven points of his lead.

Airán Fernández of Coluer, who won the 2012 edition of the race solo, is only two points back, while Caja Rural duo Fernando Grijalba and Ibai Salas are only a further one and four points adrift.

It promises to go down to the wire in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, on Wednesday, but the race in Cantabria holds the key: you might not win the prestigious overall crown there, but you sure can lose it.

Salas, a winner in the Trofeo Guerrita last weekend and second in Inguanzo behind Fernández last year, appears to be approaching top form just at the right time - the 21-year-old might just go one better this time around.

"Last year I was able to do a good race and ended up second", he told Basque Cycling News. "As in all races I do, I intend to give my maximum on Sunday and I aim to fight for the win. What's more, the terrain is well suited to me.

"I'm very pleased with how the season's going - I'm consistent, I'm in good shape and I aim to be up there in every race".

Salas, already a winner of a Copa de España race in Aiztondo last year, didn't want to prioritize the overall over the race itself, or the other way around for that matter, saying they're both hold importance.

"Both are important goals. In the race you've got to try to score points, though there's still the last race in Legazpi, and it'll be important in the race for the overall Copa. I'll fight with all my strength to take that crown.

"We are four riders really, really close, but there are many more riders who mathematically could win it, so we can't neglect them".

One of the Caja Rural rider's biggest rivals will, naturally, be Naturgas Energía's Loïc Chetout. Chetout is yet to win a Copa de España race this year, but will no doubt, just like Salas, find the course in Cantabria to his liking.

To help Chetout out, Naturgas Energía will send the following riders:
Noel Gil, Loïc Chetout, Karl Baudron, Pablo Comins, Víctor Etxeberría, Álvaro Trueba and Alain Santamaría.

To aid Salas (and Grijalba for that matter) in his quest, the following Caja Rural riders will be present:
Antonio Molina, Ibai Salas, Fernando Grijalba, Miguel Ángel Benito, Asier Unanue, Ramón Domene and Francisco José Medina.

Full start lists can be found here.

Photo: BiciCiclismo

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Russians annihilate opposition in Álava

The young Russians of team Lokosphinx dominated Saturday's first stage of the Dos Días de Álava by winning the team time trial by close to a minute.

The Fundación Euskadi-organized race kicked off with an uncustomary 36,2km team race against the clock starting in Oion and finishing in Labastida in Rioja-Alavesa, but it was never much of a race.

The Russians bested Caja Rural, victors in a team time trial event in Laukiz earlier this year, by a massive 54 seconds, with Lizarte coming in third. The Fundación's very own team, Naturgas Energía, finished seventh.

  1. Lokosphinx, 50:32
  2. Caja Rural, 51:26
  3. Lizarte, 51:51
  4. Seguros Bilbao, 51:53
  5. Café Baqué-Conservas Campos, 52:03
  6. Reyno de Navarra, 52:21
  7. Naturgas Energía, 52:25
  8. Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport, 52:46
  9. Koplad-Uni2, 54:39
  10. Telcom, 55:16
  11. Ikolan, 56:40
  12. Debabarrena, 57:25
  13. Opel Ibaigane, 58:44
  14. Hostal Latorre, 59:41
  15. CC Torrejón, 1:00:18

Photo: Cyclingnews

Antón climbs the standings in Romandie

Igor Antón failed to come away with a result but showed he's in decent shape by staying with the best climbers behind stage winner Simon Spilak and overall leader Chris Froome in Saturday's Tour de Romandie queen-stage.

The Team Sky leader consolidated his lead on GC by bridging across to Katusha's little Slovenian on the day's weather-enforced altered final climb, building a big gap back to the chasers and crossing the line in Les Diablerets more than a minute ahead of the first chase group.

In that chase group was Euskaltel's leader Igor Antón who came across tenth to rise to 13th on GC with only tomorrow's final-day time trial to go. The 30-year-old just about did enough to stay with the select group and even forced the pace for a few seconds in the closing clicks, but now appears unlikely to finish any higher than his current overall standing considering his relative weakness against the clock.

Sicard and Astarloza once again showed they're there or thereabouts by ceding less than three minutes, meaning they're both inside the top 40 overall. Mikel Landa, at his best a factor on stages like these, got into the break of the day to give Euskaltel presence all stage, while Garkoitz Bravo was once again active in his ultimately unsuccessful quest to win the mountain's jersey.

BMC's lanky German Marcus Burghardt was active early and did enough to add to his lead, Bravo now 17 points back.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Simon Spilak (Katusha), 5:10:00)
  • 10, Igor Antón, 1:03
  • 31, Romain Sicard, 2:40
  • 34, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 62, Mikel Landa, 13:48
  • 66, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 111, Adrián Sáez, 29:10
  • 115, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • DNF: Juan José Lobato
General classification:
  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 19:03:10)
  • 13, Igor Antón, 1:57
  • 29, Romain Sicard, 3:36
  • 34, Mikel Astarloza, 4:09
  • 76, Garikoitz Bravo, 31:15
  • 77, Mikel Landa, 31:49
  • 101, Adrián Sáez, 48:11
  • 104, Peio Bilbao, 53:58

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lobato shows prowess on the highest level

Juan José Lobato continued his recent run of fine form by sprinting to fifth place on Friday's third stage of the Tour de Romandie.

The 24-year-old grabbed Euskaltel's second win in as many days at the recently concluded Vuelta a Castilla y León, and he might have gone close to doing the same in Payerne at the end of a lumpy 181 kilometres if it wasn't for some bad positioning in the final kilometre.

The speedy finisher had to start his sprint at the far right with a massive four hundred metres to go, meaning ousting big favourite and eventual victor Gianni Meersman was always going to be a big ask. Still, though, he had enough in the tank to grab a noteworthy fifth, finishing ahead of noted speedsters like Roberto Ferrari, stage two winner Ramunas Navardauskas and Marco Marcato.

On a less positive note for the orange-clad octet, Garikoitz Bravo was forced to let go of his climber's jersey as Marcus Burghardt, part of the day's main break, edged one point ahead of him. Peio Bilbao infiltrated the move in an attempt to block the German in his quest, but was not successful.

Awaiting the riders tomorrow is four category-one climbs in what will be, unquestionably, the race's most decisive day. The team's main GC hope, Igor Antón, is 36th overall, trailing leader Chris Froome by 48 seconds.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 4:19:03)
  • 5, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 35, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 43, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 74, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 108, Garikoitz Bravo, 4:31
  • 110, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 115, Adrián Sáez, 5:34
  • 144, Peio Bilbao, 18:16
General classification:
  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 13:53:16)
  • 36, Igor Antón, 0:48
  • 39, Romain Sicard, 0:50
  • 64, Mikel Astarloza, 1:23
  • 86, Juan José Lobato, 4:49
  • 113, Garikoitz Bravo, 17:21
  • 116, Mikel Landa, 17:55
  • 121, Adrián Sáez, 18:55
  • 127, Peio Bilbao, 24:42
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

García dropped from Giro team

Euskaltel Euskadi have decided to make a last-minute alteration to their Giro d'Italia line-up: out goes would-be-debutant Ricardo García, in comes Portuguese newcomer Ricardo Mestre.

The team announced their 'chosen nine' a fortnight ago - and back then García was included in the line-up. Now it transpires he won't go after all, as a team communiqué on Friday lists Mestre instead of the former Orbea rider.

No reason was given for the substitution.

The full team thus reads as follows:
Samuel Sánchez, Gorka Verdugo, Jorge Azanza, Ioannis Tamouridis, Robert Vrecer, Miguel Mínguez, Egoi Martínez, Ricardo Mestre and Pablo Urtasun.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Amputated Tour of Álava to start with team crono

One of the more prestigious stage races on the sub-23 calendar will be held this weekend in Álava, the Basque Country. Formerly known as the Tres Días de Álava, the Fundación Euskadi-organized race has now been reduced to the Dos Días de Álava because of the economic crisis continuing to strangle the local cycling scene.

Uncharacteristically, the race will start off with a team time trial, a full 36,2 clicks in length, from Oion to Labastida on Saturday 27 April. Sunday's 118km road stage starting and finishing in the region's capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, will conclude the race. The stage will be held on a 38km circuit to be completed three times by the peloton.

The complete line-up of teams and riders is yet to be released, but, like in years past, a strong field is expected for the fifth edition of the race.

Ibai Salas of Caja Rural took the spoils last year ahead of Lizarte's Rafael Márquez and Koplad-Uni2's Iñigo Ojeda, with the now on-fire Loïc Chetout taking fifth. The year prior saw Chilean Edison Bravo of Extramadura-Spiuk come away with the somewhat informal general classification.

Teams are allowed to field separate teams for each stage, and Naturgas Energía have decided to go with the following riders:

Line-up for team time trial:
Pablo Comins, Noel Gil, Alain González, Karl Baudron, Imanol Estévez, Álvaro Trueba and Víctor Etxeberría.

Line-up for road race:
Aitor Morales, Imanol Estévez, Alberto Barrón, Alain González, Éder Sáez de Ocariz and Javier Francisco Martín.

Photo: Fundación Euskadi

Bravo hangs on as Astarloza makes a dash for it

Euskaltel put on a battling performance in Thursday's second stage of the Tour de Romandie that saw Garikoitz Bravo cling on to his mountains jersey and Mikel Astarloza attacking inside the last ten clicks.

The guys in orange missed the break of the day, but Bravo still managed to claim a couple of points on the first climb of the day to consolidate his lead in the classification. Europcar's Pierre Rolland grabbed maximum points on the last of the two climbs, but he's still five points off the young Euskaltel rider heading into Friday's third leg.

With Euskaltel's main hope of stage glory, Juan José Lobato, going out the back over that last climb of Plagne some 20 kilometres from the line in Granges, Mikel Astarloza tried his luck with a daring move.

The in-form veteran jumped with some seven clicks to ride alongside Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo-Tinkoff), and the duo quickly got company in the shape of Cannondale's Cameron Wurf and Astana's Alexandr Dyachenko. The peloton wasn't about to let that quartet spoil the party, though, and they were duly caught inside the last two thousand metres.

In the sprint finish, Garmin-Sharp's Ramunas Navardauskas somewhat surprisingly held off Enrico Gasparotto and Gianni Meersman to claim the win.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), 4:51:49)
  • 27, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 30, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 43, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 90, Juan José Lobato, 3:04
  • 111, Peio Bilbao, 5:06
  • 148, Mikel Landa, 11:37
  • 149, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 150, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Aramendía adds to Caja Rural's injury woes

As if having four riders on the sidelines wasn't enough, Javier Aramendía yesterday pulled out of the Tour of Turkey.

Suffering from stomach ailments, the former Euskaltel prodigy finished outside the time limit on Wednesday's fourth stage and will thus not be able to take the start on Thursday. The 26-year-old has had a quiet start to his second year with the green team, his best result being 13th at the Ronde van Drenthe. It's not known how long his latest setback will rule him out for.

Caja Rural is already without the services of David Arroyo, Karol Domagalski, Manuel Cardoso and Iván Velasco - the latter underwent an operation on his broken collarbone earlier this week.

Photo: Caja Rural

Sánchez - I know what I'm doing

For a team notorious for its' riders constant up-and-downs in form, Samuel Sánchez is, and always has been, one of the few so-called 'safe bets' for Euskaltel's sports directors.

The experienced 35-year-old usually comes up with the goods when he intends to - and that is not about to change anytime soon with the Giro d'Italia less than ten days away.

"At Tirreno-Adriatico I was very competitive and came in fifth on the hardest day", he tells Cyclingnews. "In the Vuelta al País Vasco I was one place off the win on the queen-stage. I have been a professional for 14 years - I have my baggage and my experience when preparing for my objectives".

The Euskaltel leader made a promising debut at the 'Corsa Rosa' eight years ago when he finished up 17th on GC, but he's failed to return since.

That's mainly been down to his focus on achieving podiums and stage wins at the Vuelta a España and, later on, at the Tour de France, not because he didn't want to return to arguably the most spectacular of the three Grand Tours.

"I fell in love with the race in 2005", he reveals. "I thought the race had an impressive atmosphere, the towns were decorated in pink, the road sides were full of fans and the hills were covered in bikes.

"The tifosi are the legacy of the purest cycling. As the years have passed, I've taken longer to get back to the race than I would have liked".

In the lead-up to the kick-off in Naples next Saturday, 'Samu' hasn't hidden his goal of finishing on the podium - if he were to do so, he'd have podiums in all three of the sport's GTs.

"I have stage victories and podiums in the Vuelta and the Tour. I'd like to enter the club that has victories in all three. It would be a big dream come true", he concluded.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Bravo steals the show for Euskaltel

Garikoitz Bravo was once again able to pull on a King of the Mountain's jersey in a WorldTour event after Wednesday's first stage of the Tour de Romandie.

The Euskaltel newcomer took first place at two of the stage one's three categorized climbs to head up the classification with 14 points - six clear of Hubert Dupont of Ag2r.

Bravo clipped off the front early on on the first stage proper from Saint-Maurice to Renens along with Julien Bérard (Ag2r) and David Veilleux (Europcar), and, though the break never threatened to come away with the big prize, Bravo will still take considerable satisfaction from being able to wear yet another WorldTour climber's jersey after grabbing hold of the same one at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year.

Bravo's presence in the day's main break ensured the team some visibility, and Peio Bilbao pleased the team's sponsors even more when he made a brief sojourn off the front when his team-mate's move had been reeled in. Bilbao's four-man move never got far, though, and it came down to a bunch sprint finish without the presence of a dislodged Mark Cavendish.

Juan José Lobato was Euskaltel's main main for the dash to the line, but the 24-year-old came unstuck with some 400 metres go. Lying perfectly placed on the left side of the road, the native of Trebujena, Andalucía, got too close to the fence separating the riders from the spectators, broke his left pedal and had to ease off. The recent conqueror of a stage at the Vuelta a Castilla y León eventually finished a distant 97th as Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Gianni Meersman came away triumphant.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), 4:29:09)
  • 38, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 63, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 64, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 91, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 97, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 123, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 124, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 129, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Euskaltel come up short in Romandie prologue

Despite the Tour de Romandie prologue's hilly nature, the climbers of Euskaltel failed to shine as the Swiss WorldTour stage race kicked off on Tuesday.

Unsurprisingly, Chris Froome of Sky proved the strongest, besting Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) by six seconds and Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack) by seven more.

Igor Antón, coming off an encouraging showing in the last two Ardennes Classics last week, was the team's top man in 43rd, a full 48 seconds off the pace and behind overall contenders like the above-mentioned trio, Alejandro Valverde, Richie Porte, Rui Costa, Carlos Betancur, Rubén Plaza, Janez Brajkovic, Tiago Machado, Robert Gesink, Lieuwe Westra and Jean-Christophe Péraud. Still, though, it was enough to edge ahead of the likes of Ryder Hesjedal, Ivan Basso, Simon Spilak, Roman Kreuziger and Pierre Rolland.

Romain Sicard, still searching for the form of old, came in a decent 45th, while Mikel Landa, arguably in some of his worst shape in his young Euskaltel career, could only muster 138th on the day.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 13:15)
  • 43, Igor Antón, 0:48
  • 45, Romain Sicard, 0:50
  • 80, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:13
  • 94, Peio Bilbao, 1:20
  • 98, Mikel Astarloza, 1:23
  • 128, Adrián Sáez, 1:44
  • 132, Juan José Lobato, 1:45
  • 138, Mikel Landa, 1:47

Monday, April 22, 2013

Allergies suspend Nieve's season

Suffering from allergies, Euskaltel climber Mikel Nieve has decided to pull out of the upcoming Tour de Romandie.

The featherweight climber has been uncharacteristically off-colour thus far in 2013, and he has now decided to rest up in order to not jeopardize goals later in the season.

The native of Leitza, Navarra, was originally slated to take the start in Suisse on Tuesday, but Adrián Sáez will now take his place, reports the team's website.

"My form was good at the start of the year", he said. "I came to Paris-Nice in good shape and very motivated. Allergies have affected me, though, and I've suffered a lot. I felt better the odd day afterwards, but it's been a hard month. I haven't been able to perform at my level.

"Eventually, my allergies have resulted in an infection. The right thing now is to recover and to start to think about the second half of the year - a second half in which I intend to be at my best", he concluded.

Nieve's best result to date is third on the Tour Méditerrannéen's fifth stage, and he could only finish 13th and 85th respectively in the Volta a Catalunya and Paris-Nice.

As a result of him pulling out of Romandie, the final line-up looks like this:

Igor Antón, Mikel Astarloza, Peio Bilbao, Garikoitz Bravo, Mikel Landa, Juan José Lobato, Adrián Sáez and Romain Sicard.

Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Antón animates La Doyenne finale

Igor Antón ended his and Euskaltel's Classics season on a high with a combative ride in Liège-Bastogne-Liège that eventually netted him 12th place and sets him up nicely for the upcoming Tour de Romandie.

The little climber got into a dangerous-looking move that went clear on the Côte de Colonster approximately 18 clicks from the line, joining big guns Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Rigoberto Urán, Giampaolo Caruso, Carlos Betancur, Ryder Hesjedal and eventual victor Daniel Martin in making a threatening sortie off the front.

Antón's move wouldn't stick, though, and another group, of which Daniel Martin proved the strongest, formed at the head of the race. Still, Antón had enough gas in the tank to stay with the first chase group and grab 12th on the line. That was not enough to emulate his best result of sixth from three years ago, but it was surely enough to erase the memories of crashing in the neutral sone last year and breaking his collarbone in the process.

"I'm pleased to be among the frontrunners again", 'Fuji' said upon crossing the line. "As in Flèche Wallonne, I was among the candidates for the win here and that's important. We tried with a surprise move in the finale and, though we knew it would be difficult, you've got to try. Now it's time to recuperate".

Next up for Antón is leadership duties at the Tour de Romandie that commences on Tuesday, and the 30-year-old doesn't hide he's looking forward to it.

"After Flèche and Liège I go to Romandie high on motivation", he enthused. "My shape is good and we'll try to grab a win. To win is always hard, but I'm motivated to fight for it".

Samuel Sánchez put in his last performance before embarking on the Giro d'Italia in two weeks' time in Liège, but the 2008 Olympic champion struggled with the pace and went on to finish 37th at more than a minute from victor Dan Martin.

In a solid all-round team performance, seven out of eight riders went on to complete the 261,5km 'Monument' in Belgium.

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), 6:38:07)
  • 12, Igor Antón, 0:18
  • 37, Samuel Sánchez, 1:14
  • 72, Mikel Astarloza, 5:16
  • 73, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 87, Ion Izagirre, 8:20
  • 90, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 115, Romain Sicard, 8:29
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Salas edges new leader Chetout in Trofeo Guerrita

Naturgas Energía rider Loïc Chetout is the new leader of the Copa de España despite being beaten to the win by fellow Basque Ibai Salas in Sunday's Trofeo Guerrita.

The Caja Rural prodigy, who's well due a professional contract after numerous impressive seasons on the sub-23 circuit, proved to be the fastest in a bunch sprint finish in Alcantarilla, Murcia, at the end of a frantic 139km race.

Second was Frenchman Chetout, who recovered his overall series lead after ceding it last weekend to Airán Fernández in Torredonjimeno, while Marcos Altur, a former sub-23 national cyclo-cross champion, of GSport-Valencia Terra i Mar closed out the podium.

Results (full results here):
  • 1, Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), 3:27:41
  • 2, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 3, Marcos Altur (GSport-Valencia Terra i Mar), s.t.
  • 4, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 5, Pablo Lechuga (Cajamar), s.t.
  • 6, Airán Fernández (Coluer), s.t.
  • 7, Vicente García de Mateos (GSport-Valencia Terra i Mar), s.t.
  • 8, Júlen Mitxelena (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  • 9, Bernardo Ayuso (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 10, Adrián Gálvez (Atika Sport)
  • 41, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 44, Karl Baudron (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 46, Víctor Etxeberría (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 59, Pablo Comins (Naturgas Energía), 7:54
Photo: Deia

Alain González triumphs in Durana

Speedy youngster Alain González on Sunday handed Naturgas Energía yet another win in what is fast becoming a stellar campaign by coming out tops in the Trofeo Eusebio Vélez in Durana, Álava.

The 21-year-old, who hails from the region's capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, had to settle for second last weekend in Amorebieta, but went one better this time to claim his first win of the year.

According to the Basque Cycling Federation, González formed part of a four-man break that went clear over the punishing, six-kilometre climb of Salinas. In the end, González and Julián Barrientos of Café Baqué - Conservas Campos distanced the other two to set up a mano-a-mano on the finishing straight.

González, a winner of another Lehendakari-race in Beasain last year, toppled Barrientos. Third, at 21 seconds, was Caja Rural's Carlos Antón Jiménez.

Courtesy of his tenth place today, Miguel Ángel Benito of Caja Rural holds on to his overall lead in the Torneo Lehendakari standings.

  • 1, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 2:57:38
  • 2, Julián Barrientos (Café Baqué-Conservas Campos), s.t.
  • 3, Carlos Antón Jiménez (Caja Rural), 0:21
  • 4, Mario González (Café Baqué-Conservas Campos), 0:23
  • 5, Santiago Ramírez (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 6, Antonio Angulo (Café Baqué-Conservas Campos), s.t.
  • 7, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 8, Paul Usabel (Café Baqué-Conservas Campos), s.t.
  • 9, Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 10, Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural), s.t.

Sánchez returns for la Doyenne

Samuel Sánchez will add substantial firepower to Euskaltel's team for Liège-Bastogne-Liège as he returns to lead the team alongside Igor Antón.

'Samu' has opted to skip both Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, but puts a back number on again for La Doyenne as he continues to build for the Giro d'Italia.

Full team:
  • 171 - Samuel Sánchez
  • 172 - Igor Antón
  • 173 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 174 - Ion Izagirre
  • 175 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 176 - Egoi Martínez
  • 177 - Rubén Pérez
  • 178 - Romain Sicard

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Antón looking for third win in Romandie

Igor Antón will once again be Euskaltel's main go-to guy in the upcoming Tour de Romandie.

The mercurial climber has a relatively rich history at the event, taking a mountain-top victory at the 2007 edition of the race and eventually winning stage five in 2010 after victor Alejandro Valverde was suspended and lost his win to his countryman.

Antón is yet to come out tops in a race this year, but the 30-year-old will be relishing the challenges to be posed by the Swiss mountains when the race commences on Tuesday 23 of April.

Joining him at the WorldTour stage race will be, among others, the in-form Juan José Lobato, fresh of his maiden Euskaltel victory at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, and Mikel Nieve, who'll be looking to hit form after a below-par start to the season.

Full team:
Igor Antón, Mikel Astarloza, Peio Bilbao, Garikoitz Bravo, Mikel Landa, Juan José Lobato, Mikel Nieve and Romain Sicard. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Naturgas all in for Chetout

Naturgas Energía will look to propel Loïc Chetout back into overall Copa de España contention in Alcantarilla, Murcia, this weekend.

Sunday sees the staging of the Trofeo Guerrita, a race returning to the calendar after being called off last year due to a lack of sponsorship money.

Airán Fernández of Colour heads up the standings with 392 points, ten points ahead of Caja Rural's Fernando Grijalba and a further eight ahead of Naturgas' Frenchman.

Full team for Trofeo Guerrita:
Loïc Chetout, Karl Baudron, Noel Gil, Álvaro Trueba, Pablo Comins, Francisco Javier Martín and Víctor Etxberría.

Also on Sunday, the following riders will defend the red and whites' honour in the Trofeo Eusebio Vélez, a Torneo Lehendakari race in Durana:
Imanol Estévez, Alberto Barrón, Alain González, Aitor Morales, Éder Sáez de Ocariz, Oier Sánchez and Alain Santamaría.

Photo: Karlis Medrano

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Antón shines on the Mur

Igor Antón showed glimpses of his undoubted talent by finishing eighth in the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.

The outcome of the Belgian WorldTour classic is almost without exception decided on the brutally steep Mur de Huy, and this year's edition proved no different.

Katusha's Daniel Moreno showed why he's considered one of the very best domestiques in the business by jumping clear just at the right time to win the race in dominating fashion. Coming in second was Sky's Sergio Henao, just ahead of the vigilant Carlos Betancur of Ag2r who'd lit the blue touch paper right at the base of the climb.

Euskaltel did their best to shepherd team captain Antón into the best possible position when the climbing started, and the native of Galdakano, Biscay, showed he was worthy of his position as team leader by following the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Joaquím Rodríguez en route to eighth at the top of the famous climb.

His eighth place follows his fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011, and hands Antón his first WorldTour points of the season. His strong showing on Wednesday will no doubt boost his morale ahead of Sunday's Monument, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

  • (1, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), 4:52:33)
  • 8, Igor Antón, 0:08
  • 66, Gorka Izagirre, 1:51
  • 67, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 92, Mikel Astarloza, 4:59
  • 136, Romain Sicard, 10:06
Photo: Orbea

It's time for the Mur

Euskaltel will field the same octet in Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne that rode the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.

That means Igor Antón will be given another opportunity to hunt glory on the devilishly steep ramps of the Mur de Huy, while Mikel Astarloza might look to get into another TV-friendly monster break.

Full line-up:
  • 181 - Igor Antón
  • 182 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 183 - Ion Izagirre
  • 184 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 185 - Mikel Landa
  • 186 - Miguel Mínguez
  • 187 - Rubén Pérez
  • 188 - Romain Sicard
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fraile - I've got Igor's word on it

Omar Fraile made quite a few waves at the recent edition of the Vuelta al País Vasco, especially so with his brave breakaway attempt on the penultimate leg into Beasain.

What with Euskaltel's below-par performance at the same race, Fraile's ride was all the more remarkable. The Caja Rural rider was of course set to sign for Igor González de Galdeano's team before the start of the current season, but both parties famously decided to set that deal aside and go separate ways instead.

Still, though, rumours have circulated that the 23-year-old might turn out in orange in 2014. Talking to Cobbles&Hills, the man himself confirmed a deal is virtually in place to take him to Euskaltel ahead of next year.

"Yes, I've got Igor González de Galdeano's word on it that I will join Euskaltel", he stated. "That's a good thing to know as it makes you calm, but it still makes me motivated to keep working to show I deserve to be in the WorldTour".

Both parties have been vague on what the reasoning behind postponing Fraile's jump into the big league was. It appears to be nothing in particular, though - he simply wasn't ready for it.

"Last year was basically just difficult for me with injuries and circumstances hindering me in getting ready for the WorldTour. Igor proposed that I would stay on another year at this level and then join Euskaltel later on. Today, that seems to have been the right decision".

Velasco ruled out by collarbone fracture

Iván Velasco's transition from WorldTour to Pro Continental level hasn't been all that smooth. The results haven't been there (24th at the Tour de Finistère is hardly worth bragging about), and he's now set on the sidelines after crashing on Sunday.

The Caja Rural recruit broke his left collarbone and left wrist two days ago, and will get his injuries examined on Wednesday. On Friday, with all data on the table, a decision will be taken on when and if an operation is needed.

Despite his travails, the 33-year-old is staying upbeat.

"I have no choice but to be optimistic", he says in a press release. "It's a shame as I've been feeling better every day and was looking forward to continue helping the team. Now I can only wait and hope everything turns out well and that I can compete again soon. The lay-off is a bit hard, but we'll turn this corner".

Photo: www.teinteresa.es

Camaño - I couldn't feel my legs

Iker Camaño has found success since joining current outfit NetApp-Endura three years ago, but the Basque all-rounder got one of the biggest scares of his life earlier this month.

On the second stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the former Euskaltel and Saunier Duval stalwart came a cropper. As the peloton was cruising along at 55 clicks an hour, a major crash took out the 34-year-old.

"A crash took place on the left side of the road. A rider to the left of me tried to avoid it, but we got tangled up in each other and I lost control. Like a car without breaks, we both went straight towards a ditch without control", he told Deia. "I collided into an embankment. I fell face first and took a hit to the chest. My legs were pointing upwards and my body was shaped like a 'u'.

"I was scared at first, as I couldn't feel my legs. The hit I took to the chest was also quite strong, so I thought I had broken a rib. I was in incredible pain".

Team-mate Davíd de la Cruz was on the scene and called an ambulance, and it quickly became apparent the injuries weren't as serious as first feared.

"To not feel your legs and stuff like that... That's scary, but it wasn't that bad. Once I got into the ambulance I realized I could move my legs, and I didn't break any ribs. I still can't believe who I didn't fracture a rib."

As it turned out, Camaño "only" suffered a dislocated shoulder and a host of micro-fractures to his humerus bone in his leg. He won't need an operation, but was told to wear his arm in a cast for four weeks.

The pain has diminished greatly, he says, but he still struggles to sleep for three consecutive hours. Alas, a return to competition is still some way off.

"My idea was to be back in time for the Tour of California on May 12, but that seems to be a bit premature. The less time spent on the sidelines, the better, but most of all I just want my injuries to heal properly", he concluded.

Photo: www.owenphilipson.com

Monday, April 15, 2013

Vansummeren - Astarloza is an idiot

While Mikel Astarloza's breakaway heroics at Sunday's Amstel Gold Race drew praise from the majority of the cycling community, there was one rider who wasn't best pleased with the Euskaltel Euskadi rider.

Johan Vansummeren formed part of the original breakaway along with Astarloza, but the Garmin-Sharp rider was forced to give in when the 33-year-old from San Sebastián upped the pace and went for broke inside the final 40 clicks.

Upon crossing the line, the lanky Belgian let his frustration be known in a rare moment of straightforwardness.

"What an idiot Astarloza is", he told Danish cycling website Feltet. "We'd been riding together all day and suddenly he decides to go solo. Did he have any chance whatsoever in staying away? With that headwind, what he did was like riding straight into a wall. I struggled a bit at the Gulperberg, but if he'd just slowed down a bit we would have caught up again and we could have worked together against the wind on the flats".

And it gets worse.

"Well, he is a Spaniard after all. It's not for nothing they're experiencing an economic crisis. It's what happens when you don't use your head. He was also causing trouble before he took off. He was continuously leaving small gaps, sitting at the back and not taking turns. And then suddenly he just leaves us behind...".

For the record, Astarloza is yet to offer any sort of reply. And it'll probably stay that way.

The day Astarloza returned on the big stage

He's been back in the sport for almost two years now, but Sunday's Amstel Gold Race may turn out to be Mikel Astarloza's rebirth on an international level.

The 33-year-old spent an astonishing 241 kilometres of the Dutch WorldTour event in the break, only succumbing to the fatigue with nine clicks to go. Saxo-Tinkoff's Roman Kreuziger would eventually go on to win the race thanks to a surprising and daring late-race move, holding off a select group led home by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) after more than six and a half hours in the saddle.

The majority of those six and a half hours saw Astarloza up the road animating the race and giving his team some vital presence in the race. The native of San Sebastián formed part of the day's original seven-man move early on, but then decided to go it alone inside the last 50 clicks in search of an upset win.

While triumphing was always going to be an order taller than most, Astarloza gave it his utmost and cut a satisfied figure post-race.

"I'm very pleased, though I'm really exhausted", he told Cyclingnews. "I decided to try it from a long way off because I knew I wouldn't have much of a chance if I left it for the finale. The break was good, we worked together well, but there came a point when I had to strike out alone. Hope is the last thing you lose, but with 40 kilometres to go I only had a gap of one and a half minute, so I just went for it as much as I could.

"I've done some long breaks (before). It's the big changes of rhythm that aren't my strong point. In a race like this with one, short punchy climb after another I prefer to go on my own pace".

Astarloza's heroics overshadowed what was otherwise a lacklustre team performance: Igor Antón was the team's top finisher in a distant 31st, while all the rest (bar Astarloza in 49th) abandoned. Antón made a half-hearted attack inside the final ten clicks, but he could only stay away for a matter of seconds and appears to still be looking for top shape.

  • (1, Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinfoff), 6:35:21)
  • 31, Igor Antón, 0:47
  • 49, Mikel Astarloza, 1:31
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Barbero surprises in Castilla y León finale

While Rubén Plaza came away with the stage and the overall win on the final day of the Vuelta a Castilla y León on Sunday, it was a young Basque from Equipo Euskadi who surprised everyone with a third place atop the climb of Parador.

Carlos Barbero came across the line only seven seconds down on the Movistar veteran, beating experienced campaigners like José Joaquin Rojas and Euskaltel's Pablo Urtasun in the process. Third place on the stage was enough to net him a noteworthy fifth overall at the race - a placing sure to grab the attention of Igor González de Galdeano.

Despite the best efforts of his team-mates, Pablo Urtasun wasn't able to hold on to his overall podium placing, finishing fourth at 11 seconds. Missing out on a podium wasn't enough to dent DS Álvaro González de Galdeano, though.

"Overall, we're very pleased with the race", he said. "Before coming here, we'd have signed for two stage wins. We got rewarded for our efforts with that pair of wins. We didn't reach our goals on this third leg, but the balance sheet is positive. We return home with two triumphs and the tranquility of having gotten results on board".

Results (full results here):
  • (1, Rubén Plaza (Movistar), 4:30:36)
  • 3, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), 0:06
  • 5, Pablo Urtasun, 0:11
  • 16, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), 0:20
  • 20, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 29, Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), 0:45
  • 44, Jorge Azanza, 1:11
  • 48, Igor Merino (Euskadi), 1:36
  • 53, Haritz Orbe (Euskadi), 2:10
  • 70, Robert Vrecer, 4:36
  • 75, Mikel Nieve, 5:45
  • 80, Ricardo Mestre, 8:08
  • 84, Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi), 8:26
  • 86, Mikel Iturria (Euskadi), 8:33
  • 101, Juan José Lobato, 16:51
  • 104, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Rubén Plaza (Movistar), 12:35:03)
  • 4, Pablo Urtasun, 0:11
  • 5, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), 0:13
  • 17, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), 0:30
  • 18, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 34, Jorge Azanza, 1:21
  • 59, Mikel Nieve, 6:10
  • 61, Robert Vrecer, 7:15
  • 69, Haritz Orbe (Euskadi), 8:10
  • 70, Igor Merino (Euskadi), 8:18
  • 76, Mikel Iturria (Euskadi), 9:26
  • 83, Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), 14:48
  • 86, Ricardo Mestre, 15:11
  • 89, Juan José Lobato, 16:51
  • 99, Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi), 22:18
  • 109, Jon Aberasturi, 34:32

Adrián Alvarado wins in Torredonjimeno as Fernández becomes leader

Chile's Adrián Alvarado (Bicicletas Rodríguez) bested Lizarte's Higinio Fernández and team-mate Alberto Gallego to win Sunday's Copa de España race in Jaén, Andalucía.

Coluer's Airán Fernández, eighth on the day and winner of the Memorial Valenciaga last weekend, inherits the overall series lead from Naturgas Energía's Loïc Chetout. The Naturgas Frenchman could only muster 17th on the day and as a consequence dropped to third overall

Results (full results here):

  • 1, Adrián Alvarado (Bicicletas Rodríguez), 3:48:48
  • 2, Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 3, Alberto Gallego (Bicicletas Rodríguez), s.t.
  • 4, Cristobal Sánchez (Cajamar), 0:06
  • 5, Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), 0:09
  • 6, Pablo Lechuga (Cajamar), 0:25
  • 7, Fernando Grijalba (Caja Rural), 0:39
  • 8, Airán Fernández (Coluer), s.t.
  • 9, Juan Ignacio Pérez (Gomur), s.t.
  • 10, Noel Martín (Super Froiz), s.t.
  • 17, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 28, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas Energía), 2:40
  • 45, Víctor Etxeberría (Naturgas Energía), 6:36

Antón heads up Amstel charge

Despite failing to deliver at the recently concluded Vuelta al País Vasco, Igor Antón will line up as Euskaltel's protected rider in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race.

Full team:
  • 51 - Igor Antón
  • 52 - Mikel Astarloza
  • 53 - Gorka Izagirre
  • 54 - Ion Izagirre
  • 55 - Mikel Landa 
  • 56 - Miguel Mínguez
  • 57 - Rubén Pérez
  • 58 - Romain Sicard

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Sánchez - The goal is the podium in Brescia

In less than three weeks, Samuel Sánchez will embark on his biggest goal of the year in Italy.

The Euskaltel captain will line up as one of the biggest overall contenders alongside Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal, Bradley Wiggins and Ivan Basso at the Giro d'Italia. Hear what the GC experts think of each other in the video below:

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Lobato - I'm happy for myself and the team

He's come close on a few occasions already, and on Saturday Juan José Lobato finally pulled it off.

After placing sixth in the Clásica de Almería and fourth in the Vuelta a La Rioja, the 24-year-old emerged victorious on the second stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León to hand the team its second win of the year in two days.

"I'm very pleased with this win", he told team's website. "Victories always come at a good time, but I think that's especially true on this occasion. We've been doing things right, but the results have been missing. Now the results are starting to come, though, and I'm happy for the team. To win my first race in an orange jersey is special - I'm pleased for both myself and the team. My team-mates did an amazing job, so this one's for them. And for my family and my girlfriend of course. They're always supporting me. They deserve this".

Heading into the third and concluding leg on Sunday, Lobato and Urtasun are placed second and third respectively at two seconds from leader Francesco Lasca of Caja Rural. The final stage ends atop the Cervera de Pisuerga climb at the end of 183,1km lumpy ride, and it's a big unknown how much the race's 'queen-stage' will separate the riders. Getting either of the Euskaltel sprinters to the line in contention will undoubtedly be a big ask, but there's also the likes of Gorka Verdugo and Mikel Nieve in the team ranks.

"Álvaro González de Galdeano is the one who maps out the strategy, and I'll do whatever he tells me to do. Pablo Urtasun is in a great state of form. We're a very united group, and we'll work together to try and win the overall".

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Two of out two at Castilla y León as Lobato opens Euskaltel account

Juan José Lobato showed just why Euskaltel brought him in over the winter by taking out Saturday's second stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León ahead of Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural) and American Ken Hanson (Optum Kelly).

The 24-year-old emerged victorious at the end of a bunch sprint in Palencia at the end of a 164,1km trek from Villa del Libro de Urueña to hand Euskaltel back to back victories after Pablo Urtasun took the team's first win of the year on Friday.

The stage followed a script decidedly similar to yesterday's: a group of nine (including Basques Haritz Orbe of Euskadi and Víctor de la Parte of SP Tableware) got away after some 60 clicks, were reeled in by the incessant pace setting of Euskaltel and Movistar with 10 to go, and it all came down to the anticipated sprint finish.

Lobato had led out out Urtasun expertly yesterday, but the roles were reversed this time around. The veteran returned the favour, allowing the young man from Andalucía to stand on top of the podium for the first time in an orange jersey.

Results (full results here):
  • 1, Juan José Lobato, 3:33:09
  • 6, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 17, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 34, Unai Iparraguirre (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 37, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 58, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 59, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 78, Mikel Nieve, 0:15
  • 82, Jon Larrinaga, s.t.
  • 90, Mikel Iturria, s.t.
  • 93, Mikel Bizkarra, 0:26
  • 95, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 100, Robert Vrecer, 0:43
  • 119, Ricardo Mestre, 4:04
  • 122, Haritz Orbe, s.t.
  • 123, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi

Benito bests Alain González in Amorebieta

Caja Rural's Miguel Ángel Benito ousted Naturgas Energía rider Alain González and Federico Moreira of Reyno de Navarra to win Saturday's Torneo Lehendakari race in Amorebieta, Biscay.

The prolific 19-year-old also won the race last year, and now moves top of the Torneo Lehendakari standings courtesy of Loïc Chetout's no-show.

According to the Basque Cycling Federation, Benito got a decisive gap on his three breakaway companions González, Moreira and Quintana in the last roundabout and held them off by a handful of seconds.

González, who showed his potential by taking the team's first win of the year in 2012 in Beasain, once again showed his potent burst of speed to secure the red and whites yet another podium of what's been a most fruitful season thus far.

  • 1, Miguel Ángel Benito (Caja Rural), 2:24:22
  • 2, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 0:05
  • 3, Federico Agustín Moreira (Reyno de Navarra), s.t.
  • 4, Dayer Quintana (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 5, Mario González (Cafés Baqué), 0:10
  • 6, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 0:45
  • 7, Carlos Anton Jiménez (Caja Rural), s.t.
  • 8, Gotzon Udondo (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  • 9, Jorge Arcas (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 10, Adrián González (Opel Ibaigane), s.t.
Photo: Caja Rural

Urtasun - It was an emotional victory

Pablo Urtasun got a much-needed win for Igor González de Galdeano and co. by taking the team's first victory of 2013 in Friday's Vuelta a Castilla y León.

It's been a testing year so far for the 'orange armada': the foreign signings have failed to deliver, the team was, up until yesterday, the only WorldTour team without a win this year, Mikel Nieve, Igor Antón, the Izagirre brothers et al. have failed to find form, and the team put on a, frankly, miserable showing at the Vuelta al País Vasco last week. And then there was the tiny matter of Alexander Serebryakov testing positive for doping.

In an interview with el Diario Vasco a few days back, Galdeano admitted it has been his "toughest period at this team" ever. Surely, then, getting off the mark on Friday must have been a big relief for everyone associated with the team.

Man-of-the-moment Urtasun admitted as much post-race, saying it was an emotional moment crossing the finishing line in Valladolid arms aloft.

"We're very pleased", he told the team's official website. "It was a vert emotional win, a very nice one, and one we've been waiting for.

"We met up with González de Galdeano yesterday, and he transmitted calmness. He told us the wins would come if we continued to work well, and that relaxed us. And one day later we were able to open our account! We knew we'd been working well, but the pressure builds up if the results aren't there. All in all it's an important triumph - it boosts our confidence and gives us tranquility."

Estévez for Lehendakari, Chetout for Copa España

Naturgas Energía will spread their captains around this weekend: the team will be spearheaded by Imanol Estévez in the Torneo Lehendakari race in Amorebieta on Saturday, while Loïc Chetout will lead the team in the Copa de España-ranked in Torre Don Gimeno on Sunday.

Chetout leads both race series after an impressive start to the year, but will no be on hand to defend his one-point lead over Caja Rural's Jaime Roson on Saturday.

Team for Amorebieta (race six of 24, Torneo Lehendakari):
Imanol Estévez, Oier Sánchez, Alain González, Alain Santamaría, Eder Sáez de Ocariz, Alberto Barrón and Aitor Morales.

Team for Clásica de Torredonjimeno, in Andalucía (race five of eight, Copa de España):
Loïc Chetout, Pablo Comins, Álvaro Trueba, Karl Baudron, Víctor Etxeberría, Francisco Javier Martín and Noel Gil.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Friday, April 12, 2013

Urtasun breaks Euskaltel duck

Pablo Urtasun finally got Euskaltel's season up and running on Friday by winning the Vuelta a Castilla y León opener in Valladolid.

The 33-year-old, second last weekend in the Klasika Primavera, bested Caja Rural's Francesco Lasca and Movistar's Enrique Sanz at the end of the 194,8km stage one.

A seven-man break, including young Basque Igor Merino of Equipo Euskadi, had animated the day's racing by jumping clear inside the first 10 clicks and staying away until only six were left to ride. Euskaltel, armed with speedy finishers Urtasun, Jon Aberasturi and Juan José Lobato, drove the pace at the head of the pack with Movistar and Caja Rural in the closing stages, and were duly rewarded when Urtasun proved the strongest to claim his seventh professional victory.

JJ Lobato expertly led out Urtasun on the slight rise to the line, giving the latter plenty of time to savour his win.

Watch how it unfolded below:

Results (full results here):
  • 1, Pablo Urtasun, 4:31:28
  • 5, Carlos Barbero (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 6, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 27, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 33, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 44, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 48, Aritz Bagües (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 56, Mikel Iturria (Euskadi), 0:28
  • 69, Haritz Orbe (Euskadi), 1:46
  • 70, Robert Vrecer, s.t.
  • 73, Ricardo Mestre, 2:49
  • 80, Unai Iparraguirre (Euskadi), 4:07
  • 103, Igor Merino (Euskadi), 6:06
  • 119, Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), 13:27
  • 120, Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi), s.t.
  • 123, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi


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