Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lobato blasts to all-important win

Juan José Lobato gave Euskaltel's sponsor search a potentially big boost by annihilating the field in Wednesday's Circuito de Getxo.

The young sprinter, easily the team's best signing this season, had no rivals in the dash for the line, coasting to his second win of the year and his employer's only sixth triumph of 2013. Realizing he had plenty of time to savour his win just outside Bilbao, the Andalusian pointed to the sponsor of his shirt, no doubt trying to do his part in securing the team a future that by the day is looking ever gloomier.

Lobato of course has a history in this race. As a fresh-faced 22-year-old he surprised a whole lot of people by sprinting to his breakthrough win in the colours of his home team. Today's win was a lot less surprising, though. Such a big pre-race favourite was Lobato that the team decided to chase down the day's big main break even though they had both Pablo Urtasun and Ricardo García in it.

When it came down to the sprint, no one got even remotely close to Lobato.

"My team-mates did a great job", he said post- race. "They trusted me and sacrificed themselves for me.  This win is for all of them. In the tough situation we're in right now, we've delivered on a sporting level. Let's hope this win can help us find a solution.

"I didn't really expect this win", he added. "I wasn't feeling really good throughout the race. I felt a bit fatigued from the Tour, but I knew the finish suited me. In the end, we took a big win for the team and for the fans".

Another rider who stood out was Team Euskadi's Aritz Bagües. The youngster offered added proof of his potential by forming part of a dangerous late-race move that was only caught on the final lap.

Results (Euskadi riders in cursive):
  • 1, Juan José Lobato, 3:51:08
  • 7, Rubén Pérez, 0:08
  • 21, Juan José Oroz, 0:29
  • 22, Jorge Azanza, 0:33
  • 29, Mikel Landa, 0:46
  • 34, Gorka Verdugo, 0:57
  • 39, Egoi Martínez, 1:23
  • 43, Carlos Barbero, 1:40
  • 53, Aritz Bagües, 2:05
  • 71, Illart Zuazubiskar, 6:33
  • 73, Unai Iparraguirre, s.t.
  • 74, Igor Merino, s.t.
  • 81, Ricardo García, 7:32
  • 83, Haritz Orbe, 7:36
  • 86, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 91, Pablo Urtasun, 10:51
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Team Euskadi hoping to upset the big-shots in Getxo

Following a successful Clásica de Ordizia that saw the team come away with the 'intermediate sprints'-classification, Team Euskadi will again line up among some of the WorldTour's finest on Wednesday.

As is the case with Euskaltel of course, the Circuito de Getxo is right in Euskadi's backyard.

"We'll try to infiltrate the breaks and win one of the minor classification", DS Aritz Arberas tells the team's website. "We've got a chance in the finale in the shape of Carlos Barbero, so we'll try to play our cards to the max".

Joining the native of Burgos will be Haritz Orbe (fresh off grabbing the mountains jersey in the Kreiz Breizh Elites), Illart Zuazubiskar (who recently finished 13th overall in the same race), Aritz Bagües, Igor Merino, Jon Larrinaga, Mikel Aristi and Mikel Bizkarra.

Unai Iparraguirre crashed while racing in France, making it touch and go whether he'll be on the start line or not. As for Mikel Iturria, the youngster will be forced to sit this one out as he's struggling to recover from injury setbacks. The Gipuzkoan has been off the bike for 10 days and counting, casting his Tour de l'Avenir participation into doubt.

Photo: Orbea

Astarloza - Good results can help sponsor search

For every passing day without news of a sponsor coming on board, Euskaltel's future is looking dimmer.

No interested parties visited the team during the recent Tour de France, prompting team head Igor González de Galdeano to state "this is the last time the jersey of Euskaltel will be seen in the Tour". Like his team-mates on the start line of the Clásica de San Sebastián, Mikel Astarloza was told he's now free to sign for another team.

The veteran is hoping to be on the start line of the Vuelta a España as well, aiming to show potential sponsors just why the team is worth backing.

"We can try to get good results on the road so as to put pressure on companies, though I do think the future of this team will be decided upon in the offices", he tells BiciCiclismo. "We've been allowed to look around for new teams, but it's a big thing for the Basques to ride for this particular one."

The former Ag2r rider figures on the long list for the third and final Grand Tour of the year, but admits that he "doesn't know anything"about who'll be picked and who won't.

Photo: BCPT

Ricardo Mestre goes long

Ricardo Mestre tried his luck with a long-distance break on the third stage of the Tour of Poland on Tuesday.

The Portuguese joined three others in the day's main break and were only reeled back in within two clicks of the line. Thor Hushovd returned from relative obscurity the last couple of years to take his biggest win in two years, while Euskaltel's GC hope, Ion Izagirre, had no trouble staying with the pack on the 226km leg from Kraków to Rzeszów.

Heading into stage four, Izagirre is still fifth overall.

  • (1, Thor Hushovd (BMC), 5:10:02)
  • 17, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 18, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 60, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 77, Robert Vrecer, s.t.
  • 115, Miguel Mínguez, 0:28
  • 127, Ricardo Mestre, 0:46

Lobato looking for Getxo repeat

This year's Tour de France sprint revelation, Juan José Lobato, will lead Euskaltel in Wednesday's Circuito de Getxo.

The Andalusian, then in the colours of home team Andalucía-Cajasur, took out the event two years ago, and will aim to become only the second ever Euskaltel rider to win the one-day event outside Bilbao.

Koldo Fernández's success in 2009 is the only time an orange-clad rider has come out tops. To help Lobato, Álvaro González de Galdeano will lead a team comprising Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez, Peio Bilbao, Rubén Pérez, Pablo Urtasun, Ricardo García, Mikel Landa, Jorge Azanza and Juan José Oroz, reports the team's official website.

Chetout gunning for Altzo crown

Loïc Chetout will aim to put his name on an impressive list of winners in Wednesday's hill climb contest, the Subida a Altzo, in Gipuzkoa.

The 5,2km race against the clock between Alegia and the top of Altzo has been won by the likes of Unai Osa, Joseba Beloki, Andrey Amador and a certain Garikoitz Bravo in the past. Last year's race was taken out by the then all-conquering Arkaitz Durán.

Chetout will lead a Naturgas Energía quartet complemented by Óscar González, Alain González and Álvaro Trueba. The Frenchman claimed seventh last year.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sánchez - I'm not looking for a new team

Samuel Sánchez is one rider who will not have any trouble finding a new employer should Euskaltel indeed cease to exist come the end of the season.

The team's riders were allegedly told by Euskaltel officials that they're free to look for new teams ahead of Saturday's Clásica de San Sebastián. While quite a few will undoubtedly be forced to go job hunting in the lower echelons of professional and amateur cycling, 'Samu', one of the leading lights of Spanish cycling for the better part of a decade, has numerous suitors lined up for him.

According to the man himself, though, no one's told him he's free to look for another job.

"I know nothing of what was said on the bus. No one's told me that the team is disappearing", he tells his home region's newspaper, El Comercio. "Therefore I'm not looking for a new team. I've still got two years running on my contract".

"There's uncertainty regarding the team, but I can't do anything other than to push the pedals - I've got some very big goals coming up in the rest of the season".

The team's big riders have been linked with various teams in recent weeks, but Sánchez claims he knows "nothing about that". The 35-year-old is even claiming "there's time to fix things", saying all hope's not lost yet.

Sánchez was speaking from his training camp in the Sierra Nevadas, where he's currently preparing for the Vuelta a España and the Worlds in August and September.

Ion Izagirre stakes claim for Poland crown

The youngest of the brothers lies in a healthy fifth overall going into Monday's "rest day" in the Tour of Poland.

His Tour bow might not have been what many expected it to be, but Izagirre showed on the first couple of stages that his Tour form is still very much intact. He was eighth on day one's stage to the Madonna de Campiglio, and followed that up with seventh on the Pordoi on Sunday. Overall, he's nine seconds down on home rider and GC leader Rafal Majka, and only three seconds off the final podium spot held by man of the moment Christophe Riblon.

While Izagirre might have shown an enviable state of form, he's been pretty isolated up until now. The next best Euskaltel rider on GC is Robert Vrecer, who's 42nd overall at almost 20 minutes.

Photo: BCPT

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Euskaltel riders get green light to look for new teams

Ahead of yesterday's Clásica de San Sebastián, the riders were told they're free to look for a new employer.

The lack of funding from the public institutions in the Basque Country is likely to put an end to the team after the current season. To secure the riders' futures, they've been given permission to start talks with other teams, reports Deia. The official "transfer market" opens on Thursday August the 1st.

Mikel Nieve is, according to some sources, close to agreeing a deal with Alberto Contador and co. over at Saxo-Tinkoff, while others claim he's on Movistar's radar. Also Ion Izagirre and Mikel Landa are reportedly on Eusebio Unzué's wish list.

Star duo Igor Antón and Samuel Sánchez, though, are said to have given their word to team boss Igor González de Galdeano to wait for as long as possible before signing for a rival team.

Euskaltel show up on home roads

Euskaltel put on a battling display but once again came away empty-handed from the Clásica de San Sebastián.

Mikel Nieve ended up fourth and Mikel Landa sixth in a thrilling race that saw Tony Galloping come away with the biggest win of his budding career. Considering the team had opted to field a team virtually bereft of top-end speed, two riders in the top ten was the best they could have hoped for. Local rider Mikel Astarloza came through for 13th to close out a solid day for the team, but the fact is the team is yet to win the biggest race in their own backyard. Considering their current sorry predicament, Saturday might well have been their last ever chance to grab that elusive win.

  • (1, Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard), 5:39:02)
  •  4, Mikel Nieve, 0:28
  • 6, Mikel Landa, 0:36
  • 13, Mikel Astarloza, 0:51
  • 31, Igor Antón, 3:13
  • 37, Gorka Izagirre, 4:05
  • 54, Juan José Oroz, 4:40
  • 55, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 65, Egoi Martínez, 6:34
Photo: BCPT

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Antón and Nieve lead charge for glory on the Jaízkibel

Euskaltel will send the majority of their Tour de France team to Saturday's only one-day Classic in Spain: the Clásica de San Sebastián.

That means no Samuel Sánchez, so charged with bringing home a top result is Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve. Joining them in Gipuzkoa will be Gorka Izagirre, Mikel Astarloza, Mikel Landa, Juan José Oroz, Egoi Martínez and Gorka Verdugo.

Follow the race live here.

Photo: BCPT

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Euskaltel active but off-colour in Ordizia

Gorka Izagirre was not in the mix to land his third Clásica de Ordizia on Thursday.

The victory went to Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot, who proved the strongest and most savvy of the eight riders that broke clear late on. Gorka Verdugo was a part of that select group, but could only muster seventh in the end.

Before that, both Romain Sicard and Ricardo García had been active off the front - not to mention Team Euskadi's ever improving batch of youngsters. Unai Iparraguirre came away with the intermediate sprint classification, while the likes of Haritz Orbe, Mikel Bizkarra, Igor Merino and Illart Zuazubiskar were all, at one time or another, off the front.

Euskaltel duo Pablo Urtasun and Mikel Landa both crashed, but both are reported to be fine.

  • (1, Daniel Teklehaimanot (Orica-GreenEdge), 3:55:18)
  • 7, Gorka Verdugo, 0:08
  • 12, Haritz Orbe, 0:53
  • 29, Aritz Bagües, 2:25
  • 34, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 35, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 36, Mikel Bizkarra, s.t.
  • 37, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 41, Igor Merino, 3:52
  • 56, Mikel Landa, 9:12
  • 62, Unai Iparraguirre, 9:56
  • 64, Illart Zuazubiskar, s.t.
  • 66, Carlos Barbero, 10:09
  • 67, Ricardo García, 16:08
  • 69, Mikel Aristi, 17:22
  • DNF: Peio Bilbao, Mikel Nieve, Jon Aberasturi and Jorge Azanza

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Euskaltel's Germans reappear in post-Tour crit

Euskaltel's "forgotten duo", André Schulze and Steffen Radochla, was back on the bike on Monday.

Radochla hasn't raced since the German national championships on June, while André Schulze has been out of competition since abandoning on the first stage of the Tour of Luxembourg earlier the same month.

On Monday they both took part in the post-Tour criterium in Aalst in Belgium. Chris Froome unsurprisingly took out the event, while Radochla came in eighth. Schulze ended up 33rd.

Photo: BCPT

Euskadi sign up Dominican duo

In a slightly surprising move, the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi have taken on two youngsters from the Dominican Republic.

According to the foundation's website, Moisés Selman (18) and Adderlyn Félix Cruz (21) will be "sponsored" by the Fundación for three months. The duo will be living at the foundation's headquarters in Derio just north of Bilbao, but the costs of the stay will be paid by their home cycling federation. Whether they'll get to race as part of Naturgas Energía or not was not disclosed.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gorka Izagirre ready for Ordizia three-peat

Two-time champ Gorka Izagirre will spearhead Euskaltel at Thursday's Klasika Ordizia.

The oldest of the Izagirres was forced to pull out of the Tour de France on the day of the final time trial last week, but has recovered sufficiently from his bout of fever to take the start to defend his crown in the team's backyard.

Joining him will be Tour leader Mikel Nieve, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Landa, Ricardo García, Peio Bilbao, Jon Aberasturi, Gorka Verdugo, Jorge Azanza and Pablo Urtasun.

Team Euskadi will go into the race on a high, fresh off Jon Larrinaga's stage win at the Trofeo Joaquim Agostinho and Carlos Barbero's second and fourth on stages.

Both will be present, though Larrinaga's form is a bit of an unknown given he sustained a knee injury on the third and last stage of the Portuguese race.

Joining the duo will be wonderkid Mikel Aristi, Mikel Bizkarra, Aritz Bagües, Haritz Orbe, Illart Zuazubiskar, Mikel Iturria, Igor Merino and Unai Iparraguirre.

Photo: BCPT

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nieve - Great to see hard work paying off

Euskaltel completed what is likely to be their last ever Tour de France stage on Sunday without great fanfare.

Sprinting sensation Juan José Lobato couldn't find the perfect spot in the last few clicks and was left to settle for a distant 15th. Rubén Pérez came in a couple of places ahead of him.

On GC, everything naturally stayed the same, meaning Mikel Nieve finished a solid 12th in his Tour bow.

"I'm pleased overall with my first Tour", he said. "I'll go home happy with my performance. I've been very consistent over the three weeks. On some stages I stayed with the best, and that was huge for me. The legs were great on the Mont Ventoux and at Ax 3 Domaines. I'd worked hard going into the race, and it's great to see that work paying off in the biggest race of all".

  • (1, Marcel Kittel (Argos), 3:06:14)
  • 13, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 15, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 42, Mikel Astarloza, 0:10
  • 50, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 52, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 79, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 83, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 100, Igor Antón, 0:34
Final general classification:
  • (1, Christopher Froome (Sky), 83:56:40)
  • 12, Mikel Nieve, 20:01
  • 23, Igor Antón, 48:07
  • 42, Mikel Astarloza, 1:36:27
  • 69, Ion Izagirre, 2:21:32
  • 78, Juan José Oroz, 2:33:55
  • 122, Romain Sicard, 3:23:54
  • 139, Rubén Pérez, 3:43:15
  • 165, Juan José Lobato, 4:07:55
Photo: BCPT

Galdeano - The Euskaltel jersey will never be seen in the Tour again

Sunday's final stage to the Champs-Élysées is the last time that Euskaltel will take part in the biggest bike race on earth.

So says team head Igor González de Galdeano. The team's future's been up in the air for some time, and it now seems it's over. For good.

"This is the last time the Euskaltel jersey will be in the Tour de France", he tells Bilbao-daily El Correo. "No sponsors have visited us during the race. The public institutions have not stepped up and, from what I can tell, they're not going to step up".

What's more: with no support from the regional institutions, telecommunications giant Euskaltel will also withdraw their sponsorship.

"If there's no economic project, there won't be a sporting project", he says.

After 13 consecutive appearances in the Tour, Galdeano et al. appear to have come to the metaphorical end of the road.

That's not so say there won't be a team at all next year, but it appears it'll be distinctly different from the present outfit.

"There are sponsors interested in this project, that it keeps going, but it'll be different", he explains. "Sponsors are ready to come on board, but they have to step forward.

"But it will be a wholly different set-up - not remotely close to this one".

Galdeano - The team has been great

Despite missing out on all three targets on the penultimate stage, Igor González de Galdeano was a satisfied man on Saturday afternoon.

Euskaltel's hopes of a stage win, a climber's jersey and a top ten overall went out the window, despite Igor Antón looking solid in the break of the day and Mikel Nieve climbing to 13th on the stage and 12th overall.

That means Euskaltel will finish the Tour without a stage to their name and without a man in the revered top ten.

"Generally it's been good", he told the team's official website. "The team's been at a high level, and we've showed we deserve to be in this race. We would have liked to win a stage, but it wasn't to be. A stage win was our goal and we went all out for it, but it wasn't possible. But that shouldn't distract from our performance and attitude.

"We have to be proud of our performance".

As for the team's future, Galdeano was tightlipped.

"Everyone's done a great job. They've been as professional as ever and really focused on the race at hand. They've kept calm and behaved as normal, despite this less than comfortable situation".

  • (1, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 3:39:04)
  • 13, Mikel Nieve, 3:24
  • 30, Igor Antón, 6:42
  • 36, Juan José Oroz, 8:39
  • 64, Rubén Pérez, 16:47
  • 65, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 67, Romain Sicard, 16:49
  • 79, Ion Izagirre, 18:26
  • 167, Juan José Lobato, 26:59
Photo: BCPT

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Barbero nets fourth in Portugal

Carlos Barbero finished just off the podium in Friday's first stage of the Trofeo Agostinho.

The young puncheur claimed another top result in what's been a breakthrough season, only being beaten by home rider Sérgio Ribeiro, Filippo Baggio and Fábio Silvestre. The rest of the team, Aritz Bagües, Jon Larrinaga, Igor Merino, Illart Zuazubiskar, Mikel Bizkarra, Unai Iparraguirre and Mikel Aristi all came in with the pack except for the latter, the young Gipuzkoan trailing home 10:48 in arrears.

The team's strong showing in Portugal comes hot on the heels of an even more impressive outing in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.

Barbero, Aristi, Haritz Orbe and Mikel Iturria competed for an assembled Basque national team and came away with a second and third place on stages, and a noteworthy seventh overall for young Iturria.

Iturria, who also came agonizingly close to a stage win on day three, was pleased afterwards.

"I'm pleased. Very pleased", he tells Basque Cycling News. "Though I'm left with the feeling that I could have done even more! In general, though, it was very good".

Photo: Equipo Euskadi

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nieve climbs GC ladder

Mikel Nieve moved to within touching distance of the top ten overall on Friday's mountainous 19th stage.

Along with a host of team-mates, Nieve infiltrated the large break of the day that got away early on the stage from Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand.

Together with Ion Izagirre, Romain Sicard and Rubén Pérez he spent almost all 204 kilometres off the front, at one time being in with a shout of the stage victory. With Rui Costa in the break, though, it was always going to be an uphill battle, and no one could catch the wheel of the Movistar rider once he upped the pace on the final climb.

Nieve eventually ceded quite a bit of time on the final climb, trailing in ninth, more that two minutes back. He moved up to 13th on GC and is only a couple minutes off the top ten with Saturday's mountain finale to come.

In the mountains classification he's six points off Froome and five off Rolland, so the fight for the polkadots is surely going to go down to the wire.

  • (1, Rui Costa (Movistar), 5:59:01)
  • 9, Mikel Nieve, 2:16
  • 29, Ion Izagirre, 8:44
  • 30, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 58, Romain Sicard, 19:27
  • 80, Mikel Astarloza, 27:19
  • 83, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 90, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 144, Juan José Lobato, 35:24
Photo: BCPT

Nieve shines on the Alpe

Mikel Nieve offered added proof that he's one of the strongest climbers in the Tour's centennial edition by climbing to ninth on the Alpe d'Huez on Thursday.

The Navarran attacked towards the top of the climb the first time going up the Alpe, and got into a solid group containing Andy Schleck, Pierre Rolland and Lieuwe Westra. At one time, the quartet had almost a two minute gap back to the peloton, but the ferocious pace set by Movistar put paid to their efforts at the base of the final ascent.

Despite showing his hand early, Nieve put on a Samuel Sánchez-like display to pace his effort to perfection on the mythical climb to best the likes of Alberto Contador, Andrew Talansky, Bauke Mollema, Laurens ten Dam and the aforementioned Rolland.

His ride was good enough for ninth, and he was quietly pleased with his ride post-race.

"We tried our luck from afar. I didn't feel as good as I did the other days, but I'm happy to be up there amongst the best once again", he said. "I attacked thinking both about the stage and the mountains jersey. It's going to be really hard to get hold of that jersey, but we'll keep fighting for it as long as it's mathematically possible".

Due to his heroic stage win, Christophe Riblon usurped Nieve in the rankings and moved up to third, meaning he'll don the polkadots on Friday's stage. With three days to go, Nieve is a full 41 points adrift of leader Froome.

Igor Antón also made a dash for it on the Alpe and eventually came in a decent 17th. With only a weekend of racing left, Nieve and Antón are 15th and 24th overall respectively.

  • (1, Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), 4:51:32)
  • 9, Mikel Nieve, 4:15
  • 17, Igor Antón, 5:40
  • 50, Mikel Astarloza, 14:50
  • 88, Romain Sicard, 25:10
  • 115, Ion Izagirre, 28:13
  • 125, Rubén Pérez, 30:03
  • 136, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 173, Juan José Lobato, 32:02

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ibán Mayo – I've never gone back to the Alpe

Ten years on from that big day on the Alpe d'Huez, Ibán Mayo has granted a rare interview to talk about the defining moment in his short career.

The day itself needs no retelling. Mayo triumphed majestically ahead of the likes of Alexander Vinokourov, Lance Armstrong, Joseba Beloki and Haimar Zubeldia, taking Euskaltel's second Tour stage and his first and last ever.

"The truth is that the joy was immense", he told El Pedal de Frodo. "When you know there's only a kilometre or a kilometre and a half left, and you hear the time differences in your ear... Knowing I had two minutes and was likely to win, I tried to enjoy the occasion a little. To win in the Tour is the ultimate achievement for any rider, and for a climber, like I was, it's incredible to win on the Alpe.

"Yes, it was the biggest moment in my career. It's always hard to win in the Tour, and even more so on stages like that. To win on the Alpe d'Huez like a climber and enter the history books... it feels good".

After winning atop the Mont Ventoux and taking the Dauphiné outright the following year, he was a decent bet for winning the Tour in 2004.

As we all know by now, that never materialized. Nine years later, he's adamant that was the best shot he had at the big prize.

"The Tour in which I could have performed the best was the 2004 edition", he states. "There was the hill time trial up the Alpe d'Huez, and I remember thinking it would suit me. I always ceded a lot of time in the time trials, but I was strong in the mountains, so that year's race was the most favourable one for me".

After retiring, some cyclists still find joy in the bike and keep themselves almost race fit. Some, though, prefer to stash it away in the garage and do things they weren't able to while competing professionally.

Mayo appears to belong to the latter group.

"I don't go riding much, and I usually take the mountain bike. I prefer the mountain bike as the traffic's heavy where I live and the cars and trucks overwhelm me. I like the mountains and, what with the limited amount of time I have for training, it's more effective".

Perhaps surprisingly, Mayo reveals he's never gone back to the scene of his greatest triumph - and even jokes he wouldn't be able to get up the mountain.

"To be honest, I've never been back", he says. "Perhaps I'll go back one day and climb it by bike. I'd like that. But right now I'm not sure I'm in the shape I need to be to get up there as I should. Yeah, I'd like to return, but I'd have to train a bit first - right now I'd have trouble getting up!"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ion Izagirre leaves it all on the road in time trial

On a course that suited him to a tee, Ion Izagirre finally came alive in this year's Tour de France by claiming 14th in Wednesday's ITT.

The youngest of the brothers held the lead for quite some time before being eclipsed by Tejay van Garderen, and his strong ride helped to quell the disappointment of his brother's abandonment earlier on in the day.

He's shown his prowess in tests like these before, most memorably by winning a hilly race against the clock in the Vuelta a Asturias last season, and he looked as smooth and aero as you'd expect on the undulating 32km ride from Embrun to Chorges.

"I'm pleased to be up there in the Tour", he said post-race. "We're in the third week of the race, I'm feeling good and this result is a good indication of that. The best riders bested me after a while, but I'll remain with the good job I did.

"I gave it everything I had, and I'm looking forward to the Alpine stages coming up".

Romain Sicard had his best showing this far with 34th, while Mikel Nieve advanced to 17th on GC courtesy of his 38th placing.

  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 51:33)
  • 14, Ion Izagirre, 2:25
  • 34, Romain Sicard, 3:28
  • 38, Mikel Nieve, 3:45
  • 64, Rubén Pérez, 5:09
  • 79, Igor Antón, 5:39
  • 99, Mikel Astarloza, 6:06
  • 118, Juan José Oroz, 6:26
  • 171, Juan José Lobato, 8:25
Photo: BCPT

Samuel Sánchez to lead Vuelta charge

Euskaltel Euskadi have confirmed team leader Samuel Sánchez will spearhead the team in the Vuelta a España later this year.

The 35-year-old had a somewhat mixed Giro d'Italia, failing to make an impact on the general classification. In the Spanish equivalent he'll once again aim for the overall podium, having already finished second and third in the race in the past.

Ten riders are in the mix for the remaining eight spots, among them Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve.

The full long-list reads as follows:
Peio Bilbao, Igor Antón, Juan José Oroz, Mikel Nieve, Samuel Sánchez, Mikel Landa, Pablo Urtasun, Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez, Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza.

Photo: BCPT

Gorka Izagirre bids Tour de France farewell

Gorka Izagirre did not start Wednesday's individual time trial and has consequently abandoned the Tour de France.

The eldest of the brothers, a veteran of three Tours, has been struggling with a fever and flu-like symptoms for days, and opted out of taking on the 32km ITT from Embrun to Chorges.

"It's so hard to leave the Tour, but it's a very hard race. I couldn't keep going like this", he told the team's official website. "I've had two very bad days, with a fever, suffering a lot... I had hoped to turn it around and recover, but the Tour is unforgiving.

"I think the best thing is to stop and recover - I couldn't have done much in this state anyway. It's tough to abandon, but it's also hard to keep riding without being able to help the team".

With Izagirre posting a DNF, the team is down to eight riders.

Photo: BCPT

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Astarloza shows he's still got it

He might not be the most popular of riders, Mikel Astarloza, but he showed on Tuesday that he's not in France just to tag along.

The veteran got into the big break of the day and hung on for seventh - not too shabby considering the quality of that 26-man break and the climbs littered across the route.

While clearly not at his pre-ban best, he still seems to be able to pull of a result or two.

"I liked today's stage, we knew the break would stand a chance and all teams naturally wanted in", he said post-race. "There was a big fight to get into the break. In the end, quite a few got away. It's hard to come out tops against so many riders, but we were up there and had our chance".

While Astarloza were up front getting busy, the rest of the squad played it more safe. Nieve, resplendent in his borrowed polkadot jersey (and socks, bib shorts, helmet, you name it), came in with the third group and didn't look to be going full gas up the Col de Manse.

Antón, who appeared to flat or get a mechanical at the worst possible time, trailed in almost ten minutes behind the first group and consequently plunged to 28th overall. With stage wins and the polkadots being the goals, though, the further off you are, the better.

  • (1, Rui Costa (Movistar), 3:52:45)
  • 7, Mikel Astarloza, 1:01
  • 53, Mikel Nieve, 12:47
  • 65, Gorka Izagirre, 15:10
  • 67, Juan José Oroz, 15:41
  • 80, Ion Izagirre, 19:16
  • 120, Rubén Pérez, 20:57
  • 122, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 145, Igor Antón, 21:46
  • 146, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
Photo: BCPT

Monday, July 15, 2013

Galdeano - The team is falling apart

According to team boss Igor González de Galdeano, many of Euskaltel's riders are on the verge of leaving the team as we speak.

One of them is, not surprisingly, Mikel Nieve, he told Radio Euskadi on Sunday, according to BiciCiclismo.

The team's economic woes are well known by now, and the team head didn't sound overly optimistic about its future.

"The project's instability is complicating things. I don't know how many riders we'll have come the end of the Tour", he's quoted as saying. "This situation has made for a complicated Tour for us. We're going through hard times within the team, and I think we'll have few riders in the team when we finish the Tour.

"It's hard to keep the team together, but that's only normal. When you tell riders who've signed for three years that the team might be gone in six months, you make them nervous and uncertain. Everyone has to do what's best for their future".

The Tour traditionally marks the unofficial opening of the cycling transfer market. Right now, that's harming the team, he claims.

"We're being destabilized, and complicated situations are arising. The Tour is the best showcase, and the riders are nervous. Little by little the team is falling apart".

Mikel Nieve pleased the followers of the team by claiming third on the Ventoux on Sunday, but that might soon be a thing of the past.

"He's one of a kind and he had a great ride. He's a great rider, but I'm afraid he won't be with us anymore come July the 21st".

According to reports, Nieve is about to sign for Bjarne Riis and Saxo-Tinkoff. So far, though, nothing has been confirmed nor denied.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nieve rises to the occasion on the Ventoux

Mikel Nieve showed what a travesty those ten minutes lost in the crosswinds on Friday was when he climbed to an excellent third place on the Mont Ventoux on Sunday.

The ever-consistent climber would be odds-on to finish top ten on GC if it hadn't been for that moment on inattentiveness two days ago. His performance on Sunday at least showed he's got the legs and the form to be right up there, in the end only being beaten by the unreal Chris Froome and that pocket-rocket Nairo Quintana.

His attack 13 clicks out came just at the right time and he soon got the best company he could have wished for in the Colombian. The Movistar rider's pace was always going to be too high for Nieve, though, but he did ever so well to measure his effort perfectly there on after.

What he was talking about with Contador we'll never know, but even the great man from Pinto couldn't keep up in the closing couple of clicks.

Igor Antón went straight out the back at the foot of the climb but surprisingly came to life as the kilometres passed and the gradients kicked up. Eventually he came home 21st, a tad over four minutes in arrears.

  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 5:48:45)
  • 3, Mikel Nieve, 1:23
  • 21, Igor Antón, 4:07
  • 49, Juan José Oroz, 13:16
  • 62, Mikel Astarloza, 17:14
  • 118, Romain Sicard, 27:36
  • 156, Rubén Pérez, 32:36
  • 160, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 162, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 180, Juan José Lobato, 32:50
Photo: le Tour

Alain González tops off top weekend for Naturgas

In two races this weekend, Naturgas Energía won the first and came agonizingly close in the second.

On Saturday, the in-form Alain González showed his burst of speed is still intact by besting Adrián González (Opel Ibaigane) and team-mate Imanol Estévez to the line in Sopelana, a Torneo Lehendakari-ranked race.

To complete a great day for the red and whites, Loïc Chetout came through for fourth ahead of Caja Rural's Jon Ander Insausti.

  • 1, Alain González (Naturgas Energía), 2:47:44
  • 2, Adrián González (Opel Ibaigane), s.t.
  • 3, Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
  • 4, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), 0:07
  • 5, Jon Ander Insausti (Caja Rural), s.t.
In Sunday's race in Antzuola, Diego Rubio gave Caja Rural another win by soloing to the line five seconds ahead of Naturgas rider Álvaro Trueba.

Rounding out the podium was cyclo-cross prodigy Jonathan Lastra, while Chetout came through for fifth.

  • 1, Diego Rubio (Caja Rural), 2:57:07
  • 2, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas Energía), 0:05
  • 3, Jonathan Lastra (Hirumet Taldea), s.t.
  • 4, Rafael Márquez (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 5, Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Euskaltel miss break of the race

They've been good at getting into breaks so far, Euskaltel, but not the ones that really matter.

After having infiltrated meaningless break after meaningless break on the flats, the team missed out on both occasions when it mattered most: in the Pyrenees. Today's 14th stage had been looking like a good one for escape artists ever since the route was unveiled in October, but Igor González de Galdeano's men were found wanting when 18 riders jumped clear.

Naturally they went to the front to try to reel the break back in, but they never got closer than 30 seconds. Eventually they had to let the break go, and gap naturally ballooned.

Then, in a most bizarre move, Juan José Oroz darted off the front in an attempt to catch up with the break when the escapees were four or five minutes ahead. It was a doomed move right from the off, and after a while he was consequently back in the pack.

It's beyond me why none of the riders tried to bridge the gap when it was down to 30 seconds instead, but then again I'm no DS.

After that they could do little more than try to save something for tomorrow's big day to the Ventoux.

  • (1, Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 4:15:11)
  • 49, Rubén Pérez, 7:17
  • 69, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 71, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 73, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 74, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 93, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 110, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 135, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 169, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: BCPT

Friday, July 12, 2013

Euskaltel fall asleep in the wind

Euskaltel's GC push is all but over after a miserable day in the wind on Friday.

The guys in orange were left to rue their lack of concentration and bad positioning when Omega Pharma-QuickStep decided to up the pace with approximately 110 clicks to go on the stage from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond.

Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve found themselves in group number two and, despite the efforts of their team-mates, never managed to join up with the frontrunners.

Surprisingly, Nieve never took a pull on the front himself while Antón only joined in when it was way too late.

Eventually they all trailed in 10 minutes in arrears, meaning Nieve stooped to 21st on GC, while Antón fell to 23rd. Both more than 16 minutes back, all focus is now likely to shift toward stage wins and the polkadot jersey.

  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 3:40:08)
  • 81, Juan José Oroz, 9:54
  • 87, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 107, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 110, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 136, Ion Izagirre, 10:11
  • 138, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 155, Rubén Pérez, 11:47
  • 163, Romain Sicard, 13:36
  • 164, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
Photo: Le Tour

Depleted Sicard gives in to the pain

It was another big day out for Romain Sicard on Thursday, but yet again luck wasn't forthcoming for the young Frenchman.

In his first breakaway attempt in this Tour, he flatted at the worst possible time and was caught out when the attacks went. On today's 12th stage, just after having joined the day's main break alongside four others, he began suffering from stomach aches. 

It got so bad that it stopped him from eating all day long. When the others decided to go for the intermediate sprint, Sicard was running on empty and did the only sensible thing in easing up. With some 40 clicks to go, he was back in the fold.

"I was unlucky as my stomach started to trouble me right from the off", he said. "We were going really fast, it cost a lot of energy, and I didn't eat at all. That ended up costing me. 

"It was looking very unlikely that the group would go all the way, so I decided to sit up. I was feeling completely empty".

One who wasn't feeling empty at all by the look of it was Juan José Lobato. 

The team's hombre rápido was once again in the mix and eventually came home in ninth - his third top ten in his maiden Tour. Another chance beckons tomorrow as the pack makes its way to Saint-Amand-Montrond.

  • (1, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), 4:49:49)
  • 9, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 39, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 75, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 77, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 78, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 106, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 126, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 127, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 170, Romain Sicard, 4:01
Photo: Le Tour

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Orbe and Iturria shine

Team Euskadi continue to make waves both domestically and internationally these days.

At the Vuelta a Madrid last weekend, Haritz Orbe finished third on the first stage and closed out the race in second overall - only beaten by Czech Petr Vakoc.

Iturria, on his part, took a strong seventh on Wednesday's first stage proper of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. The hilly stage was taken out by Marc-Christian Garby, while Iturria came in 2:18 down.

Orbe, Barbero and Aristi all came in more than 20 minutes in arrears.

Nieve loses big in time trial

Mikel Nieve dropped to 15th overall in the Tour after losing more than five minutes in Wednesday's individual time trial to Mont Saint-Michel.

It was a disheartening showing from the fans' favourite. While he's never been a specialist against the clock, 157th on the day, 5:21 in arrears, was way below expectations.

If Nieve was the disappointment of the day, Ion Izagirre was no doubt the surprise. Ion ended up 31st after a consistent ride, showing his form is in the ascendancy.

Igor Antón had another sub-par ride, though, coming home 96th and dropping to 20th on GC as a consequence.

  • (1, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 36:29)
  • 31, Ion Izagirre, 2:37
  • 96, Igor Antón, 4:20
  • 97, Mikel Astarloza, 4:22
  • 101, Romain Sicard, 4:27
  • 152, Juan José Oroz, 5:17
  • 147, Mikel Nieve, 5:21
  • 158, Gorka Izagirre, 5:23
  • 168, Rubén Pérez, 5:41
  • 179, Juan José Lobato, 6:13
Photo: BCPT

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Oroz - This is the way to go

He wasn't the most obvious inclusion in the Tour line-up, Juan José Oroz, but he's certainly paying his sports directors back for trusting him with a combative performance in France.

For the second time in the race, Oroz formed part of the day's main break on day ten from Saint-Gildes-des-Bois to Saint-Malo on Tuesday. He got away - along with four others - virtually from the off and was only reeled in with five clicks to go. Still, though, they were never close to making it to the line as the sprinters' teams kept them on a tight leash throughout.

Sensing they were about to get caught some 30 clicks out he went for it, but he was quickly caught and decided to stick with his breakaway companions to the end.

"The other day was in the break they caught us with 2,5 to go, today earlier, but you never know", he said. "You know it's going to be hard, but you have to keep that flicker of hope.

"In general, the team is being a protagonist in the biggest race in the world. Be it in breaks, in sprints or in the mountains: there's always an Euskaltel rider in the mix and that's the way to go".

In today's sprint finish, Euskaltel were out of luck. JJ Lobato never really got into position and was hindered by that spectacular tumble by Tom Veelers. He eventually came home in 29th.

  • (1, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), 4.53:25)
  • 29, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 32, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 36, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 58, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 63, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 66, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 87, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 89, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 143, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: Le Tour

Euskaltel might be history in August

Euskaltel's economic woes are well documented, but on Tuesday it transpired they may be more pressing than initially thought.

The simple fact is this: if the team doesn't succeed in finding a new sponsor in the next 45 days, the team will be history by the end of the year.

The lack of economic support from the public institutions in the Basque Country is hurting the team badly. The telephone company Euskaltel is prepared to pay what the institutions are not, which is thought to be somewhere between three and three and a half million euro, but say they can't do that beyond 2013.

"The economic situation was not this bad when we started this project", an Euskaltel executive, Mikel Astorkiza, told El Diario Vasco. "We'll cover the whole budget this season, but we can't bear the weight of the team in the future.

"As for the public institutions, it's clear they have other priorities now. Nobody can accuse us of raising our voice or complaining - we completely understand. But we need that money. It not..."

Astorkiza says they're "open to all possibilities" and that "some companies have expressed an interest in what we can offer them".

A new sponsor can't be found soon enough, though. The Tour traditionally marks the unofficial opening of the transfer market in the sport, meaning riders might be tempted over to other teams if the team can't guarantee it's continued existence.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Tour de France shorts

It's a welcome day off for the Tour peloton on Monday, and time to catch up on smaller events in and around Euskaltel.

Ion Izagirre had a decent ride on Sunday and seems to be on the up. A few days ago he took two minutes of his time to answer Spanish sports daily AS' questions. Asked what he'd be doing if he wasn't a cyclist, the youngest of the brothers revealed he'd probably be a pelota player.

Check out the entertaining video interview here.

What with an opening day mountains jersey, a Lobato on fire in the bunch sprints and consistent, if unspectacular, riding in the Pyrenees, the Tour so far has been relatively successful from an Euskaltel point of view - but it's not showing in the list of prize money handed out.

The team has only become 5000 euro richer since the start of the Tour. Omega Pharma-QuickStep top with their 32 000, while only three teams have earned less than 'the carrots'.

See the full list here.

Ricardo García might not be riding in France, but he's certainly getting the kilometres in. Having ridden for four and a half hours and climbed some 3000 metres on Sunday, he posted the following picture of himself on his Twitter account:

Juan José Lobato has been the surprise package in the sprint finishes this year. As we all know it's not too often a rider in orange mixes it up with the fastest of the fastest, and quite a few Twitter cycling celebrities found it quite amusing to see an Euskaltel man close to the action on the flat stages.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Nieve - I'm very happy so far

Mikel Nieve stayed with the leaders and climbed on GC on the Tour's second day in the mountains on Sunday.

The Grand Tour specialist came across the line in 16th place after a strong day in the saddle that saw him launch some promising if short-lived attacks on the final climb.

"I'm very pleased with my performances in this Tour", he said after rising to 11th overall. "We got through the first week without trouble and in the mountain stages I've been better than I thought I would be".

If Nieve had an encouraging day on the bike, Igor Antón did not.

The erratic climber tried to go with a few early moves, and had to let go of the pack on the very last climb. He eventually came across the line in 26th place alongside an improving Ion Izagirre almost four minutes back.

Both of them, as well as Gorka, were among the attacks at the frantic start to the stage, but, just like yesterday, the team missed out on the break in the Pyrenees.

Going into the rest day, Antón is 19th on GC.

  • (1, Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), 4:43:03)
  • 16, Mikel Nieve, 0:20
  • 25, Ion Izagirre, 3:54
  • 26, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 43, Mikel Astarloza, 11:38
  • 44, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 119, Romain Sicard, 25:12
  • 173, Juan José Lobato, 26:10
  • 174, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 181, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
Photo: BCPT

Lizarte doubles up in Gatzaga

Higinio Fernández handed Lizarte back-to-back wins this weekend by triumphing in Gatzaga, Gipuzkoa, on Sunday.

Aitor González won solo in Murgia yesterday, but today it was Fernández' turn to steal the headlines.

He bested Jon Iriarte (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport) and Eddy Valdespino (Ibaigane Opel) to the line in the Torneo Euskaldun-race.


  • 1, Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), 2:59:36
  • 2, Jon Iriarte (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), 0:02
  • 3. Eddy Valdespino (Ibaigane Opel), 0:07
  • 4. Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet), 0:25
  • 5. Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (Lizarte), 0:42
  • 6. Pablo Lechuga (Cajamar), 1:16
  • 7. Antton Ibarguren (Telco), 1:21
  • 8. J. Manuel Gutiérrez (Telco), s.t
  • 9. Aitor González (Lizarte), s.t.
  • 10. Adrián González (Ibaigane Opel), s.t.

Antón and Nieve show up on home territory

While no match to the relentless and spectacular Sky machinery, Euskaltel's two leaders showed they're to be counted on in the coming days in the mountains by climbing with the 'best of the rest' on the first stage in the Pyrenees on Saturday.

He might 'just' have placed tenth on the stage, but make no mistake: this was well and truly Igor Antón's Tour de France breakthrough. The native of Galdakano has never found life easy in the Tour, but his ride on the eighth stage from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines was as promising as it was solid.

He attacked somewhat half-heartedly on the Pailhères, but still had the legs to keep a steady pace on the final climb and pace himself to tenth on the stage and consequently 15th overall.

In so doing, he outclimbed the likes of Rodríguez, Martin, Roche, Peraud, Costa, Fugslang, Talansky, Rolland, Evans, Schleck and the sorry van Garderen. He might not have been close to glory on the stage, but with the state of form he's in he should be in contention come Sunday or the Alps.

Mikel Nieve was even stronger, grabbing sixth on the line after a tremendously Samu-esque, well-paced effort on the final climb. While he's now 14th on GC and well on course for a top ten, he revealed his true ambitions when he sprinted for the mountain points on the Pailhères.

Heading into the second day in the Pyrenees, he's only ten points off Froome's polkadots. It promises to be quite a fight for the mountains jersey this year, with Nieve, Rolland, Quintana and that man Froome of course all showing an enviable state of form.

As for the remaining 'carrots', they even bottled it big time or did the wise thing and kept something in reserve for tomorrow's gruelling day in the saddle.

As can be seen from the results below, they were well and truly out of contention.

  • (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 5:03:18)
  • 6, Mikel Nieve, 1:34
  • 10, Igor Antón, 1:45
  • 44, Mikel Astarloza, 8:32
  • 95, Juan José Oroz, 29:02
  • 109, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 110, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 147, Gorka Izagirre, 29:12
  • 169, Ion Izagirre, 31:15
  • 170, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
Photo: BCPT

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Aitor González springs to life in Murgia

Lizarte's Aitor González opened his win account for the year by soloing to glory in a Torneo Euskaldun-race in Murgia, Álava, on Saturday.

The former Euskadi sub-23 road race champion joined the pink team in the off-season, but has so far struggled to replicate the kind of form that led him to second overall in the Torneo Lehendakari standings last year.

Today he got his win, though, besting Telco'm's José Manuel Gutiérrez and team-mate Higinio Fernández on the final climb.

Naturgas Energía's Cantabrian import, Álvaro Truebe, came through for fourth ahead of 'cross specialist Egoitz Murgoitio.


  • 1, Aitor González (Lizarte) 2:45:08
  • 2, José Manuel Gutiérrez (Telco'm), 0:10
  • 3, Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), 0:18
  • 4, Álvaro Trueba (Naturgas), 0:27
  • 5, Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet Taldea), 0:43
  • 6, Júlen Mitxelena (Gipuzkoa - Eki Sport), 0:46
  • 7, Eddy Valdespino (Opel Ibaigane), 0:54
  • 8, Joseba Del Barrio (Gipuzkoa - Eki Sport), 1:01
  • 9, Óscar González (Naturgas), s.t.
  • 10, Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (Lizarte) s.t.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Fundación Euskadi teams set for big tests

Equipo Euskadi and Naturgas Energía will both take on two of the most hard-fought races on their respective calendars this weekend and beyond.

The Continental-ranked Team Euskadi will send four of their strongest riders to the always highly-anticipated and prestigious Giro della Valle d'Aosta running from June 9-14.

Carlos Barbero, Mikel Iturria, Mikel Aristi and Haritz Orbe will, according to team DS Aritz Arberas, "fight for stage wins and the overall".

In Madrid this weekend, the same four Euskadi riders will get to face off against their Naturgas Energía friends in the sub-23 Vuelta a Madrid.

The Euskadi quartet will represent the Spanish national team, while Naturgas will send a team of their own consisting of Loïc Chetout, Alain Santamaría, Noel Gil, Karl Baudron, Víctor Etxeberría, Alain González and Francisco Javier Martín to the event.

The Naturgas riders not picked to ride in Madrid will take on a Torneo Euskaldun double-header instead - Murgia on Saturday, Salinas on Sunday.

Photo: Tour de Gironde

Oroz makes his presence felt

Veteran rider Juan José Oroz made a daring if doomed attack on Friday's seventh stage of the Tour.

When the day's first break, consisting of Jens Voigt and Blel Kadri, had been caught, the 32-year-old jumped clear with stage two victor and former maillot jaune Jan Bakelants and Cyril Gautier of Europcar. With 65 clicks to go it was the right time to do it, but the impeccable squad of Peter Sagan, Cannondale, still had gas left in the tank after having set an infernal pace up the day's main climb.

The trio never got much of a gap, but they still made managed to stay out front up until only 2,5 kilometres were left to ride.

Having reeled in the escapees, Cannondale duly launched their rocket in Albi and saw Sagan come away with one of the most deserved stage wins in recent Tour history.

Euskaltel's main men made it in with the pack, but Gorka Izagirre and Juan José Lobato were both dislodged well in sight of the line - perhaps saving some energy for the upcoming Pyrenees, perhaps not.

Speaking post-race, Oroz felt things could have been done differently in his late-race move.

"We worked well together, but maybe we could have eased up a bit in order to have more energy in the final ten kilometres. It was really difficult to surprise the pack, but we have to give it a go", he told the team's website.

  • (1, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), 4:54:12)
  • 35, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 48, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 61, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 66, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 92, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 97, Juan José Oroz, 0:29
  • 156, Gorka Izagirre, 14:53
  • 162, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 169, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
Photo: BCPT

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Lobato - I'm pleased to be fighting with the best

Juan José Lobato gave added proof of his unquestioned potential by sprinting to fifth on Thursday's sixth stage.

Only André Greipel, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish, in that order, could best the Euskaltel fast-man - not bad going in your Tour debut and with no lead-out.

Lobato successfully jumped from wheel to wheel in the finale and launched a potent finishing-kick to grab his second top ten in two days in Montpellier.

"I actually felt better yesterday (when he was seventh), but I'm very pleased to be fighting with the best sprinters in the world", he told the team's website. "This is a race like no other. It's another world. The rhythm and tension is extreme, but I'm feeling good and motivated. That's something I want to take advantage of.

"The results of my pre-race work is paying off, and that makes me happy and want to keep working", he said.

In what was without a doubt one of the more uneventful days in recent history, all the Euskaltel riders made it safely to the line - except for one.

Ion Izagirre lost 5:18 today, but as of yet I've not succeeded in finding out what happened to him.

  • (1, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), 3:59:02)
  • 5, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 21, Gorka Izagirre, 0:05
  • 31, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 56, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 64, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 76, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 93, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 115, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 175, Ion Izagirre, 5:18
Photo: Le Tour

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Lobato stakes his claim

Juan José Lobato continued his eye-catching Tour de France debut by sprinting to a lofty seventh on stage five on Wednesday.

The young Andalusian famously grabbed the polkadots on his very first Tour stage on Saturday, but today showed what he's really good at: sprinting.

Approaching the last three clicks, the 24-year-old was brought up to the pointy end of the peloton by his team-mates and then did the rest by himself. While he was some way off matching Mark Cavendish's acceleration, just like everyone else, he did enough to best the likes of JJ Rojas, John Degenkolb, Danny van Poppel and Simon Gerrans to finish inside the top ten.

"I felt better today than I did on the stages on Corsica", he said post-race. "I managed to get over the small climbs, and then the team did a great job in the finale. I'm very motivate, so I'll keep trying".

Another rider who appeared motivated was Romain Sicard. The Tour debutant, riding on home roads, made it into the break of the day alongside five others. He got dropped along with Sojasun's Anthony Delaplace with some 50 clicks to go to the line in Marseille, but it's no wonder: at the base of the climb Thomas De Gendt would eventually make his move, Sicard suffered the ill-fortune of puncturing. Cue a quick wheel-chance and a energy-sapping sprint to catch up with his escape companions.

Just when he'd gotten back on, De Gendt jumped, leaving Sicard grasping for air and with nothing to do but set a steady tempo.

In the finale, a major crash took down a whole host of riders. Gorka Izagirre and Mikel Astarloza went down, but according to the team's website they'll be ready to roll on Thursday.

  • (1, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 5:31:51)
  • 7, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 33, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 55, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 71, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 81, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 82, Ion Izagirre, s.t.
  • 83, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 154, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 195, Romain Sicard, 13:00

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Basque batch called up to represent Spain

Five Basques have been selected by national team coach Pascual Momparler to ride the sub-23 Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid this weekend.

So reports the Spanish Cycling Federation on Tuesday.

The riders in question are Euskadi trio Haritz Orbe, Mikel Iturria and Mikel Aristi, Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport duo Ibai Daboz and Beñat Txoperena. Complementing the squad are Euskadi's Carlos Barbero, hailing from Burgos in Castilla y León, and Rodrigo Araque from the same region.

Basque Cycling News recently interviewed Iturria - read the interview here.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Nieve-crash hinders Euskaltel

Euskaltel's bad luck in team time trials this year continued as Mikel Nieve hit the deck on the Tour de France's fourth leg on Tuesday.

In the Giro d'Italia, a flat tyre inside the last click saw a potential top 10 result turn into 22nd by the finish line. The team wasn't on course for a top ten today, but they passed the intermediate check point in 16th when ill-fortune struck again:

Team captain Mikel Nieve took a tumble on a corner, and the team was forced to sit up and wait for him.

By the finish, the team had dropped to 21st, 1:23 in arrears.

Nieve escaped serious injury and will be fit to start on Wednesday, and team boss Igor González de Galdeano was unconcerned when speaking to the team's website post-race.

"It's a shame he crashed, but it's not a big worry", he stated. "The result doesn't reflect our performance today - 16th at the intermediate point is more accurate. We didn't come to the Tour to fight for the general classification, so the time lost doesn't really make a difference".

  • (1, Orica-GreenEdge, 25:56)
  • 21, Euskaltel, 1:23
Photo: BCPT

Monday, July 01, 2013

The big guys go stage-hunting

They said they'd be aggressive and aggressive they were. Euskaltel's pair of captains both went on the offensive on Monday's third stage of the Tour.

Going up the last climb of the day, the cat. 2 Col de Marsolino, they both put in digs in turns. First Antón, then Nieve.

The former looked spent even before he jumped and didn't get much of a gap. The latter, though, looked much more on his game and managed to join forces with Chavanel, Nordhaug and Rolland on the road to the finish in Calvi.

A potent quartet it was, but the sprinters weren't going to let another chance at glory slip from their grasp and duly caught them inside the final five clicks.

Simon Gerrans, who famously gave his word to Egoi Martínez on stage 15 of the 2008 Tour that he wouldn't attack him at the end of the stage but still did and ended up with the win, bested Peter Sagan by the tiniest of margins to take his team Orica-GreenEdge's first ever win at the Grand Boucle.

Gorka Izagirre made an effort to get in on the action and ended up tenth.

On a less positive note, brother Ion's white jersey ambitions took a big hit when he punctured right at the base of the final climb - in other words at the worst possible time. Rubén Pérez handed him his well but it was to little help, Izagirre going on to cede close to four minutes.

  • (1, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), 3:41:24)
  • 10, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 35, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 45, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 67, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 96, Ion Izagirre, 3:40
  • 141, Juan José Oroz, 8:26
  • 146, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 149, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 176, Rubén Pérez, 9:15

Mikel Iturria - I didn't expect to be this good

For a rider who came in the backdoor at the very last minute, 2013 has been quite the journey for young Mikel Iturria.

Plucked from sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, Iturria was a last-minute addition to the renamed Continental-ranked Equipo Euskadi, a continuation of Euskaltel's highly-efficient feeder team Orbea.

Asked by Basque Cycling News how he ended up signing for the team on the 30th of January this year, a mere four days before the team's first race of the season, his answer is as straightforward as it's surprising.

"To be honest I don't know how that came about", he confides. "I didn't expect it. What I know is that the team needed two more riders to reach the minimum required, which is ten, and they decided to trust me with one of those spots despite not getting any big results in the sub-23 ranks.

"I'm very grateful towards (team boss, founder and Fundación Ciclista Euskadi president) Miguel Madariaga and (Fundación vice-president) Iñaki Zarate for giving me this opportunity".

After the first six months of the season, chances are Messrs. Madariaga and Zarate are happy with giving the 21-year-old from Urnieta on the outskirts of San Sebastián his shot at the big time.

The lanky rider has shown promise throughout the season, most recently at the Spanish National Championships when he figured in the race-deciding move that formed late in the road race.

Prior to that he'd finished an eye-catching seventh overall at French stage-race Ronde de l'Isard in May - one of the most prestigious races for riders below the age of 23 in the world. In early June he came fourth on the final stage of the Ronde de l'Oise.

"Honestly I wasn't expecting to be this good in my first year as a professional", he says. "I've been feeling better and better as the season's progressed, and I've been feeling strong since the Vuelta a Madrid in May. It's exceeded my expectations.

"Yes, I'm pleased with how I've performed. I think I did well in my debut on Mallorca and, despite not being pleased with how I raced in March and April, the work I did then is paying off now".

Asked to describe himself as a cyclist, Iturria says he's a rider who's strong "on long and hard days in the saddle. I'm at ease in stage races", he says. As to his weaknesses, he insists he's "not explosive at all" and "very slow in the sprints".

In other words he seems to be a rider very much in the Mikel Nieve-mould. A corredor de fondo, a marathon-rider who gets stronger as races progress and other riders weaken.

Age and talent taken into account, his own future appears undoubtedly rosy.

That much can't be said of his team. Madariaga is struggling to make ends meet and has publicly aired his fears that the team might very well be history when 2013 ends and 2014 begins.

Iturria says he's not got a plan B in place if the team does cease to exist and he needs to go job hunting with the ever-decreasing number of teams on the domestic scene.

"For now", he says, "the only thing I can do, and my team-mates at that, is continuing to work hard".

If hard work is what's brought him to where he is now, continuing to do the same might just take him even further on his journey that started so unexpectedly that day in January.


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