Saturday, August 31, 2013

Antón - I can walk with my head held high

Igor Antón showed the bravado and panache that once made him famous on Saturday's mountainous eighth stage of the Vuelta a España.

The diminutive climber attacked four clicks out from the summit of the previously untested Peñas Blancas, hoping to catch the favourites cold. And he very nearly did. Despite missing the top shape that in the past handed him four Vuelta stages, he nearly soloed to what would have been a momentous win for both him and his crumbling team.

At 600 metres from the line he got caught by eventual victor Leopold König, though, and then had to settle for seventh on the line.

Post stage, he was both proud and annoyed.

"It's a real shame that I got so close yet missed out", he said. "I wanted to surprise, and I knew I couldn't wait 'till the finale - it would have been really hard against riders like Rodríguez and Valverde. I hoped they would slow down behind me, but the finishing straight put paid to my chances.

"To ride all alone against a group like that is tough. Still, though, I'm happy with how I did. I can walk with my head held high".

While Antón's ride was heartwarming, the other Euskaltel stars' were not.

Samuel Sánchez never looked like staying the distance, eventually finishing 21st. Mikel Nieve had an even worse day, coming in over three minutes down in 40th.

After eight stages, Nieve remains the top placed Euskaltel rider on GC in 31st - 4:24 in arrears.

  • (1, Leopold König (NetApp-Endura), 4:09:46)
  • 7, Igor Antón, 0:13
  • 21, Samuel Sánchez, 0:40
  • 40, Mikel Nieve, 3:03
  • 55, Jorge Azanza, 7:51
  • 57, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 65, Egoi Martínez, 12:13
  • 66, Gorka Verdugo, 12:14
  • 118, Juan José Oroz, 18:53
  • 184, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Antón chooses Omega Pharma-QuickStep

According to a reliable Spanish website, Igor Antón will ride for Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2014.

According to BiciCiclismo, "only Antón's signature" is lacking. Allegedly he's "very close to reaching an agreement" with Patrick Lefevere's powerhouse squad after being convinced by their offer.

The signing of the contract and the transfer is likely to be confirmed during the weekend, writes the website.

Antón has courted interest from a number of teams, not least Team Sky, Astana and Lampre-Merida, but now appears set on a move to the Belgian team.

The mercurial climber's long-stated goal was to finish his career in Euskaltel colours, but he's nonetheless looking forward to this "enforced change of teams".

"It's a strange feeling (knowing the team will cease to exist", he said. "I've always said I'd like to retire here, like Roberto Laiseka once did. It's always been a very special and different team. It's a sad situation, but you have to move on. The victories, the good times and the friendships made will stay with me.

"My motivation now is to return to my best form", he added, referring to his shape of 2010 and 2011. "A change in teams, an enforced one in this case, makes me a bit scared, but I think it'll be good for me.  To change scenery and to discover another type of bike riding might lift me. Time will tell".

The Vuelta a España is likely to be Antón's final appearance in the famous orange jersey. To mark the occasion, he's channelling all his energies into taking what would be a fifth stage triumph in the race.

Photo: Orbea

Lobato heads up Plouay charge

Juan José Lobato will be Euskaltel's main go-to guy in the GP Ouest France - Plouay on Sunday.

The sprinter will lead the team in its final appearance in the French one-day Classic and will hope to grab the team's first ever win at the event.

Joining the potent Lobato will be Rubén Pérez, Gorka and Ion Izagirre, the in-form Romain Sicard, the reliable Mikel Astarloza, speedy all-rounder Ricardo García and solid domestique Miguel Mínguez.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sánchez unhappy with Vuelta organizers

Samuel Sánchez took the unusual step of criticizing the race organizer after the conclusion of the Vuelta a España's seventh stage on Friday.

Mind you, he minced his words. The last few clicks on the stage from Almendralejo to Mairena de Aljarafe were visibly everything but safe. Zdenek Stybar anticipated the bunch sprint to claim a well-deserved win, but several of the top GC riders weren't best pleased post-race. Joaquim Rodríguez was one of the first to air his frustrations, and 'Samu' followed up not long after.

"I don't know if it's an indictable stage finish, but it's lamentable", he said. "Our safety has to be thought of. Complicated finishes are okay, but the spectators were too close to us today".

'Samu' got through the stage unscathed, though, but heads into Saturday's big day in the mountains in a lowly 45th overall - almost four minutes in arrears. The team's top rider is still Mikel Nieve in 25th, no more than a minute and a half down on Vincenzo Nibali.

  • (1, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 4:51:27)
  • 32, Samuel Sánchez, 0:01
  • 39, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 50, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 84, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 90, Jorge Azanza, s.t.
  • 98, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 102, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 144, Juan José Oroz, 4:19
  • 188, Pablo Urtasun, 4:53
Photo: Orbea

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heroic Urtasun goes close

Pablo Urtasun launched a courageous and whole-hearted attack in the closing clicks of Wednesday's fifth stage of the Vuelta a España.

The speedy veteran made his move on the last little bump in the road with some two kilometres to go on the stage from Sober to Lago de Sanabria. He wasn't able to seal the deal, but he at least showed there's still a fire burning inside the Euskaltel riders after what's been a horrendous Vuelta thus far.

Eventually Michael Matthews emerged victorious in the dash for the line. Samuel Sánchez was the team's best rider in 18th.

  • (1, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), 4:28:22)
  • 18, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 23, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 33, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 52, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 94, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 113, Juan José Oroz, 1:16
  • 115, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 116, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 158, Jorge Azanza, 3:35
Photo: Kevin Remmerie

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Star trio gets through stage four of the Vuelta

Samuel Sánchez, Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón all stayed with the frontrunners on today's largely uneventful fourth stage of the Vuelta a España.

Euskaltel took a backseat to proceedings on the 190km leg from Lalín to Fisterra. Daniel Moreno emerged victorious after a vicious acceleration near the end, while Vincenzo Nibali inherited the red leader's jersey as Chris Horner, like the aforementioned orange trio, came in six seconds down.

On GC, Nieve still leads the way in 26th.

  • (1, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), 4:37:47)
  • 33, Samuel Sánchez, 0:06
  • 43, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 51, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 79, Mikel Landa, 0:58
  • 81, Juan José Oroz, 1:28
  • 90, Egoi Martínez, 1:39
  • 104, Gorka Verdugo, 2:50
  • 179, Jorge Azanza, 14:21
  • 183, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Photo: Orbea

Monday, August 26, 2013

Urtasun break signals change in tactics

A day after Samuel Sánchez's failure on stage two, Euskaltel seemingly embarked on stage three with a new race plan.

With the team's leader well and truly out of general classification contention already, Pablo Urtasun, normally charged with watching out for 'Samu', was given a free leash by his captain and decided to try his luck in the day's main break. With no GC contender in the team's ranks, the Euskaltel riders appear ready to hunt glory for themselves.

For Urtasun it didn't work out, but as a consolation prize he came away with the 'Most aggressive rider' award.

Chris Horner surprisingly grabbed the win on the uphill drag to the line, while Mikel Nieve and Sánchez stayed with the favourites' group that came in 13 seconds down.

Nieve was impeded by a crash at a bad time in the finale, but hard work by his team-mates ensured he got back on in time and defended his position overall.

Jorge Azanza also went down, but appeared to emerge relatively unscathed.

  • (1, Chris Horner (RadioShack), 4:30:18)
  • 20, Mikel Nieve, 0:13
  • 23, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 40, Igor Antón, 0:29
  • 99, Egoi Martínez, 4:10
  • 100, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 108, Juan José Oroz, 4:51
  • 142, Mikel Landa, 6:24
  • 174, Pablo Urtasun, 11:55
  • 196, Jorge Azanza, 13:55
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Ion Izagirre makes a race of it in Hamburg

Ion Izagirre showed he's still going strong after a race-heavy season by going on the offensive in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany on Sunday.

The youngest of the brothers has been racing virtually all year, starting way back in January at the Tour Down Under, but showed no signs of fatigue as he jumped from the pack along with a dangerous-looking group on the penultimate ascension of the Waseberg. It wasn't to be, though, as the sprinters' teams weren't going to let the opportunity of a WorldTour win slip away from them.

Eventually home riders John Degenkolb and André Greipel took first and second.

Another Euskaltel rider who made his presence felt was Garikoitz Bravo. The first-year rider on the WorldTour circuit is on the lookout for a new team, like all his team-mates, and decided to form part of the day's main break to put his name out there. His reward? The intermediate sprints prize.

  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos) 5:45:16)
  • 31, Juan José Lobato, 0:03
  • 38, Adrián Sáez, 0:05
  • 59, Romain Sicard, 0:09
  • 60, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 67, Rubén Pérez, 0:10
  • 115, Gorka Izagirre, 1:08
  • 139, Ion Izagirre, 7:00
  • 147, Garikoitz Bravo, 11:38
Photo: BCPT

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sánchez pleads for calm as Vuelta goals unravel

Samuel Sánchez's ambitions in Euskaltel's last ever Grand Tour took a major hit on the race's first summit finish on stage two.

The stage from Pontevedra to Alto de Monte da Groba should on paper have suited 'Samu' and his fellow orange climbers to a tee, but instead Sánchez and his team-mates inexplicably failed to come even close to living up to expectations.

The team leader had to let go of the sizeable lead group with a full seven clicks to go and looked every bit the worried team leader he must surely be in these troubled times for his team. Despite the best efforts of several of his domestiques, by the top he'd ceded a massive 2:41 to stage winner Nicolas Roche and more than two minutes to the majority of his general classification rivals.

It was a sad view to see the team's hopes evaporate in their final appearance in the Vuelta on only the second day, but 'Samu' characteristically refused to push the panic button upon completing the stage.

"This is cycling, this is sport, and sometimes these things happen", he said philosophically. "There's no need to make a big drama out of it - we have to stay calm and keep working.

"It was a bad day. Now we have to look forward; there's still a lot of racing to be done in this race".

The only bright spot of a disheartening day was the performance of Mikel Nieve. The ever-reliable climber didn't look weary from his Tour de France exhaustions and stayed with the main group of leaders that came in 14 seconds down.

Heading into stage three, Nieve is a healthy 30th overall at 1:14.

  • (1, Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), 4:37:09)
  • 19, Mikel Nieve, 0:14
  • 62, Gorka Verdugo, 2:41
  • 63, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 64, Egoi Martínez, s.t.
  • 65, Samuel Sánchez, s.t.
  • 79, Mikel Landa, 4:05
  • 102, Juan José Oroz, 7:47
  • 149, Jorge Azanza, 9:53
  • 152, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
Photo: Orbea

Estévez ends weekend on a high

Imanol Estévez took his second triumph in a week by soloing to victory in Zegama on Sunday.

The punchy youngster grabbed his first win of the year in Llodio a week ago and followed that up by taking another win in the last of three Torneo Lehendakari races this weekend.

The Naturgas Energía rider escaped on the last climb some five clicks from the line and held off the chasers to take the big prize by almost a minute from Jonathan Lastra in second.

The three races formed a mini-series of sort called the Udako Criterium. The 'overall triumph' went to Caja Rural's Jaime Rosón, the winner in Elgoibar yesterday.

Argentinian Lucas Manuel Gaday won Friday's race in Gernika ahead of Naturgas' Alain González.

Photo: Basque Cycling Federation

Euskaltel lose big in opening day team time trial

Euskaltel's last ever Grand Tour got off to everything but an ideal start as Samuel Sánchez ceded a big chunk of time in Saturday's Vuelta a España team time trial opener.

Entirely as anticipated, Vincenzo Nibali's Astana blitzed the 27,8km course to take the first stage. Euskaltel, featuring a host of big-name riders, were expected to at least break the top ten, but found the going hard and had to settle for 14th - a full 1:14 down on the Kazakh outfit. Heading into the first stage proper, Nibali thus already hold quite the handy lead on Euskaltel's main man.

Climbing duo Igor Antón and Mikel Landa, along with Pablo Urtasun and Juan José Oroz, both struggled and had to ease off towards the end, eventually finishing 2:43 and 4:31 in arrears.

Of the other GC candidates, Sánchez lost 52 seconds to Sky duo Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán, 45 to Alejandro Valverde and 15 to Joaquim Rodríguez.

Photo: BCPT

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rumour mill round-up: Antón and Nieve's big choice

It was reported earlier this week that Astana were keen on signing Mikel Nieve as Vincenzo Nibal's right-hand man for the coming seasons. According to various reports this weekend, Giuseppe Martinelli might indeed take on not only Nieve, but also fellow ace climber Igor Antón.

The usually reliable BiciCiclismo bring the news, writing "the two riders might end up joining the same team". Allegedly, they both have numerous offers on the table, but the cash-rich Kazakh team are thought to be in the driver's seat to secure their signatures.

Any deal for the pair is likely to be conducted during the Vuelta a España.

Sky is also interested in the duo, but said website claim they're yet to make a firm offer. Omega Pharma-QuickStep, who've already bolstered their Grand Tour department with the signing of Rigoberto Urán, also hold a strong interest in Euskaltel's standout climbers.

In other transfer related news, it appears ever likelier that both Izagirres will end up at Movistar next year.

Gorka is reported to have penned a deal already, and team head Eusebio Unzúe was quoted earlier this week as saying they're looking to bring in "five, maybe six more riders". Speaking of the brothers from Ormaiztegi, Unzúe said "they should both sign for us".

Euskaltel all set for Vattenfall and Vuelta

Euskaltel will be looking for what would be an emotionally-charged win this weekend in both Spain and Germany.

The team will of course line up in the Vuelta a España on Saturday and the Vattenfall Cyclassics on Sunday knowing it'll be the last time they'll ever do so with the team to fold come December 31.

In the latter, a race the team has never won and never really come close since the heydays of Koldo Fernández, the team will send a versatile octet led by sprinter Juan José Lobato and the Izagirre brothers.

Accompanying them will be ever-reliable young duo Garikoitz Bravo and Miguel Mínguez, the improving Adrián Sáez, speedy veteran Rubén Pérez and the off-again, on-again enigma that is Romain Sicard.

The young Frenchman looked the part in the recently concluded Eneco Tour, finishing 12th overall, and will likely be looking to make it into a break to put his name out there for prospective future employers.

The team for the Vuelta has of course been known for quite some time, but here it is one final time for those of you who've missed out:
  • 91 - Samuel Sánchez
  • 92 - Igor Antón
  • 93 - Jorge Azanza
  • 94 - Mikel Landa
  • 95 -  Egoi Martínez
  • 96 - Mikel Nieve
  • 97 - Juan José Oroz
  • 98 - Pablo Urtasun
  • 99 - Gorka Verdugo
The race kicks off with a team time trial from Vilanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo in Galicia totalling 27,8 clicks.

Hoping to limit their losses in a discipline which has always been the team's achilles heel, the team spent Thursday reconnoitering the route in detail, taking in 50 kilometres on board their aero machines.

On Friday, the team first decided to check out the hilltop finish of stage three to the Alto de Lobeira before going to the official team presentation ceremony.

Embarking on their last ever Grand Tour, the team is seemingly leaving nothing to chance.

Photo: BCPT

Tour du Limousin round-up

While most of the attention the last week has surrounded the team's imminent demise, Euskaltel Euskadi have quietly taken part in the Tour de Limousin in France.

The four-day event brought no victories or podium placings for the guys in orange, but they did come close on several occasions.

Ricardo García formed part of the day's break on stage two, Peio Bilbao got fifth and Adrián Sáez made a daring late-race move on stage three, and Gorka Izagirre ended up fourth after joining a five-man break that would go on to dispute the stage win on Friday's fourth and final stage.

Overall, Izagirre ended up as the team's best man on GC in 17th - a minute and eight seconds down on victor Martin Elmiger of IAM.

"We talked about going on the offensive on the team bus this morning", Izagirre, set to ride for Movistar in 2014, said after the conclusion of the fourth stage. "Peio Bilbao, Adrián Sáez and I were the cards we could play.

"I managed to get into the decisive break in the latter stage, but it wasn't to be. Stéphane Rossetto (BigMat-Auber 93) attacked and managed to stay away. I eventually ended up fourth. Now I'm only focussed on the next race: the Vattenfall Cyclassics".

Final general classification:
  • (1, Martin Elmiger (IAM), 18:06:53)
  • 17, Gorka Izagirre, 1:08
  • 25, Peio Bilbao, 1:20
  • 35, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 43, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 88, Ricardo Mestre, 36:37
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rumour mill round-up: Sky keen on Antón, Nieve to Astana

With Euskaltel's future now officially non-existent, the Euskalel rumour mill has as expected nearly gone into overdrive.

While still not one single rider has committed himself to another team, plenty appear to be on the verge of doing so.

As previously reported, only technicalities remain before Gorka Izagirre is a Movistar rider. According to Basque daily Deia, he's actually penned a deal already with Spain's soon-to-be only remaining top-level team.

Few would be surprised to see his brother Ion follow him, but as of yet it appears he's still juggling his options. BMC and Garmin are said to be more than keen on taking him on.

Mikel Landa has long been linked with Astana, and it now seems fellow ace climber Mikel Nieve might join him in making the move to the controversial Kazakh outfit.

According to said newspaper, Astana head Giuseppe Martinelli is hoping to make Nieve Vincenzo Nibali's top domestique. Deia claims it's "very likely" he'll take up that offer.

Fellow featherweight escalador Igor Antón, who yesterday talked of how he'd always wanted to finish his career with Euskaltel, is allegedly wanted by powerhouses Team Sky, BMC, Garmin and Omega Pharma-QuickStep. Earlier this month he was also linked to Lampre-Merida, meaning Antón will have no trouble finding a new employer.

One who's having a tougher time of it is the once-prodigious Romain Sicard. The Frenchman was last week said to be wanted by several of the top teams in his home country, but Alain Laiseka claims he's not had any response from the teams he's been in touch with.

Finally, the team's big star and icon, Samuel Sánchez, is not keen to talk of 2014 and beyond just yet. 'Samu' has two more years running on his contract with Euskaltel, and Deia says the team leader won't comment on his future before everything's sorted out with the team.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Riders react to Euskaltel goodbye: "We'll die fighting"

The news of Euskaltel Euskadi disbanding at the end of the current season has naturally triggered quite a few reactions from riders, fans and experts alike.

One of the team's standout riders this year, young sprinter Juan José Lobato, simply posted the following three words on his Twitter account:

"And now what..."

Team-mate Ricardo García also took to the social media network to air his frustration.

"A mixture of sadness and anger... We'll die fighting, knowing we've given it our all", he wrote.

Team Belkin rider Stef Clement, not a Basque of course, is not looking forward to riding in the Pyrenees with no orange-clad riders around him.

"Euskaltel quits cycling: big loss on the long term, big loss on the short. Not looking forward to hit the mountains with ANGRY orange men".

Former Euskaltel stalwart Iván Velasco was forced to leave the team for Caja Rural ahead of the 2013 season. While he was quite angry at the time, it's probably nothing he regrets right now. Still, though, the amiable Velasco feels for his friends and erstwhile team-mates.

"It's a real shame what happened to Euskaltel", he writes on Twitter. "A big hug goes out to all my friends over there. And, more than anything, thank you so much for those years!".

Euskaltel legend and Velasco's team-mate, Amets Txurruka, also extended his sympathies.

"Today broke the news we didn't want to hear! A big hug to all my friends. In addition to Euskaltel being a very popular sports team, 50 families and the youth also lose out... #Unbelievable"

Joseba Beloki might not have risen to Grand Tour fame in the colours of Euskaltel, but the 39-year-old from Lazcano, Gipuzkoa - one of Lance Armstrong's fiercest competitors at the turn of the century - spent his first couple of years as a professional on the team.

According to the former climber, Euskaltel will be sorely missed.

"It's a hard hit for the future of the sport", EsCiclismo reports him as saying. "It's a loss for the whole of cycling. They'll leave a big hole in the peloton, and it hurts the young and hopeful riders too".

Roberto Laiseka, a true Euskaltel legend if there ever was one, was everything but pleased, but felt the team management could have played their cards better.

"Everything's got a start and an end, but to end it like this is not good", he told EsCiclismo. "It's been an unusual year, what with the signing of the foreign riders. 

"It wasn't very well handled", he says of the team hiring non-Basques to get into the WorldTour. "They already knew the public institutions would cut back on their support", he claims, "and they got into economic difficulty after only three months".

Julián Gorospe, former Euskaltel team director and a two-time Vuelta al País Vasco victor, echoed Laiseka's sentiments, claiming he'd "never have changed the team's philosophy".

With the team now going, Gorospe fears the future of Basque cycling hangs by a thread.

"All Basque fans and riders look up to Euskaltel", he told Efe. "It'll affect our sport a lot. It's a big shame. This team has given so many riders the possibility to ride professionally and would have continued to do so".

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Official report: Euskaltel Euskadi is dead

Euskaltel Euskadi released a statement Tuesday morning confirming the team will cease to exist at the end of the current season.

The search for a new sponsor has proved futile, meaning the team, after 20 years on the road, will no longer form part of the cycling peloton from 2014 onwards.

According to various reliable reports, the team gathered all its riders for a meeting at 10:00 am this morning to inform them of the decision taken. All but seven of the riders were able to attend the meeting to receive the dreaded, if expected, news.

"Euskaltel Euskadi will not continue into next season", the team release reads. "A second sponsor, essential to ensure the sustainability of the team, has not come on board. Thus, the continued existence of the team is unfeasible.

An "orderly winding down of the project" will commence immediately, including handing over the release papers to the riders. Four days before the start of the Vuelta a España, all riders are thus free to look for a new job for 2014 and beyond.

14 of the riders - Jon Aberasturi, Igor Antón, Peio Bilbao, Garikoitz Bravo, Gorka Izagirre, Ion Izagirre, Mikel Landa, Juan José Lobato, Egoi Martínez, Miguel Mínguez, Mikel Nieve, Rubén Pérez, Samuel Sánchez and Gorka Verdugo - have contracts in place for next season, while the rest are free agents come the end of the season. Various reports have it that the telephone company will be asked to respect the deals of those 14 if some of them are unsuccessful in their job hunt.

"This is a sad day for Euskaltel, for the team, for the current sponsors, for the supporters and for everyone who have supported the team", the press release reads further. "We regret that no company has decided to back us, the doyenne of the world cycling elite".

The team's economic woes have been long known. The team's license holder, management company Basque Cycling Pro Team, secured a four-year WorldTour license at the start of the season, but in May reports surfaced that all wasn't going to plan.

Austerity cuts forced the public institutions in the Basque Country to cut back on their financial support, leaving the team approximately 3 million euro short of their reported 9 million euro-budget. Euskaltel, the telephone company that is, decided to double their support for 2013 to meet the shortfall, but simultaneously made it clear that they wouldn't be able to sustain that beyond this calendar year.

There have been talks of mergers with several teams, among them Lampre-Merida and American teams Optum Health and UnitedHealthcare, but nothing materialized. It was earlier this week reported that controversial Russian millionaire and businessman Oleg Tinkov was considering purchasing the team's license, but that was subsequently denied by the man himself.

The lack of a new sponsor sees to it that the orange team, after 20 years in business, will close up shop and leave Spain - once the home of a plethora of professional teams - with only one WorldTour team in 2014: Movistar.

The likely disappearance of the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi's Continental-ranked Equipo Euskadi makes the situation for Basque and Spanish cycling all the dimmer. Unless a new team is created in the off-season, only three professional teams from Spain will take to the road in January.

Euskaltel's WorldTour license will be left vacant and up for grabs for buyers, but the team will continue on as normal - in sporting terms, anyway - until the 31st of December.

"We've worked actively these last few months to maintain contact with companies in order to ensure the team's survival, exhausting all possibilities", the statement reads. "Despite the work and effort put in by Euskaltel, both in the Basque Country and internationally, none of the efforts have born fruit".

Photo: BCPT

Monday, August 19, 2013

Izagirre and Astarloza head up charge for debut Limousin win

Euskaltel will be looking to capture their first ever stage win at the Tour du Limousin this week.

The French four-day event commences on Tuesday, and Euskaltel will send a relatively experienced eight-man squad consisting of Mikel Astarloza, Ricardo García, Peio Bilbao, Gorka Izagirre, Ricardo Mestre, Steffen Radochla, Adrián Sáez and André Schulze.

The race featured on Ion Izagirre's initial race calendar as well, but no reason has been given for his exclusion.

In his place, brother Gorka and the rest of the Carrots will aim to take the team's first win in the race. Euskaltel haven't been regular participants, and have only partaken on a few occasions in the past. One Euskaltel rider who has done the race quite a few times in his career is Jure Kocjan.

The Slovenian came sixth overall in 2011 and won a pair of stages last year, but the 28-year-old has only just returned to competition after a virus laid him low for several months and won't be present.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sicard ascends standings on last day in Eneco

Romain Sicard rose from 14th to 12th overall on the seventh and last stage of the Eneco Tour on Sunday.

The talented Frenchman finished the Flanders-like 208km leg from Tienen to Geraardsbergen in the main group of favourites, going close to breaking into the top ten overall. Aside from the 2010 edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné in which he finished 11th, Sunday's result represents his best ever result on the general classification of a WorldTour event. It's also easily his best result no matter the race since taking fifth on the penultimate stage of last year's Vuelta a España.

With Euskaltel's days seemingly numbered, his return to respectable form couldn't have come at a better time. The rumour mill has it that he's attracting glances from, among others, and Ag2r-La Mondiale.

Another rider who had reason to be content was young Garikoitz Bravo.

The 24-year-old first-year WorldTour rider hung on to claim a creditable 20th overall. As was the case with Sicard, that result is the best he's done all year. While he's finished second and third in the mountains classification of the Tour de Romandie and Tirreno-Adriatico respectively already this year, the Eneco Tour represents his most consistent stage race so far in his young Euskaltel career.

Rubén Pérez tried his luck from far out by infiltrating the day's break, but the veteran eventually had to give best to the chasers and finished the stage almost ten minutes down.

  • (1, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 5:00:03)
  • 27, Romain Sicard, 0:39
  • 33, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:27
  • 34, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 67, Ioannis Tamouridis, 7:24
  • 68, Jure Kocjan, s.t.
  • 97, Jon Aberasturi, 8:29
  • 98, Rubén Pérez, 8:44
  • DNF: Juan José Lobato
Final general classification:
  • (1, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 25:14:05)
  • 12, Romain Sicard, 2:39
  • 20, Garikoitz Bravo, 4:51
  • 69, Rubén Pérez, 25:37
  • 73, Miguel Mínguez, 26:36
  • 82, Ioannis Tamouridis, 29:00
  • 104, Jon Aberasturi, 36:07
  • 111, Jure Kocjan, 53:23

Photo: BCPT

Report: Euskaltel and Tinkov hold talks

Having decided to stop sponsoring Bjarne Riis and his Saxo-Tinkoff outfit, Oleg Tinkov is allegedly contemplating buying Euskaltel Euskadi's WorldTour license.

Rumours of the Russian businessman and cycling fanatic buying the Basque team's license has circulated for quite a few weeks already, and it now transpires that the rumours might be very well-founded indeed.

According to the always well-informed Alain Laiseka of Basque daily Deia, Tinkov might represent "the team's only chance of survival". The oft-controversial Russian's lawyer, Stefano Feltrin, tells the newspaper that Tinkov is at the time of writing evaluating several dozens business proposals. One of them is from Euskaltel Euskadi.

The team and its main sponsor, Spanish telecom giant Euskaltel, are desperately searching for a new main sponsor to come on board for the next seasons. The Basque public institutions, citing the financial crisis in the country, have failed to come up with the approximated 2-3 million euros they promised at the start of the year. The telephone company, on their part, have decided to cover the budget for the current season, but is unable to provide the budgeted seven million euros for the coming three years.

Deia reports Euskaltel and Tinkov have already held talks. A decision on whether to bankroll the team or not is likely to made when Tinkov visits the Vuelta a España during the race's first week at the end of August.

If he indeed does buy the team's license, the team is set to undergo a complete transformation. The idea in principal is to fund the team for the next five years and move the headquarters from Derio, Biscay, to Tuscany in Italy.

Tinkov would buy the license held by the squad's management company, Basque Cycling Pro Team, and perhaps the team's automotive fleet and some of the staff as well. When it comes to the make-up of the roster, Tinkov will only consider taking on "a few of the Euskaltel riders he finds interesting" - leaving the majority of them without a team for 2014. These "interesting" riders are likely to be picked from the 14 riders with a contract in place for next season, among them the team's biggest stars Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve, Juan José Lobato and the Izagirre brothers.

Tinkov's intention, claims the newspaper, is to create a "completely different team", a team that has "nothing to do with the current one".

Earlier this week, de Galdeano said an announcement on the the team's future is likely to be made before the Vuelta kick-off on Saturday the 24th of August. The team's deadline on finding a new backer was set to September the 1st.

Photo: and

Euskaltel all-star set for Vuelta a España

Hoping to put Samuel Sánchez on the overall podium and attract a new sponsor with it, Euskaltel have decided to field a number of their biggest stars for the Vuelta a España.

The year's last Grand Tour kicks off next weekend, and, given the team's current predicament, it's highly likely it'll also be the team's last three-week race in its long and storied history.

Samuel Sánchez will as expected spearhead the team's charge, hoping to add what would be his third podium placing in the race to his extensive palmarès. To aid him in his quest, team head Igor González de Galdeano has opted to field ace climbers Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve (both fresh off the Tour de France earlier this summer) and prodigious escalador Mikel Landa.

Loyal domestiques Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez and Jorge Azanza will all once again be by Sánchez's side, having already completed the Giro d'Italia earlier this season.

Rounding out the nine-man team will be reliable all-rounder Pablo Urtasun, who crashed out early in the Giro, and Juan José Oroz, who came through the Tour i July in fine form.

"We'll go to the Vuelta with a very well-rounded team", de Galdeano tells the team's website. "We've got a team leader who already knows what it's like to stand on the podium in this race, and he'll be accompanied by a group of riders who are experienced in these kind of races.

"Antón and Nieve are two climbers with big wins to their names. Martínez, Verdugo and Azanza have protected Sánchez for many years. Urtasun and Oroz will be charged with looking out for him on the flatter stages where there'll be a chance of strong winds. And finally there's Landa, who got to know this race in 2012 and will be hoping to take a further step this year".

A number of big-name riders and proven Grand Tour contenders will line up at the start line in Galicia on Saturday 24 August. While 'Samu' might not be the biggest outright favourite, de Galdeano is adamant the team has got designs on taking home the top accolade.

"We have to be ambitious", he says. "The goal is to be in the fight for the overall victory. The list of GC candidates is impressive with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde, but we aim to be in the mix 'till the very end.

"We have to be at out best and go for gold".

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Imanol Estévez gets off the mark in Llodio

Just like his team-mates said he would, Imanol Estévez romped to his first win of the year in Llodio on Saturday.

The native of Álava was the revelation of the 2012 sub-23 season, taking the overall Torneo Lehendakari series in his first year in the category. This year, though, the wins haven't come along that easily. In fact, despite numerous promising showings and an innumerable collection of top 10 placings, he was yet to race his arms in celebration until today.

In Aretxabaleta on Friday, he involuntarily unclipped just as he launched his sprint and naturally dropped out of contention. Despite another near miss, his team-mates sounded more than optimistic on Estévez's behalf when talking casually to Basque Cycling News post-race. "Sooner rather than later, he'll be back on the top step of the podium", was the message.

And back on top he was - and in some fashion.

The Torneo Euskaldun race was decided in a three-up sprint between three of the strongest domestic young riders. Estévez pipped Beñat Txoperena, who's all set for the Tour de l'Avenir later this month, and Seguros Bilbao's powerful Marcos Júrado. Young Argentinian Ariel Alejandro Sivori came through for fourth at 22 seconds, while Estévez's team-mate Óscar González del Campo grabbed a strong fifth.

Ibai Salas, also him picked for l'Avenir, ended up seventh, while runner-up in Aretxabaleta, Júlen Mitxelena, closed out the top ten.

Coming off Loïc Chetout's mid-week triumph in Lemoiz, Saturday's win was Naturgas' second in four days.

  1. Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 3:02:05
  2. Beñat Txoperena (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  3. Marcos Júrado (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  4. Ariel Sivori (Argentina national team), 0:22
  5. Óscar González (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
Photo: Pascal Baudron.

Sicard shows flashes of class

Quietly and steadily, Romain Sicard appears to be returning to something reminiscent of his old form.

His Tour de France debut earlier this summer was everything but a success, but all throughout this week he's posted solid performances in the Eneco Tour. On Saturday, he put in his best performance in quite some time.

The 150km sixth stage, the race's most arduous from Riemst to the famous La Redoute climb, was taken out by Sky's loyal Basque domestique Davíd López García. The erstwhile Euskaltel rider formed part of the day's main break and showed his quality by going all the distance and taking a richly deserved victory. Behind him were quite a few of his earlier breakaway companions, while new overall leader Tom Dumoulin came home fourth.

Sicard was Euskaltel's best man, staying with the forerunners for quite some time en route to 19th on the stage. That was ahead of noted riders like Philippe Gilbert, Björn Leukemans, Jens Keukeleire and Niki Terpstra to name but a few, propelling him to a healthy 14th overall with only Sunday's final stage remaining.

Also not too far off was Garikoitz Bravo, the first-year Euskaltel rider coming in 37th.

  • (1, Davíd López (SKY), 3:51:10)
  • 19, Romain Sicard, 1:05
  • 37, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:57
  • 53, Rubén Pérez, 15:09
  • 54, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 95, Jon Aberasturi, 16:47
  • 125, Miguel Mínguez, 19:20
  • 131, Jure Kocjan, s.t.
  • 132, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.

Rafael Márquez and Lizarte hit back

Lizarte might have been upstaged by Naturgas Energía earlier this week, but the black and pink team responded like only they know how by dominating Friday's race in Aretxabaleta.

Lizarte staged a mass offensive on Wednesday but came up short as Loïc Chetout showed who's the boss by securing Naturgas' second consecutive win in the prestigious Klasika Lemoiz. Then, Rafael Márquez was the team's top finisher in ninth.

On Friday, the team from Navarra hit back.

In the 115km Torneo Euskaldun race, the team took first, third, sixth and eighth - as well as the team rankings, naturally. The aforementioned Márquez (pictured above upon crossing the line) came out tops in the dash for the line after the pack had splintered on the race's last climb, the Gaztaga, coming 15 clicks from the line.

Márquez, a speedy 22-year-old from Córdoba, was actually off-hooked on that last climb as a small select group darted clear. On the run-in to the finish a sizeable group, of which he was a part, managed to catch back on, though, and Márquez had enough left in the tank to take his first victory of the season.

Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport's ever-consistent Júlen Mitxelena opened the sprint but had to settle for second in the race that is formally known as the Leintz Bailarari Itzulia. Third was for Márquez's team-mate Higinio Fernández, who through his podium placing edged ahead of Borja Abásolo in the overall series lead.

Naturgas Energía attempted to set up the explosive Imanol Estévez in the finale, but their challenge unravelled 500 metres from the line when the youngster from Vitoria accidentally unclicked.

  1. Rafael Márquez (Lizarte), 2:39:23
  2. Júlen Mitxelena (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  3. Higinio Fernández (Lizarte), s.t.
  4. Antonio Ángulo (Cafés Baqué-Conservas Campos), s.t.
  5. Pedro García (Mutua Levante-Delikia), s.t.
  6. Urtzi Murgia (Lizarte), s.t.
  7. David Civera (Koplad-Uni2), s.t.
  8. Antonio Pedrero (Lizarte), s.t.
  9. Egoitz Murgoitio (Hirumet Taldea), s.t.
  10. Eric Altura (Telco'm), s.t.
Photo: Ciclo21

Friday, August 16, 2013

Euskaltel fall away in Eneco time trial

Another individual time trial, another disappointing Euskaltel result - or rather lack thereof.

Romain Sicard, the team's best rider overall prior to the seventh stage of the Eneco Tour, a 13,2km race against the clock from Sittard to Geleen, was also the best Euskaltel rider in the crono. The Frenchman couldn't muster better than 55th on the day, though, meaning he's now 34th overall at 1:06 behind overall leader Lars Boom.

Ioannis Tamouridis, who came to the team with a reputation of being quite the time triallist, has enjoyed a successful first year in the WorldTour, but his performances against the clock has left something to be desired. Friday's ride was another case in point - the Greek hero finished up 95th, almost a minute and a half down on stage winner Sylvain Chavanel.

  • (1, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 16:04)
  • 55, Romain Sicard, 1:02
  • 83, Rubén Pérez, 1:15
  • 94, Garikoitz Bravo, 1:24
  • 95, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 114, Miguel Mínguez, 1:40
  • 124, Juan José Lobato, 1:50
  • 155, Jon Aberasturi, 2:42
  • 156, Jure Kocjan, 19:11
Photo: BCPT

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tamouridis honours new bike and jersey in Eneco

Resplendent in his national championship jersey and aboard his Greece-themed Orbea Orca, Ioannis Tamouridis decided to give Euskaltel some welcome TV time by spending the fourth stage of the Eneco Tour off the front.

It's not every day Euskaltel have a national champion in their ranks, so equipment providers Bio Racer and Orbea wisely decided to honour the Greek by styling his jersey and bike in the blue colour of his home country.

The 33-year-old spent the majority of Thursday's stage from Essen to Vlijmen in the day's main break. While the four-man move didn't succeed in holding off the main pack, 'Tamu' was more than pleased post-stage after having been the last one of the quartet to be caught.

"My way on honoring the national championships jersey at the Eneco Tour. Thanks to Euskaltel Euskadi", he tweeted later on Thursday, adding a photo of himself in the break.

Tamouridis was caught just inside the ten kilometres to go-mark, and, entirely as anticipated, the sprinters got their way from thereon in. Again as expected, André Greipel emerged victorious by some margin, besting Giacomo Nizzolo and Lars Boom to take his first stage of this year's race.

Juan José Lobato tried to mix it up with the big boys, but a big crash some six clicks out caused havoc in the pack and ensured a lot of the sprinters lost their positions. Euskaltel's sprinter eventually finished up 15th.

  • (1, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), 3:47:36)
  • 15, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 64, Romain Sicard, 0:06
  • 67, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 95, Rubén Pérez, 0:34
  • 97, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 135, Miguel Mínguez, 3:11
  • 155, Jon Aberasturi, 7:04
  • 159, Jure Kocjan, 10:04
Photo: Kevin Remmerie

New deadline set for decision on Euskaltel future

In a candid interview with BiciCiclismo, Euskaltel Euskadi's general manager, Igor González de Galdeano, has revealed how the riders have not been given the freedom to sign with new teams after all, that there've been talks of a merger with a pair of American teams, and that there'll be an announcement on the team's future by the start of the Vuelta a España.

Unsurprisingly given the team's current predicament, rumours of riders signing for rival teams have circulated in the media ever since the Euskaltel riders were told by Basque Cycling Pro Team's corporate director Mikel Astorkiza ahead of the Clásica San Sebastián that they were free to look for new teams.

Now, three weeks on, it transpires that the riders haven't actually been given that freedom. The riders under contract in 2014, which totals out at 14, have to receive a signed document by their employer in order to be freed from their commitments. First then, with that document in hand, are they truly free to negotiate with prospective new employers.

Both Basque daily Deia and BiciCiclismo today report that this carta de libertad hasn't actually been handed over to the riders. Instead, the team have asked the riders to wait just a little bit longer before officially leaving the team in case a new sponsor should decide to come on board.

"We're working, right now, on securing the team's continuity, to find a sponsor. But it's not easy", de Galdeano tells the cycling website. "Time's not on our side, and we keep waiting for news".

Various reports have had it that the team heads would have to take a final decision on the team's future by August 15 or 18 (depending on who you believe). That appears not to be the case after all, but de Galdeano says the world will know what will happen with the team in two weeks' time.

"I think September 1 is our deadline", he says. "As well I expect an announcement to be made ahead of the start of the Vuelta a España on August 24".

While it appears more unlikely by the hour that Euskaltel will stay on as the team we know in 2014, it's by no means sure the team will disappear altogether.

Earlier in August, there were reports of Lampre-Merida wanting a merger, but that offer is thought to have been rebuffed. BiciCiclismo claim to know that there have also been negotiations with American teams Optum Pro Cycling (who are on Orbea bikes) and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.

"Nothing has come off it, though", the website reports. "They're dead-ends".

According to de Galdeano, the team's future is very much in Euskaltel's hands - the telephone company that is.

"They are considering all options. It would be sad if the team was to disappear after all these years, but they're looking for ways to keep the team going. It's their choice".

One of the obvious options, to downsize and seek a Professional Continental license, has been discussed at the Euskaltel head quarters. For now, though, dropping down from the WorldTour is not an option.

Photo: BCPT

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chetout keeps up Naturgas dominance in Lemoiz

Loïc Chetout showed just why he'll be riding with the pros later this season by taking a commanding win in the prestigious Klasika Lemoiz on Wednesday.

The fast-finishing Frenchman will be handed the chance to strut his stuff with Team Euskadi at the Tour de Gevaudan in September, and, judging by his current form, he seems to be on track and then some for the two-day event in France.

In Lemoiz (or Lemóniz in Spanish), Biscaya, he was easily the strongest in the dash for the line, taking his fourth win of what's been a breakout season for the soon-to-be 21-year-old. It was also the team's second consecutive win in Lemoiz - Imanol Estévez sprinted to glory last year, Chetout then finishing third.

The photo above, kindly sent over from expert photographer Iñaki Azanza, shows Chetout, arms aloft, besting Seguros Bilbao's Egoitz Fernández and Juan Antonio López Cózar of Cajamar into second and third respectively.

Ibai Salas of Caja Rural, also he set to ride with the pros in the near future, had to make do with fourth, but could console himself with the mountains prize. The on-song Bernat Font did like he did in Muxika recently, winning the intermediate sprints classification to cap off a good day for the red and whites.

  1. Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), 2:44:07
  2. Egoitz Fernández (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  3. Juan Antonio López Cózar (Cajamar), s.t.
  4. Ibai Salas (Caja Rural), s.t.
  5. Adrián González (Opel Ibaigane), s.t.
  6. Jonathan Lastra (Grupo Hirumet Taldea), s.t.
  7. Josep Miralles (Gijón - Las Mestas), s.t.
  8. Davíd Civera (Koplad-Uni2), s.t.
  9. Rafael Márquez (Lizarte), s.t.
  10. Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), s.t.
Best team: Naturgas Energía
Climbers competitio: Ibai Salas (Caja Rural)
Intermediate sprints competition: Bernat Font (Naturgas Energía)

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Euskaltel test sprint train in ENECO

Euskaltel gave it as good as they got in today's third stage of the ENECO Tour.

With a sprint finish widely anticipated, the Euskaltel riders hit the front en masse inside the final ten clicks to set up fast-man Juan José Lobato. Romain Sicard, Garikoitz Bravo, Rubén Pérez and Ioannis Tamouridis all did their utmost to set up the Andalusian, but the sinuous roads in the last three kilometres put paid to Euskaltel's and a whole bunch of other teams' chances as they disappeared off the front.

In the end it didn't even come down to a mass finish, as a four-man group from which Zdenek Stybar proved the fastest jumped clear of the peloton under the banner.

Lobato eventually trailed in 19th.

  • (1, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 4:14:00)
  • 19, Juan José Lobato, 0:02
  • 29, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 68, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 76, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 78, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 90, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 151, Jure Kocjan, 1:05
  • 156, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Mikel Landa keeps Astana door open

The young climber refutes reports he's signed with the blue team, but admits it's an option if Euskaltel Euskadi indeed ceases to exist.

A report last weekend by El Diario Vasco had it that Mikel Landa had already signed with Astana for the year to come. That was vehemently denied by the rider just hours later, but the 23-year-old on Tuesday revealed it's very much on the cards if the Euskaltel heads as expected come up short in their hunt for a new sponsor.

"Those of us with a contract in place with Euskaltel for next year are still Euskaltel riders - the team has yet to say it's stopping. They're still looking for a solution", he told Cadena Ser according to BiciCiclismo. "Hopefully it'll all be resolved and we can all stay on here, which is what we want. If the team keeps going, in no way will I leave it it stays in the WorldTour.

"We can listen to offers from other teams, though, and in the case that the team shuts down, we've got the freedom to leave".

One of those offers is reportedly from Vincenzo Nibali's team, and Landa admits they're interested in taking him on.

"They've shown their interest, and that's one of the options I have", he said. "But I won't sign a deal with another team before Euskaltel announce they're leaving the sport.

"In no way have I signed with Astana. There's been interest, but nothing more than that. If the team stops, time will tell if I'll be an Astana rider or not".

Photo: Karlis Medrano

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Euskaltel terminate Chaoufi's contract

The WorldTour level was, like many feared, a step too far for Euskaltel's Moroccan signing Tarik Chaoufi. The team today revealed that the parties have decided to end their collaboration with immediate effect.

Chaoufi came on board to boost Euskaltel's points tally in the winter as Igor González de Galdeano and co. desperately stepped up their bid for a WorldTour license. While that goal was achieved, turning Chaoufi into a rider at the highest level was not.

The 2012 Moroccan national road race champion struggled to cope with the pace and the distances in Europe, only ever finishing three races with the team (four if you include this year's national champs). The 27-year-old finished mid-pack in the one-day races Clásica de Almería, Handzame Classic and the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid, but failed to complete both stage-races he entered (namely the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta a Asturias), as well as the Ronde van Drenthe and the Vuelta a Murcia.

After his difficult first part of the season, the team announced in late May that the rider would take an extended break from the European scene in order to return to his home country to be close to a relative of him who was experiencing health issues.

Chaoufi was intended to return to the Basque Country in mid-August to compete in one-day races in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but that won't happen.

In a somewhat poetically phrased article on Euskaltel Euskadi's website, Chaoufi allegedly "did not find it easy to be away from home for several weeks.

"Used to living in his familiar environment, to race and return to home ground, he wasn't happy in Euskadi without the warmth of his own people. His days have been long and sad, despite the efforts of his team-mates to make his stay more pleasant and comfortable. They took care of him on training rides and in competition, but the rider failed to cope with lonely evenings, nights away from home, far away from his people", the team's statement reads.

Further, "Tarik wasn't motivated and didn't want to return to Europe. He wasn't ready for spending another six weeks away from home. Therefore, in accordance with the cyclist, his contract has been terminated".

It was not disclosed what Chaoufi's future now holds.

Dorleta Zorrilla stakes claim for being cycling's first female sports director

Women rarely, if ever, get a chance to lead a professional men's squad from the team car. Equipo Euskadi decided to do something about that this past weekend.

Dorleta Zorrilla, former road rider and the erstwhile girlfriend of the late Víctor Cabedo, works for the Fundación Euskadi Ciclista and got the chance to call the shots from the team in Sunday's last stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. Together with main DS Aritz Arberas, Zorrilla oversaw the young team's admirable performance in the five-day race.

In the picture below from Equipo Euskadi's Twitter account, Zorrilla is about to get to work in the team car that still carries the colour of the team's former blue guise.

Post-race, Arberas was more than pleased with his 'protégé'.

"Dorleta Zorrilla did very well in her first race as a DS. The first known female team director!", he wrote on his account.


Démare exhibits raw power as Euskaltel come up short

Euskaltel did not manage to animate the second stage of the ENECO Tour as they'd hoped, as Arnaud Démare easily sprinted to the win in Vorst.

The riders in orange had intended to get into the break of the day on the 176km ride starting in yesterday's finishing town of Ardooie, but they were not to be successful. Eventually a quartet with no Euskaltel riders in it got away, but they stood no chance against the sprinters' teams as it all came down to a frantic dash for the line.'s hugely talented Démare took the win from Philippe Gilbert and Tyler Farrar at a canter. The best rider in orange was Romain Sicard, the Frenchman finishing 23rd at five seconds. Overall, Sicard's also the team's top rider in 32nd, 15 seconds back.

  • (1, Arnaud Démare (, 4:03:34)
  • 23, Romain Sicard, 0:05
  • 43, Garikoitz Bravo, 0:12
  • 48, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 53, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 67, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 77, Ioannis Tamouridis, 0:38
  • 134, Jon Aberasturi, 1:22
  • 159, Jure Kocjan, 8:54
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Best buds Basso and Sánchez climb the Angliru

They might be rivals in the upcoming Vuelta a España, but Ivan Basso and Samuel Sánchez teamed up yesterday to scout what's likely to be one of the race's deciding stages.

The penultimate stage of the Spanish GT takes in the famed, mythical and infamous Alto de Angliru - 12,2 kilometres long with an average gradient of 10,2 percent and a maximum of 23,5. Topping out as it does in the Euskaltel leader's home region of Asturias, Basso decided to call up Sánchez only a day after finalizing the Vuelta a Burgos to ask him if he'd be his personal guide.

Sánchez, always the gentleman, responded he'd be happy to. On Monday morning, the duo, accompanied by Cannondale DS Mario Chiesa, took off at 9:30 in the morning to recconoitre, first, the Cordal climb, then the Angliru. So reports Ciclismo en Asturias.

Having reached the top, Basso posted the picture above to his Twitter feed, captioning it: "Stage checked out along with Sánchez. Thanks for the ride, Samuel: a champion on the bike, a great person in life".

Photo: Twitter, @ivanbasso.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rumour mill round-up: JJ Lobato, Sicard, Bilbao

With each passing day, Euskaltel's future looks dimmer. Unsurprisingly, the team's riders are continuously linked with new teams.

As of today, no alleged transfers have been confirmed. Mikel Landa is yet to be unveiled as an Astana rider, and Mikel Nieve, Igor Antón, Samuel Sánchez and the Izagirre brothers are all still employed by Euskaltel.

The most recent rumours deal with three of the team's youngest riders.

Euskaltel's rider of the year so far, a certain Juan José Lobato, is being linked with a switch to Cofidis. The French team is reportedly on the lookout for a sprinter to bolster their ranks, and Lobato would naturally be up for grabs if Euskaltel does cease to exist come 2014. The 24-year-old has another year running on his deal with the team, but would be free to go where he wants should the team fold. Up until today, though, Lobato joining Cofidis seems nothing but a rumour.

One rider who's alleged to actually have signed for another team, is young Peio Bilbao. The gifted climber might not have come up with the results the last couple of years, but his innate ability is known to have attracted glances from quite a few teams. According to CyclingFever, Bilbao has indeed signed for a new team, but the website won't say which team that is. Hence, don't be surprised if it doesn't turn out to be true.

Another gifted rider who's failed to live up to expectations is Romain Sicard. The once-prodigious stage racer has refrained to comment on his future, but the guys over at VeloChrono seems to know he's in demand in his home country. A transfer to or Sojasun is mooted.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Euskaltel anonymous as Renshaw steals the show

Mark Renshaw took a brilliant, if unexpected, win on day one of the ENECO Tour on Monday.

The Belkin rider went clear inside the technically-demanding final two clicks and stayed away handsomely, taking the win at a canter two seconds ahead of a disorganized peloton. Jon Aberasturi (pictured above) was Euskaltel's top man in 15th, while designated sprinter Juan José Lobato ended up a lowly 132nd after losing his way in the finale.

Jure Kocjan, back on the bike after three months out of competition, came through the 175km leg from Koksijde to Ardooie unscathed, rolling home with Bradley Wiggins' group almost four minutes down.

  • (1, Mark Renshaw (Belkin), 4:10:14)
  • 15, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 32, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 47, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 76, Romain Sicard, s.t.
  • 128, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
  • 132, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 134, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 165, Jure Kocjan, 3:50
Photo: BCPT

Ion Izagirre accepts World Championships 'invite'

At the time trial world championships in Florence later this year, an Euskaltel rider will likely, believe it or not, line up for Spain.

The man in question is naturally Ion Izagirre - the team's best rider in a discipline that throughout history has been the orange team's achilles heel. The youngest of the Izagirre brothers has displayed his pedigree in the 'race of truth' on numerous occasions the last few years, not least by taking fourth at the national champs in June, finishing 14th in the Tour de France's second ITT a month later and defending his second overall in the recently concluded Tour of Poland by claiming seventh on the final day crono.

"They asked me if I wanted to line up at the Worlds, and I said 'yes'", he tells El Diario Vasco.

While Izagirre has shown strong form all year, but he's nonetheless a bit cautious when it comes to predicting how he'll do against the very best on the planet.

"We'll just how to wait and see how my form is at that time of year".

To prepare optimally for the big challenge, the 24-year-old will line up in a number of one-day races in the weeks prior.

First up, though, is the four-day Tour du Limousin starting next week, before he'll take the start in the Vattenfal Cyclassics, GP Plouay and the double-header of one-day races in Montréal and Québec.

The latter pair of Canadian races is held in high esteem by the native of Ormaiztegi, Gipuzkoa.

"I like those two races a lot. I've done both race twice before, and I enjoyed it", he says. "They can't go bad for me. Going there without pressure can benefit me - I like them both a lot".

Izagirre opened his season by posting a morale-boosting fourth overall at the Tour Down Under. Since then, he's rarely gotten a break.

Paris-Nice, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Tour de Suisse, the national championships, the Tour de France and the Tour of Poland are only some of the races he's done this year. No wonder he's starting to get tired.

"How I feel right now? I'm tired, but I'm not really exhausted. It's true, though, that I need to disconnect a little bit physically and mentally. Before going to the Sierra Nevada for altitude training, I had one single week off. I haven't had a lot of time for myself. Right now, training is getting a bit hard.

"Overall I'm happy with my season, though the wins have eluded me. I was in really good shape at Paris-Nice but crashed various times. País Vasco was the race I struggled the most in. It was my worst race of the year - and it was my home race!"

Despite his failure on home roads, Izagirre occupies a more than healthy 26th in the UCI WorldTour rankings.

His performances and unquestionable talent will easily land him a ride at a fellow top-level team should Euskaltel Euskadi indeed shut down shop come the end of the year. While he's been linked to a host of teams already - including the likes of power-houses BMC and Movistar - he's adamant he won't sign with another team until all hope of Euskaltel's continued existence is lost.

"No one has told me the team won't keep going", he says. "I've got one more year on my contract, and I'm waiting for someone to tell me what's going to happen with the team.

"The situation we're facing, like it or not, is affecting everyone. Not only the riders, but also the mechanics, masseurs, directors. It's affecting everyone. It's a shame that the team is falling apart.

"It's a team like no other in the world of cycling. When I was a kid, I followed the team and dreamt of one day being able to ride for them. Where will the youngsters look now? Where will they ride? The cantera the future of cycling, but they've got to have something or someone to look up to".

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Lobato looking to continue hot-streak in ENECO

On-form speedster Juan José Lobato will spearhead a versatile Euskaltel contingent in the ENECO Tour.

The WorldTour race traversing Belgium and the Netherlands commences Monday and runs through Sunday. Lobato, fresh off his commanding win in the Circuito de Getxo, will look to add another podium place or two to his fast-expanding palmarès on the many flat stages. He'll be ably supported in his quest by Rubén Pérez, Jon Aberasturi, Ioannis Tamouridis, Garikoitz Bravo, Romain Sicard, Miguel Mínguez and a fit-again Jure Kocjan.

The latter has been ruled out of competition for the better part of three months due to a viral infection, but has sufficiently recovered to put on his first back number since the Bayern Rundfahrt in late May.

Romain Sicard, on his part, will make his first competitive appearance since completing his first Tour de France last month.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Bernat Font - In the footsteps of Samuel Sánchez

The story of how Samuel Sánchez left his home in Oviedo in hilly Asturias to move to the small and quaint village of Güeñes in the Basque Counry to further his dream of making it as a professional bike rider is well known and one that's forever ingrained in his, and Euskaltel Euskadi's, DNA.

While 'Samu' succeeded and reached the very top of the profession of his dreams, others have failed. In early September last year, two young 18-year-olds left their homes in Castellón to pursue their own dreams on the bike, signing for the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi's sub-23 team, Naturgas Energía. Where did they settle down? You guessed it: Güeñes.

Bernat Font and Noel Gil both came over from the Foundation's partner club Castilla de Ondo, a club run by José Cabedo - the late and great Víctor's brother. While the road from the sub-23 team to the lofty heights of Euskaltel Euskadi and the WorldTour is a long and often arduous one, the duo appeared to possess the talent to make a name for themselves much in the same way a young Sánchez once did.

"I hope they'll go on to achieve the same success, or more, as our Samuel has done", Koldo Artaraz, the Mayor of Güeñes, told the Basque media upon the young duo's arrival.

Nearing the end of their first season with the red and white's, Font and Gil have successfully adapted to the rigours of racing in their first season on the sub-23 circuit. Speaking in early August, Font appears very much at ease in 'the land of Samuel Sánchez'.

"I really like it here", he tells Basque Cycling News. "(Fundación Euskadi president) Miguel Madariaga and (former cyclist and Víctor Cabedo's former girlfriend) Dorleta Zorilla advised us to come and live here. It's a quiet place where I'm able to focus on my riding and my studies - the two reasons I decided to move to Euskadi for.

"It's also one of the best places to train, a fact confirmed by Sánchez growing up as a cyclist here. The people in Güeñes have welcomed us in an extraordinary way - we even did an interview with the Mayor! A lot of people encourage us to follow Sánchez's path. Being so far from home, we've really appreciated the support".

While Font might have found his place of residence to his liking, not everything's been as smooth on the bike. A knee injury ruled him out of competition for the first few months of the season, but, since then, things have picked up steadily. As recently as last Friday, he won the intermediate sprints-classification in Muxika.

"I was ruled out with injury 'till early May. Since then, though, in the few months I've been competing, I've noticed I've improved and adapted well to the level - I was for example selected to ride some of the biggest races on the national calendar, like the Vuelta a Navarra and the Clásica de Mungia. I hope to keep improving and rack up good results".

Font has appeared to be relatively solid on all terrain thus far in his young career. When asked to characterize himself as a rider, the word 'versatile' unsurprisingly comes up quickly.

"What kind of rider I am? That's a really hard question!

"You could describe Bernat Font as a versatile rider, very hardworking, able to defend himself in the mountains as well as on the flats and in the time trials, and with a good finishing kick in small groups. One of my strengths, though, is that I read races pretty well. I also like the teamwork, and I'm always looking to go into breaks and be aggressive.

"My weak points? Haha, I'm not going to tell you that!"

Living as he does in the comarca of Las Encartaciones, training buddies aren't hard to come by. Sánchez might not be his most frequent training partner, but a number of other big names are.

"I have the great fortune of training with a group of professionals like Iker Camaño (NetApp-Endura), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural) and Igor Merino (Equipo Euskadi)", he enthuses. "You learn something new every day you go riding with them. There are also my team-mates Noel Gil and Óscar González del Campo (who I share a flat with in Güeñes), Egoitz Fernández of Seguros Bilbao, Ibai Salas of Caja Rural and David Puente, the only mountain biker in our grupeta."

Surrounded by top riders and a member of one of Spain's most lauded sub-23 teams, Font's future looks rosy. The future of bike racing in the Basque Country, though, does not.

Euskaltel Euskadi and Equipo Euskadi are both likely to shut down by the end of the current season, meaning young hopefuls like Font will have a harder time getting a shot at the big time. According to the Naturgas Energía prodigy, the Continental-ranked Euskadi team disappearing would be "very unfortunate".

"Euskaltel and Equipo Euskadi shutting down would affect the whole of Basque cycling", he says. "If the only two professional Basque teams would disappear, turning pro would become even harder. What's more, the outlook in the rest of Spain is the same or even worse.

"The Fundación Euskadi has done a lot for young cyclists and given many riders the opportunity to ride professionally. To me, it would be very unfortunate if the project disappeared. Hopefully both Euskaltel and Equipo Euskadi find a new sponsor for the good of Basque cycling".

Fittingly for a bike rider that appears mature beyond his young years, he asked towards the end of the interview if he could thank "everyone who believes in me and helps me move forward". Having set him up in Sánchez's backyard in Güeñes and given him a spot on Naturgas Energía, Madariaga is undoubtedly one of the people Font is referring to. Madariaga's project might be living its final weeks, but Font, and apparently the whole of Güeñes with him, hopes his journey has just started.

Photo: Maialen Zuazubiskar

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sánchez and Landa come up short in Burgos finale

Euskaltel were left empty-handed at the Vuelta a Burgos as the team's challenge unravelled on the way to Lagunas de Neila.

Hopes were high Mikel Landa and Samuel Sánchez could fight for what would have been an important stage and/or general classification win on the last day of the five-stage event, but the orange duo couldn't muster a reply when the GC favourites upped the tempo five clicks from the summit.

Nairo Quintana danced his way to both the stage and the overall title, while David Arroyo rolled back the years with a courageous display that netted him second. Despite exploding in the final two kilometres, Vincenzo Nibali hung on to fourth on the stage and the last place on the podium.

Landa and 'Samu' were both part of the 17-man elite group that hit the base of the climb together, but first Sánchez, then his younger team-mate, had to ease off as the pace kept increasing. Landa eventually crossed the line in eighth place, which was good enough for sixth overall, while Sánchez came home 11th, meaning he ended up eighth on GC.

With 13 days to go to the start of the Vuelta a España, both Euskaltel riders look to be well on course to play prominent roles in the year's last Grand Tour.

Young Team Euskadi rider Mikel Bizkarra had an outstanding ride, climbing with the best en route to 14th on the race's queen-stage.

Results (Team Euskadi riders in cursive):
  • (1, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 4:26:57)
  • 8, Mikel Landa, 1:24
  • 11, Samuel Sánchez, 2:00
  • 14, Mikel Bizkarra, 3:24
  • 38, Gorka Verdugo, 9:27
  • 45, Jorge Azanza, 11:55
  • 50, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 59, Carlos Barbero, 15:16
  • 74, Igor Merino, 15:43
  • 78, Illart Zuazubiskar, 19:06
  • 80, Haritz Orbe, s.t.
  • 82, Jon Larrinaga, s.t.
  • 83, Aritz Bagües, s.t.
  • 84, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • DNF: Egoi Martínez, Pablo Urtasun and Unai Iparraguirre
Final general classification:
  • (1, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), 19:29:22)
  • 6, Mikel Landa, 1:24
  • 8, Samuel Sánchez, 1:53
  • 31, Mikel Bizkarra, 9:53
  • 35, Gorka Verdugo, 11:33
  • 42, Jorge Azanza, 14:09
  • 46, Carlos Barbero, 15:16
  • 60, Peio Bilbao, 18:16
  • 65, Haritz Orbe, 20:28
  • 80, Igor Merino, 25:08
  • 85, Illart Zuazubiskar, 27:37
  • 86, Aritz Bagües, 28:17
  • 91, Ricardo García, 34:01
  • 93, Jon Larrinaga, 34:28
Photo: Vavel

Argentines dominate in Amurrio

The Argentinian national team put the young Basques to the sword in Amurrio, Álava, on Saturday.

The Torneo Euskaldun race, also counting as the regional championships, saw the Argentines double up with the victory of 24-year-old Sebastián José Tolosa, already a stage winner in the Tour of Uruguay this season, and the runner-up spot for Víctor Gabriel Gómez.

The last man on the podium, and the first sub-23 rider across the line, was Seguros Bilbao's Pamplona-born prodigy Sergio Rodríguez. The race, held over 122 clicks, came down to a bunch sprint after numerous break attempts never really managed to establish themselves, and the South Americans had way too much in the tank for the domestic riders.

Cyclo-cross star Javier Ruís de Larrinaga (Lizarte) was crowned elite national champion, while Aitor Rey (Seguros Bilbao) came away with the sub-23 crown. Seguros Bilbao also took out the team win.

Debabarrena's Borja Abásolo continues to head up the overall standings.

  1. Sebastián Tolosa (Argentina), 2:12:48
  2. Víctor Gabriel Gómez (Argentina), s.t.
  3. Sergio Rodríguez (Seguros Bilbao), s.t. - 1st sub-23
  4. Pello Olaberria (Ikolan Lanaldi Ordiziako), s.t.
  5. Imanol Díaz (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
  6. Eder Gómez (Ikolan Lanaldi Ordiziako), s.t.
  7. Mikel Hernández (Debabarrena), s.t.
  8. Jon Iriarte (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
  9. Ángel Lorenzo (Opel Ibaigane), s.t.
  10. Loïc Chetout (Naturgas Energía), s.t.


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