Monday, June 28, 2010

Ardanza hints at continued backing

Chief of telephone company Euskaltel, José Antonio Ardanza, today revealed he's planning to continue the sponsorship of the team. Euskaltel's current agreement with the Fundación Euskadi comes to a close at the end of this season, but Ardanza sounded optimistic on behalf of the team's future. Though he didn't reveal in what way the company will continue to back the team, it's obvious they will in one way of another. "I want to make it clear that Euskaltel will continue to support this project", he said in a speech at today's get-together in Zamudio. "But I want the other sponsors to prolong their involvment and I want more sponsors on board". That's pretty much all he said on the matter, before adding that he hopes to see "the extremely popular" Euskaltel on the podium in Paris.

Euskaltel ready for take-off

Euskaltel today held their annual gathering, or ceremony, call it what you like, ahead of their departure for France. Present at the Parque Tecnológico de Zamudio in Bizkaia was Euskaltel president José Antonio Ardanza, Deputy General of Bizkaia, José Luis Bilbao, an advisor from the cultural department of the Basque Government called Blanca Urgell, Miguel Madariaga, who needs no further introduction, and all the riders of course. Also present was Mikel Trueba, a young man suffering from ELA, who'll do a blog on his Tour experience with the team. During the ceremony, all riders were given a blessing from the rector de la basílica of Begoña, the aptly-named Jesus Garitaonaindia.

The National Anthem

Euskaltel have finally gotten their own song! Marking the 10-year anniversary of consecutive Tour de France appearances, the team got EtxE, reportedly a famous artist in Spain, to write an "upbeat song in Basque that pays tribute to the team's fans". Euskaltel's local fans, affectionately known as the Orange Wave, have for 16 years backed their team through days of glory and days of despair, and this is the Fundación's way of saying thank you. It's hoped this song will become the team's and fans' song alike.

Naturgas ready for Haro classic

Naturgas will send a 14-man team to today's one-day race in the Rioja region, the Clásica de Haro. Chief Arberas' chosen men are: Aitor Ocampos, Igor Merino, David Hidalgo, Mikel Martioda, Efrén Carazo, Urtzi Legarra, Álex Bilbao, Alfonso Saiz, Jon Larrinaga, Carlos Barbero, Unai Martínez, Rory Martínez and Alberto Guinea. Due to the race's hilly closing kilometres, look for Barbero, Guinea and Bilbao in particular to post strong results.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Koldo takes bronze in road race

Koldo grabbed an excellent third in today's Campeonato d'España de ruta. Unsurprisingly, JI Gutierrez escaped alone to take an impressive win. Behind him, Euskaltel launched a furious chase in an attempt to reel him in and set up Koldo, but eventually they came in 24 seconds too late. Out of an eight-man group Koldo sprinted to second behind Ventoso and thus a nice bronze medal in the prestigious race. Egoi ended up 12th and Alan 13th at 31 and 55 seconds respectively, whilst Aitor, Amets, Gorka, Iñaki and Rubén all ended up 2:02 in arrears. A lot of the guys looked strong throughout; a good sign no doubt for next week-end.

Romain active in French champs

Romain put in a fighting performance in today's French champ Road Race. The precocious climber attacked the bunch 41 kilometres out, but didn't manage to get a decent gap. When the decisive 11-man break went a little later, Romain and Jerome Pineau did their best to bridge up. But like with his previous attemp, he didn't succeed. Eventually he placed 26th, 2:01 down. Romain will now face a break after a successful, but tiring, first half of the season.

Bizkarra fifth in Sub-23 road race

Naturgas strong-man Mikel Bizkarra made it into the decisive five-man break in the Spanish Sub-23 Road Race Championships yesterday, but unfortunately couldn't pull off the win. Inexplicably, the normally-fast Mikel ended up last in that five-man group to take a slightly disappointing fifht place. Make no mistake though, getting fifth in the Sub-23Road Race is no mean feat, there are loads of top-quality talent there. But it's always disappointing to come so close and then mess it up. But still, as said, great performance. Pello Bilbao made it in with the main pack in 27th place, just eight seconds down, while Igor Merino was also in that group taking 49th. Aitor Ocampos, likely feeling the strain of the Baby Giro still, struggled and crossed the line a full 13:45 down. The other riders of the 'Vasca' team didn't fare as well as the Naturgas guys. Unai Iparragirre, the designated fast-man for an eventual sprint finish, grabbed ninth place, so that's clearly a great result. Ibai Salas came in alongside Pello and Igor, while Aritz Orbe ended up dead last at 22:03.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Castroviejo fifth in TT champs

Jonathan today powered to a good fifth place in the Spanish National Championship Time Trial. The youngster ended up a minute and a half down on expected winner LL Sánchez, while Euskaltel's other representative, Aitor H, placed a disappointing 19th. Jonathan placed sixth last year, so at least he's on the right way. Speaking after the race, he said: "The crono was too flat for me. But I didn't really feel bad, I was just a little clumsy in the first part".

Merino 11th in Sub-23 TT champs

Naturgas duo Igor Merino and Fernando Grijalba both took part in yesterday's sub-23 time trial national champs in Albacete. The duo did not succeed in getting close to the top of the rankings, but not surprisingly Igor posted the best time of the two. Igor came in in 11th place while Fernando grabbed 28th. As far as I know Fernando wasn't originally slated to ride, but I'm glad he did. Time trialling is a discipline Spaniards in general and Basques in particular need to improve on, so why not take advantage of the National Champs to get some practice in?

Stages nr.1 priority for Galdeano

In something I consider to be a wise move, Igor González de Galdeano has decided to focus more on stage-wins and less on the overall in the upcoming Tour de France. "The team has a leader: Samuel Sánchez", he stated matter-of-factly to the Diario Vasco. "But we don't want him to get all obsessed with the overall. We'll look for stage-wins. Why? Because we've already been fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth, which is very good, but we know it'll be difficult to improve on that. That's why our focus will be more geared towards stages. But we're not forgetting the overall. We just want to take another perspective on it. We're better prepared than in previous years. It's impossible to say whether or not this is the best preparation we've ever had, but our riders are focused, in good shape and hungry. I don't know if it is the best team we've ever taken to the race, but I'm very pleased with how things have gone so far." Galdeano also echoed everyone else's opinion;"the race will not be won on the pavé, but it can certainly be lost there."

Velasco back from injury and ready for Tour debut

Iván Velasco will be making his Tour de France debut this year at the not-so-tender age of 30. The late bloomer, who only turned pro aged 26, took a bad tumble in the Fleche Wallonne and looked to be out of action for months. But the climber made a surprisingly swift return to action at the Dauphiné and told el Diario Vasco yesterday that he's feeling healthy and good to go. "The injuries are behind me and I'm in good form at the moment", he said. "The hospital in Liège they took me to (after the crash in Fleche) told me I had crushed a vertebrae and broken my ankle. Thank God they were mistaken. Later diagnosis showed no bones were broken. I only had a cracked rib and an injured ankle." Iván has done two Giri and one Vuelta, but the Tour will be a very different experience all together and it's something he's looking forward to. "I've already done two Giri, but the climbs in Italy are not like the ones in France. I think the Italian mountains are harder, but there will be a lot more quality riders in France. That, I think, will be the big difference. I'm not scared of the French climbs. I've done the Plan de Corones, Zoncolan, Mortirolo and Gavia to name but a few, and in the Dauphiné this year I got the chance to ride the Alpe d'Huez while working for Samu and Sicard, as well as reconning the Madeleine, Glandon and Tourmalet. I'm still not sure what my role in the team will be, but I assume I will have to help Samu in his quest for a stage-win and a top GC placing." Iván had a pretty tough start to the year with a lot of hard and long races on his calendar, so his enforced injury lay-off might do him good and turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Romain not close in French TT

Romain put in a slightly disappointing ride in the French National Champs time trial today. The 22-year-old could only muster the 25th best time over the 49 kilometres, but given it's only his second ever TT over that kind of distance, I guess it's not too bad. As long as he's learning it's all good.

Euskaltel take wine to the Tour

Due to a somewhat peculiar sponsorship agreement, Euskaltel will bring wine and olive oil with them to the Tour de France. Euskaltel recently teamed up with wine and olive oil producer Rioja Alavesa and agreed to promote the Alava region's best products. Above you can see some of the riders inspecting the factory in which the products are made. Obviously they wont get drunk, but who brings wine with them to the Tour de France?

La Fundacíon backs Vuelta a Bizkaia

La Fundacíon Euskadi has once again decided to support the regional race Vuelta a Bizkaia, a four-day stage-race starting on the eighth of July. The race is one for the junior-category racers, and due to it's involment the Fundacíon Euskadi logo will be emblazoned across the leader's jersey. A look at the race's palmarès serves as a reading of a who's who of Basque cycling, with previous victors including Ibán, of course, as well as Igor, Samu, Beñat, Jonathan, Aitor H as well as Xavier Florencio.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roster for National Champs

Euskaltel will send a disappointing number of riders to the Spanish National Championships in Albacete the coming week-end. Only two riders, that being Jonathan and Aitor Hernández, will take part in the time trial champs on Friday over a taxing 36,2 kilometres. With Euskaltel's well-documented struggles in the discipline, why don't they ever send more riders to the race? It would be good practice, and some of them could easily grab top 10 placings. As for the road race, 14 riders will line up. Of those 14, Igor and Beñat are the two most likely to be in the mix for the jersey due to the hilly parcours of the race. Alongside the duo will be Egoi, Gorka, Koldo, Amets, Miguel, Pablo, Alan, Rubén, Iñaki, Aitor Galdós as well as Jonathan and Aitor H.

Gladly Romain will do the road race as well as the time trial in Chantonnay, France. Given that he's all alone against big French teams desperate for the added attention the Tricolour-jersey brings them, the odds are fairly stacked against Romain in the road race. But then again Romain is no stranger to beating the odds. Watch this space.

Samu not happy with Tour pavés

Samu yesterday spoke of his dislike of stage three of this year's Tour, a stage that features the several stretches of cobbles. Not surprisingly, Euskaltel are tipped to struggle as they've done in years past and, judging by his obvious discomfort over its inclusion, I wouldn't rule out another cobbled fiasco in the Tour. "I don't like the fact that you can easily lose your chance of overall success on one stage alone, like the stage with the cobbles", he said. "One stage can decide the GC. You can crash, injur an arm, a leg, you could suffer serious injury. On a stage like that it's better to lose a minute than risk your whole race". Well, all I'll say is that with an attitude like that you're very likely to lose that one minute. Or the whole race if you like.

No Vuelta for Samu

As expected, Samu will not be lining up in Sevilla for the start of the Vuelta a España later in the year. Samu confirmed this in an interview with Basque daily el Diario Vasco today, and also added he's highly unlikely to take part in the Worlds in Geelong. Speaking of the Spanish GT, Samu said 'That's one for the young guys', probably referring to Igor, who'll lead the team, and the rumoured inclusion of a certain Romain Sicard. Pablo and Koldo will probably line up in Spain as well, but more on that later.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Orca for Tour

Euskaltel will be riding aboard their stunning new Orbea Orca in the Tour. The Orca 2011 was officially unveiled a few days ago, chech it out at Euskaltel's homepage our at Orbea's.

Naturgas quartet ready for National Champs

Naturgas riders Pello Bilbao, Aitor Ocampos, Mikel Bizkarra and Igor Merino will all form part of the eight-man Basque team chosen to take part in Saturday's Under-23 Spanish National Championship Road Race. The quartet have been showing good form all year and will line up alongside Seguros Bilbao duo Omar Fraile and Ibai Salas, as well as Bidelan-Kirolgi duo Unai Iparragirre and Haritz Orbe. Igor Merino will also take part in the time trial champs a day later.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour team revealed

Euskaltel finally named the lucky nine that will get to represent the team in the Tour. Here's the roster: Samu, Egoi, Gorka, Iñaki, Amets, JJ, Rubén, Alan and Iván. So no surprises there then. Good team overall though, I like the look of it. Glad to see Iván included; he's taken some big steps the last couple of years and thoroughly deserves the chance to shine on the biggest stage. Aitor Hernández is not surprisingly named as a reserve after his return to form lately. On the announcement of the team, Igor González de Galdeano had this to say: "A stage-win is one of the priorities this year, but don't forget we're also aiming for a high overall placing for Samu. We've been preparing for this race all year." Speaking of the dreaded stage over the cobbles in the north of France, Igor sounded optimistic. "We're not scared of the cobbles", he vehemently stated. "We inspected the cobbles in May with Samuel Sánchez, Juan José Oroz and Egoi Martínez. All of them will have an important role that day. We reconned the stage thoroughly. We'll try not to crash or lose time."

Larriñaga 2nd in Trucíos

Rouleur Jon Larriñaga got into the right break in Saturday's race in Trucíos, the XXIV Premio la Trinidad, and grabbed a fine second place at the finish. Puncheur Fernando Grijalba, who's enjoying a stand-out season, was in the same race-deciding break as Jon, but had to pull out due to stomach pains. Igor Merino continued to display his good state of form by grabbing a good fourth place, while Efrén Carazo was 17th and David Hidalgo 21st. Naturgas placed second to Beloki and J Gorospe's formidable Seguros Bilbao outfit in the team rankings.

Sunday's race in Burgos didn't go just as well. The whole team was up there looking good for a win, but in the end had to settle for a sixth place for Alberto Guinea.

Romain ready for National Champs

Romain will line up on Thursday in the French Time Trial Championship with the objective of going better than last year. The feather-weight climber, who just came off an impressive outing in the Dauphiné, hopes to see an improvement on last year's race, and expressed his desire to become a strong rider against the clock. "My problem is that I'm not heavy enough", he told his personal website. "I lack power, but I'll do everything I can to make the most of the power I've got. I weigh 62 kilos, hence taking the top spots won't be easy. Thursday's race will be a new experience for me. It's 50 kilometres. I won't be aiming for a particular placing, I'm aiming for a particular time. I hope I've taken steps in the right direction this year".

Jonathan amazing in concluding TT

Jonathan showed strength and talent in equal doses to grab a mightily-impressive 12th place on today's last stage in the Tour de Suisse; a 26,9 kilometre individual race against the clock. Jonathan has been riding strongly all week and gave further proof he's one to be counted on for the big races in years to come. His 12th place today, ahead of such illustrious time trial names as Hushovd, Hincapie, Kreuziger and LL Sánchez to name a few, meant he kept hold of his good 24th place on GC. JJ did reasonably well to claim 33rd place and thus 28th overall, while Amets was 71st (41st overall), Pablo was 77th (64th overall), Aitor 100th (114th overall), and Javier ended up 104th today and 81st on GC. Finally Euskaltel were ranked ninth overall in the teams classification. Not bad, now for the Tour...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Baby watch 9: Bizkarra 10th on final stage

Naturgas duo Mikel Bizkarra and Pello Bilbao ended the Baby Giro on a high with a 10th and 22nd place finish respectively on the last stage. Mikel came in with a group a mere 16 seconds down on winner Rabottini to grab a noteworthy result, while Pello was only 10 seconds further back in a five-man group that contained Pays Basque National Team companions Igor Romero and Ugaitz Artola. So strong results all over the board for the team on the ninth and final stage. These strong results secured Igor a 24th place overall, Mikel a 25th, Pello a 33rd and Ugaitz a 41st place. That's not too bad I reckon. The Nartugas duo will now no doubt take a few days out to relax and probably watch some World Cup action instead of riding their bikes. They've just completed their longest race ever, so they no doubt deserve it.

Euskaltel active in Suisse stage 8

Euskaltel really did their best to shake things up on yesterday's penultimate stage in the Swiss Tour. After missing out on the break of the day, the team was faced with an uphill struggle to make their mark on the stage. They weren't about to go down without a fight though, as the ever-aggressive Amets tried to bridge up. He didn't succeed, but he was at it again on the last lap some 25 kilometres from the finish. He looked pretty strong on the hilly terrain, going solo and all, but he was nowhere near getting anything out of it. Finally he had to settle for a place in the select group of favourites where a strong Jonathan had also found his place. Another strong ride from him on hilly terrain. This is looking good for the future. Pablo and JJ came in with the next group at 2:27, while Francisco and Aitor H ended up 16:48 down. Daniel decided to pull out of the race, unknown for what reason. Now all that's left for the six remaining riders is a 26,9 ITT in Liestal. Look for another powerful ride by Jonathan.

Baby watch 8

Another tough stage was on the parcours yesterday for the Pays Basque National Team, and for some it proved too tough. Mikel Filgueirea, who'd been struggling for a few stages, threw in the towel to reduce the team to four members. Out of those four, Igor Romero was once again the highest placed with his 33rd place 3:03 down, while Mikel Bizkarra wasn't far off in 39th, 3:10 down. Both Ugaitz Artola and Pello Bilbao found it hard towards the end and both conceded more than 10 minutes. One stage to go and it's all over for the National Team.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Baby watch 7: TT struggle

The Pays Basque National Team failed to light up yesterday's ITT in the Baby Giro. The 30,5-kilometre trek from Tavullia to Urbino saw Igor Romero unsurprisingly placing highest with a strong eighth place, while the young due Bizkarra and P Bilbao placed 43rd and 54th respectively. Ugaitz Artola ended up 74th, while Mikel Filgueirea slotted in to a 95th place finish. The riders, especially so Pello and Mikel, are really starting to tire, so they will no doubt be happy that there's just two stages remaining.

Naturgas line-ups for Trucíos and Burgos

Naturgas will as usual send teams to two races this weekend. The impressive team in red will have to make do without possibly their three strongest riders, though, as Pello Bilbao, Aitor Ocampos and Mikel Bizkarra are, or in Aitor's case was, competing in the Baby Giro. Still their line-ups look good on paper at least.

Team for Saturday's Clásica de Trucíos: Rory Martínez, David Hidalgo, Álex Bilbao, Fernando Grijalba, Alberto Guinea, Mikel Martioda, Unai Martínez, Carlos Barbero, Igor Merino, Jon Larriñaga and Efrén Carazo.

Team for Sunday's GP de Burgos: Rory Martínez, Álex Bilbao, Carlos Barbero, Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba, Alfonso Sáiz, Urtzi Legarra, Alberto Guinea, Unai Martínez, Andoni Sánchez, Efrén Carazo, David Hidalgo and Jon Larriñaga.

Saturday's race is one for the punchy riders as the last three kilometres are all uphill. The climb reaches a leg-breaking 20% gradient close to the line. Look for Grijalba and Barbero in particular to do well here. The race in Burgos is the opposite in terms of parcours, so watch out for fast-finishers like Legarra and Barbero or rouleurs like Merino and Larriñaga to leave their mark on the event.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Daniel in the break in TDS stage 7

Today's rather flat seventh stage in the Tour de Suisse saw Daniel in the thick of the action. Together with 15 others he managed to build up a solid lead over the pack, but when the pace was upped inside the last 60 kilometres as rider after rider attacked his breakaway companions, Daniel couldn't keep up and went out the back. Eventually he was reeled in by the peloton and crossed the line exactly five minutes down on winner Burghardt together with Amets, JJ and Jonathan. Javier and Pablo came in 8:55 down, while Aitor H rolled in a massive 13:29 back.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Euskaltel valiant in Swiss mountains

Euskaltel were at their aggressive best and really put their mark on today's queen-stage in the Tour de Suisse, but in the end they came up short. As I had hoped before the stage, both Amets and JJ made it into the break of the day along with eleven other strong riders. Several cols were on the menu today, and as a consequence a rider in the break, namely Wouter Poels of Vacansoleil, took over the mountains jersey due to the big amount of points on offer. Aitor Hernández is now ranked fourth in that particular competition, but there's still some stages to go so he might still try to to get in a break or two to give it a shot at reclaiming it. Due to some selfless and clever riding by JJ, Javier is still in possession of the blue intermediate sprint jersey. Mathias Frank of BMC would have snatched it from him had he taken first in both sprints today. The first one he got. The second one he though he got. But just when he started to slow down some 50 metres from the 'line', thinking he had it won, JJ came flying past him to just nip the six points on the line and thus making sure Javier still leads that competition. Frank was furious at JJ, gesticulating wildly. Well, it's a bike race, isn't it Frank? This isn't some charity event, and JJ was well in his right to defend his team-mate's jersey. Bravo JJ! On the last, huge climb, with it's summit situated at about 13 clicks from the line, the leading group, including Amets and JJ, split up. JJ had launched an attack earlier on and was soon on his way back to the peloton, but Amets, together with the ever-green Garate, proved to be the strongest. After catching the impressive Brice Feillu and going straight past him in an instance, the Spanish duo soldiered on alone until Gesink, the eventual stage winner, caught and passed them with some 4 kilometres to go 'til the top. Amets tried to stay with Gesink, Schleck and co. but naturally found the tempo too hot to handle and started drifting backwards. Jonathan, who occupied ninth on GC going into the stage, suffered the misfortune of puncturing while in the select group of favourites on the last climb. He had to make do with his flatted wheel for a while before getting a new one due to the obvious problem of getting the support car up to him, and as a consequence wasted a lot of energy just trying to cling on. Eventually he went too far into the red zone and went out the back, but the neo-pro still showed impressive form by crossing the finish-line in 26th place, no more than 6:40 down. That's not too bad for a young newbie in a race of this calibre, is it? Amets came in exactly two minutes and forty seconds ahead of Jonathan in 22nd place, while JJ lost a big chunk of time towards the end and placed 35th, 8:21 down. Javier, Aitor and Pablo came in side by side 22:51 adrift, while Daniel ended up 25:11 back. Koldo found the going too tough at the start and pulled out of the race alltogether.

Baby watch 6

Naturgas due Mikel Bizkarra and Pello Bilbao were back in action in Italy today after yesterday's rest-day. On the menu today for the duo, along with their Basque Elite category riders Romero, Filgueirea and Artola, was a pancake-flat trek from Castelfranco Emilia to Cesenatico, home of the one and only Marco Pantani. Given the parcours one would expect the peloton to stay together and sprint it out for the wind, but not so much in this year's Baby Giro. Paolo Locatelli escaped solo to grab the biggest win of his career whilst the pack split up into several pieces behind. After showing encouraging signs in the mountains the last few days, I hoped Mikel and Pello might be able to stay with the front-runners on the flats as well. That wasn't to be, though, as Mikel, along with Artola and Filgueirea, came in 1:17 back, while Pello struggled home 2:08 down. Igor Romero did a lot better by taking 12th, so good on him. Six stages down, three to go.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Javier grabs blue jersey in Switzerland

Thanks to some aggressive riding on today's fifth stage from Wettingen to Frutigen, Javier grabbed the blue jersey of sprint classification leader. Javier made it into the break of the day alongside Oss, Maaskant, Furlan and eventual winner Burghardt, and snatched maximum points on offer on both intermediate sprints. Add that jersey to Aitor's mountains jersey and Jonathan's still high overall placing and the team is doing quite well in Switzerland I reckon. Jonathan, along with JJ and Javier, came in with the first peloton on the demanding stage. His 14th place today furthered strengthened his GC placing, while JJ still occupies 30th. Aitor and Danile rolled in side by side 11:07 down, while Koldo, Pablo and Amets all crossed the line five more seconds down.

Aitor reclaims climbers jersey in Suisse

On a hectid day in the Tour de Suisse, Aitor Hernández accomplished what he sat out to do: reclaiming the climbers jersey. The tenacious Aitor, who's finding his form at just the right time this year, started the stage only 1 point down on Pliuschin. Intent on taking it back, the whole team took control of the peloton in the last 30 kilometres to set Aitor up perfectly for the two climbs. The tactic proved successful as Aitor grabbed second place on the first time up the Regensberg behing Brice Feillu, who isn't, at least not yet, a danger in that particular aspect. Amets did a great job to squeeze ahead of Pliuschin to take third, meaning Aitor now leads the ranking by a single point. That's what team-work is all about. In the sprint for the win Pablo was, surprisingly, nowhere to be seen. But that was probably a blessing in disguise as Cavendish's reckless riding caused a big pile-up with 100 metres to go. Cav, Haussler, Boonen, Ciolek, Coyot and a few others crashed spectacularly in sight of the line, resulting in Petacchi surprisingly, and unwillingly it looked, taking stage honours. Pablo, JJ, Amets and, most importantly, Jonathan all came in with the peloton, meaning he's still ninth overall. Aitor, Koldo, Javier and Daniel all came in between 7 and 9 minutes down.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Baby watch 4&5: Improvement

The Naturgas youngsters has started to put their mark on the Baby Giro at last. On yesterday's fourth stage, a 154 kilometre drag up to the Gallio, Mikel Bizkarra showed strong climbing form by taking 22nd place, just 2:07 down on Colombian whiz-kid Betancur, who some of you might remember finished second to Romain in last year's worlds. Pello also seems to be on the up with a 35th place at 3:13, while Aitor Ocampos, who isn't really at his best in the mountains, came in with the gruppetto, 29:31 down. Mikel Filgueirea joined him in that group, while Ugaitz Artola and Igor Romero finished 10:49 and 11:21 down respectively.

Today's eagerly-anticipated stage to the top of the Monte Grappa, recently used in the Giro, saw the guys climb even better. Pello grabbed an encouraging 21st place, at 8:41, while Mikel Bizkarra finished five places further back at 12:11. Great stuff! After all these guys aren't more than 19 and 20, so they're doing quite well in an under-27 race. By the way, what's up with the 'under-27' category? Beats me... Anyway, on a less positive note, Aitor Ocampos struggled and eventually decided enough was enough and abandoned along with 12 others. For all I know he might be suffering from something or being injured, but I'll let you all know if I find that's the case. Igor Romero was 32nd, Ugaitz Artola 52nd and Mikel Filgueirea 70th. With half the race done with, the guys aren't that way off on GC. Mikel is 32nd and Pello 35th, so this is all of a sudden starting to look quite promising.

Montañés conclusion

The Circuito Montañés came to a close today with the seventh and final stage from Potes to Santander. The promising Victor De La Parte took out the win, while Orbea once again struggled to leave their mark on the race. This time, though, all of them came in with the pack except for Andoni Blázquez who finished 4:03 down in third-to-last place. On GC Mikel Landa finished 22nd, a tad disappointing for him no doubt, Xabier Zabalo 35th, Andoni Blázquez 56th, Beñat Urain 69th and Ricardo García ended up ranked 81st. Orbea finished tenth out of nineteen in the teams classification.

Merino third in GP San Antonio

Newly-crowned Euskadi under-23 time trial champion Igor Merino placed a strong third in yesterday's Gran Premio San Antonio in Valle de Mena. The rouleur is in a rich vein of form at the moment, but had to settle for the last place on the podium after Jon Pardo of Seguros Bilbao and Mauricio Muller of Azysa Cetya Conor proved too strong on the day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Montañés stage 5&6 recap

Beñat Urain went close to a win on the fifth stage in the Circuito Montañés yesterday. The young all-rounder ended up fourth after fading in the closing kilometres, 2:25 down on Gael Malacarne. Beñat has been riding solidly, if unspectacularly, all year, so this result will no doubt boost his morale facing the rest of the season. Adrián Sáez did not have a good day, though, and threw in the towel. Mikel Landa, Xabier Zabalo and Andoni Blázquez all rolled in with the pack, while Ricardo García felt the fatigue and came in almost half an hour down.

As for today's sixth stage, the toughest stage so far, Orbea didn't really live up to their billing as climbers as Xabier Zabalo and Mikel Landa rolled in together placed 38th and 39th respectively, both 6:34 down on the ever-impressive Niels Albert. Andoni Blázquez was 13:03 down, while Ricardo García and Beñat Urain crossed the line with the last group some 25 minutes adrift.

Jonathan impressive as Suisse gets tough

Jonathan impressed greatly to climb to ninth overall on today's hilly third stage in the Tour de Suisse. The stage included a first category climb and some undulating terrain towards the end of the stage, meaning the pack split up into several pieces. Schleck senior eventually beat Urán to the win, three seconds ahead of a select group of eight riders. Jonathan came in four seconds after that one, in a small group containing names like Lance, Leipheimer, Cancellara, Devolder, Spilak and Rodríguez. Great stuff, climbing with those names is no mean feat at his tender age. JJ was also right up there, coming in alongside Klöden, Schleck Jr. and a few others at 19 seconds. He's where he needs to be for the Tour, looking good. As for the others, Amets and Pablo came in 1:07 down, Javier 2:04, Daniel 6:14 and Koldo and Aitor H 17:59. Sadly Aitor had to let go of his climbers jersey as the four points he scored on today's stage was one single point too few. But he's still in with a good chance of grabbing it back though.

Baby watch 3: Status quo

Not a lot to write to be honest, they're all still struggling to find their feet. Yesterday was another demanding day, for our guys at least. Mikel Bizkarra was the best of the trio with a 102nd place, 59 seconds down, while Pello Bilbao was six places further back and Aitor Ocampos ended up as number 150 almost three minutes adrift. The remaining three riders on the Pays Basque National Team did better, with Mikel Filgueirea coming home 24th only 17 down, and Igor Romero just five seconds further back. Ugaitz Artola came on alongside Pello and Mikel. Even though the results aren't going their way, they'll be so much better off after doing a race like this.

Samu aims for Tour podium

Speaking after concluding the Dauphiné yesterday, Samu outlined his hopes and expectations for the Tour come July. "I can be in the fight for the podium", he said. "It's going to be an unusual Tour. You can lose everything in the first four days. There's no need to plan ahead before getting over the pavés. The Tourmalet (on which he lost a lot of time in 2008) comes towards the end of the race when a lot of riders will be exhausted. It's an hour of riding on your limit. In addition the final time trial will be just around the corner; another hour of agony. It's a very difficult Tour. The key is to be consistent. Opportunities will present themselves in the last week. I want to get a high overall placing and a stage-win."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dauphiné conclusion

A successful Dauphiné came to a close today with the seventh and last stage. Just like the previous days, Euskaltel were one of the more aggressive teams, placing Iñaki and Alan in the initial 17-man break. The break fell to pieces on the punishing circuit the riders had to ride five times as Edvald Boasson Hagen forced the pace and went on to win solo. Most of the riders in the break, including the orange duo, were swallowed up by the bunch, but that didn't mean Euskaltel gave up. On the last time up the Domancy climb, Romain attacked with force and really looked good for a while until the pack came back at him. Great attack though, he's in great shape at the moment. Romain, along with Samu and Egoi, eventually rolled in 1:04 down on Hagen. As a result he finished a strong 11th overall while Egoi took home the mountains prize. And, as anticipated, the team hung on to its lead in the team rankings and won that one as well. Awesome. Iván concluded a week of strong riding by placing 34th today, 2:13 down, while Gorka was 44th at 2:32 and Iñaki 57th at 3:06. That leaves Romain in 11th, Samu in 18th, Iván in 32nd, Gorka in 35th, Egoi in 40th and Iñaki in 78th. Like a large number of riders today, Alan and Jorge abandoned.

Pablo sprints to second in Suisse

Pablo showed his great state of form by sprinting to second place behind Heinrich Haussler on today's second stage of the Tour de Suisse. The slightly hilly nature of the course resulted in a 66-man peloton arriving together to sprint it out for the win, a sprint in which Pablo, to his great credit, beat riders like Ciolek, Freire and Rojas to take an impressive second. Pablo has really stepped it up a notch this year. Look out for him in the remaining stages. Jonathan, Javier and JJ all made it in with that first big group, meaning the former now occupies ninth place on GC. Aitor Hernández spent the day out front in the break and secured the mountains jersey, so surely a good day all over for the team. Aitor and Daniel reached the line 3:09 down eventually, while Amets came in a worryingly 5:33 down, while Koldo found the going too tough and condeded 10:57. Pablo was naturally a bit down after the stage, saying: "To win a Pro Tour race would have been awesome. (...) It's a shame..." But he also managed to look on the bright side, saying: "But I feel good, now I'll try to recover as best I can facing the rest of the race."

Montañés stage 5 wrap

The Circuito Montañés isn't exactly going too well for Orbea to be honest, at least not results wise. Yesterday's stage five was another dismal in that aspect, with Mikel Landa being the best of the blue riders to grab a fine 13th on the demanding ride from Solares to Fuente del Chiv. He finished 4:23 down on former under-23 World Champ Fabio Duarte, and a few seconds ahead of Niels Albert, so that's actually pretty good. Xabier Zabalo finished 44th at 18:17, Andoni Blázquez 68th at 30:06, Beñat Urain 81st at 36:04, Adrián Sáez 86th at 37:56 and finally Ricardo García 104th at 42:19. Three stages remain, so there's still hope Mikel Landa or some of the others can pull off something great.

Euskaltel strong on the Alpe

Euskaltel showed their strength in depth on today's queen-stage in the Dauphiné by taking eighth on the stage through Samu, the mountains jersey courtesy of Egoi, the team rankings, as well as placing three riders in the top 18. Not bad. Just like yesterday, Egoi got into the break of the day and accumulated maximum points on all climbs but the Alpe itself to move into the lead in the mountains classification. Ahead of tomorrow's final stage he leads overall 'winner' Brajkovic by 22 points, so surely the jersey is his for the keeping. Naturally the break he was in didn't stay away, but he got what he was after. Gorka, laying 11th overall prior to the stage, struggled big time today and lost contact on the Glandon; the big climb preceding the Alpe d'Huez. Alan, Iván and Samu all dropped back to help pace Gorka back into the leading pack, but it was to no avail. Gorka simply had an off-day and had lost 16 minutes by stage's end. As a result he dropped from 11th to 42nd on GC. As for Samu, he looked good today. After taking it easy on the first five stages to hone his form for the Tour, he decided to give it a go today. He came away with a creditable eighth on the stage and in the process showed his form is coming around nicely. Romain was also up there today, taking an impressive 13th on his first time up the Alpe. He now occupied the exact same place on GC going into the last stage. Iván was once again strong as well, taking 18th. He's really getting back to his best, he's a shoo-in for the Tour I reckon. Due to the results of these three riders, Euskaltel won the day's teams classification and now leads the overall teams classification. Great stuff. As for the other guys, Egoi and Alan came in with Gorka 16:01 back, while Iñaki was 71st at 20:34 and Jorge 127th at 31:46.

Jonathan solid in Suisse prologue

Jonathan put in a very decent ride in today's Tour de Suisse prologue. Among great time triallers like Cancellara, Kreuziger, Rogers, Sagan, Martin, Lance, Leipheimer, Larsson and Løvkvist to name but a few, he placed an excellent 13th, just 14 seconds down on the invincible Cancellara. Great ride, he's really starting to find his feet in the Pro Tour. The other guys were all a little bit more off, with Pablo in 51st, 31 down, JJ 64th at 36, Daniel 82nd at 41, Aitor H 97th at 47, Javier 108th at 50, Amets 130th at 59 and Koldo 160th at 1:24. Tomorrow's stage is likely to be one for the sprinters, so hopefully Pablo and Koldo will team up nicely to bring home a good result.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Baby watch: Basque struggle

Naturgas trio Mikel Bizkarra, Aitor Ocampos and Pello Bilbao suffered big time in the first stage of the Giro Bio, or Baby Giro as it's known, yesterday. The youngsters found the going way too tough in Italy and ended up way back. Bizkarra finished with a big group 8:31 down, while Ocampos came in about two minutes later. Pello Bilbao surprisingly struggled the most, coming in 12:46 adrift in 154th place. The rest of the Pays Basque team, though, did better. Igor Romero came home with the second group, no more than 37 seconds in arrears, while Ugaitz Artola came in alongside Bizkarra and Mikel Filgueirea alongside Ocampos. Not a great start results-wise, but they're here to learn, not to win.

Adrián Sáez grabs excellent 4th in Montañés

Adrián Sáez de Arregi recorded a nice fourth place on yesterday's third stage of the Circuito Montañés. The youngster was in the break of the day, but due to the undulating parcours of the stage, he went out the back of that escape group when eventual winner Lilian Jegou upped the pace. He still held on for fourth though, which is a good result for him. Beñat Urain was the only Orbea rider to finish in the main pack, whilst Ricardo García, Andoni Blázquez, Xabier Zabalo and Mikel Landa all came in some thirty seconds further back.

'Sicard better off in Euskaltel than in France'

Bernard Hinault, the five-time Tour winner, is already known to be a great admirer of Romain Sicard. Hinault has sung the praises of the prodigious Frenchman several times already this year, and yesterday he was at it again. According to El Correo, he thinks Romain is better off at Euskaltel than with a French team. "His choice of team was good", the 'Badger' said. "He went to a Spanish team, a Basque team. They trust him there and they've given him a measured calendar, one that will allow him to progress. They're not asking him to win races, they're asking him to learn. Last year he won the Worlds and l'Avenir, obviously he's a good rider. I spoke with him at Paris-Nice. He seems like a good lad. And yes, he's a rider who attacks, and I like that. But I think Euskaltel do right in not sending him to the Tour this year. It would be a bit early. He's got plenty of time. I prefer Romain to be with Euskaltel than in a French team. It's better for his progression."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Egoi grabs fifth in fifth stage of Dauphiné

Egoi grabbed fifth place on today's hilly ride in the Dauphiné from Serre Chevalier to Grenoble. The ever-aggressive Egoi got into the break of the day along with four other riders early on but, come the Col de Chambrousse, a monster-climb situated 30 kilometres from the line, featherweight climber Daniel Navarro attacked the bunch and quickly bridged up to the leading quintet. He didn't stay there for long though, as he jumped the front group almost immediately and left everyone, including Egoi, trailing in his wake. It was an impressive showing from the Astana rider who held off Capecchi and Pinot for 30 clicks from the top of the climb. Egoi came in alongside Moreau and Champion to grab fifth, 1:39 down. The main pack, containing Gorka, Samu, Romain and Iván, came in 3:04 back. The remaining three riders, Iñaki, Jorge and Alan, rolled in with another big group at a massive 18:33. Egoi remarked after the stage's conclusion that he felt 'rather well', but that he's 'still got some way to go to reach top form for the Tour. But I actually feel better now than at the same time last year, a year in which I did well in the Tour.' Sounds good to me!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jon Izagirre drops out of Montañés

Jon Izagirre sadly abandoned the Circuito Montañés today on the second stage. I didn't get to see the race myself so I'm not really sure why, but I'll bring the news to you as soon as I'll find out. On a brighter note, Mikel Landa took a good ninth place on today's demanding stage. Mikel finished, with Xabier Zabalo and Ricardo García, in the main group behind the four strongest riders; Lelarge, Garcia de Mateo, Higinio Fernández and Iriarte. Adrián Sáez and Andoni Blázquez ended up in a group 13:48 adrift, while Beñat Urain was three minutes further back.

Romain brilliant in Dauphiné

Romain showed glimpses of his undoubted talent by taking an excellent second place on today's first mountain-top finish in the Dauphiné. The 210-kilometre stage ending atop the Risoul saw an aggressive Euskaltel team all day. Early on the climb, Egoi, then Iván, delivered proof they're approaching top form by attacking out of the peloton. None of them managed to sustain their attacks though, and they both drifted backwards after giving it a shot. In a steadily-diminishing group of favourites at the front of the race, Euskaltel still had the impressive Gorka Verdugo and Romain present. Samu, though, was once again gone missing. Anyway, the two others did the team proud. Gorka stayed with the top favourites until two kilometres were left to ride, while Romain went even better. Nicolas Vogondy attacked Contador, Brajkovic and co. with force with 1,5 to go, and Romain soon went after him. It was too little, too late though for the World Champ. Eventually he had to settle for second on the stage, 12 seconds down on Vogondy, but still ahead of Contador and the rest. Amazing riding. Gorka came through in 22nd place, just 55 seconds adrift, and thus keeps hold of his 10th place overall. Iván was 53rd, Egoi 69th, Samu a worryingly 70th, 4:22 down, while Jorge, Alan and Iñaki was 118th, 120th and 124th respectively, all at 12:55. The French prodigy was naturally happy afterwards, saying he was 'a little surprised', but nonetheless 'very happy to be among the best on a stage like this'.

Suiss line-up

Euskaltel have confirmed their roster for the Tour de Suisse starting on Saturday. Tour-bound Amets and JJ will be present and looking to hone their form, while other hopefuls like Koldo and Aitor H will also line up. Joining them will be Jonathan, Daniel, Javier and Pablo, so a strong all-round team for sure. "With some of the riders we'll fight for stage-wins, whilst for some of the others it's all about getting them into optimal shape for the Tour", was sports director Alvaro's comment on the team. The race consists of eight stages, of which two are time trials.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Orbea off the pace in Montañés stage 1

The going got a little too tough for the young guns at Orbea today in the first stage proper of the Circuito Montañés. Chilean Oyarzun escaped to beat seasoned veteran Sergi Escobar for the stage win, and the duo finished one second ahead of a select group of eight. None on the Orbea guys featured in that group, but most of them, that being Ricardo García, Andoni Blázquez, Mikel Landa, Jon Izagirre and Beñat Urain, finished inside the main peloton at 1:03, while Xabier Zabalo ended up at 1:32 and Adrián Sáez came in a big 18:42 down. That leaves Jon Izagirre in 13th after the first two days.

Dauphiné ITT: Gorka good, Samu bad

It was another day of contrasting performances in the Dauphiné for Euskaltel. Gorka, just like in the prologue, displayed great form by taking a highly respective 15th over the 49 kilometres, while the man who's form is supposed to be on the up with less than four weeks to go until the Tour, Samu, failed badly by placing 48th, 4:14 down. Of course, we've seen it all before: GC candidates being way off the pace in the lead-up to the Tour and then all of a sudden being right in the mix when July comes around. Let's hope this is the case with Samu. He's usually a master when it comes to preparing for races and peaking at the right time, so I'm not going to get overly worried just yet. As for the other guys, Romain did okay to finish 42nd, 3:53 back, while Egoi was 69th at 4:53, Jorge 95th at 5:51, Iñaki 110th at 6:19, Iván 131st at 7:11 and finally Alan 145th at 7:50. With the form Gorka is in at the moment he's surely a dead cert for a ride in the Tour. So too is JJ who's been in good shape all year and have been taking part in recon rides on the pavés and in the Pyrenees. Samu is the captain obviously, so he'll be there, and so too will Egoi, Iñaki and Amets. I reckon Rubén, with his performances of late and his Tour pedigree, should be a shoo-in as well, so that leaves two places up for grabs. I'd love to see Koldo go, but I'm not sure Igor is keen on sending a sprinter. Iván, if he recaptures his form pre-injury, would be a great addition, and so too would Alan. So there you go, Euskaltel for the Tour for you!


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