Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I might be without an internet connection for up to seven days starting tomorrow, so the blog will be sparsely, if at all, updated until I get back from a week away from home. As an internet addict I'm panicking at the thought, but hopefully I'll be successful in tracking down an internet café or two in the Italian countryside to keep you, and myself, up to date on everyting Basque cycling. Stay tuned to Iban Mayo Blog for sporadic posts, but make sure to read the team's website and the Basque newspapers to stay 100% updated.

Orbea active in Ordizia

Orbea put on a battling performance in the Klasika Ordizia on Sunday. Xabier Zabalo scored a 20th place 1:05 down to finish best of the blues, while Jon Izagirre was only two places further back on the same time. Joseba Larralde and Mikel Landa both ended up at 4:52 in 64th and 70th place respectively, while Beñat Urain, Adrián Sáez and Aritz Etxebarria all ended up 10:03 back. Noel Martín finished outside the time-limit while Mikel Ilundain abandoned underway. DS Díaz was pleased with the guys, saying: "The riders have let themselves be seen. In the decisive part of the race a group of 28 riders broke clear and we had Noel Martín, Mikel Landa and Xabier Zabalo in it. The team did well; we were in with a chance of winning the race 'til 12 kilometres were left to ride. We're pleased".

Naturgas round-up

Naturgas returned satisfied from the Sub-23 Vuelta a Madrid yesterday. The team took Pello Bilbao to an excellent third overall while it took second in the teams' competition. Pello also took out the under-21 ranking. "First of all it's important to emphasize the riders' ambition. From the start they've been aggressive, been in the breaks and have been fighting for the top placings", a delighet Aritz Arberas said. "We're very pleased with the results".

As earlier reported, Rory Martínez took the win in Friday's Criterium de Blusa, but things didn't go to plan on next day's Pamplona-Bayonne. Carlos Barbero was the best of the reds with a 15th place with Alfonso Saiz in close pursuit in 19th. Iñigo Urretxua, head of the team as Arberas was in the Vuelta a Madrid, said: "They fought and were aggressive, but they didn't have enough forces left at the end."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Samu: "Euskaltel first option"

Samu has once again expressed his desire to stay with the team for the forthcoming years. The team's future has still not been resolved, and Samu is starting to get a little impatient. "For me, Euskaltel is still my first option", he said to El Correo. "But I can't wait much longer. It's time we figure out where this team is going for the upcoming years. Let's hope it's resolved this week."

Tour conclusion

The Tour de France came to an end yesterday in Paris. There were as expected no major changes to the GC, so Samu finished fourth overall. Very bitter result, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Alán was active on the finishing circuits on the Champs-Elysées and made it into the main break, but as usual it came down to a sprint finish. Rubén did okay to grab 15th while the rest of the guys came came in furhter back but still on the same time as the winner. That leaves us with Samu in fourth, as mentioned, Gorka Verdugo in 36th, Egoi in 40th, Iván in 62nd, Rubén in 95th, Iñaki in 115th and Alán in 129th place. Euskaltel took eighth in the team rankings, which isn't bad considering they lost Amets and JJ pretty early on. Good overall team performance I reckon, but once again we're left with nothing to show for it in terms of wins. Samu is not trying to hide his disappointment, saying he'd rather finish 20th than 4th. I guess that sums it up.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gorka Izagirre takes outstanding win in Ordizia

Gorka Izagirre took his second win of the season in superb fashion in the Prueba Villafranca in Ordizia today. The youngster attacked with Mancebo, Pardilla, Lana and Herrada over the last of the seven climbs of the day and went for broke with only four kilometres to go. Gorka brilliantly left everyone trailing in his wake and took the team's eighth win of the year. In his first year with the team, and his second as a pro, his performances this year are really something. Romain capped off an awesome day for the team by forming part of the break of the day and taking home the mountain prize. Excellent! As for the rest of the guys, Pablo ended up a good 15th, Igor 41st, Beñat 49th, Javier 61st, Aitor H 62nd, Romain 75th and Daniel 76th.

Madariaga: "Euskaltel in Tour 2011"

Though the team's future is still somewhat up in the air, Miguel Madariaga is adamant Euskaltel will line up in the Tour next year. Speaking to Radio Euskadi today ahead of the final stage, Miguel said: "Euskaltel Euskadi will be in the Tour de France 2011." Miguel usually knows what he's talking about, so he's probably gotten a guarantee from the Tour directors I reckon.

Samu loses 3rd in final TT

Samu had an off-day in yesterday's deciding ITT in Bordeaux and relinquished his third place to a superb Menchov. It was a massive disappointment for Samu and the team alike as hopes were high he might just hang on to that last podium place. Massive disappointment is all I'll say, I don't think it would do anyone any good to dwell any further on that ride. I'm gutted. Wonder how Samu's feeling right now... Stage results:
  • 40th, Samuel Sánchez, 5:51
  • 104th, Alán Pérez, 8:25
  • 110th, Rubén Pérez, 8:36
  • 119th, Iñaki Isasi, 8:50
  • 129th, Gorka Verdugo, 9:13
  • 141st, Egoi Martínez, 9:42
  • 168th, Iván Velasco, 11:31

Barring any mishaps on today's last stage, this is how the final GC will look like:

  • 4th, Samuel Sánchez
  • 37th, Gorka Verdugo
  • 40th, Egoi Martínez
  • 62nd, Iván Velasco
  • 95th, Rubén Pérez
  • 115th, Iñaki Isasi
  • 129th, Alán Pérez

Speaking after the stage, Samu managed to hide his disappointment surprisingly well: "Giving it your all is all you can request. In that sense I'm satisfied as I did all I could. I thought that I did a good time trial. I felt good, but I wasn't even close to Menchov. I was pretty equal to Contador and Schleck who fought for the win, but the Russian has been flying and all I can do is to congratulate him. He was superb. We've been in the fight 'til the last moment and will come to Paris fourth overall. I would have liked to have finished on the podium, but all I can do now is to look forward." Igor González de Galdeano was naturally disappoined as well, but showed great sportmanship in congratulating Menchov on a good ride. "It's sad as we thought he could finish third", he said. "But it's been snatched away from us. But we're satisfied with our team performance as this is Euskaltel's best ever result in the Tour. There's no doubt Menchov was strong. He gained two minutes and we have to congratulate him as the Tour's not only won in the mountains, but in the time trials as well. Samu was great up until today. For some reason he wasn't at that level in the time trial. It's a shame, but once again we can only congratulate Menchov."

Line-up for Ordizia

Euskaltel will send a potent 10-man squad to Sunday's Prueba Villafrance in Ordizia, or the Ordiziako Klasika as it's known in Basque. It's a rather hilly one-day race that will see the following Euskaltel riders line up: Javier Aramendia, Igor, Romain, Gorka Izagirre, Beñat, Aitor H, Daniel Sesma, Miguel Minguez, Mikel Nieve and Pablo. Pablo took third last year so he will no doubt look to go one or two better this time around. Alvaro will be in charge of the guys.

Rory Martínez takes another for Naturgas

Rory Martínez took yet another win for Naturgas on Friday. Martínez took his first win of the season in the 22nd Criterium de Blusa, a race which consisted of a points race and an elimination race. Rory took first in the former and third in the latter to take the overall win.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Orbea for Ordizia

The prestigious Clásica de Ordizia will be held on Sunday and Orbea will naturally be there. 10 riders will take part under the guidance of DS Díaz: Jon Izagirre (pictured above), Mikel Landa, Ricardo García, Adrián Sáez, Beñat Urain, Xabier Zabalo, Joseba Larralde, Aritz Etxebarria, Noel Martín and Mikel Ilundain.

Naturgas line-ups

Naturgas will by now have taken part in two races this weekend. The team sent Rory Martínez, Alfonso Saiz, Mikel Martioda and Carlos Barbero to the Criterium de Blusa in Vitoria yesterday, a race they won through Jon Aberasturi last year. Tomorrow the same quartet plus Álex Bilbao, Urtzi Legarra, Alberto Guinea, David Hidalgo, Unai Martínez and Andoni Sánchez took part in the taxing Pamplona-Bayonne. Results to follow soon.

Rubén sprints to 10th on eve of ITT

Rubén sprinted to an honourable 10th place on today's 19th stage of the Tour. He was up there in the closing kilometres and handled himself well among all the big sprinter teams. Except for that there's not much to write about. Samu suffered, naturally, but made it through. So too did all the other guys. Speaking of tomorrow's deciding time trial, which Samu will confront with a 21-second advantage over Menchov, he said: "Menchov is a great rider with a lot of experience, but I've got confidence in myself. It's more than 50 kilometres long and the result will depend on how well you've recovered. The last TT in a GT depends more on what you've got left in the tank than your ability against the clock". I expect it to be a close shave, but, ever the pessimist, I'm afraid 21 seconds won't suffice. But then again I've been wrong before.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Heroic Samu hangs on

Samu put on a courageous ride yesterday to hang on to his third place overall and even extend it. Samu took a bad tumble early on, laying still on the ground with chest and shoulder pain, but with a little help from his friends got back up eventually and regained contact with the pack. It really didn't look good. He had troubles breathing and I was sure he would be forced to abandon. He was clearly suffering from pain in his right shoulder all the way 'til the top of the Tourmalet but still managed to gap Menchov by eight seconds. Amazing ride. Rubén also did well by, first of all, getting into the break of the day before helping Samu out when he was reeled in on the last climb. The rest of the guys were naturally tired after pacing Samu back up to the pack early on, but Gorka still managed to stay with the group of favourites quite a way up the Tourmalet and grabbing a fine 24th place on the day, 5:15 down. Rubén finished 35th at 6:52, Iván 53rd at 10:51, Egoi 58th at 11:35, Alán was 82nd at 21:14 and Iñaki finished 160th at 31:17. Great team performance. Speaking of the fall post-stage, Samu said: "I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I got hit in the chest and on the right collarbone. I couldn't breath and I couldn't get up straight away. I want to publically say a big thank you to Alberto Contador for deciding to stop the peloton and wait for me. I would have done the same for him; he's a gentleman."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Samu worried about Menchov

The fight for third, and first by the way, will more than likely come down to Saturday's 50km ITT in Bordeaux. On paper Menchov would be better suited to a race against the clock that long, a fact that worries Samu. "It would be hard if I was just 13 seconds ahead going into the time trial", he told Alain Laiseka of DEIA. "Menchov has won two Vueltas and a Giro and has always done better than me in long time trials. I was better than him in one short crono, the one in the 07' Vuelta in Collada Villalba, but that one was only 23km. In those of 30 clicks or more he's always beaten me. Denis has experience, the numbers are there, but there is still two important days left. I don't know how much time I need to be ahead on him going into the ITT."

Naturgas heading for Madrid

Naturgas have selected seven riders to take on the four-day Vuelta a Madrid, commencing today. Aitor Ocampos, Pello Bilbao, Efrén Carazo, Fernando Grijalba (pictured above), Igor Merino, Mikel Bizkarra and Jon Larriñaga will all line up. "We're going in to the race with intention to ride well, to fight and to work", said DS Arberas. "The heat will be an important factor. We'll try to perform strongly and to continue gaining experience. It's good for us to compete with other teams we don't know that well. We're used to racing in Euskadi. To do races in Galicia or Madrid always comes in handy for the younger riders looking to evolve and mature."

Fighting talk

After completing a relaxed 90-minute ride to keep the legs moving, Samu talked to the team's website about the fight for the podium. "Right now I'd sign up for third place. There's a difference between being second and third, but both places are pictured on the podium on the Champs-Elysées. For us it would be great, a historical moment, and we will do our utmost to obtain it. Three years ago I made the podium in the Vuelta in the last time trial on the expense of Cadel Evans. Saturday's ITT will be a fight between great riders. Let's hope I'm still feeling good and can hold on to that third place."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Great Escape

Always the pessimist, I seriously thought the Tour was over for Euskaltel today. When Samu lost contact on the Aspin, that early on in the race with, what, 170km to go, I felt that was it. The off-day that would ruin everything. But Samu once again proved me wrong with his exceptional ability to stay calm and ride his own tempo and not go into the red zone too early. He's a master in measuring his forces. As you'd know by now he easily regained contact on the descent and stayed with the lead group all the way 'til Pau. "Why the headline 'The Great Escape'?", you're probably asking. What I mean is that Samu got out of jail today. Had the Lotto directors been smart they would have ordered Lloyd, Aerts and Moreno to up the tempo when Samu, Gesink and Purito was out the back and distanced them when they had the chance. Instead, to my great relief, they played it badly and slowed the tempo right down, allowing them to rejoin the lead group. They could really have put the pressure on and potentially have broken Samu and co., but for one reason or another they decided not to. Galdeano wil probably send them flowers tomorrow. He should; Lotto's actions, or lack of actions rather, probably saved Euskaltel's Tour. You won't hear me complaining, but man did they waste it. As the tempo dropped even more as the stage unfolded, Alán, Egoi and Gorka were able to rejoin the pack along with a hord of riders and thus be there for Samu. All three came in with Samu's group, while Rubén came in with the first big gruppetto at 23:42, while Iñaki and Iván ended up in the last big group at 34:48. After the race, Samu explained what happened at the Aspin. "A Lotto rider upped the pace and a gap opened up", he told the team's website. "I knew that they wouldn't be able to sustain that pace all the way to the line, so instead of accelerating to stay with them I maintained a steady pace and controlled the situation. It's important to porsion out your efforts and stay calm. I'm feeling good and will try to keep it up until we reach Paris."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Romain and Igor happy to stay

After the news of Beñat Intxausti's likely leaving broke some days ago a lot of people have been worrying what the other stars on the team might do. According to Madariaga, chief of el Fundación Euskadi, we needn't worry. "Sicard has told us he wants to stay. Sicard will not leave", he assured us. As for Igor, Madariaga said: "He's told us he wants to stay as well. He knows we've invested a lot in him and that he hasn't fulfilled his potential." That's good news no doubt.

Samu inches ever closer to podium

Samu put in another blistering ride to hang on to his third place overall and move closer to second as Andy Schleck suffered that ill-timed chain-drop. Samu, worryingly isolated by his team-mates by the way, was right there when Schleck suffered his mishap and went after Contador when the sleeky Spaniard decided to capitalise on his (former?) friend's tough luck. I'm of the opinion that Contador should have waited. He's far too good a rider and far too big a champion to pull off something like that. Full stop. I'm aware I might sound biased now, but I'm also of the opinion that Samu and Menchov were in the right to go after him. Why? Because when Contador decided to jump the damage was already done. Samu and Menchov were behind him at that time. They HAD to follow. Stopping then would have made no sense. The guy at the front of the race dictates the race; that's the way it is. Schleck was no doubt hard done by, but there's a feeling inside me that Saxo Bank, if not Andy himself, got what they deserved after that disgraceful stage 2 to Spa. I'm not going to go all ballistic at Saxo Bank again, but that Cancellara-inspired boycott still enrages me. That's probably why I'm not feeling too bad about today's actions, but I do pity Contador for not racing like the champion he is. Anyway, back to Euskaltel... As expected Samu looked fluent and on top of his game on the descent to the line. I should have been used to it now, but it's still a marvellous sight to watch a non-pedalling Samu just wizz past his rivals who are all going full throttle. He crossed the line alongside El Pistolero and the impressive Menchov to cling on to his third place. He distanced the other podium hopefuls though, so it's now a two-man race for that last podium place. It's a dead-cert it's either going to be Samu or Menchov taking that third place judging on form and the concluding time trial. The other Euskaltel riders did their utmost for their captain throughout the day but didn't manage to stay with him when the going got tough up the Bales. Iván ended up 45th at 8:35 and now occupies the same place on GC, while Iñaki was 49th at 9:35, Egoi 97th at 24:01, Gorka 109th at 26:04, while Alán and Rubén finished 138th and 140th respectively at a big 28:49. Post-stage Samu was again going on about the difficult task ahead to maintain his podium place. "It'll be very difficult to finish third. Menchov is very strong and a great rider. It's been another hard day; the Balès seemed never-ending. It was a lot of suffering, but we came through another day soundly."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Samu 3rd on Ax-3-Domaines

Samu climbed to a brilliant third place on yesterday's first mountainous stage in the Pyrenees to further solidify his podium place on GC. Samu responded to all of Menchov's attacks, and even put in a few of his own, to distance fellow podium rivals Gesink, Leipheimer, Van den Broeck and Andy and Alberto by a few seconds. Menchov and Samu finished side by side 54 seconds down on heroic escapist Riblon to take second and third respectively. Samu is thus still 13 seconds ahead of Menchov in fourth, while VDB is now at 60 and Gesink at 2:56. Another encouraging sign on the stage was the presence of Gorka, Egoi and Iván in the select front group up the Pailhères. They all looked strong and provided Samu more than enough help should anything, say a puncture, occure. Awesome. Eventually Egoi and Gorka came in together at 4 minutes 4 seconds, while Iván ended up in 49th place at 11 minutes. Rubén, Alán and Iñaki all rolled in with the gruppetto at 36:56.

Orbea off the pace in Madrid

Orbea failed to set the Vuelta a Madrid alight this weekend. In the opening day's ITT, Díaz's charges had to settle for a 27th place through Ricardo García as their best result. Jon Izagirre followed closely behind in 28th, while Xabier Zabalo was 59th, Joseba Larralde 70th, Adrián Sáez 74th, Mikel Landa 87th, Jon Aberasturi 94th and Beñat Urain 97th. In the afternoon stage Jon Aberasturi tried to mix it up with the fast guys but had to settle for a 19th place. Adrián Sáez, Larralde and Zabalo found the going too tough and ended up in the second peloton some 20 seconds adrift. It was hoped Mikel Landa or Jon Izagirre could put their mark on Sunday's queen-stage. Mikel did okay to finish 19th, 3:07 down, while Izagirre Jr. ended up 23th 3:21 back. The rest of the guys all ended up more than elleven minutes down on the day. Final GC:

  • 20th, Jon Izagirre
  • 21st, Mikel Landa
  • 46th, Xabier Zabalo
  • 54th, Joseba Larralde
  • 56th, Ricardo García
  • 75th, Adrían Sáez
  • 76th, Beñat Urain
  • 92nd, Jon Aberasturi

Igor goes close in Madrid

Igor Antón came close to taking his second win of the year in yesterday's third and final stage in the Vuelta a Madrid. The stage, which ended atop the Alto de Morcuera, saw Igor finish fourth, 55 seconds down on double-victor Pardilla. Mikel did a good ride by claiming ninth on the stage, while Gorka Izagirre was 25th, Koldo 83rd, Beñat 85th, Aitor G 90th, Aitor H 91st and Miguel 94th. Beñat's ride is a mystery to me. Maybe he's affected by all the talk about his future, who knows? Anyway, Igor ended up 6th on GC, while the rest of the guys finished:
  • 12th, Mikel Nieve
  • 22nd, Gorka Izagirre
  • 80th, Koldo Fernández
  • 87th, Beñat Intxausti
  • 89th, Aitor Hernández
  • 93rd, Aitor Galdós
  • 94th, Miguel Mínguez

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pello Bilbao takes yet another

Not surprisingly, Pello Bilbao took out the win in Saturday's under-23 race in Sopelana. The impressive youngster was the fastest out of a five-man group at the end and beat Seguros Bilbao pair Fraile and Domene to the win. Carlos Barbero completed a good day for the team with a seventh place at two seconds, while Aitor Ocampos was 12th, Jon Larrinaga 14th, Igor Merino 21st and Fernando Grijalba 31st, all at two seconds. Efrén Carazo was 48th at 1:03, while Alfonso Saiz was 59th at 1:41. As a result Pello further enhanced his top position in the Torneo Sub-23 rankings.

Intxausti set to leave

Miguel Madariaga yesterday confirmed that Beñat Intxausti will indeed leave the team at the end of the year. Shocking news. Beñat has enjoyed a marvellous year in his first season with the team, but it now appears Euskaltel can't hold on to him. "We put our offer for another two or three years on the table in June", said the rider's representative Antonio Vaquerizas to DEIA. "That offer included an elevated salary due to his results this year. We're still waiting for reply". That reply isn't likely to come though as Madariaga expressed. Vaquerizaz also confirmed that they've listened to offers from other teams already. What a travesty...

Madrid stage 1&2 round-up

The race kicked off with a short 8,1km ITT in and around the capital. The result was slightly disappointing for the team with Gorka being the best of the eight riders in 12th place, 20 seconds down on Larsson. That's a good ride by Gorka, but I had expected slightly more from some of the other guys. Aitor H was 30th at 32 seconds, Igor 35th at 35, Mikel 47th at 45, Beñat 57th at 49, Koldo 62nd at 53, Miguel 88th at 1:05 and Aitor G 96th at 1:18. The afternoon stage saw Koldo go agonisingly close to a win by placing second to Fran Ventoso. Good ride obviously, but he'll be kicking himself tonight... Aitor H and Miguel ended up 21 seconds adrift, while Benat strangely ended up 1:33 down. Except for that trio, all the guys finished inside the main bunch.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Samu 3rd as Pyrenees loom

Samu successfully defended his third place overall on today's rather flat ride from Rodez to Revel without any significant problems. Samu, expertly guided and covered by team-mates at any given time all day, kept near the front, and sometimes at the very front, in the nervous finale. Along with Rubén, Gorka and Egoi he finished in the first peloton. Iván struggled more than yesterday, coming in 5:46 down along with Iñaki. Alán ended up 7:23 in arrears. At the finish, Samu expressed his sincere gratefulness to his team-mates. "My companions all did very well and we're a day closer to the finish", he said. "On paper, tomorrow's stage will be a decisive one and we'll have to be at our very best. I'm confident".

Samu at ease in Mende

Samu showed his class to stay with Schleck and strengthen his third place overall in the Tour yesterday. Contador and Purito attacked on the steep slopes of Jalabert's climb to gain 10 seconds on a quintet containing Schleck, Samu, Van den Broeck, Menchov and Klöden. Samu looked perfectly at ease with the infernal pace set by the yellow jersey and further strengthened his podium place by distancing some of his rivals by a few seconds. Brilliant ride! Gorka and Iván also shone yesterday. Gorka through being part of the day's main break, while Iván stayed with the front riders for quite a while up the last climb. Eventually he crossed the line in 32nd place just 1:20 back, ahead of riders like Garate, Rolland, Devenyns and Rohregger. He's coming into shape just at the right time. Egoi took it easy up the climb and conceded 2:17, while Alán, Rubén, Iñaki and Gorka all came in towards the back-end of the pack more than five minutes down. Good day for the team overall though.

"I felt good on the climb to Mende", Samu said after stepping off his bike. "It's a very explosive ascent and I decided to maintain a steady pace, keep concentrated and staying next to the leader, Menchov and Van den Broeck. For me it was the hardest stage so far in the Tour. In this Tour there are no easy days..."

Velasco sorry for 'stupid' crash

Iván Velasco was not the most popular man in the peloton when his rather clumsy crash on the stage to Avoriaz took down a certain Lance Armstrong. The affable climber, who only a week ago became a father for the first time, says he's sorry for the crash. "It was a stupid crash", he told Gara. "The feed bag got entangled in my wheel. I apologized to him (Lance) straight away. He was not angry with me, but I hope it doesn't happen again". Iván also praised Samu, who he says is in "the form of his life". "He's really strong", he said. "Tremendously strong. I've never seen him in better shape. He's also very calm (considering the situation he is in)." I certainly agree with him, Samu looks much more at ease in the mountains compared to what he's been before in the opening weeks of a GT. Boding well for the Pyrenees...

Orbea for Madrid

Orbea will send a strong eight-man team to the Vuelta a Madrid which kicked off earlier today (sorry for the delay in posting this). Mikel Landa, Jon Izagirre, Jon Aberasturi (pictured above), Beñat Urain, Xabier Zabalo, Adrián Sáez de Arregi, Joseba Larralde and Ricardo García will all line up. Look out for Aberasturi in the flat stage this afternoon; he's a quick young man.

Decisive weekend coming up for Naturgas

Naturgas are ready to fight for their lead in the Trofeo Lehendakari this weekend. Two races are coming up on Saturday and Sunday that will go a long way in deciding who'll be the final victor in this particular category. Pello Bilbao is naturally leading the individual standings after a stellar season, while Naturgas are leading the team rankings. Therefore a strong 12-man team will line up on Saturday in Sopelana: Pello and Álex Bilbao, Fernando Grijalba, David Hidalgo, Aitor Ocampos, Rory Martínez, Igor Merino, Efrén Carazo, Alberto Guinea, Alfonso Saiz, Carlos Barbero and Jon Larriñaga. The same dozen riders, as well as the on-fire Mikel Bizkarra and Urtzi Legarra, will take to the start a day later in Soraluze for a hard race ending atop the four-kilometre San Andrés climb.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Euskaltel all in for Vuelta a Madrid

Euskaltel will send their strongest eigth riders available to the two-day, three-stage Vuelta a Madrid starting tomorrow. The race will consist of a short, opening ITT early tomorrow morning, before a rather short flat, ride from and to Coslada in the afternoon. Sunday's stage ends atop the Alto de Morcuera and is thus the queen-stage. Euskaltel fill field Igor Antón, Beñat Intxausti, Koldo Fernández, Mikel Nieve, Gorka Izagirre, Miguel Mínguez and the two Aitors. Sport director Josu Larrazabal will direct the riders in their quest for domination. Look for Beñat and Gorka in the time trial, Koldo for the afternoon sprint and Igor, Mikel and Beñat for the last stage.

Madariaga looking for sponsors

Euskaltel and the other main sponsors, namely the Basque Government and the delegations of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Álava, will reduce their financial support next year. That's no big surprise; the team's future has been up in the air for quite a while now. But luckily they'll only trim their support with 15%, or 850 000 Euros to be presice. I feared worse, far worse, so the future of the team does not look that bleak I reckon. Miguel Madariaga is now on the hunt for new sponsors to fill that void in the budget. "I have contacts with several companies", he told el Diario Vasco yesterday. "Two of them are very interested. Five others have also not discarded the possibility. If we reach and agreement with some of them we'll put their name on the jersey." The team's budget is currently at 7 million Euros. They would be able to keep the team running with only six million, but to keep hold of their treasured stars like Samu, Beñat and Igor, they need that extra 850 000.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tour stage 11

A quiet day overall for the team in today's flat 11th stage from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence. The objective of the day was to keep out of trouble and not lose any unnecessary seconds to fellow GC candidates. They succeeded in this; Rubén and Egoi expertly guiding Samu up to the sharp end of the peloton when Saxo Bank put the hammer down inside the final 25 kilometres. The trio stayed out trouble and they all came in inside the top 20. Good riding! That's how to protect your captain! The remaining four riders also came in with the pack and hopefully got to recover a bit ahead of tomorrow' s stage to the top of the second category Mende. Although Samu is aware of the difficulty of that last climb, he does not think it will be hard enough to separate the main contenders. "Perhaps someone will attack and get a gap", he said, "but they won't be big as it's only three kilometres long. In addition the Ax-3-Domaines is coming up on Sunday, so one will have to measure one's effort".

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Euskaltel no-show as break goes the distance

Disappointingly, Euskaltel failed to get a rider into the break of the day which, as I predicted, managed to hold off a lethargic peloton and fight it out for the win. The peloton is excused though; the temperatures were searing and the opening to this Tour has been unrelentlessly hard. But the team really should have put a guy into that break. I know they tried time and time again the first hour, but they were out of luck. All the riders managed to stay with the pack though, so Samu is still clinging on to his awesome third place.

Camaño joins Endura Racing

Former Euskaltel rider Iker Camaño has surprisingly signed for British Continental team Endura Racing. The 31-year-old, who left Euskaltel for Saunier Duval together with Ibán in 2007, did not get a new contract with Matxin's team this year as the now-called Footon-Servetto decided to give youth a chance and 'start over' of sorts. Iker was a valued member of the orange team for several years due to his all-round capabilities and loyal team-work. At Endura he'll probably take on a 'road captain'-role, though he's also likely to get the chance to race for his own results once in a while.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Samu climbs to 3rd in Tour

Samu put on a blistering performance to climb from ninth all the way to third overall in the Tour today. That's really something from Samu; amazing ride! Alberto and Schleck battled it out between them, as expected, but Samu wasn't far off at all, he even got back up to them towards the end of the Madeleine only to drop back a little later when the pace was upped again. He crested the majestic climb some 30 seconds back on the duo, who again was 2 minutes or thereabouts down on Casar, Cunego, LL Sánchez and co. down the road. Again putting his breathtaking descending skills on show on the run-in to the finish-line he almost caught them. Eventually though he found the going at the end a bit too tough, but still condeded only 50 seconds to the impressive duo to claim eighth on the stage. In the process he distanced all the other GC candidates by at least a minute and a half, some even by eight minutes, meaning he now proudly occupates third overall, 2:45 back on Schleck. There's still a long way to go to Paris, but I can't help but start dreaming of seeing Samu up there on the podium at the end. But, hey, that's still far off, so I'll try to keep my lofty expectations to myself. Anyway, looking at the other riders on the team I can't help but being disappointed. Gorka did well; he was with Samu in that select group of favourites for quite a few kilometres up the Madeleine and eventually placed 50th, 8:09 down, along with climbers like Evans, Tiralongo and Szmyd. That's good. But the other guys didn't really show up. How Euskaltel failed to get a rider in the break on a day like this is beyond me. I guess they did their best, and that's all one can expect, but still... Having a team-mate up the road at the end would have been golden for Samu. Egoi came in placed 53rd at 15:17, while Iván is still trying to find his feet with a 71st place finish, 20:39 back. Iñaki, Alán and Rubén all came in with the second-to-last group half an hour down.

Speaking after crossing the line, Samu refused to get carried away with his high GC placing, saying: "We'll take it day by day; some riders are stronger than me and we have to stay calm. We'll try to keep our feet firmly on the ground as there's still a long way to go until we reach Paris. Today was the hardest day so far and I've suffered immensely. The pain was terrible on the Madeleine as well as in the closing kilometres. All I'm thinking about now is recovery. I'm very tired".

Bizkarra delighted with first win

Mikel Bizkarra was a happy young man on Saturday after having obtained his very first win in Murgia. "I've been waiting for it", he admitted to Basque daily DEIA. "I'm not very fast in the sprints, and so I know I won't win often. But I have to give it my all in the hard races, and on Saturday it finally happened. Lately Pello had been talking about the possibilities of doing a one-two and let me take the win, and it happened!" Speaking of the Baby Giro, in which he, along with his mates, seemed to struggle, Mikel said: "It was a very good experience. It was a different kind of cycling; longer stages, higher level. The truth is that the first few days were miserable for us, but we improved as the stages went by. We started out badly but finished quite well and were active. I'm pleased with the experience."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rest-day talk

As per tradition on rest-days, team chief Galdeano have his verdict on the race and his team's fortune so far. "We've reached the first rest-day. A break always comes in handy, but even more so now. It'll allow us to recover from the efforts and the crashes of this very hectic first week. Amets and Juanjo have had to go home and we'll miss them. They're riders who get better as the race unfolds and could have gotten into breaks... But there's still a lot of racing to be done and we're prepared. We've been in numerous breaks, and if Samu had won yesterday we would already have obtained our objective. The result gives us confidence facing the remainder of the Tour and hopefully there will be more opportunities. I've got faith in this team and I'm sure we'll come up with the goods".

Orbea return empty-handed from Portugal

Orbea didn't really obtain the results they were looking for in the Volta a Portugal, but at least they can be happy about the presence in the breaks throughout the race. Tenacious climber Jon Izagirre crashed in the opening time trial but, to his credit, completed the race after enduring some difficult days. Like DS Díaz emphasized, Joseba Larralde and Xabier Zabalo weren't far off fighting for the wins, while Aritz Etxebarria and Noel Martín "adapted well to the high level of racing", leaving Díaz "content with the overall performance". Next up are the Vuelta a Madrid and the Vuelta a Burgos.

Naturgas one-two in Murgia

Naturgas enjoyed a formidable week-end with taking both first and second place in Saturday's race in Murgia. Mikel Bizkarra and Pello Bilbao both made in into the decisive break and grabbed the top two places in that order. DS Arberas was naturally happy afterwards: "We did really well. Mikel and Pello were present in the break and the team helped them out by covering attacks in the bunch. This resulted in the win. Everything went according to plan".

The team failed to replicate the result in yesterday's race in Antzuola, but they didn't give up without a fight. The team took control of the pack early on and displayed some good team-work, but finally they had to settle for fourth through Pello. "We did well, but our work didn't really pay off", commented Arberas. "We were in the mix all day. In the end Pello got fourth and the team second in the team rankings."

Rival teams not happy with Euskaltel

Euskaltel have received their fare share of flack this Tour from rival riders saying they're the source of all the crashes at this year's event. Dan Lloyd of Cervélo has perhaps been the most vocal of all, and yesterday he was at it again. "Euskaltel really need to learn how to race bikes", he fumed at the finish after witnessing in person the most clumsy fall so far this year when Egoi's musette got tangled up in Iván's wheel and caused several riders, Armstrong included, to hit the deck. "It's just shocking. I don't know if that's controversial or not, but I don't care. They've probably caused every crash in this race..." Obviously that's an exaggeration, but he's definetely on to something. One could argue that Euskaltel have simply been unlucky this year. It's a possibility. But I doubt it to be honest. I don't think their bike handling skills are at fault, I think it's the stress and the nervousness among them. What do you guys think?

Samu pleased despite narrow loss

Samu remained upbeat despite being denied the all-important win at the line yesterday. "I'm pleased with my ride today", he started by saying. "I've worked a lot be in top shape for this race, and today's ride makes me optimistic facing the remaining stages, which are many. It was the first real test in the mountains, and I responded with strength and ambition. Perhaps I started the sprint a little too soon, but at that time it seemed the best thing to do. I'm now ninth overall and have taken some seconds out of the other GC candidates, except for Andy who was superb".

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Samu pipped to stage-win

Samu grabbed a brilliant, yet incredibly frustrating, second place on today's first real mountain stage in the Tour. Right now I'm just way too gutted to write anything smart or philosophical about the stage; I'm just so disappointed to come so close yet again. Second places is the worst. Marvellous ride by Samu, but it still makes me desperately angry to not win. I'm a bad loser, I know. But right now I need to focus on something else. Sorry guys!

JJ out; Rubén in break; Samu ahead

Today's seventh stage of the Tour got off to the worst possible start when Juanjo decided to abandon the race alltogether. His left knee has been swollen and bruised since his stage 2 crash, and it hasn't got any better since. It's a shame he had to pull out; he was a valuable member of the team. Go to JJ's Twitter page to see pics of his double-size left knee! On the bright side Ruben once again got into the break of the day. But due to having been in yesterday's break and the hilly parcours of today's, it never looked promising. But thumbs up nonetheless for being aggressive and getting Euskaltel's logo out there! A group containing all the pre-race favourites arrived at the top of the last cat.2 climb 1:47 down on the impressive Chavanel. Samu was of course in there, looking good, but he was left awfully isolated by his team-mates. Gorka and Iván came in 4 minutes back, while Egoi was very disappointing with his 67th place a massive 10:02 down. Rubén and Iñaki came in 19:14 down, while Alan ended up 22:17 in arrears. Not really a good team performance to be honest. This doesn't bode well for the remainder of the race.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Naturgas out to defend titles

Naturgas will compete in two races this weeked. First up in a race in Murgia tomorrow, while on Sunday they'll line up in Antzuola. The team took wins in both events last year, so the boys will no doubt be motivated to equal last year's performances. For the first race, DS Aritz Arberas will count on Urtzi Legarra, Alfonso Saiz, Pello and Álex Bilbao, David Hidalgo, Mikel Martioda, Jon Larrinaga, Aitor Ocampos, Mikel Bizkarra, Rory and Unai Martínez and Igor Merino. Mikel Martioda, the Bilbaos, David Hidalgo, Igor Merino, Unai and Rory Martínez and Jon Larrinaga will line up on Sunday as well, but will be joined by the quartet Efrén Carazo, Carlos Barbero, Alberto Guinea and Fernando Grijalba.

Rubén in unsuccessful break

Rubén did his thing in the Tour today: getting into the break of the day. Along with Perget of Caisse and Lang of Omega-Pharma Lotto, he broke away early on the marathon-like 227-kilometre stage from Montargis to Gueugnon. Naturally the three didn't stay away, though the addition of Champion and Charteau towards the end helped them stay out front for quite a few more kilometres than they would have done without them. In the pack Egoi took care of Samu and kept him out of trouble in the chaotic finale, while JJ and Alan continued to struggle and finished 10:58 and 1:52 down respectively. The first summit-finish awaits the riders tomorrow, so look for Samu to be at the pointy end of the pack. Hopefully.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Status quo in France

Not a lot to write about on behalf of Euskaltel today. The fifth stage went by without any major incidents (for once!). Everyone but JJ and Alán came in with the pack. The duo is still struggling with injuries sustained these last two days. The former came in 1:18 down while the latter ended up 2:27 down. The temperatures reached the high 30's today, something Samu was not particularly fond of. "The heat was suffocating", the captain said. "Every day there's something that makes the race even harder. The crashes, the cobbles and now the heat... "

Amets out of Tour

Poor, poor Amets. After crashing out of the Vuelta al País Vasco whilst in the climber's jersey earlier this year, he suffered the same fate in today's fourth stage of the Tour. Amets crashed spectacularly after only 28 kilometres and fractured the same collarbone, the right one, and had to abandon. To his great credit though he finished the stage as the race doctors couldn't tell if it was broken or just badly bruised while he was riding, so he fought his way to the finish-line just 4:37 down on the pack. A great ride, but naturally it counts for nothing as he's now have had to abandon the two most important races on his calendar this year. Amets' eyes were filled with tears as he came across the line, and messages of support from his team-mates were posted on Twitter soon after. Naturally Amets' abandon is a big blow to the team, but, just like the affable climber surely will, they'll live to fight for another day. Alan also struggled big-time today due to his crashes on yesterday's mini-Roubaix stage. He came in alongside Amets 4:37 down, but he's not in danger of throwing in the towel as far as I'm aware. The rest of the guys finished inside the pack, but the one positive we can take from the day was Iñaki's presence in the five-man break. The quintet never looked like staying away, and they didn't, but they worked heroically to hold the pack off until only four clicks remained. Nice ride from him. Here's to a quick recovery for Amets!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Samu still in the mix after cobbles

Samu rode impressively over today's stage three's much-debated cobbled sections to remain in podium contention. Samu came in with a group containing the likes of Armstrong, Wiggins, Cavendish and Ciolek, to name but a few, 2:08 down on fellow GC candidates A Schleck and Cadel. Thus he lost a valuable couple of minutes to that duo, but he lost less than a minute to Contador and even gained time on Sastre, Basso, Gesink, Rogers and Leipheimer. That's not too bad! Naturally Samu was left totally isolated by his team-mates once they got onto the cobbles, and that was disappointing to see, but most importantly he avoided all the crashes and stayed in contention overall. Iván and Amets was not so lucky though; both hit the deck quite hard. "We'll see how they feel tomorrow", was Igor González de Galdeano's swift comment on the duo. "But overall it was a positive day for us", he continued. "We've come through one of the most dangerous and difficult stages without any big mishaps. Samu is unscathed after these first three stages, and the team is really up for the challenge and motivated". Samu himself was relatively pleased, but regretted the bad luck he suffered just when the going was about to get tough: "My bad luck really annoys me. Everything was perfect until Chavanel crashed. I had to dismount and start over again, and someone hit me from behind right afterwards. But I'm feeling good and remain optimistic facing the remaining stages". Samu's team-mates did OK I guess. Thumbs up to both Iñaki and Egoi who came in only 17 seconds down on Samu alongside the likes of Leipheimer and Basso, while Rubén ended up 6:28 in arrears, Gorka and Alán 9:49, Amets and Iván 12:24 and finally JJ finished second-to-last 17:03 down.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Quartet crash in stage 2 mayhem

Euskaltel, like most other teams, suffered badly in today's second stage. As most of you know by now, an incredible number of falls took place on the descent off the Stockeu, and Euskaltel did not get away easily. Egoi, Iñaki, Alan and JJ all took bad tumbles. The latter will be feeling especially agreeved having hit the deck yesterday as well. But most importantly no one seems to be seriously injured and they'll all line up for tomorrow's stage to Arenberg. Luckily GC hope Samu avoided the crashes, ever the supreme bike handler. Still, he wasn't in the front group coming down the climb. In that select group, in which Cancellara, forever to his discredit, demanded a go-slow, only Amets and Gorka were present as far as I could see. But due to Cancellara's disgraceful actions, Samu, like most others, reconnected and lost no time to his rival GC contenders. Alan lost 9:49 though, and JJ 13:38, but that's not really of importance. What outrages me is how one rider can be allowed to decide the outcome of the race. It's a scandal, a complete farce. How can this happen? Why weren't they allowed to sprint for second? Why were some riders allowed to ride on while some had to wait? It's stupidity, corruption, probably both, I don't know, and it once again tarnishes cycling's image. In what other sport would this be possible? It's embarassing. Could you ever imagine, say, the Netherlands-Uruguay game tomorrow being declared a draw midway through because the Uruguay captain doesn't want to play the game as, for example, Forlán gets injured or sent off and the ref goes along with it? It's the same thing, and it's shocking, sad and blatantly disrespectul to see. They say cyclists are professionals. Well they certainly didn't look like it. Some of them, and you know who, looked like big-headed, self-absorbed five-year-olds. I thought the time of Lance policing and calling all the shots mafia-style in the peloton was gone. Well, guess what, it's back, but this time it's Cancellara. This really is the Tour de Farce, isn't it?

Orbea secure ride in Portuguese Tour

Orbea have impressively attained a slot for a six-man team in the prestigious Volta ao Portugal. The Portuguese Tour, which commences this Wednesday and runs through Sunday, is a high-ranked race stacked with strong (and too frequently doped) riders, so well done in getting a ride there. The team will send Mikel Ilundain, Noel Martín, Joseba Larralde, Aritz Etxebarria, Xabier Zabalo and Jon Izagirre. Speaking of the task ahead, DS Álex Díaz said: "We face this new challenge with desire. It's a different race to what we're used to, and the quality will be high. Add in some cobbled sections and it gets even harder. We'l try to be present in the break, be protagonists and win a stage".


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