Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fernández reveals early 2011 plans

Crocked sprinter Koldo Fernández has revealed his schedule for the opening months of the 2011 season to Biciciclismo. He was slated to lead the team Down Under, but his horrific crash in Paris-Bourges put paid to that. Instead he'll open his season at the Mallorca Challenge as usual, before going onto Andalucía, Almería, Tirreno and San Remo. Due to the aforementioned tumble and grave injuries, he's at the time being four kilos lighter than what he'd usually be this time of year. Currently he's doing two and three-hour rides five days a week interspersed with some gym work, but will soon head south to Alicante with some team-mates to train in more favourable weather conditions compared to the cold and rain typical of the Basque Country.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hernández closing in on maiden win

Aitor Hernández is inching ever closer to that elusive first 'cross win of the year. In today's race in Aizarnazabal he was only beaten by the invincible Larriñaga, thus finishing as runner-up for the first time this year. By finishing second he bettered seasoned 'crossers Unai Yus, Iñaki Lejarreta and David Seco, to name but a few. The pic of Hernández en pleno esfuerzo was kindly sent to me by expert cycling photographer Iñaki Azanza who just so happens to be a certain Jorge Azanza's brother. Go to Zikliamatore for more of Señor Azanza's work.

'Cross success for Aitors

Both Aitor Hernández and Aitor Galdós enjoyed success in cyclo-cross this Saturday. The former nabbed an impressive fourth place in Amézaga de Zuia, which effectively is the Álavan Championships, behind the irrepressible Larriñaga, while the latter took out the win in the comparatively smaller-scale event outside Madrid in San Sebastián de los Reyes. Not bad at all, they're both impressing on the 'cross scene. Caja Rural, which was one of Galdós' preferred destinations, released a statement yesterday saying they won't sign any more riders for next season, so they're both fighting against time here to further their careers on the tarmac.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Down Under line-up revealed

Euskaltel have already decided which seven riders to send to Adelaide and the Tour Down Under in January; the first race on the calendar in 2011. Seven riders will travel: the Izagirre brothers, Rubén Pérez, Iñaki Isasi, Iván Velasco, Miguel Minguez and Daniel Sesma. Velasco will, after a successful 2010 campaign, be the team's designated protected rider for the GC, while Rubén is expected to try his hand at the numerous sprint finishes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Galdeano talks up Antón's Giro bid

Igor Antón will go to the Giro next year to bring home the win, says team chief Galdeano. Speaking to El Correo, the man talked up his young protégé's chances. "We'll go to the Giro with Igor Antón with high expectations. We won't go with a 'see what happens'-attitude. We'll go with ambition. Igor likes the race. Watch out for him." Galdeano went on to say that Antón will also aim for the Vuelta later in the year. "Yeah (he'll do both). He's 28 now. He's old enough to do two GTs a year. He'll aim to be at 100%. In principle the goal is to win a stage. We've never done that at the Giro before. But Igor's progressed physically and psychologically, so he's capable of more (than just a stage-win)."

Sicard confirmed for Vuelta

Like I suggested a couple of days back, Romain Sicard will indeed get his Grand Tour bow at next year's Vuelta a España. Speaking to El Correo yesterday, Galdeano confirmed it, and said the aim was to get him to the Spanish GT "as fresh as possible. He's the rider for the future. He's a bit like Antón actually. A simple lad who doesn't create any trouble. He will, surely, be a great rider." Some Euskaltel fanatics, notably the French ones, have called for Sicard to be given a shot at the Tour next year, but Galdeano isn't having any of it. "It's still too early", he said. "It would be easy to take him to the Tour; he's give us a lot of exposure. But it would be a case of 'breed today, hunger tomorrow'. He's got many years ahead of him. He'll grow tired of riding Tours eventually". Galdeano went on to say that Sicard will also do the Vuelta al País Vasco alongside Samu Sánchez in April. It'll be exciting to see how he fares on the short, steep climbs that makes País Vasco the race it is. I've always seen him as a GT rider to be honest but, baring in mind his superb sub-23 worlds win last year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him do well on similar terrain come Spring.

Newcomers' delight

Euskaltel's new signings for the 2011 season, Pierre Cazauz, Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre, all told GARA of their Derio camp experiences yesterday. Each one of them seemed happy with the get-together, with Cazaux saying: "They've all greeted me very well. Everybody have done their best to facilitate my integration, eventhough I only speak French and very little Spanish. It feels like a big family. It's different from most teams, mostly because everyone's Basque." Cazaux is a relatively close friend of fellow country-man and hotshot Romain Sicard. Apparently they've known each other for a long time and live close by, only 10 kilometres seperate them. They also train together, and Cazaux admits being in the same team as his compatriot "makes things easier for both of us." Cazauz naturally holds the dream of competing in the Tour come July, but is under no illusions. "It will be difficult (to get a spot on the team)", he admitted. "To get a ride in the Tour is difficult in all teams, everyone wants to do that race. I will do what the team requests of me and be combative. It's the best race in the world."

Landa and Izagirre, who both progressed from Orbea, were unequivocal in their response: getting to know their team-mates has been awesome. "It's been very good", Izagirre junior stated. "We're all together and making friends. This is a big family and we got friendly straight away. I'm very content at being in the team I always dreamed of. In addition, for the first time I get to ride on the same team as my brother." Landa echoed Izagirre's sentiments, saying: "The first time you meet them you get rid of the nervousness that comes along with getting new team-mates. You realize they're just like you, except they're obviously better bike riders, but still just like yourself." Both youngsters will do a mainly Spanish calendar interspersed with some Pro Tour races. Landa, a noted climber, will look to improve even more in that particular area, while Izagirre, who admits he's not as strong as his companion on the climbs but more of an all-rounder, is relishing the chance to test himself in the biggest races alongside his, for the time being at least, more illustrious team-mates. "I'll do my best. To ride for the leaders on this team will be luxury".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Samu more motivated than ever

He'll soon turn 33, and by his own account he's more motivated for racing than ever before. Samuel Sánchez just loves riding his bike. Speaking to El Correo yesterday, the Olympic champ outlined why. "Cycling has given me everything in this life", he said matter-of-factly. "They said that from thirty and on I'd enjoy cycling more (and they were right). I get more motivated by every season that goes by. It's my passion." Speaking of the 2011 season, the captain intends to reach top form for that big race in July. "I know that I must be at a 100% in July." He didn't discard doing the Vuelta afterwards, saying: "It's my race. It's given me so much. The only thing left to do is to win it outright." Samu, Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve in the Vuelta? That's some trio. Romain Sicard might get his Grand Tour bow as well, so the 2011 edition looks to be quite a race.

Nieve set for Giro debut

Vuelta sensation Mikel Nieve is likely to accompany Igor Antón at the Giro next year, writes DEIA. It will be his debut at the race, while Igor actually rode the Giro back in 2005 alongside Roberto Laiseka. He went on to finish 85th in his maiden Grand Tour, but will no doubt aim to do considerably better this time around. Nieve is also likely to do the Vuelta with Antón in 2011, as Igor looks to snatch that elusive Vuelta crown.

Galdeano relieved at ProTeam status

Team head Igor González de Galdeano was a happy man yesterday as the UCI revealed one of their three remaining ProTeam licenses had gone to Euskaltel. Spaking to DEIA later that evening, Igor said: "It's a prize and a liberation. Now we don't have to deal with unknowns anymore. Not obtaining the license would be to lose our way a little, to be outside the top league which we've always been a part of. It would be equal to Athletic (Bilbao) being relegated to the Segunda (second division)." José Antonio Ardanza, Euskaltel president, also expressed his relief at the award, saying: "It's a much more tranquillo start, because it's been a beautiful season and the sponsorship is secured."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Antón Giro-bound

According to Igor González de Galdeano, Igor Antón will indeed take part in next year's Giro d'Italia. Speaking to Biciciclismo, Galdeano said: "I think Igor Antón will do a good Giro. We've always had a good relationship with the Giro (and want to go back)." The team have declined to participate the last two years, citing a too heavy calendar, but are posed to return in 2011.

Official: Euskaltel in ProTour 2011/2012

The news just broke that Euskaltel has been granted a ProTeam license for the next two seasons along with Quick.Step and Ag2R. Obviously fantastic news. More on this story (including reactions) later.

Galdeano praises class of '10

At a press-conference at the team's get-together in Derio earlier today, team head Igor González de Galdeano praised the team's performances throughout the 2010 season, labelling it "the best season ever". Euskaltel grabbed 17 wins in total so no wonder the man in charge was pleased. What's more important though, he argued, was that Euskaltel "earned the respect of the other teams", and showed that "we can control a race" and "be able to win in races like the Tour and the Vuelta. This was unthinkable a few years ago, and that's way I'm convinced we're well prepared for 2011." The ex-pro also added that he's confident Euskaltel will obtain that vital ProTeam license. The UCI were supposed to hand out the remaining three licenses two days ago but, true to tradition, they didn't come good on their word and postponed their decision.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Garate honoured

Basque Rabobank rider Juanma Garate was yesterday awarded the annual "Best Basque Tour de France rider" of 2010. The Hondarribia native finished 35th overall and thus earned the prize given out each year by the Urkamendi de Zizurkil society. Six previous winners of the award showed up to pay tribute to the affable Rabobank climber, among them former Euskaltel riders Iker Camaño, Haimar Zubeldia and Mikel Astarloza. Also present were the great Abraham Olano, Marino Lejarreta and Txente García Acosta.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Samu to centre 2011 around Tour

Samu will, just like he this year, aim for the Tour de France podium in 2011. As we all know all too well, he just missed out on that prestigious third place to Menchov in the last time trial. It's a big regret he admits, but, speaking to Marca yesterday, he said the season as a whole was satisfactory. "I can't really complain. I've been improving every year, and my only regret in 2010 is missing out on the Tour podium. If I was able to be fourth this year after all the bad luck I had, I think I can be optimistic in terms of fighting for the podium once again in 2011." Further he went on to say that his exact schedule for the season pre-Tour hadn't been decided upon yet, but didn't exclude the possibility of doing the Vuelta a España post-Tour.

Galdós still hopeful

December is fast approaching and he's still without a contract for 2011. But Aitor Galdós is not about to give up on his career just yet, and told DEIA that he's still harbouring hopes of securing a ride for next season. "I'm more motivated than ever", he said. "I'm convinced I've still got a lot to give in cycling, and I hope a team will show that. I'm training as if I was to start competing in January, but every day that passes by without getting any news is hard. But I do not lose hope."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Camp around the corner

Euskaltel's first pre-season camp, or post-season rather, will be held from the coming Monday 'til the following Wednesday, not from Sunday 'til Thursday as was suggested here and at Biciciclismo some weeks back, says the team's official website. It is in Derio though, I got that one right, and it's all your usual first-camp-ahead-of-the-season actvities that will be on the schedule; easy training, medical examinations, some testing, meeting with sponsors and talking to the media. And, as reported earlier, recent crash victims Igor Antón and Juanjo Oroz will both be there.

Naturgas anno 2011 revealed

La Fundación Euskadi yesterday revealed Naturgas Energía's 2011 roster. Of the 16 riders this season, two young charges, Pello Bilbao and Mikel Bizkarra, will make the jump to Orbea, while Unai Martínez, Andoni Sánchez, David Hidalgo and Alfonso Saiz were not offered extensions to their current contracts and have thus been let go. As reported earlier, French trio Loic Chetout, Damien Garcia and Karl Baudron join, while Navarran Eduardo Ardaiz and Álava native Alain González, both 18 years old, will also team up. 11 riders will stay on: Álex Bilbao, Carlos Barbero, Aitor Ocampos, Urtzi Legarra, Rory Martínez, Efrén Carazo, Jon Larrinaga, Mikel Martioda, Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba and Alberto Guinea. Of these 11, the pressure is on 21-year-olds Aitor Ocampos and Urtzi Legarra to prove their worth if they are have a future at either Orbea or Euskaltel. Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba, Alberto Guinea and Carlos Barbero will look to build on this year's successes with a view to joining Orbea in time for the 2012 season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ilundain might go amateur

Mikel Ilundain is not ready to give up on his cycling career just yet and might go back to ride as an amateur, writes el Diario de Navarra. The rider was let go by Orbea this year after struggling to make an impression during his two-year spell with Euskaltel's feeder-team, but has reportedly made contact with amateur teams Lizarte and Azysa and might get a ride there in a bid to reignite his stuttering career. To his credit, Ilundain spoke fondly of his team at Orbea and did not criticize the team management for not retaining him after he was told there was no place for him on the team, but speaking to the Diario de Navarra yesterday his tack had somewhat changed. "What's strange is that I am the only one on the team whose contract wasn't prolonged", he argued. "I have no bad words for the team; after all they gave me a big chance to make it. There are several riders stronger than me on the team, but there are also those who are not and they get to stay." Anyway, he seems destined to either return to the amateur circuit or finishing his engineering studies.

Team set for return to Andalucía & Murcia

Euskaltel will, along with the other top Spanish outfits, return to take part in the Andalucía and Murcia vueltas this year, writes Biciciclismo. Most Spanish pro squads opted out of taking part last year due to a dispute with the organizers of the races, but this dispute now seems to be in the past meaning Euskaltel will once again compete in two of the traditional tests on the Spanish calendar.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Antón back in training

Igor Antón is back on the bike after his crash in the Vuelta a couple of months back, writes Biciciclismo. According to the reliable website he's already done some work on the roller and on the road, and will meet up with his team-mates on Sunday in Derio for the first get-together of the pre-season.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Euskaltel duo on 'cross podium

Aitor Galdós and Aitor Hernández both grabbed their very first podium in cyclo-cross earlier today. In a race in Colindres Galdós came in second, while Aitor finished third, both beaten by former roadie Unai Yus. Good performance from the pair, but there's still no news on their respective futures.

Oroz escapes fracture

Crash-victim Juanjo Oroz has not broken his jaw as was first feared, reports Biciciclismo. In fact, he's already been discharged and is back home recuperating. He's battered and bruised of course, but seems to be in good spirits and reportedly enjoyed a good night's sleep yesterday. He did sustain a micro-fracture in his face though, but it's not overaly serious, so he should be okay fairly quickly.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Oroz injured in crash

Juan José Oroz has been taken to hospital after a bad crash while out training earlier today. The rider was taken to the hospital in his home-region of Navarra where he'll stay for observation for 24 hours. At present it's difficult to say if he's seriously injured or not, but the team's website says he might have broken his jaw. Besides banging up his body pretty bad, he suffered a small loss of memory, but it's not thought this will be serious. More on this story later as news come in.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Izagirre aiming for Roubaix

Gorka Izagirre enjoyed a fruitful first season with Euskaltel this year, taking out two wins in his maiden Pro Tour campaign. Talking to el Diario Vasco, the older of the two Izagirre brothers elaborated on his first Euskaltel season and one race in particular he's grown fond of. "I liked Roubaix. I reached the velodrome and I got through the Arenberg forrest in the lead group. I enjoyed the cobbles, the rain, the cold. Yes, I finished the race totally worn out, but I was pleased. I'd never finished a race in those conditions before. I would do any race, but that one enchanted me." Izagirre went on to say that he's probably best suited to the one-day classics, and that he's very happy with his season as a whole. "It's been a good year for me", he admitted. "I didn't imagine doing so well and winning two races. I was aiming to progress little by little, and I feel I achieved that goal."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Orbea reveal 2011 team

La Fundación Euskadi's Continental team, Orbea, today revealed the 13 riders that will make up 2011's roster. As reported some weeks back, Mikel Ilundain has not been retained, and Jon Izagirre and Mikel Landa has joined Euskaltel. Those three are the only ones leaving the team, while the arrivals of young climber Pello Bilbao and Bidelan all-rounder Aritz Bagües are already well documented. Joining Bilbao from Naturgas will be the one 21-year-old Mikel Bizkarra, who's shown plenty of promise this season, and stand-out Seguros Bilbao rider Victor Cabedo. Bizkarra joining the team was not really surprising, but Cabedo jumping ships from Seguros to Orbea was most definetely so, to me anyway. The 21-year-old, who rates a certain Samu Sánchez as his favourite rider, is one of the most promising riders in the Spanish peloton. Cabedo won the prestigious Memorial Valenciaga this spring, and even won the sub-23 Copa de Espana classification. Interestingly, he's also a national junior champion in cyclo-cross and has taken several medals on the track. Quite rightly he describes himself as a complete rider given that he's excelling on the climbs and in the time trials. He's also had a taste of riding at the highest level already, as he took part in the Vuelta a Murcia this year in the colours of the Spanish selección. He's one for the future, make no mistake, so don't be surprised if he teams up with Samu, Antón, Sicard and co. already come the 2012 season. Nine riders, namely Joseba Larralde, Aritz Etxebarria, Ricardo García, Xabier Zabalo, Beñat Urain, Noel Martín, Adrián Sáez de Arregi, Jon Aberasturi and Andoni Blázquez will stay on for another year. Look out for Noel Martín and Jon Aberasturi in particular. Both born in 1989, they'll hope to make an impression next year and turn it up a notch or two.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Melero signs with Type 1

Former Orbea rider Iván Melero has penned a deal with American Pro Conti outfit Team Type 1, writes Biciciclismo. The team, which aims to raise awareness of diabetes, will ride quite a bit in Europe next year, and according to DS Davidenko he's a "good all-rounder in stage-races and has experience from racing in Europe". Melero, who's also got a brother, Oscar, who rode professionally for a couple of seasons some eight or nine years ago, took a stage-win in the presitigious Circuito Montañes while with Euskaltel's feeder-team, but never really made the grade.

Hernández 5th in 'cross race

Aitor Hernández is really starting to find his feet in cyclo-cross. The soon-to-be former Euskaltel rider took a strong fifth at today's race in his home-town of Ermua, a race won by roadie-cum-'crosser Javier Ruíz de Larriñaga, formerly of the popular Kaiku outfit. Hernández has still not penned a deal with a new team, which amazes me to be honest what with his track record, but I expect him to be picked up by a Spanish or Italian Conti or Pro Conti team in the near future.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

UCI's fumblings leave Euskaltel in the dark

The increasingly bad joke that is the UCI dealt their own professionalism and credibility (if there's anything left, there is) another major blow earlier this week when they announced their new team ranking system. Without exaggeration I find it embarrassing. What kind of major international sport, which cycling still is, changes the criteria for acceptance into next year's competitions retroactively after the season's done? No one but cycling that is. Take football for instance. As we all know, the top four English Premier League sides are guaranteed a place in the ensuing season's Champions League. Imagine this: After a 38-game campaign, or in cycling's case a whole year of racing, the number four team, Tottenham, who've legitimately earned their place in Europe's top club competition, suddenly get's a note from UEFA saying: "Sorry, but we changed the criteria. You're out. Man City, who by the way finished below you in the rankings, have now invested a lot of money into new players. And since we feel their new players are better than yours, they'll take your place in the CL. Life's a bitch. Get on with it". It would be totally unheard of. But in cycling that's how we roll. How, in the name of justice, is it possible that a team without a name and, most importantly, without having competed in a single bike race, tops the standings ahead of teams who've earned their place at the top? How on earth does that make sense? That's the case with the so-called Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project. The rules that were laid out before the season got underway, by the UCI themselves, were that the top 17 ranked teams come the end of the season would be guaranteed a ride in the next year's big races. Euskaltel finished 13th and thus otbained a ticket to ride for 2011, but suddenly that counts for nothing as only the top 15 teams based on the new rules are guaranteed a place. They're now ranked 16th in the 2010 team rankings after the criteria were changed after the rankings were done, and as a consequence without a guaranteed 2011 calendar. This is nothing but illogical, and further ensures that cycling remains the laughingstock of professional sports. Quick.Step and Savio's Androni Giocattoli team also fell foul of the UCI's new rules, as the 16th and 17th ranked teams now find themselves ranked 18th and 28th. The UCI are said to be in negotiations with Euskaltel over a possible inclusion of the team into the 'big league', but even if those negotiations prove fruitful for Euskaltel, the UCI have still made themselves, and the entire sport with it, look stupid. It's high time a proper, fair, predictable and long-lasting ranking system that decides who's invited and who's not into certain races was implemented. It's time cycling grew up.

Odriozola back in the game

Former Orbea and Euskaltel directeur sportif Jon Odriozola is back behind the wheel, writes el Diario Vasco. The 39-year-old ex-pro won't be calling the shots for Euskaltel though, as he'll return with Basque amateur team Bidelan-Kirolgi. According to the newspaper the team was hoping to step up a level and thus become Continental, but it wasn't to be this year. Either way, Odriozola was enticed by the idea of a return to the sport he left so unexpectedly, to us outsiders anyway, back in 2008. He spent 2005 and 2006 in charge of Orbea, before he "graduated" to Euskaltel where he was a respected DS for another couple of years. Euskaltel wanted him to stay and offered him a new deal, but for whatever reason he turned it down. A solid domestique back in his racing days, Odriozola took his one and only win in the prestigious Subida a Urkiola in 2001, beating the late José María Jiménez and a certain Purito Rodríguez to the line.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Euskaltel ready for camp

According to Biciciclismo, Euskaltel will stage their first pre-season camp of the year later this month. As per tradition it will held in Derio over five days, starting on the 21st. They'll mainly be doing easy rides and some gym work, as well as drawing up each rider's calendar for the 2011 season.

Camaño staying at Endura

Ex-Euskaltel rider and Ibán team-mate at Saunier Duval, Iker Camaño, has decided to prolong his stay with the British Endura Racing continental-level outfit, writes BiciCiclismo. Now 31 years old, Camaño initially joined the team this summer after being left off Footon's 2010 roster as Matxin, Gianetti and co. sought to reinvent their faltering team by getting rid of all the veterans and bringing in newbies en masse. The rouleur, who spent a couple of years at Phonak prior to inking a deal with Euskaltel in 2004, has penned a two-year deal. According to BiciCiclismo, the rider is targeting the Tour de Méditerranée, the Vuelta a Murcia, the Tour du Haut Var, the Tour de Finistère, the Tro Bro Léon, Paris-Corrèze and the Tour of Great Britain.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Hernández starts 'cross campaign

Aitor Hernández has gotten off to a rather successful start to his cyclo-cross campaign. He lined up in Karrantza yesterday, and today he placed a most respectable 14th in Muzkiz. Obviously the Basque races aren't exactly of Superprestige level, there's no Nys or Stybar taking part, but the level is getting higher every year, so getting a 14th, ahead of a guy like David Seco, is not bad at all.


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