Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vuelta stage 11

Euskaltel went all out to secure a stage-win in today's 11th stage between Verín and the mighty Manzaneda but ended up empty-handed. On the long road to the Manzaneda's steep and unforgiving ramps, Euskaltel placed both JJ Oroz and Ametz Txurruka in the break of the day. It turned out to be a good move as Sky weren't overly interested in chasing down the break, and it soon became apparent that the 19 riders in the break would duke it out between them for the win. Oroz couldn't withstand the pace though and went out the back pretty early on. Txurruka stayed in there a little longer but couldn't find a response to Moncoutié, Intxausti and co. when they attacked. Txurruka had to settle for seventh in the end, 2:29 down on the Frenchman. Nieve tried his hand several times inside the last 10k but never really got a gap and eventually crossed the line with the main group of favourites. Impressive ride no doubt by the GT specialist, but he's still ranked 24th overall. Antón had another day to forget and came home 70th. Stage results:

  • 7, Txuruka, 2:29
  • 21, Nieve, 3:08
  • 50, Oroz, 5:14
  • 60, Martínez, 8:36
  • 61, Verdugo, s.t.
  • 70, Antón, 11:41
  • 105, Azanza, 17:14
  • 108, Isasi, s.t.
  • 169, Cazaux, 26:04

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Report: García and Cabedo sign on

According to Euskaltel's Twitter-feed, Orbea duo Ricardo García and Víctor Cabedo have singed deals with Euskaltel for the coming season. BiciCiclismo confirms this. No mention of Mikel Bizkarra's purported switch was mentioned though. Stay tuned.

Duo remain optimistic

Despite admitting they've both performed below expectations so far in the Vuelta, Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve were both optimistic when facing the press at today's rest-day in Verín. The former, billed as the number one favourite for the crown pre-race, will be looking for a stage-win to salvage some pride. "The mountainous stages will be hard, the Manzaneda, Farrapona, Angliru... There are many stages left and we'll try to get into the mix. I'm motivated and hope to grab a stage. We're having a fantastic season with wins in the Giro and the Tour. Let's hope we can take a win here as well!"

Mikel Nieve had this to say: "The last few days haven't gone as well as we had hoped. That's a fact. But we still have numerous stages in front of us where we can do great things. We've reached the mountains: the terrain most favourable to us. We'll give it our all. We're animated and we aim to win a stage. A win would close out a great season for us. I'm confident we'll get out of this situation on top."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Trio pre-selected for Worlds

Egoi Martínez and Koldo Fernández were both named on national coach José Luis de Santos' 12-man shortlist for the Worlds road race in Copenhagen, while Jonathan Castroviejo was selected for the ITT along with Movistar youngster Jesús Herrada. Martínez and Fernández will hope to be included in the final nine-man team, a team in which Oscar Freire will be the undisputed leader. Also named are Maté of Cofidis, Movistar trio Lastras, Erviti and Rojas, Rabobank riders Barredo, LL Sánchez and Garate, along with Flecha and Reynés of Omega Pharma-Lotto.

Source: BiciCiclismo

Naturgas update

Its been a hectic few days for la Fundación Euskadi's under-23 team. The youngsters in red took part in the 12th edition of the Memorial Jesús Loroño in Larrabetzu on Saturday (a Torneo Lehendakari-race), while another batch of riders took part in French four-stage race Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen, which came to a close yesterday.

  • Larrabetzu: Naturgas did not managed to emulate their win of 2009 (through Peio Bilbao) on Saturday. Grijalba was the team's top finisher in 13th, while Merino was a distant 23rd in a rather discreet performance overall for the team. No-one else completed the race. Orbea rider (and reportedly Euskaltel-bound) Mikel Bizkarra grabbed a nice fifth in last year's edition.
  • Piémont Pyrénéen: The team struggled to impose themselves on the Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle-designed course throughout. García, Ocampos, Larriñaga, Legarra, González and Chetout were picked to ride by DS Arberas, but García's 16th on stage one and Chetout's 16th on stage four were all they had to show for their efforts. On GC they finished: 18 - García, 34 - Larriñaga, 36 - Ocampos, 52 - González, 54 - Chetout. The latter finished fifth in the sprint competition, while the team placed sixth in the team rankings.

Stage 10 results & GC

Stage results:
  • 63, Gorka Verdugo, 5:01
  • 94, Mikel Nieve, 6:00
  • 99, Jorge Azanza, 6:05
  • 104, Igor Antón, 6:18
  • 120, Juan José Oroz, 6:49
  • 135, Iñaki Isasi, 7:21
  • 141, Amets Txurruka, 7:39
  • 148, Egoi Martínez, 7:55
  • 182, Pierre Cazaux, 10:13
General classification:
  • 25, Mikel Nieve, 5:06
  • 32, Igor Antón, 8:47
  • 49, Juan José Oroz, 26:46
  • 56, Gorka Verdugo, 29:29
  • 59, Amets Txurruka, 32:12
  • 68, Egoi Martínez, 45:24
  • 91, Iñaki Isasi, 1:06:39
  • 97, Jorge Azanza, 1:08:53
  • 167, Pierre Cazaux, 2:05:11

Just in: TT travesty in Salamanca

Euskaltel's two leaders, Antón and Nieve, both had a day to forget in the Vuelta's tenth stage 47km ITT in Salamanca today. The former ceded 6:18, while the latter was equally out of sorts in losing 6:00. They didn't look exhausted at crossing the line, so hopefully they didn't go all out but instead saved something for the days ahead. It's just speculation though. The peloton will take a day off tomorrow before the racing resumes on Wednesday. Stay tuned for full results later tonight.

"Our objectives have changed"

After Antón's dismal run of results continued yesterday - coupled with Nieve's slightly below-par performance - Euskaltel DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia admits it's time for a rethink. Talking to DEIA, the veteran DS explained that the team will no go all out for stage-wins and not put too much focus on the GC. "It's obvious that we need to change our plans", he said. "We have to start looking for stage-wins. Yesterday was an important test for us, and the results show that Antón is not quite there. He ceded close to two minutes again, so for him it'll be important to recover well. Maybe it's time we start aiming for certain stages. We need to change our approach as we've performed below what we thought we would. We're not too pessimistic, but we have to face the facts and admit that we're not where we expected to be. Our objectives have changed".

Despite Mikel Nieve occupying a healthy 15th overall, Gerrikagoitia revealed his performances haven't been as good as they had hoped for. "We also thought Mikel would be a bit stronger. 15 riders crossed the line before him and he's capable of much more than that. He's 15th on GC now, but normally he'll lose quite a chunk of time in today's ITT. He'll cede several minutes, but this will be a hard Vuelta. I expect many breaks will go up the road and I imagine the pack will struggle to contain them. In that scenario, Mikel will have to be at his best".

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Orbea trio set to join Euskaltel

According to trustworthy French website, Orbea riders Ricardo García, Víctor Cabedo and Mikel Bizkarra will join Euskaltel in time for the 2012 season. La Fundación Euskadi have not confirmed the news at present, but stay tuned for official confirmation in the close future. All three have performed well over the course of the season, though, so it's by no means a surprise.

Vuelta stage 9 & Plouay

The expected Euskaltel onslaught on the ramps of the Covatilla failed to materialize in today's ninth stage. The expected rebirth of Antón came to naught, while Mikel Nieve performed solidly, if unspectacularly, to finish the day 15th overall. It was less than what many had anticipated though as Euskaltel, with Pierre Cazaux at the head, helped Katusha, Liquigas et al. with the pace-setting leading into the climb, triggering hopes of strong performances from Antón and Nieve. The former visibly struggled quite early on and went on to finish 33rd, 1:50 down, alongside Scarponi. Nieve seemed strong though - attacking halfway up the climb - but eventually had to settle for 16th place at 41 seconds. Though he dropped a few places on GC as a result, the damage done was not particularly significant and a top 10 place in Madrid is still well within his reach I reckon. Txurruka continued to show flickers of form with a 42nd-place finish at 2:32. Stage results:

  • 16, Nieve, 0:41
  • 33, Antón, 1:50
  • 42, Txurruka, 2:32
  • 52, Oroz, 4:02
  • 75, Martínez, 9:22
  • 81, Verdugo, s.t.
  • 90, Azanza, 12:38
  • 93, Isasi, s.t.
  • 156, Cazaux, 18:46
Heading into tomorrow's decisive ITT in Salamanca, Nieve is 15th and Antón 30th.

True to form, the GP Plouay did not serve Euskaltel well. Izagirre and Fernández tried to get in on the act in the sprint but eventually had to settle for 24th and 30th respectively, while Astarloza had a decent ride and finished mid-pack. On a parcours not exactly suited to them, climber trio Landa, Velasco and Minguez ceded 7:43, while Sicard posted another DNF as the going got a bit too tough towards the end. Peio Bilbao was down to start but does not figure on the list of results. Landa and Minguez are reported to have taken a tumble, but are, according to the team's website, OK.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Results & reactions

Igor Antón was naturally pleased with his performance in today's eighth stage of the Vuelta a España. Speaking to reporters post-stage, the diminutive climber was sounding optimistic. "I'm happy. A performance like this was as necessary for me as water is for the month of May", he stated philosophically (and rather strangely). "The stages prior have been tough for me. I've gone from suffering to being close to the best, which is important for my morale. I'm slowly getting better and better, and hopefully I'll rediscover my best form. Tomorrow's stage features a climb (the Covatilla) which is hard, but which I nonetheless have fond memories of. We did the climb back in the 2006 edition and I liked the ascent. Rodríguez is looking really strong and is the favourite as he's won two stages and is in red."

Stage results:
  • 6th, Antón, 0:15
  • 13th, Nieve, 0:20
  • 42nd, Martínez, 1:15
  • 48th, Txurruka, 1:42
  • 58th, Oroz, 2:08
  • 75th, Azanza, 3:42
  • 90th, Isasi, 6:19
  • 96th, Verdugo, 6:27
  • 123rd, Cazaux, 15:30
Of note was Txurruka's ride. He attacked on the third-to-last climb and quickly built up a decent gap. He was inevitably reeled in before the penultimate climb but still proved his form is there or thereabouts. His pedal-stroke looked decent and I reckon he'll be strong in the last two weeks if he avoids crashes and the like.

Just in: Antón back in form

Igor Antón seems to be rediscovering his best form with a sixth-place finish atop the brutishly steep El Escorial climb at the end of today's eighth stage of the Vuelta. Antón bested numerous big-name rivals on his way to sixth, while Nieve was once again up there, placing 13th. The latter is thus 12th overall heading into tomorrow's mountainous stage nine, and Antón's performance today is a big plus for the remainder of the race. Stay tuned for full results and reactions later tonight.

Zabalo on the mend

 today reports that Xabier Zabalo's condition is improving. The 23-year-old is allegedly responding well to surgery performed yesterday and is conscious and speaking. He doesn't seem to suffer from a loss of memory either, as he remembers the moments before the crash and also the hours prior to it. His broken jaw will be operated on this coming Monday.

Friday, August 26, 2011

GP Plouay roster

Koldo Fernández and Mikel Astarloza will headline Euskaltel's team in the GP Plouay on Sunday. The one-day WorldTour-event will also see Landa, Bilbao, Velasco, J Izagirre, Minguez and Sicard line up (the exact same team as in Poitou Charentes in other words). Based on the last few races, expect to see Izagirre in a break and Koldo sprinting for a top 10 finish.

Vuelta stage 7 & Poitou Cha. stage 5

Euskaltel, unlike most other teams, came through today's crash-marred stage seven unscathed. A big pile-up 200 metres from the line claimed a lot of victims but for once the riders in orange were not in the middle of it all. The Euskaltel riders were for the most part of the stage seen close together and luckily escaped the mishaps. Everyone bar Pierre Cazaux, who got caught out by the sidewind prominent in the latter part of the stage, finished mid-pack. The diminutive Frenchman ended up 6:51 in arrears.

Jon Izagirre grabbed a creditable fourth-place finish in today's fifth and final stage of the Tour de Poitou Charentes. The youngster tried his luck with a bold attack inside the last kilometre but was caught within sight of the line and in the end had to settle for fourth. Sky starlet Alex Dowsett finished solo six seconds ahead of the pack to take an impressive win. Along with Izagirre, Velasco, Fernández and Astarloza came home with the pack. Minguez struggled a bit on the demanding 171,4km stage and ceded 1:12, while Bilbao and Landa both ended up 1:35 in arrears. Final GC:
  • 21, Astarloza
  • 29, Izagirre
  • 49, Fernández
  • 61, Velasco
  • 71, Minguez
  • 72, Bilbao
  • 82, Landa

Zabalo seriously injured; Orbea leave race

23-year-old Orbea rider Xabier Zabalo crashed badly in yesterday's third stage of the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta and suffered serious injury, reports la Fundación Euskadi's wesbite. The youngster was immediately transported to hospital and was diagnosed with a hematoma and a fractured temporal bone. Due to the graveness of the injury, the rider will undergo surgery within the next 24 hours. Additionally he's reported to have broken his jaw. A fractured temporal bone coupled with a hematoma could potentially be life-threatening, but gladly his life is not at risk reports his team. Further news on Zabalo's situation have not been made public, but news are likely forthcoming in a day or two. Stay tuned.

As a result of the injury, coupled with mysteriously-termed 'disagreements with the organizer', the team has left the race altogether. Exactly why is not clear at the time of writing, and the team refused to lift the lid on what 'disagreements with the organizer' is supposed to mean.

Sicard withdrawal a "precaution"

After completing the Classic de l'Indre and the first three stages of the Tour de Poitou Charentes, Romain Sicard did not start yesterday's ITT fourth stage of the latter race. According to Álvaro González de Galdeano, the decision to pull the Frenchman from the race was merely "a precautionary measure". "He's been out for a long time and we didn't want to overdo it", the Euskaltel DS said before confirming that Sicard will take part in Sunday's GP Plouay as planned. Speaking to reporters at the race, Sicard declared himself pleased with his 'comeback'.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vuelta stage 6 & Poitou Cha. stage 3 & 4

Mikel Nieve advanced to 12th overall after another tough and hot day in the saddle on stage six between Úbeda and Córdoba earlier today. Nieve came home with a ten-man group 17 seconds down on...well...Liquigas. Four riders from the fluorescent green team, including Nibali, slipped off the front on the downhill leading up to the line and came home a potentially vital 17 seconds ahead of the main group of favourites. Nieve looked strong throughout and put a few seconds into overall contenders Wiggins, Zubeldia, Van Den Broeck and Menchov. That quartet, along with Martínez, Verdugo, Antón and a host of other riders, came in 23 back. Antón is looking worse every day in my opinion and deserves a lot of credit for staying in there and keep on fighting. It doesn't bode well for the remainder of the race though, but at least he's still in the race. Oroz ended up 1:18 down, an out-of-shape Txurruka a full 5:19 down, Isasi and Azanza 7:58 and Cazaux 15:49. On GC, Nieve is as mentioned 12th at just 57 seconds. If he keeps going like this, a top 5 overall is well within his grasp.

Day three in Poitou Charentes were made up of two separate stages: a 104,8km road race in the morning followed by a 20,5km ITT later on. In the former, Koldo Fernández sprinted to 11th place, while his team-mates (bar Landa and Sicard) finished mid-pack. The young duo ceded 48 seconds and 1:14 respectively. Sicard sadly didn't start the ITT, and the team's best time trialist on paper - Mikel Astarloza - failed to impress. Astarloza finished 27th, 1:2o down on the Shack's Sergent. Jon Izagirre had a decent ride to place 37th. More on Sicard's DNS later. Stage 4 results:
  • 27, Astarloza, 1:20
  • 38, J Izagirre, 1:39
  • 59, Mínguez, 2:10
  • 74, Bilbao, 2:30
  • 86, Landa, 2:42
  • 92, Fernández, 2:50
  • 122, Velasco, 3:25

"Gastroenteritis to blame"

Igor González de Galdeano has finally shed some light on why Antón is struggling in the Vuelta. Talking to el Diario Vasco after the conclusion of yesterday's stage, the team boss said Antón is still struggling with the aftereffects of a bout of gastroenteritis. "He suffered from gastroenteritis a month or so ago", he explained. "It really drained him. He was unable to train for a week, he lost a lot of weight and he's not recovered. He's not in the shape he was before the gastro, and you have to pay for it a month before a race of the level of the Vuelta." Yet despite a tough start, the former rider is adamant Antón can return to form in the last two weeks. "We've only done five days of racing. There's still a lot of racing left to do and I believe Antón will improve. Physically he's fresh, and that might prove decisive."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nieve discards leadership role

With Igor Antón mysteriously out of shape and seemingly out of contention, one would assume that Mikel Nieve, 14th overall going into stage six, would take on the role of team captain. The rider himself though is having none of it. "I don't consider myself as Euskaltel's leader for the general classification", he told the Vuelta's own website post-stage. "In the last week a lot of riders will pay for the efforts in the first week and we've only just begun. Igor Antón will improve." Speaking of today's stage which saw him stay with the main GC candidates on the vicious gradients on the climb in Valdepeñas de Jáen, the unassuming rider stated the obvious: "It's too explosive for me. I lacked the 'spark', but overall I felt good throughout the day."

Vuelta stage 5 & Poitou Cha. stage 2

It was another day of struggle for Igor Antón today. The Euskaltel captain was nowhere near to take back-to-back Vuelta stages in Valdepeñas de Jáen earlier today as he went out the back once the peloton started the final, brutishly steep climb. In the end he ceded 57 seconds to a dominating Purito Rodríguez and 46 to Nibali, Menchov and co. It was a sad sight seeing Antón struggle throughout - he nearly got dropped on the cat. 2 climb preceding the final climb - but Mikel Nieve once again showed his form is where it should be with a solid performance. The lanky climber finished 13th at 11 seconds, and thus didn't lose any time to Nibali and Menchov. He even gained a few seconds on riders like Wiggins, Brajkovic, Cobo and Martin, so he'll be pleased with his performance on a climb not particularly suited to him. Heading into tomorrow's sixth stage he's 14th overall, 57 seconds down on leader Chavanel. Stage results:

  • 13, Mikel Nieve, 0:11
  • 44, Amets Txurruka, 0:56
  • 45, Igor Antón, 0:57
  • 67, Juan José Oroz, 6:18
  • 78, Egoi Martínez, 9:16
  • 80, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 94, Iñaki Isasi, 9:42
  • 153, Jorge Azanza, 15:23
According to himself, Igor Antón is not suffering from a virus or anything like that. He has no explanation for his lack of form, but perhaps the Giro took too much out of him (like de Galdeano was afraid it would). It's anyone's guess really.

As expected, stage two of the Poitou Charentes came down to a bunch kick, but Euskaltel and Koldo Fernández were unlucky as a massive pile-up inside the last kilometre brought down Koldo along with a host of other riders. Luckily he escaped serious injury though, so he'll be back to fight another day tomorrow. It was a discreet performance from the rest of the riders as they failed to set the race alight. All bar Sicard came in with the main pack though, so all GC options remain intact. The Frenchman, still finding his feet, had another tough day at the office and came home with a small group of riders 5:49 down on winner Hutarovich.

Cabedo one for the future

Orbea hotshot Víctor Cabedo has been picked to represent his country at the upcoming Tour de l'Avenir, reports BiciCiclismo. José Luis de Santos, the national team coach, picked the Vuelta a Asturias stage-winner along with Gari Bravo of Caja Rural, Orbea-bound Omar Fraile of Seguros Bilbao, Jesús Ezquerra of Cueva el Soplao, Víctor Martín of Diputacíon de Avila and Jordi Símon of Caja Rural's sub-23 team. The race will be run from september 4-10, and Cabedo is likely to be on the lookout for stage-wins and breakaways. The race has served Orbea well in the last few years. Sicard famously took the overall crown two years ago, while Landa placed fifth last year, so Cabedo has got his work cut out for him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Antón downbeat

Igor Antón's Vuelta-ambitions took a major hit today and he knows it. Speaking to the team's website post-stage he was everything but happy. "My legs were everything but great and I've yielded vital time", he stated. "Sure, I won't rule anything out just yet, but to lose a minute and a half here is a lot. It's a lot of time lost, I'm aware of that. The Vuelta has only just begun though, so I'll try not to think about it anymore. We have to stay calm. There's a lot of racing left to do and we shouldn't jump to any conclusions." He went on to admit that he didn't feel good yesterday either (as has been mentioned by some readers), but that he just managed to hang in there in contrast to today. Though naturally disappointed with his own performance, he was quick to praise the team's effort. "My team-mates did a great job and it's thanks to them that I didn't lose more time than I did. Verdugo helped me out a lot and had a great ride."

Mikel Nieve had every reason not to feel downbeat as he impressed by staying with the main favourites all the way to the top: "I felt good on the climb to Sierra Nevada and came through a tough day with all options intact. But the heat is doing a lot of damage. When Nibali went I got across to him straight away, but I noticed the others were going well too so I didn't try to get clear. I just tried to stay with the strongest riders, something which is never easy. Tomorrow we're headed for Valdepeñas, more heat... This is going to be a very tiring Vuelta".

Vuelta stage 4

Igor Antón suffered a major blow to his Vuelta aspirations earlier today as he ceded vital time to his GC rivals on the first summit finish in the race. The stage to Sierra Nevada was touted as the first showdown between the main pretenders for the crown in what is a mountainous Vuelta edition. Antón was tipped by many as perhaps the number one favourite for the stage-win but failed spectacularly and ended up ceding 1:38 to winner Moreno and 1:27 to the big group of overall favourites. Antón seemed out of sorts early on and was visibly struggling and might in the end not be too downbeat about losing "only" 1:38. It might have been a lot more hadn't it been for Gorka Verdugo who shepherded his captain all the way to the line. But still, it's unquestionably a big, big blow to his chances of ending up on the podium, let alone winning the race. On what was a tremendously disappointing day for the team, Mikel Nieve saved some pride with a fabulous ride. The super-domestique comfortably finished among the favourites to take 13th place at the same time as Rodríguez, Menchov, Nibali, VDB, Scarponi, Wiggins and co. Elsewhere, Amets Txurruka showed improving form by finishing 55th at 3:10, Oroz was 69th at 7:22, while Martínez, Cazaux, Isasi and Azanza came home with a big group at 18:27. Stay tuned for reactions later this evening.

Koldo goes close in Poitou Charentes opener

Koldo Fernández sprinted to fourth place in today's Tour de Poitou Charentes opener. The precocious Davide Appollonio was the fastest over the 184,2km parcours from Surgères to the picturesque village of Cotignac, beating the less famous of the Chavanel brothers, Sébastien, and FDJ's Demare to claim top honours. The speed was so high on the run-in that the first 12 riders finished three seconds ahead of the rest of the main pack which included Astarloza, Bilbao, Velasco, Landa and Jon Izagirre. Mínguez, struggling for form in this late-season, came home 46 seconds down, while Sicard continued his comeback by finishing up 1:36 in arrears. Tomorrow's stage takes the riders from today's finishing-town, Cognac, to Bressuire over a largely flat 175,2 kilometres.

News shorts

  • Euskaltel will today embark on four-day French stage-race Tour de Poitou Charentes. Fernández will try his hand in the sprint finishes, while Astarloza, Landa, Mínguez, Bilbao, J Izagirre, Velasco and Sicard will try to leave their mark on the race through stage wins or high overall placings. Check back later for stage 1 results.
  • Races are coming thick and fast for Naturgas Energía these days. Earlier today a contingent of red riders took part in a Torneo Lehendakari-race in Elgoibar, but as usual there was no stopping Caja Rural rider Domagalski who clinched yet another win. Fernando Grijalba wasn't far behind in seventh, leading home a small group at 1:13, while Larrinaga showed decent form with 16th. Legarra was 29th, Carazo 31st, García 32nd, Ocampos 37th, Chetout 38th and Barbero 61st. Next up for the red brigade is a race in Gernika tomorrow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vuelta stage 3

After today's stage three it's still a case of so far, so good for Antón and co. Accompanied by Verdugo and Nieve, Antón made it into the main group of favourites - counting 43 riders - that finished up 1:43 down on breakaway winner Lastras. Not in that group was Menchov, Karpets and Kruijswijk. The trio went on to lose 1:23 by stage's end and thus face a massive task of getting back into contention. Martínez and Oroz finished inside that group at 3:06, while Isasi was 124th at 7:28, Azanza and Cazaux 141st and 142nd at 8:57, and Txurruka, seemingly not back into top shape just yet, ended up a full 12:50 back. All in all though a good day for the team as one of the main contenders for the crown seems to be out of it already. On tap for tomorrow is the first summit finish of the race at Sierra Nevada. Antón might look to make his mark on the mighty 23,5km ascent and, as he told Cyclingnews earlier this month, significant gaps between the main GC riders are likely to be the outcome.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vuelta stage 2

Euskaltel got through today's second stage of the Vuelta without any major hiccups. Antón was perfectly escorted all day long, often surrounded by as many as six/seven riders, and had no trouble staying with the peloton on the small rise to the finish line in Playas de Orihuela. Nieve, Martínez, Verdugo, Oroz and Azanza all stayed with the peloton, while Isasi ceded 47 seconds, Cazaux 1:01 and Txurruka 1:33. "It was a complicated stage but we got through it (without losing any time)", the team leader told the team's website post-stage. "The team protected me very well throughout. The finale of tomorrow's stage is even more complicated, and Tuesday's stage has a hard climb in it. In other words: there's no time to relax."

l'Indre and Hamburg round-up

Romain Sicard showed his form is not as bad as he'd probably feared after five months on the sidelines by finishing just 51 seconds down in today's French Cup race Classic de l'Indre. The Frenchman only had to let go of the pack towards the end of the 198km race and will be quietly pleased with his first race back. Team-wise it was not the best performance from the team though. Mikel Astarloza had a good day out by forming part of the main break. Astarloza and ten other riders broke clear some 100 kilometres into the race but were caught in the closing stages. Along with Landa, Mínguez and Castroviejo, he finished up inside the main back in 43rd place as best Euskaltel rider. Jon Izagirre had a tough day at the office as he crossed the line dead last a full 8:15 down. Peio Bilbao crashed out of the race but is, according to the team's website, in good condition and escaped serious injury.

The team were active throughout in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in and around Hamburg earlier today, but in the end had little to show for their efforts. Sesma managed to get into the main break of the day and gave Euskaltel some much-needed presence, while a fit-looking Álan Pérez infiltrated a dangerous-looking select breakaway group inside the last 30 kilometres only to be reeled in by the chasing peloton. A 40-man group eventually formed at the head of the race without any Euskaltel riders in it. Rubén Pérez did his best to chase back on but to no avail. Along with his namesake and Velasco, Rubén came home with the second group at 46 seconds. Fernández and G Izagirre struggled way more than I expected and finished the race 9:41 in arrears. Aramendía came with a small group at 10:08.

On a more positive note, Samuel Sánchez emerged victorious in a criterium in Etten today. Samu beat young Dutchman Rob Ruijgh and Alpe d'Huez victor Pierre Roland to take top honours.

Vuelta stage 1

Euskaltel got off to a reasonably good start in the Vuelta a España earlier today. The TTT will never be the team's specialty but for once the riders looked coordinated and united and finished up 12th out of the 22 teams only 28 seconds down on winners Leopard-Trek. More importantly though, Antón only ceded 24 seconds to main GC threat Nibali, 10 to Van Den Broeck, three to Purito, and even gained a few seconds on overall contenders like Menchov, Wiggins, Klöden, Brajkovic, Scarponi and Kruijswijk. All in all a positive start. Antón led Martínez, Nieve, Verdugo, Azanza and Oroz home to grab that 12th place, while Isasi eased up inside the last kilometre after taking a massive pull and ended up 44 seconds in arrears. Diminutive duo Txurruka and Cazaux, neither exactly suited to the discipline, went out the back early on after giving their all in the first few clicks and lost 1:16 and 2:21 respectively.

"It was a good stage (for us)", de Galdeano, talking to, summarized post-stage. "We prepared for this stage and I think we succeeded in doing a good crono. We got off on the right foot. I'm pleased with how the team worked as a unit".

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fernández grateful for Euskaltel-years

Though pleased to have secured a move to big-hitters Garmin-Cervélo, Koldo Fernández was still keen to praise Euskaltel and its staff on his personal website yesterday. "'Till this day I've spent all my years as a professional rider with Euskaltel. It's been eight great years and I'd like to thank the team and Miguel Madariaga and Igor González de Galdeano in particular for the possibility they gave me in 2004 to turn professional and the support they've showed me ever since. I leave with a lot of good memories shared with all components of this team. Together we've given it our all and won races, also through other riders. There are still some races left to do before the end of the season, though, and I'd like to take one last win in orange for the team, my team-mates and the Basque fans. And after that I'll have time to prepare for the 2012 season and brush up my English.

But I am very happy. This is a new stage in my career and I'm eager to start it. Garmin-Cervélo is one of the biggest teams in the international peloton. I was in contact with some other teams as well, but the project presented to me by Garmin seemed the best. Everything will be new to me and I'm looking forward to the experience."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Official: Fernández signs for Garmin-Cervélo

BiciCiclismo today reports that Koldo Fernández has signed a two-year contract with American powerhouse Garmin-Cervélo. The sprinter put the finishing touches to the contract two days ago after Garmin supremo Vaughters and Fernández's representative Giuseppe Acquadro reached an agreement. As reported here earlier, a deal was struck last week and the rider has now put pen to paper on a contract that brings to a close his eight-year association with Euskaltel.

Aitor González arrested

There seems to be no end to erstwhile Euskaltel rider and 2002 Vuelta champ Aitor González's (self-inflicted) misery. Six years on from retiring from the sport after testing positive, the Zumárraga native has been arrested for the third time in four years, this time around on suspicion of fraud. According to, González and two other men have been arrested in Alicante after trying to defraud a local bank for 1500 euros. Allegedly the trio has falsified numerous documents to open a bank account in the the two other men's tenants' association of a building in León. They are then assumed to have withdrawn cash from this account based on false receipts. The two other men in question happen to be brothers by the way, and one of them has already appeared before a judge and is likely to be imprisoned. González was detained then released, but will be called before a judge in the not too distant future. The former rider even attempted to flee when he saw the police approaching but was stopped in his tracks rather quickly. To read a slightly more detailed version of this case, click

Prior to his latest arrest, Aitor González has had his fair share of run-ins with the police. Four years ago he was caught driving through a red light under the influence of both alcohol and cocaine, while a year later he was arrested for - quite incredibly - hiring three men to assault two businessmen allegedly owing him money. Ouch. Though he enjoyed more than his fair share of success on the bike, winning the Vuelta a España and Tour de Suisse overall as well as three stages apiece in the Vuelta and the Giro and one in the Tour, he'll always be remembered for his controversial attack on Kelme team-mate and leader Oscar Sevilla on the road to winning that 2002 edition of the Spanish GT.

Euskaltel set for weekend racing

The sprinter-friendly WorldTour-ranked Vattenfall Cyclassics will be held this Sunday and naturally Euskaltel are obliged to send a team. Koldo Fernández will unsurprisingly lead the charge and will be ably assisted by A and R Pérez, Velasco, Sesma, Urtasun, G Izagirre and Aramendía, reports the team's own website. Though Koldo will no doubt be the team's go-to guy, expect to see Gorka Izagirre in a late-race move. The elder of the brothers showed strong form in ENECO and the course should suit him. The youngest of the Galdeanos will lead the shots from the car.

The same day seven riders will represent the team at French Cup race Châteauroux Classic de l'Indre Trophée Fenioux (or simply the Classic de l'Indre). The one-day race will mark the return to competition for Romain Sicard after almost five months of the sidelines. The precocious Hazparren native will be joined by a host of young guns, namely Bilbao, Castroviejo, J Izagirre, Landa and Mínguez, and veteran Astarloza. Josu Larrazabal will direct the team.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Galdeano downplays Vuelta expectations

While several experts tip Igor Antón to hotly challenge for the overall win in the Vuelta, team DS Igor González de Galdeano insists the podium is a more realistic aim. Speaking to el Diario Vasco, the former rider was keen to downplay expectations. "Igor is not the main favourite, but he'll be among the best. He's never been on the podium in a GT. Actually he's never won any kind of stage-race. Last year went really well and we'll just try to perform equally well this time around", de Galdeano stated. "But we've prepared well and we're ready. The preparations have gone to plan. Antón's feeling fresh and ready to go so we should be good. But you can never know if he'll be at the level he was at last year though." The rider himself echoed de Galdeano's sentiments and emphasized that talk of a Vuelta win might be a bit premature given he's never even won a 'normal' stage-race so to speak. "I'll be happy if I end up on the podium, but we'll take it as we go. Obviously you've done something right if you're mentioned as one of the favourites, but I'm still yet to put the finishing touches to my Grand Tours", he told DEIA, referring to his injury-enforced abandonments of the 2008 and 2010 editions of the race. "I haven't finished top three in a GT or even won a smaller stage-race. Without discarding anything, I'll just do my best and see where that takes me." The Vuelta is finally returning to the Basque Country this year after a 33-year long hiatus. Though pleased to see the race virtually pass by his house, Antón admitted it puts even more pressure on himself and his team: "It certainly adds more pressure but hopefully we'll do well. There may be some protests or something, you never know, but I don't think that'll happen. It's important to draw a line between sport and politics sometimes and just enjoy the spectacle."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Euskaltel touch down in Benidorm

The Vuelta a España is edging ever closer with the first stage in Benidorm to go ahead in just four days, and Euskaltel is not wasting any time in getting there. The orange squad will fly out from Bilbao today and arrive in the coastal city sometime this afternoon. As you know, the race kicks off with a TTT, so they probably did right in getting there early and doing some recon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Updated UCI WorldTour-rankings

The UCI updated their WorldTour-standings after the conclusion of the ENECO Tour yesterday. In the team rankings Euskaltel are still ranked 13th, now 63 points ahead of Movistar in that vital 15th spot. Samu retains his sixth place in the individual rankings, while Antón is 66th, Nieve 74th, Castroviejo 136th, R Pérez 165th and Fernández 177th. With the Vuelta coming up, and with it a good chance of accumulating a sizable amount of points, I reckon Euskaltel are on course to retain their WorldTour status.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Barbero bombs to Amurrio-win

Carlos Barbero took advantage of his strong late-season form to secure Naturgas Energía its fourth win of the year in the Torneo Lehendakari-race in Amurrio earlier today. The speedster, who finished just off the podium in Lemoiz a few days ago, beat Torres of Caja Rural and noted fast-man Unai Iparragirre of Bidelan to the line. To complete a good day for the team, Rory Martínez ended up 10th and the team took home the team's prize.

ENECO round-up

The last two days of the ENECO Tour went by rather quietly from an Euskaltel perspective. In yesterday's penultimate stage Daniel Sesma was forced to abandon, while a trio of riders ceded time to the peloton. Urtasun ended up 37 seconds back, Minguez 4:25 and Castroviejo 12:19. Koldo, Izagirre and A and R Pérez all came home with the pack with the former grabbing 20th place.

Today's concluding stage ended up with something like 50 riders getting a DNF by their name at stage's end. Minguez, Pérez x 2 and Urtasun all failed to finish, while Castroviejo and Koldo were the only ones able to stay with the pack on the taxing 201,2km stage. Izagirre had the most untimely puncture and ended up losing 2:07. Final GC: 37 - Koldo Fernández, 55 - Gorka Izagirre, 76 - Jonathan Castroviejo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Time trial travesty

ENECO Tour's stage four ITT was held earlier today. Castroviejo was the team's biggest hope but departed under grey and rainy skies and even had a flat underway. The time trial specialist eventually crossed the line in a distant 86ht place, a full 1:30 down. Sesma was the highest ranked rider in 83rd, also he at 1:30. R Pérez came home 113th, Fernández 125th, Izagirre 127th, A Pérez 135th, Urtasun 137th and Minguez 147th. Despite his hapless ride, Castroviejo is still ranked a healthy 29th overall.

Friday, August 12, 2011

News shorts

  • Caja Rural were once again unbeatable in yesterday's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Lemoiz. Polish all-rounder Karol Domagalski proved to be the strongest on the 109km parcours as he beat his three late-race breakaway companions, González from Cueva El Soplao, team-mate Moyano and Naturgas' Barbero, by three seconds. Though fourth in a race like this is not to be sniffed at, I imagine the fast-finishing Barbero will be slightly disappointed to finish just off the podium. The remaining 131 riders taking part were all, quite extraordinarily, given the same finishing time as the race's timing device somehow stopped, well, timing. Through points accumulated yesterday, Domagalski now heads up the overall series ranking.
  • Igor Antón lists previous two-time winner Denis Menchov as the main favourite for the upcoming Vuelta a España. Speaking to the assembled media after doing some team time trial work with his team-mates in Vitoria yesterday, Antón, himself a red-hot favourite for the win, said Menchov is his "number one rival". "He's got the experience and arrives with a team eager to race", he said. Other overall contenders include Brajkovic, Van den Broeck, Purito, Scarponi and Nibali to name but a few. While Antón says the latter's state of form is a "mystery", he's convinced all his rivals will be "hard to beat".
  • Though the transfer season is well and truly underway, Euskaltel head Igor González de Galdeano is remaining tight-lipped on who'll come and go at the end of the season. At the moment 15 riders have contracts in place for 2012: Antón, Astarloza, Bilbao, Cazaux, Izagirre x 2, Landa, Martínez, Nieve, Oroz, R Pérez, Sánchez, Sicard, Txurruka and Verdugo. As Euskaltel's roster is comprised of 25 riders, that leaves 10 riders without a contract for next season: Aramendía, Azanza, Castroviejo, Fernández, Isasi, Mínguez, A Pérez, Sesma, Urtasun and Velasco. Fernández and Castroviejo will both, in all likelihood, leave, but the majority of the riders listed above are likely to receive new offers from the team. Speaking to BiciCiclismo, de Galdeano says it's likely many of them will stay on for at least another year as he's "very pleased with the current roster", but stresses that "nothing's decided yet". "No decision has been made on the comings and goings and we're not closing any doors on anyone. We'll wait a little longer, but obviously those riders (without a contract for next year) can look for other teams. That's how professional sports work. If we'll sign anyone though, they'll come from Orbea." Several Orbea riders are heavily rumoured to join Euskaltel in 2012, among them Aberasturi, García and Cabedo, but with only a maximum of 25 spots on team it'll be hard to make the jump this year. Speaking of the latter two, de Galdeano remained coy but admitted it's possible they'll switch the blue of Orbea for the orange of Euskaltel. No signings are likely to be made before the end of the Vuelta though as he'll give all his riders the chance to impress and earn a new contract before the close of the season.

Fernández on the move

Koldo Fernández's days at Euskaltel are numbered. The experienced sprinter will leave his team of the last seven years and head to American powerhouse Garmin-Cervelo ahead of the 2012 season if trustworthy Spanish website BiciCiclismo is to be believed. The Álavan, who's been terribly unlucky with crashes and illnesses the last couple of years, will call and end to his association with his home team to "embark on a new stage in his career". Allegedly all that's lacking is his signature - everything else is sorted out - and his move is likely to be finalized by the end of the week. Stay tuned for further news on this story.

ENECO stage 3

Gorka Izagirre was at his usual aggressive best in stage three of the ENECO Tour earlier today. The wily Ormaiztegi native attacked the pack with approximately 12 kilometres left to ride in a bid for the stage win but didn't get any company and was eventually forced to sit up as he realized his move wasn't going anywhere. It was still a sign of intent and form though, so expect to see him in the thick of the action in the coming days. The peloton splintered into several fractions towards the end as Gilbert's quite extraordinary attack left everyone grasping for air. None of the guys in orange managed to stay with the main select group coming in eight seconds down on the irrepressible Belgian, but Koldo, A Pérez, Izagirre and Castroviejo all came in with the second group at just 37 seconds. The latter is thus placed 24th overall heading into tomorrow's ITT. Urtasun ended up 11:02 in arrears in 115th, Minguez was 16:27 down in 126th, and Rubén Pérez and Sesma both came home with the gruppetto at 18:02. Pérez took a tumble and a hit to the chest midway through the stage but nonetheless managed to finish the stage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sicard's back

After five months on the sidelines, 2009 under-23 World Champ Romain Sicard is finally getting ready for competition again reports BiciCiclismo. The young Frenchman will take part in his home country's one-day Classic de l'Indre next Sunday before embarking on a bunch of late-season races including Plouay, Montreal, Quebec, Beijing, Piemonte and Lombardia. Speaking to the Spanish website, the affable climber sounded optimistic. "I feel better and I've started to train more, almost as much as I'd normally do", he said. "It's very important to me to pin on a race-number again after all these months. I'm convinced everything's on track now. I know I'm not at 100% and that I'm going to suffer, but it'll be good to get back into the swing of racing again nonetheless. It's been tough at times and I've learned a lot". Sicard added that the support he's received from the team has been nothing short of phenomenal, and that he's got his eyes fixed on reaching top, top form in time for the 2012 season.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Naturgas update

Remember that cronoescalada in Altzo I mentioned a few of the Naturgas Energia riders - three to be precise - would take part in quite a while ago? Well I obviously didn't until just now as that race pretty much passed under the radar. I checked up the results and was not surprised to see crack Caja Rural youngster Yelko Gómez on top of the standings. Seguros Bilbao's Zuazubiskar came home second while the reds' Igor Merino grabbed the last spot on the podium. Merino has been strong and consistent all season long and seems to finish top 10 in every race he enters. On back of this result it seems he's still in great shape and hopefully he can use his form to good effect and add to the team's season tally of three wins. Chetout finished up in sixth while former Orbea stalwart Mikel Ilundain, now with Azysa-Conor, came in 10th.

The red brigade was also in action yesterday in a Torneo Lehendakari-race in Muxika, Bizkaia. Aitor Ocampos, who seems to be approaching top form these days, was the team's top man in eighth, finishing 29 seconds back on winner Mario González. Merino came in 33rd, Barbero 35th, Legarra, García and Carazo finished 42nd through 44th, Larrinaga 63rd and Guinea 65th.

ENECO stage 2

Euskaltel got through today's second ENECO Tour stage without any mishaps. No one crashed, no one ceded time. Fernández tried to mix it up in the sprint but couldn't quite get to the front of the pack in time and eventually just cruised home in 25ht place. Overall, Jonathan Castroviejo is the best placed rider in 29th and he's no doubt looking forward to Friday's 14,7km ITT. His form of late has been everything but up to scratch though, but hopefully he can put that right on Friday.

ENECO stage 1

The first stage proper of the ENECO Tour wasn't a pretty sight, what with riders crashing all over the road all stage long it seemed. Sesma hit the deck pretty hard but made it to the line alongside Miguel Mínguez some seven minutes down. Whether he'll start tomorrow I don't know, but judging by his combative nature and never-day-die attitude I reckon he'll line up. Urtasun also ended up more than seven minutes in arrears. I didn't get the chance to see the stage myself so I'm not quite sure if he crashed or not. Except for that trio everyone made it to the line inside the peloton. Koldo Fernández sprinted to 17th place after narrowly escaping that bad-looking crash inside the last kilometre.

Vuelta team set

Euskaltel today released the list of nine riders that will take on the Vuelta a España later this month. Antón, Nieve, Oroz, Martínez, Isasi and Verdugo were certainties from the start, and the six will be joined by Txurruka, Azanza and Cazaux. Iván Velasco is thus the one to miss out from the ten-man pre-selection revealed last week. Why that is I don't know, but I can only assume it's because he hasn't regained top form after his crash in the Tour. All in all it looks like a solid team to me, and from the riders de Galdeano has chosen it seems obvious he thinks the overall win for Antón is a realistic aim. No sprinters, no youngsters. It's all for Antón.

The Vuelta will start off with a 13,5km TTT. Ouch. To avoid starting off on the back foot the team will do some intense training on their aero bikes this coming Thursday, revealed today. I don't think it's going to be too bad though. They came in second in a Vuelta TTT a few years back and the presence of Martínez and Verdugo is a plus. Anything less than a minute down on the winning team constitutes a good start I'd say.

Monday, August 08, 2011

ENECO prologue

ENECO Tour 5,7km prologue results:
  • 28, Jonathan Castroviejo, 0:26
  • 67, Gorka Izagirre, 0:34
  • 94, Koldo Fernández, 0:41
  • 105, Daniel Sesma, 0:43
  • 133, Pablo Urtasun, 0:50
  • 140, Álan Pérez, 0:53
  • 161, Rubén Pérez, 1:05
  • 171, Miguel Mínguez, 1:21

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Landa lands Burgos queen-stage

Mikel Landa danced his way to a spectacular win atop the Lagunas de Neila in Vuelta a Burgos' last stage earlier today and thus secured his first professional win in his maiden season in the pro ranks. And it was nothing less than Landa and Euskaltel deserved. Right from the off the team took control of proceedings and set a furious pace at the head of the pack to make life as hard as possible for overall leader Rodríguez. Astarloza, Oroz, Isasi, Bilbao, Antón, Nieve and Landa in particular took huge pulls at the head of an ever-reducing select group to set up Samu as the tremendously hilly 155km parcours took its toll on the peloton. On the last climb only five riders were able to live with Landa's unrelentless and selfless riding: Samu, Purito, Moreno, Cobo and Pardilla. But just when you sensed it was high time for an attack from Samu, he faltered, out of the blue almost, and went out the back of the group. Landa duly went on the attack and quickly opened up a 15-second gap as Purito looked happy to ride for the overall. Inside the last kilometre he was caught by the Katusha leader and JJ Cobo though, but amazingly he attacked them both inside the last 300 metres to take a commanding win ahead of Cobo in second and a fist-pumping Purito, the overall winner, in third. Samu conceded a full 1:14 by stage's end and came home seventh, while Nieve was a solid 8th at 1:28 and Antón 10th at 1:58. As a result Samu finished just outside the podium in fourth, while Antón finished eighth and Nieve tenth. Astarloza came home 26th at 5:54, Oroz was 42nd at 8:40, Bilbao 49th and Isasi 50th, both at 10:17. Final GC:
  • 4, Sánchez
  • 8, Antón
  • 10, Nieve
  • 19, Landa
  • 31, Astarloza
  • 34, Oroz
  • 65, Isasi
  • 67, Bilbao
Not content with just a stage-win to show for his efforts, Landa duly went on to win the King of the Mountains jersey overall to cap off a memorable day for him. Euskaltel finished first in the team rankings by a commanding margin over Movistar and Katusha.

While it was a day to remember for Landa and co., it was everything but for Orbea and Ricardo García in particular. García was lying in 10th overall going into the stage but collapsed on the last couple of climbs and ended up a full 8:09 down in 34th and dropped to a disappointing 25th overall. Bizkarra came in alongside him in 36th, while Martín was 54th at 11:46, Urain 67th, Sáez 69th and Etxebarria 73rd all at 13:52, and the aggressive and impressive Cabedo finished up 78th at 14:48. Xabier Zabalo did not finish, leading to the following GC result for Orbea:
  • 25, García
  • 64, Sáez
  • 70, Martín
  • 72, Cabedo
  • 73, Urain
  • 75, Bizkarra
  • 80, Etxebarria

ENECO line-up & Vuelta pre-selection

  • Euskaltel will field the following eight riders in the ENECO Tour commencing this Monday: Jonathan Castroviejo, Koldo Fernández, Gorka Izagirre, Miguel Mínguez, A and R Pérez, Daniel Sesma and Pablo Urtasun.
  • The team's website reports Euskaltel have named a preliminary ten-man roster for the Vuelta a España. The list of ten includes Antón, Nieve, Txurruka, Velasco, Isasi, Martínez, Verdugo, Cazaux, Azanza and Oroz, of which one will be discarded at a later date. Antón, Nieve, Oroz and Isasi are of course shoo-ins, and I expect reliable domestiques Verdugo and Martinez will also make the cut. If Txurruka and Velasco recover sufficiently from their respective crashes in the Tour you can be sure to see them line up as well, so that leaves the last place for either Azanza or Cazaux. They were both quite impressive in Poland so it's sure to go down to the wire. Of note is Koldo Fernández's absence. The sprinter was in his own words 'disappointed' not to be included in the Tour and was longing for a chance to shine in the Vuelta.

Burgos and Poland round-up

Day four in Burgos featured yet another hilltop finish, and once again Samu was right in there. The stage 1-victor came home second, beaten to the line by Katusha's super-domestique Daniel Moreno by a single second. Samu led home a small group containing all the GC big-hitters, meaning he wasn't able to claw back any time on the leader. He did advance to fourth though but is still 21 seconds down on Rodríguez with only tomorrow's stage to the Lagunas de Neila left. In that select group was also Orbea's (and soon Euskaltel's) Ricardo García, who grabbed fourth, and Igor Antón. Antón is now eighth overall while García is tenth. Orbea even had Mikel Bizkarra in the break getting them some publicity, so they no doubt had a good day out. Mikel Astarloza showed he's been training well on his own these last couple of years by taking a fine 19th on the stage just 15 seconds back, but Nieve, who'd been going so well up to now, suffered a jour sans and conceded a full 59 seconds and thus dropped to 18th on GC. Oroz came home three seconds further back, Bilbao finished 64th at 1:29, Landa 79th at 3:22 and Isasi 80th at 3:23. Orbea placed Urain in 41st at 1:02, Sáez and Martín in 60th and 63rd place at 1:15, Etxebarria 71st at 2:10, Zabalo in 87th at 3:23, while Bizkarra and Cabedo ended up 110th and 111th both close to five minutes in arrears.

The Tour of Poland came to an end today with a flat 128km ride in and around Kraków. It was a quiet day for the team, the only bad note being Miguel Mínguez's abandonment. Other than that everyone came through okay with Sesma being the only one to cede time on the day (42 seconds to be precise). Jon Izagirre finished up a highly-creditable 17th on GC, while Azanza was 40th, Cazaux 56th and Sesma 75th. Euskaltel ranked 15th as a team.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Burgos and Poland round-up

In the third stage of the Vuelta a Burgos today, an 11,2km TTT, Euskaltel once again came up short. A rather disorganized Euskaltel finished tenth out of the fifteen teams participating and ceded a potentially decisive 24 seconds to Movistar and 14 to overall leader Rodríguez's Katusha. As a result of the no-show Samu dropped to fifth on GC, 21 second back on Purito. As a whole the team seem to have improved against the clock individually these last few years, but in the team version of the race against the clock Euskaltel continuously fail to deceive. Finishing dead last in the Giro and in the Tour, and only tenth in, let's admit it, not the hardest of races earlier today leaves a lot to be desired. Anyway all is not lost though as Sunday's queen-stage to the top of the Lagunas de Neila provides a decent chance for Samu to reclaim the leader's jersey. Lagunas de Neila has proved to be a good hunting ground for the team in the past - what with Ibán's win there in 2007 and Samu's win there last year. A repeat performance from the ever-reliable Samu in two days time would go a long way to atone for today's lacklustre team showing.

Orbea didn't have the best of days either finishing a further five seconds down in 11th. As a consequence Ricardo García tumbled out of the top 10 and into 13th overall, 41 seconds in arrears.

Over in Poland the team is more likely to be pleased with its performance. On today's very lumpy queen-stage into Bukowina Tatrzanska Jon Izagirre showed his undoubted talent by finishing 18th inside a small four-man group containing Nordhaug, a certain Peter Sagan and Oliver Zaugg. The quartet come home just 13 seconds down on easily the strongest climber in the race: last year's overall champ Dan Martin. Through this excellent performance, Izagirre jr. now occupies a lofty 17th on GC heading into tomorrow's concluding stage. On a bad note, Fernández and Castroviejo both failed to finish the stage. The former is still suffering from injuries sustained in that high-speed crash on stage two and finally had to give into the pain, while no explanation was given for Castroviejo's abandonment (and his poor showing leading up to his DNF). Stage results:
  • 18, J Izagirre, 0:13
  • 39, J Azanza, 2:05
  • 69, P Cazaux, 11:24
  • 80, D Sesma, 14:44
  • 90, M Mínguez, 17:23

Burgos and Poland results

Results for stage 2, Vuelta a Burgos:

  • 3, Sánchez, 0:07
  • 6, García, 0:10
  • 14, Antón, 0:13
  • 15, Nieve, s.t.
  • 31, Oroz, 0:54
  • 35, Cabedo, 1:07
  • 56, Sáez, 1:44
  • 76, Landa, 2:15
  • 87, Astarloza, 2:43
  • 88, Isasi, s.t.
  • 92, Urain, 3:36
  • 95, Zabalo, 4:49
  • 102, Etxebarria, s.t.
  • 113, Martín, 7:02
  • 114, Bilbao, s.t.
  • 117, Bizkarra,.s.t.
In Poland Euskaltel were once again on the offensive. Young climber Mínguez infiltrated the break of the day to ensure some publicity for the team while Jorge Azanza tried his hand with a daring attack inside the last 10km. Azanza wasn't able to make it stick as he was reeled in pretty quickly and Sagan eventually bagged his second win in a row. Jon Izagirre looked solid towards the end and came home as best-placed Euskaltel rider in 28th just three seconds in arrears. Full stage results:
  • 28, Izagirre, 0:03
  • 68, Castroviejo, 0:14
  • 71, Azanza, s.t.
  • 77, Sesma, s.t.
  • 96, Cazaux, 1:09
  • 110, Fernández, 2:20
  • 153, Mínguez, 20:43

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Just in: Samu relinquishes lead

Samu lost the purple leader's jersey in today's second stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. Samu was beaten to the line atop the cat. 3 El Castillo climb in Burgos by Katusha duo Joaquín Rodríguez and Daniel Moreno by seven seconds and thus ceded the overall lead to the man he pipped to the line yesterday. Orbea stand-out Ricardo García was once again up there, taking sixth at just ten seconds, while Antón, Nieve and co. weren't far behind either. Euskaltel took control of proceedings early on to keep the day's break in check and set up Samu for the final climb, but Katusha powered to the front inside the last ten and there was ever really going to be one winner. Samu now sits second overall ahead of tomorrow's team time trial. Results to come later tonight.

"A fantastic win"

Samu was as always fulsome in his praise of his team-mates when speaking to the local press after yesterday's win in Burgos. "We started working as a team as soon as possible. Astarloza did a great job and Oroz brought the break back," he told the Diario de Burgos. The stage averaged a whopping 45 km/h and Samu "blamed" this on the contentious issue that is the use - or rather non-use - of race radios. "It was very fast all day. The ban on radios makes races like these crazy fast as the DSs can't control what's happening up the road." Despite his obvious annoyance Samu was still pleased with his win, describing is as 'fantastic'. "It was fantastic for the whole team. We won the stage, we're leading overall... Four important days remain and this win takes the pressure off us somewhat, especially for those heading for the Vuelta." Courtesy of his commanding win, there's no doubt Samu is the man to beat in Burgos. Samu refused to rule out anyone so early on though, and still counts Purito, Garzelli, Menchov and Vicioso, to name a few, among his main rivals.

Burgos results & Poland stage 4

As those of you who got to watch Samu's win in Burgos earlier today will have noticed, Samu wasn't the only orange-clad rider at the head of the race. Vuelta hopefuls Antón and Nieve were surprisingly strong on the last climb, to me anyway, considering their goals are still roughly three weeks away. The former was an impressive 11th at just 12 seconds, while the GT specialist that is Nieve was only two seconds further back in 12th. On the exact same stage last year, Nieve ceded 26 seconds and Antón 33 to stage-winner Samu. One could thus assume the duo is going better than last year, but then again it might just be that the race panned out differently last year and that they went up the climb at a higher pace. Anyway it's hardly a bad sign. Peio Bilbao finished up 59th at 59 seconds, while Oroz (who spent hours taking huge pulls at the front of the pack) was 66th at 1:18, Landa 79th at 1:31, Astarloza 88th at 2:29 and Isasi 94th at the same time.

As mentioned earlier, Ricardo García made the day a success for Orbea through his 10th place. Other than that though it was slim pickings for the Conti squad. Cabedo was slightly off-pace in 57th, 54 seconds down, while Zabalo, as ever aggressive early on, came home a further five seconds back. Martín was 1:24 down in 72nd, Bizkarra and Sáez 2:29 in 95th and 96th, Urain 3:20 in 104th, and Etxebarria was 115th at 4:16. After missing out on the today's main break the guys in blue will surely be in there tomorrow, so look out for some aggressive racing from the youngsters.

Over in Poland only Jon Izagirre will be pleased with his performance I reckon. The younger of the Izagirre brothers ended up 41st on the stage, 24 seconds down, and thus finished ahead of such illustrious names as Di Luca, Nibali and Capecchi. Jon might have slipped under the radar for the best part of the campaign so far but his results have been consistent and impressive, especially so considering he's in his first year with the team. Make no mistake, he'll be just as good as his so far more heralded sibling. Jorge Azanza showed his late-season form is where it should be with an opportunistic attack some five kilometres out. Obviously he didn't stay away but still it was a good try. Stage results:
  • 41, Jon Izagirre, 0:24
  • 49, Miguel Minguez, 0:34
  • 80, Jorge Azanza, 1:22
  • 85, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 99, Daniel Sesma, 5:05
  • 160, Jonathan Castroviejo, 13:33
  • 161, Koldo Fernández, s.t.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

In Astarloza's words

Mikel Astarloza's return to professional cycling is sure to draw the ire of quite a few Euskaltel fans - and fans of the sport in general - and he knows it. The 31-year-old tested positive for EPO back in July 2009 and is to this day adamant that his case is a case of a false positive, never mind the fact that he's never come up with an explanation for it. Anyway, to address these doubters Astarloza has written a small post, a letter if you'd like, on his own website outlining his support for a clean sport and all that. Here goes:

"I've always regarded cycling as a sport that installs good values in it's young riders. Sacrifice, breaking your own limits, determination, ambition and perseverance are values that cycling, like no other sport, reflects. These values were installed in me, and cycling taught me that these values will enable the youth of Euskal Herria to achieve their dreams. I'm actively committed in transferring these values to them and to Basque cycling in general.

As I've always assumed this responsibility, I support and will continue to support all initiatives from local as well as international organizations that help to promote a clean sport free of cheats.

I now embark on a new stage with the illusion of a debutant and the experience of a veteran. A stage that commences where I was two years ago: at home, with Euskaltel Euskadi.

I feel privileged and am deeply grateful for both the endless support I've received and the solidarity I've felt during this period."

Samu snatches Burgos opener

Samu Sánchez has made a winning start to the Vuelta a Burgos. The defending champion outsprinted Purito Rodríguez atop the cat. 3 San Juan del Monte climb at the end of the 168km stage one. As a result he naturally gets to wear the race's first leader's jersey and is thus well on course for a tilt at the overall win once again. Samu now holds a four-second buffer over likely GC rivals Menchov, Pardilla and erstwhile team-mate David García López, while impressive Orbea youngster Ricardo García finished a promising tenth on the stage, just ten seconds down. Of note earlier on the stage was the returning Astarloza's impeccable work in reeling in the break and setting a high tempo at the front of the pack to set up Samu for the final climb. His strong work lay the foundations for Samu's win and the Pasaia native will no doubt be quietly pleased with his first race back. Stay tuned later this evening for full results and reactions.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

It's Astarloza-time

He's back, back for good. Mikel Astarloza will tomorrow make his comeback with Euskaltel in the Vuelta a Burgos reports the team's website. Astarloza was originally slated for the Tour of Poland, but for one reason or another he'll make a more low-key return in the Spanish stage-race. Ah, maybe that is the reason, it's more low-key. Anyway, he'll be at the start-line tomorrow like it or not, and he'll be part of a strong team including defending champ Samu Sánchez, Antón, Nieve, Oroz, Landa, Isasi and Bilbao. On paper that's one hell of a team. Not only will Samu aim to retain his crown, plucky climbers Landa and Bilbao seem to be approaching top form as well. Antón and Nieve's objectives are obviously further down the road so they won't be in Burgos for results, but still they're not nobodies, they're Antón and Nieve, two of the best climbers out there. Oroz and Isasi are as you all know strong all-rounders capable of getting results themselves on their day, so all in all a strong team indeed.

Turning the focus back to Astarloza again, the team also confirmed he's signed a deal for the 2012 season. The San Sebastián resident's racing-schedule for the remainder of this season hasn't been disclosed as of yet, but Igor González de Galdeano didn't completely rule out the chance of a Vuelta appearance for the former Ag2R rider when speaking to "After two years out of competition that would probably be over-doing it a little", he told the always up-to-date website. "We'll see (how his comeback goes). He's got an alternative calendar."

Sicard comeback put on hold

There seems to be no end to Romain Sicard's injury nightmare. The 23-year-old was supposed to be back competing these days - reports in June said he'd likely be back in late July/early August - but that's now out of the question as he's still struggling to regain full strength in his weaker leg stemming from a mysterious knee injury sustained in pre-season. Originally it was thought his maladjusted cleats on his new racing shoes were the source of his problems - something which has since been discarded. At the time of writing no one has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation to this muscular imbalance, and today reports he's still some way off being declared fit to race. "Our goal now is to get him back in competition before the end of the season", Euskaltel DS Josu Larrazabal told the website. "He's feeling better now than he did a few weeks ago so it's a possibility." The Vuelta is thus obviously out of the question, but at least he's back training. Last week he spent two hours a day on his bike according to Larrazabal, and the DS praised his young charge's way of dealing with his prolonged stay on the sidelines: "In everything he does you can see Romain is a world champion".

Poland stage 3

Daniel Sesma took up the mantle of Pierre Cazaux in today's third day in Poland and spent the majority of the race up ahead in the breakaway. It was once again futile though, but still it's worthwhile to get some publicity in a race which Euskaltel haven't really got a big shot at winning. Along with his escapees, Sesma was reeled in some 10km out and the sprinters, excluding a battle-weary Koldo Fernández, had their way once again. Still smarting from injuries sustained yesterday, Koldo ended up 1:55 down, while Cazauz ceded 20 seconds by the end and with it his sixth place overall. Sesma came home 1:06 down. The rest of the guys all stayed out of trouble and cruised home inside the pack.

The fugitive

Obviously not too fatigued from yesterday's exploits, Pierre Cazaux was at it again in today's second Tour of Poland stage. The diminutive Frenchman broke away along with three others early on but, just like yesterday, they never really stood a chance and were reeled in well in time for the dash for the line. Thanks to intermediate sprint points picked up underway he's now situated in 6th overall, which is by a mile his best result so far this season. Koldo Fernández is still searching for his first win of the year as a careless manoeuvre by an Astana rider took out the unlucky fastman along with a host of others inside the last two kilometres. Koldo had nowhere to go and hit the deck violently at full speed but somehow escaped serious injury. Landing shoulder-first I feared another broken clavicle, but for once he got lucky and is set to start tomorrow's stage. Along with the rest of the team he ended up with the same time as winner Kittel.

Samu is still going strong and today took out a post-Tour crit in front of a bumper 50 000-crowd in Roosendaal. Samu bested Basso and Hoogerland to take his second crit-win to go with his win in Roeselare on Wednesday (a win I forgot to mention last week, but which a reader kindly reminded me of earlier today).


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