Thursday, September 30, 2010

Orbea team for ultimate race

Orbea will tomorrow start their last race of 2010: the demanding three-day Tour d'Empordá in and around the cycling haven that is Girona. The team will send seven riders including Aitor Ocampos of Naturgas, who earned his chance at this level by finishing as best Basque in the Tres Días de Alava back in April. The other six lining up will be Noel Martín, Jon Aberasturi, Ricardo García, Joseba Larralde, Xabier Zabalo and Andoni Blázquez.

Landa ready for Worlds

Future Euskaltel rider Mikel Landa is enjoying his time Down Under, and told DEIA about his expectations for Saturday's race. "Taylor Phinney is the main favourite", he said, echoing most experts' sentiments. "There are two hard climbs on the route, but also sufficient time to recuperate in between them. We will do several loops on the circuit, so the accumulated fatigue and the natural selection will eliminate the ones not at the front on the climbs. I'd like to go top 10, but it's not an objective for me. We have Juan José Lobato on the team; he's a fast rider and will try to be there at the end. But if I end up among the front-runners, I'll give it a go." I reckon the route is a tad too flat to suit Landa's capabilities, but then again he's on great form, so I'll keep an eye on him for sure.

Naturgas secure Chetout

DEIA have revealed Naturgas Energía are very close to securing the services of "fenómenon" Loic Chetout. The second-year French junior has been recommended by Euskaltel's very first Frenchman on the team, Thierry Elissalde, who's kept a close eye on the youngster. Chetout has a number of wins to his name this year, among others the opening race on the French calendar, the junior version of the Vuelta a Gipuzkoa and last weekend's Criterium de Otoño. Chetout has been riding in the colours of Blagnac de Toulouse, the very same outfit Sicard grew up in.

Lombardia likely for Samu

Perennial Giro de Lombardia contender Samuel Sánchez is likely to line up for another go at the Italian fall classic in October. Speaking to el Diario Vasco, Samu, who's currently Down Under and getting ready for Sunday's big day, had this to say: "For Euskaltel, first and foremost, and for me, the Giro de Lombardia is important. Unless I finish the road race on Sunday feeling very bad, I'll do the race. I've twice been second and once third in that race. If I do the race it'll be to win it. If I can't see myself fighting for the win, I won't line up." Samu, who might now be promoted onto the podium in the Tour after Contador was finally caugth, revealed he'd spent 11 days training alone in the Sierra Nevada mountain range as preparation for the Worlds. He also added he's confident in his captain and three-time victor Oscar Freire.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Euskaltel anno 2011

According to reports on Bici Ciclismo, and on this very blog some time ago, the signing of Pierre Cazaux was Euskaltel's last ahead of the 2011 campaign. In addition to Cazaux, Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre will make the jump from Orbea, meaning Euskaltel will welcome three new riders to the team in January 2011. Beñat Intxausti's departure has been well documented, as has the ones of Sergio De Lis and Aitor Hernández, and it now transpires Aitor Galdós will, like Bici Ciclismo hinted a few weeks back, not receive a new deal. He's now a free agent, but he probably won't have difficulties finding a new team due to his qualities and palmarès. All the other riders on this year's team will stay on for at least another year, meaning Euskaltel's plantilla will consist of 23 riders in 2011. Full list:

  • Igor Antón
  • Javier Aramendía
  • Jorge Azanza
  • Jonathan Castroviejo
  • Pierre Cazaux
  • Koldo Fernández
  • Iñaki Isasi
  • Gorka Izagirre
  • Jon Izagirre
  • Mikel Landa
  • Egoi Martínez
  • Miguel Mínguez
  • Mikel Nieve
  • Juan José Oroz
  • Alán Pérez
  • Rubén Pérez
  • Samuel Sánchez
  • Daniel Sesma
  • Romain Sicard
  • Amets Txurruka
  • Pablo Urtasun
  • Iván Velasco
  • Gorka Verdugo

It's a deal!

Pierre Cazaux has finally and officially signed a contract with Euskaltel-Euskadi. So says the team's website, thus bringing to an end a couple of weeks' speculation. As anticipated the 26-year-old penned a two-year deal, and, if his progression to date is anything to go by, he'll be a valuable asset in the mountains as well as on the flats for the coming two years. The capture of Cazaux is likely to be the team's last this year, reliable sources say.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cazaux decision in the offing

Despite me publishing a post last week titled "Euskaltel sign Frenchman", the Frenchman in question, Pierre Cazaux, hasn't actually penned the deal. But he's likely to though. The team have offered the FDJ rider a two-year deal, and the 26-year-old is expected to make a decision on whether to accept or rebuff the offer later this very Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Sicard to pen historic four-year deal

Romain Sicard will today put pen to paper on a four-year deal with the team, believe it or not. By signing this extensive contract, the young Frenchman will make history at Euskaltel: never has a rider signed a contract this long. Not even Ibán Mayo, who, after his sensational 2003 season, signed a contract for three years. To tie down Sicard on such a deal is a coup for Euskaltel and the rider alike I reckon. Sicard is virtually a guarantee for success in the years to come. It's not for nothing he's being billed as France's next Tour de France winner. And the fact that he's France's best bet for glory in the Grand Boucle is likely to secure Euskaltel a place in the race for the foreseeable future. A canny move by Galdeano and Madariaga no doubt. Staying with a Spanish squad is also likely to benefit the slightly shy and self-effacing Sicard, as he will to some extent escape the pressure and the massive expectations laid upon him by his countrymen. To be somewhat 'protected' from all the hype will do him the world of good. Too many precocious French riders have suffered and subsequently disappointed after being labelled 'the next Hinault' or 'the new Jalabert'. By staying away from it all, Sicard might just develop into the rider France have longed for for so many painful years.

Pello Bilbao signs for Orbea

As I predicted he would quite a few months back, Pello Bilbao has made the move from Sub-23 outfit Naturgas to Euskaltel's feeder-team Orbea. The 19-year-old climber, who grabbed four wins to go with the overall Torneo Sub-23 classification in a highly successful campaign, has been touted by experts as a future climbing great in the professional peloton. Pello will now get to cut his teeth among the pros as of next season. Watch out for him to make quite an impression. Mikel Bizkarra, who's also enjoyed a break-out year, is likely to join him at Orbea. More on Bizkarra's potential move later on.

Naturgas end season in Cantabria

Naturgas Energía are officially done for the season. The Vuelta a Cantabria, which ended on Sunday, was the last race on their calendar, and the youngsters will now get to take a well-earned rest during the winter. Cantabria was hard for the team. Bad weather marred the event, but the guys in red still didn't hide in the pack and were in the main break every single day. Grijalba, who enjoyed a great start to the year and who's looked strong throughout the campaign, got into the moves on day one and three, while Aitor Ocampos, who's also stood out from the rest, got in on the action on the second day. Top results were hard to come by, though, with Carlos Barbero's seventh on stage three the best result. On GC, Ocampos was best of the bunch in 21st, while Grijalba was 48th, Barbero 55th, Legarra 69th and Carazo 80th. Aritz Bagües, who's penned a deal with Orbea for next season, placed a strong sixth just behind a certain Moises Dueñas (You still remember that guy, right?), so he looks to be the real deal. DS at Naturgas, Iñigo Urretxua, was pleased eventhough the team left the race without any results to show for their efforts. "We've been aggressive and protagonists every day", he told la Fundación Euskadi's website. "We conclude our season on a high."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Languedoc-Roussillon wrap

The three-day Tour de Gévaudan Languedoc-Roussillon stage-race in France came to a close today. Orbea sent a potent six-man squad to the event and came within wiskers of taking out the opening-day team time trial. Over a ridiculously short 1,3km course, the team lost out by a few hundreths of a second to Team Vulco to finish an agonizing second. But no matter how bitter, it was still an excellent ride. But that was as good as it got for the guys in blue really, as they struggled to impose themselves on the following two stages. Joseba Larralde finished highest in 22nd place on the hilly second stage, 5:08 down. Xabier Zabalo ad Jon Izagirre were 33rd and 34th respectively at 12:43, Andoni Blázquez and Noel Martín ended up 55th and 56th at 20:15, while Aritz Etxebarria found the going way too tough, crossing the line in 88th place, a full 45:34 in arrears. Day three was equally tough on the riders with the stage going to the top of the Montée Laurent Jalabert in Mende. The guys fared better though, Zabalo grabbing a fine 16th at 1:12. Martín was 25th at 13 seconds further back, while Blázquez was another seven seconds adrift. Larralde was 37th at 2:05, Etxebarria 40th at 2:21, while Izagirre junior came in with the last group at 7:25. Naturally these results didn't make for high overall placings, with Larralde 22nd, Zabal 29th, Izagirre 37th, Martín 42nd, Blázquez 43rd and Etxebarria 69th. In the team rankings, Orbea grabbed eighth out of the 13 participating teams. While the riders struggled on the hilly stages, the team chiefs, led by the excellent Álex Díaz, will no doubt be encouraged by the team's super ride in the TTT.

Koldo eyeing Paris-Bourges

Tour de Vendée conqueror Koldo Fernández was content when speaking to the press after his impressive win today, saying: "I'm very pleased; it's hard to win bike races. It's difficult to win, so when you do it's important you enjoy it. Doing the Vuelta a España gives you great form. I've been able to rest this week, so I knew I came here with good form". Speaking on the remainder of the season, the modest speedster said: "The next objective in Paris-Bourges, we'll see how that goes, but first I'll savour this triumph. Being in the shape I'm in right now, it's a pain that I wasn't selected for the Worlds. But thinking about it is not worth the trouble. I lacked consistency in the first part of the season. I didn't have luck on my side after the ear infection and before the falls, but I've been more consistent in the second part and the results have come. Besides the two victories, I've been second six times, one of them in the Vuelta a España. If I'd beaten Farrar that day, it would have been an even more spectacular Vuelta. But to finish the season like this gives me strength to prepare for 2011. The worked flawlessly. We've had a great year."

Orbea trio prolong

Jon Aberasturi, Ricardo García and Adrián Sáez de Arregi have all decided to extend their stays with Orbea. The former joined from Naturgas ahead of the current season and has shown considerable promise in sprint finishes. García will embark on his third year with the team if I'm not mistaken, and will look to take that much-longed for step up in performance in 2011. The latter came across from Caja Rural in time for the 2010 season, and will hope to build on experiences acquired in his first season. The trio all penned one-year deals - as is the norm at Euskaltel's feeder-team.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Koldo repeats Vendée trick

Vendée is officially Koldo's happy hunting ground. The sprinter, who rarely wins outside his homeland, repeated his 2008 feat by sprinting to victory in the Tour de Vendée today. The Alava native beat emerging speedster Appollonio into second by quite a substantial margin at the end of the 1.HC race, taking the team's tally of wins this year to an unprecedented 17. Speaking after the race, the amiable Koldo made an interesting point in comparing the Vendée region to the hilly Basque Country. "It's the second time I've won here, and I imagine that is because the Vendée region is like Euskadi; it's similar to the Basque Country. It was a difficult sprint 'cause I was on (Jimmy) Casper's wheel, and suddenly Haussler and Apollonio jumped. The got a 25-meter gap, but I succeeded in catching and then passing them." The whole team did their best to keep Koldo out of the wind and help him in the closing kilometres today. JJ Oroz and Nieve both stayed with the 27-man peloton 'till the line, while Txurruka was 11 seconds down in 31st place. Aramendía and Urtasun ended up 44 seconds in arrears, while young duo Izagirre and Castroviejo called it quits underway.

Stars turn out for Sagasti tribute

A host of former and current stars of the sport yesterday turned out in Mungia for a tribute to the late Agustín Sagasti. Sagasti, who'll forever be remembered as the rider who took Euskaltel's, or the Equipo Euskadi as it was known back then, very first win back in 1994, committed suicide in november of last year at the tender age of 39. A family-led tribute took place in his hometown of Mungia, Vizcaya, yesterday, and several cycling celebrities took the time to show up in respect of the man who's career was cruely cut short in only his second year as a pro when he got run over by a car while doing the Vuelta a los Valles Mineros in Asturias. Team heads Madariaga and Galdeano were there, and so too were former climbing ace Roberto Laiseka, a crocked Igor Antón, former DS Julián Gorospe, Spanish cycling great Marino Lejarreta, masseur Gabino Ereñozaga, former football 'keeper legend José Ángel Iribar of Bilbao and Spain fame, and former punchy rider Mikel Artetxe. Quite a star-studded line-up. Speaking to DEIA afterwards, Igor Antón said: "Not only did he take the team's first victory. After his retirement, he was also seleccionador for the Basque Cycling Federation where he did fantastic work for this sport".

Friday, September 24, 2010

Naturgas six for Cantabria

Just like big brother Orbea, Naturgas Energía will field a six-man squad for a three-day stage race over the weekend. The youngest team in the Euskaltel-Orbea-Naturgas chain will line up for the Vuelta a Cantabria with the following six riders: Urtzi Legarra, Fernando Grijalba, Carlos Barbero, Álex Bilbao, Aitor Ocampos and Efrén Carazo. The level of the participating teams is quite high, so don't expect fireworks from the boys in red. But look out for Carazo and Ocampos in particular; they look to have something left in the tank to perform well. And also keep an eye out for former Euskaltel rider Andoni Lafuente who'll be lining up with his Cespa-Euskadi team, an outfit which does the most of its riding on the track. He never really kick-started his career with Euskaltel eventhough he showed some promising signs in a few mass sprints. He'll put his stamp on the race no doubt.

Orbea ready for Languedoc test

Orbea will send a versatile six-man squad to the Tour de Gévaudan Languedoc-Roussillon, starting today and running through Sunday. DS Díaz will field Andoni Blázquez, Noel Martín, Joseba Larralde, Xabier Zabalo, Aritz Etxebarria and Jon Izagirre. The latter will look to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on selection for Worlds, while the other five will try to squeeze out the last bit of form they might have left this late in the season.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vendée: Intxausti out, Urtasun in

As expected, Beñat Intxausti will not feature in the Tour de Vendée on Sunday. His place will be taken by the on-form Pablo Urtasun, who'll look to lend Koldo a hand in the likely scenario of a sprint finish. Full line-up: Amets Txurruka, Mikel Nieve, Koldo Fernández, Gorka Izagirre, Pablo Urtasun, Javier Aramendía, JJ Oroz and Jonathan Castroviejo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Euskaltel non grata in Paris-Tours

Euskaltel have been left off the list of invited teams for the fall's penultimate big one-day race; the Paris-Tours. Organiser ASO opted to invite Continental teams BigMat-Auber, Bretagne-Schuller and Roubaix Lille-Métropole for the so-called 'Sprinters' Classic', in the process leaving Pro Tour outfits Euskaltel, Astana and Footon-Servetto in the cold. Obviously not good news, but I can't say it's too big a deal, it's not like we had any candidates for the win or anything. Koldo will be disappointed for sure, and so too will guys like Aramendía and Izagirre who were likely to get the nod from Galdeano & co., but there's always next year.

Euskaltel sign Frenchman

According to several reliable sources, Euskaltel have signed Frenchman Pierre Cazaux on a two-year-deal. The 26-year-old hails from Saint-Palais, a small village close to Bayonne in the Basque part of southwestern France, and thus qualifies as 'Basque' in the same way Romain Sicard does and Thierry Elissalde did. The all-rounder turned pro at the relatively late age of 23, joining French outfit Roubaix-Lille Métropole, with whom he stayed till the end of the 2009 season before joining the Pro Tour in FDJ colours. What's odd with this case is that Euskaltel have not confirmed the transfer. The news were intitially leaked on the French Cycling Federation's website before being picked up by several cycling sites. Bici Ciclismo contacted team head Galdeano to get it all confirmed, to which Igor replied: "At the moment there's nothing (on the transfer-front)". Weird. More on the story as it unfolds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vendée team released

Euskaltel will take part in Sunday's French Cup-race Tour de Vendée; a one-day event in and around Bbox Bouygues Telecom's homeland in northwestern France. Koldo Fernández took out this race two years ago, so he'll be back in the hope of grabbing just his second win of the season. He'll have ample support if the likely scenario of a sprint unfolds, as Javier Aramendía and Gorka Izagirre will both line up. Vuelta hero Nieve is slated in for a start, and so too is fellow Vuelta participants Oroz and Txurruka. Jonathan Castroviejo is also on the list, as is Beñat Intxausti. In light of his horror-show in Spain I'm not sure that will happen, but at least he's on the list sent to the organiser. I'm expecting the Euskaltel chiefs to change the team slightly, so some of these eight riders may be forced to sit out and some other riders may come in. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vuelta comes to a close

The last stage of the Vuelta a España concluded today with the total drag that is a final stage in a GT. The 85km stage to Madrid obviously ended in a mad dash for the line, while there were no major changes to GC. Farrar impressively bested Cavendish, while Koldo couldn't muster better than 13th. I was quietly optimistic Koldo might be able to spring a surprise today, but it wasn't to be. Nieve and co. all came through the stage safe and sound, meaning the final GC looks like this:

  • 12th, Mikel Nieve
  • 31st, Amets Txurruka
  • 56th, Juan José Oroz
  • 84th, Gorka Verdugo
  • 101st, Pablo Urtasun
  • 141st, Koldo Fernández

As a team Euskaltel finished eighth, which is actually quite sensational given Igor's abandonment while in red, and Beñat's no-show. Sign of strength in depth no doubt. Beñat is currently undergoing some tests to figure out exactly what's wrong. I'm thinking mononocleosis or something in that direction, but obviously I'm no doctor. But Beñat being Ibán Mayo reincarnate, mono would be fitting... Anyway, Amets got stronger as the race unfolded and looks something like his former self, rediscovering his climbing legs and all. He's Euskaltel's Robin van Persie, always getting injured when approaching top form, so if he can stear clear of collarbone breaks and illness for the remainder of the season, he should be due a standout season in 2011. Mikel was obviously the revelation of the race; finally Euskaltel have uncovered another climbing ace. Verdugo and Oroz were evidently off top form after peaking for the Tour, but they still did themselves and the team proud through some unselfish and inspiring team-work. Egoi Martínez didn't really get the time to show his credentials due to the crash, while the sprinting department of Koldo and Pablo had their chances of success compromised by having to ride in support of Igor for large portions of the race. You won't hear them complaining, though... All in all a fabulous performance all round, full stop.

Bilbao bags another

Pello Bilbao showed that his form is still intact at the tail end of the season by dominating the last race in the Torneo Lehendakari series; the XLV Martín Deunaren Saria in and around Bergara. The young protégé attacked up the Alto de Asentzio, which topped out with 11km to go, and went it alone from thereon in. Pello had a big enough gap to be able to savour his win as he crossed the finish-line, 17 seconds ahead of second-placed Caja Rural youngster Jordí Simon. Ramón Domene of Gorospe and Beloki's outfit Seguros Bilbao took the overall series win, while Pello ended up an excellent third.

Saturday's race in Oñati didn't set the precedent for today's results, though, with no Naturgas rider figuring in the top 10.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nieve 7th on stage; 12th overall

Euskaltel put in yet another textbook example of excellent team-work on today's penultimate stage of the Vuelta. The stage took the riders to the highly-anticipated stage-finish at the Bola del Mundo, a climb never before used in a professional bike race. As ordered, JJ Oroz got into the break of the day to give Euskaltel presence up front. And just like on Monday's stage to Cotobello, Txurruka and Nieve jumped clear of the pack with some 40km to go and quickly caught up with the main break. Oroz dug deep and sacrificed his own chances of success by doing an awful amount or work at the head of the group to increase the gap back to the Xacobeo-led pelotón. Oroz deserves all the credit he can get for his selfless riding, but the break never got the necessary distance back to the pack to stand a chance of going the whole way. They quickly got swallowed up at the base of the climb, but Amets still found the energy to go on the offensive once more along with Oscar Pujol of Cervelo. The duo were never given much leeway and were brought back in when F Schleck lit the blue touch-paper with six clicks to go. Mikel Nieve was once again very impressive on the ascent, riding to seventh on the stage after being part of the main break of the day. That's some ride! Amets also showed his form is at the up by grabbing 23rd, just 2:44 down on hapless winner Mosquera. A special mention goes out to Pablo Urtasun who did quite a spectacular ride. The sprinter finished 21st at 2:11, ahead of riders like Karpets, Plaza, Moncoutié and Menchov. That's simply sensational. A sprinter is not supposed to finish that high up on one of the, surely, hardest climbs in the sport. Amazing ride. Verdugo and Oroz were 65th and 66th respectively at 11:01 and 11:51, while Koldo ended up at exactly half an hour, hopefully taking it a little easy with an eye on tomorrow's sprinter-friendly stage to Madrid. Due to his good ride, Mikel climber to 12th on GC. Not bad for a debutant. Facing the media post-stage, the self-effacing Nieve said: "This Vuelta has been an unforgettable experience. The first days were very special; supporting Igor, winning a couple of stages, escorting the leader of the race... Those were very good days and I thoroughly enjoyed them. The fall on the way to Peña Cabarga changed everything. But we recovered, and to win on the Cotobello was like a dream. The team-work was amazing and we obtained a spectacular triumph. I knew that I was in good shape going into the Vuelta, and that I could figure at the front of the race, but, yes, I'm a little surprised to finish inside the top 15, I didn't think that was possible. I was seventh a the Bola del Mundo. I could even see Schleck's group ahead of me. I was up ahead, and that's given me motivation for the remaining races on the calendar."

Euskaltel chill out as Bola del Mundo looms large

Euskaltel did not leave their mark on today's stage 19 from Piedrahíta to Toledo, insteading opting to save forces for tomorrow's big showdown on the Bola del Mundo. Some of the guys actually did try to get into the break early on anyway, but they fortunately didn't succeed. The stage-finish was a little harder than anticipated, resulting in most of the sprinters getting eliminated. Koldo was one of the casualties, rolling in in 30th place at 15 seconds along with Oroz and Nieve. Txurruka was 36 back, Verdugo 53 and Urtasun 1:03. I assume Euskaltel will do their utmost to light up tomorrow's penultimate stage to the top of the Bola del Mundo in search of another stage-victory. Mikel Nieve is likely to be Euskaltel's best hope of achieving that goal, but I suspect Amets, JJ and/or Gorka Verdugo will try to infiltrate the early break. It's going to be fireworks.

Naturgas aiming for more

After taking out the overall Torneo Sub23 individual- and team classifications last week, Naturgas Energía is aiming for more this weekend. The final couple of races in the Torneo Lehendakari series, or Lehendakari Txapelketa if you'd like, are being staged on Saturday and Sunday in Oñate and Bergara respectively. With Igor Merino situated in third and Pello Bilbao in fifth, the team is primed for an attack on the big prize. Ramón Domene is currently heading the standings ahead of his Seguros Bilbao companion Ibai Salas, with Merino in close pursuit in third. Naturgas hold a slender advantage of Seguros in the team rankings, so they'll look to take that classification outright as well. Orbea rider Noel Martín snatched a brilliant win for the team in Oñate last year, and DS Arberas will send a strong 11-man squad to the event in the hope of a repeat. Lining up for both events will be Pello Bilbao, Igor Merino, Unai Martínez, Efrén Carazo, Carlos Barbero, Jon Larrinaga, Rory Martínez, Álex Bilbao, Mikel Martioda, Alberto Guinea and Fernando Grijalba.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Home-town pays tribute to Antón

Igor Antón is a popular man in the Basque Country, obviously, but even more so in his home-town of Galdakao. A placard reading "Aupa Igor" can be seen hanging on the Galdakao town hall, and a larger celebration, or tribute, call it what you like, is being planned for the nearest future. Speaking on the matter, a pumped Igor said: "I hope I'll be in a good enough condition to be able to enjoy the day with my family and friends".

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Landa going to Worlds

Impressive 21-year-old Mikel Landa has as anticipated been chosen to represent Spain at the upcoming World Championships in Melbourne. The youngster has enjoyed a breakout campaign with Orbea, recently confirming his burgeoning talent by taking fifth overall at l'Avenir. Fellow Orbea rider Jon Izagirre missed out on selection, as Jesús Herrada, Higinio Fernández and Juan José Lobato took the last three places. No doubt a strong quartet, but I must say I'm at a loss to figure out why José Luis de Santos has almost exclusively opted for climbers. The Worlds are not held in Colombia, it's in Melbourne. Flat Melbourne. Herrada, Landa and Fernández are all excellent prospects, but they all excell when the road tilts upwards. Lobato is more of an all-rounder, so he should thrive. But I suspect de Santos might be left to rue the omission of strong rouleur Izagirre and David De la Cruz of Caja Rural to name two riders more adept to the flat and rolling roads of Geelong.

Galdós likely to leave

According to trustworthy Spanish cycling website Bici Ciclismo, sprinter and classics rider Aitor Galdós is almost certain to leave the team at the end of the season. Bici Ciclismo sites no reason as to why he might opt out of the team. I assume Galdeano and co. want to keep hold of him as he's a reliable and strong rider who can score top results in one-day races and sprints, so it's probably down to him. More on this story later.

Urtasun and Oroz sign on

Juan José Oroz and Pablo Urtasun have both penned new deals with Euskaltel Euskadi. The former has taken several steps in the right direction since joining from feeder-team Orbea in the middle of the 2007 season, and has become a mainstay and a pivotal part of the 'orange family'. The latter came onboard from Portuguese outfit Liberty Seguros and earlier this summer took his first win whilst with the team. The length of the Navarran duo's contracts were not disclosed.

Vuelta stage 18

Pablo Urtasun formed part of an eight-man break on today's stage 18 between Valladolid and Salamanca. The break didn't succeed in holding the pack off, naturally, but nonetheless it was a good move and a signal of intent from the powerful speedster. Koldo tried his hand in the sprint, but got boxed in inside the last 500 metres and sat up, realising another chance of glory had passed him by. Pablo, smarting from his day-long adventure, came in 3:04 adrift of the immense Cavendish, while the rest of the guys came through the stage safe and sound in the peloton.

Samu a go for Worlds road race; no TT

Samu Sánchez has as expected been selected to represent Spain in the World Championship road race. He'll be the protected rider along with triple-winner Freire, while Haimar Zubeldia has been called up for the first time since Zolder 2002. Haimar has come back surprisingly strong after his pre-Tour crash, starring in Sán Sebastián, Québec and Montréal. None of them will ride the time trial though, as LL Sánchez apparently had yet another change of heart after intitially opting against it.

Nieve 13th on GC after TT

Mikel Nieve struggled in the Vuelta's 46km pancake-flat ITT today, but is still excellently placed at 13th overall. The 26-year-old rode to a 79th place finish on the out-and-back course in Peñafiel, 5:21 adrift of surprise winner Velits. "The time trial was hard and I was exhausted at the finish", the amicable recent stage-winner said post-race. "The first part was horrible, there was a head-wind, I didn't really get up to speed... I've never done such a long TT before, so I suffered till the last meter, though I did feel better towards the end." Lying 13th overall at 9:22 off Nibali, but more importantly 3:41 adrift of current number 10 LL Sánchez, Mikel has not conceded defeat in the fight for a top 10 placing just yet. "It would be good to finish inside the top 10", he stated matter-of-factly. "I'm not going to deny that, but it's not an objective. We've shown that we're going well, and we hope to keep that up." Gorka Verdugo was unsurprisingly Euskaltel's best man today. The climber-cum-time-triallist powered his way to a decent 27th, 2:39 back. Txurruka was 92nd, Urtasun 101st, Oroz 102nd and Koldo 152nd.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nieve prolongs contract

Man of the moment Mikel Nieve has penned a new two-year contract with the team. The lanky 26-year-old joined Euskaltel two years ago having spent just a single year with feeder-team Orbea. The relatively late bloomer took his first ever win in yesterday's queen-stage in the Vuelta, so prolonging his stay was a no-brainer for the team directors.

Samu a go for Worlds TT?

After Luis León Sánchez decided against riding the World Championship ITT, team Spain coach José Luis de Santos has turned to Samuel Sánchez. Samu has not yet decided on whether to go for it or not, but he's de Santos' preferred option.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nieve climbs to glory

Does it get much better than this? Hardly. Watching Mikel Nieve winning solo atop the Cotobello is something I'll remember and cherish for a long time. The lanky climber took his first professional win on the race's queen-stage - how about that for a debut win? - and the timing couldn't possibly be better. It's a massive boost to the team and its fans after the heartbreak that was Igor's abandonment. And what was the name of that guy who titled his review of stage 15 "Nieve comes of age" yesterday? Oh my, I think that was me. Yeah, being right (for once) is the best. Bragging about it is not, though, so I'll leave it at that. But he really came of age today, climbing his way into Euskaltel hearts all over the world.

Realising they had nothing to lose by leaving it all out on the road, the Euskaltel guys went gung-ho from the off and sent one rider after the other on the attack. JJ Oroz got lucky and got into the break of the day on this terribly hard stage widely perceived as the stage of this year's race. On the cat.1 San Lorenzo ascent, Nieve and Amets Txurruka jumped out of the peloton in search of the break which was about three minutes up the road at that time. Several riders tried to give chase, but to no avail. The duo was scampering up the mountain and soon they got a reinforcement. Canny DS Gerrikagoitia ordered JJ Oroz to sit up and wait for his companions, so as to assist the diminutive, sylf-like duo on their mission. Cresting the climb just a minute and a half down, the trio quickly caught up with the remnants of the break on the descent and was now in the envious situation of having three strong climbers in the break with only one major mountain left to climb. Team-work perfectionated. Exhausted but happy, JJ went out the back of the steadily-diminishing front group now consisting of Mikel, Amets, LL Sánchez, Peterson and De Weert. Amets, working for his stronger team-mate, sacrificed his own ambitions by hammering away at the front of the group and augmented the gap back to the hard-chasing peloton. On the early slopes of the Cotobello, Mikel put in a devastating burst of speed to accelerate away from his fellow escapees and open up a considerable gap. The group of favourites, lead by F Schleck, got closer as the kilometres went by, but there was no catching Mikel today. He climbed like a God to finish solo in front of hords of orange-clad Euskaltel fanatics, a massive 1:06 ahead of Schleck. Cue pandemonium. The joy on Mikel's face was there for all to see as he raised his arms in jubilation, pointing to the sky. Taking your first ever win on the Vuelta's queen-stage to the summit of the never-before-used Cotobello is setting the bar high. I for one am looking forward to his next win. Despite doing an awful lot of pace-setting and all-out riding in the service of Mikel early on, Amets hung on admirably to grab 28th at 6:45. JJ, Verdugo and Urtasun all crossed the line 25:27 behind, while Koldo came in 36:26 adrift. Due to his win, Mikel sneaked his way to 11h overall, just seven seconds off the impressive Garcia Dapena in 10th. Mikel is likely to lose quite a bit of time in Wednesday's 46km ITT, but with the Bola del Mundo coming up on Saturday, who knows what he's got in store for us.

The feeling of 'justice is done' was palpable in the Euskaltel camp post-race. Not surprisingly, Mikel dedicated his win to his fallen (no, they're not dead) team-mates: "We dedicate this win to Igor, our leader, and Egoi. We were in the process of making history in this Vuelta with Igor leading, but in the blink of an eye everything was lost. He was the strongest in this Vuelta without a shadow of a doubt." He was also quick to praise his team-mates' exceptional work. "The team was brilliant, I have no words to describe it", the 26-year-old stated. "Oroz and Txurruka have been incredible. It was a spectacular victory. I'm now 11th overall, but I'm not thinking of the general classification. What I value more is that we've picked ourselves up from a difficult situation thanks to the help of everyone; riders, directors and soigneurs. It's my first win as a professional and I've taken it in the best possible manner, winning the queen-stage of the Vuelta."

Antón going home

After successfully undergoing surgery on a broken bone in his elbow, Igor Antón has been discharged from the Cruces hospital in Bilbao and is on his way back home. Even though he's been operated on, the sensational crash has left him battered and bruised and will take some time to heal. He'll therefore take is easy the next couple of weeks before hopefully resuming training in a month's time.

Arberas delighted with team-win

Naturgas Energía DS Aritz Arberas was elated with his team's overall win in the Torneo Sub23 team rankings. The red team cemented their place on the top of the pile in the final race in that particular competition on Sunday after holding the lead for a substantial part of the season. Arberas, who was actually a rider on the team two years back, was overjoyed, saying: "It's an enormous reward. Team-work is one of the fundamental values in this team, so it is a recognition of our work." As you'll know by now, Pello Bilbao took out the individual rankings in the same race series, so Arberas and his crew can no doubt look back on a solid season.

Open letter from Euskaltel

The Euskaltel riders at the Vuelta have written an open letter to the press. Earlier today it was published on the team's official website. I've translated it for you. To the best of my ability, though, mind you, so it's not perfect. But here we go:

It's been a hard weekend, a very hard one. The stages have started out really fast, a furious pace have been set all day, and on Sunday even the weather was adverse, with rain, wind and low temperatures. The stage-finishes have also been very hard. But for Euskaltel-Euskadi the difficulties have been of another form. Psychological, mental. Our companions' wounds, our friends' wounds, still make us bleed.

When you realise all your sacrifice, your work, your suffering as a team, a great team like ours, the team of Igor and Egoi, was all for nothing due to bad luck, it feels like it's all over. And at this moment in time our partners, our fans, the lovers of the sport, enter. These loyal followers who animated us, raised our spirits and made us hold our heads high. They've supported us more than ever. They shared our grief and pain, but they showed their support. Just like the team's sponsors who visited us in person. Their messages of support have made us feel even prouder to don this jersey.

To the sponsors who've supported us and to our fans who have pushed us on, this is a brief statement of our appreciation and gratefulness, from all of us in this unique project - the orange family. To all of you who, together, have made our suffering manageable and a little less painful.

Igor and Egoi are no longer here, but they will return with the same illusion and desire to be just as strong as they've been. And the ones still here will recover. We will go to Madrid with other objectives, other challenges and other illusions. But thanks to our sponsors, partners and fans. We will fight with all we've got and stay motivated to finish this Vuelta with our heads held high - just like you thought us and just what our companions deserve.

Antón aiming for Giro-Vuelta double

Igor Antón simply refuses to get down-beat about crashing out of the Vuelta while in the leader's jersey, and has already set himself goals for next season. He's likely to go back to the Vuelta next year, with the intention of winning, but intriguingly he's also aiming for the Giro. "Next year I want to do the Giro", he told Bilbao newspaper El Correo the day after successfully having surgery on his broken elbow. I've always thought of the Giro as the ideal Grand Tour for Antón, what with it's numerous high mountain stages and few time trial kilometres. Peaking for the Giro in May and the Vuelta in September - which is exactly what Nibali is doing now - sounds both doable and realistic. Both races traditionally suit him. As for his injury, the fractured bone in his elbow is likely to be healed in two or three weeks time, so it shouldn't really hamper next season at all. He's already stated that he's aiming to return to training before the season draws to a close.

Numerous riders, journalists and fans have got in contact with Antón over the weekend to wish him well in his recovery. As an Athletic Bilbao fanatic, Igor was in seventh heaven when Bilbao left-back Koikili and a few other players visitid him and handed over a signed shirt early on Sunday.

Samu 6th in Montréal

Samu showed he's bang on form for the upcoming World Championships by taking a splendid sixth place on the GP Montréal's demanding parcours today. The Olympic champ crossed the line nine seconds adrift of mercurial climber Gesink, while Haimar Zubeldia also made a strong case for himself being included in the Spain team by taking fourth. Gorka Izagirre gave colour to the race and protagonism to the team by being a member of the day's main break. Naturally they were reeled back in, but it was still a good day out for the impressive youngster. Castroviejo put on a decent performance through placing 40th at 2:02, while Rubén Pérez was just another 41 seconds back in 42nd. The quintet of Aramendía, Azanza, Minguez, A Pérez and Izagirre all abandoned underway.

Bilbao takes series win in Bermeo

Pello Bilbao clinched the overall Torneo Sub23 win in today's last race in that particular competition in Bermeo. Actually he had already won it after taking sixth place in Urduliz on Wednesday, but he still found the motivation to grab another top 10 placing in the Circuito Sollube in and around Bermeo. Merino was 7th and Bizkarra 11th to cap off a fine day's work by the team, while Carazo was 27th, Hidalgo 29th, Larrinaga 30th, Legarra 49th, Ocampos 55th, Álexander Bilbao 71st and Barbero 74th. Naturgas took out the day's team prize, and also nailed the esteemed overall team prize in the Torneo Sub23 series of races. Just reward for a terrific season.

Nieve comes of age

Mikel Nieve was touted as Euskaltel's new GC guy by Gorka Gerrikagoitia ahead of the stage after Igor crashed out yesterday. And Mikel made good on his DS' words, climbing to 16th on the stage to the mythical Lagos de Cavadonga and moving up to the exact same position overall. He finished 3:30 adrift of breakaway member and deserved winner Carlos Barbero, the ever-aggressive (yes, pun intended indeed) Spaniard taking a popular win in his home region. More importantly Mikel was just a minute or so down on the main GC candidates, and distanced potent GT riders like Van Garderen, Tondo, LL Sánchez, Bruseghin and Karpets. Overall he's 8:20 back on leader Nibali, but just three minutes off the top 10. Amets Txurruka was another one to put in a good ride, the energetic Etxebarria native huffing and puffing his way to a 21st on the stage. Decent ride - he's coming along nicely. The other riders weren't even close, all of them finishing more than 20 minutes adrift. Either they're unmotivated and indifferent now that Igor's gone, or they're just not in shape. I'd say both.

Future watch: stage 7

The Tour de l'Avenir came to a close today with a 13,5km ITT from Guillestre to Risoul, and Mikel Landa finished the race in a fine 5th place - a resulting boding well for his coming years in the Euskaltel jersey. He finished a solid 13th overall - proving he's more than just a pure climber - while Jon Izagirre also showed strength and skill against the clock to grab 21st place. Landa was eventually 3:17 behind overall winner Quintana Rojas, who utterly dominated the latter stages of the race and was good value for his win, while Izagirre ended up 34th on GC. I reckon they both have done more than enough by now to warrant a place in Spain's Worlds team. The team is likely to be unveiled in the nearest future, so stay tuned.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Intxausti drops out of Vuelta

According to VeloNews, Beñat Intxausti has decided to call it quits in the Vuelta and has dropped out of the race. Whether he dropped out underway or just didn't take to the start was not specified, and doesn't really matter, but it was not a surprising call by Beñat. He's struggled immensely since day one and has looked out of sorts and a shadow of his former self. His performances have been a massive let-down for the team and himself, and he probably couldn't find the motivation to keep on going now that there's no longer a captain or race-leader to serve. I assume this is the end of his season, and thus his last outing for the team. Not the way he would have wanted to say goodbye.

Galdeano laments Antón crash

Team head Igor González de Galdeano was left devestated by Igor Antón's spectacular crash and subsequent abandonment while in the leader's jersey in today's stage 14 of the Vuelta a España. The former pro was obviously sad to his favourite rider come a cropper once again, especially considering he was in pole position to win the race overall in a week's time. "Igor was in great shape, and it's just like in the movies what has happened to him", he told Bici Ciclismo, using a somewhat peculiar metaphor. "All the Basque fans were here. He was very strong, and once again he's crashed. He was about to go very far in this race. But what happened, happened. He was the man to beat."

Martínez cries for Antón

Egoi Martínez was dragged down with Igor Antón in that fateful crash that forced Igor to abandon 7km from the line in today's 14th stage of the Vuelta a España. Initial reports suggested Egoi had broken his right collarbone, but after being stretchered away to hospital and undergoing some scans, it transpires it was 'only' a dislocated shoulder, no fractures sustained at all. He'll be forced to wear a cast for approximately a week, but this is good news as he won't be out of play for as long as previously feared. But Egoi's spirits were still low as Igor's enforced DNF weighed heavily on his mind. Speaking from the comfort of his hotel room, Egoi admitted to Bici Ciclismo that he shed a few tears for his companion. "It's only the second time in my career that I've cried", the reliable domestique said. "And I cried right there on the ground. We did not deserve to be this unlucky. We were looking strong and solid as a team, and we were motivated by the fact that we had finally found 'the chosen one', a leader with a chance of winning this Vuelta... It's a very hard moral blow for the whole team, but we'll have to get on with it because life goes on. There will be more chances for us to perform to the same level." Speaking of the crash itself, he shed more light on the matter by saying: "I stayed on his wheel because we were going really fast and there was a lot of tension. I was about to take him to the front of the peloton, so that he could start the ascent well placed, when he suddenly hit a pothole or an obstacle of some kind, resulting in him losing his grip on his handlebars and consequently hitting the deck. I couldn't possibly avoid it and I ran into him".

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Antón out

As you'll know by now, Igor Antón has sadly crashed out of the Vuelta. The overall leader allegedly touched wheels with team-mate Egoi Martínez a kilometre or so away from the start of the last climb, in the process causing a massive pile-up and taking with him a whole host of riders. Igor looked terrible and has later been diagnosed with a broken elbow. Egoi purportedly suffered a broken collarbone. The duo were taken to the Cruces hospital in Bilbao by team heads Madariaga and Galdeano straight away, with Purito Rodríguez going on to take stage honours while Nibali donned the red jersey left vacant by Igor's abandonment. Obviously a massive blow for Igor, the team and us fans alike. Life's a bitch, huh? I can't believe this has happened again - anyone remembering a similar incident two years back going down the Cordal? I'm lost for words really. Amazingly, the team posted a message on their website from Igor himself shortly after being taken away from the race, a message in which Igor puts on an admirably brave face. Rather than whining and complaining and feeling sorry for himself, to his great credit he preferred to remain philosophical about the whole thing, saying: "I'll take with me the fact that I've enjoyed 14 happy days and lived the dream. I've won two beautiful stages, I've been the leader for a few days, and I'v showed that I can aspire to win a Grand Tour once. I'll come back with the intention to win this race. I'm staying serene. When things were great, I stayed calm and with my feet firmly placed on the ground. Now that the situation has taken an unexpected turn, I'll stay true to that philosophy. I've experienced a few let-downs in my life and I know how to handle them. I want to send a message of spirit to my team-mates. They're doing a great Vuelta and I hope they'll continue that way. The only thing I know is that I'll be stronger in 2011."

Future watch: stage 6

Mikel Landa showed what he's made of with a hugely impressive third place on today's queen-stage in the Tour de l'Avenir. The young prodigy took third behind unstoppable Colombian Quintana Rojas and future Garmin-Cervelo rider Talansky to move in to fourth overall ahead of tomorrow's concluding stage. The 204km stage took in the climbs of Pennes, Cabre, Bachasette, Vernier and d'Espréaux on it's way to a mountain-top finish on the cat. 1 Risoul. The Colombian won solo with a 39-second margin over the Talansky and Orbea's swashbuckling climber. The stage wasn't exactly tailor-made for a rider of Jon Izagirre's characteristics, Gorka's younger brother placing 68th, 19:05 back. Landa is now just three seconds off the podium in fourth place, and just 41 seconds away from taking the race outright, so he'll be motivated for sure tomorrow.

Samu 12th in Québec

Samu took a good but sligthly disappointing 12th place in yesterday night's inaugural GP Québec. Euskaltel missed out on the break of the day, meaning they were left with the responsibility of towing them back in for the majority of the day. The team got some help from the likes of Sky and Caisse d'Epargne in their work, which helped, but still the likes of Javier Aramendía, Jorga Azanza, Miguel Mínguez and Gorka Izagirre spent an awful lot of time on the front of the peloton, setting the pace. It was solid, concerted team work, it's just a shame they didn't get their just reward at the end of the day. Rubén Pérez finished back in 85th, at 2:33, Alán Pérez and Jonathan Castroviejo were 91st and 92nd respectively, both at 3:40, while Azanza ended up in 99th place at 8:26. The remainder of the team were all DNFs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Antón holds firm; Koldo 8th

It was another easy day in the saddle for Igor Antón and Euskaltel. The customary break finally went up the road after an intensive first 45 minutes, and then, just like yesterday, Euskaltel didn't really have to do a big part of the pace-making at the sharp end of the peloton due to the presence of several big-name sprinters in the field who were intent on winning the stage. Cav's HTC and Farrar's Garmin assumed the majority of the responsibility, while Euskaltel focused on staying close to Igor and keeping him out of trouble. They all came through unscathed and thus the jersey remains on Igor's shoulders. Koldo looked a decent bet for a top 3 place on the stage, but lost his line slightly in the last curve and lost his good position and with it the chance to fight for the top spot on the podium. He came in 8th, which is still a good result, but he will have been hoping for something more. Everyone but Intxausti managed to stay with the pack. Beñat finished 2 minutes down and is inching ever close to that very last place overall.

Future watch: stage 5

Jon Izagirre and Mikel Landa both did well to come in with the main peloton on today's hard fifth stage of the Tour de l'Avenir. Precocious sprinter, climber, rouleur, pretty much everything really, John Degenkolb bested the two Orbea riders' compatriot Herrada in a two-up sprint, while former under-23 TT champ Oliveira and Ben King and Jan Tratnik all rolled in just a single second back. A 35-man group finished at 39 seconds, a group Landa and Izagirre were a part of. Landa is now ninth overall going into the last couple of stages, 1:19 back on Yannick Eijssen.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Antón still in red

Igor Antón retained his red jersey with ease on today's rather flat stage 12 between Andorra la Vella and Lleida. The stage was earmarked for the sprinters, meaning Euskaltel got ample help from a number of teams early on to keep the dangerously-looking break in check. It came down to the anticipated mass dash for the line, but Koldo didn't quite have the legs to stay where he would've needed to if he was to sprint for a top placing. Inside the last kilometre he realised this and sat up, deeming it pointless to take risks just to get 10th. Eventually he got 19th. Everyone but Txurruka and Intxausti stayed in touch with the peloton; the diminutive duo went out the back inside the last five or six kilometres when their job for the day was pretty much done. The former ended up half a minute in arrears, while the latter conceded 1:31. Man-of-the-moment Antón was rather pleased with how it all panned out, saying afterwards: "Its been a stage in which we've controlled the race from the start. It was a stage for the sprinters, so their teams helped us out. This way another day has passed. There was a lot of tension towards the end of the stage, but we took control and we got through the day".

Orbea sign Bagües

Orbea have announced the signing of 21-year-old Aritz Bagües. The Gipuzkoa native will leave the highly-successful Bidelan-Kirolgi outfit to give it a shot with Orbea as of next season. The strong climber has put on a number of strong performances this year, not least when placing second to a certain Pello Bilbao in the San Isidro Sari Nagusia one-day race back in May. He's reportedly been studying technical engineering up until this year, but will now hope to make it as a professional cyclist with Euskaltel eventually.

Future watch: stage 4

Mikel Landa and Jon Izagirre both stayed with the main group of favourites on today's lumpy stage to Vals-les-Bains. A 40-rider strong pack finished 2 minutes and 8 seconds down on breakaway trio Hardy, Bardet and Rosch. Izagirre placed 13 on the stage, while Landa was 38th. The latter dropped to eighth overall duo to the trio's exploits and subsequent rise up the overall rankings, but with three stages left to ride the fight for the GC is still delicately poised.

Bilbao 6th in Urduliz; maintains lead

Basque sub23 road race champ Pello Bilbao grabbed his umpteenth top 10 placing this year in yesterday's Andra Mari Sari Nagusia one-day race in Urduliz. More importantly though, he's still in charge of the Torneo Sub23 rankings with only one appointment left on the calendar; a race in Bermeo on Sunday. A large group came to the finish line together to sprint it out for the win. Jon Pardo of the all-conquering Seguros Bilbao outift bested Enrique Sanz of Lizarte and Jesús Herrero of Camargo right on the line. Pello wasn't far behind in sixth place, strengthening his grip on the big prize.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Results and reactions to Vuelta stage 11

Igor's win was sublime, full stop. But so too was Mikel Nieve's ride. The super domestique once again battled it out with the best in the business on the slopes to Andorra's ski station to grab a notable 15th place at 53 seconds, coming in ahead of GT veterans LL Sánchez, Karpets and former leader Rodríguez, meaning the featherweight climber is now 18th overall. Amets Txurruka was also up there for a long time and hung on to grab 28th at just over two minutes. JJ Oroz was 43rd at 3:35, Martínez 53rd at 4:56, Verdugo 68th at 7:53, while Koldo, Urtasun and Intxausti once again rolled in with the gruppetto at 19:14. Igor is again the leader of the points rankings, while he's now also heading up the combi classification. Euskaltel remain third in the team rankings. Speaking after the stage, the affable maillot rojo had this to say: "It's great coming out of this stage win the win, the overall lead and the bonus seconds. I won't lie anymore: I'll fight for the overall win in this race. I'm not afraid of anyone, just a bad day. But it won't be a big deal if I don't win in Madrid. I'm already happy with how I've been doing. Today wasn't my best day though. I felt better at Valdepeñas de Jaén and at Xorret del Catí, but I measured my efforts and it worked out well eventually. The team is ready to defend the jersey".


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