Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday round-up

  • Pierre Cazaux showed himself on today's Tour of Poland opener by getting into the day's main break. The Frenchman has suffered from bad luck for big parts of the season but hopefully today's good day out can spur him on to bigger things towards the end of the year. He was, along with his breakaway companions, naturally reeled back in as the sprint approached. Koldo tried to get into the mix but never really got a good position and eventually cruised home in a disappointing 20th place. On the bright side though all eight riders came in with the pack and thus avoided losing any GC aspirations on the very first stage.
  • In today's other race, the Circuito de Getxo, Euskaltel failed to put the finishing touches to their good team-work. The team spent quite a lot of time at the front, controlling proceedings, but couldn't put a rider into the decisive three-man break. Lobato impressively grabbed the win through his strong finishing kick, while Bilbao, Nieve and Oroz all came in with the main chasing group three seconds down in 13th, 18th and 23rd respectively. Antón, who tried to break clear with a powerful surge on a climb late on, finished up 27th, while R Pérez was 43rd, Urtasun 54th and Isasi 70th.
  • Orbea had a rather more successful Getxo experience, putting Zabalo in the break of the day and taking 10th through the ever-reliable Ricardo García. Martín finished in 20th in the select group at three seconds, Urain was 45th, Bagües 51st, Zabalo 53rd, Etxebarria 57th, Sáez 58th, and Aberasturi 68th.
  • The Vuelta a Burgos commences this coming Wednesday and Vuelta-bound duo Antón and Nieve will naturally be present. There's some confusion though whether defending champ Samu will line up. Some reports says he will, some don't. It's rumoured Velasco and Txurruka will make their return to competition after their injury-enforced Tour abandonments, but this seems a bit premature to be so I wouldn't put my money on it. Stay tuned the following days for a complete and final line-up.

Samu strong in San Sebastián

When your best isn't good enough and your name is Samuel Sánchez, all you can do is sit back and applaud the winner. And there was really ever going to be one winner. Exactly how you beat Phil Gilbert in a lumpy one-dayer is quickly becoming a mystery, but it certainly wasn't for the lack of trying on Samu's behalf today. Showing the aggressiveness and panache he rediscovered at the Tour, Samu set the race alight on the slopes of the Jaizkíbel more than once and looked the strongest of the pre-race favourites. Once caught, and with Gilbert up the road, he went close to catching the eventual winner with a last-ditch effort along with erstwhile team-mate (and still legend) Haimar Zubeldia. It wasn't to be though and Samu eventually had to settle for eighth, but it was a performance to be proud of nonetheless. Victory in San Sebastián keeps on eluding him but sooner or later he's bound to win it.

Team-wise it was also a good performance. Euskaltel took charge of affairs once the six-man move up the road got more than a sizable gap and spent long hours at the head of the pack. Once Samu was unleashed they were nowhere to be seen though, but that's to be expected when you've been forced to do the dirty work for so long. Izagirre was 51st at 6:33, while R Pérez was 62nd and Landa 70th, both at 9:08.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

News shorts

  • Samu closed out his post-Tour crit campaign with a third in Welser on Thursday. The Olympic champ was beaten to the win by Eisel and Jan Sokol. Samu has now set his sights on delivering Euskaltel it's first win in the Clásica later today, but admits it'll be difficult as he expects Gilbert to win. "Gilbert will win, I guarantee you", he told Spanish media earlier this week.
  • The Circuito de Getxo is up the day after San Sebastián, and both Euskaltel and Orbea will naturally line up. Aberasturi, Bagües, Zabalo, García, Sáez, Etxebarria, Martín, Blázquez and Urain will represent the blue team, while Antón, Nieve, Bilbao, Oroz, Urtasun, Isasi and A and R Pérez will defend the orange team's interests. The latter five will also take part in San Sebastián today as announced earlier.
  • Tomorrow also marks the kick-off for the Tour of Poland. Contrary to earlier reports both on this site and on others, Mikel Astarloza will not take the start. No information on why hasn't been given, but I assume we will know why during the upcoming week. Euskaltel will still send a strong team, though, consisting of Castroviejo, Fernández, Sesma, Azanza, Cazaux, Minguez, Aramendía and Jon Izagirre, reports the team's website.
  • Orbea have also announced their line-up for the Vuelta a Burgos running from 3-7 July. Cabedo, García, Extebarria, Bizkarra, Martín, Zabalo, Urain and Sáez will do their utmost to get into breaks, according to team DS Díaz.
  • Naturgas meanwhile will take on another type of race. On Sunday the red team will send a trio to a mountain time trial event in Altzo. Merino, Chetout and González will try to shine for Arberas' team.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

News shorts

  • Samu finished second to that man Gilbert in yesterday's Tour crit is Aalst, Belgium. Samu came home three seconds down on the Belgian champ but in front of Ivan Basso in third. Samu isn't expected to go back home 'till Thursday as he aims to cash in on his Tour performance in lucrative criteriums in Belgium and in the Netherlands.
  • Despite his late arrival, Samu will still lead the team's charge in San Sebastián on Saturday. On the provisional start list is also fellow Tour-riders Urtasun, A and R Pérez and Izagirre. Oroz, Isasi and Landa fill out the roster.
  • Orbea first ventured into team sponsorship back in 1985. To celebrate this 25-year anniversary, Orbea's Continental team wore the iconic blue-and-white striped jersey of Delgado, Cabestany and co. in yesterday's Clásica Ordizia. Click here to check out photos of the classy jersey on the shoulders of the heroes of tomorrow.
  • Despite finishing a career-best (I think!) 25th in the Tour de France, Gorka Verdugo says he did not aim for a high overall placing going into the race. "I didn't think about a top overall result, it's not important", he told el Diario de Navarra. "But if you do your work and stay with Samu throughout all the stages you naturally finish high up".
  • Not only did Euskaltel earn a lot of admirers for their Tour performance, they also earned a whole lot of money. Team riders and staff will receive 87 780 euros to share between them, making them the eighth highest earners of the 22 teams.
  • The UCI published their updated WorldTour rankings yesterday. Out of the 18 teams Euskaltel are ranked 12th, tied on points with number 13 Katusha. Movistar are currently occupying the 15th and last spot that guarantees a WorldTour status next year, but Euskaltel are perilously placed just 53 points ahead of Intxausti, Erviti and company.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Youth to the fore in Ordizia

Jon Izagirre and Peio Bilbao showed their considerable promise in today's Clásica Ordizia. Both youngsters made it into the final seven-man selection that formed on the hilly parcours and ended up fourth and seventh respectively. The latter never got the chance to sprint as he crashed in the very last curve leading to the line and thus had to console himself with a slightly disappointing seventh. Izagirre, who's brother took out the race a year ago, was bested by Frenchman Simon and compatriots Moreno and Lastras in the dash for the line. Oroz came home with a big group two minutes down in 29th, while Nieve and Antón finished up 37th and 40th at 3:43 and 4:51 respectively. Isasi was 48th a further 90 seconds back. Through his fourth-place finish, Jon Izagirre naturally took out the U23 and Local Rider classifications.

Orbea also enjoyed a decent race as Bizkarra and García both finished inside the top 20 (15th and 19th). Zabalo and Cabedo came in with Oroz and García's group at two minutes, while Blázquez and Sáez came in alongside Antón at 4:51. Aritz Bagües finished outside the time limit.

Samu discards Vuelta appearance

Samu has as expected decided not to line up in the Vuelta later this season, reports Euskaltel's website. The Tour King of the Mountains will instead focus on gathering vital points towards the UCI's WorldTour classification at events like the two one-dayers in Canada and in San Sebastián this coming Saturday.

Tour stage 21

All Euskaltel riders got through today's concluding stage into Paris without any sort of mishaps to complete what has been an historic Tour for the team. Seeing Samu with his kids up on the podium, all dressed up in (let's be honest) those terrible-looking polkadots, was a sight to behold and a moment which will live long in the memory of Samu, Madariaga, Galdeano and co. He naturally kept hold of his sixth place on GC and with it ascended to fifth in UCI's WorldTour rankings. Official updated WorldTour rankings will be up tomorrow, so stay tuned.

News shorts

  • Efrén Carazo put in one of his best performances of the season when he took 10th in yesterday's Bayonne-Pamplona one-dayer. The youngster hasn't always gotten the results to show for his considerable efforts this season so he'll no doubt be pleased with such a strong result in such a high-level race. Aitor Ocampos finished up 37th and was the only other finisher from the team in the Torneo Euskaldun-race.
  • A familiar face took out today's race in Busturia. Caja Rural standout Yelco Gómez took another impressive win to add to his rapidly-growing palmarès, while Igor Merino's sixth and Chetout's ninth salvaged some pride for the red brigade.
  • Koldo Fernández almost single-handedly salvaged Euskaltel's Brixia Tour through his creditable third place on the closing stage earlier today. On the 164,6km trek from Calcinato to Verona the speedster was only bested by Modolo and Rizzo to take a morale-boosting third. On GC, Mikel Landa was the team's highest finisher in 24th. Sesma was 35th, Azanza 42nd, Mínguez 70th, Fernández 80th, Cazaux 101st and Castroviejo 115th.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Etxebarria cleared of Puerto-links

Retired Euskaltel great Unai Etxebarria has been awarded damages in the region of 30 000 euros for being erroneously linked to the Operación Puerto back in 2006, reports Cyclingnews. The former rider, born in Venezuela, was said to have had links with the infamous doctor at the centre of the investigation - Eufemiano Fuentes - by newspapers El Correo, ABC and el Diario Vasco back in June of 2006. Etxebarria denied the accusations at the time.

News shorts

  • Vuelta-bound duo Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve will headline a strong Euskaltel team in tomorrow's Clásica Ordizia. Last year's race was of course won in impressive fashion by Gorka Izagirre, and this year's revised parcours is likely to suit the strong duo. Joining them will be Oroz, Isasi, Bilbao, Aramendía and Jon Izagirre.
  • After a strong start to the year, Orbea will aim to kick off their second half of the season with a strong performance in Ordizia tomorrow, reports the team's website. The blue team will be represented by Bizkarra, Cadebo, Saez, Zabalo, Martín, García, Etxebarria, Bagües, Urain and Blázquez.
  • Over in Italy, in the Brixia Tour, Euskaltel haven't been overly successful. Koldo Fernández tried his hand in the third stage and grabbed a decent 8th place in the final sprint, while Mikel Landa climbed to a strong 16th place in yesterday's mountainous stage four won by diminutive climber Pozzovivo. Heading into the last stage, the talented climber from Murgia is the the team's best-placed overall in 24th.
  • Naturgas took part in yesterday's prestigious Bayonne-Pamplona one-day race with a roster consisting of Chetout, Baudron, García, Ocampos, Legarra, Guinea and Carazo. Results are yet to be published. The same seven riders, plus strong-men Martínez, Marino, Grijalba, González and Barbero, are at the time of writing taking part in a Torneo Lehendakari-race in Busturia.

Tour joy

Due to various reasons I haven't been able to update the blog the last few days anywhere near as much as I'd like. And it's quite a shame with this weekend being an historic one in the team's history. Samu winning the King of the Mountains-jersey was his just reward for an inspiring and aggressive performance throughout the three weeks. His brilliant seventh in yesterday's ITT was simply proof of his great versatility and his sixth place overall wast the least he deserved. With the exception of the stage to the Galibier he's been exceptional, probably the strongest in the race along with winner Evans and A Schleck. A place on the podium and possibly even more was within his reach in this year's edition, but you won't hear him complaining after what's been a very successful Tour after a less than brilliant start. The team will in all likelihood end up fifth in the team rankings. For a team with the smallest budget in the WorldTour, along with the smallest area in which to recruit riders, it's quite the result. Add in the fact that two of the team's strongest climbers had to abandon early on and the feat gets even more impressive. Chapeau!

A leader is nothing without his helpers though. Bar any last-stage accidents, Verdugo will finish 25th. That's ahead of riders like Roche, Casar, Karpets, Leipheimer, Gesink and Arroyo. He's been there for Samu every single day and has provided invaluable assistance. The same goes for Egoi Martínez who'll end up 34th. The 31-year-old, widely considered one of the most valuable domestiques in the business, has been impressive and has been forced to take on even more responsibility and with it less freedom due to the loss of Txurruka and Velasco. Great ride by him. Debutants Izagirre and Urtasun have both come through the Tour in good shape. Both have been aggressive and both have been climbing well. The former will end up a highly-creditable 66th on GC, while the latter is on course for a 149th-place finish. Rubén Pérez has once again been one of the most aggressive riders in the pack and would be a worthy winner of the 'Most aggressive rider'-prize overall if he was to be handed the award at the conclusion of the Tour later today. Alan Pérez grabbed a nice 6th place here the other day and has merited his place in the team without a shadow of a doubt. All in all a well-organized and cohesive team. Check back later today for full results and reactions from the major players.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tour stage 18 and 19 round-up

It's been a contrasting two days at the Tour for Euskaltel. Yesterday Samu's podium challenge faltered on the relentless gradients of the Galibier. Today he finished second on the mighty Alpe and with it grabbed the team's first ever jersey in the Tour; the polkadots. It's a landmark achievement for the team and the Fundación as a whole, and finally you sense that the 'Best climber's jersey' has actually been won by the best climber. Richly deserved, chapeau! Stay tuned later this evening for full results and reactions.

Brixia stage 2

Things didn't get too much better for Euskaltel on day two of the Brixia Tour. The late-day ITT was cancelled, and in the short road race early in the morning only Mikel Landa was able to stay with the peloton all the way to the line, taking 16th place eventually. Sesma came home with the second group at 2:28, Azanza, Minguez and Cazaux ceeded 9:44, while Castroviejo and Fernández lost 16:21. The ITT being cancelled was a bummer for the whole team as Castroviejo was widely expected to grab a top, top result.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tour stage 17/Brixia stage 1 round-up

Rubén Pérez just can't stop attacking, can he? I've lost count of how many breaks he's been in so far but he just always seems to be there. And today he was really impressive too. His attack up the climb to Sestriere showed what an all-rounder he's become over the years and his descending off of the climb was impeccable. Too bad he couldn't sustain it all the way to the line, but then again it was always going to be a tall order given the parcours and the composition of the group behind him. After crossing the line in 12th place he was rightfully awarded the 'Most aggressive rider'-prize, so he has all the reason in the world to be proud of his exploits. So too does Samu who, despite going off the road (sort of anyway) on that technically-challenging downhill, looked as agile as ever on the bike and can count himself unlucky that he didn't take a few seconds out of his main GC rivals through his fearless descending and perfect collaboration with Contador on the few flat kilometres leading to the line. He did take a few seconds out of Basso and Voeckler, though, seconds that can come in handy come the ITT on Saturday, but he's still fifth overall heading into the two most decisive days in the mountains. His form looks to be right up there with the best he's ever had though, so I bet he's looking forward to do some damage on the road to Galibier tomorrow. Martínez and Verdugo are likely to provide ample support if today's performance (and the last week in general to be fair) is anything to go by. The duo came in a minute and a half down on the select group of favourites in a small group containing a host of strong names to move up to 24th and 35th on GC respectively. They look to be coming into their best form at the perfect time. A Pérez, Izagirre and Urtasun all came in with the gruppetto, hopefully saving forces for breakaway exploits tomorrow. Team-wise they're ranked fifth, a placing which probably doesn't generate a lot of interest but which nonetheless speaks volumes of the team's performance as a whole, especially so with Txurruka and Velasco, loyal team-mates and strong climbers in their own right, out with broken collarbones. It's been a marvelous Tour so far, full stop.

Things didn't work out equally well in the Brixia Tour opener today. Euskaltel were never really in the race and Minguez and Azanza were the team's highest-placed riders in 46th and 48th place, both 4:40 in arrears. Fernández came home 4:59 back, Landa 5:57, and Sesma, Cazaux and Castroviejo 11:22 back. On the bright side tomorrow's stage can hardly go worse!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tour stage 16

Another day in the Tour de France, another strong performance by Samuel Sánchez. Along with Cadel Evans, Samu was the only one strong enough to stay with an on-fire Alberto Contador on the cat. 2 Col de Manse. The trio put time into every single one of their GC rivals at the arrival in Gap and as a result Samu climbed to a lofty fifth overall now just 23 seconds down on the younger Schleck in fourth and approximately 90 seconds down on his antipodean breakaway companion who's sitting pretty in second. It's boding well for the monstrous three days ahead in the Alps. Contador's form looks ominous, but so too does Samu's. Alan Pérez also showed his worth today with a sixth-place finish after being part of the main break of the day. The Navarran couldn't quite keep up on that last climb but still soldiered on to finish ahead of strong riders like Roy, Marcato and Devenyns. Martínez also had a good day, coming in with the second group just 21 seconds adrift of Samu and co. Verdugo finished alongside A Schleck and Zubeldia a bit further back to complete a good day overall for the team. R Pérez ended up 8:08 down, Izagirre 10:35 and Urtasun, seemingly in better shape, came home 12:30 back.

In other Euskaltel news, the team will tomorrow line-up for the Brixia Tour for the very first time in their history. The five-day race will see Fernández, Castroviejo, Azanza, Minguez, Sesma, Cazaux and Landa (making his comeback from his second collarbone fracture of the year) take part. Look out for Castroviejo on Thursday's short individual time trial. The time trial specialist, who's likely to leave the team at the end of the current season, has also revealed his upcoming races on his own website. After Brixia, he'll line-up in San Sebastián, Getxo and the ENECO Tour.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Samu eyeing polkadots

Okay, the headline is a bit misleading. He didn't really say he'd aim for the polkadots, but he didn't discard it either. Maybe it's just my wishful thinking. Speaking to reporters in Orange at the second rest-day in the Tour, Samu said the new system of awarding more points at summit finishes rewards the guys at the very front of the race and not necessarily guys going gung-ho in breaks as has been the case quite often in the past. "It's definitely an objective that's within reach", he said matter-of-factly. "It's motivating, but I won't go into any breaks as there's no chance they would let me go. I won't have the same freedom I enjoyed in the Pyrenees. But I'll do my best to stay ahead of the Belgian (Vanendert) on the summit finishes to score some points." Speaking of the GC, Samu admitted winning the race outright is "complicated", and he lists maillot jaune Voeckler as a genuine contender. "He's a candidate for the win at this moment. He says he isn't, but from what I saw on the Plateau de Beille he most definitely is. Along with Evans, who's the best time trialist on paper, he stands the best chance of winning this race". As I've said so many times in the past I'd love to see Samu go for the climbers jersey. Vanendert has been impressive, fantastic even, make no mistake, but over the course of three weeks I'd say Samu would win a head-to-head battle between the two on nine out of ten occasions. Samu has the tendency to get better and better as three-week races progresses, and I can't really see Vanendert staying with Samu on the remaining days in the mountains. The jersey is up for grabs and there will probably never be a better chance to get it.

Tour stage 14 & 15 round-up

Euskaltel head into the race's second rest day on a high. As you all probably know by now, Samu bested all his fellow GC candidates on the road to Plateau de Beille through a strong attack some four kilometres from the top. Granted, if Samu had been closer on GC a guy like Evans might have tried to follow him, but nonetheless he easily looked the strongest of the GC riders and now occupies a promising sixth overall. Being in front of Contador with the Pyrenees done and dusted with was not what I had expected, and with the form he's got Samu might just end up on the final podium. Izagirre and R Pérez were at their usual aggressive best as well to add colour to a stage that promised so much but in the end offered rather little in terms of action among the main contenders. Verdugo also showed strong form with his 19th place yesterday and is lying pretty in 26th overall.

Today's stage was all about taking it easy and getting through the day without any sort of troubles. Therefore I'm glad the guys opted not to join the break of the day and instead focused on helping out Samu. Urtasun, plagued by injuries and crashes so far in his maiden Tour, made it to the end inside the time limit, finishing dead last at 6:10. Tomorrow's day off comes at the perfect time for the versatile all-rounder who'll hope his wounds will heal in time for Tuesday's stage to Gap.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News shorts

  • According to various Basque newspapers, Igor Antón will make his return to competition at the revamped Clasica de Ordizia at the 25ht of July. Antón, who's building up for a tilt at the Vuelta crown, has not raced since the Giro ended back in May. The new route, which features more climbs to avoid the customary sprint finish, is likely to suit the Galdakao native to a tee.
  • Amets Tzurruka will not have surgery on his broken left collarbone, reports the team's website. Scans revealed surgery was not needed, but the unlucky climber is still faced with a race against time to be fit in time for the Vuelta.
  • Naturgas will as usual take part in a couple of races over the weekend, reports A roster of nine (Ocampos, Legarra, Martínez, González, Barbero, Carazo, Baudron, Chêout and Guinea) will line up in Sopelana tomorrow, while Ocampos, Legarra, Martínez, Chêtout, García, Guinea and Carazo will compete in Beasain on Sunday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tour stage 13

Euskaltel enjoyed a relatively comfortable day in the saddle in today's 13th stage between Pau and Lourdes. Sadly the team missed out on the break of the day, and the climber's jersey by the way as the relentless Roy picked up enough points to take a deserved five-point lead, but most importantly they kept Samu safe and out of trouble ahead of tomorrow's big stage to the Plateau de Beille. Samu, Egoi and Gorka all came in with the pack, while the remaining four, Urtasun, Izagirre, Pérez and Pérez, ended up 22:08 down.

Samu emotional after win

Samu Sánchez was his usual emotional self after today's historic win atop the mighty Luz-Ardiden. Speaking to the assembled press after crossing the line hands pointing to the sky, the team captain was naturally struggling to come to grips with what he'd just achieved. "I can't believe I've just won a stage in the Tour de France", he said, fighting to keep the tears at bay. "It was very important to win here at Luz-Ardiden in front of my fans. Actually, this win has twice the value because of them. It's a very emotional and exciting win for us because of all the support we received on the road today. It's a dream come true. We're not a team of millionaires. We're a modest, all-Basque team. We love our fans and they love us. It's our biggest victory of the season. I've worked very hard to be at my best for this year's race. I've sacrificed more than ever: I've spent time away from my family and from people I've lost. But now it's worth it." A special mention has to go out to the ever-impressive Rubén Pérez who, just like yesterday, was in the break of the day and gave the team some much-needed presence up front on home terrain. He even managed to help Samu a bit when he attacked right at the foot of the last climb. To do that, on back-to-back stages, in the high mountains, for a sprinter, is just awesome. Simple as that.

Through his 40-points haul at the summit, Samu is now leading the climbers competition and will get to wear the polkadots for at least a few days I reckon. As for the other riders, Verdugo and especially Izagirre looked solid. The former ended up a decent 33rd at 4:21, whilst the latter, who together with Verdugo covered some moves towards the top of the Tourmalet, finished 14:54 down along with breakaway hero Pérez. In between were Martínez in 50th at 9:56. A Pérez came in 15:03 in arrears, while Urtasun, who crashed rather badly pretty early on, cruised home inside the gruppetto. Here's to another couple of days in the Pyrenees!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Samu takes epic win at Ardiden

Ten years after Roberto Laiseka climbed to Euskaltel's first win in the Tour de France at Luz Ardiden, Samu grabbed his first ever in the French GT atop the same behemoth in stunning fashion a few minutes ago. The Olympic Champ attacked a full 13 kilometres from the top, right at the foot of the climb, and got the impressive Belgian Vanendert for company. The two quickly distanced the main group of favourites and reeled in the remnants of the break to build an unassailable lead. Samu was at his limit inside the last five kilometres but still had enough to easily out-sprint the young Omega Pharma-Lotto rider and take the team's first win at the race since Ibán's win atop Alpe d'Huez 170 stages ago (not counting Astarloza's infamous victory in 2009). In the process Samu climbed to 8th overall. Stay tuned for reactions and full results later this evening.

Pérez active as Ardiden looms

Euskaltel got through today's final flat stage before the Pyrenees without any sort of hiccups. Rubén Pérez once again showed the form is there by getting into the break of the day. The break was never given much of a gap and were reeled in within three kilometres of the line, but it was still worthwhile I reckon. Everyone bar Gorka Izagirre cruised home with the pack. The Ormaiztegi native ended up 5:43 down. The first proper test of the GC riders is coming up tomorrow with the demanding stage to the top of the Luz d'Ardiden. As always it'll be quite emotional given Laiseka's groundbreaking win there at the 2001 edition of the race. Though the stage might not be perfectly suited to Samu I reckon he's still in with a chance, and with the marea naranja likely to be out in full force it'll be quite the spectacle. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tour stage 10

Another Tour stage, another Euskaltel crash. This time Egoi Martínez and Pablo Urtasun were the unlucky ones, but luckily they both came away with "only" bruises and cuts. According to the team's website they're bruised "all over the body" but should still be able to take the start tomorrow without any problems. With Velasco and Txurruka already gone, Euskaltel can ill-afford any further losses. As for the racing, Samu once again stayed out of trouble and was accompanied in the main peloton by the mentioned Martínez, Verdugo and Álan Pérez. The latter even tried to go it alone inside the last five kilometres, showing excellent form, after Gorka Izagirre had done the exact same thing five clicks earlier. They both failed obviously, but it's still a good sign approaching the second half of the race. Izagirre eventually ceded 2:48, whilst Urtasun ended up 5:33 down and Rubén Pérez 5:59.

Crash-victim Amets Txurruka has been transferred back home to Euskadi after some initial tests at a hospital in Saint-Flour. The wiry climber will undergo further scans at the Clínica San Sebastián in Bilbao (the same clinic Velasco was taken to) to determine the extent of the damage done to his left collarbone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Agostinho and Madrid round-up

Orbea were active throughout but could not find success at the GP Internacional Torred Vedras - Joaquim Agostinho four-day race in Portugal. The race got off to a good start for the team in stage one with Adrián Sáez taking the lead in the Metas Volantes competition and Ricardo García finishing in the main group of favourites 1:21 down on eventual overall winner Mestre. García went close with a strong fourth on day two, whilst Zabalo's endeavors in the main break earned him a temporary second place in the climbers competition. García repeated his fourth-placed finish the following day by leading home a select group of favourites nine seconds down on solo winner Ribeiro, and defended his sixth place on GC with a fifth place on the final day to complete a good overall race for him. Team DS Álex Díaz deemed himself satisfied with his young charges despite missing out on the stated objective of a win when talking to the team's website earlier this morning.

The Vuelta a Madría proved to be a testing race for Naturgas Energía. The four-day event came to a close yesterday with Fernando Grijalba's ninth place on the final day their best result. On GC, Merino ended up a slightly disappointing 34th on GC. Damien García was 42nd, Grijalba 69th, Carazo 77th, Barbero 90th, Chetout 99th and González 104th. The team fared better in yesterday's Torneo Lehendakari race in Antzuola courtesy of Aitor Ocampos' sixth place finish.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Samu still there

Samu avoided all the crashes and mishaps to stay in contention on today's awfully crash-marred ninth stage from Issoire to Saint-Flour. The team captain came in with the small bunch of favourites 3:59 down on popular winner Voeckler to rise to 20th overall, but will still feel downbeat after losing one of his key men for the upcoming days in the mountains, Amets Txurruka. The featherweight climber broke a collarbone in a crash early on and was immediately taken to hospital, leaving the always positive Samu despondent for once. "Losing Amets is a big, big blow", he admitted to the team's website post-stage. "Amets and Velasco were two very important riders for us and we'll greatly miss them." Amets, who crashed out of last year's Tour as well, was equally downbeat, saying "I just feel helpless. The truth is that I haven't come across much luck in the last three Tours. The whole first week I've been cautious, minding not to get too close to other riders, avoiding the danger. But Haimer (Zubeldia) fell in front of me and there was nothing I could do to avoid him. The goal was to shine in the Alps and the Pyrenees, but that won't happen now." There's no hiding Euskaltel have, like many teams, been very unlucky in this Tour. It's not for nothing Álvaro González de Galdeano dubbed this year's edition the "Tour de Collarbone" on Twitter earlier today. Tomorrow's rest-day will come in handy and give the team DSs a chance to regroup and come up with a plan to succeed in the Pyrenees without two of the team's best climbers. It's not the position they would have wanted to be in at the start of the race, but at least they can console themselves with the fact that the remaining riders all look strong. Verdugo, Martínez and Izagirre crossed the line just 40 seconds behind the group of favourites, whilst Pérez, Pérez and Urtasun ended up 13:17 down. More importantly thought they once again took excellent care of their team leader and kept him out of trouble. They'll need to keep that up as the Tour de France 2011 is quickly becoming a race of elimination.

Velasco discharged

Iván Velasco has undergone successful surgery on his right collarbone and has already been discharged from the San Sebastián clinic in Bilbao, reports the team's website. The gifted climber is now recovering at home with his wife and kid and is, according to his Twitter account, aiming for a start at the Vuelta in late August.

Txurruka out

Amets Txurruka has, just like last year, been forced out of the Tour de France. The wiry climber crashed 43km into today's ninth stage and was immediately taken to a hospital in Saint-Flour with a suspected broken collarbone. Incidentally it's the same clavícula, his right, that forced him out of last year's Grand Boucle.

Samu stakes his claim on stage 8

Samu confirmed he's in top, top shape by taking fourth at today's hilltop finish at Super-Besse. On the short but steep drag to the line only the on-fire Gilbert and Evans got the better of him, while he finished ahead of riders like Contador, Schleck and Basso, albeit they all finished on the same time. Samu was once again escorted perfectly by the well-oiled machine that is Euskaltel these days and was always close to the front. Txurruka looked good to, going off on the penultimate climb before being reeled back in, so all bodes well before tomorrow's testing ride to Saint-Flour. Martínez is also looking sharp and ended up only 50 seconds down on breakaway survivor Rui Costa, whilst Verdugo finished 1:16 in arrears. Rubén Pérez and Gorka Izagirre came in side by side at 3:33, Txurruka lost 5:36, A Pérez 11:07 and yesterday's escapee Urtasun crossed the line 19:59 back. Samu climbed to 29th on GC but is still some way short of the top 10. But the Olympic champ, who weighed in at a record-low 65,5 kilos at the start of the Tour, will no doubt be encouraged going into the remaining two weeks by the proceedings of the last few days. Watch out for him tomorrow.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Urtasun active as team avoid carnage

On what eventually turned out to be a crash-marred seventh stage from Le Mans to Châteauroux, Euskaltel once again came through unscathed. All remaining riders, and in particular Rubén Pérez and Egoi Martínez towards the end, made sure Samu was well positioned and avoided any crashes. Pablo Urtasun spent the day up ahead with Meersman, Delage and Talabardon, and the Tour debutant easily looked the strongest, chasing down attack after attack by the FDJ duo in the finale. The break was naturally caught as HTC put the hammer down, but Urtasun will no doubt be pleased with his effort nonetheless. Despite sporting a bandage on his right arm he looks reasonably healthy and fit and has come through the carnage that is the first week of the Tour in good shape. Urtasun managed to hang on to the flying peloton once caught inside the last 15km and finished on the same time as winner Cavendish and team-mates Samu, R Pérez and Martínez. Txurruka, Verdugo, Izagirre and A Pérez got stuck in the second main group and ceded 3:06. They won't care too much though, as they're probably looking forward to tomorrow's first foray into the (medium) mountains. The stage, what with its short but demanding ascent towards the finish, interrupted only by a short downhill, should suit Samu to a tee, so keep an eye out for him.

Friday, July 08, 2011

TDF stage 6

Euskaltel got through today's demanding 225km stage from Dinan to Lisieux without any sort of problems for once, and are now faced with only one remaining flat stage before the hills and mountains await from Saturday onwards. Samu was kept out of the wind and near the front at the crucial points in the race and finished with the main peloton alongside Martínez and Verdugo. Rubén Pérez and Txurruka finished up 48 seconds adrift, while Alan Pérez and Izagirre came in 2:23 down. Urtasun rolled in with the gruppetto at 12:26.

In other news, yesterday's crash victim Iván Velasco will operate on his broken right collarbone in Bilbao tomorrow. The out of luck climber was yesterday transported from Saint-Malo to Bilbao to undergo surgery as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Leblanc hails Euskaltel

Ten years to the day of Euskaltel's first foray into the Tour de France, erstwhile race director and former rider Jean-Marie Leblanc has paid homage to the team in today's DEIA. Speaking to Alain Laiseka (rather fittingly given his brother Roberto was the first Euskaltel rider to win a stage at the event back in 2001), the Frenchman claimed Euskaltel "never disappointed" with their performances, though he admits he had doubts until Laiseka won that famed stage to the Luz d'Ardiden. "They didn't do too well in the first few stages, rather the opposite", he said frankly. "They struggled, but when they Pyrenees came around they rallied and Roberto Laiseka stepped up." Leblanc lists that now-legendary win as Euskaltel's finest moment in his race: "It was their first year, and the Pyrenees suddenly turned all orange. Roberto came through the marea naranja (to take the win), and it was fitting as he was the typical Basque rider. He meant so much to that team. In all my years at the helm I can hardly remember a stage win more exciting and symbolic than that one. Throughout the years the team have always animated the race, especially so in the mountains." There have been disappointments though, and none more so than a certain Ibán Mayo's failure of 2004. "The biggest disappointment was Mayo in 2004 when he came to win the race", Leblanc recounted. "That was a major disappointment".

Velasco crashes out

Euskaltel's already less than stellar Tour campaign went from bad to worse today as Iván Velasco broke his right collarbone and will not take to the start tomorrow. The strong climber came a cropper with approximately 15km to go on the stage to Cap Fréhel and immediately clutched his right shoulder. Despite quite obviously having broken his collarbone, to his great credit he got back up and finished the stage. He was transported to a local hospital in Saint Malo where the fracture was confirmed though, meaning Samu will lose one of his right-hand men for the mountain stages. A downbeat Velasco told the team's website that scans had confirmed his right collarbone was broken, and that he was "sad" to leave the race so early on. "I arrived in France in good shape and wanted to do a good race, and I think I would have had an important role to play in the mountains", the ever-modest Arrasate native told "It's so bad having to leave this early. The team has been so strong and it pains me that I can't help them out anymore".

Aside from Velasco's unlucky break, the team came through this crash-marred fifth stage reasonably unscathed. Samu was once again taken care of expertly and crossed the line inside the peloton along with Verdugo, Martínez and A and R Pérez. Txurruka ended up some 25 seconds down, while Urtasun ceded 1:49 and Izagirre 8:33.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tuesday round-up

  • Samu and Gorka Izagirre were both in the mix on today's fourth stage to the top of the Mûr de Bretagne to give Euskaltel some much needed presence in the race after a truncated start. The latter, in his debut Tour, joined four others to make up the break of the day early on. The Gipuzkoan looked strong all day and was, in my eyes anyway, the strongest of the five. He twice tried to go it alone inside the last ten kilometres but didn't succeed and was reeled in at the base of the climb. Once the climbing started, Samu was always there or thereabouts, finishing in eighth on the same time as winner Evans. He thus finished ahead of GC rivals A Schleck, Basso, Gesink and Wiggins to name but a few, and showed that he'll still have a major role to play in this race. The team leader deemed himself "satisfied" with his performance, telling the team's website that he was happy to have gotten through such a difficult stage (with the weather and all) unscathed. In the company of explosive riders like Contador, Hushovd, Gilberto, Urán et al. he looked quite comfortable, so I reckon he'll thrive big time once the race hits the mountains in a week or so. Stage results: 8) Samuel Sánchez, 0:00. 45) Amets Txurruka, 0:23. 50) Gorka Verdugo, 0:25. 92) Egoi Martínez, 1:47. 100) Iván Velasco, 2:05. 110) Rubén Pérez, 2:22. 127) Alan Pérez, 3:21. 157) Gorka Izagirre, 4:17. 185) Pablo Urtasun, 8:13.
  • While the Tour is unravelling just across the border, Antón, Nieve, Isasi and Oroz are gearing up for next month's Vuelta. The quartet are currently scouting out some of the key stages and climbs, reports El Correo, to make sure they're as prepared as can be for the big race at home. The spent yesterday checking out stage 11 ending atop the Manzaneda, while they took in some parts of the 13th stage to Ponferrada earlier on today. In the upcoming days they'll aim to check out the climbs of stages 14 and 15.
  • Orbea will on Thursday take to the start in four-day Portuguese event GP Joaquín Agostinho. A youthful team consisting of Cabedo, Blázquez, Sáez, Zabalo, Bagües, Bizkarra and García will don the blue of Orbea for the race.
  • Naturgas Energía will dispute the Vuelta a Madrid over the exact same days as the guys at Orbea will compete across the border. DS Aritz Arberas has chosen to go with the following riders: Igor Merino, Fernando Grijalba, Alain González, Loïc Chetout, Damien García, Carlos Barbero and Efrén Carazo. While the guys in red will no doubt find it difficult to repeat last year's third place courtesy of Pello Bilbao, look to Merino and Grijalba in particular to finish reasonably high up on GC.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Pérez at it again

Twice already a "winner" of the "most kilometres spent in breakaways"-competition at the Tour, Rubén Pérez is at it again. Today he spent the majority of the 198km stage to Redon up ahead alongside strong quartet Delage, Gutierrez, Terpstra and Bouet. The break was naturally doomed from the off as there was no way the sprinters' teams were going to let this opportunity for a stage win slip away, but still it was a worthwhile outing I reckon. Farrar grabbed a richly-deserved win at the line and, as predicted, no Euskaltel riders attempted to mix it up. None of the riders lost any time though, and Samu was expertly taken care of and protected by his team-mates when the wind caused havoc inside the peloton at that picturesque bridge in Saint-Nazaire, so all in all a good day for the team. Tomorrow's finishing climb might be too short and shallow for Samu, but expect nonetheless to see him figure prominently at the front end of the pack.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Astarloza set for Poland return

According to trustworthy Basque daily El Diario Vasco, Mikel Astarloza will make his return to competition at the Tour of Poland at the end of this month. His schedule for the rest of the campaign was not revealed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Stage 2 TTT

I remember I predicted Euskaltel would lose 1:21 in the TTT a few weeks back. Back then I considered 1:21 to be respectable and livable. That's why finishing dead last today, just a single second further back than I predicted, shouldn't be regarded as a total failure. Sure, it's not great. I had expected them to finish further up the standings and, despite statements to the contrary, Samu is not likely to be best pleased with the overall team performance. Riders like Samu himself, Izagirre, Verdugo and Martínez have all got the qualities needed to grab top, top placings in individual races against the clock and should thus have been able to beat teams like Cofidis, Vacansoleil and Saur Sojasun to name but a few. But despite posting encouraging split times they faded quite remarkably towards the end and so continued their off-colour start to the Grand Boucle. Never one to dwell too much on disappointments, Samu is not likely to let his and the team's unlucky and below-par start to the race affect his upcoming performances though. He'll be firing when they reach the mountains, make no mistake. But being this far back on GC already I'd love to see him go for the polkadots. He'd easily win it outright, and quite possibly a stage to go with it, if he made it his overriding goal instead of aiming for that third podium spot. Anyway, the Tour's of course far from over and the podium is still doable, but a change in luck is desperately needed.

Txurruka looked good in the TTT today so that's a good sign. Amets was born to wear polkadots, so hopefully De Galdeano and co. won't make him ride shotgun for Samu all race long and instead send him out on some long breaks in the mountains. Verdugo also looked solid in my opinion and should provide vital support on the climbs if everything goes to plan. Tomorrow is one for the sprinters so hopefully the team will stay out of trouble and get an easy ride. Urtasun might try go get in there if he's feeling good and gets the green light, but other than that it's likely to be a quiet day.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Tour misery

Euskaltel got off to, quite possibly, their worst Tour de France start ever in today's 192km opener between the Passage du Gois and Les Herbiers. Eight kilometres out, Samu, along with Contador and fellow GC hopefuls Urán, LL Sánchez and a host of other riders, was out of luck as they got caught on the wrong side of a crash towards the very front of the peloton. Through no fault of their own they had to slow down and dismount to avoid hitting the tarmac and thus a split occurred. The likes of BMC, Omega Pharma and the Shack of course capitalized on their misfortune (in stark contrast to last year's Cancellara-lead go-slow) and quickly opened up an insurmountable gap. Samu, aided by Verdugo and Izagirre, eventually lead home Contador and the rest a full 1:20 down on the immaculate Gilbert, thus ceding a potentially vital amount of time to rival GC candidates Schleck, VDB, Wiggins, Evans, Gesink and Basso. It was a cruel blow to Samu's podium aspirations, and an already hard fight for the final spot on the podium was made that much harder. Ever the pessimist, I can't really see him recover from today's time-loss and tomorrow's likely even bigger loss to most overall contenders to land a place on the final podium. It was a tough enough proposition to start with. Especially annoying was seeing the double-standards and hypocrisy cycling has become known for is still alive and well. When the Schlecks got caught up in a mass pile-up in last year's edition, the peloton, under the stewardship of self-appointed chief Cancellara, decided to slow down and wait up. According to the big Swiss it was the right thing to do, the only option. One year later, roles reversed, not so much. It sounds bitter, I know, but I can't really see how this is different. One would excuse Samu for being fed up and angry, but, soft-spoken as ever, the Euskaltel leader said it was just one of those things. "Typical first week of the Tour", he told the team's website. Well he's right about that, but morale inside the team ahead of tomorrow's TTT must surely be at an all time low. Verdugo lost 1:39, Txurruka 1:55, Velasco - who hit the deck earlier on - 2:25, A and R Pérez 2:36, Urtasun (who also had a minor crash beforehand) 3:05, Izagirre 3:28 and Martínez 6:23. Ouch.

Barbero sixth in Memorial Sagasti

Despite the best of team efforts, Naturgas Energía were unable to come away with the win in today's one-dayer in Mungia, the Memorial Sagasti. Loïc Chetout was aggressive throughout and came away with the Metas Volantes prize. Carlos Barbero showed his form is where it ought to be ahead of the upcoming Vuelta a Madrid by grabbing a good sixth place, leading home a big group 1:06 down on victor Simón of Caja Rural.

Naturgas ready for emotional race

The youngsters at Naturgas Energía will today take to the start of the Memorial Agustín Sagasti, an intense but not overly hard one-dayer paying homage to the former Euskadi great. Sagasti was of course the first rider to win a professional race for the team that is now known as Euskaltel, but he was tragically found dead at his home last year only 39 years old. Eight riders in red will line up hoping to grab what would be an emotional win: Carlos Barbero, Efrén Carazo, Loïc Chetout, Damien García, Alain González, Fernando Grijalba, Aitor Ocampos and Rory Martínez.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Castroviejo "hurt" by IGDG criticism; denies Movistar switch

Jonathan Castroviejo's reportedly likely switch to Movistar for the 2012 season has caused quite the stir among Basque and Spanish cycling fans alike. Apparently none were more angered than Euskaltel head Igor González de Galdeano, who, rather unprofessionally, vented his anger in the Spanish media last week. The former Tour yellow jersey-wearer claimed Castroviejo has failed to appreciate the work done for him by the team and the Fundación (Castroviejo came through the Orbea ranks remember), and criticized the Movistar team in the process for unsettling his charge mid-season. Speaking to Biciciclismo, the Tour de Romandie prologue-winner revealed his disappointment: "I'm hurt (by his comments). Reports of me signing with Movistar are not entirely true as I've not yet signed and a lot of things can still happen. I have several offers on the table and I'll opt for the one that makes most sense to me from a sporting point of view." Castroviejo's off, make no mistake. Him saying it's not "entirely true" just goes to prove the opposite. Still, GDG should know better than to mouth off in the media. In-fighting should be just that: fighting inside the team. Not in public.

Sicard aiming for Vuelta

Romain Sicard is still nursing the knee injury which has all but derailed his 2011 campaign, but the prodigious Frenchman is nonetheless aiming for some late-season glory in the Vuelta. Speaking to French newspaper Sud-Ouest, the Hasparren native revealed he's struggling to equal out the difference in power output between his legs, but is hopeful of a return to competition before the end of July. "At the moment I'd say it's (the Vuelta) possible, I'm staying optimistic", he told the French daily. "The month of July will be vital for me. If I can return to form and retake competition within four weeks, there would still be three weeks left (before the start of the race) to find my race-legs." Whilst obviously downbeat about his current predicament, the amiable climber is still looking forward to watching the Tour unfold from the comfort of his couch: "It promises to be a spectacle, what with the beautiful mountain stages and the battle between the Schleck brothers, Contador and, hopefully, our leader Samuel Sánchez."


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