Saturday, December 31, 2011

Zubeldia reflects on Euskaltel years

Haimar Zubeldia is likely to spend 2012 doing exactly what he's been doing for the last few years: riding his heart out for the biggest riders in the peloton. Though he's come to be known as one of the most dependable and valuable domestiques deluxe in the business, there was a time when the native of Usurbil, once likened to Basque cycling's biggest son Miguel Indurain, was the captain for his team at the most prestigious races on the calendar. Sitting down with El Pedal de Frodo, the legendary rider reflected on those years when Euskaltel were at the top of their powers.

"Those 11 years with Euskaltel were very good, and I'll always be grateful for the chance they gave me to turn professional", he said. "I achieved my best results there, and I made friends I still see today. The group with which I'm training these days is exclusively made up of former or current Euskaltel riders."

The team's performance at the Tour in 2003 is fondly remembered by fans and riders alike, and still ranks as the team's stand-out performance at the Grand Boucle. Yet despite the excellent results obtained that summer, Zubeldia admits they could have been even better.

"What we (Zubeldia and Mayo) achieved was quite something, and, during the Tour, the guys in charge wanted us to hold on to what we had rather than gamble in the hope of getting more. Perhaps we could have finished higher up, but we could have lost it all as well. All in all, I think we made history".

Quizzed on his first wins with the team, the softly-spoken climber admitted success at the Euskal Bizikleta in 2000 was more than he ever had dared to dream of.

"Winning the time trial was very special. I knew I was in good shape, but I didn't expect to ride that fast. In my third year with the team I grabbed my first victory, and, what's more, I did it in the Euskal Bizikleta! I'd never imagined pulling something like that off."

A maiden win usually ranks right up there with a rider's best days on a bike. For Zubeldia, though, the best day he ever had on two wheels was at that race: the 2003 Tour.

"I've never felt better than I did in 2003 on the stage to Ax-3-Domaines. It was like riding a bike without a chain".

To relive the epic stage 13 of that year's Tour, click this link.

All chopped up

They say risk is part of cyclists' everyday life. Mikel Astarloza would no doubt vouch for that. Cooking earlier today at his home in San Sebastián, the former Tour de France stage-winner unintentionally cut his left thumb - and required an impressive seven stitches for it. The pic above, posted at the rider's own twitter account some hours ago, shows that eloquently. Luckily for him, the Mallorca Challenge is still some five weeks off, so it won't jeopardize his start to the season.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Transfer season verdict

As 2012 is just around the corner and the new season less than a month away, it's high time to take stock of the comings and goings at Euskaltel this off-season. With the team unable to escape the tough economic climate plaguing professional cycling, the class of 2012 will have to punch well above its weight to survive at cycling's top tabel.

A reduced budget has forced Euskaltel to make do with a bare 23 riders for the entire 2012 season. That's two less than this year and the smallest number of riders since 1999. Make no mistake: these are testing times. For a team set to tackle the entire WorldTour-calendar, a sizeable amount of the Spanish one and three Grand Tours, a 23-rider roster will test the team's quality in depth to the max. In that respect, it's a shame five of the more experienced riders on the team have departed.

Koldo Fernández, Iñaki Isasi, Javier Aramendía, Jonathan Castroviejo and Daniel Sesma will all head for pastures new. Fernández leaving and Isasi retiring leave Euskaltel with a well-documented lack of an out-and-out sprinter in its ranks. Though they've both failed to come up with the goods in terms of results these last couple of years, they both represent a considerable loss to the team. Without the duo, Euskaltel will likely struggle for presence in the sprints frequently.

Castroviejo's departure no doubt represents the biggest loss though. And a worrying trend at it. Like Intxausti, he's a safe bet for future top results. And again like Intxausti, he's opted to leave his home team in search of greener pastures elsewhere. It's rumoured the loss of the Basque Country's biggest talents to rival teams prompted general manager Igor González de Galdeano to call it quits this year. If there's any truth to the rumours is unclear. But it's obviously not helping the team, and Euskaltel will miss Castroviejo's time trialing expertise and overall ability come next season.

Aramendía and Sesma leaving were not surprising given their results (or rather lack thereof) the last few years. But Aramendía's strength and speed on the flats and in the sprints should not be underestimated, while Sesma was a sure bet to offer Euskaltel exposure in every race he participated in. For a relatively young team, their experience will be missed.

In comes three youngsters from Orbea. Victor Cabedo is one of the most sought-after Spaniards in the peloton and needs no further introduction. He'll be a future great if he continues to develop at the pace he's been doing this year. Ricardo García possess climbing and time trialling ability and might, after a year or two, become a pivotal part of Euskaltel's stage-racing team. Solid rider - signing him strengthens the team. Adrián Sáez is of the Sesma-mould, aggressive and strong on the flats, but importantly also possesses the skill to acquire results on his own. At 25, he's no young, raw talent. On the plus side, with age comes maturity and experience.

To sum it up: while the Orbea trio represent decent, perhaps even good, signings, the loss of proven winners Castroviejo and Fernández leave Euskaltel even more dependent on their captains. Antón, Nieve and Sánchez will all be forced to come up with the goods if the team is to reach the high benchmark they've set themselves the last two years. In addition, stalwarts like Verdugo, Velasco, Martínez, Astarloza, Oroz and Txurruka will have to be at the top of their game to provide the team with results in stage-races where none of the 'big three' will be present.

And even more will be expected of youngsters like the Izagirre brothers, Sicard, Landa et al. While they all possess unquestioned quality, they would in an ideal world have had more top-quality, veteran riders around to guide them. Riders like Juanma Garate, David López, Imanol Erviti and the likes spring to mind, but for various reasons they've opted to pursue their careers elsewhere. In their absence, it will take a concerted team effort to guide an Euskaltel high on quality but low on quantity to reach the lofty heights of 2011.

Durán leaves pro peloton

Geox-TMC rider Arkaitz Durán will spend 2012 racing on the Spanish amateur circuit, reports reliable Spanish website

The 25-year-old, who's been a part of Geox-boss Joxean Fernández Matxin's outfit in its various guises since 2006, has failed to find a spot on a professional team in the wake of Geox's sudden withdrawal. As a result, he'll spend a year with Azysa-Conor - the outfit former Naturgas and Orbea rider Mikel Ilundain calls home.

The team enjoyed a dominant 2011 season and will look for similar success in 2012. It's improbable they'll be able to call on the services of Durán beyond that though: BiciCiclismo has it that the native of Vitoria is likely to return to the professional fold in 2013.

Sesma swaps bike for massage

After four years as a professional, Daniel Sesma has decided to call it quits. The 27-year-old was released by Euskaltel at the end of the season and was unsuccessful in his search for a new home. He won't leave the sport altogether though.

According to el Diario de Navarra, the native of Arre will stay on with Euskaltel as a part-time masseur. The rider, arguably the team's most aggressive performer in 2011, reported back in October that he was running out of time to find a new team, and it now transpires that time has run out on his career. Prior to joining Euskaltel ahead of the 2010 season, Sesma spent two years at the outfit's feeder team, Orbea.

He leaves the sport without a single top three placing to his name, his best result being sixth overall at the Vuelta Ciclista a Navarra back in 2008. But even though he struggled to impose himself among the pros, Sesma completed this year's grueling Giro d'Italia and has been a near ever-present in breaks throughout his stay with the team.

Another rider without contract hailing from Navarra, Patxi Vila, has been more successful on the job market. The former Lampre rider, positive for testosterone three year ago, has landed a contract with the Irish-registred Continental team Utensilnord-Named. Guillermo Lana, of Estella in Navarra, will swap Spain and Caja Rural for France and amateur-team U.C. Avignon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sáez "fearless" ahead of debut

Euskaltel's signing of Adrián Sáez de Arregui Egurrola was anything but ordinary. The 25-year-old was facing an uncertain future just a few months ago, having been released by Orbea at the end of the 2011 season. Then Igor González de Galdeano's retirement prompted veteran Iñaki Isasi's retirement, freeing up a spot on the team. Possessing experience, age and much-needed all-round skills, the native of Araia was a natural fit. Having made the step up into the big league virtually through the backdoor, you'd excuse Sáez for being a little intimidated ahead of his Euskaltel bow at a race as big as the Tour Down Under in less than a month. Speaking to Spanish news agency EFE, he revealed he's not.

"I'm facing the Tour Down Under with respect. But not with fear", was the clear message.

Sáez will line-up at the WorldTour stage-race alongside fellow new-boys Ricardo García and Victor Cabedo, as well as Gorka Izagirre, Pablo Urtasun, Romain Sicard and Rubén Pérez. Getting the season underway in warm and cycling-friendly Australia is widely regarded as the optimal start to a new year - something he's hoping to take advantage of by being in decent shape already in January.

"This year's off-season has been pretty much the same as every off-season. That being said, I'm aiming to be in a good state of form earlier than usual. I've also spoken to my team-mates about this race, and they say racing in the Australian summer is the best way to get prepared for the remainder of the year".

Upon completing the Tour Down Under, Sáez is hoping to be selected for the Mallorca Challenge in February. His schedule for the rest of the year has of yet not been announced.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Zabalo eyeing recovery

Having dramatically escaped death only four months ago, Xabier Zabalo has revealed he's likely to make a full recovery. The Orbea youngster crashed badly at the Giro Valle d'Aosta in Italy in August, fracturing his jaw, a temporal bone and being diagnosed with a hematoma. His injuries left his budding career in jeopardy, but now, less than two months before the 2012 season gets underway on Mallorca, the 24-year-old says he's likely to once again don the iconic blue jersey of Orbea next year.

"The doctors tell me my injuries are healing well and that I'll return to full health", the rider told el Diario de Navarra. "My life is returning to normal, but I still have to visit the neurologist for another check-up before being discharged. Let's wait to hear what they've got to say, but I'm looking forward to making my comeback".

Having spent considerable time off the bike in recent months, the native of Olatzagutia has naturally put on weight and is some way off top form at the time of writing. In a bid to get back into shape for the upcoming season, Zabalo has therefore spent time in the gym trying to regain lost muscle mass.

"In the gym, my body wants more. I need to up the hours. I've regained some of what I've lost, but I've still got room for improvement. When I'm on the bike, I'm cautious. I'm not afraid, but I'm being cautious. I have no problem staying upright though. I feel safe on my bike".

According to the newspaper, he's now doing regular two-hour rides on the road. Zabalo has clearly got his sights set on continuing as a professional, but he's also been offered a job as a trainer on the team in the case he opts for a career off the bike.

"They've reserved a spot for me on the team. They've told me not to hurry, but I really want to rejoin the team. We'll see how it goes".

Orbea roster 2012: Jon Aberasturi, Aritz Bagües, Carlos Barbero, Mikel Bizkarra, Andoni Blazquez, Aritz Etxebarria, Omar Fraile, Igor Merino, Haritz Orbe, Xabier Zabalo and Illart Zuazubiskar.

Duo goes aero

Young Euskaltel pair Peio Bilbao and Adrián Sáez fine-tuned their time trial positions at the team's biomechanics lab earlier this week, writes

'The team's biomechanics lab' is actually doctor Juan García López of the University in León's lab, but it's where the riders usually head for when trying to optimize their aero tuck in the close-season. The team has been sending a selection of riders to the lab since Igor González de Galdeano's tenure started back in 2005 in the hope of improving the team's performances against the clock. Wonderkid Peio Bilbao has shown glimpses of quality in the race of truth previously, while 25-year-old Sáez, who enjoyed a rich vein of form towards the end of the 2011 campaign, is more noted for his all-round skills rather than for his time trial pedigree. The two spent four hours each on the bike in search of that perfect position.

The riders' work at the lab these last few years have been largely beneficial - let's hope the same goes for the former Orbea team-mates.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Euskadi cyclo-cross champs

Egoitz Murgoitio was at his dominant best in today's Basque cyclo-cross championships in Llodio, crushing the opposition to take back to back golds. 'Best of the rest' was, again, Orbea's Aitor Hernández. The former Euskaltel man trailed the Hirumet Taldea star by a huge 1:16 upon crossing the line, but still did enough to hold off former winner Javier Ruíz de Larriñaga. It was the native of Ermua's second consecutive silver, having been bested by the impressive Murgoitio last year as well. Aketza Peña grabbed a noteworthy fourth, while Hernández's team-mate and mountain bike olympics hopeful Iñaki Lejarreta captured sixth. Elite results:
  • 1, Egoitz Murgoitio
  • 2, Aitor Hernández, 1:16
  • 3, Javier Ruiz de Larriñaga, 1:36
  • 4, Aketza Peña, 2:42
  • 5, Erlantz Uriarte, 3:49
Not surprisingly, Jonathan Lastra took out the sub-23 win, pipping Iñigo Gómez on the line. The latter's brother, Jon, closed out the podium. As Lastra is a team-mate of Murgoitio's, the victory meant Hirumet Taldea took out the two biggest races. In addition, the team took out the Galician champs courtesy of Pablo Rodríguez. Former Naturgas Energía stalwart David Hidalgo finished just off the podium in fourth, while Debabarrena's Peio Goikoetxea snatched fifth in front of Jon Ander Insausti of Seguros Bilbao. Under-23 results:
  • 1, Jonathan Lastra
  • 2, Iñigo Gómez, s.t.
  • 3, Jon Gómez, 3:21
  • 4, David Hidalgo, 5:42
  • 5, Peio Goikoetxea, 7:23
Again entirely as expected, Jonathan Bilbao of Gastronomia Baska-Avia was crowned regional junior champ. Bilbao, who's continuously sporting Euskaltel's old-style white and orange Catlike Whisper casco, bested Álex Aranburu and Eneko Corrales. Junior results:
  • 1, Jonathan Bilbao
  • 2, Álex Aranburu, 0:16
  • 3, Eneko Corrales, 0:56
  • 4, Aritz Hernández, 1:42
  • 5, Xavier Goikoetxea 2:33
Among the women, Olatz Ordiozola came out tops in the elite category, while Eider Merino annihilated the junior field. For full results, click here.

Friday, December 23, 2011


  • As expected, Spanish national coach José Luis de Santos virtually guarantees reigning champ Samuel Sánchez will be selected to represent his country at the London Olympics next summer. Speaking to BiciCiclismo, de Santos said the Euskaltel captain, Óscar Freire, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador are near dead-certs to take four of the five spots on the team. "He's the reigning champ and the 'soul' of our Olympic dream, so he should be considered one of the leaders", the coach said of the Beijing 2008 victor. "And he's a smart rider who knows how to seize the opportunities presented to him. He showed as much in Beijing".
  • What with Cavendish deservedly taking out BBC's Sports Personality of the Year-award and Phil Gilbert racking up gongs after gongs at home as well as abroad, cyclists seem to be all the rage at the yearly awards ceremonies. Iñaki Isasi was earlier this week honoured by the sports writers of Álava, and yesterday Samuel Sánchez was voted "Best professional cyclist of 2011" in his home region of Asturias.
  • Esteemed Spanish cycling website El Pedal de Frodo yesterday held it's own awards gala. Hordes of cyclists and celebrities of the sport were present at the ceremony in the picturesque village of Iurreta, Vizcaya, including the likes of Roberto Laiseka, Beñat Intxausti, Juan Marí Guajardo, Javier Bodegas, Miguel Minguz, Davíd Lopez García, Pedro Horrillo, Víctor de la Parte and Koldo Fernández. Standout climber Mikel Landa was voted "Best young rider", Mikel Nieve "Beste Basque", Omar Fraile "Best sub-23 rider" and Igor Antón "'Bilbainada' of the year". Entirely as anticipated, Alberto Contador was elected "Rider of the year".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


  • Rubén Pérez, Gorka Izagirre, Romain Sicard and Pabo Urtasun are back from their nine-day pre-season training camp at the Costa Blanca. The quartet headed for the cycling-friendly cost to fine-tune their form ahead of the rapidly-approaching season-opener in Australia next month, and DS Larrazabal, who went with them, outlined the importance of the camp upon its completion. "At this stage of the 2012 preparations, long low-intensity rides are vital. It lays the foundations for the season ahead. Especially for these guys, who'll all start off early next year, it's of utmost importance. The Costa Blanca is the only place, at this time of year, where the weather allows you to to ride outside every day, so that's why we spent all of nine days here", Larrazabal told the team's website.
  • Several Basque professionals are currently without a team for the upcoming season. Beñat Urain of Orbea has not been successful in finding a new home so far, while the same goes for Euskaltel's Daniel Sesma. Lampre's Aitor Pérez Arrieta is still on the look-out, while Geox's folding leaves Arkaitz Durán without a ride. In all, 40 Spanish professionals of this year is without a contract for next year.
  • Earlier this week, the retiring Iñaki Isasi was honoured by the sport journalists of his home region of Álava. The sprinter, who calls Respaldiza home, was awarded the Pin de Oro by the Association of Sport Journalists of Álava. To read more, click this link.

Tour over Olympics for Samu

For Samuel Sánchez, deciding on whether to focus the most on the Tour de France or the Olympic Games next year was a no-brainer: it's all for the Tour. As he points out in an interview with Teledeporte, pinning everything on one day of success is foolhardy.

"The goal is the Tour. The Olympics are one day of competition: you can't channel your entire season towards one single day. If you fail, it's a disaster", the 2008 Olympic champion stated bluntly.

"I stepped onto the podium on the Champs-Elysées as the winner of the climber's jersey this season. That was quite something. For any cyclist, the Tour is everything. At the Olympics you're wearing the jersey of your country, so the two really are the best you get."

Looking forward to the big day in London this summer, Samu was mindful of the threat posed by one British cyclist in particular - and not the one you may think.

"You have to be aware of the final laps. At the pre-Olympics earlier this year, they didn't go the whole distance. If it turns out too hard, Cavendish will be out of the running. But I do expect Bradley Wiggins to be one of the main favourites", he explained.

Talking of the Tour, the Asturian says he would happily sign up for a repeat performance of 2011. But the overall win is not an option - a fellow countryman has got the GC sewn up already.

"It was a good Tour: we were on the final podium, we won a stage. I'd definitely take a repeat of 2011. I lost the possibility to finish on the podium on the Galibier this year, but hopefully next year I'll be able to avoid a jour sans. I'll fight for the top three. But the victory is already reserved for Contador, who already has some experience in that department", he said, half-jokingly.

Contrary to previous reports, it seems the Euskaltel captain will kick-start his 2012 campaign at the Vuelta a Andalucía, not the Mallorca Challenge, in late February.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Fabulous news"

Fundación Euskadi president and returning general manager at Euskaltel, Miguel Madariaga, was a relieved man upon hearing of the team's main sponsor's intent of renewing their sponsorship beyond 2012. Talking to, the founding father of the team expressed his delight.

"(Euskaltel president) Alberto García Erauzkin' comments are fabulous news for Basque cycling and all Basque cyclists. It was a public acknowledgement of the fact that the Fundación, which is responsible for the team and it's licence, has been important for Euskaltel. I'm obviously pleased with that".

As he's spoken of in the past though, he reiterated that the team might be wholly owned by the sponsor in the future.

"(To keep the team going) they need to invest heavily, and we (the Fundación) can't do that. The Fundación Euskadi might not be a part of the team. As Euskaltel's president said: they'll aim to adapt to the demands of the WorldTour. The foundation can't do the same. We'll continue our work at grassroots level - it's important and it's where we're headed."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Martín relishing new challenge

As Iban Mayo Blog revealed back in October, released Orbea rider Noel Martín will form part of what is arguably one of Spain's top amateur teams, Supermercados-Froiz, in 2012. Yet despite taking what seems like a step back, the native of Álava is chomping at the bit to get started with his new outfit. And he admits turning down offers from outside of his home country in order to join the red and whites.

"To be honest, this (Supermercados-Froiz) was the best option I had", he writes on his own website. "I received a couple of offers from outside of Spain, but they left me with a lot of questions. They were attractive, but not convincing, so I decided to stay here and focus everything on the two wheels. Supermercados-Froiz is the best amateur team out there - they've got some great riders, and some really experienced ones too (like José Antonio de Segovia, Angel Vallejo, Moisés Dueñas...). I know most of the guys, especially the first two as they're Ávilan too, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it there and that we'll cooperate well together".

Martín will aim to perform strongly in the Spanish Cup races, but admits he'll compete in another discipline as well.

"I'm training on the track twice a week at the moment, just to ease back into it. I'll up the intensity in January with a few to the first competition later that month and in mid-February. My goal is to be selected for the national team for the Worlds or the European champs. But if I am to achieve that, I'll have to work hard. I'm not getting ahead of myself!".

Despite admitting being let go by Orbea was a tough pill to swallow, the 22-year-old is intent on earning a new chance to ride with the pros:

"I hope to rediscover the confidence I lost during my two-year spell at the professional level. I want another shot at it! It'll be difficult, but I'll do my utmost to get back there!"

Basque amateur calendar set

The Basque Cycling Federation today announced the complete set of races that will make up the 2012 amateur and sub-23 season (or élite and sub 23 as it's officially called). The schedule is pretty similar to that of last year: 26 races in the Torneo Euskaldun series, 28 in the Lehendakari version, three stage-races (Bidasoa, Navarra and Álava), the usual one-day classics, and a trio of Spanish Cup-races. In all 67 races, the Basque newspapers report. The only notable change from this year is the disappearance of the Torneo Apertura. The three-race series, reserved for first - and second-year aficionados only, was won comfortably by Naturgas' Fernando Grijalba this year, but will go off the calendar after a solitary year of existence.

Despite the everlasting 'crisis' so-called experts and pundits label the current situation in Basque cycling, 2012 will again see a healthy number of teams. 14 Basque teams have secured their future for next year: four in Bizkaia, four in Giupzkoa, five in Navarra and the one (Naturgas) in Álava.

Complete calendar:

25 Zumaia (Euskaldun)
26 Soraluze (Lehendakari)

3 Ereño (Lehendakari)
4 Laudio (Euskaldun)
10 Lizartza (Lehendakari)
11 Aiztondo Klasika (Copa España)
11 Almandoz (Lehendakari)
17 Villatuerta (Lehendakari)
18 Estella (Euskaldun)
24 Laukiz (Lehendakari)
25 Subida a Gorla (Lehendakari)
31 Balmaseda (Elite y sub 23)

1 Memorial Valenciaga (Copa España)
1 Amorebieta (Lehendakari)
7 Peralta (Euskaldun)
14 Estella (Lehendakari)
15 Durana (Euskaldun)
21 Lazkao (Euskaldun)
22 Bera (Lehendakari)
27-29 Tres Días de Alava (1.13.2)

1 Legazpi (Copa España)
5 Berriatua (Euskaldun)
6 Subida Urraki (Euskaldun)
9-12 Vuelta al Bidasoa (Sub 23)
13 Natxitua (Lehendakari)
19 Estella (Euskaldun)
20 Markina (Lehendakari)
26 Beasain (Lehendakari)
29-3 junio Vuelta a Navarra (2.12.2)
27 Bergara (Lehendakari)
30 Campeonatos Gipuzkoa cri

2 Campeona Euskadi línea (Urretxu)
3 Campeonato Euskadi CRI (Legutiano)
10 Ataun (Euskaldun)
16 Trucios (Lehendakari)
17 Logroño (Euskaldun)
23 Segura (Euskaldun)
24 Tolosa (Lehendakari)
29 Irún (Euskaldun)
30 Clásica Mungia (1.13.2 Sub 23)

1 Salinas (Euskaldun)
7 Murgia (Euskaldun)
8 Antzuola (Lehendakari)
14 Sopelana (Lehendakari)
15 Beasain (1.12.2)
21 Pamplona-Bayona (Euskaldun)
22 Busturia (Lehendakari)
31 Altzo (Invitación)

5 Oiartzun (Euskaldun)
9 Muxika (Lehendakari)
12 Amurrio (Euskaldun)
13 Lemoiz (Lehendakari)
16 Aretxabaleta (Euskaldun)
18 Mañaria (Euskaldun)
23 Elgoibar (Lehendakari)
24 Gernika (Lehendakari)
26 Zegama (Euskaldun)
29 Lakuntza (Euskaldun)
30 Larrabetzu (Lehendakari)

1 Ataun (Euskaldun)
3 Lekeitio (Euskaldun)
8 Urduliz (Lehendakari)
9 Bermeo (Lehendakari)
15 Alsasua (Euskaldun)
16 Bergara (Lehendakari)
22 Oñati (Lehendakari)
23 Zaldibia (Euskaldun)

Overview courtesy of

Naturgas Energía roster 2012: Jon Larrinaga, Loic Chetout, Karl Baudron, Alain González, Eduardo Ardaiz, Damien García, Alain Santamaría, Imanol Estevez, Mikel Iturria, Pablo Comins, Oier Sánchez, Victor Etxebarria and Francisco Javier Martín.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hernández triumphs

In the absence of Spain's foremost cyclo-cross rider Egoitz Murgoitio, Aitor Hernández (pictured above. And, yes, that's him) took out his third win of the year in Legazpi earlier today, BiciCiclismo reports. In the industrial Gipuzkoan town, the Orbea rider bested team-mate Rubén Ruzafa, while his former Euskaltel partner Aketza Peña made a welcome return to the podium with a third place finish. The race doubled up as the Gipuzkoan champs, and the fourth-placed rider, Asier Arregi, took out that particular competition.

Xabier Goikoetxea came out tops in the juniors' race ahead of Alex Aranburu and Josu Urrestarazu.

Euskaltel president hints at new deal

The new president of telephone company Euskaltel, Alberto García Erauzkin, has moved to play down fears they might end their sponsorship of their eponymous team at this time next year. Speaking to DEIA, Erauzkin says keeping the team alive is his "intention".

"Yes, that's my intention (to tie up a new two-year deal in the summer)", Erauzkin, who's likely to make a decision on the matter in six months' time, said.

Continuing, the president talked off how he wants to make the team a sustainable project for the future - a team he reckons has been worthy of their support.

"No one is more interested than us in keeping this team going. Euskaltel Euskadi have been a success for Euskaltel, for Euskadi and for the Basque fans. The team have shown that money is not everything when it comes to performing: you have to have a strong team and a quality captain. Euskaltel Euskadi have that."

The newspaper goes on to claim that Euskaltel are "more likely than not to stay on", and that Fundación Euskadi president Miguel Madariaga "doesn't doubt" the sponsorship agreement will be renewed. Right now though, Madariaga is focussed on securing the team's budget for the season ahead. In a month or so, he anticipates, everything should be in place for 2012.

Cabedo reveals Giro dream

New signing Victor Cabedo had an outstanding season in the blue of Orbea last year, culminating in a win at the Vuelta a Asturias. While he's not set himself any concrete number of wins he aims to secure in 2012, he's got his eyes set on one of the biggest races out there: the Giro d'Italia.

"I'll start my season at the Mallorca Challenge in February. After that, I'll take on Andalucía, Murcia and Cataluñya. After this block of racing, I'm more than likely to be selected for my first Grand Tour: the Giro", he revealed to el Periódico Mediterráneo yesterday.

The 22-year-old even harbours hope of riding the Tour in July, but admits he's probably too young for that. Instead of focussing on achieving glory himself, he's intent on riding in the service of his more senior captains.

"I'll try to help out as much as I can and strive to adapt to the level of racing. Riding for riders like Samuel Sánchez and Igor Antón will motivate me. In addition, I'll learn a lot from them".

Though he's arguably made a name for himself on the flatter stages and in one-day classics, Cabedo is keen to make his presence felt at the GTs as well. He said as much to Iban Mayo Blog a fair few weeks back, and he considers himself a jack of all trades:

"I'm a perfectionist. I'm good against the clock and in the mountains, and I consider myself to be a solid rouleur."

If he's half as good as he says he is, we're all in for a treat next year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Team full of talent"

Euskaltel's Continental feeder team Orbea are these days putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the new year, and the man at the head of it all, director deportivo Aritz Arberas, is quietly pleased with the crop of youngsters at his disposal. All 11 riders underwent testing at the team's HQ in Derio earlier today, while they'll conduct their first group ride on the road tomorrow.

"There's a big turnover of riders here, and inexperienced youngsters join us each season. However, there's lot of talent in these guys. Some of them have shown they're capable of winning among the pros, and we're fighting to win races on a daily basis. But as this team is more focussed on development rather than winning races, it's hard to set specific goals for 2012", Arberas told Orbea's website.

Four of the class of 2011 were rewarded with contracts at Euskaltel. The DS is hoping for similar success next year, but is now firmly focussed on getting his charges perfectly set up for the season.

"We'll meet up to set training plans, talk to the riders, see what kind of shape they're in, discuss racing schedules and, generally, plan the year ahead of us and oversee the first training sessions with a view to the first competitions in 2012", he concluded.

Roster: Jon Aberasturi, Aritz Bagües, Carlos Barbero, Mikel Bizkarra, Andoni Blázquez, Aritz Etxebarria, Omar Fraile, Igor Merino, Haritz Orbea, Xavier Zabalo and Illart Zuazubiskar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Squad for Tour Down Under

As their WorldTour-licence obliges them to, Euskaltel will get their 2012 season underway at the Tour Down Under in Australia from 15-22 of January. It's still a month to go before the grand kick-off, but the team have nonetheless decided who'll represent the team at the race: Victor Cabedo, Gorka Izagirre, Ricardo García, Rubén Pérez, Adrián Sáez, Romain Sicard and Pablo Urtasun.

For Cabedo, García and Sáez, it'll naturally be their debut race in the orange jersey. Sicard will be there with the aim of getting back into shape after an injury-ravaged year, while Pérez, Izagirre and Urtasun all possess the kind of end-speed needed to land them a result at the mainly flat course. Izagirre had a strong showing there last year and went agonizingly close to snatching a win - he'll be keen to make it right this time around.

To hone their form for the season-opener, the four senior riders (that'll be Izagirre, Sicard, Urtasun and Pérez) are currently getting in the kilometres at the east cost, on the Costa Blanca, the team's website reports. As per tradition at this time of year, the Basque Country is pretty wet and cold and not favourable to outdoor riding. The milder climes on the Costa Blanca are likely to suit them more, and Josu Larrazabal has gone with them to supervise their training. The quintet will stay 'till the 21st of December.

Intxausti "out to win País Vasco"

In many respects, 2011 was a year to forget for Movistar prodigy Beñat Intxausti. Off the road, witnessing the death of friend and team-mate Xavier Tondo up close left him with indelible scars. On it, an injury-enforced DNF in his maiden Tour de France wrecked his season. The former Euskaltel rider claims he's a changed man after the tragic incident - and says he's now more focussed on enjoying both his bike and his life. On the bike, the 25-year-old is aiming to claim the biggest scalp of his career to date: the Vuelta al País Vasco.

"No, I'm aiming to win the whole thing", he told Ciclismo a Fondo upon being questioned if he was aiming for the podium. "I want to win the race. I was fourth this year, third the year before... I want to make the step up, even if Alejandro Valverde decides to do the race. Obviously, if he'll ride it I'll have to work for him and respect the hierarchy, but still. I'll also aim for the Critérium International, Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice. The latter has served me well in the past, and it's a race I enjoy. I'm also on the long-list for the Tour de France, and I'm likely to go back there this year, but July is far away at the time being. I prefer to concentrate on what's coming up in the near future, as opposed to what's coming up in more than six months, so I'm only planning for the first part of the season. Just like I did this year, in fact."

This year didn't turn out too well for the youngster once hailed as the saviour of Basque, and for that matter Spanish, cycling. But the native of Amorebieta refuses to be down-beat, and insists he's drawing the positives from what's been a testing year.

"It's made me tougher. I've gone through bad times, very bad times, but with the help of my team, my friends and my family I've come out the other side", the softly-spoken climber explained. "Everything that've happened to me, from the falls and injuries to Xavier's passing, have made me more mature and mentally stronger. I look at things differently now - I've come to enjoy my bike and my life more. Xavier's death has changed me."

Along with fellow Movistar rider David López García and Euskaltel duo Jonathan Castroviejo and Rubén Pérez, Intxausti took part in the Criterium Ciclista de Corralejo on the island of Fuerteventura a week ago - a ride dedicated to the fight against cancer. To read more about that experience, click this link.

He'll get his season underway in February at the Mallorca Challenge, before heading to the Ruta del Sol - Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucía.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


  • Mikel Astarloza has opted to start his season at the Mallorca Challenge in February, not at the Tour Down Under the month before. He says as much on his own website this morning. The 32-year-old added that he's feeling "better and better in training", and that he hopes to start the season "in the best shape possible".
  • "The Giro d'Italia attracts me. I love racing in Italy", Samuel Sánchez reveals in an interview with Diario Siglo XXI. To find out why, read this.
  • A Spanish blogger got to spend a whole day with Euskaltel during this year's Tour de France. To see what that was like, watching the concluding time trial from the team car in the company of Miguel Madariaga, click this link.
  • Igor Antón is in the running for the 'Best Basque Athlete of 2011' handed out by Bilbao-based newspaper El Correo. As it stands now, he's actually going to win it, ahead of the likes of Iker Muñiain and Javi Martínez. To cast your vote, click here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hernández lands second in Spanish Cup

Orbea's Aitor Hernández was again 'best of the rest' behind the invincible Egoitz Murgoitio in yesterday's fourth and final Spanish Cup cyclo-cross race in Alcobendas. Hernández beat veteran Isaac Suarez into third, 1:11 back on Murgoitio, and thus claimed the same place overall in the race series ahead of Suarez. There was no disputing the winner though: Murgoitio won every single race in the series to cap off a dominant season on the domestic scene so far.

Jon Gómez took out the sub-23 classification ahead of Jonathan Lastra and Pablo Rodríguez. Aketza Peña, another former Euskaltel rider, enjoyed a dismal weekend, finishing 13th yesterday and thus dropping to ninth overall.

Post-race, Peña lamented an untimely crash for his rather off-colour performance, but was nonetheless optimistic about the challenges ahead: "I was riding comfortably alongside Arriola, Suarez, Larriñaga and some under-23 riders (Gómez, Lastra etc) when I crashed. That mix-up meant I had no chance to finish inside the top ten. It was difficult to get back into a good rhythm straight away, but gradually I got up to speed again and passed quite a few riders. Next week I'll line up in Legazpi. It's been a week filled with races, so before that race in Legazpi I'll try to recover from these efforts. But I'm feeling better with each passing race, and my confidence is on the up, so I'm aiming for a strong showing in the Euskadi Championships in Llodio."

Hernández, who's been the revelation of the Spanish cyclo-cross season, was rightly pleased with his ride, and has got his eyes set on the Worlds.

"It's the first time I've competed here, so I'm pleased with the result", he told BiciCiclismo. "Now I'll keep training well to maintain this level of fitness for the national championships and hopefully get selected for the Worlds", the native of Ermua concluded.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Astarloza speaks out

Mikel Astarloza granted his local newspaper, el Noticias de Gipuzkoa, a lengthy interview over the weekend - the first of its kind since returning to the Euskaltel fold in August. Here's a quick summary of what was said:

On his two-year absence:
I never stopped feeling like a professional cyclist when I was suspended. From day one it was clear my career wouldn't end like that. I lived as a pro does to the best of my ability. They were two long and hard years, but every day that passed made me happy as it meant I got closer and closer to returning.

On his sanction:
I appealed the verdict, but the case is still with the judges in Madrid. There's no news on that front. They told me cases like these usually take a while though, so I just have to stay patient. It's funny how I've already completed the suspension, and still there's no verdict.

On his stance:
Yes (I still proclaim my innocence). Of course.

On Euskaltel's support:
I'm pleased with their behaviour; I can't complain. In a situation as difficult as mine, they showed their support from the first to the last day. They opened up a spot for me, so of course I'm grateful.

On his comeback:
I returned to competition at the Vuelta a Burgos in August, so naturally my season was a tad short. I therefore tried to sustain my form 'till the end of the season, and I finished up in Lombardy in October. After that race, I couldn't do anything but relax. But it's been a good pre-season, so I'm looking forward to 2012.

On not being selected for the Vuelta a España:
I have to admit it was a blow not being picked for the Vuelta. After all, I spent the whole of 2011, from January onwards, preparing for that race. After Burgos I was told I wasn't going, and that was very annoying. I think I would have been satisfying shape. To be honest, I still don't understand why I was left out. But, hey, that's in the past. I'm not dwelling on it, I'm just looking forward to the start of the season.

On the Tour of Beijing:
Right from the start it was. We suffered badly from gastroenteritis, and obviously it's hard to get back into shape after such a bad bout. Therefore, the experience of the race and the country was bad. But I hope the other riders don't feel the same way. Obviously my view is a bit obstructed as the whole team was suffering - experiences like that put a damper on the whole thing.

On his schedule:
I'll start in Mallorca and Andalucía, but the big targets of the first few months will be Paris-Nice, Critériun International and Vuelta al País Vasco. Then I'll do the Ardennes Classics, before finishing off the first part of the season at Romandia. Then I'll take a month off, before returning at the Tour de Suisse. After that it's time for the Tour.

On repeating the stage-win of 2009:
It's a dream to repeat that win. Actually, it's an obsession. I've always dreamed of crossing the line, arms aloft, at the Tour again. It's my dream and obsession.

On his future:
My contract's up at the end of 2012, but hopefully the team keeps going and I can stay on. I just turned 32, so I think, athletically speaking, I've matured. But I'm as motivated as an 18-year-old.

Need for speed

With Koldo Fernández leaving the cycling-friendly Basque Country for chilly Colorado this Christmas, Euskaltel are left without a bona fide sprinter in their ranks for 2012. Granted, Euskaltel have never been a haven for the speed merchants. But it does leave the team increasingly dependent on their ace climbers to come up with the goods in the numerous multi-day races on the calendar, and may see the team returning to pre-Galdeano anonymity on stages suited to the speedsters and rouleurs.

A look back at Euskaltel's victories the last few years shows a team more built around sprint wins than popular opinion has it. Of the outfit's 48 wins the last half-decade, 14 have come from field sprints. That's approximately one third of victories obtained - 11 of which were the departing Fernández's. Though the wins have dried up for the 29-year-old of late - largely because of injuries it has to be said - it's undeniable that his leaving leaves a major hole in the team's arsenal. With the team's other recognized sprinter, Iñaki Isasi, retiring, key lead-out man (and decent finisher in his own right) Javier Aramendía heading for the exit, and Pablo Urtasun gradually evolving more into an all-round utility man, it leaves Rubén Pérez almost on his own in the speed department. And Pérez is no out-and-out sprinter - as his exploits in the high mountains of the Tour de France are testament to.

Although he only has that one win in the Bayern Rundfahrt last year to his name, Pérez possess a decent finishing kick and is set to take on a deservedly greater role in the dashes for the line in 2012. He is however arguably more consistent than spectacular, and is thus unlikely to bring in the same number of wins Fernández did in his pomp. Los hermanos Izagirre and new recruits Victor Cabedo and Peio Bilbao are all blessed with reasonably fast twitch muscle fibers, but those are more likely to come to the fore in small groups than in big ones. Meaning, again, that Rubén Pérez is the man the team will have to place their trust in more often than not.

A rider to share the burden with Pérez would do the team a world of good - but Euskaltel's recruitment policy naturally complicates the process of finding a top sprinter. One who does seem to fit the bill though, and who is Basque through and through, is Orbea's Jon Aberasturi. The 22-year-old, who joined the Continental team from the Fundación's sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, is gradually finding his feet at the top table, showcased by his first win among the pros last year. Contrary to some reports earlier in the winter, he was not picked up by Euskaltel, and will embark on his third season with the blue team next year. If he continues to develop at the speed (pun intended) he's done this year, he might be the answer to Madariaga and Gerrikagoitia's prayers. But until then, Rubén Pérez is left to his own devices. And even he, no matter how willing, can be there for the team in every flat race on the calendar.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


  • Mikel Landa wasn't the only one to injure his collarbone at the team's recent training camp it transpires. El Diario Vasco reports ace climber Iván Velasco his the deck and took a hit to his right clavicle - but escaped fracture. The 31-year-old only sustained a fissure fracture, and will hope to resume normal training on Monday. According to the man himself, the crash hasn't set his preparations for the upcoming season back, a season that's set to commence at the Clásica de Almería in February. Velasco will then embark on an exclusive Spanish calendar leading up to his major goal of the year: the Giro. The native of Arrasate will take on Murcia, Catalunya, Indurain, Amorebieta, Castilla y León and La Rioja in the hope of reaching peak form in May.
  • Which one of the Izagirre brothers is the strongest? To find out what Jon and Gorka mean, check out el Pedal de Frodo's interview with Euskaltel's fifth pair of siblings here.
  • Released Naturgas Energía rider Efrén Carazo will turn professional with home team Burgos 2016 next year, says. El Correo de Burgos reported a few weeks back that the youngster was on the verge of signing with Andrés Izquierdo's Continental team, and, according to BiciCiclismo, that's now been done. He's thus set to become the 14th Spanish neo-pro in 2012.
  • Ever wondered who lined up for Euskaltel in their maiden 1994 season? Who made up the roster of that golden class of 2003? Or who'll don the orange jersey next year? Find out under the 'Euskaltel section' on your rigth - at 'Team rosters, 1994-present', I've compiled the complete list of riders ever to have represented the team, when they did so, and who they lined up alongside.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Camaño happy with Endura adventure

After having spent nine years at the very top level of professional cycling, former Euskaltel utility man Iker Camaño joined Britain-based Continental team Endura Racing midway through the 2010 season. Two seasons at Phonak, three at Euskaltel and four at Saunier Duval (in it's various guises) brought him a solid reputation but not a single win. Last year alone saw the 32-year-old pull four wins out of the hat. No wonder he's enjoying riding his bike these days.

"Everything went perfectly last year", Camaño told El Correo, reflecting on a year that saw him victorious on a stage and in the overall of the Cinturón de Mallorca, a stage of the Tour of Norway, and a team time trial win in the Czech Cycling Tour. The year also brought him a strong sixth place finish at the Tour of Britain. He's hoping for more of the same in 2012:

"On a personal level, a repeat of this year would make 2012 a success. Everything went to plan this season."

"As for the team, the people here are incredible. Endura aim to take another step in the right direction next year".

Endura Racing confirmed towards the end of October that the native of Santurtzi, Bizkaia, was retained for the coming season. The length of his contract was not disclosed.

Zikliamatore 2011. Buy it. Now.

I don't usually advertise for any products whatsoever on this site, but I owe this one to Iñaki Azanza. The photographer, who travels the world in search of the best pics of the sport, be it on the road, the track or in the mud, has for the last few years supplied this blog with top-end material straight from the races. For free. He's recently launched the 2011 edition of Zikliamatore; a publication featuring 250 of the best photos from the recently-concluded season. So if you're into cycling, like the look of it on film and want a review of 2011 in pictures, you could do worse than checking into either his own webpage or Urtekaria's webshop and acquire a copy for 10 euros. I have the latest edition (as well as the two previous ones), and it's phenomenal. Go check it out.

Murgoitio excels; Hernández repeats

Egoitz Murgoitio once again proved to be Aitor Hernández's nemesis this afternoon at a Spanish Cup-race in Cantabria, reports. The Hirumet Taldea rider once again came out tops in Puente Viesgo, beating (or is that crushing?) the Orbea rider by a big 1:08. Isaac Suarez of Bio Racer closed out the top three, while Aketza Peña - still struggling to rediscover last year's form - came home 2:17 in arrears in sixth place.

A noteworthy name on the start list was road race Óscar Pujol. The former Cervélo and Omega Pharma rider is still searching for a team for 2012 (as far as I know, anyway), and finished up in 27th place.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hernández outgunned by Murgoitio

Aitor Hernández once again had to settle for second behind the untouchable Egoitz Murgoitio in today's cyclo-cross race in Asteasu. Murgoitio was in a league of his own right from the off and rode away with his ninth victory of the year, while the former Euskaltel man had little trouble is distancing 2010 cross-country world champ Hermida to finish on the second step of the podium a significant 1:55 in arrears. Former national champ and Kaiku road racer Javier Ruíz de Larriñaga finished up fourth, while Orbea stalwart Rubén Ruzafa rounded out the top five. Aketza Peña, who also spent his younger years riding on the road for Euskaltel, ended up a distant eighth.

Monday, December 05, 2011

"I was lucky"

They say cycling is the toughest sport there is. That means cyclists have to be tougher than most other athletes out there. Markel Irizar is proof of that. The former Euskaltel rider sustained a broken jaw, a broken finger and various other injuries to his face (which the picture above displays so eloquently) on Saturday afternoon when out training. 24 hours later, the rouleur is in good spirits and says he feels "lucky".

"I haven't broken any teeth and, gladly, I don't have to get my jaw operated on. My hand is nothing. Therefore, all in all, I have to be happy. I was lucky", he told el Diario Vasco on Sunday.

Like cyclists who have taken a hit to the head tend to, he doesn't remember anything from the episode.

"I remember I was out training - I planned to ride from Osintxu to Bergara. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I don't remember anything from the incident itself. I crashed, obviously, but how it came about I don't know. I was on my own, going fast, that much I know. The terrain, being flat, lends itself to that kind of riding. I was supposed to meet up with Haimar (Zubeldia) and Amets (Txurruka), but at the time I was riding alone. After having spent a bit of time at the hospital, I saw Haimar had tried to call me."

If ever there is a "good" time to crash, November and December represent the ideal time to do so as the season is still some way off. Irizar acknowledges as much, saying:

"It won't hamper my preparations that much. It's still early December, so I've got time on my side to get into decent shape for the start of the season. I'll take a few days off as a precaution, and then restart training".

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Zubeldia set for Tour-Vuelta double

Haimar Zubeldia will once again embark on a season brimming with big races. The reliable 34-year-old will, as has become the norm, take on both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España for his team RadioShack - Nissan Trek in 2012, and will do most of his other racing in Spain, BiciCiclismo reports.

Like pretty much every other Spaniard in the peloton, Zubeldia will kick off his season at the Challenge Mallorca in early February. He'll then head on to the Vuelta a Andalucía before testing his legs at the Volta a Catalunya, a race he placed third in three years ago. His home race, the Vuelta al País Vasco, then awaits, and in May he'll head over to the States for the Tour of California. Upon returning to Europe, he'll ramp it up for the Tour with the Dauphiné - scene of much success in his younger years at Euskaltel. He'll be one of the Schlecks' main domestiques in France in July, before likely getting the chance to step out of his helper role at the Clásica San Sebastián. He'll close out his season at the Vuelta in September.

Speaking of the merger between the 'Shack and Leopard, the former Euskaltel legend trusts team head Johan Bruyneel to make the riders click.

"It'll be vital to make these two 'groups' one. Johan is capable of doing that, and that was our aim in Spa. We were rivals last year, but this year we'll have to coexist. Normally we'd do our first training camp now, but, as this year's quite different, we spent a couple of days in Spa (before doing this camp in Calpe)", he told

"Euskaltel were not interested in me"

After his best season yet in 2011, Caja Rural's Egoitz García was touted by some as a potential Euskaltel recruit this winter. Instead, the 25-year-old ended up at Cofidis. Allegedly Euskaltel were not even remotely interested - weird considering he's one of the few Basques out there with all-important UCI points to his name.

"My dream has always been to ride for Euskaltel, but I called them up and they said they weren't interested", the Atxondo-native told Gara. "I then called up Eric Boyer, the Cofidis manager. We didn't talk for long, as I don't really understand French, but I did understand the most important aspect: they wanted me to sign a two-year deal. I didn't have to think it over, there wasn't much to think about really, so I said yes."

The Basque newspaper then quoted former Caja Rural DS Iñaki Juanikorena saying he didn't understand why Euskaltel, with a blatant need for UCI points, didn't pick him up. García was at a loss to explain why.

"I've got 50 points, which in the WorldTour will have to be divided in three... As of yet, I haven't been given the opportunity to ride with my local team despite riding strongly in this year's Vuelta al País Vasco. I hoped Euskaltel would come calling, but they didn't, and I don't really understand why."

García somewhat came of age this year, taking second (only to André Greipel) in a stage of the Tour of Turkey, placing seventh overall in the same race, grabbing fifth in a Tour de Limousin-stage and finishing fifth and sixth at stages in País Vasco. Next year he hopes to make his Grand Tour bow. The Tour is likely to be stretching it in his first year with Cofidis, but a Vuelta appearance would do him just fine.

"Riding the Tour de France would be a dream come true, but the Vuelta is more realistic for me in 2012", he admitted. "I'll do everything in my power to be at my best, and if that takes me to France in July all the better, but I'd be more than pleased with the Vuelta. Most of all I want to get a three-week race under my belt."

Report: Irizar injured in training crash

Former Euskaltel stalwart Markel Irizar crashed heavily while training today, suffering multiple injuries to his face.

BiciCiclismo reports the RadioShack - Nissan Trek rider was taken to a medical center where he was treated for a broken jaw, a broken finger and various facial injuries. He also required several stitches to a wound above his right eye. Irizar will remain under observation at the hospital tonight, and is likely to miss the start (if not the whole thing) of his team's training camp in Calpe, Alicante, starting tomorrow.

A picture of the banged-up 31-year-old can be viewed here.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Hernández crowned Bizkaia champ

Aitor Hernández was crowned cyclo-cross champion of Bizkaia after storming to a commanding solo win in Lezama earlier today. The former Euskaltel climber took advantage of the all-conquering Egoitz Murgoitio's absence to take his second win of the young season. The native of Ermua beat Isaac Suárez by a whopping 38 seconds, while 24-year-old Erlantz Uriarte claimed the last spot on the podium. Top cross-country rider Iñaki Lejarreta, who told Iban Mayo Blog earlier this week that he's channeling all his powers into grabbing one of Spain's three cross-country spots in the Olympics next year, came home fourth.

Jon Gómez Elorriaga beat his brother Iñigo to the under-23 crown, while promising 18-year-old Jonathan Lastra Martínez, who placed 17th at the World Champs for juniors last season, had to settle for third. Eneko Corrales beat the favoured Jonathan Bilbao to the junior crown.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Rubén Pérez looking to emulate 2011

One of Euskaltel's most trusted performers for half a decade, utility man Rubén Pérez, once again showed his worth last year with a stellar campaign. Though he failed to build on his so far only professional victory taken in 2010, the 30-year-old was active throughout the season, grabbed two third places and was at his aggressive best in the Tour de France. Looking towards next year, the native of Zaldibar is hoping for more of the same.

"I started off on the wrong foot last year as I caught a virus in the Tour Down Under. That virus, along with my allergies and the resulting weight-loss, resulted in a bad first half of the season. But I turned it around for the second half of the season and did, in my opinion, a good Tour de France. I got into six breaks, some of them dangerous ones, and of course Samu's win made me proud. Next year, if I can be of help to my team-mates and be equally aggressive, I'll be more than pleased," the likeable rider told El Pedal de Frodo.

Pérez will once again start the season Down Under, and will aim to be in strong form for the following early-season races. With number one sprinter Koldo Fernández off to Garmin-Cervélo, Pérez is likely to be given more of a chance to ride for his own chances in the sprint finishes.

"Yeah, I've worked a lot for Koldo these last few years. Perhaps this year I'll be able to go for the wins myself, and hopefully I can pull it off. I'm not completely sure yet, but I'm pretty confident I'll get my chances in some races."

His biggest hope for the year ahead though is - unexpectedly - that the team's sponsors come up with enough money to keep the outfit rolling for another few years.

"I trust the team and the sponsors, but I naturally hope for a bigger budget. It's our biggest hope that the team stays on and that in 2013 we're still a part of the WorldTour. And of course that our names are on the list of riders. I love it here, and I hope the team will be around for years to come".

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Landa on the mend

Euskaltel's website today reports that Mikel Landa's surgery on his broken collarbone yesterday was successful. The Vuelta a Burgos stage-winner has already headed home after being discharged from the Clínica San Sebastián in Bilbao (yeah, that name is confusing) in the early hours of this morning. The 21-year-old, who's broken the same clavícula a record (surely?) three times this year, will have to take it easy for a week or so before resuming training.

Naturgas Energía anno 2012

La Fundación Euskadi's sub-23 team Naturgas Energía today revealed their roster for 2012. The red team will count on 13 riders next year; three less than was the case this season.

Interestingly, only six of this year's batch will stay on: Jon Larrinaga, Loic Chetout, Karl Baudron, Alain González, Eduardo Ardaiz and Damien García. The latter five only teamed up ahead of this year, while Larrinaga will get another year to show his worth after displaying impressive form throughout the recently-concluded season.

As Barbero and Marino have joined Orbea, that means the following eight riders will be let go: Álex Bilbao, Urtzi Legarra, Aitor Ocampos (who's retired), Rory Martínez, Efrén Carazo, Mikel Martioda, Alberto Guinea and Fernando Grijalba (who's signed for Caja Rural). Seven new riders have come on board: 18-year-old Alain Santamaría (who interestingly hails from Santa Domingo in Rioja), 19-year-old Mikel Iturria (Belca-Oriako; took out the Vuelta a Pamplona for juniors last summer), Vitoria-native Imanol Estevez (Team Alimco), 18-year-old Pablo Comins (Ibaigane Opel), Victor Etxebarria (Ibarrola-Pipaón), Francisco Javier Martín (Electro Alavesa) and 18-year-old Oier Sánchez.

It was revealed five weeks ago that DS Aritz Arberas would take on a similar role at Orbea in 2012. Iñigo Urretxua is likely to take on a bigger role in his place. On Saturday, all 13 riders will get together for a low-intensity group ride to get preparations for next season underway, reports

Young duo on favourite rides and riders

Two of Euskaltel's most promising riders of the last 10 years sat down with BiciCiclismo at the team's recent training camp in Derio to talk favourite riders and favourite races. Here's what featherweight climbing duo Mikel Landa and Peio Bilbao had to say:

"I've always admired Samuel", Landa said. "He's always been very professional and methodical in the way he handles himself. I've gotten the chance to get to know him, and he really is like that, so I've learned a lot from him. There are also other runners I've become acquainted with and been impressed by, like Astarloza, Rubén Pérez and Koldo Fernández. Riders like that mean a lot to us young ones."

"I've never had one, big hero", Bilbao admitted. "I've always been a fan of the team and all its riders. Now that I'm here, the guys who've been most helpful and perhaps stand out as leaders the most, would have to be Iñaki Isasi and Mikel Astarloza. Simply because of the calmness they spread; it's not that they give you a lot of concrete advice, it's more that they know how to handle a rider like me, young and somewhat lost in all this."

Naturally, most riders dream of the biggest race out there at a young age: the Tour de France. For the 21 - and 22-year-old, that's not the case.

"I've always looked to the Basque Country and the Euskal Bizikleta in particular. The latter race was still on-going when I was young, and it used to have a stage finish at the Santuario de Oro every other year", Landa explained. "As I lived nearby, that's a race I always loved. And the Subida a Urkiola as well, which I was fortunate enough to race when with Orbea. I would love to fight it out for the win at the Urkiola if the race gets back on the calendar sometime. These races, along with the Vuelta al País Vasco, have been my dream since I was a kid."

Peio Bilbao's answer was perhaps more intriguing, revealing a fascination for the cobbled classics.

"I've always been a fan of the Grand Tours, but I'm especially fond of the one-day races. I would love to ride the cobbled classics sometime, even though I'm hardly cut out for it. Perhaps the Ardennes Classics are better suited to me. Anyway, the Classics are cycling at its biggest and where I'd like to excel in the future. Of the GTs, the Giro d'Italia has always been attractive to me. The Tour is of course the bigger race, but the passion of the Italian tifosi makes the Giro more enjoyable".

Landa hardly disagreed with his team-mate, saying "the Giro would be my favourite too - it's spectacular. I'd love to ride a three-week race next year, but it depends on the team. They're bringing a clear leader and a strong team of riders to back that leader up to the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta, so I don't know if they have place for a guy like me. But it would be an important step in my progression!".


web site counter
ISP Internet Providers