Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sicard faces prolonged lay-off

Romain Sicard is still some way off making a return to competition, Igor González de Galdeano told Biciciclismo.com earlier today. The former Tour de l'Avenir winner has been struggling with a niggling knee injury for virtually the whole season, originally thought to be caused by a change of shoes in the lead-up to the 2011 campaign. As it turns out the shoes weren't causing the problem after all; a crash in training back in December has led to one of the Frenchman's legs being considerably weaker than the other as his body tried to compensate for the injury by slightly altering his pedal-stroke. He's struggling to rediscover his characteristic fluent way of turning those pedals, but, now that the cause of the troubles has been identified, Galdeano expects Sicard to be back in training in 10 to 15 days. It'll be a while before he'll resume competition, though, but I wouldn't be surprised if he pins on a start-number again sometime in early August. It's thought he might aim for a late-season flourish in the Vuelta later that same month.

Velasco set for Tour start

Iván Velasco will indeed take part in the Tour de France this year, Igor González de Galdeano has told el Diario Vasco. The 31-year-old made a noteworthy debut at the biggest race in the world last year with some impressive and consistent riding in the mountains, and will hope to offer team head Samu Sánchez even more support in the high mountains this time around. Fernández, Urtasun, A Pérez, Castroviejo and G Izagirre are, as reported a few days ago, candidates for the three remaining spots on the team, but the San Sebastián daily reckons the latter two are likely to make their GT bow in July.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Briefs: Trio honoured/Tour team latest/Gironde and Navarra conclude

  • Igor González de Galdeano has ruled Giro duo Oroz and Isasi out of the running for a Tour start. Contrary to reports on velo-club.net a few days ago, Mikel Landa is not in with a chance of making the squad either, meaning the remaining spots on the nine-man team (Samu, Verdugo, Txurruka, Martínez and R Pérez are already dead-certs remember) will be rewarded to four of the following six: Urtasun, Fernández, A Pérez, Castroviejo, G Izagirre and Velasco.
  • Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve and stand-out youngster Miguel Mínguez were all hosted by the Deputy of Bizkaia today after returning from Italy. Madariaga and the Galdeano brothers were also present at the celebration of a surprisingly successful Giro campaign.
  • Orbea went close yet again in the Tour de Gironde's last stage yesterday, but the guys in blue were forced to return to Spain without a win to show for their efforts. Aberasturi sprinted to sixth on the final stage into Villenave d'Ornon. Adrián Sáez ended up an honourable fourth on GC, just 14 seconds down on winner Julien Foisnet, whilst Ricardo García is not likely to be too pleased with his 13th place. Zabalo was 23rd, Aberasturi 68th, Etxebarria 80th and Urain 95th. The team ended up second in the team rankings and Zabalo took the mountains prize, reason enough for DS Díaz to be pleased with his charges' performance. "Without a doubt we're very pleased", he told www.fundacioneuskadi.com. "The riders were strong and as a team we were strong. We adapted well to the French way of riding; more aggressive and less conservative."
  • The Vuelta a Navarra came to an end yesterday with a testing stage to Pamplona. Naturgas' most likely men to make an impression towards the end, Martínez and Barbero, both suffered crashes that curtailed their hopes of stage success. The latter recovered reasonably well though to claim 27th at just 12 seconds, while the former ended up 44th nine seconds further adrift. Overall, Damien García was the team's best performer, finishing 31st. Ocampos took 64th, Barbero 70th and Martínez 84th. Alberto Guinea failed to complete the stage. Naturgas finished next to last in the team rankings, only finishing above local team R. Navarra - Telco- Conor Rete.
  • The fourth of june is a day marked in red in Naturgas' calendar: it's the day of the Basque time trial championships. The team have already held training sessions on the course to be well prepared, and the red brigade were back at it again yesterday with a session in Orduna, la Fundación Euskadi's homepage reports. Igor Merino is likely to be the team's best hope of a win, and apparently they're leaving nothing to chance.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Giro finishes with Milano ITT

The Giro came to a slightly disappointing end today with man-of-the-moment Mikel Nieve failing to hang onto his top 10 overall after a rather poor, yet not surprising, performance in the concluding 26km ITT. The Leitza native has been struggling with a cold these last few days and was off-colour in his dreaded discipline and ended up 114th, 3:47 down on Millar, and thus dropped to 11th overall. But still, what a race by the climber! Prior to the Giro start I dreamt off a repeat performance of the Vuelta '10 from him. And what did we get? A carbon copy: a win in the queen-stage and 11th overall. That's sensational from a Giro debutant and a relative newbie to pro racing all together. If people didn't know his name prior to the race they most surely do now. Can't wait to see him in tandem with 'Mister Zoncolan' in the Vuelta in September! Speaking of 'Mister Zoncolan', Antón ended up 18th on GC after another time trial that leaves a lot to desired. He came in 97th, 3:25 off the pace, but he won't dwell on it I'm sure. He won on Zoncolan and should be more than pleased. That win will go down in history as one of the team's greatest ever triumphs, so thank you Igor Antón for an unforgettable experience. Speaking post-race, Antón said all the usual stuff about the stage-win and the Giro's brutal parcours, but saved some poetry for last: "The Giro was hell, but we found paradise along the way". Can hardly be put better, so I'm just going to leave it at that. Final GC:
  • 11, Nieve
  • 18, Antón
  • 63, Isasi
  • 68, Azanza
  • 115, Aramendía
  • 124, Cazaux
  • 135, Mínguez
  • 149, Sesma
Euskaltel ended up a respectable ninth in the team rankings.

Bayern Rundfahrt conclusion

A lacklustre Bayern Rundfahrt came to a close today with a sprinters' stage into Moosburg. Koldo Fernández, still finding his feet mind you, came in ninth in a field not too littered with top sprinters, whilst the rest of the guys in orange cruised home with the peloton. Those results lead to Alan Pérez being the top-ranked rider overall in 30th place. Koldo was 34th, Urtasun 38th, R Pérez 47th, Landa 49th, and Bilbao ended his first race with the team in 89th place. Not too good a performance from the team obviously, but at least Koldo grabbed a couple of top ten stage placings to show for the team's efforts. More importantly, young hopeful Bilbao completed the race and came through relatively unscathed. These five days of hard racing will set him up nicely for the rest of the season. DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia lamented the fact that none of his charges made it into the decisive 11-man break on stage three, but was relatively pleased with Koldo "getting back into the mix in the sprints". Still no word on why Txurruka abandoned the race, but hopefully whatever caused it won't put his Tour de France at risk.

Antón disappointed with Giro finish

While there's no denying the Giro has been a major success for Antón and Euskaltel alike, there's still this nagging feeling of what could have been after Igor Antón faded spectacularly from podium contention in the last week. Now sitting in 18th overall ahead of the concluding time trial in Milano, Antón was both happy and slightly disappointed when he talked to El Correo after his travails on the road to Sestriere yesterday. "I didn't expect to stay with the best today", he said bluntly. "Towards the end of this Giro I've been feeling more and more tired. The stage seemed to last forever and I didn't do too well. But I'm happy with my win at the Zoncolan. Very happy". Despite occupying third after his Zoncolan exploits, and being a single second from second, it seems the climber had more modest expectations than what might have been the case among his fans. "I was dreaming of a top 10 finish. After winning on the Zoncolan I thought that would be possible. But sometimes you just don't have the legs. On Friday's stage to Macugnaga I had to take my foot off the gas, and because of that I had the chance to help Mikel Nieve on the stage to Sestriere. I'll leave the Giro very tired but very happy. I think the team have every right to be pleased. We've taken two wins. It's historic. I've showed that I can beat the best, that being Contador. That gives me great confidence. But I also see that there are things to improve on. Perhaps I was too fit in Castilla y León and in the Belgian classics. I also got sick before the start of the Giro... Details like these always factor, but I've got no excuses. Yeah, I would have liked to finish the Giro better". The team has obviously done a good job in protecting leaders Antón and Nieve throughout, and Antón reserved special praise for yesterday's man in the break, Miguel Mínguez. "The good thing was that Miguel could help Mikel when I couldn't hold the pace anymore. He's a 22-year-old rider and he rode like a true champ".

Giro recap

The third week hasn't been kind to Euskaltel; it's all pretty much gone downhill after those unforgettable wins last weekend. Antón has mysteriously lost his form just like that, while for all of Nieve's heroic and impressive riding he's likely to finish just outside the top 10 on GC. But I can hardly complain. No matter what happens in tomorrow's concluding ITT it's been a major success across the board. Nieve has been outstanding. His climbing has been a joy to behold, let's just hope he gets his just reward with a top 10 overall tomorrow. He holds a 32-second lead over Sivtsov in 11th, but I'm afraid that's not enough. But then again Nieve has sprung a couple of surprises in his budding career already. Antón purposefully lost time on the road to Macugnaga to save some forces for today's leg-breaker to Sestriere just as I thought he would, but that clever idea backfired dramatically when Antón was dropped unceremoniously once the road started to go uphill. The win atop the Zoncolan makes the Giro an unqualified success for Antón, make no mistake, but he's looking ready for a break to be honest. He looks exhausted and heavy-legged. Miguel Mínguez showed his potential with some excellent climbing today. Climbing like that in your maiden GT in the last week of this ridiculously hard Giro is a good sign. He's the real deal. Oroz was forced to abandon after crashing a few days ago, injuring is already banged-up body. But other than that the team's got a relatively clean bill of health and look set to finish the race with eight riders. Chapeau!

Provisional Tour squad leaked

www.velo-club.net have gotten hold of Euskaltel's long-list for the Tour de France. It's not very exciting reading though. The usual suspects are purportedly already assured of a berth (Samu, Txurruka, Martínez, R Pérez and Verdugo that is), while four from the following nine will complete the roster: Velasco, Oroz, A Pérez, Landa, G Izagirre, Isasi, Castroviejo, Koldo and Urtasun. I'd love to see Castroviejo and G Izagirre being given their Tour bow; they're both in their second year with the team and ready for the challenge I reckon. Landa, being a neo-pro and all, will likely come up short, while Oroz's chances of making the squad is hanging by a thread after his crash-enforced DNF in the Giro here the other day. If he recovers fairly quickly, though, I expect him to get a ride. Velasco, having matured into one of the team's mainstays over the last couple of years, is also likely to be given the nod. Veteran Isasi will likely take his place alongside Samu if he recovers well after this year's arduous Giro. I can't really see either Urtasun or Koldo making the squad unless they start producing some results. My bet? Isasi, Velasco, Oroz and Castroviejo.

Bayern Rundfahrt recap

Peio Bilbao, Koldo Fernández, Mikel Landa, Rubén Pérez, Alan Pérez, Amets Txurruka and Pablo Urtasun are at the moment taking part in the five-day Bayern Rundfahrt concurrently with Antón, Nieve and co. performing heroics in Italy. There's plenty of fire-power in that seven-man team, but it's been everything but a successful race so far. Koldo, looking to get back into the sway of things after his first half of the season was cut short by crashes and injuries, looked to get into the mix on day one but lost his way and freewheeled across the line in 21st place. Debutant Bilbao found the pace a shock to the system and finished 2:39 down. Day two was better courtesy of Koldo's encouraging eighth and A Pérez's tenth, while the team went missing when the decisive splits formed over the hilly parcours of stage 3 between Bad Gögging and Aicbach. Not a single orange-clad rider (including the CCC Polsat-Polkowice guys by the way) made it into the break, meaning Urtasun, Koldo, A and R Pérez and Landa all finished inside the bunch at a full 5:18. Txurruka decided to abandon, unknown for what reason, while the chilly conditions hampered young Bilbao on his way to a 91st place finish at 12:53. Today's stage four 26km ITT wasn't particularly suited to the riders, and the results prove that. A Pérez was top Euskaltel rider in 35th at 2:29, whilst Koldo ended up 45th at 2:46. Bilbao impressed with 55th at just 2:58, Urtasun was 60th at 3:06, R Pérez 91st at 4:08 and Landa 100th at 4:29. Going into the last stage, A Pérez is top ranked overall at 31st, a disappointing 6:49 in arrears.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Naturgas & Orbea recap

  • Orbea are currently taking part in the French 2.2 three-day race Tour de Gironde. A bunch of strong all-rounders are taking part - Zabalo, Sáez, Etxebarria, Urain - and speedster Aberasturi and climber García, both highly impressive so far this year. The team came close to reach it's stated target of a stage-win when Sáez posted an encouraging sixth on the opening day into Salles, while García went even closer by taking fourth on today's hilly ride into Cenon. Heading into the last stage, Sáez is 8th overall and García 12th.
  • Naturgas Energía are currently cutting their teeth at one of the more prestigious stage-races on their calendar: the six-day Vuelta a Navarra. Eduardo Ardaiz, Carlos Barbero, Álex Bilbao, Damien García, Aitor Ocampos and Rory Martínez are the riders charged with being active and getting into the breaks throughout the race. So far the race has been a big success. Barbero was second and Martínez seventh on the second stage, resulting in the team taking out the 'Best team'-award. The duo was at it again the next day, taking seventh and 11th respectively. Except for those two stages, though, it's been tough going for the youngsters. Heading into the last stage, the best-placed overall is García at a distant 33rd.
  • The red brigade did not manage to emulate Peio Bilbao's win last year in today's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Merkina. Merino looked good on the last climb, joining five other riders at the head of the race, but eventually found the going too tough and finished in sixth, 27 seconds down on winner Ruiz of Debabarrena. Efrén Carazo took an encouraging seventh at 1:05. The team consisted of the aforementioned duo along with Karl Baudron, Loïc Chetout, Alain González and Fernando Grijalba.

Blogspot troubles

Due to well-documented troubles at the Google headquarters, I, along with thousands of other bloggers, haven't been able to update the blog for quite a while. Finally they seem to have sorted it out, so stay tuned for a recap of everything Euskaltel, Orbea and Naturgas Energía!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ronde de l'Isard & Estella round-up

Orbea took part in the three-day Ronde de l'Isard over the weekend with a team consisting of Aberasturi, Bagües, Bizkarra, Cabedo and Martín. Bizkarra managed to crack the top 10 on the last stage, taking a fine 9th place, but other than that it was tough going for the men in blue. Thanks to his 14th place on Saturday's queen-stage couple with his ninth yesterday, Bizkarra finished a creditable 10th overall. Martín ended up in 24th (having spent the last day in the main break), Bagües in 38th and Aberasturi in 53rd. Asturias stage-winner Cabedo abandoned during the second stage.

Naturgas didn't have the best of luck over the weekend either. The red brigade got two men - Alain González and Loic Chetôut - into an early move in yesterday's race in Estella, but they were reeled in rather quickly and a new big group formed at the front with no Naturgas riders in it. Naturgas were left with the responsibility in the pack but ended up doing a lot of work for nothing. On the up-side, though, González took out the intermediate sprints jersey. In other Naturgas-related news, the Euskadi ITT championships is coming up. To prepare for the rendezvous, Grijalba, Merino, Chetôut, Carazo, Baudron and González held a training session together around the Orduna climb yesterday. Merino, an expert against the clock, will be aiming to take the crown for sure.

Gardeccia reactions and results

He doesn't seem to believe it himself either, does he? After yesterday's historic day on the Zoncolan - a day I termed 'one of the greatest days in the team's history' (in the heat of the moment admittedly, but true all the same) - none would have expected this. I had secretely hoped Nieve would slip into today's break and do a repeat of his Vuelta win last year. The stage's route, and his form obviously, was perfect. But I didn't dear to say it. It would have been too good to be true. And it so nearly is. It seems both riders and fans are finding it hard to grasp that Euskaltel have secured back-to-back stage-wins on the Giro's most prestigious stages. Talking to the media after the podium ceremony, the sylf-like Navarran expressed similar views. "To win the queen-stage of the Giro is a dream I'd never thought would come true. I couldn't imagine achieving this when I turned pro (at the relatively late age of 23)", he said modestly as ever. Alberto Contador called today's marathon stage "my hardest day on a bike ever", and Nieve echoed his sentiments. "This is for sure the hardest day I've experienced in my career", he stated matter-of-factly after spending close to seven and a half hours in the saddle. "From the moment Garzelli went solo on the Giau it was mano a mano. I feel like I've done 100 kilometres on my own (which isn't far from the truth by the way). With all the climbs and the wind, the stage lasted for what seemed like an eternity. The final kilometre never ended. I couldn't even find the strength to raise my arms in jubilation." Despite now occupying a remarkable fifth overall, and with team-leader Antón down in 11th, Nieve played down the option of going for a high overall placing for himself. "There's no way I'm the captain of the team. Igor will pass me on GC after the mountain time trial on Tuesday. I remain at his service. If I finish inside the top 10 I'll be pleased. If not, I won't be too disappointed."

Speaking of team-leader Antón, I've never once seen him collapse just like that. He looked good, excellent in fact, on the first three climbs. And when he drifted towards the back-end of the lead group at the base of the penultimate, I thought he was just doing what he normally does: hanging out at the back, keeping a low profile and recover. I sensed an attack was in the offing until he suddenly wasn't there anymore. For quite a while I was sure it was a mechanical, but as it turns out he was just on a bad day. Make that a really bad day. He finished a quite staggering - by his standards anyway - 7:59 down in 18th place, conceding time to every single GC rival. His lacklustre showing leaves him in 11th place overall at a distant 9:37 heading into the second rest-day. I'm at a loss to explain why it happened, but I wouldn't be surprised if he just bonked. Anyway, he's now a full four and a half minutes off the podium. This is an extraordinary Giro where anything can happen, make no mistake, so rule Antón out of podium contention at your peril. But, admittedly, it looks like a long-shot with the toughest mountains behind us and with that annoying last-day ITT still to come. On the flip side it might give him some leeway to chase another win in the mountains, perhaps at Sestrieres, so it's not all bad. It is all bad for Juan José Oroz, though. The dependable all-rounder crashed out of the race approximately halfway through today. Still no word on what exactly happened, but check in tomorrow to find out.

Stage results:
  • 1, Nieve
  • 18, Antón, 7:59
  • 72, Azanza, 27:35
  • 73, Aramendía, s.t.
  • 77, Isasi, 27:44
  • 113, Minguez, 38:32
  • 114, Cazaux, s.t.
  • 124, Sesma, 38:46
  • 5, Nieve, 7:03
  • 11, Antón, 9:37
  • 62, Isasi, 1:24:14
  • 73, Azanza, 1:36:13
  • 127, Aramendía, 2:22:29
  • 150, Cazaux, 2:40:12
  • 151, Sesma, 2:43:47
  • 159, Minguez, 2:59:44

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nieve king in Giro queen-stage

Mikel Nieve has just bagged Euskaltel's second win in as many days in this Giro by blasting to an extraordinary win atop the Gardeccia at the end of the race's queen-stage. Nieve joined team-mate Aramendía in an early break of considerable size and eventually hung on to beat none other than Garzelli, the only other survivor of that 18-man break, by a huge 1:41. As a result he jumped up to a quite incredible sixth place overall, just half a minute down on team leader Antón who dropped to fifth after uncharacteristically blowing up on the penultimate climb and losing lots of time. Antón's demise can't take the sheen off another spectacular day for the team, though, as Euskaltel have now secured back-to-back mountain stage wins in Italy. And how's this for a statistic: Mikel Nieve has taken two wins in his career, and they're both queen-stages in GTs. Tune in later for results, pics and reactions.

Galdeano praises 'best climber in the world'

Euskaltel manager Igor González de Galdeano was as pleased as anyone with Antón breathtaking win atop the Monte Zoncolan yesterday. The former rider and yellow yersey rider has stood by his charge through thick and thin and paid tribute to his protégé in today's El Correo. "I've always said Igor Antón is the best climber in the world", he wrote confidently in the team's daily column during the Giro. "He's better than Alberto Contador. I have to admit though that the Pinto native is the more complete rider of the two. Let's see how far he can go in this race. As of yet he hasn't lost any time and is third overall, just a single second off Nibali. If we do things right all the way through we might end up on the podium. That would be the icing on the cake of a great May".

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Zoncolan reactions and results

After becoming the first non-Italian to win on the climb in Italy, the legendary Monte Zoncolan, Igor Antón was naturally all smiles. Gracious as ever though, the new number three overall paid tribute to his team: "The work done by the team was exceptional", he said to the team's website, before continuing to lavish his team-mates with praise. "They've given their all from the first to the last kilometre, so this win is theirs. But I also want to dedicate it to my girlfriend Idoia." Despite bumping up to third overall thanks to his sensational solo win, the affable climber did not want to hear much talk of the GC, but for the first time didn't write off his chances completely either. "As I said yesterday I'm not thinking of the GC, I'm not crazy", he said modestly. "But a podium in Milano, why not? But I have to be realistic: I don't have a chance of winning this Giro against a Contador racing so smartly. But Nibali and Scarponi are both racing at home, and with it comes pressure. Just like I had in the Vuelta last year."

Speaking of the performance itself, Antón was keen to elaborate: "It was a big risk to attack like that. It's definitely the hardest climb I've come across in a bike race. At five to go I was struggling, but I managed to hang in there and overcome my troubles. I was racing against myself, not against my rivals. It was a tremendous effort as the climb was so brutal, but you can't beat the feeling of winning atop such a mythical mountain. I was afraid Contador or Rujano would appear though, but I my legs haven't felt better so far in this Giro than they did today. It was a painful win; I suffered for 40 minutes all alone. The last few metres seemed to last forever. But now I'm very, very happy. It's probably my biggest ever win and one I'll never forget."

As mentioned in the earlier post, Antón wasn't the only Euskaltel rider on a massive ride today. Super domestique Mikel Nieve placed a phenomenal seventh at just 1:52, and thus moved up to a lofty 17th overall. Azanza came in at 10:29 in a respectable 51st place, Isasi was 89th at 16:13, Aramendía 116th at 17:50, Oroz and Cazaux at 19:17 in 142nd and 144th, Sesma 162nd at 20:55, and finally Minguez in 171st at 21:49. Here's the GC heading into tomorrow's feared stage to Gardeccia:
  • 3, Antón, 3:21
  • 17, Nieve, 9:08
  • 58, Isasi, 58:13
  • 75, Azanza, 1:10:21
  • 120, Oroz, 1:42:15
  • 143, Aramendía, 1:56:37
  • 150, Cazaux, 2:03:23
  • 153, Sesma, 2:06:44
  • 170, Minguez, 2:22:55

Antón conquers Zoncolan

Igor Antón danced his way to a spectacular win on the mythical Monte Zoncolan just moments ago. The diminutive Galdakao native left Contador and Scarponi trailing in his wake with a full six kilometres to go (that's half the climb!), and eventually beat the previously invincible Contador by 32 seconds. More importantly he beat Nibali by a full 40 seconds and Scarponi by 1:11, meaning he's now third overall just a single second down on his Vuelta nemesis. Mikel Nieve showed immense quality by taking seventh at 1:52 - ahead of most of the overall candidates - to cap off one of the best days in the team's history. And that's no exaggeration: First ever win in the Giro by an Euskaltel rider and it's on the most feared climb in the world. That says it all. Stay tuned for full results, pics and reactions later tonight.

Giro d'Italia stage 13

Euskaltel showed their true colours on today's feared stage 13 to the top of the mythical Grossglockner. The team did excellent work at the front of the pack for more than 70 kilometres after missing out on the main break, every single one contributing. With the break within control and the final climb just about to start, Mikel Nieve showed what an excellent climber he is by setting a blistering pace at the head of the rapidly-diminishing lead group for several kilometres to set up team leader Antón. And Antón didn't let his team-mates down, putting Contador under pressure a couple of times with some bold attacks. El Pistolero rode away with the race as we all know, but Antón hung in there to take fifth, grabbing a few precious seconds on the other main GC candidates, and elevating himself to a lofty seventh on GC. It was an excellent and aggressive race by the little climber; he'll be out for more in the next two days make no mistake. After blowing the lead group apart for such a long time at the start of the climb, it was almost unreal to see Nieve cross the line in 16th place just 2:28 down and ahead of such esteemed riders like Sivtsov, Sella, Machao, Le Mevel and Garzelli. What a performance! Antón was naturally pleased with his team's ride today, saying "they were awesome", but again denied he's aiming for the GC despite the podium looking an ever-increasing possibility. Ahead of a pair of vital days in the saddle, he's just 53 seconds down on number two Nibali. Stage results:
  • 5th, Igor Antón, 1:29
  • 16th, Mikel Nieve, 2:28
  • 96th, Jorge Azanza, 16:09
  • 134th, Juan José Oroz, 20:43
  • 136th, Inaki Isasi, s.t.
  • 147th, Daniel Sesma, s.t.
  • 155th, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 166th, Javier Aramendía, 23:25
  • 172nd, Miguel Minguez, s.t.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Giro d'Italia stage 12

Miguel Mínguez showed the aggressiveness injuries have prevented him from showing today on the 12th stage between Castelfidardo and Ravenna. The Bilbao native made it into the break of the day and gave Euskaltel some valuable time on the screen. With the stage likely being the final one for the sprinters, it was always a big ask of the quartet to actually make it to the line ahead of the peloton. It never looked likely either as HTC crowded the front end of the peloton and in typical fashion brought the plucky four back within ten kilometres of the line. In a crash-marred finale Cav once again showed his superiority, reigning supreme for his second win of this Giro. Euskaltel wisely kept out of the mad dash for the line, the team instead focusing on giving Antón a calm and comfy ride to the line. They succeeded, and Antón will embarge on the next three torturous stages in near perfect condition. "I'm feeling good, and from now on in terrain that is more favourable to me will dominate the stages", he said expectantly to the team's website upon crossing the line. "I'm confident, but we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. This is the Giro, and riders like Contador, Nibali, Kreuziger, Rujano and Scarponi, to name but a few, are all present. We'll go day by day, see how we feel and take any opportunity that comes our way." Injury-prone GT debutant Minguez was happy with his day out, but admitted that the injuries sustained in a crash last week is still bothering him. With his favoured terrain coming up, he'll no doubt hope to be able to assist Antón and Nieve when the going gets tough. His day-long exploit took it's toll in the shape of 2:24 ceded by stage's end, but he'll no doubt be pleased with his ride anyway. Everyone else finished inside the main pack.

Cavallo praises Antón

Euskaltel's Italian DS at the Giro, former rider Domenico Cavallo, is massively impressed with Igor Antón and hopes to guide him to a stage-win in the high mountains. Talking to El Correo yesterday, the former DS of Riis, Freire, Argentin and Ullrich, among others, waxed lyrical about the diminutive climber. "He's a good person with a big heart. It's very easy to help a guy like that. He's impressed me a lot. He's very calm, and being calm is a virtue of the strong. If he keeps staying relaxed like this he might go far in this race. It's a race perfectly suited to him, and the team is very well organized and they're all ready to give it their all for him". Cavallo, who also helped out in Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this campaign, went on to say that Freire was the most likeable rider he's ever worked with, just edging a certain Jan Ullrich. When pressed about where Antón figures on that list, the Italian was as diplomatic as ever: "I don't know him well enough yet. But he excites me. He's a quiet lad, and that's because he knows how far he can go".

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giro d`Italia stage 11

Igor Antón once again finished inside the group of favourites on today's testing uphill finish to Castelfidardo and thus keeps his 11th place overall. Antón looked cool and composed on the final climb, seemingly intent on doing nothing more than necessary, and crossed the finish line in 15th place on the same time as winner Gadret. Gadret grabbed his famous win by usurping Daniel Moreno, who'd been in the break all day, inside the last 20o metres. A big group of riders got away on this stage that looked destined for a break to succeed, so it was disappointing to not see Euskaltel represented at all. Everyone but Antón struggled towards the end as well, with Nieve finishing 36th at 47 seconds, Isasi 45th at 50, Azanza 56th at 1:23, Oroz 60th at 1:42, while Sesma, Cazaux, Minguez and Aramendía rolled home with the gruppetto at 15 minutes 10 seconds. Hopefully the team is keeping a low profile just to conserve their strength for this weekend's numerous mammoth mountain stages, 'cause they were never really present today at all. Antón was left to fend for himself on the trickly climb with no team-mates in view. Let's hope it isn't a precursor of things to come.


  • Orbea will send five riders to the prestigious Ronde de l'Isard commencing this Friday. Mikel Bizkarra, Aritz Bagües, Víctor Cabedo, Noel Martín and Jon Aberasturi will take on the three-stage race. DS Álex Díaz was tentative when speaking to the team's website earlier today, highlighting the fact that "the level will be very high as big teams from Germany and Russia will take part", but also went on to confirm that the team "is doing well", and that they'll "try to mix it up despite the difficulty of the stages".
  • Naturgas Energía didn't have the best of luck in the past weekend's races in Berriatua and Natxitua. Young prodigy Igor Merino made the break in the former but slipped on a downhill and naturally slipped out of contention. In Natxitua, main man Grijalba had to abandon due to stomach troubles, resulting in no top 10 finish for the team in either race.
  • Speaking of Igor Merino, the all-rounder told Gara yesterday that he's harbouring hopes of making the step up to Orbea next year. "It's the dream of everyone in this team to one day turn professional. I'm not putting pressure on myself, though, as pressure will not help me succeed. All I'm thinking of is to continue to do what I'm doing: working hard and giving it my all." Speaking of the remainder of the season, he revealed, not surprisingly, that he's aiming for the national and Basque time trial championships.

Giro d`Italia stage 10

Euskaltel finally got a rider into the main break in today's tenth Giro d'Italia stage. Pierre Cazaux was the lucky man who got to enjoy his big day out (that's if you call riding into the wind for 160k "lucky"), joining Beppu and Krivtsov on a day-long suicidal break. They never got a big gap though as the sprinters' teams really wanted this one, but at least Euskaltel got their logo on the screen. After being caught 11 clicks out Cazaux naturally struggled and ended up 2:34 down, whilst Sesma finished 1:47 back. Everyone else, Antón included, had a comfortable day in the saddle and came in with the main pack.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Antón cherishing rest-day

The Euskaltel riders are at the time of writing enjoying the Giro's first rest-day in Marina di Basto just outside of Pescara. After nine stressful and hectic stages the jornada de reposo couldn't have come at a better time for Antón and co. "This day of rest will do us the world of good", he told the team's website earlier today. "We've been through nine stressful and nervous stages. We've also done the first real mountain stage, which is always hard. The transfers between the stages also take their toll, so this calm day comes in handy". Reflecting on the Giro so far, Antón sounded pleased with his performance: "I'm pleased with this first part. It's been nine tense day with much to lose and little to gain. The only negatives are the falls of Oroz, Minguez and Azanza, but fortunately they've been able to carry on. I'm happy not to have ceded a lot of time - that's always a positive - but it hasn't obsessed me. The main goal was to avoid crashes and the like and arrive at the mountains in good shape". Speaking of yesterday's epic stage to the top of the Etna, the Galdakao local said: "I'm pleased with my ride as I felt good, but I noticed the efforts of a very demanding first week. The seconds that I lost doesn't bother me. I feel I can still improve slightly, and if I do so I hope I can be in contention for a stage win. Now three days of wearing down awaits us, but we hope to get through them in fine form. And then all hell will break loose in the Giro".

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Giro d`Italia stage 9

Igor Antón passed the Giro`s first big mountainous test with flying colours today by grabbing eighth on the highly anticipated stage to Etna. The stage had promised much and it delivered. Contador dealt a massive blow to main GC rivals Scarponi, Menchov and Nibali with a crushing solo win, whilst Antón rode smartly to place eighth on the stage and move to 11th overall, tied on time with number 10 Carrara. It didn`t look too good for him to start with though, as he was seen hovering perilously close to the back-end of the main group for all but the last five k`s. Eventually he found his legs though and proved he`s got what it takes to go for a big win in the last week. A quick glance at the overall standings also make for positive reading. Of the serious candidates for the podium, only Contador, Nibali, Scarponi and Kreuziger are ahead of him. With the big mountains yet to come he`s already got a gap to riders like Menchov, Rodríguez, Garzelli, Kiserlovski and Pinotti. The GC was not a goal going into the race, I know, but if he continues to improve stage by stage like he`s doing now he should perhaps start aiming for the podium. He`s certainly got it in him and the route is perfect for the Galdakao native, so we`ve got a lot to look forward to in the next two weeks. Nieve also showed his hand today with a clever attack some eighth kilometres from the top. The wiry climber jumped after the revitalized Rujano, but Nieve never really managed to open up a gap and was swallowed up by a fast-moving bunch not long after. Eventually he took a creditable 28th at just 2:21, so a good performance from him. Isasi stayed with the front group for quite a while up the last climb and expertly guided Antón towards the sharp end of the pack before having to let go. He came in at 9 minutes 16 second in 53rd place. Aramendía and Azanza rolled in 23:46 in arrears, whilst Sesma, Cazaux and Minguez finished up 24:46 down. Oroz, still smarting from injuries sustained earlier in the week, ended up a full 26 minutes down in 175th place.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Giro d`Italia stage 8

Euskaltel saved their forces in today`s eighth stage in the Giro with the Etna looming large on the horizon tomorrow. In other words it was a quiet and anonymous performance from the guys, and only Antón managed to stay with the main peloton over that little climb towards the end that Gatto used as his launch pad for his win. As a result Antón is now ranked 20th overall, still 1:15 down on Weening. Eight days into the Giro I hadn`t imagined he´d be so close to the main favourites, so he`s set himself up nicely for the closing two weeks. Nieve usually struggles on these kinds of nervy, high-tempo finishes and did so today as well, ceding 15 seconds. For him losing some time on the flatter stages might not be such a bad thing as it`ll probably give him more leeway if he decides to go for it in the mountains. Azanza came in with the second group at 26 seconds, while Sesma was 38 down, Oroz 1:01, Minguez 1:11, Aramendía 1:22, and Isasi and Cazaux 1:24.

Suspicious minds

So, the world of cycling is once again in turmoil. Surprise surprise. This time due to a UCI document that has become known as the "index of suspicion" being leaked to that certain French newspaper the UCI just love. I for one love L`Équipe, and their latest findings make for intriguing reading. Popovych and Barredo being ranked at 10 can hardly be a surprise to anyone, and neither can Menchov`s lofty 9. The fact that the Shack and Astana are worst off team-wise is no shocker either. Obviously, though, we shouldn`t read too much into this list as we have no idea what the rankings are actually based on. And it`s not fair on the riders. Some riders have quite obviously gotten a ranking wide off the mark as well. Call me biased, but what is Isasi doing at 5? The UCI are sitting on more info on him than I do, naturally, but come on. Seeing Hunt at 7, Thomas on 6 and Millar on 4 is also very surprising. Euskaltel ended up 13th as a team which is okay I guess, hadn`t really expected better. Seeing Martínez at 6 wasn`t good, but aside from that it`s not too bad. Nice to see both Oroz and Velasco get a 0; they`re two honest and hard-working riders to my knowledge. As for the other Tour riders last year, A Pérez got a 1, R Pérez a 2, Txurruka and Verdugo 3, whilst team leader Samu ended up with a 4.

Giro d`Italia stage 6&7 round-up

Due to maintenance work on blogspot, I haven`t been able to update the blog for a couple of days. But luckily it`s been two rather quiet days in Italy so you haven`t missed out on a lot. On Thursday Euskaltel kept a low profile. Jorge Azanza was quite active on the stage into Fuiggi and looked good in the latter part of the race but he didn`t succeed in getting into any good moves. Along with Isasi, Antón and Nieve he came in with the pack, whilst crash victim Oroz and crossed the line 5:05 down along with Aramendía. Cazaux and Sesma ended up at 7:14 and a battered and bruised Mínguez finished up 17:29 in arrears.

At yesterday`s first summit finish at Montevergine Antón showed he`s up there but still lacking that little bit of form that`ll make him a candidate for a win later on in this race. The diminutive climber came home 21st at the same time as the other GC riders, but he was always at the back of the group and will probably be pleased with the fact he didn`t lose a few seconds. Nieve dropped off inside the last k and ceded 17 seconds. Aramendía and Cazaux were both quite aggressive early on in the unusually short stage and gave a good account of themselves. But the effort told and they both rolled in with the gruppetto at 15:09. Azanza was 2:50 back, Isasi 7:57, Minguez 10:05 and Oroz and Sesma 12:43. Overall Antón is 24th at just 1:15, so no surprise he was a happy man when speaking to the team`s website afterwards. "I`m pleased as I felt good and there`s a lot of racing still to be done", he stated. "But the stage started out very nervously and I didn`t feel good approaching the final climb. But once we started going upwards I felt better and we were where we ought to be. As I said a couple of days ago I`m still missing a tiny bit, but overall I`m pleased with my level and the stage went according to plan".

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Giro d`Italia stage 5

After a rather low-key start to the Tour of Italy, Euskaltel today showed their worth on the complicated, crash-marred fifth stage to the beautiful little town of Orvieto. The gravel roads on the way to Orvieto broke the peloton into pieces, and to start with only Igor Antón was close to the favourites. Towards the end of the stage he was joined by Nieve and the impressive Isasi, meaning Euskaltel had a trio of riders in the small group of favourites going into the short, but oh so steep, climb to the finish line. Weening was by that time up ahead and looking strong. With a kilometre to go he held a 15- second lead on the rest, and just when it seemed that it was all done and dusted Nieve took off in pursuit of the flying Dutchman. It was an impressive burst of speed coming after such an arduous stage, but he didn`t manage to sustain his effort long enough and was caught by the pack within sight of the line. Together with team leader Antón he rolled home with the group of overall contenders just eight seconds down on the new Maglia Rosa. "I`m actually very pleased with the outcome of the stage", Nieve told the team`s website post-race. "It was a very difficult stage but we came through it really well. I`m a bit annoyed though, I have to admit, that I struggled somewhat on the first sector of gravel road. I was forced to dismount my bike a couple of times which resulted in me having to chase hard to get back on. I put in a couple of huge efforts which I had to pay for later, but hey, I guess everyone probably encountered a problem in one way or another today. Towards the end I was pretty finished, but I still found the resources to have a go. The biggest positive today is that we have been up there on a stage not particularly suited to our strengths. The whole team worked well and we`ve obtained a good result". Isasi yielded 50 seconds by stage`s end finishing 35th, which by all accounts is a great result for a sprinter. Azanza came home 5:06 down in 66th place, whilst Aramendía - who was active mid-way through - and Cazaux came in together at 10:40. JJ Oroz crashed quite badly and lost 14:42 as a consequence. Minguez also hit the deck and lost 21:54, but they`re both reported to be okay. Sesma ended up 18:49 in arrears.


  • "It´s been a very intense and emotional day", Alvaro González de Galdeano summed up after the conclusion of today´s fourth "stage". "The cycling family is in a state of shock after this fatal accident, so obviously it´s been a hard stage. At the end of the day the riders were tired psychologically after spending so many hours on the bike just thinking about it. Now we have to try to recover and move on. The world doesn´t stop and we have to face the challenges in front of us."
  • Orbea DS Álex Díaz was generally happy with his team´s outing in the Vuelta a Madrid this past weekend, but he was especially impressed with two of his young charges. "Mikel Bizkarra was excellent", he proudly told the team´s website. "He´s adapted well to the level of competition. Noel Martín was also good. He was very strong on the last day and was in the front group a lot".
  • Jorge Azanza and Pierre Cazaux both hit the ground on yesterday´s tragic third stage of the Giro, but, besides being battered and bruised, they´re both reported to be okay.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Euskaltel pay tribute to Weylandt

Like all other teams, Euskaltel were quick to offer their condolences in the aftermath of Wouter Weylandt's tragic death in the Giro d'Italia today. On the team's website there's a message that reads: "Cycling team Euskaltel Euskadi offer their condolences and a big hug to the rider's family and his team-mates and friends of Leopard-Trek. Rest in peace, Wouter Weylandt".

Giro d'Italia: stage 3

Stage results:

  • 20th, Iñaki Isasi, 0:00
  • 45th, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 48th, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 85th, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
  • 98th, Javier Francisco Aramendía, s.t.
  • 158th, Daniel Sesma, 3:20
  • 159th, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 160th, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
  • 202nd, Jorge Azanza, 9:33

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Giro d'Italia: stage 2

It was a long, hot and rather boring first stage proper of the Giro d'Italia today. On Euskaltel's behalf, not much to report. The guys kept out of trouble and out of the action all day long and cruised home with the pack. Everyone bar Miguel Mínguez, who dropped 41 seconds today, crossed the line inside the peloton. DS at the race Álvaro González de Galdeano didn't have much to say about the team's performance when speaking to www.fundacioneuskadi.com post-stage, but did emphasize that the team did their best to protect capitano Igor Antón inside the last 30 kilometres or so. Speaking about tomorrow's stage three, the youngest of the brothers said: "Tomorrow's stage will be held on narrow roads and will see another break go clear. The finale of the race is very complicated. We didn't bring a sprinter along but we'll continue to fight to reach our goal: winning a stage."

Madrid stage 3

Stage results:

  • 8, Amets Txurruka, 0:29
  • 9, Jonathan Castroviejo, 0:32
  • 13, Mikel Bizkarra, 0:52
  • 18, Mikel Landa, 1:22
  • 29, Ricardo García, 2:01
  • 30, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 33, Jon Izagirre, 2:26
  • 38, Aritz Bagües, 3:04
  • 44, Gorka Izagirre, 4:21
  • 49, Alan Pérez, 4:46
  • 59, Xabier Zabalo, 5:19
  • 67, Koldo Fernández, 5:45
  • 72, Noel Martín, 8:41
  • 83, Jon Aberasturi, 14:18

Final general classification:

  • 3, Jonathan Castroviejo
  • 8, Amets Txurruka
  • 16, Mikel Bizkarra
  • 22, Ricardo García
  • 23, Mikel Landa
  • 26, Adrián Sáez
  • 27, Jon Izagirre
  • 38, Aritz Bagües
  • 42, Gorka Izagirre
  • 48, Alan Pérez
  • 61, Koldo Fernández
  • 63, Xabier Zabalo
  • 70, Noel Martín
  • 89, Jon Aberasturi

Speaking after the conclusion of the three-stage event, third overall Jonathan Castroviejo was more than pleased with his performance. "I'll go home happy, especially so because I've gained confidence going uphill", he revealed to the team's website. "I'll take part in races with long, hard climbs where I'm not likely to feel good. But today I was going well and almost defended my lead. I ended up two seconds shy of second overall but defeated Schumacher by seven. I'm pleased I'm improving in the hills. But, of course, yesterday's win in the ITT was also important. It was too short for me actually, I would have preferred it to have been a tad longer, but hey, I'm very pleased with the win and third overall."

Castroviejo 3rd overall in Madrid finale

Jonathan Castroviejo dropped to 3rd overall after this morning's final Vuelta a Madrid stage. Colombian Giovanni Báez impressively soloed to the stage-win, finishing 32 seconds ahead of Castroviejo in 9th, meaning the Getxo native had to settle for third behind overall winner Rui Costa and Javi Moreno - who recently took out the Vuelta a Asturias. Txurruka did his best to help out his team leader, ending up eighth on the stage and overall, but it wasn't to be as the stage 1 winner finished seven seconds too far back to win the whole thing. Full results and reactions to come later today.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Fernández 3rd in Madrid

Koldo Fernández sprinted to a morale-boosting third place on this afternoon's 84km stage in and around Colmenar Viejo. All Euskaltel and Orbea riders, including Castroviejo, stayed within the pack to finish on the same time as winner Enrique Sanz, meaning Castroviejo will get to wear the leader's jersey in tomorrow's final stage of the race in Madrid.

Dismal start in Italy

Euskaltel got the Giro d'Italia off to the worst possible start in today's team time trial by ending up dead last. The team finished a full 1:13 down on the unbeatable HTC, but more importantly Igor Antón ceded 51 seconds to GC rival Nibali, 43 to Contador and nine to Purito Rodríguez. They started off well enough Euskaltel, but Cazaux and Aramendía had to let go on the second part of the course and the team never really got into the groove and, as anticipated, struggled against the more powerful and more typical team time trial teams. Cazaux finished the day 3:35 down and Aramendía 4:23. It can only get better after this.

Bidasoa conclusion 2.0

OK so I screwed up big time yesterday. Saying the Vuelta a Bidasoa came to a close was a bit premature to say the least as there was still another stage to go. Don't know what I was thinking to be honest. Anyway, the last stage was held today, and it was a rather short but hilly and taxing stage on the menu for the riders. The Russian Lokomotiv team once again showed their superiority by taking yet another stage, this time through Artur Ershov. It was a harder day for Naturgas duo Merino and Grijalba though, as they dropped a few places on the final GC. Merino started out as number three but sadly just didn't have the legs to go with the best towards the end. He finished 15th at a full 2:43, meaning he dropped to a slightly disappointing 11th overall. Grijalba fared better, coming home eighth on the day, resulting in a sixth place overall for the young prodigy. Ardaiz, who spent most of the stage in the main break, finished 50th overall, Carazo was 53rd, Chetôut 54th and Guinea 56th. Jon Larrinaga crashed out of the race on day three, but as of yet there's no news on his status.

Madrid ITT results

  • 1, Jonathan Castroviejo

  • 7, Gorka Izagirre, 0:22

  • 11, Jon Izagirre, 0:26

  • 16, Amets Txurruka, 0:33

  • 44, Alan Pérez, 0:57

  • 54, Koldo Fernández, 1:03

  • 69, Mikel Landa, 1:13

Castroviejo decimates field in Madrid opener

Jonathan Castroviejo stormed to his second win in just a few weeks by crushing the opposition in the 7,8km ITT opener in the Vuelta a Madrid this morning. The powerhouse beat Rui Alberto Faria da Costa into second by a huge 11-second margin and thus secured the team it's fourth victory of the year. To cap off an excellent day for the team, Gorka Izagirre, who's just extended his contract with the team for another two years, took an impressive 7th at 22 seconds while his hermano pequeño Jon came in 11th at just 26, beating riders like recent Asturias stage-winner Zaballa and Movistar allrounder Imanol Erviti. Speaking to the team's website moments after the racing had ended, DS in Madrid, Josu Larrazabal, said: "Jonathan did a spectacular time trial - in the last part he was virtually flying. Putting his ride into perpective, a specialist like Schumacher, victorious in the prologue in Asturias, is the leader in the mountains classification because he posted the fastest time at the small climb at the halfway point. However, Jonathan beat him by 12 seconds at the finish. But I think the team as a whole had a good performance; I'm pleased with both the win and the level shown by everyone". Check back later for full results.

G Izagirre prolongs stay

24-year-old Gorka Izagirre has decided to extend his stay with Euskaltel for another two years, the team's website reports today. The Ormaiztegi native teamed up with Euskaltel ahead of last season and immediately showed his considerable talent by grabbing two wins in his maiden season with a WorldTour team. Apparently at ease in his home team, the elder of the Izagirre brothers will now represent Euskaltel in 2012 and 2013 as well.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Bilbao pulls out of Madrid

Peio Bilbao will have to wait yet a while longer for his eagerly-anticipated bow in the orange jersey of Euskaltel after the team revealed just minutes ago that they've decided to pull him from the Vuelta a Madrid commencing tomorrow. The youngster was supposed to take part in the Critérium International back in March but fractured his elbow prior to the race, virtually just days after joining the team. Earlier today he was supposed to be race-fit, but it appears the team managers have had a change of heart and have opted to extend his lay-off as a precaution. There's no word yet on when he'll indeed start competing for the team, but my bet is he'll toe the start-line on May the 25th in the Bayern Rundfahrt.

Vuelta a Bidasoa round-up

The prestigious three-day Vuelta a Bidasoa came to a close today, and Naturgas Energía certainly put their mark on the race. Co-leaders Igor Merino and Fernando Grijalba were up there throughout and eventually finished an impressive 3rd and 4th overall respectively. As expected, standout Russian Shalunov ran away with the race from day one and easily won the overall. The duo went close to stage-wins, though, with Grijalba taking 3rd on day two and 5th on day three, while Merino grabbed 10th on the second day and 3rd on the last. Overall they got second and third as I just mentioned, whilst Carazo was 68th, Ardaiz 72nd, Chetôut 82nd and Guinea 87th. The team ended up ninth in the team rankings, while Merino took out the Gran Euskaldun competition. No idea wthat that particular competition is, but he'll be pleased anyway. Considering the level of competition present, it was a great campaign by the red brigade. Merino and Grijalba in particular seem to go from strength to strength so expect to see them in blue rather than red next season.

Injured riders return in Madrid

Euskaltel will send a powerful line-up to this weekend's Vuelta a Madrid, including young duo Peio Bilbao and Mikel Landa who are fit and ready to go after being out injured for quite a while. It'll be young climber Bilbao's first ever race for Euskaltel, so he'll no doubt be highly motivated. Joining the du will be a team full of potential stage- and overall winners: Jonathan Castroviejo, Amets Txurruka, Koldo Fernandez, Alan Pérez and the Izagirre brothers. Castroviejo will be one of the biggest favourites for Saturday's first half-stage, a 7,8km ITT that should be perfectly suited to his characteristics. The afternoon stage is likely to come down to a sprint so Koldo will be eyeing that one make no mistake. Sunday's stage is one for the climbers and puncheurs, so look out for Txurruka and Gorka Izagirre in particular.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Investigation against Mayo dropped

French police have dropped an investigation into Ibán Mayo (as well as Vino and Moreni) stemming from that fateful 2007 Tour de France, it emerged today. The three riders' hotel rooms had been searched in the wake of them testing positive earlier on and the police were alleged to have found doping-related products in one or more of these rooms. The public prosecutor in Pau started a criminal investigation, but reportedly did not receive the needed assistance from the UCI to continue the case against the three riders. The investigator had requested the UCI to send over the riders' positive tests to further their case, but the (mildly-put) laughable governing body of cycling that is is the UCI did not comply. Or so the story goes anyway. The UCI is of course saying this isn't the case, but who would put money on that being true? Anyway, no formal charges will be brought against Mayo, Vino and Moreni. While obviously a big relief for the riders, this is sure to anger pretty much everyone else I reckon. Well done UCI.

Briefs: Fraile joins up; Orbea line-up for Madrid; Antón, Nieve, Isasi talk Giro

  • 21-year-old Seguros Bilbao rider Omar Fraile has decided to team up with Orbea next year. It was reported last week that Miguel Madariaga was keen on the outstanding youngster, and it now transpires he's gotten his man reports the team's own website. Fraile will join Orbea for the 2012 season and will ride with Euskaltel for the two season after that, meaning the staff at Euskaltel clearly believe in this young fellow. The cunning Madariaga was visibly pleased to have secured a rider of Fraile's promise, saying that this year's Subida a Gorla-winner was "a rider for the future. I'm very pleased with this incorporation, and it shows that we're continuously supporting the young riders here in Euskadi."

  • Orbea will send all their big guns to this weekend's two-day Vuelta a Madrid commencing Saturday. Recent winners Cabedo and Aberasturi will both be present and will be accompanied by Ricardo García, Adrián Sáez, Noel Martín, Xabier Zabalo, Mikel Bizkarra and Aritz Bagües.

  • Igor Antón is painfully aware of the fact that he won't have it all his way in the gruelling mountains of the Giro d'Italia. The course should suit the featherweight climber from Galdakao to a tee, but the affable 28-year-old knows he'll face some stiff competition. "The truth is that the start list is sensational", he told the team's website. "Quite possible the best in recent years. Alberto Contador has dominated the GTs the last few years. Vincenzo Nibali will be on home roads and won the Vuelta last year and finished third in the Giro whilst helping out Basso. Menchov, Scarponi, Purito Rodríguez... And I think Kreuziger will be in the mix as well. And then you have teams like Androni and Colnago that always put up a fight. The ingredients are there for a great race. It'll be hard to beat the Italians, they'll be highly motivated, but to win a stage is not impossible and we'll fight to do just that."

  • Despite taking a famous win atop the Cotobello in last year's Vuelta, Mikel Nieve is not too optimistic about his chances in the Giro. DS in Italy, Alvaro Galdeano, admitted to DEIA that the Navarran is a bit short on form, and the wiry climber thinks it'll be close to impossible to repeat that heroic win from last year. "The Giro is different. Riders will be in top shape and there are several candidates to win each stage in the high mountains. It'll be hard to surprise and stay with them. Igor Antón can do that though, so I'll try to stay with him for as long as possible."

  • Iñaki Isasi will make his long-awaited debut at the Giro this weekend. Speaking to El Correo yesterday, the versatile veteran was sounding enthusiastic. "I've never done the Giro before, I've only watched it on the TV. I'm excited, but I'm also a big worried about the route", he said, probably echoing every single rider's sentiments about the brutal parcours. "I'll be there mainly to help Igor, but I might also try to slip into some breaks. We'll take it day by day. I was always down to do the Tour the first few years Euskaltel participated in this race and when I wanted to have a go at it we stopped taking part due to a small roster. Obviously I'm enthusiastic."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Galdeano dreaming of volcanic win

The Giro, the first Grand Tour of the year, is just around the corner, and team chief Igor González de Galdeano is just as excited as the rest of us at the prospect of watching Igor Antón hopefully grabbing a big win the high mountains. Not just any stage though, Galdeano wants that stage: the ninth to the top of the equally famous and infamous volcano of Etna. "The team's objective is to win a stage", he told DEIA, before adding that he'd love Antón to win one of the many queen-stages and, if possible, the stage to Etna. "That stage is both special and historic". That particular stage is likely to be hotly contested with the likes of Contador, Menchov, Scarponi, local guy Nibali, Sastre, Pozzovivo et al. all present. But the team head was eager to play down expectations of a high overall placing, though, saying Antón and his team-mates only have their eyes on stage wins. "Igor Antón is feeling good, but his goal is to fight for a stage not the overall. Effectively the overall is out of the question. He's capable of winning one of the most prestigious stages, and if he's feeling good on the climbs he'll naturally be in with a chance overall as well. But that's not our aim." Galdeano went on to highlight that lieutenant Mikel Nieve is also in top shape, and said a win for the team in Italy would be epic: "Euskaltel-Euskadi have never succeeded in winning in the Giro so it would be historic." The captain himself, Antón, echoed Galdeano's sentiments, telling Biciciclismo: "My primary objective is to get to the mountain stages in good shape, be up there and get a stage. It would be a big step in my career but it won't be easy." He went on to say that he'd be satisfied if he finished the race with a win in the bag and a 60th overall, reiterating that the GC was not on his mind. If anyone really believes that is another question altogether. The fact is that rarely has a GT been as suited to Antón's strengths as this year's edition of the Giro. It's made for pure climbers and Antón can safely count himself as one of those. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but I wouldn't rule out the GC just yet...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


  • The nine Giro-bound riders plus staff will make the trip to Italy tomorrow ahead of this weekend's start of the first GT of the year. If all goes to plan the travelling party will touch down in Milan tomorrow afternoon before making the trip to Turin by bus. As a reminder, the nine riders are Antón, Aramendía, Azanza, Cazaux, Isasi, Minguez, Nieve, Oroz and Sesma.

  • Despite taking a sensational stage win in the recently concluded Vuelta a Asturias courtesy of Víctor Cabedo, there are still things to work on for the team says DS Álex Díaz. "We committed some errors along the way, but we'll learn from them", he told the team's website. "But most importantly we'll take with us the excellent job executed by the team, Víctor Cabedo's stage four win and the feelgood factor we'll leave this race with. We realised that we can stay with the best, and that will motivate us to keep fighting".

  • Naturgas will take on the prestigious Vuelta a Bidasoa this week. The four-stage race will commence this Thursday and is without a doubt one of the team's most important goals this year. Arberas will send a strong seven-man team to the race headlined by Igor Merino and Fernando Grijalba. The latter is fresh off a sublime win in the Three Days of Álava, while the former is touted as one of the favourites for the overall win due to his capabilities on pretty much every terrain. Joining them will be Loic Chetôut, Jon Larrinaga, Eduardo Ardaiz, Alberto Guinea and Efrén Carazo. On Sunday, another seven-man team will take on the Memorial Iguanzo: Barbero, Baudron, Bilbao, González, Legarra, Martínez and Ocampos.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Izagirre gambles in Asturias finale

Gorka Izgirre put on another attacking display in the Vuelta a Asturias' fifth and final stage earlier today. Lying 11th overall at just 4:40 down going into the stage, the older of the Izagirre brothers went clear with Shalunov and Infantino early on in search of what would have been a richly-deserved stage-win. The pack didn't give the trio much leeway though as Izagirre was relatively close on GC, so it was never likely to work out. He did his utmost though by leaving his breakaway companions for dead on the approach to the dreaded Naranco climb, but was reeled in by the group of favourites some eight kilometres from the top. He eventually finished 45th on the stage, 4:28 in arrears, and thus dropped to 15th overall. Rubén Pérez once again impressed in the high mountains by taking 25th place at just 1:50, and ended up 21st on GC - not bad for a sprinter! Urtasun struggled to cope with the numerous climbs littered across the route today and came home 66th at 8:17, but he'll be more worried about the fact that he lost the Metas Volantes competition he'd been leading for a few days on the very last day to Shalunov. Overall he placed 60th. Daniel Sesma didn't complete the stage, leaving only the aforementioned trio to finish the 2011 edition of the Vuelta a Asturias. DS at the event, Galdeano himself, deemed himself "satisfied" with the race, highlighting the fact that the team's been in virtually every move and have been fighting for stage wins throughout.

Víctor Cabedo, winner yesterday, was once again Orbea's best card, placing 21st on the stage 1:42 adrift of winner Zaballa. Bagües had a good day out and finished 32nd at 3:02, whilst Ricardo García is unlikely to be particularly happy with his 41st place finish. Bizkarra and Zabalo came in side by side in 50th and 51st, both at 7:37, while Martín and Sáez joined Urtasun in the gruppetto. Final GC for the Orbea riders:

  • 29, Ricardo García
  • 43, Adrián Sáez
  • 49, Víctor Cabedo
  • 64, Aritz Bagües
  • 67, Mikel Bizkarra
  • 69, Xabier Zabalo
  • 75, Noel Martín


  • Miguel Madariaga is thought to be keen on Seguros Bilbao rider Omar Fraile, who's shown considerable promise this season. The climber took out the prestigious Subida a Gorla this year in some style and, if Madariaga gets his way, we might just see him pull on an Orbea shirt next year.

  • After his phenomenal prologue triumph in Romandie, Jonathan Castroviejo might just make his Tour debut this year according so Spanish media. The 24-year-old Getxo native wasn't orginally slated for the race, but it's thought Galdeano might want to include him as his pedigree in the race against the clock could potentially be vital in the team time trial.

  • Naturgas didn't really have the best of days in yesterday's Clásica Santa Cruz in Legazpi. Only two of the riders finished the race: Damien Garcia in 34th and Alain González in 53rd. The race is part of the Copa España calendar.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Cabedo solos to sensational Asturias win

Orbea's talented youngster Víctor Cabedo soloed to a mightily impressive win in today's fourth stage of the Vuelta a Asturias. The 21-year-old took off from his breakaway companions inside the last 10 k on a short but taxing uphill and held off the late charge of Rory Sutherland to land a resounding win that's sure to secure him a ride with Euskaltel next year. In that breakaway was also Rubén Pérez who showed good form by hanging on for fourth on a day marked by torrential rain and chaotic racing. The limelight was on Cabedo though, who took his first professional victory in some manner. "I'm very, very happy", he naturally told Euskaltel's wesbite after having a shower and arriving back at the hotel. He then went on to dedicate his win to a relative, something which seems to be the norm in cycling these days. "It was a very nice win, one which I dedicate to my grandfather. He passed away two years ago, but he used to support me, encourage me and he followed my career. And of course I dedicate it to my team-mates and Miguel Madariaga. Miguel gave me the opportunity to be a part of this team (he came over from Seguros Bilbao prior to this season), and this team is a bunch of friends." His team-mate Ricardo García also had a good ride today, placing 16th at just 48 seconds. Sáez wasn't far back in 34th place at 54 seconds, while Bagües and Martín ended up ceding 1:10 and Bizkarra and Zabalo 1:32. Besides Pérez's fourth place, Euskaltel didn't really have a lot to cheer about. Aramendía failed to finish the stage, while Izagirre dropped to 11th overall after losing 54 seconds today. Urtasun, who kept hold of his metas volantes jersey, finished at 1:24 while Sesma finished up in 100th place at 9 minutes 45 seconds. With one stage to go, Izagirre is 4:44 adrift in 11th place.

Romandie's a wrap

The Tour de Romandie came to a close today with the fifth and final 165km-stage from Champagne to Geneva. Ben Swift, who's really come of age this year, grabbed the win in a mass sprint finish. Alan Pérez had another good day and took 11th, while Verdugo, Txurruka, Velasco and Martínez also rolled in with the pack. Koldo, Castroviejo, Isasi and Jon Izagirre struggled on the last day and finished a full 20:38 down, but that will in no way take the gloss of what's been an excellent Romandie throughout for the team. From Castroviejo's opening day prologue triumph to Verdugo's impeccable riding on all terrain, it's been a top notch six days for the team. DS in Switzerland, Gorka Gerrikagoitia, seemed to agree when speaking to the team's website afterwards: "It's been very good. We started off brilliantly with Castroviejo's win against top-level competition in the prologue. We've been competitive, we've been present in all the breaks and we've been up there in a race lacking a proper high mountain stage, a race we knew would be won and lost in the time trial. It's a bit annoying though that we didn't end up with a top 10 overall with Gorka Verdugo. His crash in the crono yesterday deprived the team of a creditable high overall placing that they would have deserved. It would have been a satisfactory result for Gorka and the team alike. Gorka's a very important rider. This was his last race ahead of a period of active rest leading up to the Tour de France, and he was once again at a high level just like he was in Paris-Nice and País Vasco. He's received more freedom, we had confidence in his state of form and he belongs inside the top 10."

Saturday round-up: Romandie, Asturias and Álava

Gorka Verdugo lost his top 10 overall in the Tour de Romandie today after inexplicably crashing with a badly parked motorbike within 1500 metres of the line in his race against the clock. Verdugo came a cropper just before the last ascent to the line was about to start. Crossing the line his jersey and shorts were torn and he looked battered and bruised aboard his spare bike. Still he only lost two minutes to winner Zabriskie, finishing 61st, but he dropped to 17th overall. He's only 20 seconds off the top 10, but with just one stage left it's going to be hard to reclaim his fifth overall let alone a place among the ten first. On a positive note, Jonathan Castroviejo once again showed his worth by powering to ninth place just 48 seconds off the pace. Jon Izagirre also showed plenty of promise by grabbing a solid 49th at 1:48, while Amets finished one place and one tenth of a second behind Verdugo. A Pérez was 75th, Martínez 91, Velasco 118th and Fernández 138th.

Euskaltel were at their aggressive best in Asturias today. The third stage would end atop the mighty Alto de Acebo, and, with no pure climber in the team, they realised they would have to play their cards well. And play them well they did. Urtasun got away early on to give Euskaltel presence up front and Gorka Izagirre joined him along with a few others on the approach to the final climb that would decide the race. With two riders in the front group consisting of approximately 10 riders Euskaltel were perfectly placed. Sadly Urtasun first, and then Izagirre a while later, had to let go on the steep and unforgiving ramps of the Acebo. The impressive Izagirre didn't blow up though and hung in there to place 13th on the stage and as a result keep his tenth place overall. Rubén Pérez showed he can do more than just sprinting by ending up a respectable 30th at almost 11 minutes, while Aramendía placed 48th, Sesma 62nd and a visibly exhausted Urtasun ended up more than 25 minutes down in 69th place. Due to stomach pains, Giro-bound duo Isasi and Oroz both decided to not take the start today to play it safe ahead of next week's big showdown.

Naturgas did not manage to repeat yesterday's tour de force in today's last stage of the Three Days of Álava. Yesterday's victor Fernando Grijalba was naturally the protected rider but did not have the legs to muster more than 20th today, 28 seconds down on double stage winner Edison Bravo. Merino and Larrinaga both finised at 3:03 in 33rd and 34th place respectively, while Carazo was 54th at 7:13 and Guinea dead last in 59th at 11:06.


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