Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday round-up

  • As per tradition, Tour-bound riders and staff were present at Euskaltel headquarters in Zamudio yesterday to talk to the media ahead of their July adventure. All the big names, De Galdeano, Madariaga, Ardanza et al., were present, and the former once again spoke of the team's objectives, aspirations and all that. The team will depart for France tomorrow and will take with them local chef Patxi Gimeno on tour to make sure the riders get the food they want and need throughout the three weeks. Let's just hope he leaves his meat at home.
  • Naturgas youngster Jon Larrinaga is back in training after an injury-enforced seven-week layoff, www.fundacioneuskadi.com reports. Larrinaga crashed out on day three of the Vuelta a Bidasoa back in early May.
  • Talking of Naturgas, pretty much the entire team gathered in Olazti yesterday for a training session, reports Euskaltel's website. The riders trained on the parcours of the upcoming Vuelta a Madrid and DS Arberas and his staff used the session to gauge the riders' form ahead of the big rendezvous. One rider most definitely in form is Igor Merino. The all-rounder, fresh off his debut GiroBio, took silver in Friday's sub-23 time trial championships. Most of the guys not selected for the Basque team for the national championships over the weekend took part in a race in Tolosa the same day but, despite placing three riders in the main break, ended up empty-handed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Heading into the unknown

Gorka Izagirre will be making his much-anticipated debut in the Tour de France in less than a week, and he freely admits that he has no idea what's awaiting him. "I don't know anything about the Tour", he confided to the Diario Vasco. "I don't know the Pyrenees nor the Alps. I went to the Tourmalet with my parents and their group of friends when I was a kid, but that's all I've seen and all I know. The team took it's time in selecting me for the race, so I haven't had the opportunity to check out any of the stages. It'll be like a little adventure for me to see how I'll do, but I know it'll be hard. Since my return to competition after a mid-season break I've been feeling good, and I'm really looking forward to get to know the race." Izagirre had an outstanding showing in key lead-up race Tour de Suisse, being arguably the team's strongest rider at the prestigious WorldTour event. But despite that he'll be devoted to helping Samu rather than go looking for personal glory. "De Galdeano wants me to go all out in the team time trial and assist Samu and make sure he encounters no problems in the opening ten days", he told the newspaper, a task he'll share with Pablo Urtasun before the team's climbers will make their presence felt in the latter ten days of the three-week race. "I've got no problem with that." Despite having done quite a heavy load of racing so far this year, though he doesn't keep track of the number of days peculiarly, he insists he's recovered from a "very hard" Tour de Suisse and is ready to go. All nine members of the team will today make their way to France with the start of the biggest race on earth just a few days away.

Astarloza all set for comeback

Disgraced former Tour de France stage-winner Mikel Astarloza's two-year suspension came to an end yesterday and, according to Basque daily DEIA, he'll make his comeback with the team later this season. It was reported back in April that he would indeed make a return either this year or in time for the 2012 season, but with Euskaltel plagued by injuries it appears he'll get to wear the orange jersey pretty soon. No date for his comeback is set, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him lining up for home-town race Clásica San Sebastián in late July. Apparently he's been training "really hard", but obviously needs some time to get back into the race-form after such a long absence.

Bronze for Koldo

Koldo Fernández was 'best of the rest' in today's national champs road race and grabbed a magnificent bronze behind breakaway duo Rojas and Contador. The Euskaltel sprinter, by his own admission downbeat after missing out on a Tour berth earlier this week, won the sprint for third 28 seconds down on the winning duo to repeat last year's heroics. The team did their best to reel in Rojas and Contador after the duo went clear on the last ascent but there was no catching them, but the team will no doubt be happy with another medal to go with Castroviejo's on Friday. Verdugo and Martínez came home 11th and 13th and looked to be on track for next week's Grand Départ, while Gorka Izagirre also had a decent race to finish 17th at 33 seconds. Txurruka and Velasco ended up 1:28 down in 24th and 26th, A and R Pérez and Urtasun came in with a large group at 5:09, and Sesma, Bilbao and Aramendía crossed the line inside the gruppetto at 8:09.

Víctor Cabedo ensured Orbea a top 10 placing with his 9th place finish. The youngster has had an excellent first season in the blue jersey of Orbea and looks increasingly likely to make the jump up to Euskaltel in 2012. García finished up a decent 20th, Martín 35th, Etxebarria 49th and Bizkarra 62nd.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Road race line-up

Euskaltel will put 14 of their riders on the start-line in Castellón today for the national champs road race: Bilbao, Martínez, Verdugo, Txurruka, Velasco, Fernández, Sesma, R and A Pérez, Oroz, Urtasun, G Izagirre, Castroviejo and Aramendía. On what is a rather flat parcourse, Koldo Fernández is likely to be Euskaltel's main go-to man, but also look out for a late-race move from the likes of Txurruka and, above all, Gorka Izagirre.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Castroviejo grabs silver in TT champs

Jonathan Castroviejo showed what a massive talent he is by taking silver in the Spanish National Champs ITT yesterday. The Getxo native edged no less a rider than a certain Alberto Contador to take second spot on the podium, but there was nothing he could do to surpass a flying LL Sánchez who got around the 44,5km course a full minute faster than the Euskaltel youngster. Gorka Izagirre rode strongly to place seventh, whilst Orbea pair Cabedo and García ended up 11th and 14th respectively. Contrary to what was reported on this site on Friday, Daniel Sesma and Aritz Etxebarria did not take the start. The duo figured on the start list a couple of days ago, but for some reason they were not to be seen.

"I'm happy with silver", he confided to the team's website after the podium ceremony. "My form was an unknown going into the race after my Tour de Suisse was hampered by a knee injury, so I didn't really know how I'd do. Luis León did a great race and all I can do is to congratulate him. I felt strong and second place is nice. I finished ahead of Contador, who wins almost every time trial he participates in. Above all I'm happy to see I'm progressing in a modality I've always fancied my chances in".

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trio set for TT champs

Prodigious duo Jonathan Castroviejo and Gorka Izagirre, along with Daniel Sesma, will represent Euskaltel in today's Spanish National Championship Individual Time Trial. With two victories to his name in the discipline already this season, the former will be a hot candidate for a podium placing over the 44,5km course. The elder of the Izagirre brothers looked more than decent in the recently-conlcuded Tour de Suisse and should stand a chance of landing a top 10. Sesma, more known for his breakaway exploits than time trial prowess, is not likely to figure towards the top of the standings, but should be able to end up somewhere like, say, top 20. Sesma will be the fifth man off the start ramp at 17:34, whilst Izagirre will start at 17:41 and Castroviejo, fourth from last and two minutes ahead of favourite number one, Contador, will depart at 18:06. Orbea will be represented by Aritz Etxebarria, Víctor Cabedo and Ricardo García.

"We're climbers, not rouleurs"

Like just about everyone else, Egoi Martínez is painfully aware of the fact that Euskaltel will struggle in the team time trial in the Tour. In a bid to minimize their losses, the team spent almost three hours riding tempo together yesterday. The super-domestique hopes sessions like these might pay dividends come race day. "Unity and cohesion can save us", he told DEIA. "The other teams are more skilled in the discipline than we are. But it's not really a question of being familiar or not with the discipline. It's simple: we're not as strong against the clock individually as riders on other teams. We're a team of climbers". Personally I don't think the TTT will turn out too badly to be honest. It's only 23 kilometres long, and after all riders like Samu, Verdugo, Martínez himself and Gorka Izagirre know a thing or two about how to ride a good time trial. There's no need to worry I'd say. Mark my words: Euskaltel will end up 14th at 1:21. That wouldn't be too bad, would it?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


  • With several riders in solid shape at the moment, Orbea will hope to leave their mark on the Spanish National Championships in Castellón this weekend. Star duo Víctor Cabedo and Ricardo García will do the time trial, while Martín, Etxebarria, Aberasturi, Bizkarra, Bagües, Sáez, Zabalo, Urain and Blázquez will join them in the road race. The level of competition is likely to be quite high, so a top 10 placing in either discipline would constitute a good result for the Continental team. Look for Cabedo to shine in Sunday's road race.
  • Euskaltel's chosen nine for the Tour de France spent three hours earlier today practicing for the Tour's stage two team time trial. Given their recent exploits in the discipline, or rather lack thereof, those three hours are likely to come in handy as Samu looks to not cede too much time to GC rivals Contador, Schleck, Evans, Basso and co.
  • Miguel Madariaga has once again been honoured for his work for Basque cycling, writes www.fundacioneuskadi.com. A few days ago, the current president of the Fundación Euskadi received an award from the city of Orduna, an award titled the Perretxiko de Plata, for his work in "promoting and developing Basque cycling". Upon receiving the prize, Madariaga expressed his "extreme gratefulness". Joining him at the act was Euskaltel riders Antón, Isasi and Mínguez, team head De Galdeano, DS Gerrikagoitia, Orbea DS Díaz, and Naturgas Energía chief Aritz Arberas.
  • Naturgas will send nine riders to Friday's Torneo Lehendakari-race in Tolosa. Representing the red brigade will be Aitor Ocampos, Alain González, Urtzi Legarra, Karl Baudron, Rory Martínez, Damien García, Alberto Guinea, Eduardo Ardaiz and Álex Bilbao. Igor Merino will meanwhile represent a Basque team at the Spanish under-23 nationals in both the time trial and the road race, reports www.biciciclismo.com.
  • Speaking of the red team, the Naturgas youngsters achieved some top results last weekend. Efrén Carazo was third, Grijalba fifth and González sixth in Sunday's race in Burgos. Saturday's race in Trucíos did not go similarly well with none of the riders placing inside the top 10.

Samu predicts tough Tour

While Samu is no doubt aiming for a podium spot in the Tour this July just like he did last year, the Olympic champ is anticipating a harder fight for the top three places this time around. "It'll be more complicated this year than it was last year", he confided to DEIA. "We all want a repeat of 2010 when we fought for stages wins and the podium, but we know it'll be hard." The Asturian highlighted the team time trial on stage two as an obvious obstacle, saying "we probably won't go as fast as Leopard, Garmin, Saxo Bank or Rabobank", but went on to add diplomatically that "it's the same for everyone". He rates compatriot Contador as the number one favourite - naturally - but it nonetheless expecting "the most exciting Tour in years".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nieve to stay

According to DEIA, Mikel Nieve has decided to stay with Euskaltel amid interest from Movistar and has even prolonged his contract with the team. It was reported early last week that Movistar were offering the climbing sensation a lucrative three-year deal - similar to the deal Jonathan Castroviejo is likely to accept in the near future - but the Leitza native has shown his commitment to the cause by extending his current contract 'till the end of the 2013 season.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tour squad revealed

Euskaltel have revealed the names of the nine riders that will make up the team at the Tour de France. Joining Samu, Txurruka, Verdugo, Martínez and R Pérez (who were all certain of a spot a long time ago) will be Iván Velasco, A Pérez, Pablo Urtasun and Gorka Izagirre. The latter two will make their Tour bow this year. Glad to see Gorka given the chance; he'll be one to look out for make no mistake. Urtasun also adds a lot to the team and is worthy of his place, while it was almost a given that solid climber Velasco and all-rounder A Pérez were going to get selected. All in all a decent, well-rounded team. Samu will have plenty of support in the mountains in the shape of Verdugo, Martínez, Velasco and Txurruka, while Izagirre, Urtasun and A and R Pérez are all good bets for stage glory. Leave your thoughts on the team in the 'Comments' section.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Suisse stage 9

Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza hung onto their 18th and 23rd places on GC respectively in today's concluding stage, a 32,1km ITT. The former had an okay ride, clocking in at 2:56 down on Cancellarar in 53rd place, while the latter was further off the pace in 93rd at 4:21. Castroviejo, seemingly on the way back after his knee troubles earlier in the race, suffered the misfortune of puncturing underway, totally disrupting his rhythm of course. The Movistar-bound youngster slotted in 3:54 down in 77th place. Rubén Pérez was six seconds faster in 75th, Fernández was 98th at 4:36, and Aramendía ended up 125th at 5:32. This made for the following final GC:
  • 18, Gorka Izagirre
  • 23, Jorge Azanza
  • 54, Alan Pérez
  • 68, Rubén Pérez
  • 80, Javier Aramendía
  • 112, Koldo Fernández
  • 125, Jonathan Castroviejo
In the team rankings Euskaltel finished up ninth.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Suisse stage 8

Koldo Fernández confirmed he's approaching top form with a strong fourth on today's eighth stage of the Tour de Suisse. A select group of no more than 28 riders made it to the finish together on the comparatively flat but still quite taxing and hilly (towards the end at least) leg of the nine-day race, and in it was Koldo Fernández. In the sprint for the line Koldo was slightly boxed in on the left just when he was about to pull the trigger, but still recovered to finish fourth ahead of such illustrious names as Hushovd, Ciolek and Rojas to name a few. R Pérez came in just 54 seconds back, while Azanza advanced to 23rd on GC through his 69th place finish at 1:39. Izagirre stayed in 18th despite ceding 1:56. Castroviejo, Aramendía and A Pérez rolled home with the gruppetto at 7:27.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Suisse stage 7

Euskaltel got through today's penultimate Tour de Suisse stage is reasonable shape. Aramendía showed he's still got something in the tank after a taxing Giro by being part of the break of the day, eventually finishing 13th, whilst Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza helped each other out on the last climbs to minimize their loss and keep hold of their top 30 placings on GC. Izagirre ended up where he started, in 18th, while Azanza climbed up to 25th. They both lost 6:51 to stage-winner De Gendt. Alan and Rubén Pérez both came home at more than eight minutes in 50th and 53rd respectively, Castroviejo showed slight improvement by finishing 69th at 11:48, and Fernández got through the day in 117th place, 24:26 in arrears. Sesma, suffering from a pile-up on stage six, had to abandon halfway through.

No fracture for Landa

An MRI scan earlier this week revealed that Mikel Landa's right collarbone was not fractured in his run-in with a cow in the Dauphiné last week, the rider himself told the Efe news agency. The rather unusual encounter was thought to have broken his right collarbone for the second time this year, but the young climber is now looking to be back in competition "in a week or two" after the positive news discarded any serious damage. Landa is not slated for the Tour this year, but might be able to take part in the nationals coming up next weekend in Castellón. A return-date has not yet been set as the rider is waiting for the results of a second scan. Stay tuned for further news on his condition.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Suisse stage 6

Gorka Izagirre once again showed his considerable and multi-faceted talent in today's sixth stage of the Tour de Suisse. The versatile Ormaiztegi native, who excels in uphill sprints, short time trials and medium mountain stages in equal measure it seems, broke away with talented duo Chavanel and Madrazo approximately halfway into the 156km stage between Tobel and the HC climb to the Malbun ski resort. The trio quickly opened up a 5-minute gap but it was always going be a big ask to stay away given the hardness and length of that final climb. Once the climbing got underway the break's gap had been reduced to 2:30, meaning it was virtually mission impossible to stay away. Izagirre gave it a go, though, and easily dropped his breakaway companions. The 23-year-old kept going for several kilometres and kept the leading group at bay for an impressive amount of time, but was eventually reeled in within five klicks of the line. Once caught, Izagirre stayed with the favourites for a kilometre or so before dropping off and settling into a more reasonable rhythm. He held on to clock the 18th best time at just 3:23, and advanced to 18th overall heading into tomorrow's demanding stage. Azanza and A Pérez both had impressive ascents to come home 32nd and 33rd at 6:03, while R Pérez crossed the line alongside A Schleck and co. at 14:15 in 56th place. Fernández, Aramendía, Sesma and Castroviejo (who's still struggling with a knee injury) cruised home with the gruppetto at 21:44.

Castroviejo close to Movistar switch

Jonathan Castroviejo is allegedly on the verge of signing for rival Spanish team Movistar. So say both El Correo and Biciciclismo in the morning hours today. According to the trustworthy websites he's agreed a three-year deal with Unzúe's formation, and the switch will see him link up with good friend Intxausti in 2012. The rider himself denies that any deal has been done, saying on Twitter that "several teams have shown interest but I haven't decided anything yet", but Biciciclismo says team chief Galdeano is already resigned to the fact that he'll lose one of his most prized assets. Castroviejo's agent, a certain Antonio Vaquerizas, also moved to dismiss the news, likely all too aware of the fact that per UCI's new rules, signings can't be announced before August 1. Vaquerizas, who's also Intxausti's agent and not Miguel Madariaga's best friend to say the least, insists that reports of Castroviejo joining Movistar are "totally inaccurate" and that "the rider hasn't signed a contract with Movistar or any other team". Believe what you want, but there's no denying this isn't looking too good. Loosing Castroviejo, much like Intxausti, would be a huge blow to Euskaltel's hopes of a successful future, and certainly won't make Galdeano and Madariaga's negotiations with potential new sponsors any easier. To make matters worse, Unzúe is also reportedly interested in Giro hero Mikel Nieve. Luckily the lanky climber has a contract 'til the end of next season, but El Correo has it that the Movistar head is contemplating buying out his contract to secure his services for next season.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday round-up

  • Koldo Fernández finally looks to be back to some kind of form after placing 11th in yesterday's stage 4 and 16th in today's stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse. The team set him up expertly, especially earlier today, but when it came to the final 500 metres he just didn't have it. I guess that happens. A few more races will do him the world of good and might provide him with that little bit of explosiveness he seems to be lacking these days. The sport directors in Switzerland will no doubt be pleased with the team's performance as a whole today though, as the took took centre stage from the off. Daniel Sesma got into the main break of the day and took maximum points on the first three categorized climbs. When he got reeled in, Azanza, Aramendía, Izagirre and Alan and Rubén Pérez in particular, took control of the pack and kept the pace high on the run-in. Alan Pérez even gave it a go himself with six clicks left but was reeled in a kilometre or so later. Izagirre showed his skills in hectic sprint finishes to bring Koldo into the perfect position inside the last 2 kms, but as mentioned above Koldo just couldn't pull it off. Izagirre is still 22nd on GC, whilst Castroviejo now props up the standings. Not sure what has caused his relatively weak performance, but I assume he's struggling with illness or something down that road.
  • Naturgas rider Fernando Grijalba maintained his lead in the Sub23 standing in the Copa Ibérica through his 19th-place finish in yesterday's race in Villasana de Mena. Carlos Barbero ended up 28th.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blogspot troubles

Problems at the Blogspot offices have once again resulted in a lack of updates these last few days. Hopefully it's sorted out now, though, so I can get back to keeping you up to date on everything Euskaltel, Orbea and Naturgas. A lot of races have been done and Euskaltel are currently still taking part in the Tour de Suisse as you probably know. That race hasn't gone exactly to plan thus far to say the least. Castroviejo was strangely off pace in the prologue and hasn't been up to much on the climbs, but at least Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza have shown decent form to give Euskaltel somewhat of a presence. Actually the former has shown more than decent form; he was an impressive 15th in the prologue and has been climbing with the best so far to sit 22nd on GC heading into today's fourth stage. Azanza has also been climbing better than he's done in a long time and currently lies in 32nd place.

The Dauphiné turned out okay for the team. I didn't expect them to be up there challenging for top honours a full month prior to the Tour and they most certainly weren't. Samu ended up a respectable 17th on GC after showing marked improvement day by day, whilst Txurruka finally looks to be back to something called form by ending up 22nd. He'll be one to watch (as usual) in the Tour come July. Velasco was consistently good in the mountains and ended up 30th, so he's a shoo-in for the Tour I reckon. Peio Bilbao showed why he's the guy on everybody's lips (those in the Basque Country anyway) by performing strongly in the mountains and in the ITT to finish safely inside the top 100 in his first ever WorldTour-race. On a less positive note was Mikel Landa's enforced abandonment after coming a cropper in a run-in with a few cows venturing into the peloton on a descent. The strong climber ended up with a broken collarbone, incidentally the same one he broke in Murcia earlier this year, and is now facing a month or six weeks I would suggest on the side-lines.

Orbea looked the part at the recently-concluded Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal. Danger-duo Aberasturi and García were up there on nearly every stage (the former grabbed third on day one, the latter second and fourth on day two and three), resulting in García taking an impressive fifth on the final GC. With the way they've been riding all season they look likely to change the blue of Orbea for the orange of Euskaltel in 2012.

Just like Bizkarra and Bilbao last year, Igor Merino is finding life difficult in the Baby Giro. The all-rounder, who looks set to move on to Orbea next year, is 81st overall after four days of riding, and will be hoping to find his feet in the second part of the race. His team-mate at Naturgas, Fernando Grijalba, once again showed strong form by taking third in Sunday's GP Beasain.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday round-up

  • Euskaltel got through the Dauphiné's fourth stage yesterday unnoticed and out of trouble. On the flat stage into Mâcon that Degenkolb won, all Euskaltel riders conserved their strength and rolled in with the pack. Not much more to say really.
  • The team will take to the start in Switzerland for the Tour de Suisse tomorrow. The roster is made up of Fernández, Castroviejo, G Izagirre, Sesma, Aramendía, Azanza and R and A Pérez. Castroviejo will look to put his mark on the two time trials that bookend the tour, whilst Izagirre will hope to make an impression on GC. Look for Koldo to get back into the swing of things in the mass sprints.
  • Jon Aberasturi placed third in what was a good opening stage of the Volta ao Alentejo for Orbea yesterday. The emerging fast-man was only bettered by Portuguese duo Lima and Sancho, while GC guy Ricardo García placed an impressive sixth. Urain struggled towards the end of the 169,9km stage into Campo Maior and ceded 38 seconds, while Andoni Blázquez struggled even more after spending the day out front and eventually lost 3:33.
  • Naturgas have a busy weekend ahead of them. On Saturday they'll fight to keep hold of Igor Merino's second place overall in the Torneo Lehendakari series in Beasain - without the man himself on the team! As reported earlier this week, Merino will embark on the Baby Giro tomorrow, meaning it'll be left to the following 11 youngsters to defend the team's colours: Ardaiz, Ocampos, Chetout, Baudron, García, Legarra, Grijalba, Barbero, Carazo, González and Bilbao. Everyone but García, Legarra and Carazo will line up the next day for appointment number two in the Copa Ibérica series. Rory Martínez will join up though, so they'll still have strength in numbers to defend Grijalba's third place overall.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Wednesday round-up

  • Euskaltel didn't fare too well in today's 43km ITT in the Dauphiné starting and finishing in Grenoble. Verdugo was as anticipated the team's best rider, taking an okay 34th at 3:08, while team leader Samu Sánchez was a mildly disappointing 42nd at 3:27. Txurruka clocked a decent time, finishing 56th at 3:51, whilst Bilbao was hugely impressive in such a long, flat TT, taking 69th at just 4:18. Landa didn't do badly either, placing 77th at 4:30. Martínez was 94th at 4:57, Urtasun 144th at 6:33 and Velasco 156th at 7:10. Going into the latter part of the Dauphiné, Samu is lying 24th overall.
  • Orbea will send an eight-man team to Portuguese four-day race Volta ao Alentejo, commencing tomorrow. Looking for stage-wins, the team will be represented by Aberasturi, Martín, Zabalo, Sáez, García, Etxebarria, Blázquez and Urain.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Merino selected for Baby Giro

Versatile Naturgas Energía youngster Igor Merino has been selected by the Basque Cycling Federation to represent the team in the upcoming Baby Giro. The prestigious nine-day Italian stage-race gets underway this Friday, and Merino will team up with Seguros Bilbao's Ibai Salas, Jon Oria of Cafés Baqué, Unai Iparragirre of Bidelan, Sergio Ruiz of Debabarrena and Antton Ibarguren of Caja Rural. Peio Bilbao, who's now excelling in the Dauphiné in Euskaltel colours, and Mikel Bizkarra, who's likely to join him on the team in 2012, both participated last year, and the experience of such an arduous high-level event is sure to stand him in good stead when he (in all likelihood) lines up in the blue of Orbea next year. Merino will target a decent overall placing and might aim for a stage win, reports www.biciciclismo.com.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesday round-up

  • Just like in yesterday's stage 1, the Euskaltel riders were there or thereabouts on today's 180km stage 2 ending atop a short but steep incline. A quintet consisting of Martínez, Sánchez, Verdugo, Txurruka and the impressive Bilbao came in with the big pack six seconds down on winner Degenkolb, while Velasco, Landa and Urtasun came in a slightly disappointing (for the former anyway) 7:43 adrift. A 43km ITT is on the menu for the riders tomorrow, so I wouldn't expect any fireworks. But still, look out for the ever-improving Gorka Verdugo to post a top 20 finish.
  • Standout Naturgas rider Fernando Grijalba once again recorded a top result yesterday with his third place in the Trofeo San Antonio II Memorial Fernando Expósito in Renedo. The versatile youngster, seemingly equally adept on the flats and in the high mountains, bested a host of strong names in the fight for the last step on the podium after Montenegro and Fabian broke clear of the pack and duked it out for the win. Rory Martínez, who had a rather disappointing Euskadi champs, grabbed 17th, and Ocampos placed 22nd.
  • Euskaltel line-up for the Tour de Suisse: R Pérez, A Pérez, G Izagirre, Fernández, Castroviejo, Sesma, Azanza and Aramendía. Isasi and Mínguez, both fresh off their Giro campaign, are listed as reserves.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Merino shines in Euskadi champs

Igor Merino was as expected among the strongest in this weekend's Euskadi championships, bagging a silver in both the time trial and in the road race. The powerful allrounder finished runner-up to a certain Omar Fraile, the all-counquering Seguros Bilbao rider who'll team up with Orbea next year and Euskaltel in 2013. González and Chetout placed ninth and tenth respectively. Of note was former Orbea rider Mikel Ilundain's second place in the elite ITT.

In yesterday's road race Merino just lost out on the top gong, finishing fifth and more importantly 21 seconds down on number four and first sub-23 rider Ibai Salas. The Naturgas prodigy thus ended up with two silvers. Not bad in two races! Ocampos showed his form is coming along nicely by grabbing 12th on the line and fifth in the under-23 rankings, while González was sixth. Former Euskaltel stalward Aitor Hernández finished a distant 30th, while Fraile was 19th.

Dauphiné stage 1

Today's unusually hilly first stage of the Dauphiné promised a lot but delivered little, seen through orange-tinted glasses anyway. While it was cool to see the big-guns, namely VDB, Evans and Purito Rodríguez, duke it out at a hill-top finish so early on in a World Tour race, it was slightly disappointing not to see any Euskaltel riders up there. Granted, the quartet of Landa, Samu, Martínez and Velasco were all just 58 seconds down (the former was actually just 54 down), so they were by no means way off the pace, but 24th, 29th, 38th and 40th were perhaps less than what many of us had expected. It's all about the Tour, though, naturally, not the Dauphiné, so they've still got a month or so to fine-tune their form. I think the riders themselves will be quietly pleased with their ride; they just lack that little bit of form that will see them right up there. This demanding race might just provide them with that vital finishing touch.

Peio Bilbao showed plenty of promise by coming home 53rd just 1:35 adrift. He's only 20 remember, and it's his very first World Tour race, so he'll be phenomenal in a year or two. Txurruka was once again not even close, finishing 77th at 2:13, whilst Verdugo ended up a surprisingly lowly 94th at 2:40. Urtasun was 147th at 7:34.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Dauphiné prologue

The Dauphiné kicked off today with a 5,4km prologue in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and true to form Euskaltel didn't manage to mix it up with the very best. They weren't too far off, though, with Verdugo and Sánchez both getting their race off to a good start by finishing 16 seconds down in 22nd and 24th respectively. Those rides bode well for the remaining stages, of which four could be classed as 'mountainous'. The other guys finished well down the standings, so not much to write about there. Good to see Pello Bilbao placing (just) inside the top 100 to get his first World Tour race off to a decent start. Full results:
  • 22, Verdugo, 0:16
  • 24, Sánchez, s.t.
  • 68, Urtasun, 0:25
  • 82, Martínez, 0:29
  • 99, Bilbao, 0:33
  • 109, Txurruka, 0:35
  • 160, Landa, 0:49
  • 166, Velasco, 0:57

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Euskadi champs coming up

Naturgas have a big weekend ahead of them. Tomorrow, Saturday that is, they'll aim to defend their title in the Euskadi time trial championship, before they'll try to do the same in Sunday's road race. Last year Igor Merino and Pello Bilbao ensured Naturgas went home with both prizes, and the team is well equipped to repeat both those wins this time around. In the time trial, Merino, Martínez, Chetout and González will represent the reds, whilst they'll be joined by Ardaiz, Á Bilbao, Ocampos and Legarra the following day. My bet? Merino for time trial gold and Rory Martínez for road race silver.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Briefs: Dauphiné team/Antón's schedule/Nieve honoured

  • Sammy Sánchez will as anticipated lead Euskaltel's charge at the Dauphiné commencing this weekend. The Asturias native will look to fine-tune his form with an eye, or probably both eyes, on next month's big rendez-vous. At the time being, Verdugo, Urtasun, Txurruka, Martínez, Velasco, Landa and Bilbao are listed as his team-mates. Youngsters Castroviejo and G Izagirre are both on the long-list for the team, though, so they might get the nod instead of Landa and Bilbao, for example, as they're not going to the Tour anyway. Stay tuned for final roster.
  • Igor Antón has revealed his schedule, or part of it anyway, leading up to the Vuelta in late August. One-dayers Ordizia, Getxo and San Sebastián are pencilled in, and so too is the Vuelta a Burgos, a race won emphatically by a certain Olympic champ last year.
  • Double Grand Tour stage-winner Mikel Nieve yesterday received a hero's welcome in his home-town of Leitza. Hundreds of fans crowded the city centre to show their appreciation for the victor of arguably the hardest and certainly the longest stage in this year's Giro, and the shy 27-year-old looked on as the mayor, the councillor and what not held speeches outside the City Hall. Nieve was awarded a beret (that flat, funny-looking Basque hat you know) and even got to spray his fans, family and friends in champagne. Now that's what I call a celebration! He closed out the happening by saying: "I'm very happy and excited, and I'd love to give you more big wins in the future so that we can have more celebrations like this".


web site counter
ISP Internet Providers