Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Time's up for Basque Cycling News

With Euskaltel Euskadi folding and Equipo Euskadi looking ever likelier to follow suit, it's time this website it put to rest.

As has been the case with the deaths of the aforementioned teams, it's been coming for a while now.

It's been more than seven years since the very first post. "Iban to Saunier Duval?", dated October 3 2006, speculated where Ibán Mayo - once the founding reason for this website - would end up after his sorry breakup with Euskaltel had been confirmed. The sport, Ibán, Euskaltel, Basque cycling and this website have come a long way since then.

Most importantly and certainly most worryingly, the state of the sport in Euskadi - the true heart of Spanish cycling - has been declining ever since. The story of the heydays of Messrs. Indurain, Olano, Beloki, Zubeldia, Mayo et al. is well known and makes the stars of today look pale in comparison, but the lack of big-name riders only serves to hide the real issue.

The biggest problem concerns the lack of interest in the sport and the sad state of the cantera. The number of teams - and the possibilities for young hopefuls to make a living of riding their bikes with it - have been diminishing for the better part of a decade now, and the Basque junior and amateur scene, once the envy of the cycling world, is not what it once was.

That's not to say Basque cycling is dying. Far from it. Journalists in the modern day and age might be tempted to use words of the kind to satisfy the tabloid and at times unreasonable demands of the internet, but don't be fooled: they're more concerned with selling their product than necessarily reflecting the truth. In time, the sport will get back on its feet. The history, the traditions, the talent and - cheeky as it may sound - the love for a life on two wheels is still there. Those are qualities built up over numerous of decades and thus, almost by nature, impossible to lose just like that.

In cycling terminology, the wheels haven't come off Basque cycling. It's merely flatted.

To keep up the cycling jargon and thus hopefully succeeding in putting a less serious spin on what is otherwise an emotional message, this website has reached the end of the road.

With the disappearance of Euskaltel Euskadi and Equipo Euskadi, it was only natural to call it quits. The time consuming nature of keeping a site like this up to date makes it a welcome, if not exactly wanted, ending. With no orange jerseys in the peloton to distinguish the Basques from the rest, I could use the extra time at my hands to learn to recognize the erstwhile Euskaltel riders in their new jerseys come 2014.

A big eskerrik asko is due to my excellent providers of photos, to the riders and journalists who've readily been at my disposal, and to all of you who've loyally checked in to read my ramblings.

See you at the races.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mestre pondering Portugal return

Ricardo Mestre's first year at WorldTour level looks increasingly likely to be his last.

The 30-year-old made the move to Euskaltel as part of the team's internationalization in the winter and wasted little time in getting familiar with the rigours of racing at the highest level, what with taking part in top-tier stage-races like the tours of Catalunya, Suisse and Poland - not to mention the mighty Giro d'Italia in May.

The Portuguese might have thrived in getting his shot at the big time, but with the team folding and the majority of the top teams done signing riders for the year, he's nearing a quicker-than-he-wanted-return to the pro peloton in his home land.

"It looks like I'll go back to riding in Portugal", he tells Basque Cycling News. "I've talked to a few teams back home. Returning is not exactly what I would have wanted, but it's what I've got right now".

In the hope of other and more enticing offers coming his way, though, he's putting off signing on the dotted line for a few weeks.

"I'll wait until November", he says. "If nothing else has come up by then, I'll sign. I have to look ahead".

Fellow first-year Euskaltel rider Robert Vrecer hasn't sorted out his future either. Contrary to Mestre, though, it doesn't appear he's got a plan b lined up. In an e-mail over the weekend, the Slovenian only said he's still on the look-out for a ride for next year.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Garikoitz Bravo ensures last hurrah as Euskaltel say emotional goodbye to peloton

Euskaltel Euskadi bowed out of professional cycling on Tuesday in a discreet, yet honourable manner, at the Tour of Beijing.

Garikoitz Bravo successfully defended his tenth place on general classification, meaning the team had something to celebrate on what was otherwise a sad day for everyone connected with the team.

"This is like someone dying", sports director Álvaro González de Galdeano told "We'll only realize later on that the team is actually gone, and we'll remember the team fondly. We know it's all over now, but we're yet to really grasp it".

Speaking to the team's website upon the stage's conclusion, de Galdeano was pleased with how his charges ended 20 years of cycling history.

"We're pleased with the result - we got into the top ten. We put our faith in Garikoitz and it payed off. He even finished second in the young riders' classification.

"We finished this with the feeling of having done a good job".

By securing his best result in a WorldTour race in his young career, Bravo also bettered the team's performance last year that saw Iván Velasco and Samuel Sánchez coming in 11th and 12th respectively.

As de Galdeano put it, it was most certainly a most "dignified" way to bow out.

  • (1, Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano), 2:26:56)
  • 23, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 48, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 105, Ricardo García, 0:44
  • 106, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 107, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
Final general classification:
  • (1, Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), 19:35:46)
  • 10, Garikoitz Bravo, 0:31
  • 36, Juan José Oroz, 2:43
  • 43, Mikel Landa, 3:58
  • 51, Ricardo García, 6:20
  • 131, Mikel Astarloza, 34:42
Photo: BCPT

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bernaudeau admits interest in Sicard

According to reports in France, Romain Sicard might be on the verge of joining Europcar.

The once-prodigious French-Basque is - like most of his Euskaltel team-mates - without a team for next year, but Jean-René Bernaudeau's outfit might come to his rescue.

If Europcar indeed does apply for a WorldTour license, they'd need to expand their roster - cue the interest in Sicard.

Speaking to French daily Sud-Ouest this weekend, Bernaudeau admitted he's pondering hiring the 25-year-old.

"To relaunch his career? That might be a good idea", he said of the former sub-23 world road race champion and Tour de l'Avenir victor.

This quote was posted on Sicard's Facebook account yesterday, but the guys running his account warned that one shouldn't "draw any hasty conclusions" based on this one comment. In the comments section below, they even flirted with the idea of joining Spain's only remaining Professional Continental team: Caja Rural.

If Sicard doesn't end up being team-mates with Voeckler, Rolland and co. - or joining old friend Amets Txurruka at the popular green squad for that matter - there's a very real possibility he'll return to the amateur scene.

According to his old sports director at Entente Sud Gascogne, Dominique Arnaud, that would be a tragedy.

"If he had to stop riding, or even go back to being an amateur, it would be nothing short of a disaster", he's quoted as saying in El Corrreo.

Photo: BCPT

de Galdeano - We'll fight for top ten in final race

Garikoitz Bravo continued to showcase his solid form at the Tour of Beijing on Monday, riding himself into the top ten overall on the race's queen-stage.

The 24-year-old placed a creditable 12th on the fourth and penultimate leg from Yanqing to Mentougou - only 18 seconds down on stage winner and fellow Basque Beñat Intxausti - to rise to 10th on GC with only Tuesday's sprinter-friendly final stage left to race.

The native of Lazcao, Gipuzkoa, is tied on 31 second with Michael Rogers, Carlos Betancur and Mathias Frank in 10th through 13th, but Bravo's solid sprinting in the preceding stages makes him a good bet to close out his - and Euskaltel's - last race inside the top ten.

"We don't have a lot of cards to play, but we'll fight to hang onto that top ten", sports director Álvaro González de Galdeano told the team's website upon the completion of the stage. "We'll do our best to close out the team's season on a high".

  • (1, Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), 3:43:25)
  • 12, Garikoitz Bravo, 0:18
  • 23, Juan José Oroz, 1:03
  • 49, Mikel Landa, 3:45
  • 55, Ricardo García, 5:23
  • 99, Mikel Astarloza, 16:41
  • DNF: Juan José Lobato
Photo: BCPT

Euskaltel show sprinting legs in final Paris-Tours

Euskaltel put an unprecedented two riders in the top ten of Paris-Tours on Sunday.

Jon Aberasturi and Ioannis Tamouridis may not have been close to challenging eventual victor John Degenkolb for the big prize, but the duo helped each other out well in the closing kilometre to grab eighth and ninth respectively and thus finish their careers in orange on a relative high.

Following close behind was Peio Bilbao in 16th, three riders in the top 20 thus making up for the team's failure to get into any of the meaningful breaks underway.

Thanks to their new-found sprinting legs, the team ended up taking out the team classification in their last ever Paris-Tours participation.

No wonder sports director Óscar Guerrero was proud of his charges post-race.

"It was difficult to get into the breaks, but we stayed patient until the end and have come away with a great result", he enthused. "We've offered an exemplary image of the team through to the very end, and we've showed we're professionals".

  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 5:29:19)
  • 8, Jon Aberasturi, s.t.
  • 9, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 16, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 42, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 45, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 125, Robert Vrecer, 3:16
  • DNF: Ricardo Mestre
Over in China, Euskaltel's no-show continued on day three.

'The carrots' have failed to infiltrate any of the marquee breaks thus far, and in the sprint finish at the end of the 176km third stage from Yanqing to Qiandiajian it was once left to Garikoitz Bravo to fend for the team's honour.

Without much assistance, the first-year Euskaltel rider's 12th place was noteworthy and indicative of his strong late-season shape. 

Mikel Landa and Ricardo García both managed to keep up with the peloton on what was a challenging day of racing, meaning the team still has cards to play in the fight for the overall with two days to go.

  • (1, Nacer Bouhanni (, 4:08:15)
  • 12, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 30, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 42, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 61, Juan José Oroz, 0:43
  • 122, Mikel Astarloza, 17:04
  • 123, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • DNF: Pablo Urtasun, Gorka Verdugo
Photo: BCPT

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kocjan - I'm negotiating with a few teams

The next Euskaltel rider to find a team for next year could very well be Jure Kocjan.

The Slovenian joined the team ahead of the current season with a solid reputation and a healthy palmarès, but a mystery virus and subsequent health troubles made the 28-year-old's first season at WorldTour level a write-off.

Still, though, he's not lacking in suitors. The Izagirre brothers, Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve have all found a home for 2014, and Kocjan might just be the fifth Euskaltel rider to secure his future in the not too distant future.

"This is a difficult time for everyone - and my future is still uncertain - but I'm negotiating with a few teams", he tells Basque Cycling News. "I'm in talks with one Professional Continental team and one Continental-ranked outfit".

Kocjan could understandably not reveal what teams he's in talks with, but did say that one factor is making negotiations hard: his nationality.

"The biggest problem for me is that I'm Slovenian", he revealed. "French teams prefer French riders, Italian teams prefer Italians... Unless you're Peter Sagan, finding a team at this time of year is hard.

"Most teams are done shopping".

With only 25 race days to his name this year, Kocjan is naturally low on UCI points.

His stellar 2012 season, though, highlighted by two stage wins at the Tour de Limousin, still appears to make him a rider in demand.

Photo: BCPT

Lobato loses track in Beijing sprint

Stage two of the Tour of Beijing went by quietly for Euskaltel on Saturday morning.

None of the riders made it into the day's main break, and sprinter Juan José Lobato and Garikoitz Bravo - the former's right-hand man in the sprint finishes - failed to mix it up with the big-shots at the end of the 201,5km leg from Huairou Studio City to Yanqing.'s precocious sprinter Nacer Bouhanni eventually emerged victorious, besting Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Mitchell Docker to the line. Bravo came in 22nd, while Lobato cruised home for a distant 46th.

Heading into the last three stages, none of the team's riders have ceded any time overall.

  • (1, Nacer Bouhanni (, 4:59:49)
  • 22, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 46, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 103, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 114, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 136, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 138, Ricardo García, s.t.
  • 140, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 142, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
General classification:
  • (1, Nacer Bouhanni (, 9:20:13)
  • 25, Garikoitz Bravo, 0:10
  • 38, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 84, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 85, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 129, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 130, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 131, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 135, Ricardo García, s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Friday, October 11, 2013

Euskaltel caught out in Paris-Bourges and Beijing

Euskaltel were left to rue their missing sprinting prowess in Paris-Bourges on Thursday and again in the Tour of Beijing on Friday.

In the former race, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) bested Arnaud Démare ( to take the sprinter-friendly one-day semi classic. Euskaltel's best bet for the day, young Jon Aberasturi, struggled with flu-like symptoms and abandoned, leaving the team short on options.

Eventually Ioannis Tamouridis - coming in 43rd - was the team's top rider.

Post-race, sports director Óscar Guerrero summed it up succinctly.

"It was a race controlled by three teams who wanted a sprint finish, and we felt powerless without a designated finisher", he told the team's website. "It was a sleepy race".

  • (1, John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), 4:38:00)
  • 43, Ioannis Tamouridis, s.t.
  • 45, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 48, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
  • 54, Peio Bilbao, s.t.
  • 109, Robert Vrecer, 0:25
  • DNF: Ricardo Mestre, Jon Aberasturi
In Beijing, Euskaltel actually had a more than decent sprinter amidst their ranks, but Juan José Lobato - by now a noted finisher after his Tour de France heroics - lost his way in the closing stages on stage one of the Tour of Beijing on Friday.

The 190km leg from Shunyi to Huairou was taken out by Norwegian power sprinter Thor Hushovd, with Lobato forced to make do with 20th. All the team's riders came in with the pack, though, meaning hopes of a decent performance on GC are still intact.

  • (1, Thor Hushovd (BMC), 4:20:34)
  • 20, Juan José Lobato, s.t.
  • 21, Garikoitz Bravo, s.t.
  • 55, Mikel Landa, s.t.
  • 69, Juan José Oroz, s.t.
  • 112, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 114, Pablo Urtasun, s.t.
  • 116, Mikel Astarloza, s.t.
  • 127, Ricardo García, s.t.
Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Azanza - I'm 99,9 percent sure I'll retire

Jorge Azanza has in all likelihood turned his last pedal as a professional cyclist.

The 31-year-old has been one of Samuel Sánchez's most trusted and loyal domestiques the last few years, but in a Spanish peloton high on riders but low on teams, the ending of Euskaltel will more than likely also result in the ending of Azanza's career.

He's yet to receive any offers for 2014 and admits his career is all but over.

"As things stand right now, I won't be a professional cyclist next year", he tells his local regional newspaper Diario de Navarra. "One can always hope for a miracle, but it's 99,9 percent certain I'll retire. In today's cycling, there's no room for me.

"I regret to leave this sport when I'm in the shape of my life and feeling well physically, not to mention when I've found my place, which is to work for team leader. I'm approaching the best years of my career, and now I've got to stop... If I was a big winner, I would have found a team. I'm not, but I help others become winners. My only chance was to accompany one of the team leaders to another team.

"It's hard, but this is not dramatic. If I have to stop riding, I'll start a new life", he says.

Azanza's future - and his team-mates at Euskaltel with it - appeared to be safe when Fernando Alonso announced he intended to keep the team alive under a new name and in a new guise in early September, but negotiations eventually broke down and is likely to leave a lot of the team's riders on the metaphorical street next year.

Azanza says the Alonso-deal falling through was "unlucky", but admits it left him feeling angry.

"It made me mad, as now, having never felt better, I'm forced to put away the bike for good. I was also feeling valued by Euskaltel and other teams. It hurts to have all heard all this stuff about a new team and then watch is disappear into thin air. It was a false illusion.

"We've lived with tremendous uncertainty for the last couple of months. Before the Vuelta they told us the team would fold, then on stage ten they congratulated us and said a new sponsor had been found. And less than ten days after the Vuelta ended they told us negotiations had fallen through. It's been an emotional roller coaster".

Assuming Azanza does indeed retire, he'll become the second Euskaltel rider to reach that decision. Only last week, Mikel Astarloza announced he's decided to quit the sport for good.

Photo. BCPT

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Antón - There are other interested teams

One of Euskaltel's biggest ever stars and favourite sons, Igor Antón, is still looking for a team for 2014.

The 30-year-old has long been linked with a move to Omega Pharma-QuickStep, but his hope of signing for Patrick Lefevere's team took a big hit when news broke that Thomas de Gendt had received what's believed to be the last available spot on their 2014 roster.

"Right now I've got nothing sealed - at least not officially", he told ETB, according to BiciCiclismo. "And with time ticking away, you do get a little nervous".

Though most teams are done shopping for the winter, he's in no way lost hope he'll be riding at cycling's top level next season.

"Several doors have been opened: if it's not from Omega Pharma, there are many other interested teams.

"My aim is to secure a spot on a WorldTour outfit".

It's believed Antón had a deal in place with Omega Pharma before Fernando Alonso announced he was looking to buy Euskaltel's WorldTour license, but that deal was subsequently not signed as it appeared the team's future was in safe hands.

Various sources also have it he was close to reaching a deal with Astana at one point.

According to BiciCiclismo Tuesday evening, though, Antón may very well sign with Lefevere's team in the next few days or even hours.

The rider's agent, Giuseppe Acquadro, is reportedly meeting Lefevere in Málaga on Tuesday evening in the hope of thrashing out deal.

Photo: Orbea

Euskaltel aim big in farewell race

Euskaltel have selected a team high on quality and versatility for their last ever competitive appearance.

The Tour of Beijing, running from 11-15 of October, will mark the end of 20 years of cycling history - and the team is unsurprisingly looking to go out with a bang.

The Euskaltel octet will be spearheaded by the speedy legs of Juan José Lobato and ever-potent ace climber Mikel Landa in the last WorldTour race of the year.

Accompanying them will be super domestique Gorka Verdugo, veteran allrounders Pablo Urtasun and Juan José Oroz, young duo Garikoitz Bravo and Ricardo García, and the soon-to-be-retired Mikel Astarloza.

The latter announced last week that he'll put the bike away for good once the Tour of Beijing - and the season with it - concludes, and the Pasajes native was naturally a bit emotional upon boarding the plane to Asia.

"It's a shame that Euskaltel's 20-year history will come to nothing", he told Spanish sports daily AS from the airport in Bilbao. "It's a sad feeling".

Come the end of the race, Astarloza - like many of his team-mates - will be forced to look for a new life beyond Euskaltel and the world of cycling.

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

Tamouridis shows his worth in Binche-Chimay-Binche

Euskaltel put on a combative display in Tuesday's Binche-Chimay-Binche one-day race.

Óscar Guerrero's boys were present in the breaks from the off and managed to place four riders in the top 30.

While no orange riders were close to challenging Reinardt Janse van Rensburg for the win, Ioannis Tamouridis made it into the deciding 16-man move to clinch a notable 14th. Just a few seconds further back were Jon Aberasturi in 22nd, Peio Bilbao in 24th and Miguel Mínguez in 30th.

Up on Thursday for the same batch of riders in Paris-Bourges.

  • (1, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Argos-Shimano), 4:10:24)
  • 14, Ioannis Tamouridis, 0:04
  • 22, Jon Aberasturi, 0:12
  • 24, Peio Bilbao, 0:14
  • 30, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
  • 38, Adrián Sáez, 0:19
  • 100, Ricardo Mestre, 5:15
  • DNF: Steffen Radochla, Robert Vrecer
Photo: BCPT

Monday, October 07, 2013

Euskaltel abandon en masse in Lombardia

It was always going to be a big ask for Euskaltel to factor in il Lombardia without team leader and one-day specialist Samuel Sánchez, but fans and team leaders would nonetheless have hoped for more.

Mikel Landa was the only rider to finish the race, the others six failing to complete what was, admittedly, a brutal race in challenging conditions. Landa put in a decent effort, though, coming home 21st in a small group alongside Philippe Gilbert, Greg van Avermaet, Cyril Gautier and Tom Dumoulin.

Gorka Izagirre featured in the race's first meaningful break, but quickly dropped back as the attacked kept on coming from behind.

Photo: BCPT


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