Mikel Nieve: Feliz cumpleaños.
Mikel’a another Navarren, like Egoi Martinez and Miguel Indurain, where their inclination’s to speak Spanish, rather than Basque. He’s one of Euskaltel-Euskadi’s ‘promising riders’ and, at 28 years old, he’s enjoying his first real leadership role at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Mikel evolved through the well-organised Basque cycling structure and, having won a number of local races in the junior ranks, attracted the attention of Euskaltel, spending time in their feeder squad before joining the ProTour team in 2009.
You could say he’s a winner of great stages. He first came to attention when he won the queen stage 16 in the 2010 Vuelta a Espana at Cotobello, where he was de facto team leader after the withdrawal of his teammate Igor Anton on stage 14, while wearing the leader’s jersey. On stage 16, Nieve broke away from a five-man group 8km from the day’s final climb, the Alto de Cotobello, to solo to victory over a minute ahead of Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank). Mikel dedicated the win to his absent leader:
I can’t believe it. I attacked from far away, we had nothing to lose, the team gave everything it could for me.
Mikel went on to finish 12th overall. Not bad for his first Grand Tour.
In last year’s Giro, he again took the queen stage 15, finishing in Val di Fassi, which Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) famously described as the most difficult stage ever.
Mikel went on to finish 11th overall.
In his third Grand Tour, last year’s Vuelta, he finished tenth, but without winning a stage.
These results should however be looked at in the context that Mikel’s a pure climber and prone to lose significant amounts of time in any stage against the clock. This frailty means he enter all Grand Tours hoping firstly for a stage win and secondly a place in the event’s top ten to take valuable UCI points for the team.
Today’s the queen stage in the Giro d’Italia, a stuff-of-legends type stage where the GC contenders will be eyeballing one another and might not mind if someone outside the top ten popped up the road. Mikel’s lying in 13th spot, just 19 seconds behind tenth-placed Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and needs to make up ground if he’s to collect precious points for the team – really the perfect birthday present.