Happy birthday Amets Txurruka

Birthday boy Amets Txurruka doesn’t look 30. What’s his secret? (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Amets Txurruka pozik urtebetetzea 30an nahian, as they say in the Basque country.The boy from Etxebarria in Vizcaya celebrates his 30th birthday today. To be honest he still looks so young and  fresh-faced that I want to ask him whether his mother knows he’s out on his own!

To many of us, the slightly built (171cm, 56kg) orange-clad Amets was one of the most readily identifiable of the Carrots clan. He was habitually in a breakaway, always caught just before the line, and he was the first Euskaltel rider to get onto the Tour de France podium with his 2007 overall combativity award in his first year at the team. His most notable breakaway that year was on stage 12 with Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom). They were heartbreakingly caught within 800m of the line by the Quick-Step squad, who led green-jersey clad Tom Boonen to victory.

Amets is not just a popular figure with Basque fans. He also enjoys a large fan base in the Far East, where he won the Taiwan Cup in 2010 and donated his prize money and his Tour de France bike to a fund for the victims of Typhoon Megi.

Amets Txurruka in Taiwan (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Here’s a montage from 2009’s Tour de France where Amets finished runner-up on stage 13.

Last month, with no ProTour wins to his name, a fourth broken collarbone in three seasons and despite starting all three Grand Tours this season – crashing out in the Tour but finishing the Giro and Vuelta – Amets found himself in the unenviable position of “nul points” and no contract for the 2013 season.

Another season, another collarbone break (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Fortunately his selfless work ethic and experience gained riding for Euskaltel has garnered him a berth at the green clad Pro Continental squad Caja Rural. This will allow him to concentrate his efforts in his home tours including the Vuelta where, despite always working for team leaders, he’s generally finished in the top 30 overall and posted plenty of top ten stage finishes. Amets explained that:

While my way of racing has become more structured with age, my fighting spirit remains the same. Anytime I get the opportunity, I’ll break away again.

Meanwhile, at Caja Rural’s recent presentation of the team’s new signing, Amets thanked his new squad for giving him the opportunity to continue in the peloton and for trusting that he will try as hard as he can to obtain results for the team. He said:

I’m encouraged. It’s a very different team, and the races will also be very different. Change motivates you, and as always I’m eager and looking forward to start the new season. My personal goal (for next year) is to return to my best form and give it my utmost. Everyone on the team will have their freedom and the races will show us where we are. The key will be to support each other. Caja Rural has always been a fighting team, and they showed this season that they’re a good team and they’ve obtained big victories. Hopefully we can continue this way.

Caja Rural’s president, Floren Esquisabel, said Amets’s experience will greatly aid the younger riders on the team, and also praised his personality:

Txurruka is a rider with experience that will help the team. In addition, according to what I’ve been told, he’s a great guy. Our idea is that he strengthens the team and can help the younger ones to find their way in races and show them what it’s like to be a professional cyclist.

I’m going to finish with a tribute to Amets posted in the comments section by an anonymous American fan on Basque Cycling News, which echoes many of our thoughts on the plucky Basque rider:

On a flat, dry, slow day along a straight stretch of road, the dream died and legend of the tortured artist grew. Only Amets would break his collarbone under such pedestrian circumstances. Not a high-speed descent, not the dusty cobbles when the hammer was being dropped. No, my hero in orange abandoned with a whimper on a lonely stretch of road with the peloton fading in the distance. There will be no suicidal attacks on climbs too long or too steep. No hair-raising descents with tragedy around every bend. The Tour is diminished by his absence. Five years into his reign the King remains without a crowning achievement. Rest well Amets. Dream of great things.

Farewell to Jeremy Hunt

Jez Hunt (image courtesy of Sky)

Another long-serving member of the peloton who’s recently hung up his helmet is Brit Jeremy Hunt (Sky). Having turned pro back in 1996, without the benefit of support from institutions such as British Cycling, Jez, as he’s more popularly known, has enjoyed a fairly prolific career, racking up 43 victories (at least one most years) and was a key member of Mark Cavendish’s 2011 World Championship-winning GB squad. He was also national road race champion in 1997 and 2001.

After impressive results in his first year on the French amateur scene, Jez was signed to Miguel Indurain’s team Banesto. He recalls:

When I was a first-year pro, I remember getting to the Banesto training camp. They had never seen me before and I showed up and I was fat. But I didn’t think I was fat, I thought I was normal. The first time I met everyone I walked up to the table with all the riders and managers and I see Indurain sitting there. I thought, “This is the guy who I’ve just been watching on TV for the past five years.” It was amazing. When I rode for him in the Tour of Asturias, all we had to do is ride at the front for the first three days and they told me I could pull out on the first mountain day. I stayed with it and I’ll always remember Indurain saying, “muy buen Jeremy, muy buen”. How good was that! I was totally starstruck by him.

After that auspicious start, Jez rode for four seasons at Banesto but believing his calling lay in the Belgian cobbles and Classics, he spent the next two years with Big Mat Auber ’93 and recorded one of his best results in 2002: victory in Grand Prix Ouest France, Plouay. Conversely, his biggest win led to his worst contract the following year with MBK-Oktos.

Things didn’t get much better when he signed with Mr. Bookmaker. The team was subsequently taken over by its parent company Unibet, which was excluded from ASO’s races because of French betting and advertising regulations (you may recall the white jerseys with the big green question mark on them). Hunt then moved to Credit Agricole in what was to be their last season in the ProTour ranks before moving across to Cervelo Test Team, a four-year project that lasted just 18 months.

However, Cervelo gave Jez the opportunity to realise a boyhood dream when he finally rode the Tour de France in 2010 – both his first and last appearance at the Grand Tour. He’d turned down the opportunity to ride the Tour back in 1997 with Banesto, never realising that few further opportunities would come his way. He later mused:

I wish I had ridden the Tour that year. That was when there were all the big drug problems. I was winning a lot of races that season and I thought I’d sit it out and do it the next year. In hindsight I wish I had ridden it. I can’t say for sure but I might have won a stage or two (or close). There you go…that’s life. It took me 14 more years before I got the chance to ride my first Tour.

Jeremy Hunt: seasoned professional (image courtesy of Sky)

In 2011, Jez signed for Sky and was a key member of their Classics squad but, probably more importantly, took some of the younger riders under his wing and passed on words of wisdom gained from his lengthy career. He’s also provided inspiration to his younger half-brother Joshua Hunt who’s been racing on the French amateur scene.

So what next for Canadian-born Hunt? He’s going to settle down in Melbourne, Australia – where he’s spent the last few off-seasons – with his partner, enjoy fatherhood and maybe do a bit of talent-spotting. We wish him well and every success in his new life Down Under.