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.

Tour de France: Stage 15 review

Stage 15: Samatan to Pau, 158.5km

Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) handed the French their fourth win of the Tour  – and his team’s second – when he beat Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) in a two-man sprint after the pair had distanced their four breakaway companions 6km from the finish. This was the second time in three years that Fedrigo’s won into Pau, his fourth Tour victory, but his first since 2010 and his return to competition after suffering from Lyme’s disease for most of last season.

The other four, having lost out in the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse, which started 10km from the finish, finished seconds behind, with stage 10 winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) rounding out the podium.

Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and the main peloton, lead home by birthday boy Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), rolled home nearly 12 minutes behind the breakaway. Indeed, it had taken over 60km for the successful break to slip away, after several had tried and failed in a fast and furious start to the race. With Fedrigo, Vande Velde and Voeckler were Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and another Kitty favourite, Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who were eventually joined by Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Nicki Sorensen after a long solo chase.

The peloton, possibly intent on keeping their powder dry for the next two monster stages after tomorrow’s rest day, were only too happy to cruise in the last half of the stage after the frantic early pace.

VeloVoices rider of the day

VeloVoices’ rider of the day, by a nose [I see what you did there – Ed], is stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat), who carefully weighed up his options and eliminated his sprint opposition, the diminutive Dumoulin, on the run in to the finish line. Indeed, one might say that the last two stages, both won from breakaways, have been won by classic stage-hunters.


Today was another short punchy stage televised from the start. In theory it was a stage for the sprint teams but there were still 14 empty-handed teams so today was always going to be a battle royal to get into the breakaway. You might wonder why more didn’t try but the speed was pretty much flat out for the first 60km. With a successful break finally forming, Nicki Sorensen tried to bridge but only succeeded dangling in no man’s land until his team came to the rescue, no doubt on the orders of Saxo Bank team manager and master tactician Bjarne Riis. After 75km, the front five had built a lead of over six minutes but Sorenson was still 30 seconds adrift when his team mates hit the front of the peloton and began to drag back the leading group. Hobson’s choice, so the five-man group slowed and allowed the Dane to catch up with them. Once he’d done so, his team mates disappeared from the front of the peloton and the gap began to grow again.

Tactical analysis

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was allowed to roll over the line at the intermediate sprint point, a signal of the other riders’ capitulation in the face of his dominance in the points competition: game over, barring any mishaps.

Tejay Van Garderen is still comfortably leading the young riders’ competition and there’s speculation that he may be BMC’s sacrificial lamb in the Pyrenees, used to tempt Sky’s black-and-white sheep dogs into  a rash move in an effort to get teammate and defending champion Cadel Evans back onto the podium.

Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) is still wearing the mountains jersey  – plus matching shorts, helmet, socks and gloves – but today Thomas Voeckler made a point of taking all five points on offer to move up in the competition. Has he now set his cap at the jersey? If so, he’ll need to get into either or both of the next days’ inevitable breakaways. Even for him, this might be one break too far.

Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and his team are looking unassailable. The next two stages represent the last chance saloon for anyone wanting to disturb their one-two lock on the podium. But will the others want to gamble their places and precious UCI points? I see more potential downside than upside for the challengers on terrain that’s difficult, yes, but there’s virtually no painful and unsettling changes of gradient to disturb Wiggo’s rhythm. In week one, Bradley said it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she’s not even in the room. I would venture to suggest that she’s now in the room and warming up at the mike.

In reality, maybe there’s only Samu Sanchez’s (Euskaltel-Euskadi) successor as the winner of the mountains classification to be decided in the coming days. Not of course forgetting those 14 teams still intent on chasing a precious stage win, which will ensure places in the day’s breakaway will be hotly contested.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website