French escape artist plays the role of domestique
Frenchman Pierre Cazaux is so well assimilated in the Euskaltel-Euskadi team that he is racing the Vuelta a España with a Spanish flag on his number.
"It's a bit annoying," said Cazaux, laughing. "The organizers made a mistake, and I asked them to correct it. As everyone in the peloton looks at the others' numbers to see what their name is, some people will really think I'm Spanish!"
Technically, Cazaux is something other than simply French or Spanish, however: he is Basque. Based in Cambo-les-Bains, the little town at the foot of the Pyrenees where a stage of the 2006 Tour de France started, he moved to the Basque team from FDJ last winter.
In Euskaltel's roster, the 27-year-old rider is one of two Frenchmen, alongside former under 23 world champion Romain Sicard, who was forced to skip the Vuelta due to a muscular disorder. "My work is to be a domestique and I quite like it," Cazaux told Cyclingnews.
In a team of climbers, he is of the very few to support his leader Igor Anton on the flat sections. Iñaki Isasi and Amets Txurruka, an uphill expert who is recovering from injury, are also devoted to that role.
Cazaux has two characteristics, therefore, that are not typical of an Euskaltel-Euskadi rider: his nationality and his skills as a rouleur. The team uses him both to reinforce and open itself. For his part, the rider suits the Basque mould through his shy, loyal and humble attitude, his mastery of Spanish, and the job he does so scrupulously.
Cazaux says he's literally a water-carrier for the team. “The heat has been very strong since the first day of Vuelta, so I go to the team car about seven or 10 times a day to collect bottles for everyone”.
Although Anton has struggled in the opening week, and is 3:28 down in general classification, Cazaux seems to be confident in his leader's chances. “He targeted a place between fifth and first and he's really motivated for that,” the Frenchman noted after the Sierra-Nevada stage, when his leader was already 2:44 off the pace.
However, Anton's difficulties might well create some opportunities for his domestique. Cazaux might be allowed to leave the bunch more often than it was previously planned and do what he certainly likes the most in cycling: break away.
“That's really my thing,” he confirms, but there is no hubris in that way of riding: “To be in front is not only good for me, but for the team too, because the guys don’t have to lead the peloton. Somehow I'm still a domestique when I'm in a break.”
Euskaltel's coach and directeur sportif, Josu Larrazabal, praises Cazaux' attitude and engine. “He's a great domestique for us. His endurance skills and his constant good mood are very helpful in the team.”
The coach notes, however, that “We don't see Pierre so often in the results.” In three seasons as a professional (two with VC Roubaix, one with FDJ), he has never done better than a fourth place finish in the Classique Loire Atlantique. Larrazabal reckons that such a situation is typical of an escape artist who isn’t blessed with a burst of speed.
In his debut season with Euskaltel, Cazaux has shown himself in long breakaways on numerous races, including the Vuelta a La Rioja, Vuelta a Asturias, Giro d'Italia, Brixia Tour and Tour of Poland, and he expects to break his personal record soon: a 190-kilometre break with Ukrainian Ruslan Pidgorny in the GP Fourmies two years ago.
Cazaux feels comfortable in his position as a baroudeur and domestique at Euskaltel, whereas in France, the usual approach in cycling is to give every rider wild cards or leadership rather than assigned roles.
Two weeks before the Vuelta, though part of the twelve-rider short list, he was uncertain if he would be on the start line, but he trained to be ready to give his best, whether it would have been in Spain or at GP Ouest France-Plouay. The Vuelta a Espana represents a special motivation this year, however, as the race’s entry into the Basque Country, for the first time since 1978, is a sort of tribute to the whole Euskaltel-Euskadi set-up as well as an added pressure.
“It's a beautiful challenge,” Cazaux said. “We hope to win the stages and also to bring Anton in the leader's jersey to our supporters. We know a lot is expected of us.”
There is no better testament to Cazaux’s sense of belonging to the Euskaltel culture than that use of "we". The Vuelta's organizers could have printed a Basque flag on his number to avoid any confusion.