EE update: Down the Orange Line from Italy

News feature, May 13, 2005

The Giro continues to be melancholy for Euskaltel-Euskadi. Alberto Lopez de Munian, who crashed out of the race on Stage 2, is on the road to recovery, although he is still not well enough to be flown home to the Basque Country.

The hope is that by the end of the coming week, he will be well enough to be flown from Italy to a hospital in his hometown of Vitoria-Gasteiz. There, he will continue to receive treatment on his punctured lung and various broken bones. Head honcho, Miguel Madariaga, tells us that there is still some worry about the state of his lung. His collarbone, says Madariaga, will "require exhaustive tests to ascertain the extent of the damage and it will be a few days until we know how Alberto's situation will evolve". The good news, is that the worst seems to be over.

The team received a further shock on Thursday when David Lopez, who had been on the attack on that day and that before, came down in the last 10 kilometres of the stage. David seemed to try and get himself up and back on his bike, but immediately found himself incapable of doing so.

Team director Gorka Gerrakagoitia stood helplessly beside him, probably wondering how long it would be before the whole team was down and out of the race. With the appearance of the ambulance and stretcher, it seemed inevitable that Euskadi team were going to find themselves two down and counting as the Giro heads towards its business end. But Lopez showed some grit and with the aid of the team's hardest working stalwart, Unai Etxebarria, he limped to the finish 11 minutes down.

No matter how sore he was, he obviously didn't feel capable of leaving his team leaders, Zubeldia and Gonzalez, in the lurch. Gerrikagoitia, told Cyclingnews that "David had ridden a beautiful stage for us, and then when he wasn't in the play any longer, he fell when the race squeezed passed a medium strip... he has a deep cut and it will be a brave effort to continue."

With all this havoc being wreaked, the team finds itself coming out of its first week in a Giro feeling sore and melancholy. But all is not lost. The team's two best riders, (Termin)Aitor Gonzalez and Haimar Zubeldia, find themselves 1'05 and 49 seconds off the pace respectively. As we know when they are on song, both can put in a mean effort against the clock, and in the mountains, they can generally limit their losses against the best.

Haimar Zubeldia told Cyclingnews via our Direct Orange Line (DOL): "I feel good, at about 80%, and little by little, I am riding myself into top form." Watching Zubeldia ride this week, often sitting just behind his point man, Unai Etxebarria, you get the feeling that this isn't going to be like last year, and that we might, if we are lucky, be treated to a return to the magnificent form he showed in 2003.

"I don't want to take any risks... I am just keeping my feet on the ground. It's not a matter of wishing or pushing something to happen... I feel good, things are going well; for now I am just trying to go stage by stage without losing time. The race will be decided in the last week and not before," Zubeldia said.

Even for Zubeldia, the race so far has not been without incident. "The worst thing for me was the fall I had on the fifth stage. I have a bit of a bang on my right knee and its a bit of a bother. But I still feel good and I am not having trouble in a race that seems to be fast, no matter what the terrain," he said.

Zubeldia, who is riding his first Giro, has noticed a difference between the Giro and the Tour. "The way the Giro is ridden is much easier, much more comfortable than the Tour. There isn't the level of tension, and to find a good position in a large group is a lot easier, but as always, the last 50 kilometres are difficult, like at the Tour."

The team's tactic is, according to Zubeldia, "to go as easy as possible", as he says the local riders seem to control everything "like a type of Mafia".

After last year, Zubeldia is finding that the Giro is giving him some regained confidence, which he lost in 2004. He is finding himself able to go with the best on the climbs without difficulty and is looking forward to Sunday's first time trial. "I have a had a good morale boost this first week, and hopefully I can make some time on some others in the first time trial... if you look at the top 15, there aren't really any pure time trialists, so I am hoping to do well and get myself in a good position this weekend," he said.

Thanks to our friends from DEIA and GARA, who assisted with this story.

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