2011 WorldTour ranking: 16
- Samuel Sanchez: 6th overall, won one stage (maiden Tour stage at Luz Ardiden) and mountains classification at Tour de France, 1st at GP Miguel Indurain, won one stage at Tour of Basque Country, 3rd at Fleche Wallonne, 5th overall at Paris-Nice.
- Igor Anton: won one stage at Giro d’Italia, won one stage at Vuelta a Espana, 5th at Fleche Wallonne, won mountains classification at Tour of Beijing.
- Mikel Nieve: 11th overall and won one stage at Giro d’Italia, 10th overall at Vuelta a Espana.
Riders to watch:
- Samuel Sanchez
- Igor Anton
- Gorka Izagirre
- Mikel Nieve
Why I’m following them:
Affectionately called the ‘Carrots’, it’s the longest serving team in the pro peloton, with the smallest budget. All their riders hail from that cycling hot bed, the Basque country or, like Samu Sanchez, came up through their development team. The team’s dangerously dependent on the results of a few riders. Foreign television commentators struggle to pronounce some of their names. They all weigh less than me. They’re largely mountain goats but, often, surprisingly good descenders. Their fans are rabid and loyal. They’re having a cash crisis and this coming season might be their last.
The team draws its financial support (approx 38%) from Euskaltel (Basque telecommunications company), its bike supplier Orbea, local public funding and fans’ subscriptions via the Euskadi Foundation (Txirrindularitza Iraskundea Fundacion Ciclista) but is facing a reduced budget for 2012 season as the public institutions, the Basque government and the delegations of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba have decreased their contributions by around one million euros.
I love that the team is so deeply committed to its regional and cultural background but their monocultural focus doesn’t help when the UCI is trying to globalise the sport.
I expect the team will follow a similar programme to last season with heavy emphasis on domestic races (the Carrots don’t travel too well), the Grand Tours, and hilly Classics. Samu Sanchez will be looking to perform in the Tour de France, defend his Olympic crown in London and get on the podium at the World Championships in Valkenberg. Don’t expect the team to perform on the Belgian cobbles. As a result of the reduced budget, they’re operating with 23 riders, three of whom are neo-pros (first year professionals), the minimum number of riders according to UCI regulations, so could find themselves stretched to the limit if there are any injuries or illnesses.
The team will be heading to the Tour Down Under with their three neo-pros – Ricardo Garcia, Victor Cabedo and Adrian Saez de Arregui – seasoned pros Pablo Urtasun and Ruben Perez, former under-23 road world champion Romain Sicard who debuted here last year and the team’s best overall finisher in the 2011 event, Gorka Izagirre (12th).
Watch out for regular updates tracking Euskaltel-Euskadi’s 2012 season over the coming months.
Euskaltel are my favourite team because I also love the fact that they’re so committed to their cultural roots, but it seems this year may be the end of an era. It sounds as though next year the Fundación Euskadi and the team sponsored by Euskaltel will part company, and that they (the team) will start to sign non-Basque riders. I’m happy that the team will carry on, but sad as well, for the loss of a cycling institution. Globalisation, in theory, is a great idea, but in the current economic climate, “smaller” (ie less well-funded) teams like Euskaltel just won’t be able to compete, and we’ll be left with corporate entities like the so-called “superteams”. But for this year anyway I’ll be shouting “Aupa!” to Euskaltel.
ps. also watch to out for – Mikel Landa.
Jr – I feel as conflicted as you. I love the fact that the Fundacion supports cycling from grass roots right up to the Pro Tour level and, on the other hand, understand the need of Euskaltel to put together a well rounded, competitive team, capable of being in the mix at all types of races. If the end result is a Basque Pro-Conti squad and a largely Basque Pro Tour team, then that mightn’t be a too bad an outcome.
I’ve noted your comments about Mikel Landa and will keep an eye on him too.
Don’t forget to pop back for the regular team updates and “Aupa” to Euskaltel for next weeks’ Tour Down Under – I can hardly wait!