Zorionak (Basque: happy birthday) Beñat!
Like many Basque riders, Beñat starting riding and competing at a young age so, in honour of his 27th birthday, we’re going to take a pictorial scroll through the jerseys he’s worn and some of the races he’s won.
Say cyclocross and everyone thinks of Belgium, but the Basques have plenty of races during the winter months and many riders have started their careers competing in the mud. Beñat was no exception. Inspired by his uncle, a keen amateur, to take up cycling, here he is competing for Iberdrola, in a local competition, as a cadet having chosen cycling as his main hobby over football.
Beñat achieved success early on, no mean feat in the competitive environment of Basque cycling. Indeed he was rarely off the podium.
In 2004 Beñat turned his attention to the road and continued his winning form: 12 podiums.
In 2005, Beñat joined Seguros Bilbao and won the Trofeo Lehendakari (given to the best amateur cyclist aged 19-20 in the Basque-Navarre area), was runner-up in the under-23 Trofeo and graced the podium on no fewer than 11 occasions.
The wins came thick and fast in 2006, with victories in the Vuelta Bidasoa, Beasain, Basque under-23 Championship and Vizcayan under-23 time trial championship, plus a number of top ten placings in prestigious European under-23 races. As a consequence, he was selected to represent Spain in the under-23 World Championships in Salzburg. These performances saw him join Nicolas Mateos in 2007, the feeder team of WorldTour squad Saunier Duval. Promising results in races forming part of the UCI’s under-23 Nations Cup allowed him make the final step up at the start of 2008.
As befits a neo-pro, Beñat participated in the shorter stage races starting with the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, where he finished second, followed by his debut in Pars-Nice. Thereafter, he took part in a number of races in the Basque country, some of the Ardennes Classics and the Tour of Poland, riding largely in support of his teammates.
Renamed Fuji-Servetto for 2009, the team managed to retain its ProTour license albeit with a smaller budget and team. As a consequence, more was expected from Beñat who unfortunately broke his right collarbone in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, preventing him from taking part in one of his season’s main objectives, his home tour, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Further mishaps throughout the season saw him miss out on a number of potential wins. Although under contract for the following season, he was spared the indignity of the nude/black Footon-Servetto kit when Euskaltel-Euskadi came to the rescue with a one-year contract. They were delighted to have him on board, having tried to sign him some years earlier.
Already integrated into his new team during the winter months, Beñat started the season well with a tenth overall in the Criterium International while working for Samu Sanchez, who finished fourth. He continued with a runner-up spot – after the disqualification of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) – at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He capped the first part of his season with a win in the time trial in the Vuelta a Asturias. With the men in orange looking to bolster their finances for 2011, the period of uncertainty saw him sign a three-year deal with Movistar. Nonetheless, he rode in support of Igor Anton at that year’s Vuelta a Espana until Anton was forced to withdraw after a crash on stage 14 while wearing the leader’s jersey.
Beñat might have hoped to flourish at the leaderless Movistar but his first season at the team was wretched. It started badly with a bout of flu, continued with some top five placings and was capped in May when he witnessed the death of friend, teammate and training partner Xavier Tondo. It was difficult to find the necessary motivation for the rest of the season and he crashed out of his first Tour de France. The injuries sustained at the Tour were exacerbated in the Vuelta a Burgos and he was left feeling “sick, tired and demoralised”.
Fortunately, he bounced back in 2012 winning the overall in the Vuelta a Asturias and finishing tenth overall in the Vuelta a Espana, setting him up for a cracking season this year where he’ll be looking to build on his burgeoning confidence and add to his palmares. So, as he blows out his 27 candles on his birthday cake, we wish him a successful 2013.