A to Z of Basque Cycling, Part 1

If cobbles aren’t your thing, why not head to northern Spain and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, one of two WorldTour races held in the Basque country (the other being the Clasica San Sebastian). But there’s more to it than that – the bike-mad Basques have a wealth of cycling talent and more races than you might imagine.

A is for Aupa

The Basque equivalent of Allez. You’ll hear Basque fans shouting this as they line the sides of the road in races far and wide, including in the Pyrenees during the Tour de France. The Basque language (Euskara) is one of the oldest languages in Western Europe but bears little or no relation to any other and the language’s origins are still a mystery. The current Basque alphabet does not make use of the letters c, q, v, w or y, which may pose a problem for this A to Z!

B is for Basque Country

Map of Basque Country

Located in the south-west of Europe, the Basque country lies between the rivers of Aturri to the north and Ebro to the south. It is made up of seven provinces:

  • Northern Basque Country within France: Labourd, Lower Navarre and Soule, part of the Pyrenees Atlantiques department.
  • Southern Basque Country within Spain: Biscay, Guipuzcoa and Alava in the Basque Autonomous Community, plus the Autonomous Community of Navarre.

C is for Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian

Held the Saturday after the conclusion of the Tour de France, it’s a UCI WorldTour race but one that isn’t yet regarded as a Monument (begun in 1981, it’s far too young). Traditionally seen as a climbers’ race, Miguel Indurain, Alberto Contador, Samuel Sanchez, Joaquim Rodriguez have all claimed victory over its short history. Only one man has won it three times, the Basque rider Marino Lejarreta in 1981, 1982 and 1987. Last year’s champion was Adam Yates.

Podium 2015 Clasica

2015 Clasica (l to r ) Philippe Gilbert, Adam Yates, Alejandro Valverde

The race route is usually over 230km in length and includes the tough Alto de Jaizkibel at around the 150km mark. The race winner is honoured with his own txapela, a traditional big black Basque beret that, unless you speak Euskara, is as close as any outsider is going to get to being a local.

This year’s event promises to be even more spectacular as San Sebastian (Donostia) is the 2016 European City of Culture.

D is for Diario Vasco

El Diario Vasco (English: The Basque Daily) is a morning daily newspaper based in San Sebastian. It has great sports’ coverage, particularly of cycling and races within the Basque region.

E is for Euskaltel-Euskadi

Euskaltel-Euskadi departed the grand tour scene by winning the team classification (Image: Vuelta website)

Euskaltel-Euskadi departed the grand tour scene by winning the team classification (Image: Vuelta website)

It was a sad day for cycling fans when our #BelovedCarrots folded at the end of the 2013 season. The writing had been on the wall for some time and while a last-minute white knight in the form of Fernando Alonso arrived in a red Ferrari to save the team, the deal subsequently collapsed, and with it the hopes of Basque cycling fans.

F is for Fraile

Omar Fraile (image: JA Miguelez/Unipublic)

Omar Fraile (image: JA Miguelez/Unipublic)

Omar Fraile, a rider who hails from Barakaldo, ascended the ranks of various Basque development squads before turning professional in 2012 with the Orbea Continental team. He then moved on to the Navarran ProConti outfit Caja Rural, notably winning the 2015 Giro dell’Appennino and the mountain’s classification in the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, where he made well-timed breakaways to gain points for the jersey. He joined WorldTour squad Dimension Data, along with fellow Basque and former Carrot Igor Anton, at the start of the 2016 season and has already been in the mix in a number of races.

G is for Getxo

Part of Greater Bilbao, the town of Getxo hosts the Circuito de Getxo, Memorial Ricardo Otxoa, held after the Clasica San Sebastian. It’s a single day race on the UCI Europe Tour, established in 1924. Since 2001, the race has been held in memory of the former Kelme cyclist Otxoa, also from Barakaldo, who died following a collision with a car while training in Malaga with his twin brother Javier. Last year’s edition was won by Cofidis’ Nacer Bouhanni.

H is for Hermanos

A number of Basque brothers have famously ridden together. Former Carrots Gorka and Jon Izagirre – both now with Movistar – are the only Basque pairing currently in the pro peloton. Euskaltel-Euskadi had a history of employing brothers, including Alvaro and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Aitor and Josu Silloniz, Igor and Iker Flores, and Haimar and Joseba Zubeldia.

I is for Irizar

Born in Onati and now a resident of Arrasate, Markel Irizar began his pro career with Euskaltel in 2004, after successfully beating testicular cancer in 2002. In 2010, he moved with Haimar Zubeldia to what is now Team Trek-Segafredo. Like many riders, he’s an enthusiastic supporter of cycling at the grass-roots level.

J is for Jaizkibel

Peloton on the Jaizkibel Arkale circuit

Peloton on the Jaizkibel Arkale circuit

The 8km av 5% climb features prominently in the Clasica, when it is climbed twice from the western side, though arguably its eastern ascent from Hondarribia is more difficult.

K is for Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta

A single day race on the UCI Europe Tour held (thoughtfully) on the Sunday morning after the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, thereby enabling Basque cycling fans to watch Paris-Roubaix afterwards. The event began in 1946 and in recent years has been won by Alejandro Valverde (2003, 2004 and 2009), Joaquim Rodriguez (2007), Samuel Sanchez (2010) and Rui Costa (2013).

L is for Landa

After winning three grand tour stages and finishing third overall at Giro d’Italia, Murgia-born Mikel Landa departed Astana for Sky at the end of last season, joining Sky’s ever expanding coterie of Basque riders, including Xabier Zandio, Benat Intxausti, Mikel Nieve and David Lopez. Expect to see Landa shine in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, where last year he won stage 5, which included the notoriously steep Wall of Aia.

M is for Mondragon Corporation

Founded in 1956 in the town of the same name, it’s the largest business group in the Basque country, 10th largest in Spain and the world’s largest co-operative. Bike manufacturer Orbea is part of Mondragon.

Next … N through Z!

Links to major races:

GP Miguel Indurain: 2nd April Website

Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja: 3rd April Website Twitter #LaRioja

Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: 4 – 9th April Website  Twitter #itzulia

Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta: 10th April Website

Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika: 25th July Website

Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian: 30th July Website Twitter #klasikoa

Circuito de Getxo Memorial Ricardo Otxoa: 31st July Website

Header image: Basque flag (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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One thought on “A to Z of Basque Cycling, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Final KM: Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco Stage 1 | VeloVoices

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