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The iconic Basque team has returned to the Vuelta after a hard-felt eight-year absence, and it’s more than making its presence felt. Euskaltel-Euskadi has painted Spain a vibrant orange in the past two weeks, slotting a rider into nearly Vuelta every break and bringing hordes of orange-clad fans to the roadside.
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Every stage of the Spanish tour so far has carried its own Basque tint.
“When we were in Burgos at the start, and when people went to the mountain stage on the third day, it felt like you were in the Basque Country,” Euskaltel-Euskadi climber Joan Bou told VeloNews. “Even when we were in Valencia, there were many people with the Basque flag and in orange.
“With the return of Euskaltel to the Vuelta after eight years, all the people that support the team have gone to the roads with their orange T-shirts to every climb and town, it’s special. We hear our names, the cheers, all day, every day.”
Team staff have also been touched by the passion of its fans from the team car.
“Tears were shed when we saw the ‘tide,’ so many orange people on the roads,” sport director Jorge Azanza told Spanish outlet AS after the third stage to Picón Blanco. “It is the great value of this project, the social mass.”
The Basque team is back with a bang this year – and so is its mission to support racing and sporting development in its autonomous home region.
Spreading Basque fever through the far reaches of Spain
This year’s Vuelta is a pivotal moment for Euskaltel-Euskadi after it missed its home tour for nearly a decade.
The Euskadi team formed in the early 90s and was a constant in Spanish cycling for some 20 years, only to fold in 2013. Basque cycling went unrepresented at the top of the sport until the reformation of the squad in 2018, and the return of telecoms giant Euskaltel as backer last year enabled the team to jump back into the second-tier “ProTeam” category. An invite to the Vuelta followed soon afterward.
But big money and marquee races haven’t blunted the mission of the Euskaltel Fundación underpinning the team. Instead, the social project has lent Euskaltel-Euskadi added purpose and identity at this year’s Vuelta.
“We know what awaits us: suffering, dedication, effort … But we have a responsibility that excites and motivates,” team manager Jesús Ezkurdia said before the Vuelta. “We are much more than a team – we are a foundation, a social project.”
The Euskaltel Fundación – with Mikel Landa a former president – runs a social fund model designed to support amateur riders and cycling culture in the Basque region. Perhaps ironically, the whole Spanish nation has extended its sympathies to the team, with thousands of fans from across the country subscribing to be a part of the foundation and receiving an orange supporter’s T-shirt in return.
“We don’t have the riders or success of Team Movistar but we fid.
“They made the team 20 years ago and have maintained the same structure and identity since, the same sponsors. Euskaltel supports cycling more than any other, and people recognize and support that.”
The deep cultural roots of Euskaltel-Euskadi initially meant that its roster was comprised only of racers from the tiny mountainous territory centered around Bilbao. The squad has more recently relaxed the rule, and opened its doors to riders from all around the country, including the Valencian rider Bou.
The Basque region holds such importance to Spanish cycling that fans and racers from far and wide adopt the team like it were its own local grassroots club.
“In Spain, the Basque Country is where all the pros live or have been living, and there are many races there, for kids and elites. It’s the region where most people who are competing reach the pro level,” Bou said.
“The team seems like the team of all Spanish riders, and of the people. Cycling is part of the society there, whether you’re Basque or not. I am not Basque, but I understand the project, its goals, and I support it as a Spanish person.”
The ‘social mass’ with massive ambition
Euskaltel-Euskadi’s return to the Vuelta a España for the first time since 2013 is just the start of a new dawn for the newly-backed and bolstered squad. The team has longer-term hopes on a step to the WorldTour, and with that, invites to races across the premier calendar.
Also read: Fundación Euskadi aims for WorldTour
“Racing the Vuelta a España is a dream come true, but it is not our last step,” read a post from the team this week. “In the future, our challenge is to one day surpass the best in the world, training cyclists from the foundation. This is just the beginning of this new project of the Euskadi Fundación.”
The WorldTour and a trip to the Tour de France is the end-goal for Euskaltel-Euskadi.
When that happens, expect fans from both the Basque Country and the rest of Spain to stream over the border to bring an orange twist to the race for the yellow jersey.