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Basque cycling gets boost with Tour bid, Landa backing

Spain's Basque Country could host the 2023 Tour de France while Euskadi targets a jump to the Pro-Conti level next season.

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One of Europe’s hottest cycling hotbeds — the Basque Country in northern Spain — sees a boost this week with two projects to put it back in the front row of the peloton.

Just days after Euskadi-Murias, a second division team with deep Basque roots, decided to shutter at the end of 2019, the region looks to have its cycling future secure.

Regional officials confirmed they’re working with ASO to bring the Tour de France to the Basque Country for the “grand départ,” possibly in 2023.

Local leaders confirmed that a consortium of regional towns and institutions are working with the Tour to bring cycling’s most important stage race to the Basque Country for what would be several stages across different parts of the region that straddles the western Pyrénées between France and Spain.

“We are already in advanced conversations with ASO,” said Iñigo Urkullu, the “lehendakari” of Spain’s Basque Country. “We are still defining which areas would host the stages, but we are moving along.”

Though the project is still not defined, most indications point to Bilbao as the likely starting point. Long the industrial hub of northern Spain, Bilbao has undergone a transformation in the past three decades as factories and mills have closed, revitalized by the arrival of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. Stages would likely loop through the hilly terrain before dipping into France’s Basque region, and officials from Bayonne and Iparraldes in France also attended the press conference.

The Tour has a long history with the Basque Country, and has visited the region — both in Spain and France — more than 40 times since the Tour’s founding. Bayonne has hosted the Tour on 30 occasions, with three in Hendaye, twice in San Sebastián and Biarritz, and once each in Miguel Indurain’s hometown of Pamplona and Victoria.

After starting in Brussels this year, the 2020 Tour will start in Nice and the 2021 Tour is set for Copenhagen. The start of the 2022 Tour has yet to be defined, and there have been reports that Yorkshire, which recently hosted the world championships and hosted the Tour in 2014, might be in the running again.

Spain’s Basque Country hosts the Tour of the Basque Country every spring, considered by many the most demanding one-week stage race on the WorldTour calendar, as well as the Clásica San Sebastián in August. Scores of top pros have come out of the Basque Country, and the area is home to some of the most fervent cycling fans in Europe.

In other news, the Euskadi Foundation — Fundación Euskadi — confirmed it will make a pitch to race as a Professional Continental team — set to be called the Pro Team division — in 2020.

The foundation, with backing from Basque star Mikel Landa and regional bike manufacturer Orbea, raced at the continental level since 2018. Though the team has a strong Basque focus, Colombian rider Sergio Higuita raced with them before jumping to the WorldTour and EF Education First midway through 2019.

Officials said the team already has the green light from the UCI and from backers, and promised more details in the coming weeks. The category jump would allow the team to race in WorldTour races.

The team is following in the footsteps of Euskadi-Euskaltel, the orange-clad Basque team in the 1990s and 2000s that raced from 1994 to 2013.