The Spanish second-tier team is in rebuilding mode as new management works to revive the team’s legacy that soared to incredible heights in the 1990s and beyond.
Luis Ángel Maté, a key anchor on the team’s lineup heavy with Basque riders, said an invite to the 2022 Tour wasn’t seriously in the cards anyway.
“No, the Tour was never in the plan this year,” Maté told VeloNews. “We are a team with our feet on the ground. This year we didn’t have the capacity to go to the Tour.”
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On Friday, Tour officials handed down the final wild-card invitations, with B&B Hotels-KTM and TotalEnergies seeing the two invitations. Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic punching their Tour tickets thanks to their team ranking.
Some wondered if other teams, such as Euskaltel-Euskadi or Uno-X, might be more worthy than B&B Hotels-KTM.
The Tour still packs two invitations in its pocket, and chose to the give the two French teams the nod, assuring that all the major French teams will race the Tour in 2022.
Slowly rebuilding the ‘orange wave’
The Tour remains an elusive dream for the orange-clad Basque team.
Maté said the team’s top priority for 2022 is to return to the Vuelta a España, where it raced in 2021 for the first time.
“Our objective this year, we hope, is to be in the Vuelta a España,” Maté said. “We will go step by step, with our feet on the ground.”
With its trademark orange jerseys and rabid Basque following, Euskaltel-Euskadi was once a fixture on the Tour de France.
The team was founded in 1994, with an all-Basque lineup. The team saw its first Tour invitation in 2001, and huge masses of Basque fans would line the climbs in the Pyrénées, often waving the trademark Basque flag.
Riders such as Roberto Laiseka and Iban Mayo climbed to the top of the peloton and often squared off against Lance Armstrong during that controversial era.
The team hit hard times following a string of doping scandals and sponsorship problems, and shuttered at the end of 2013 after a possible takeover with Formula 1 star Fernando Alonso fell through.
In 2020, Mikel Landa and others in the Basque cycling community helped revive a development team. Longtime former sponsor Euskaltel, a local telephone and cable operator, returned as title sponsor in 2020.
Fans are keen to see the team back in the Tour.
There will be even more expectations in 2023, when the Tour begins in Spain’s Basque Country with the three opening stages of the grand départ.
Again, Maté didn’t want to hype up expectations that the team might be at the start line.
“We are realistic,” Maté said. “We want to keep growing, little by little, and to be realistic, I see the Tour a little bit too much right now.”
‘I hope to stay on the team’
Nicknamed the “Lynx,” Maté is now in his second season with Euskaltel-Euskadi.
On Monday, he lined up to start the Jaén Paraíso Interior race coming off a recent case of COVID-19.
“My form isn’t great right now,” he said. “This is a big week for racing here in Andalucía, so we hope to do something important.”
Enamorado del recorrido de la Clásica @ClasicaJaen una carrera con todo para convertirse en un referente a nivel internacional, así como también un motor de desarrollo para el cicloturismo en la zona.
— Luis Ángel Maté (@luisangelmate) February 13, 2022
The 37-year-old Maté said he hopes to continue to support the team when his contract is up at the end of 2022.
After turning pro in 2008, Maté raced 10 years with Cofidis and joined the Basque squad in 2021. A breakaway specialist and support rider, he’s won two races in his career.
“I hope to continue with the team,” he told VeloNews. “My numbers are good, and I am still very motivated. I think I still have a lot to bring to cycling, and I hope to keep racing a few more seasons.”
Perhaps like Valverde, who is retiring this season at 42?
“Ha, maybe!” Maté said. “He is certainly an example for all of us, but maybe not that long.”