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2010: The Year of Truth for Euskaltel-Euskadi
 
By Christopher Fauske
Date: 11/1/2009
2010: The Year of Truth for Euskaltel-Euskadi
 

2010: The Year of Truth for Euskaltel-Euskadi
The Orange squad retools and looks to reassure the major sponsors

Last time Basque regional telecoms company Euskaltel thought about pulling its sponsorship of the Basque-country cycling squad that bears its name, the regional government and at least one provincial one reminded the company about its obligations to Basque identity and aspirations.

One year later, the telecoms firm once again looked to the governments, this time for support not guidance, and the word to the foundation that runs the team was clear: one more problem with allegations of doping and the money, from the tax payers and from Euskaltel, is gone.

Sponsorship contracts have been rewritten to give the company and the governments an out in the event of any team riders repeating the positives of Iñigo Landaluze and Mikel Astarloza this past summer.

Landaluze admitted doping, stressed he did it without the knowledge of the team, and retired. Astarloza maintains his innocence, has promised to contest the findings, and, at least through the end of the European season, he had the public support of the team. Now, though, 2010 calls and Euskaltel-Euskadi has severed ties with Astarloza and has removed the image of him celebrating his 2009 stage 16 Tour de France win from its web site banner.

In his place is the team’s first UCI rainbow jersey holder, the U23 road champion and new signing, Romain Sicard, a transfer from the foundation’s Orbea continental squad.


Romain Sicard takes the U23 rainbow jersey to Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Photo © 2009 Bart Hazen

Still prominent on the banner is Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez who opted to stay with the squad in 2009 rather than chasing more lucrative offers from other pro tour teams.

So there is real potential in the 2010 squad, which was announced in its entirety last Thursday. However, the state of the Basque economy, the change in government from a nationalist to a more Madrid-friendly Socialist one, and the doping results from 2009 combine with the foundation’s UCI pro tour license expiring in 2010 to make this coming season the most critical in the squad’s history since 1995 when they rode without a major sponsor, the last pro team to manage this feat.

Sicard will be joined in 2010 by three other Orbea colleagues, Jonathan Castroviejo, Miguel Minguez and Daniel Sesma. Two other riders are transferring home to the Basque region’s team, Gorka Izagirre, from Contentpolis AMPO Murcia, and Beñat Intxausti, from Fuji-Servetto (formerly Saunier Duval, but no one wants to dwell on that).

Intxausti told the media at his introduction that “I really wanted to join the home team. I've been very happy at Fuji…but now I'm very excited.”


Beñat Intxausti during stage 10 of this year’s Vuelta a España.

Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Igor González de Galdeano, 2009’s directeur sportif and next year’s team manager (Miguel Madariaga will be president), expressed confidence that "with Beñat Intxausti we have put the icing on the cake. He has spent three years as a professional and each season he’s been getting better."

Intxausti himself expressed the hope that he could ride the Tour de France in support of Igor Antón, said he would welcome the chance to try his hand at the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, and may be unique in the Basque squad in expressing an interest in riding the Spring classics, mentioning Liege-Bastogne-Liege as a race he particularly enjoyed as a young fan.

But hopes aside, the hard reality is that 2010 will be a tough year for Euskaltel-Euskadi with close scrutiny coming from all quarters. One false step off the bikes could be fatal for the team.

Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2010:

Returning riders: Samuel Sánchez, Igor Antón, Javier Aramendia, Jorge Azanza, Sergio de Lis, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, Aitor Galdos, Aitor Hernández, Iñaki Isasi, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Nieve, Juanjo Oroz, Alan Pérez Rubén Pérez, Amets Txurruka, Pablo Urtasun, Ivan Velasco, and Gorka Verdugoand.

New riders: Romain Sicard (Orbea), Jonathan Castroviejo (Orbea), Miguel Minguez (Orbea), Daniel Sesma (Orbea), Beñat Intxausti (Fotoon-Servetto), Gorka Izagirre (Contentpolis-AMPO-Mucia).

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