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Orange Crush!
By Staff
Date: 7/1/2004
Orange Crush!

By Paula Andrist

The peloton rolls along at almost 200 riders strong. They aren’t hard to pick out in their day-glow orange kits, the riders of the all-Basque team, Euskaltel-Euskadi. Originally the team was formed January 1, 1994, by the Euskadi Foundation, with the stock proceeds from a company of shareholders going to support a team of the best Basque cyclists. Then named simply, Euskadi, which in Basque means “the Basques”, the team grew and flourished. In 1997 when the team became too expensive for the shareholders to support, the Basque telephone company, Euskaltel (which is where the day-glow orange comes from), joined as sponsor and the team was appropriately renamed Euskaltel-Euskadi. The all-Basque unit made its Tour debut in 2001 and has been known as an animator of the race ever since.

In 2004, Euskaltel-Euskadi comes to the Tour de France with a solid line up, including two possible GC contenders and several seasoned veterans, including three Tour de France stage winners. The roster is: Iban Mayo, Haimar Zubeldia, Unai Etxebarria, David Etxebarria, Gorka Gonzalez, Iker Flores, Iker Camaño, Egoi Martínez, and Iñigo Landaluze.

The most obvious suspect for GC contention is Iban Mayo. With his general classification wins this year at the Clasica Internacional a Alcobendas, the Vuelta Ciclista Asturia, and the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, he has proven that he has good form. In Mayo’s biggest win of the year, the ITT on Mount Ventoux during the Dauphiné Libéré, he showed that he can outride the best, including Tyler Hamilton and Lance Armstrong. Following the win, he was quoted as saying, “My victory on Mont Ventoux has given me more reason to believe that I can win the Tour.” Bold statement from a 26-year old who is only riding in his third Tour de France! 

The parcours of this Tour certainly suit him well, and time will tell, but if he has improved his time trialling, he definitely has a good chance of scoring high in the GC, especially with the ITT at Alpe d’Huez on Stage 16.

Next up is the relative dark horse, Haimar Zubeldia. Although he finished higher in the 2003 Tour than Iban did, he is often overlooked for GC contention because of his quiet nature, while his teammate, Mayo attracts attention to himself with his panache off and on the bike. Zubeldia is a more complete rider; he has a better time trial than Mayo, and he can hold his own on the climbs against the main protagonists. He has had a quiet year so far with his highest finish being overall 3rd place at the Vuelta Ciclista Asturias. The parcours of this Tour don’t suit him that well, but with his surprise third placing in the prologue and his fifth place on the General Classification of the 2003 Tour, I would look for Zubeldia to show his colors this year and probably surprise a few with a showing that may outdo even Mayo (again).

The rest of the team is filled out with solid domestiques, designed to animate the race and get the sponsor’s name on the television coverage. The most notable of these are David Etxebarria and Unai Etxebarria (no, not brothers). Well known riders in the peloton, they are likely to be in at least one break-away each, if not more. Unai has had an excellent year with a stage win at the Challenge de Mallorca and the top step at the GP Llodio. David has had a fair year with 3rd place overall at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco in the General Classification. Both of these riders have plenty of Tour experience and will be a force of action in the peloton. Keep an eye out for them; I predict they will be combative riders!

The Orange Crush has suffered a blow though, with Gorka Gonzalez being excluded from the 2004 Tour de France due to a high hematocrit. He was a last minute replacement for Mikel Artetxe, who had hurt his arm. Looks as if they will have to roll out with only eight riders to the team. Let us hope this will have no ill effect on either Mayo or Zubeldia in their quest towards Paris!

Please visit the Euskaltel-Euskadi website here.

But now….we will take an actual LOOK at these boys in Orange!

First up, Iban Mayo!

Photo courtesy Capture-the-Peloton.

Now, Unai Etxebarria!

And, David Etxebarria!

Photo courtesy Capture-the-Peloton.

Oh look! Haimar Zubeldia!

Quick! Iñigo Landaluze!

Photo courtesy Capture-the-Peloton.

....and finally, the team!

Photo courtesy Capture-the-Peloton.

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