Mikel Zarrabeitia, born on May 14, 1970, turned a pro rider in 1991 in Javier Minguez' Seguros Amaya team. The following year he hit the podium in the "Tour of the Basque Country" and in 1993 finished 12th Overall in the Vuelta.
In 1994 he moved to Banesto, along with Minguez and others, and started making himself known thanks to a few excellent climbing performances, when he gave some trouble even to one of the greatest riders of that period, Switzerland's Toni Rominger. But when riding the Tour de France the following year, bad luck came, under the guise of a slipped disk. "Zarra" had to undergo surgery. But bad luck wasn't over, as a car accident made things even more complicated for him.
Besides that, he had some probs at Banesto and left the team, but also received an offer from Once, and didn't miss the chance. No doubts that, with the likes of Jalabert, Olano, Beloki, Galdeano in the squad, he had very few chances to show off all of his talent. But not to show how unlucky he was: during a Mountain stage in the 2000 Vuelta, while in the Alt de la Rebassa downhill (Principality of Andorra) the man, then part of the leading break, cut off the top of a right hand finger in the spokes of his front wheel while trying to fix a distance counter making too a buzzing noise: "I saw it flying in the air" he said afterwards, "and then I tried to stop as quickly as possible. There was so much blood I though I had lost two fingers ...".
But "Zarra" (also known as "El Generoso" for his availablity to put himself at the service of his teammates) didn't lose heart at all, got back on his bike and won a Euskal Bizikleta stage in 2001.One year later, he had the best week-end of his career, with both a prestigious stage and overall victory on home soil.
Mikel Zarrabeitia - Palmares:
1992. Stage and Overall at Vuelta a Rioja;
1993. Omnium Basauri;
1997. Trofeo Foral de Navarra;
1997. GP Amorebieta;
1997. Stage at Vuelta a Aragon;
2001. Stage Euskal Bizikleta
2002. Stage and Overall at Euskal Bizikleta
Euskal Bizikleta - Recent Winners:
1991. Gianni Bugno (Ita - Château d'Ax)
1992. Franco Chioccioli (Ita - GB-MG Boys)
1993. Piotr Ugrumow (Lat - Mecair-Ballan)
1994. Stefano Della Santa (Ita - Mapei)
1995. Eugeni Berzin (Rus - Gewiss-Ballan)
1996. Miguel Indurain (Spa - Banesto)
1997. Abraham Olano (Spa - Banesto)
1998. Abraham Olano (Spa - Banesto)
1999. David Etxeberria Alkorta (Spa - ONCE-Deutsche Bank)
2000. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi)
2001. Juan Carlos Domínguez (Spa - iBanesto.com)
2002. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa - ONCE-Eroski)
Post-race Interviews / Mikel Zarrabeitia : The winner of the "Bicicelta Vasca" was quite condfident before the start of Sunday's final leg "If I don't have a bad day I'm going to win. I'm sure the team will give me with full support. To look after Rumsas should be enough". In fact it proved to be enough, although the man had to struggle and suffer until the end, and got a fundamental help first from teammates Serrano and Azevedo, not to mention Euskaltel's David Etxebarria.
Interviewed after the race, he said that "I've been trying to get such a victory for 11 years, right from the satart of my career as a pro rider. I came close to get it many a time, but never could. And as there are only few years left for me to race, I thought I would never get such a satisfaction".
The man from Abadiño (a town close to Bilbao) talked of his current condition too. "I'm fit now. But recently I had too many crashes; the one in Milan-San Remo was particularly bad, especially from the moral point of view. So I must say his victory is a big moral boost for me".
Zarrabeitia had no regrets, no complains about his team's decsion to get Beloki in the break, while he could have needed his help back in the bunch "I had some trouble in the final part of the stage, I lacked energies, but Azevedo and Serrano saved me. The team is happy now. We made the hat-trick. We are strong, and are currently fine-tuning for the Tour de France. Some said we weren't going as fast as in previous years, but now you may see how those critics were groundless".
In the end the winner praised fellow townsman and friend David Etxebarria, whose help in the final part of the last decisive, ascent prove fundamental for him not to lose too much time to Rumsas: Zarrabeitia confessed there was a "secret pact" between the two, which was "signed" on Saturday morning when, during the first half of stage 4, "Zarra" and Etxebarria got clear and promised they would help each other in case it was needed "(In that occasion Etxebarria won the stage, btw) "We are not just fellow townsmen, we always train together". El Generoso said.
Post-race Interviews / Joseba Beloki : The stage winner sounded truly satisfied on Sunday evening, not just because of his own stage victory, but also for the overall win of friend and teammate Zarrabeitia. Indeed he said more on his teammate's final success than his own stage triumph "I'm very happy for Mikel. I would need such a victory too". Beloki regretted not having been beside "Zarra" when the latter had some probs during the last climb "I can guess what he went through, beacuse the same happened to me too". "Such a win is a very good thing for a man always ready to help his teammates, even more as he got it on home roads".
Beloki didn't spend too many words about his own stage victory anyway. He only said that "I wanted to win one stage at least before going to the Tour de Fance. And after my team won two stages and the Overall in this race, I really couldn't ask for more".
Post-race Interviews / Santiago García: Once's Team Director Santi García definitely had a good day, and now has got plenty of things to celebrate: Joseba Beloki's stage victory, Zarrabeitia's triumph at Euskal Bizikleta, and Galdeano's overall win in the Tour of Germany as well. As for the Basque race, where his spent the last days, García explained that "You are always afraid to lose, especially when you rival is Raimondas Rumsas. As for Joseba Beloki's attack, it had been planned before, and when he was there in the break, I gave him permission to go on. If I had noticed any problem for Zarra, I would have stopped Joseba. From a strathegical point of view Beloki has done the right thing in the right way". García also thanked David Etxebarria for giving a hand to Zarrabeitia: "The two guys are good friends, and they have proved it today".
EUSKAL BIZIKLETA in the DAILY PELOTON
* STAGE 1: Results
* STAGE 2: Results & Report
* STAGE 3: Results & Report
* STAGE 4a: Results
* STAGE 4b: Results & Report
* STAGE 5: Results & Report