|Euskaltel Euskadi squad for the Giro d'Italia|
- Benat Albizuri (ESP)
- Andoni Aranaga (ESP)
- Koldo Fernandez (ESP)
- Iker Flores (ESP)
- Markel Irizar (ESP)
- Roberto Laiseka (ESP)
- David Lopez (ESP)
- Anton Luengo (ESP)
- Iban Mayoz (ESP) (not to be confused with Iban Mayo, who is not riding the Giro)
A lot of people are writing off the chances of the Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi, and it's hard to blame them. I mean, as a squad based in the Basque country of Spain, their focus is much more on the later half of the season and races like the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. That's why they aren't sending their big guns like Iban Mayo, Haimar Zubeldia, or Sammy Sanchez to the Giro: they are saving them for the races that matter most to their sponsors. Still, it is a mistake to write off a group of Basque riders in a race that has so damned many climbs in it. Have you ever gone on a ride with a Basque cyclist? If you say "let's ride from point A to point B," they will get out a map, survey the horizon, and then find the biggest, most painful climb between point A and point B. This Basque team loves to attack and loves to climb mountains, so look for them to be off the front a lot driving the General Classification focused teams crazy.
Euskaltel-Euskadi doesn't have any rider who will be a threat in the GC. They only have men who will be going for stage wins. Leading the squad is veteran Roberto Laiseka, a twelve-year pro who has only six victories to his credit…but what a list of victories! Laiseka is a mad climber who specializes in monster attacks in the mountains; so far this has landed him three stage wins in the Vuelta a España (including stage 11 last year) and a classic stage win at the top of Luz Ardiden in the 2001 Tour de France (ahead of a charging Lance). There aren't many people who can boast results like that, and Laiseka will be looking to add to his haul in what looks to be a Giro full of epic mountain stages. Laiseka is getting a bit long in the tooth at 36 years old, but this Giro is right in his wheelhouse, and he still knows how to ride that bike.
Euskaltel-Euskadi is also bringing veteran attacker Iker Flores. Iker has two wins in his seven-year career, and they both came in the 2000 Tour de l'Avenir where he won a stage and the overall. In the 2004 Tour de France, he was an attacking maniac, taking 2nd on Stage 7 and going on some epic breaks in the Alps. Last year was an off year for Iker, and this was most evidenced by the fact that he was the Lanterne Rouge (a.k.a. dead last) in the 2005 Tour de France. This year Iker has ridden in the pack in some major stage races, and has sharpened his legs for a big ride in this Giro. Look for the tall, powerful, and friendly Basque to mix it up in the Belgian stages and then to launch some suicide missions in the high mountains.
The rest of the Euskaltel squad consists of young developing riders with only a few years of pro racing each. The most interesting of these is Andoni Aranaga, a powerful, attacking rider who can actually turn in a good sprint on occasion. The third-year pro won the 2nd stage of the Vuelta Asturias in 2005 by outsprinting Erik Zabel, Sammy Sanchez, and Igor Astorloa, and that was his 2nd quality victory of the season. His riding last year got him onto a Pro Tour team, and now he's aching to prove himself on the roads of Italy. The rest of the riders on the team don't have many victories in the pro ranks, but you can bet they'll be taking those bright poppy-orange outfits off the front of the peloton every chance they get, especially in the mountains. All it takes is one good attack on the right day, and a man with no wins can become a legend. That's what makes grand tours like the Giro so cool.