Euskaltel-Euskadi expands its range into the French Basque Country
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Euskaltel-Euskadi expands its range into the French Basque Country

by Jered Gruber at 11:58 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
The signing of Romain Sicard was a step in the direction, now it's part of the Euskadi framework

The fortunes of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team have taken a significant turn for the better over the latter part of 2010. Even with the announcement that the team would take a budget cut heading into 2011, they managed to re-sign Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez, who also netted the team's best ever finish at the Tour de France with 4th. They also managed to secure the contract extensions of most of their critical riders, only losing Benat Intxausti to Movistar.

Looking toward the future, Euskaltel continues to search for ways to improve its underdog team with the limited financial resources available. One of the most simple? Expand the borders of the region it uses to pick up talent to a more sensible one - the team will now utilize the other part of the Basque Country - the French side.

Euskaltel-Euskadi manager, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, said in a short conversation with Biciciclismo that the orange team of the Basque Country will "open up the range" of the team's possible pool to select from. Traditionally, Euskaltel has taken riders only from the Spanish side of the Basque Country and Navarre, but now, they are looking to extend their range into the French Basque Country.

In the team's 17 year history, only two riders have been taken onto the team from the French side of the border: Thierry Elissalde (1994-1995) and most recently, U23 World Champion Romain Sicard. Sicard extended his contract with the Basque outfit this summer and his emergence as a French Basque rider for the future seems to indicate a new era for the team and many more possibilities to strengthen the squad while still satisfying the conditions that make up the statutes of the Fundacion Ciclista de Euskadi. Namely, the rider needs to have grown up in the area of the Basque Country in the provinces of Alava, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Navarre, or developed as a bike racer in the region, as in the unusual case of Samuel Sanchez. Sanchez did not race with a Basque team until he was 19. He signed for the U23 team Olarra Vizcaya, where he raced for the next three seasons, and then, in 2000, he debuted as a professional after satisfying the conditions set forth by Euskadi.

Interestingly enough, Alberto Contador could also be a candidate for the unofficial Basque National team - he spent the years leading up to his neo-pro season with ONCE in the Basque Country. According to an article in El Pais in 2007 (via Cycling Fans Anonymous), the three-time Tour de France winner dropped out of high school without finishing the 12th grade to sign with the young Basque development team, Iberdrola-Loinaz, which was directed by one Manolo Saiz and used as a feeder team for Saiz's ONCE team. He spent the next few seasons in the Basque Country and managed a Spanish U23 Time Trial championship in that time. He turned professional in 2003.


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