It will be the 18th professional cycling season for Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi, and the team directed by Igor González de Galdeano is hoping to live up to "the age of majority" in 2011. At its official presentation on Thursday in San Sebastián, the team stood united behind its two leaders, Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez and Igor Antón.
Both have great objectives for the season ahead. Sánchez, a regular top finisher at the Tour de France, wants to finally make the leap onto the Paris podium this year, and Antón, who lost the overall lead in last year's Vuelta because of a crash, is eager to return to the event to make amends.
"Even though last year was our very best season ever, with 17 victories, we are looking to repeat or improve this feat," said Miguel Madariaga, president of the Euskadi foundation, to the assembled media. "It is not about surviving anymore, but about finding out just how good we can be."
Having finished in fourth place at the Tour in 2010, Sánchez feels ready for a top three result at the event this year. "My objectives are the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tour de France podium," Sánchez told AS. "As Contador and Valverde may not be there, there are many candidates for the victory, and I think I can be one of them. But I don't consider myself a podium finisher last year until I know what happens to Alberto."
However, the team's first big goal will be the Giro d'Italia, in which Antón will be the squad's designated leader. Although it will be the 27-year-old's first participation, Antón is motivated to do well. "I'm excited to do my first Giro, as it has a lot of mountains," he said, before speaking about his main season goal.
"But above all, I'm excited to return to the Vuelta. I will give it everything there because I think my time has come. I want to forget last year's crash and think more of the stage I won in 2006 in Calar Alto." The 2011 Vuelta will give the team extra motivation as the course includes the Basque Country for the very first time in 33 years.
At this point, general manager González de Galdeano operates two working groups, one centered around Sánchez, Romain Sicard and Egor Martinez, whose objective is the Vuelta al País Vasco, and another around Antón, preparing for the Giro.
The 2011 team counts 23 riders after four have left (Galdós, Aitor Hernández, De Lis and Intxausti) and three were signed (Landa, Izagirre from the Foundation's Continental outfit Orbea and Cazaux from Française des Jeux.