News Feature, January 12, 2008
Talde lana – Trabajo de equipo: "Team work" was the motto of the 2008 Euskaltel Euskadi presentation on Thursday night in Irún (Gipuzkoa). Steeped in Basque tradition, the squad celebrated its 15th season in the professional peloton. Cyclingnews' Monika Prell was in Irún for the presentation.
A group of musicians playing Basque music set the tone for the Euskaltel-Euskadi team presentation in Irún, giving a traditional atmosphere to the celebration of the squad's 15th year, ten of which have fallen under the sponsorship of the Euskaltel company. After a stirring video recap of the 2007 season, the 26 cyclists who will take on the upcoming season on the road were presented one by one.
The four main riders are the Asturian star Samuel Sánchez, the experienced Haimar Zubeldia, young Igor Antón and the veteran Mikel Astarloza. Sánchez will focus this year on the Tour de France, choosing to start his season late, meaning he will skip both Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al País Vasco. "This will be a radical change, and I will miss the spring races. In the Tour, I would like to win a stage, as this is one thing that still lacks in my palmarès. Thinking in the podium is still too premature," said Sánchez.
One of the mayor objectives of Zubeldia will also be the Tour de France, but with a different preparation. "The beginning of the season should be very strong up until Paris-Nice, and then will begin the preparation for the Tour." He does not see a rival in Sánchez in his special subject, the Tour de France, but affirmed that "the fact that Samuel will be at my side will give me tranquility, because the responsibility will be shared."
The Basque team has always been known for its climbers, but for 2008 adds a new weapon to its arsenal in three sprinters: veteran Iñaki Isasi, 26 year-old Koldo Fernández de Larrea, who took his first sprint victory in the 2007 Tirreno-Adriatico, and Aitor Galdos, a fast man who should be able to win a race this year. "I hope to find the form I had two years ago when I was able to win races, and I hope to win races so that the team is happy with me. My participation in the Giro d'Italia will depend upon my performance through Tirreno-Adriatico", said the 28 year-old Galdos.
As in past years, the 2008 Euskaltel-Euskadi group has a large contingent of young riders, including Amets Txurruka, who is one of the big hopes for the future. "I want to show a better performance than last year and to win a race, if possible," said Txurruka, who made a name for himself with his presence in several breakaways during the 2007 Tour de France, and won the most aggressive rider prize. "In principle, I will form part of the Tour team, but until July there is still a long way to go."
Jorge Azanza will spend his second professional year as a member of the Basque team. "I hope to show my best this season, being strong in March and April and our home races [Vuelta al País Vasco and Euskal Bizikleta]." For now, the 25 year-old does not have any Grand Tour in his calendar, but said, "if I ride strong I will have the possibility to ride the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España."
Another young rider in his second year is Iván Velasco. The rider from Arrasate will focus on the early season. "I will begin the year strong, then I will have a break before riding the Giro. I feel well in the team, I already had some possibilities last year and I hope to be able to benefit from them this year."
The experienced rider Dioni Galparsoro had a lot of bad luck last year, and struggled with illnesses and bad crashes. For 2008, he hopes things will go more smoothly. "I hope this year I won't have health problems and that I will be able to win a race. I will compete the Giro d'Italia and then perhaps the Vuelta a España." He will be one of the leaders of the team for the Giro d'Italia, and will set out to improve upon his solid performance from 2007 which was dashed when he wrecked and broke his elbow.
After the presentation of the riders, the sport directors and the staff, a short film gave the large audience the opportunity to re-live the greatest moments of the team from past 15 years, including the stage victory of Roberto Laiseka in Luz Ardiden (Tour de France 2001). The first rider who won an official race for the team Euskadi was Agustín Sagasti, in the Vuelta al País Vasco in 1994. He was honoured by the team's General Manager, Miguel Madariaga.
José Alberto Pradera, the former deputy of Bizkaia and one of the founders of the team was proud of what the organisation had become. "I am not surprised by the evolution the team has made up until today. We thought that it had to be like this when we started the project." He reminded the audience that in the beginning, the team has been seen as "craziness." He thanked sponsor Euskaltel, and showed his pride that Euskaltel-Euskadi is seen in the world as a [Basque] 'national team', even not all the team members are Basque.
Madariaga is looking confidently towards the new season. "The team has completed a great season, thanks to the riders and the collaboration with the sponsor Euskaltel. I wish 2008 to be as great as 2007 and I wish the boys a bit more force because I am convinced that the team still does have potential." He is sure that "with the help of the fans we will reach those objectives."
A curious little anecdote passed before the official photo of the team has been taken by the photographers: two riders, Lander Aperribay and Josu Agirre, became dizzy and had to leave the stage, so that they were absent in the last photo. The presentation had a fiery end, as – accompanied again by the Basque musicians, a little firework was ignited in the hall, generating the applause of the public.
The full 2008 team: Josu Agirre, Beñat Albizuri, Igor Antón, Lander Aperribay, Francisco Javier Aramendia, Mikel Astarloza, Jorge Azanza, Jon Bru, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, Aitor Galdos, Dionisio Galparsoro, Aitor Hernández, Markel Irizar, Iñaki Isasi, Andoni Lafuente, Iñigo Landaluze, Antton Luengo, Egoi Martínez, Juanjo Oroz, Alan Pérez, Rubén Pérez, Samuel Sánchez, Amets Txurruka, Iván Velasco, Gorka Verdugo, Haimar Zubeldia.
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews teams database.
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