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Basque leader suggests organisation was coerced into running women's Itzulia

Peloton during Itzulia Women
Peloton during Itzulia Women (Image credit: Getty Images)

Julián Eraso, president of the Asociación Organizaciones Ciclistas Euskadi (OCETA), has come under fire for controversial remarks about the inaugural Itzulia Women's three-day race that kicked off in Basque Country on Friday. 

In an interview with Radio Marca Bilbao, Eraso stated that the organisation had been 'almost forced' to run the women's event while suggesting that progress in sports equality was the 'fashion'.

"We've almost almost been forced to organize it. This is a question of fashion. In the end... Equality, such and such... The [dialogue]... Everyone says that we have to do things for women's sports and it has also been the turn of cycling," Eraso stated, as reported in El Español (opens in new tab).

He also suggested that while OCETA, which also organises the long-running men's Itzulia Basque Country, Clásica San Sebastián and Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa, put the additional effort into running the women's event that, "in a few years we won't have to worry about why we do it".

"They told us that we would have to organize and we, who know a little about that, organize it, we are not worried. Hopefully this will be consolidated," Eraso said. 

Eraso's comments have led to a public backlash from several political leaders of the Basque Country who expressed outrage over his remarks regarding the organisation of Itzulia Women.

Harkaitz Millán, deputy for Culture, Cooperation, Youth and Sports, denounced the comments, while also noting that it is the 'machismo' culture is what is in fashion, and needs to stop.

In a Twitter post, Millán said: "Given the statements made by the director of @ehitzulia, #JuliánEraso, @RMARCABilbao, I would like to point out that support for women's sports is not a matter of fashion, it is a matter of commitment to fight machismo in the sport."

Goizane Álvarez, director of Youth and Sports of the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa, replied, "Today there is no sporting event that does not welcome men and women in the same conditions. Equality is a right, it is not a fad, and for this reason, the step we took with the Clásica San Sebastián and that we are now taking with Itzulia," she stated in a report published in Archysport (opens in new tab).

While also stating that the inaugural Itzulia Women was a commitment to equality, "[The event] is an act that consolidates the commitment of socialist management for equality, so that women also have spaces for growth as athletes and sports professionals. Our commitment has to do with promoting a change in behaviour in the sports system towards a feminist society in sports as well.”

Ana del Val, Alava deputy for Culture and Sport, has demanded that Eraso publicly retract his comments, calling them “unpresentable and unacceptable”.

“Women’s sport is not a fashion, what remains, in any case, is much to do. We will not take a single step back in our policies, on the contrary," she stated in a post on Twitter.

In addition, Maider Etxebarría, first deputy Mayor of the Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council, stated that "equality is not a trend."  

"Women, for the simple fact of being women, face inequalities. And that is why we will continue to defend women's sport," she wrote.

OCETA intended to launch Itzulia Women last year but it was cancelled and replaced by the Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa on the Women's WorldTour. This year, it marks the first stage race on the top-tier calendar and has added to the growing number of world-class races offered in Spain, and particularly in the Basque Country.

The three-day race travels through all three territories of Euskadi – Alava, where Demi Vollering won stage 1 in Labastida, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, and will finish along the route of the Donostiako Klasikoa Women’s race –Clásica San Sebastián.

Organisers expressed their 'regret' concerning Eraso's comments in an official communique on Friday, and stated that the organisation aims to promote women's cycling in the Basque Country. 

"The Itzulia Women was born of the need to recover a great women's stage race in the Basque Country following the disappearance of the Emakumeen Bira and the consecrated success of the first two editions of the women's Clásica San Sebastián.

"The aim of the organisation was and is to promote women's cycling in the Basque Country and respond to the express vocation of our institutional partners (City Councils, Provincial Councils and the Basque Government).

"Our support and commitment as an organisation to women's cycling are unequivocal. The organisation regrets any misunderstanding and unease generated and hopes that the unfortunate comments made by Julián Eraso, president of OCETA, on Radio Marca Bilbao, do not tarnish the excellent progress made by the arrival of the Itzulia Women amongst the ecosystem of races that make up the international women's cycling calendar."

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.