Euskaltel Returns

Basque telecoms company Euskaltel has announced it will return to team sponsorship as a title sponsor of the Fundación-Orbea team. Is this a return to the glory days? Sorry to splash a bucket of cold water straight out of the Atlantic in your face… but probably not.

Euskaltel-Euskadi was a legendary team. In their pomp they were a lively team of caricature climbers tasked with bringing “animation” to mountain stages, in part because they’d finish last in any preceding team time trial and so had room to manoeuvre. But there was serious intent, at one point Iban Mayo began to make Lance Armstrong worry. Only behind the scenes the reality wasn’t quite as glorious, like much of the 2000s. Riders tested positive; David Millar was apparently sourcing his EPO from a team doctor. Plus for all the attacks they never won very much anyway, a good season saw them take 10 wins, in 2009 they had just five wins. It’s not all cold cynicism, they’ve also acted as a development team with the likes of Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Ion Izaguirre and Igor Anton going on to greater things.

Dwindling identity
The lack of success became a problem and the team vanished after a torrid final year. The Unique Selling Point was its Basque identity, the Basque region having impenetrable language and even typographical fonts and being a hotbed of cycling, hosting the Tour of the Basque Country stage race and the San Sebastian classic. Launched in 1994, the early years of the team saw them ride in kit that was essentially a lycra Ikurriña, they only adopted the hi-viz orange outift because this was the colour of sponsor Euskaltel which came on board in 1998. The team needed UCI ranking points to stay in cycling’s top level and broke its house policy of hiring locals by resorted to recruiting foreigners. Only it didn’t pick a star or two who’d move to the Basque Country, instead it recruited journeymen pros with secret stashes of UCI points like André Schulze, a 37 year old German with a build more suited to harri-jasotze than cycling in the Basque country. It was amusing in the first instance, but tragic in the analysis as the team jettisoned its identity in a failed bid to keep going.

André Schulze was hired from NetApp

What’s different this time?
Last time the sponsor was small and the team was big, now the sponsor is big and the team small. Back then the Euskaltel-Euskadi team was actually in the Pro Tour and the sponsor Euskaltel was even more modest, a Basque start-up. Today the team is quite modest, the Fundación Euskadi team has spent the last two seasons in the lowly UCI Continental ranks, essentially a third tier pro-am outfit and has just moved up to Pro Team status, cycling’s second division. Meanwhile Euskaltel has grown and has even been floated on the Spanish stockmarket where it’s valued at around €1.4 billion today… decent but still one twentieth the value of Spain’s Telefonica, aka Movistar.

As a smaller team the challenge now is to get invited to races. In the past people mocked the comic prospect of a team of mountain goats being compelled to start Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders because the team was in cycling’s top tier, now an invite to any World Tour race would be good. They’ve been in orange kit since 2018, the hard part has been spotting them on TV but now they’ve gone up a level to ProTeam status for 2020 which should help. Vuelta a España wildcards are hard to get, there are only three up for grabs this year. Caja Rural and Burgos-BH are candidates and Nairo Quintana probably only needs to wink at race boss Javier Guillén for Arkéa-Samsic to get the final spot. But this is exactly why new sponsorship can help, more riders can be hired to make the team a more obvious pick, if not this year then next. There’s even talk of a Tour de France start in Bilbao in 2023 and a local team would be nice.

Recruiting exciting riders isn’t easy. If this is a Basque team with a mission to bring on Basque riders then it’s by definition self-limiting. The team has always been flexible, recruiting riders from nearby regions or those with family connections, think Samuel Sanchez who is from the Asturias. Today it’s more relaxed, for example it’s relaunching Ruben Fernandez’s career, the Murcian won the Tour de l’Avenir and joined Movistar but illness and injury have put him out of the World Tour. Indeed if there’s promising Basque rider in the U23 ranks then they’re just as likely to get hired by Movistar, Ineos or Astana while salaries for established stars are so high that it’s very expensive for the team to recruit Mikel Landa or Ion Izaguirre. Landa is the team’s president but he’s not going to give up a seven figure World Tour contract just to ride for “his” team anytime soon.

There’s an air of nostalgia seeing the Euskaltel name return but it’s different this time. They’re no longer in the World Tour so we won’t be seeing the “the carrots” compelled to ride Paris-Roubaix any time soon. Indeed seeing them anywhere is the challenge, this is still a modest second tier team with no prospect of a Tour de France start and even a Vuelta invite would be a huge deal. But Euskaltel is a bigger company these days than when it left the sport and this could help the team stabilise and build and that’s a start.

20 thoughts on “Euskaltel Returns”

  1. It’s going to be a tough old job. It’s such a shame that Basque-Murias Team couldn’t sustain the progress they were on a good trajectory, but alas it wasn’t to be. Glad to see a Basque outfit back though. Aupa🥕🥕🥕‼️🍀

  2. Nice article – I’ve enjoyed watching small, stylish upstart teams with distinctive kit, especially when they’re upsetting a top team that I don’t particularly care for. Before orange kit became “the new black” their bright orange jerseys always stood out, and it was fun to cheer for the underdogs (even when it seemed there were on the dirty side of things).

    One thing that struck me was the line, “The lack of success became a problem and the team vanished after a torrid final year.” The word ‘torrid’ in the US usually means “hot, steamy, exciting, sultry” (i.e., generally positive, though perhaps doomed, since it never lasts). On this side of the pond it seems to mean “problematic” or “difficult.” In USA sports a basketball player who goes on a scoring binge is described as being on a “torrid streak,” for example. As the saying goes, sometimes America and England are two countries separated by a common language.

  3. Can’t help but think that the sponsors came one season too late.

    I imagine that the prospect of riding for a high-level pro Basque team would have been tempting for riders like Mikel Landa, Oscar Rodriguez, Pello Bilbao, Ivan Garcia, Alex Aranburu… all of whom have just changed teams this winter and I don’t see them breaking their contract unless there’s a disaster ; same thing for Nieve, who I believe has renewed for MTS last autumn. Only the Izagirre brothers are out of contract at the end of the year, and 2 WT riders don’t make a competitive team.

    They could turn more to international talent, but without much of an identity, it will be hard to get interest from fans, and from race organizers, which will make riders more cautious about joining… The classic self-fueling cycle. And it’s hard to see what kind of benefit the sponsor would see if the team spirit was to stray too far from its homeland.

    A real shame, the Basque country has long been full of cycling talent and passion, and it deserves a competitive team.

    • I have no inside information, but according to my Basque riding buddy, the goals are more modest, it is more important to establish a stable team at ProTeam level than to enter World Tour in the nearest possible future. To be the team in which young Basque riders will want to ride and and which they can trust will not disappear in two years time is not only a more realistic goal but also a far more important one.
      If they can get the same amount of racing success in minor races as Euskadi-Murias did (and that’s not counting in Oscar Rodriguez’ magnificent Stage 13 win) both the team management and the sponsor(s) will be quite happy.

      The published stories seem to leave open whether or not Euskaltel will appear not only on the jersey but in the team name. (I’d hazard a guess it can wait until 2021.) And if there was a mention of how many years the sponsorship agreement will last, I’ve missed it.

  4. I’m gonna take this one as a total plus! Good to see a new (or old) sponsor appear in one of the traditional cycling regions! Spanish and Italian teams had been disappearing over the years so nice to see the reverse for once.

  5. Isn’t their kit about the same color as CCC? Imagine what it would look like if both teams swarmed to the front of the peloton in one of the big stage races. I always like the Euskaltel team, wish them luck.

    • Both jerseys are orange, yes – and both are made by Etxeondo. The shade is noticeably different, though – in my eyes CCC is more in-your-face orange and Fundacion is a deepish, more subtle sort of orange – and you don’t have to see the logos to tell which is which.
      But that is in real life and when you are close enough to read the logo text. In a helicopter shot of the entire peloton you’d have to rely on looking at the helmets, but you would probably be able to quickly distinguish the CCC riders by their orange helmets.
      We’ll have an opportunity to train our eye in five weeks time, when the Itzulia starts.
      Although I don’t think there will be situations where the two teams are simultaneously trying to advance to the front of the peloton…
      PS The only thing that might slightly dampen my positive feelings is that it was the folding of Euskadi-Murias that in a manner opened the way for Fundacion Orbea to climb to ProTeam level – I had already invested the emotional support I’d earlier given to Euskaltel-Euskadi fully in the new team, I had seen them live in Spain and, yes, I had bought the neon coloured kit with the Basque flag on the shoulders and worn it at home (and will still do so…),

  6. “In the past people mocked the comic prospect of a team of mountain goats being compelled to start Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders because the team was in cycling’s top tier,”
    Hey, I resemble that statement 🙂
    OTOH someone with a general consumer interest product is willing to put some advertising money into pro cycling!!! 🙂

  7. I used to work for a mobile phone manufacturer and did a customised Euskaltel version of a phone for the local team on the promise of a cycling jersey, their volumes came nowhere close to justifying it.
    The phone did ok and 15 years on I’m still waiting for my jersey…..

  8. My Spanish isn’t so good, and perhaps my English isn’t what it should be either, as I seemed to have missed the bit that says they’re going to wear orange.

    I would hope that having relinquished dominance of the World Tour orange team status that they might take the opportunity to rebrand. I imagine if you’re Dutch it’s a big thing, but otherwise why stick with it when there’s a whole rainbow out there…. perhaps someone can enlighten me whether there is any added significance to the Basque people, but assume not.

    • You don’t need a word of español or euskara to have a quick look at any of the photos taken during the presentation. There’s Mikel Landa in civvies and a mannequin dressed in the new kit – which is exactly the same, color and everything as the current Fundacion – Orbea kit. Apart, of course, from the fact that it now says Euskaltel where there used to be Euskadi, that is to say the largest sized logo text as befits a main sponsor.

      As the Inner Ring wrote above: the only reason the “Carrots” are orange is that orange is an integral part of the mobile phone company’s brand image.

      • Ah, but you would need to know something about the team to know that the photo was current. The first few in the linked article are from 2013, and so it’s not clear that the subsequent pictures are of the latest jersey, and to a non-Spanish speaker I can’t tell what it’s saying about the Fundacion-Orbea team.

        • Sorry, it wasn’t my intention to make a snide remark at your expense. The first and the last pic in the El Correo article are indeed from 2013 and the the kit is the now historical Euskaltel-Euskadi. The middle pic was taken during this year’s Vuelta a San Juan and the kit is the current Fundacion – Orbea.
          I hadn’t looked at the article and quite frankly it surprised me there is no picture from the presentation in Bilbao. It was used as illustration in a follow-up article a few hours later.

          I’m probably more keen than most to use a search engine to quickly find background or detailed information on whatever bit of news that interests me. “Euskaltel Fundacion” would’ve given five pics of Mikel Landa and the mannequin among the first ten results.
          But I’m no better than you:-) If only I’d bothered to read the follow-up article, I’d have learned the answer to my own question above: the new sponsorship agreement is for four years (and there is a common will to make it last even longer than the seventeen years from 1997 to 2013).

          The main thing, though, is that “la ola naranja”, the orange wave, has been unleashed. And that we can look forward to seeing “marea laranja”, the orange sea, during the Vuelta.

          • I mean, when I looked at the article again the clues were there. But without knowing Spanish it might be a bit much to draw any conclusions – knowing Landa was a rider and the old stock photos it wasn’t apparent that it was a current photo (though if you’re a fan of the team you’d note the new sponsor on the kit). But guessing and knowing are two different things which can give you the same result.

  9. “..when theres a whole rainbow out there..”
    But is there really a whole rainbow, when some colours look so bad in kit, and when blue or red is so dominant in turns?
    Since Liquigas, Europcar and Credit Agricole went there seems to be a gap for green kit.
    Funny how things come and go. Kelme, Mapei, Armee de la Terre, FdJ are standout kits with no messy sub-sponsors which I guess helps get a good design but they were widely criticised just on looks. Maybe cycling is very conservative in certain regards and kit carrying a shopping list in a dogs dinner of uncoordinated colour is the only acceptable look.

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