Euskaltel-Euskadi had double reason to celebrate Monday during a media rollout for its 2011 lineup.
First, the Basque-backed team was enthusiastic about the future following the most successful season in the team’s 18-year history. And secondly, it was awarded one of the final ProTeam licenses, assuring the unique squad will be on the front lines during the upcoming campaign.
Euskaltel is coming off a 17-win season in what team manager Igor González de Galdeano called the team’s “best ever season in the history of the team.”
“Each year, the roads and the offices are more and more demanding, and the objective is not easy, but we’ve stayed in the top league,” González de Galdeano told journalists Monday. “We’re going to have to ask the directors and the riders to step up next year.”
Euskaltel-Euskadi and Movistar are now the only Iberian representatives in the ProTour that once boasted four Spanish teams. Liberty Serguros morphed into Kazakh-backed Astana and Geox-TMC (formerly Footon-Servetto) was overlooked in Monday’s announcement allotting the final ProTeam licenses for 2011.
The team came ever closer to winning a major grand tour, with Samuel Sánchez fourth in the Tour de France and Igor Antón edging toward overall victory at the Vuelta a España before crashing out going into the final week.
“It was unthinkable for us a few years to dream of winning a grand tour,” González de Galdeano said. “We have demonstrated that we are capable of winning big races like the Tour or the Vuelta and we are working toward that goal.”
Leading the team’s GC hopes at the season’s most important race will be Sánchez, the only non-Basque rider on the team, who stuck with Euskaltel despite reports that he was considering offers from Movistar and Geox. The Olympic champion will once again focus on the French tour in 2011 without forgetting the spring classics.
“I am not a rider who focuses on just one race, but all of them,” Sánchez said. “Cycling is my passion and every race has its charms. The Tour, Basque Country, Liège, Lombardia, the worlds, the Olympics … The Tour will be a top goal, but I hope to do well in the spring as well.”
The team will also look to Antón to step up.
“Igor is working to fight for the GC in both the Giro and the Vuelta,” González de Galdeano said. “He’s 28, he’s mature enough and he will be confident following his successes of this season.”
González de Galdeano also confirmed that Romain Sicard, the U23 world champion in 2009, will be making his grand tour debut this season, most likely at the Vuelta.
The team’s 2010 season was especially crucial following the doping scandal involving Tour stage-winner Mikel Astarloza during the 2009 edition. The team imposed a strict, internal-testing program to complement controls conducted by the UCI in a strong move to quiet calls among some quarters that the team did not deserve backing from public money.
The team’s budget comes from a mix of private and public money from Spain’s Basque Country as well as support from more than 2,300 club members whose donations help underwrite the professional team and an amateur feeder team.
Despite the departure of Beñat Intxausti, who took a nice offer from Movistar following his third place at the Vuelta al País Vasco, the team largely remains intact. Intxausti is among four departing while only three new riders join for 2011, including Pierre Cazaux, only the team’s third French rider in team history. Two other local riders — Ion Izagirre and Mikel Landa — make the move from Orbea to Euskaltel for next year.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood’s covered every Tour since 1996 and has been VeloNews’ European correspondent since 2002. He lives in Leon, Spain, when he’s not chasing bike races.