LEON, Spain (VN) — Euskaltel-Euskadi enters “Basque week” on home roads desperate for a victory.
The Spanish squad is the only UCI ProTeam without a win so far in the opening months of the 2013 season.
The team will be under heavy pressure racing on home roads, first with a pair of races this weekend in nearby Navarra and Rioja and then defending the title of Samuel Sánchez at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) starting Monday.
The team’s winless drought comes just as it ditched its long-running policy of signing only Basque regional riders and opened its roster to international cyclists.
Popular Basque riders such as Amets Txurruka and Ivan Velasco were dropped for 2013, while the team signed seven “foreign” riders, including Moroccan Tarif Chaoufi and Slovenian sprinter Jure Kocjan, in large part because they brought valued UCI points that helped secure a spot in the UCI WorldTour.
Team manager Igor González de Galdeano defended the team’s new strategy, saying during the team presentation earlier this year that the squad’s evolution will pay off in the long-term.
“Reality forced us to sign new riders that complement our base,” he said. “We remain a Basque team and we will sign more Basque riders in the future, but to do that, we need points. And the new riders will help us achieve that.”
So far, the team’s new additions have been quiet at best and the team’s top results so far have come from its stable of Basque riders.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step leads the victory chart with 18 wins, while Orica-GreenEdge, Lotto-Belisol, Sky, and Blanco each have 11. All of those teams, except for Sky, boast top sprinters.
Saxo-Tinkoff, with a team largely built around the grand tours and Alberto Contador, is at the other end of that spectrum with only one victory so far this year.
Euskaltel-Euskadi, meanwhile, has not made much of an impact, with only two third places all season. The first was stage 5 at the Tour Mediterranean with Mikel Nieve, and another in stage 3 at Paris-Nice with Gorka Izaguirre.
The team fell flat at early-season stage races, with Jon Izaguirre finishing 10th at Paris-Nice and Nieve taking 13th at the Volta a Catalunya.
That’s hardly inspiring stuff and the lively press in the Basque region, where cycling still garners plenty of media coverage, is starting to take notice.
The Spanish sports daily Vavel interviewed team captain Sánchez, who said his goals do not come until later in the season, with the Giro d’Italia topping his ambitions.
“I think it’s the others of the team who should feel nervous [about lack of results], not me. If the team hasn’t won yet this year, it’s not my fault,” Sánchez said. “I always give 100 percent in my home race, but this year I will not have the same fitness. The victories will come sooner or later, either by me or other riders. We have a young, feisty team.”
Sánchez called this year’s Basque Country tour “the hardest in years” and admitted he will be not in top shape to duel with the likes of Contador and Richie Porte (Sky).
“Last year, the target was to win at home. This year, my preparation is completely different,” Sánchez said. “I only have nine days of racing in my legs and there are riders who are coming here with more kick to their legs than me. I would only be lying to myself if I said otherwise.”
With the pressure on, expect to see the trademark orange Euskaltel-Euskadi jersey in the thick of the action throughout the week.