BILBAO, Spain (VN) — The Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) is turning into a weeklong revenge tour for Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural).
The elfish climber has been on the attack each day in the opening three stages of the race, picking up points to lead both the best climber and hot sprint jerseys.
Though he refuses to publicly admit it, it’s obvious that his aggressive riding is sending a clear message to Euskaltel-Euskadi, which unceremoniously dumped him at the end of last season.
“This is the most important race of the year for us, until the Vuelta a España,” Txurruka told Basque journalists at the race without giving too much away. “My aim is to win the climber’s jersey, so I attacked the first day to get as many points as possible. I’ve had the legs, so I have done it again and again.”
Last fall’s forced exit from Euskaltel came as a rude shock to Txurruka, one of the Basque squad’s most emblematic riders.
Born and raised in the small town of Etxebarria in the heart of Spain’s Basque Country, Txurruka epitomized the spirit of the team tradition of nurturing homegrown talent and bringing them to Europe’s biggest stages.
He grew up watching the local races and traveled with his parents in a camping van to watch the 2001 Tour de France in the Pyrénées, when Roberto Laiseka became the first Euskaltel rider to win a Tour stage.
In the Basque language, Amets means dream. His parents named him that after giving up hope of having their own children and eventually adopted two children. Nine years later, Txurruka’s mother unexpectedly found herself pregnant, and Amets seemed the perfect name for their dream baby.
Yet Txurruka was in for a bitter surprise last October when Euskaltel notified him his contract would not be extended.
Racked by injuries for much of the past two seasons when he suffered a string of broken collarbones, Txurruka was caught in a trap.
He brought zero UCI points to the table and Euskaltel, his professional home since 2007, dumped him as part of the team’s departure from its tradition of only having Basque riders to signing non-Basque riders in order to secure a place in the UCI WorldTour. Txurruka got his professional start with Barloworld in 2006.
Euskaltel, meanwhile, is the lone ProTeam without a victory so far in the 2013 season.
Now 30, Txurruka was lucky to find a final-hour contract with Spanish Pro Continental team Caja Rural to remain in the professional ranks.
So far, Txurruka has been discreet in public comments about his hasty departure from Euskaltel, but Basque journalists say it was an unexpected blow.
The pint-sized Txurruka first gained recognition beyond Spain’s hilly Basque Country in 2007, when he won the most combative prize at that year’s Tour de France.
Though he’s never won a professional race, Txurruka soon staked his reputation on going on long-distance, no-hope breakaway attempts.
When asked how many more attacks he can muster, Txurruka said the joy of racing on home roads is pushing him on.
“We do not attend many big races with our team, so for us, this is very important,” he said. “I will have plenty of time to rest after the race.”
In 2010, he turned down an offer from a foreign team to stay with his beloved Euskaltel squad. This week, he seems to be rubbing it in their faces every day he streaks clear of the peloton.