“Itzulia is our private Tour”. It hurts Jesús Ezkurdia, vice president of the Euskadi Foundation, not to be in Itzulia from today until Saturday, suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. «With everything that is happening, sport is the least of itBut that does not mean that it makes us angry not to be able to meet our fans after these years of absence, “he says confined, like everyone else, at home.
“This is not just a cycling team. It is made for people, which is what gives meaning to the project. Without the fans we are nothing. In Itzulia we were going to play at home », he adds. The return to the Basque round that today was going to start from Eibar with a goal in Arrate was the prize for years of fighting in the invisible cycling of the third division. The return of the orange tide to its origin. «It is a big stick for everyone, but we are a project for the future. We will grow, although with this break we will slow it down. He trusts that the pandemic will return and that the distribution of invitations for the next Vuelta a España will allow Euskaltel to enjoy this reunion with the fans in the summer, in the edition of the Spanish round that will take place in several days in Euskadi. It won’t be in April, but the tide returns.
«This equipment is made for people. Without the fans we are nothing “, defines Ezkurdia
Itzulia assumes that it will not return until 2021. It will try to maintain the same stage ends in Arrate, Llodio, Ibardin, Errenteria, Sestao and the final time trial in Bilbao. The Euskadi team and the round have been united since 1994, when Agustín Sagasti released the track record of that tricolor jersey in Azpeitia. The baptism of Loyola. Then came the orange tide. And the triumph in the general classification of the 2003 edition of Iban Mayo, the rider who with his character marked the way forward. That success came from audacity, from the suicidal descent from the Erlaitz stop.
May was unique. This is the photograph of that final time trial: hands hooked on the handlebars; unbridled eyes; his elbows hollow if he is sitting, and open like knives when he dances on the spin of his pedals. Give it May. It’s your day Pedal with legs, arms and hump, with the soul gaping. Caressed by the rain, ally, friend. If it rains, the others stop. May not; he is a water cyclist. They bite his legs. It is a penetrating feeling, sharp to the point of pain. That is going well. If it hurts, pedal. The curves are mounted on each other. Upwards, Hamilton has put a rope around his neck from the time trial: he has the best time, with 6 seconds over May. Yes, but the Vuelta asks for strength and, in addition, courage. This is, May. “I had to risk it on the descent,” says the Biscayan. This is how Itzulia won for Euskaltel-Euskadi, as Samuel Sánchez did in 2012.
In April 2003, Mikel Landa was 13 years old. He still played fronton, soccer and bikes. May was his inspiration. He liked the brave bibs, the ones that leave their mark beyond victories. He wanted to be like him, to empty himself into that mold. Now he chairs the Euskadi Foundation, an entity created by Miguel Madariaga and which, even after the disappearance of the first team in 2013, maintained more than a thousand enthusiastic members. Landa came to the rescue when Madariaga couldn’t take it anymore. And today, again with the support of Euskaltel, the Euskadi Foundation was going back to its career, Itzulia. To merge again with the fans.
The epidemic that devastates everything has not allowed it. Cycling, like the rest of the activities, trembles. The UCI World Tour teams are weighed down by their huge budgets. Sponsoring companies have stopped depositing money. If they don’t sell anything, what are they going to spend the money they lack in advertising through a cycling outfit. If there are no races, there is no showcase. Therefore, everyone pray for the celebration of the Tour, in July, in August or whenever. They need that buoy to hold on to in the middle of the shipwreck.
The round will try to maintain the stages of Arrate, Llodio, Ibardin, Sestao and Bilbao in 2021
The global crisis that has just begun also affects more modest projects such as the Euskaltel-Euskadi, which maintains the commitment of its sponsors. They all embarked with their sights set on the future. Long-term. The orange tide team will continue to float in this storm. The runners, as Ezkurdia recalls, suffered the initial “anxiety” of not knowing what to expect with the pandemic. They could not train, they noticed how they lost the form that so many months of work had cost them to get.
Soon, when the virus took over and sport came into the background, they have adapted to this idle situation. They roll at home on the rollers, without goal or schedule. “More than physically, the difficult thing is going to be maintaining mentally,” says Ezkurdia. It will be necessary to add value, like Iban Mayo in that steeped descent of Erlaitz. Or like Landa when he carried the Euskadi Foundation on his shoulder without anyone asking him. That of the Euskaltel-Euskadi is a story of courage, of always facing more powerful rivals, including this invisible virus.