Hurrah – Return of the Carrots!

In its heyday (1998-2013), Euskaltel-Euskadi was a legendary team of mountain goats guaranteed to animate uphill stages in any bike race. Nicknamed the #Carrots because of their bright orange jerseys, the team provided social media with plenty of ammunition and before its demise at the end of 2013 was pretty much everyone’s default favourite team because of its so-called plucky riders who had a tendancy to hit the deck with alarming regularity.

At the end of February, Basque telecoms company Euskaltel announced it would return to cycling team sponsorship as a title sponsor of the Pro Conti Fundación-Orbea squad, starting at this month’s (since-cancelled) Itzulia (Vuelta al Pais Vasco – Tour of the Basque Country).

Euskaltel-Euskadi were a lively team of caricature climbers tasked with animating mountain stages in grand tours. But there was serious intent. Only behind the scenes the reality wasn’t quite so glorious, like much of the 2000s. Riders tested positive; plus for all the attacks they never won very much. However, more importantly, they acted as a development team with the likes of riders such as Mikel Landa (bottom row, middle photo), Mikel Nieve, Ion Izaguirre and Igor Anton going on to bigger and better things.

The Euskaltel-Euskadi team was inextricably linked with both a visual and cultural identity. Riding locally-made Orbea bikes in highly distinctive orange kits, the team was one of the most recognisable in the peloton, enjoying an enthusiastic following in the cycling-mad Basque region straddling the French and Spanish border. They were a de-facto national squad for the nationless Basque, who have at various points and with varying degrees of violence, pushed for independence.

For the duration of the team’s existence the roadsides of the Pyrenees and beyond were frequently lined with Basque fans clad in orange, waving the green, white and red Basque flag (above). Euskaltel-Euskadi’s dissolution in 2013 was perhaps only a relief for English-speaking commentators of the sport, who’d spent the last couple of decades stumbling over the complicated jumble of vowels, Zs, Ks and Xs that made up the names of its riders, but the squad’s disappearance was nonetheless a poignant moment.

Mikel Landa, currently active on the road as one of Bahrain-McLaren’s star riders and simultaneously the president of Fundacion Euskadi, is spearheading the team’s return to the upper echelon’s of the sport. Meanwhile, Euskaltel’s president has confirmed:

The relationship of Euskaltel with cycling and Fundación Euskadi has been a success story. We want to repeat the great union and bring back the excitement that it generated in all the fans. This team is something unique; it represents an entire country, and we want to be part of it once again.

It was intended that the reborn Euskaltel-Euskadi would debut at the Itzulia stage race, 6 – 11 April, where they’d be hoping to make enough of an impression to contend for their first Grand Tour berth later in the year at the Vuelta a España. With the cancellation of much of this year’s scheduled races, who knows now what’ll happen. The team has a long journey ahead in order to regain the heights of its glory days, but those (like me) with a nostalgic memory of the orange-clad climbers animating the race will be happy to see Euskaltel-Euskadi returning to some sort of prominence again, and that’s a start.