Revolution in orange – a story about the foundations and future of Euskaltel-Euskadi
There are huge changes looming for Euskaltel-Euskadi. They will leave the Basque-only principle and might even hire non-Spaniards. The team has been around since 1994 but from 2013 the ties with the Basque Country, or Euskadi, are cut loose. This piece is about one of the most remarkable business models in cycling, how the orange squad came about and how its future might look! To understand the background of the team we’ll have to look into the……
Political structure of Spain
Spain is divided in 17 autonomous regions (Comunidad Autonoma) with their own governments. Historically the region where people speak Basque is made up of Navarra (capital: Pamplona), País Vasco (capital: Vitoria) and a small proportion in southern France also known as the northern Basque region (part of department Pyrenées-Atlantiques).
What we call Basque Country in this cycling-related story is actually made up of País Vasco (the Comunidad) plus Navarra and plus French Basques. The real make up of the Basque country,is subject to loads of discussion and political controversy.Yes, that’s confusing.
Here I refer to it as Euskadi, meaning the wider area but only for the sake of explaining the origins of the Euskaltel-Euskadi cycling team. In Navarra people don’t always feel part of Euskadi and they speak little Basque but they are included in the Fundación Euskadi.
A short history lesson about Euskadi
Under the reign of the Spanish and French kings the region was granted a large proportion of autonomy. The modern country of Spain didn’t exist, the territory was made up of several kingdoms, for example Navarra. During the centuries the autonomy of the individual regions became smaller and smaller untill the people were actually surpressed during the times of Franco. That is also the time the militant separation movement ETA came into being. When Spain became one Kingdom again the country was divided in Autonomous Regions (1978). The surpression of Basque culture after centuries of being left alone is at the core of Basque pride.
History, culture and language
The Basque people are proud of their history, culture and language which, by the way, is a bit of a linguistic mystery as it’s not related to any other language. For example, Haimar Zubeldia and Markel Irizar have a Basque flag on their profile page of the Radioshack-Nissan-Trek site, which other Spaniards really don’t like. The Vuelta stages in Esukadi were a showcase for Basque pride too. Which brings us back to……
To showcase the region and fuel the pride the Fundación Euskadi was created in 1993. Business sponsors, the Basque government and Basque cycling fans contributed to the Fundación. With that money they founded a professional cycling team starting in 1994. The principal rule was that only riders from the provinces of País Vasco (Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava), the autonomous region Navarra and Basque France were allowed to race in the team that was actually funded partially by money of the Basque people. Exceptions were riders that started their early careers in one of the Basque teams like Samuel Sanchez did. He started at age 19 in the Olarro team in the province of Vizcaya. Rider with roots in the Basque country like Venezuelan Unai Extebarria were allowed to wear the signature orange too.
Early on a lot of fans contributed to the team, now the balance leans more towards the businesses and the governments and that’s where the trouble starts. The world is at crisis and Spain is hit particularly hard. Team Geox-TMC folded, races like Vuelta a Murcia are shortened and others were cancelled in recent years like the Vuelta a Valencia. These times ask for a more modern management style and business model for a WorldTour team. Now half of the money comes from a big corporate sponsor and half of the funding is derived from Basque citizens.
Euskaltel-Euskadi is quite unique in their ways of managing the team. A comparison: both Movistar and Euskaltel target the same market but the latter only pays half of the sponsorship money for their name on the jersey. It’s a romantic notion that doesn’t fit the modern times anymore.
The future is…….orange
The Fundación Euskadi will stop sponsoring the WorldTour-team and starts focussing (more) on the continental Orbea team, the Naturgas amateur team and the bicycle-crazy Basque youth.
The future will stay remain orange. Euskaltel, the title sponsor, is a Basque company. They will probably need more sponsors to keep a WorldTour team going. The team now has around 3 to 4 million euro per year. Euskaltel will take a large proportion of that by investing €9 millon in the coming four years, AS reports. By doing so the cycling world keep its fair share of orange in the peloton.
Acknowledgments: Eneko Garate, Daniel Sanchez, Laura Meseguer, Tiffany Hore, Mikkel Condé and the INRNG blog.