Saturday, December 31, 2011

Zubeldia reflects on Euskaltel years

Haimar Zubeldia is likely to spend 2012 doing exactly what he's been doing for the last few years: riding his heart out for the biggest riders in the peloton. Though he's come to be known as one of the most dependable and valuable domestiques deluxe in the business, there was a time when the native of Usurbil, once likened to Basque cycling's biggest son Miguel Indurain, was the captain for his team at the most prestigious races on the calendar. Sitting down with El Pedal de Frodo, the legendary rider reflected on those years when Euskaltel were at the top of their powers.

"Those 11 years with Euskaltel were very good, and I'll always be grateful for the chance they gave me to turn professional", he said. "I achieved my best results there, and I made friends I still see today. The group with which I'm training these days is exclusively made up of former or current Euskaltel riders."

The team's performance at the Tour in 2003 is fondly remembered by fans and riders alike, and still ranks as the team's stand-out performance at the Grand Boucle. Yet despite the excellent results obtained that summer, Zubeldia admits they could have been even better.

"What we (Zubeldia and Mayo) achieved was quite something, and, during the Tour, the guys in charge wanted us to hold on to what we had rather than gamble in the hope of getting more. Perhaps we could have finished higher up, but we could have lost it all as well. All in all, I think we made history".

Quizzed on his first wins with the team, the softly-spoken climber admitted success at the Euskal Bizikleta in 2000 was more than he ever had dared to dream of.

"Winning the time trial was very special. I knew I was in good shape, but I didn't expect to ride that fast. In my third year with the team I grabbed my first victory, and, what's more, I did it in the Euskal Bizikleta! I'd never imagined pulling something like that off."

A maiden win usually ranks right up there with a rider's best days on a bike. For Zubeldia, though, the best day he ever had on two wheels was at that race: the 2003 Tour.

"I've never felt better than I did in 2003 on the stage to Ax-3-Domaines. It was like riding a bike without a chain".

To relive the epic stage 13 of that year's Tour, click this link.


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