Sunday, November 25, 2012

Interview: Iñigo Urretxua

He might not be the most well-known within the talent factory that is the Fundación Euskadi, but Iñigo Urretxua is certainly one of the most important ones. As head of sub-23 team Naturgas Energía, he's responsible for overseeing the development of the Basque stars of tomorrow and has watched on close hand the rise of several of his charges into the professional ranks.

As a gifted directeur sportif, he's also been at work with the stars of today, memorably driving the team car at last year's Paris-Nice. Basque Cycling News caught up with the DS and physical trainer, quizzing him about the year that was, the team's recruitment, and his own short-lived, yet successful, career on the bike.

Question: Congratulations on an historic season - Imanol Estévez's win in the Torneo Lehendakari must have been satisfying. Was it a surprise that a first-year rider like Estévez won that race series?

Answer: I don't think it was a surprise - every rider develops at his own pace, and there's always someone who contest races in the first year. Others need more time to adapt, and improve year by year, step by step.

Q: Is he one of the most talented riders to have been at the team?

A: There's been a lot of talented riders at this team since its inception in 2008. All of them are different, both in their way of being and in their way of riding.

This win in Lemoiz propelled Estévez towards the overall Lehenadakari triumph.

Q: Speaking of the team; you won to races, were second in the team classification in the Torneo Lehendakari and, of course, won the overall with Estévez and was third with Larrinaga. Are you pleased?

A: I think we have to be content with the team's season. Every year's different: the age and experience of the riders, as well as the type of riders we have. The important thing for us is that the riders grow personally and as bike riders. I don't think you can value a team's season on its number of wins - one should rather look at how we started the season and how we finished it, in every aspect.

Q: From the team's perspective, what could have been done better? What are the team's main weaknesses?

A: This year we had a very reduced roster - only 12 riders - and as a consequence were a bit squeezed facing the whole campaign. Sometimes some couldn't take part because of injuries and exams as well. Therefore, we'll tackle 2013 with 18 riders.

It's also important to remember that Eduardo Ardaiz's injury was a shame, as he's been off the bike for a year and a half and hasn't been able to progress and develop as other amateur cyclists.

Q: Speaking of the year to come, who's joining?

A: Besides Óscar González, we've signed six: Álvaro Trueba (who'll embark on his second year in the category), and Aitor Morales, Eder Saenz de Ocariz, Bernat Font, Noel Gil and Alberto Barrón, everyone making the step up from the juniors.

You can read more about the team's transfer dealings here.

Q: And who's leaving?

A: Jon Larrinaga, who'll next year be with the new Basque team in the Continental category, and Damien Garcia, who left in the middle of this season for personal reasons.

Q: Do you think Larrinaga will be successful at Orbea (or what it will be called in 2013)? What type of rider is he?

A: Jon is a very strong and consistent rider. We think he can do a great job for the team, but it's too early to say what type of races he'll do best in.

Q: in 2013, Euskaltel won't be a part of the Fundación Euskadi. Does this change affect Naturgas?

A: Still, to this day, the bonds between Euskaltel and the foundation aren't severed. They're currently in negotiations, and we'll wait and see what the outcome is. We're optimistic.

Q: Speaking of Euskaltel, what do you make of the them abandoning their philosophy?

A: Man, Euskaltel will stay on and continue to back and prioritize the Basque riders. What's happening is that, at times, we'll need foreign riders to reach the minimum requirement. Therefore, from the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi, we'll continue to work with the young Basque riders.

Q: Naturgas Energía have signed more and more riders form Iparralde the last few years. How are they progressing?

A: The last years we haven't signed a single rider from France, now we have the two we signed a couple of years ago, Karl Baudron and Loïc Chetout. We hope they'll make a big leap next year.

A Loïc Chetout in good spirits might be set for a breakthrough 2013.

Q: How will next year's calendar be?

A: As we'll have more riders next year, we'll expand our calendar and make a financial effort to leave Euskadi to participate in other races.

Q: As a sports director, what type of contact do you have with the riders during the week? Do you speak to them a lot, or only during the races at the weekends?

A: I'm also the physical trainer at the team, so I'm not only in contact with the riders at the weekends. We speak during the week to adjust their training, to discuss how they're feeling, doubts etc.

Q: Before we conclude, can you tell us a bit about your own cycling career? You were in Olarra, right, and won the Subida a Gorla?

A: My career as a rider was a nice one. I came from mountain biking and switched to the road in my third year as an amateur. I struggled to adapt, above all with riding in the bunch, keeping my place and to read the race, but I managed to show my good climbing abilities and got some good results. In addition, I got to ride some races with the pros with the national team for amateurs.

It was a time when there were a lot of high-quality riders, and I didn't have the chance to turn professional. I thus decided to leave cycling and resume my studies. During my amateur career I finished my Physical Education degree, and once I stopped riding, I started studying for a degree in Physical Activity and Sport.

Lastly, I'd like to say thank you to Miguel Madariaga for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi. I'm still here, I'm proud of it, and I'm happy to be able to work with that I like and what I've studied - which in today's situation is a lottery.

All Photos: Pascal Baudron

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