Friday, February 08, 2013

From Naturgas to Wiggins

Roughly 12 months ago, a fresh-faced 19-year-old called Mikel Iturria was getting ready to embark on his first season in the jersey of sub-23 outfit Naturgas Energía, having joined from Belca a few months prior. Fast forward a year, and he was lining up for his professional debut alongside such distinguished names as Bradley Wiggins, Alejandro Valverde and Robert Gesink.

Turning professional only a year after joining the red and whites was a surprise to most - including himself. Some last-minute negotiations with a firm from Gipuzkoa ensured Miguel Madariaga got some much-needed cash in the bank account off his renamed Equipo Euskadi team, and he duly brought on Iturria and 24-year-old sprinter Unai Iparragirre.

Fresh off his first race at the top level, the native of Tolosa was quietly content with how he'd fared - even though he had no time to prepare for the event.

"It was a surprise. Two weeks ago I had no idea I would turn professional", he told Gara's Joseba Iturria. "I went to Mallorca with a lot of respect, and it went better than I expected it to. My legs felt good, but I noticed the difference when they stamped on the gas. They were going so fast! There was a lot of tension inside the last 50 clicks, everyone's touching everyone, but I enjoyed it, especially so Tuesday's race with its beautiful landscapes".

"Tuesday's race" of course refers to the mountainous Trofeo Serre de Tramuntana - a race taking in the picturesque hills of Mallorca's north-western mountain range. Iturria crossed the line alongside team-mates Haritz Orbe and Igor Merino in 69th place, having finished 66th the day prior and 88th on the opening leg. He ended up dead last on the last day's Trofeo Alcúdia, but, more than the results themselves, the race was a chance to learn from the very best in the business.

"I rode close to Bradley Wiggins a lot", he revealed. "He looked serious and respectful, though he mainly went about his own business. The older Basques gave us a lot of advice when we rode alongside them, though, and we tried to listen and learn."

Considering the pace he's been learning at so far in his career, don't be surprised to see young Iturria having taken another few steps in 12 months' time.

Photo: Pascal Baudron

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