The traditional season opener to the Basque amateur season got underway this past Saturday with the Essor Basque. The French race, consisting of six races held over nine days, will run 'till the end of this week with both Naturgas and a Basque national team taking part.
La Fundación Euskadi's Naturgas Energía will field a strong-looking octet for the last two races on the schedule on Saturday and Sunday. Víctor Etxebarria, Mikel Iturria and Pablo Comins will make their bows in the red jersey alongside Karl Baudron, Alain González, Jon Larriñaga, Damién García and Loïc Chetout, writes the Fundación's homepage. To warm up for the notoriously testing race, the team conducted a collective training session two days ago in Igorre. DS Iñigo Urretxua was naturally enthusiastic about getting the racing started after the work-out: "We're motivated and ready to go for this season opener". The team's top result last year was the now-departed Fernando Grijalba's 12th on the opening day.
Six riders, two elites and four sub-23s, competed for an assembled Basque team on Saturday. Bidelan-Kirolgi team-mates Unai Iparragirre and Markel Antón along with Peio Goikoetxea, Aitor Rey, Asier Unanue and Paul Usabel took part in the 100km-long Boucles de l'Essor starting and finishing in Bidache just north of the border. Iparragirre was the team's top finisher in 18th in the race won by France's Christophe Goutille. The team will further take part tomorrow, on Thursday and on Saturday. They'll change the team around somewhat though with almost exclusively sub-23s set to line up. Iparragirre will once again spearhead the team though tomorrow alongside fellow Bidelan riders Urtzi Murgia, Julen Mitxelena, Joseba del Barrio, Unai Intziarte and Antton Ibarguren (who raced the GiroBio in 2011) and the big-hitting 20-year-old Ibai Salas. On Thursday and Saturday they'll field the following riders according to the Basque Cycling Federation:
Thursday, Tour de Basse Navarre (126km): Mikel Aristi, Antton Ibarguren, Eneko García, Aitor González, Sergio Ruíz, Alexander Unzueta.
Saturday, Route de l'Atlantique (123km): Aitor González, David Hidalgo, Sebastián Irizar, Imanol Iza, Kepa Otxoa, Sergio Ruíz, Ioritz Urdangarin.
Remaining Essor Basque schedule:
- Tuesday 14.feb: Ronde du Pays Basque - 115 km
- Thursday 16.feb: Tour de Basse Navarre - 126 km
- Saturday, 18.feb: Route de l'Atlantique - 123 km
- Sunday, 19.feb: Trophée de l'Essor - 83 km/105 km