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An interview with David Etxebarria - Part 1
Euskaltel-Euskadi's hard man
In the first part of this special interview, Euskatel-Euskadi's hard man David Etxebarria explains to Cyclingnews correspondent Martin Hardie the reason behind the creation of the "Euskaltel animal", what it means to be from the Basque country, and why it's useful to know more than one language - especially at dinner time. Thanks to Maria Retegi from Orbea for helping with this story.
[This interview is available in both English and Spanish. The English version follows, with the Spanish words here - Ed]
Euskaltel Euskadi is a rare animal in the modern world of professional sport.
Firstly, it is a team that is "owned" by a club or foundation, in so far as its has members or "socios" who pay to join the club. The only similar situation in professional cycling is the young Australian team IteamNova, formed by a group of Australian cyclists and supporters, and who are now funded through membership subscriptions and commmercial sponsorship.
Second, EE appears to be a national team or a team based upon a national group, as their riders are not all from the Euskal Herria region - notably Samuel Sanchez (born in Asturias), the Flores brothers (Navarra region) and Unai Etxebarria (Venezuala - no relation to David E) - but even they have obvious Basque links. In this respect, there are common similarities between EE and the equally parochial Basque football club Athletico Bilbao.
Cyclingnews: Can you tell us why Euskaltel Euskadi was formed? Who had the idea to create the team and was it decided that there was a need for a Basque cycling team?
David Etxebarria: Euskaltel Euskadi was created to foster the image of amateur cycling in the Euskadi, which has always had a lot of fans and the project was seen as viable one to promote. It was Miguel Madariaga [the President of the Foundation Euskadi, EE's "club"] and the former member of the Basque Parliament, Señor Pradera, who through the Basque Government initiated the project. The reason was to give an opportunity for the projection of Basque values.
CN: I recall that you once said something like: "ONCE was not the happy family it was thought to be." Is EE a happy family, and what is the atmosphere in the team like? How do you all relate to each other and relieve the tension that inevitably arises when you are in close company and under pressure?
DE: Yes, during the two years I have been in the team we have all got on well. The atmosphere is very good; to be all from the same region, having the same way of thinking, these things make it very easy for us to get on well together. The pressures that you face as a pro also depends on one's age and if they have ridden before in another team. Only a few can endure it. The older members of the team like to take the mickey out of each other and the younger ones are more impatient.
CN: Unfortunately, Euskadi recives a lot of bad coverage in the press - there have been many things written about the distortion by the press of the Basque people and their situation. For me the Basque country has become my second home. To you and the to EE what does it mean to be a Basque person?
DE: To be Basque is to be proud of one's country, one's people and one's culture. It is not necessary to be born here to be Basque, but that you feel Basque.
CN: What are the qualities of Basque people and the Basque country that you might think are lost in the political cross fire?
DE: In this political war we have lost our linguistic culture and also there has been a distortion of what it is to be Basque.
CN: When the Lehendakari (the Basque word for President, the Lehendarkari being Juan Jose Ibaretxe) refers to the Basque Country as "this country" or "our country", is this how you and your friends think - that Euskadi is like a country within a country?
DE: We do not think of Euskadi as a country within another country [Spain], but like a country within the world. Ninety nine percent of the team thinks this way and it is for this reason they are in the team.
CN: What role does sport gernally play in the Basque way of life? Traditional sports, pelota, cycling and others?
DE: Sport is a part of Basque culture, and also the suffering and sacrifice it has more influence, is more deeply rooted than in other cultures. It is because of the repression through which we have lived.
CN: Why do you think the Basque country has produced so many great cyclists? Who do you admire the most from the history of Basque cycling and why?
DE: I suppose because we have many fans, many riders commence and of these riders come some great cyclists. There are many riders that I admire and from different epochs. For example, before my time there was Lorono, a rider that alot of people still talk about; in my time, we had Julian Gorospe and Marino Lejarreta. I admire them a lot, and the rivalry that arose between these two caused support for cycling to rise.
CN: Of the current riders, not just those in EE, who do you think has the most potential?
DE: There are many that have a lot of potential, mainly the young people. For example, David Millar is a great rider - maybe not for the grand tours but for the Classics; Oscar Freire is another great rider.
CN: On Christmas Day last year I went for a walk to Axpe; it was a cold day and I was watching some boys play, thinking about what I would be eating for lunch when I heard some bikes coming up the hill: it was you, Zarra [Mikel Zarrabeitia] and some others training. I used to train on Christamas day because I had nothing better to do at the time. Is there anytime you don't train?
DE: We nearly always train but have a time from the middle of October to the middle of November when we rest. Anyway to stop training doesn't mean to say that you forget about the bike, you still have to make sacrifices, like watching what you eat.
CN: It is well known that you and Zarra are neighbours and training partners - who else do you train with?
DE: I also train with Unai Arrizabalaga, [Iban] Mayo, [Pedro] Horrillo and Unai Etxebarria.
CN: Where else do you train around Abadino, and where are you favourite places to ride and train in Euskadi?
DE: Around Abadino and the Durango district, also around the coast of Lekeitio, Ondarroa, Montecalvo and Umbe - there are many places that are great for training in Euskadi.
CN: I noticed that when you were training you were speaking Euskera. What is the language of EE on the road - does it vary - and do you find it useful to be able to communicate in a language unkown to others when you race?
DE: We speak Euskera and Castellano, depending on who you are talking to; for example, I speak Euskera with Haimar [Zubeldia] and Unai and Castellano with [Roberto] Laiseka and [Alberto] Martinez. I find it useful, particularly when we talk about the wind if there is someone in the team who is planning an escape. I also find it useful at dinner when I want to talk about the people from other teams and I don't want them to listen!
An interview with David Etxebarria - Part 2