The dream to have a professional Basque team came true the day that Miguel Madariaga was able to form the Euskadi Foundation, the pioneering organization for Basque cyclists and cycling. From the very first day, Madariaga had Orbea as a partner and a source of support. Madariaga shares his memories of his relationship with bicycles and his beginnings, for which we have to travel back to his childhood. “I was always from the village, and in the 1970s, in those houses, there was always a bicycle; it was the best means of transportation, because we were humble folk. You could go places on it. That bicycle was an Orbea, a real chunk of iron; it was a touring bike, without any gears; I think the rear wheel was an 18″. Since I couldn't reach the pedals, I learned to ride by resting my foot under the frame. My father added some blocks so I could reach the pedals.”
Who is Miguel Madariaga?
Miguel Madariaga is someone who has dedicated his entire life to cycling and who, from the time he was very young, wanted to be a cyclist. I was always involved in cycling tourism and from there, I made the leap to the foundation. My greatest experience has been focused on forming teams. The first one I had was 39 years ago, a youth team in Mungia. Since then, I have always worked in benefit of cycling, generating an unusual experience that one day allowed me to become involved with professional cycling. Alberto Pradera, president of the provincial council of Vizcaya, invited me to head a project that would support the emergence of Basque cycling, from our excursions up to the Tour.
What did you do before you started working in the foundation?
I was with the Teka auxiliary team, and I also was in charge of the fans of Teka and Super Ser. I grew up in this world and I completed my training in areas such as nutrition. In the 1990s, I saw that something was missing from Basque cycling, and we started work on it.
How did the conversations come about to create the Euskadi Foundation?
On a trip to the Tour de France, I think it was in a café in Lourdes, accompanied by President Pradera and a couple of friends, we started to talk about the situation of Basque cycling. We were right in front of all the team buses. Pedro Delgado was there, I seem to remember. We were complaining that many Basque cyclists could not compete in spite in spite of their level, because there was no way of getting ahead. We saw that we needed a Basque team to give them an opportunity. I was working in the provincial government, and we got on well with one another. We held several meetings in Pradera's office, and from there we thought the best way to go would be to create a foundation and move forward with the professional team. At no point did I even consider serving as president of this project. I worked with Juan Carlos Urrutxurtu, who was the press officer and secretary to the president, and who died young.
And you got to work.
The Foundation came about parallel to the Athletic Foundation. To reach 4,500 members (we now have around 1,600 because some have left us), we wrote some statutes that explained that the riders had to have been born or completed their training in Euskadi. The members somehow had to see that we were the opportunity for Basque cycling. And that's they way it has been for 22 years, of which the last three have been on our own, since Euskaltel-Euskadi went their own way and established their own structure.
And you set off…
In 1993, we started work on the Foundation and the following year we were already out on the road. With the start of the Foundation, our close relationship began with Orbea. We already knew all about their product, and they had even already had a professional team years before. They were very well equipped. By bringing out the team, we also had the need to bring out material. I contacted Jon Fernández, who handled everything so that we could move forward with the collaboration. We needed Orbea because it was nearby and it was already a great company. With Jon and the president of the provincial government, we reached an agreement in which Orbea would help us with the material and we would help Orbea with their projection. I owe a debt of gratitude to Orbea, because if it were not for them, the project would have died two years after it began, because there were strong egos among the riders, their representatives, etc. It was a real jungle, very difficult. Jon always gave us very good advice. Taking the step from the second to the third year was really tough; I'm talking about 1996. If we didn't find a sponsor, we would have serious problems.
What did you know about Orbea in competition?
It was great. There was a time in amateurs that Zeus was the most commonly used brand. Once Orbea took them over, we went with Orbea. Zeus had its operations center in Matiena, and we worked shoulder to shoulder with them.
What was the material like?
The material back then was nothing like what it is today, but for our circumstances, it was perfect.
How was the beginning?
Very difficult. I remember that in 1995 they embargoed my flat. There was no money coming in and the riders were making demands. We really had a bad time, but they supported us a lot.
Was the arrival of Euskaltel-Euskadi key?
Absolutely. It arrived thanks to the mediation of Juan José Ibarretxe, an ex-cyclist and a great fan. With them, we started to see the light, although Orbea was always part of the process. From that point on, we started to grow into what we came to be. We have to admit that if Orbea had not contributed 1000%, things would not have turned out like they did. It has all been between Jon and me. We connected perfectly with one another. The Euskadi Foundation has always had the best material on the market. We've seen it in the twelve Tours in which I've been, in the nine Giros, and the fourteen Vueltas a España.
However, the first goal, the main one, was to be in a Tour de France, from beginning to end.
Ibarretxe was obsessed with having a Basque team reach the Champs-Élysées. I fought a lot to be in the Tour. Working several lines, I knew I had to get to Jean-Marie Leblanc, accompanied by Ramón Mendiburu as my translator. He told me that is was possible for Euskaltel-Euskadi to be in the Tour, because he was interested in having us in the Pyrenees. So in the end, we were able to pull it off.
What riders do you consider key in the evolution of this project?
When we made the move to the pro level, the rider who brought the most fame to the Foundation was Roberto Laiseka. We also have to recognize the valor of Iban Mayo and in the long run, of Samuel Sánchez, who has been a rider who, besides being a great cyclist, was very intelligent, who in spite of all the problems he has had, has always come out ahead. Much before achieving what he would eventually achieve, Samuel had already given a lot to Basque cycling and the Foundation. And I don't want to forget the great contribution made by Haimar Zubeldia.
Why was the orange tide orange?
This is a 100% Basque project on every level. Orbea, Etxe Ondo and Astore were the three Basque brands that supported the project. We add the vehicles from Irizar, and the orange color took control over the Pyrenees, because we granted that honor to Euskaltel-Euskadi. The foundation could have been white or green, but in the end it was orange.