Basque Nation: it's good to be again in a motorbike race
Itzulia-Basque Country, formerly known as the Tour of the Basque Country, has often played second fiddle on the UCI calendar during Easter. I don't think I have to tell you which races. But it was the Tony Rominger for Indurain, the Gimondi for Merckx … is it fair to say the Thomas to Froome? I guess, or at least the Froome until the 2018 tour.
For 2021, however, things changed. The Itzulia-Basque Country has finally caught this limelight. It got the coverage it clearly deserved, it got the recognition, and my guess is that the eyeballs in the race are bigger than any other year, or at least TV viewer-type eyeballs.
All eyes were on the Basque race this year as a certain cobblestone classic was canceled.
For a race that only fans in the region could take – and the Basques are mega fans – and journalists with a negative Covid test due to strict national regulations, was it the race of a normal bike race? No certainly not.
Instead it was different. Very different. Basque fans know how to put on a good show, but I've noticed, and I'm sure TV viewers have noticed, too, that international fans have an additional missing scuffle. Because the roadside, I found out, was a sparse affair, not the normally orange-clad Glastonbury-type festival on the edge of the circuit. More reticent than any race I've ever seen, and that goes for some local Cat 3 critics as well.
I was initially a journalist and hoped to do my job in a small way. To chat with the drivers (some distance away), to get technical bits and pieces, to immerse oneself in the gossip on the ground and to hope to bring you the fruits of my labor. I knew very well that it was going to be different, very different, but I wanted to look over the area to see if the race had returned to some sort of normal since the last race we were in as a media organization was the Tour de France was.
There it was understandably a chore to get any kind of unique content, but this was the Basque Country, far smaller, so in theory it should be more open. Again I was proven otherwise. If anything, it was more locked than ever, and the teams were strict about who they were talking to and where. It is clear that lessons have been learned from other races. Teams and organizers work hard to keep the race on the right track. It will be a long way back to normal before people can scream and scream as an ensemble of like-minded fans where interviews are not conducted through microphones on selfie sticks.
I commend everyone who is doing everything possible to bring us professional cycling races and a UCI calendar that is interrupted as uninterruptedly as possible by this bloody pandemic. The sport is not the same right now, but from what I've seen we'll get there and I can't wait.
So please watch the video. I tried to give you a little glimpse into the current races.
Will future editions of Izulia benefit from its increased reporting in 2021? I hope so