Spanish Pioneers Changing The Face of Sport

“Go sweep!” These are the words that the cyclists of the first Spanish female cycling team were greeted with when they turned up to take part in a male U16 cycling race since there were no dedicated races for women. “Go sweep!” – hardly a welcome. “Go sweep!” – because it was the 80s and women were being swept under the carpet by a society that didn’t acknowledge them as anything other than home-makers, producers of children and tending to the elderly. After a long history of coping with dismissive comments and treatments, the persistency of the pioneers led to this point on which women’s cycling is undisputedly thriving.

That first Spanish female cycling team went by the name of Orbea-Etxeondo. It was spearheaded by riders like Iosune Gorostidi and attached to Perico Delgado’s Seat-Orbea men’s team. This squad was created in 1985, as the women’s racing scene was beginning to set up. The first-ever female Spanish National Championship had only been held in 1979. Stage 6 of La Vuelta Femenina by will ride by the village of its winner, Mercedes Ateca. One year before claiming the national crown, Ateca herself was the first Spanish woman to take part in the UCI Road World Championships, along with Monserrat Torres.

The Orbea-Etxeondo team allowed its riders to make a living off cycling and race regularly in France, where women’s cycling had evolved at a faster pace. But, above all, this team opened a path for trailblazers to delve into. When the team perished, an excellent generation grew from its remains. Dori Ruano was a world champion in the track, Marga Fullana landed a bronze medal in the mountain bike race of Athens 2000, and Joane Somarriba simply became Spain’s best-ever woman cyclist. The Basque rider won the Giro Donne twice, as well as a time-trial world championship and three editions of the Grande Boucle – an analogue to the Tour de France.

When Joane Somarriba first wanted to become a professional athlete, she had to move abroad. At the time there were a few amateur teams in Spain, and some efforts by the national federation to line up a squad in some relevant races, and nothing else. The world’s best professional teams were all in Italy. Hence why Somarriba and her colleague Fátima Blázquez packed their bags and joined the Alfa Lum team.

The different triumphs by Somarriba sparked some interest in the Basque Country, where she hailed from, and that prompted the creation in 2002 of the Deia team, largely funded by a local newspaper. The following year, Somarriba joined efforts with the Sociedad Ciclista Duranguesa, a cycling club from Durango, to create the Bizkaia – Spiuk – Sabeco squad. She won her last Grande Boucle, and her rainbow jersey, with this team that still survives to this day under the name of Bizkaia-Durango. On its ranks we find an European track cycling medallist, Eukene Larrarte – and, on its schedule, La Vuelta Femenina by

For more than a decade, Bizkaia – Durango kept Spain’s women cycling scene alive along with the Lointek team, created by the Sociedad Ciclista Ugeraga from the nearby village of Sopelana. This team continues to exist too, as Sopela Women’s Team, and will also take part in La Vuelta Femenina by Valladolid’s Estela Domínguez was set to be part of its roster this season, but she sadly passed away in January, being just 18 years old, after being hit by a truck driver during a training ride. The first rider atop Lagos de Covadonga on the final stage of La Vuelta Femenina by will be awarded the Premio Estela Domínguez as a remembrance of this heart-breaking loss for Spanish cycling.

Bizkaia vs Lointek was the double act on every Spanish cycling race for most of the past decade. Both teams became talent factories, educating the likes of Ane Santesteban, Anna Sanchis or Sheyla Gutiérrez. When Abarca Sports step forward in 2018 to create Spain’s landmark cycling team, Movistar Team, it filled its roster with their best riders. Mavi García, Lorena Llamas and Lourdes Oyarbide were picked from Bizkaia, whereas Alicia González, Eider Merino, Gloria Rodríguez and Alba Teruel joined the ‘blues’ from Lointek.

Trailblazers like Somarriba, Ruano and Fullana and teams like Movistar Team, Bizkaia and Sopela have been the foundations from which the pyramid of Spanish women’s cycling has been built. Nowadays, 33 UCI-level racing days are held in Spain – more than ever. The Copa de España, a collection of events for professional and amateur riders, is setting new participation records on its junior and U16 races. Several regional leagues have been created, enabling aspiring cyclists to easily and conveniently pin on their maiden backnumbers in order to emulate the idols and stars whose feats can regularly be seen on TV.

Most Spanish UCI Continental teams that are due to enter La Vuelta Femenina by do work on a grassroots level to further nurture the scene. Besides their UCI-level squads, some keep amateur development teams and some others work with youth outfits. The Club Ciclista Meruelo, entity behind the Cantabria Deporte – Río Miera UCI Continental team, deserves to be singled out on this domain as it works with more than 50 women riders every season, comprising all categories.

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