Vuelta May Return to Basque Country in 2011
Spain's biggest cycling race could make a return to the troubled Basque region in 2011, says the race's director. The three-week Vuelta a España hasn't paid a proper visit to the autonomous Basque Country, where competitive cycling enjoys a huge following, since 1978.
Spain's Basque Country could host stages of the Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España) from 2011 after an absence of more than 30 years, race director Javier Guillen said on Tuesday.
On Monday legislators in the autonomous community, where Spain's ruling Socialists won control earlier this year, voted to ask Tour of Spain organizers Unipublic to run part of their event through the Basque Country.
"We think it's a magnificent idea and we support it 100 percent," Guillen told Reuters.
"2011 would be the earliest possible date because the 2010 route is already decided.
"Also, we'd want the race's security guaranteed and with enough time to prepare the kind of high profile return that such an important occasion demands."
The authorities have been reluctant to stage major sporting events in the Basque Country in part due to the activities of ETA, the guerrilla group which has killed more than 800 people in its campaign for independence.
The Tour of Spain's last full-scale visit to the Basque Country was in 1978, when separatists blocked one stage with a barricade and another with metal barriers, tintacs and piles of earth.
Prior to 1978, it was run by a Basque newspaper, El Correo Vasco and finished in Bilbao on 40 occasions.
Since then the Tour of Spain peloton has only ventured once into Basque territory, a seven-kilometer last-minute incursion in 2005 after a trailer crashed and blocked the original route.
"We've had requests for stage starts and finishes from Basque towns as recently as last year," Guillen said.
"But that was prior to this year's elections in the Basque Country.
"The first big step to going back was always that the autonomous institutions gave the Tour of Spain's return their formal approval, and that's what they've now done.
"The Basque Country has always been a cycling heartland, and going back would give the fans the recognition they deserve."
Most Basques favor some sort of independence from Spain, although only a minority sympathize with violent separatists, polls have shown.