Basque Fact of the Week: Itzulia Basque Country, the Tour of the Basque Country

Every year in April, bicycling dominates the Basque Country as the Euskal Herriko Itzulia – the Tour of the Basque Country – brings riders from all over the world to compete for the txapela. The 2023 edition just concluded, taking riders through six stages that started in Vitoria-Gasteiz and passed through Labastidia, Leitza, Santurtzi, Amorebieta-Etxano (where my aunt lives), and Eibar, amongst other places in Hegoaldea, covering some 992.5 km. The last day (yesterday, Saturday, April 8) saw Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark take the txapela.

Jonas Vingegaard, along with Ion Izagirre (left) and Mikel Landa (right), on the podium of the 2023 Itzulia. Photo from cyclingnews.
  • The Tour of the Basque Country began in 1924. By the time that the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, eight editions of the race had been held. It seemed that the war would be the end of the Tour, but in 1952, the Eibar Cycling Club held a 3-day race they called Gran Premio de la Bicicleta Eibarresa. In 1969, the organizers decided to call the event the 9th Vuelta al País Vasco. In 1973, the Eibar group gave up control of the Vuelta. Since 1969, it has been held every year except 2020 when it was canceled due to COVID. In 2022, a women’s counterpart was held for the first time.
  • The winner of the very first Tour was Francis Pélissier of France and the winner of the first modern Tour in 1969 was also French: Jacques Anquetil. However, the most successful riders come from Spain. Both José Antonio González and Alberto Contador have each won the race four times, González in the 1970s and Contador in the first two decades of 2000.
  • The race is characterized by the Basque countryside, meaning that there are not many flat stretches. There are many ascents that reach a grade greater than 20%, making it one of the steepest races in professional cycling. This naturally favors climbers. Stages rarely exceed 200 km. Until 2006, the race was characterized by a split-stage structure, in which there was a road and a time trial each stage. In 2006, new Union Cycliste Internationale regulations banned such split stages.
  • The winner of the Itzulia don a Basque txapela (beret) when they take the podium. Vingegaard, the defending Tour de France champion, became the first Dane to win the Itzulia. Mikel Landa of Murgia, Araba, and Ion Izagirre of Ormaiztegi, Gipuzkoa, finished second and third. The best Basque rider gets a special prize. There were 20 riders from the Basque Country this year.
  • The women’s Itzulia, also beginning in Vitoria-Gasteiz and lasting three stages, will begin on May 13. Demi Vollering of the Netherlands won last year’s Ituzlia.

Primary sources: Tour of the Basque Country, Wikipedia; Itzulia Basque Country,; Vuelta al País Vasco, Wikipedia

What do you think? Leave a Reply!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.