Laboral Kutxa, supported by the Euskadi Foundation, is taking a pioneering step by giving precedence to its women’s team, led by Ane Santesteban, over the men’s Euskaltel squad. This move marks a significant shift in the Foundation’s focus, with women’s cycling taking centre stage.
The Euskaltel-Euskadi team’s history is rich with iconic moments over the years and features cyclists like Mikel Landa, Haimar Zubeldia and Iban Mayo. Reflecting on this legacy, Aitor Galdós, president of the Euskadi Foundation, emphasises the need for evolution in the cycling world. “The past has bequeathed us an inspiring story. However, the modern era demands a fresh approach, especially when competing with WorldTour budgets is beyond our current scope,” Galdós explains.
This fresh approach is now embodied in the Laboral Kutxa team. Unlike their Spanish team counterparts, the women’s Movistar team, which operates in the shadow of its male counterpart, Laboral Kutxa stands as the more prominent arm of the Euskaltel in the Foundation. With a modest budget, they are setting their sights on competing in major races like the Tour de France Femmes and Giro Donne with confidence. The return of Ane Santesteban, a native of Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, after a decade abroad, highlights Laboral Kutxa’s growing prominence.
In a conversation with the Spanish daily El Pais Santesteban spoke passionately about the significance of equality in the sport. “This initiative goes beyond mere nostalgia; it’s about forging a solid foundation for women’s cycling,” she asserts. She views the younger members of the team as the future and advocates for professional conditions within women’s cycling. “Equality is essential, not just in cycling but across all societal spheres,” Santesteban adds.
Reflecting on her international experiences, Santesteban notes the cultural differences in women’s sports and the need for change. “Despite achieving top placements, women in cycling often face unequal opportunities,” she notes with concern. “Teams like Movistar and Laboral Kutxa are pivotal in changing this narrative, empowering us to embrace our roles as true professionals.”
The Euskadi Foundation has set a benchmark for the minimum salary, aligning with the Spanish federation’s guidelines. This commitment, although modest, is a significant step towards professionalising and equalising women’s cycling in Spain. The much publicised decision by the Spanish Federation has seen a reduction in the number of Spanish Continental teams but those who remain are able to provide a minimum wage to the riders on the team. It’s hoped that more teams will step up with the budget required in future years.
Laboral Kutxa aren’t alone in this decision. Human Powered Health actually closed its men’s team at the end of the 2023 season. That team cited the return on investment and higher level of the women’s team compared to the 2nd-level men’s team. By withdrawing the men’s team, Human Powered Health has been able to invest in more riders for the 2024 season, including Ruth Edwards, Krista Doebel-Hickok and Katia Ragusa.