Laboral Kutxa’s Joane Somarriba reflects on the evolution of women’s cycling

Joane Somarriba, the most celebrated Basque cyclist of all time, has expressed her contentment with her role as an ambassador for the Euskadi Foundation’s women’s team in an interview with Naiz. She appreciates the opportunity to inspire young cyclists, though she acknowledges the challenges of her own era in the sport. Despite her happiness during those times, Somarriba admits a hint of regret at not experiencing the current state of women’s cycling.

Somarriba recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of her third Tour de France victory in 2003 with the Bizkaia Durango team. This year, however, marked the end of Bizkaia Durango’s journey, a situation Somarriba finds disheartening. Despite this, she expresses joy in joining Laboral Kutxa as an advisor in June.

Reflecting on her era, Somarriba recalls the hardships female cyclists faced, including limited races, lack of television coverage, and insufficient support. She recounts the struggle of having to choose between the Giro and the Tour due to financial constraints. Her breakthrough came in 1998 with a sixth-place finish in the Giro, a victory she later replicated in the subsequent two years and in the 2000 and 2001 Tours. However, the struggle for equal resources and opportunities, not just prize money, was a constant challenge.

When asked about the current state of women’s cycling, Somarriba expresses amazement, noting the stark contrast from her time. The existence of a team like Laboral Kutxa, offering young cyclists the chance to fulfil their dreams in a more supportive environment, is something she could not have imagined. She highlights the improvements in salaries, resources, and opportunities for female cyclists, contrasting them with the challenges of her era.

Somarriba’s daughter, inspired by races like the Paris-Roubaix, dreams of participating in such events, reflecting the more promising era for young female cyclists. Somarriba herself started cycling at a time when federations had to support athletes, and teams were small. Recalling the inadequate conditions they faced, including low-quality accommodation and scarce race opportunities, she underscores the value of her achievements.

Despite the difficulties, Somarriba maintains she wouldn’t change anything about her past, attributing her success to the resilience she developed. The current landscape of women’s cycling, with better salaries, resources, and opportunities, is a stark contrast to her times when financial worries were a constant concern.

Somarriba praises Laboral Kutxa for its professionalism and dedication to improving women’s cycling. Thanks to their serious approach and rapid evolution, she foresees the team’s future in the World Tour by 2026.

She empathises with Ane Santesteban’s decision to leave the World Tour and join a Basque team, understanding the desire to be closer to home. As an ambassador for Laboral Kutxa, Somarriba relishes being part of a project that aligns with her values and ambitions, seeing it as a dream role for inspiring young female cyclists.

Reflecting on the closure of teams like Bizkaia-Durango and Sopela, she acknowledges the need for more intermediate-level teams to provide opportunities for young cyclists. Her own journey began with Bizkaia Durango, where despite many challenges, they achieved significant success, including her last Tour victory.