Former UCI World Champion Joane Somarriba: “Lucky to be part of such a beautiful era”

Joane Somarriba

Among the greatest road cyclists at the turn of the century, Joane Somarriba reflects on the evolution of women’s cycling and the new opportunities offered to riders.

Last week, UCI World Champion and Belgian icon Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) won the second edition of the UAE Tour Women. But the UCI Women’s WorldTour stage race in the Middle East also shone the spotlight on the depth of upcoming talent in the women’s peloton. Nobody is more delighted by the opportunities currently available in women’s cycling than Joane Somarriba, ambassador for the Basque team Laboral Kutxa - Fundación Euskadi.

The UCI Women’s Continental Team, which has ambitions to become a UCI Women’s WorldTeam as soon as possible, participated in the UAE with new faces in its line-up following a strong recruitment over the winter. Climbing talent Debora Silvestri was unlucky with a crash that prevented her from showing herself on the ascent of Jebel Hafeet but Basque youngster Idoia Eraso demonstrated her grit with a breakaway on stage 3 and Italy’s Laura Tomasi sprinted to the top 10 on the final day.

Meanwhile, a Basque star of the stature of Ane Santesteban, who returns to her roots after years away with UCI Women’s WorldTeams, prepares to shine in the biggest races… and all the team’s members benefit from the guidance of Joane Somarriba.

Somarriba racked up countless honours during her sporting career, including the most iconic jerseys: rainbow (2003 UCI World Champion in the individual time trial), rosa (winner of the Giro d'Italia Femminile1999, 2000) and golden (winner of the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale in 2000, 2001 and 2003). Last summer she became an ambassador and an adviser for Laboral Kutxa - Fundación Euskadi. And she couldn’t be more delighted.

“To be treated as equals was unthinkable”

How’s your return to the world of cycling going?

Joane Somarriba (JS): I’m delighted. I retired in 2005, I gave birth to three children and I dedicate a lot of time to them. But I’ve never been too far away. I was always riding my bike, attending races with my family… Laboral Kutxa got in touch with me and their project fascinated me. All this ambition to help the girls grow, to give them the best, to take care of every detail… I had never seen something like that. Sponsors get involved to the fullest and I’m lucky to be part of such a beautiful era of cycling. I’m really envious, but in a good way.

What makes you most envious?

JS: Their racing calendar! They’re part of the greatest races in the world, they share the same podiums as the boys… To be treated as equals was unthinkable and that’s what brings me the most envy and passion. They do these training camps to get together and they ride four or five hours, work a lot with the physio, the staff… It’s beautiful.

How do you handle your role alongside them?

JS: I attend races and camps. Last year, I was at La Vuelta España Femenina for example. And I love to follow them, in training, in competition… In the end, I’m passionate about this sport and I believe it’s very important to give the riders the visibility that they need and deserve, and that they’re getting now more than ever. So I push as much as I can.

“We want to be a reference for many young girls”

Are you looking forward to returning to the Giro d’Italia Women with them?

JS: Let’s see if we’re invited this year, I really hope we will be, especially with Ane [Santesteban, three overall top-10s in the Giro]. I’ve always loved this event, I’ve ridden with Italian teams…

And you’ve won it several times!

JS: Yes! The best riders in the world had to go to Italy {to race and train}. That’s where you had to be in order to be professional. Lots of races were concentrated there. We were racing every weekend and the Giro was the best of the best, at least for me. The sensations, the pleasure, the course, the passion…

At the same time you went to be a professional in Italy, we were witnessing the famous “marea naranja" (the “orange wave” that describes the Basque supporters of Euskaltel-Euskadi) for the men

JS: Yes, it was for the men. And when I decided to finish my career in the Basque Country, at home, it was hard for me to find a sponsor and to move forward. It was a golden time with Euskaltel’s successes in Grand Tours but it didn’t help me in any way. Gradually, Bizkaia Durango {Somarriba’s team in 2004 and 2005} became bigger and now we have Laboral Kutxa.

Can we expect a “marea” at the Itzulia Women?

JS: Let’s hope so! We would be so happy… We want to be a reference for many young girls, so they can dream of becoming cyclists and living off this beautiful sport.