More Headlines
 News Archive
 Chat Room
 Who's Chatting?
 New DP Forums
 Old Message Board
 Fantasy Games
 The Compendium
 UCI Road Calendar
 USA Race Calendar
 Tour de France
 Giro d'Italia
 Vuelta a España
 Athens 2004
 World Champships
 World Cup
 Mtn Bike News
 Track Cycling
 Cyclo Cross
 Teams & Riders
 Young Guns (U23)
 Photo Galleries
 Technical Reports
 Training Tips
 Meet the DP Team
 Help the DP - Shop!




University of London – Queen Mary & Westfield College Department of History

Note to readers:

The following text is the introductory section of an initial study of the connexions between Basque nationalism and cycling. It is by no means definitive and focuses on road racing only. This study is currently being expanded upon and updated by the author.

I feel that the hypothesis set out here is valid and that events since 1996, where this particular study ends, have continued to demonstrate the Basque passion for cycling. The evolution of Equipo Euskaltel-Euskadi is an obvious example, as is the continued predominance of Basque cyclists in the Spanish peloton.

Since completing this first study I have collected much more primary source information. The intention is to produce a more in depth chapter focusing on events since Indurain’s retirement. I would welcome any comments and contributions from interested parties, which will be appropriately credited.

The History & Importance of Cycle Sport to the Assertion of the Basque National Identity

(A study of nationalism in sport).


In recent years the historical and political study of sport has received increased attention with respect to its role in Twentieth Century culture and particularly with regards to its use and adoption as a nationalist tool.1 This study is an exploratory analysis of the historical development of cycle sport in the Basque Country (defined as Euskadi in the Basque language) and primarily aims to reveal links between the sport and the Basque nationalist movement, from the 1890’s to the 1990’s.

The Basque population is concentrated in the four provinces of Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava and Navarra. Across the Spanish-French national border, three smaller ‘departments’, with significant Basque populations also exist, however, this study will concentrate on the Basque provinces within the Spanish state boundary. Nationalism in the Basque Country embodies all major elements of its definition, expression through traditional cultural means, historical claims, ethnic exclusivity, myth, religion, national boundary and crucially language. The historical development of Basque nationalism is reflected in all these factors at different points in its history. Nonetheless, it is necessary to explain how and why cycle sport developed in the Basque Country, into a mass participation phenomenon in performance and support terms and to account for its transformation into a means of nationalist expression, in opposition to the Spanish State.2

This study is designed to demonstrate this through its chronological chapters. Chapter one encompasses the historical development of Basque nationalism in relation to industrialisation and emerging Basque nationalist capitalism 1895 to 1936.3 The early divide of Basque nationalism into ‘orthodox’ and ‘moderate’ factions is discussed. The chapter places cycle sport within historical context by identifying initially its value as a symbol of modernity and then by demonstrating its early potential as a vehicle for nationalist organisation and mobilisation.4 Chapter two examines cycle sport during General Franco’s dictatorship. Here Franco’s suppression of the Basque national identity is discussed. Observation is made of the manner in which Franco identified the value of sport for nationalist purposes during his regime’s transitions. This chapter will demonstrate that Basque nationalism was not effectively crushed, noting the 1960’s emergence of the Basque terrorist separatist organisation ETA (Euskadi ta’ Askatasuna), whilst showing that sports and cultural bodies were crucial to the maintenance of a nationalist dialogue. Chapter three examines, largely through primary sources, the unique nature in which cycle sport and moderate nationalist capitalism has served to promote and assert Basque national identity, often in conflict with Castillian Spanish nationalism.

Cycling is the second most popular sport in Spain, rivalling football, in terms of financial input, television coverage, fan base, club numbers and national heroes. During the 1996 edition of the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France - the Vuelta a España, on each day of the three week race, two in five of the available television audience for day time ‘live’ TV tuned in to coverage of the race; a figure of six million.5 The regional popularity of the sport is well demonstrated by the existence of over 290 clubs in the Basque Country alone, for a population of 3 million:6 compared to only 62 clubs in Wales with its similar population.7

Curiously, cycling has received little attention from authors interested in Spanish history and political development. Football has been discussed by both Raymond Carr and Paul Preston, in terms of the dictator General Francisco Franco’s development of a nationalist, "Spain, united, free and great" (1939-75).8 Franco was ardently passionate about sports, even participating in the national football pools (quiniela) every week.9 In 1988, D.R Shaw’s University of London Phd thesis, "The political instrumentalisation of football in Francoist Spain, 1939-75", included a chapter on football and regionalism, in which the nationalist significance of other sports was considered again without mention of cycling.10 As the first study of cycle sport and nationalism, this study seeks to address this oversight and to prove that cycle sport is inextricably linked to the Basque nationalist cause.

Since the death of Franco in 1975, Basque cyclists have been at the top of international cycle sport. The established the Tour de France in 1903, was intended to unify the French people under one patriotic identity after the Dreyfus affair. By contrast in Spain, cycle sport sets the Basques apart.11 Whilst ETA have attacked international cycling events in the Basque Country and across the French border (most notably during the 1992 Tour de France when British Channel 4 vehicles were blown up in San Sabastian),12 to highlight their separatist cause internationally. The moderate methods of the business sector, have used the sport to promote the region and nationalist politics in a more subtle fashion. Culminating in the 1992 establishment of the unique ‘Euskadi’ cycle team. Its team colours until 1996 were that of the Basque flag (Ikurriñ a), demonstrating symbolically the sense of national unity, status and pride that underlines Basque cycle sport.13

Designed by Arana (and based on his liking of the British Union Flag), the distinctive red, white and green flag has become a potent symbol of Basque nationalism in sport. This is particularly so in cycle sport, as demonstrated by Miguel Indurain’s fanatical fans between 1991 and 1996 and more recently during the 2001 Tour de France during Roberto Laiseka's emphatic stage win at Luz Ardiden.



 1. J.A. Mangan, Tribal Identities: Nationalism, Europe, Sport, Frank Cass, London. 1996. p1

2. J. Breuilly, Nationalism and the State, Manchester University Press, GB, 1993. p373

3. Heiberg, Making of the Basque Nation, CUP, GB, 1989. P49

4. José Luis de la Granja Sainz, El Nacionalisimo Vasco: Un Siglo de Historia, Madrid, 1995. p145

5.  Marca, Spanish national sports daily newspaper, 19 September, 1996.

6. Cycle Sport, November, IPC Magazines, UK, 1995. p50

7. Marianne Heiberg, The Making of the Basque Nation, CUP, GB, 1989. p90

8. P. Preston, Franco, Fontana, London, 1995. p700

9. D.R. Shaw, unpublished Phd thesis, University of London, 1988.

10. Mangan, Tribal Identities. p42

11. Marca, July 1992.

12. Cycle Sport, IPC, UK, November 1995. p50


 Proceed to Chapter One

Copyright © 2002-2012 by Daily Peloton.
| contact us |