Attributes: Like Bweeg, a strong regional identity and sense of purpose, only more so. Well rounded (by Basque cycling standards). Sam-San is one of those guys you'd pay to watch. Old-skool black shorts. Rabid fan support that would make Packer backers blush. An endless supply of skinny climber dudes, nothing to sneeze at in 2008.
Problems: Like Bweeg, limited ambitions equals limited results. Turns out, some of the best riders in the world aren't Basque, which means they can't ride for Euskie. Also, the Basque world encompasses part of France, up to Bayonne. So why no French riders?
Key Rider(s): Sammy Sanchez, I suppose. It'd be nice to come up with a more clever observation here, and the fact is Astarloza, Anton and Koldo Fernandez could all make their mark this year, giving Euskaltel a big boost. But Sanchez has yet to define himself, offering hope in the big classics or grand tours or both. All of this is on the table... but how it turns out is anyone's guess. So as obvious as it seems, Sanchez is still the guy to watch.
Key Moment: July, Pau to Hautacam. Not that all eyes won't be on the Spanish climbers, but Astarloza, Zubeldia and Sanchez will all be candidates to make a big splash that day. And with a pretty short ITT on stage 4, we're talking about taking the maillot jaune.
Passing Thought: For years, Euskaltel were wholly focused on mountain stages of the Tour, and briefly with supporting Iban Mayo for something greater. Mayo's departure last year for Saunier Duval, his last stop en route to doper oblivion, was perhaps the best thing that happened to Euskies in a long while. No more chasing Mayo's silly ambitions, no more laser-like focus on the Tour Pyrenean stages. Sanchez gets a lot of the credit, I would suspect, with his breakout in one-day racing giving the team something else to live for. Personally, I'm wholly rooting for Koldo Fernandez in every big sprint. Anyway, however it came about, it's good to see Euskaltel expanding its boundaries and becoming a team to watch more than one week a year.