Inside the Guggenheim Museum, the emblem of Bilbao, shrouded behind their masks that, they trust, they will not have to use for two years, the Lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu and the director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, made official what had already been outlined ago two years, that the capital of Biscay will be the starting point of the French race in 2023. Exactly on the day that will mark the 120-year history of the Tour, on July 1 of that year, the most important stage event in the world it will start in Bilbao. “It is an unbeatable opportunity to promote the internationalization of the Basque Country,” Urkullu assured. “The opportunity to take advantage of this event as an engine of economic development and a beacon of orientation of European tourism towards the Euskadi-Basque Country destination. We are going to achieve an image and a positive echo for our country ”.
The Mayor of Bilbao, Juan María Aburto, and the General Deputy, Unai Rementeria, smiling hosts, listened to the words of the Lehendakari, who revealed, without giving further details, that the first three stages of the Tour will take place in Basque territory. The first will have Bilbao as the point of departure and arrival; the second, with an unspecified route, will also be in the Basque Country, while the third will partially run on Basque roads before entering France. The specific details are not yet known, although possibly Gipuzkoa and Álava play a leading role in the route. At least, the presentation was also attended by its highest representatives, the provincial deputies Markel Olano and Ramiro González.
In an interview with Le Figaro, Tour Director Christian Prudhommem explained the reasons for choosing Bilbao: “The Basque Country is a cycling land with the possibility of finding a very interesting terrain for competition with very steep slopes, with the assurance of having absolutely beautiful landscapes. magnificent with the coast and the interior and with a reiterated desire to host the Tour since the great departure from San Sebastián in 1992. Since then, they have not stopped knocking on the door ”. He assures that he received applications in 2000, 2006 or 2013. “And when I came to Bilbao a few years ago with the Vuelta, I returned to the Basque Country in 2011 after an absence of 33 years. We saw each other, a delegation from the Basque Country came to Paris with representatives of the Basque government, the mayor of Bilbao, each time with the same message: “We want it, we want the Tour, we want the Tour …” The race director recalled the orange tide that flooded the Pyrenees, and that “in terms of popular success, the Basque audience is one of the best in the world.”
So far, nine Spanish cities have hosted departures or goals and Bilbao will be the tenth. The 1992 Grand Depart of the Tour was also held in Euskadi. On that occasion, San Sebastián was the place chosen for the prologue of the race, in which Miguel Indurain won. The first stage, online, also started and finished in the capital of Gipuzkoa, and the third left Donostia to reach Pau. The victory went to a Basque runner, Javier Murguialday from Alava.
The first time the Tour arrived in the Basque Country was in 1947, with the Bordeaux-San Sebastián stage, won by Frenchman Louis Caput. In the 1977 edition, on a stage of 248 kilometers between Oloron Saint Marie and Vitoria, José Nazabal, from Kas, from Gipuzkoa, won alone in a finish located at the gates of the factory that sponsored his team. In 1992, Indurain won the prologue in San Sebastián and Dominique Arnaud, the first stage, ending at the Donostiarra Boulevard.
As the Tour websiteIn his announcement of the Bilbao start, 21 stage winners were born in the Basque Country, which is equivalent to a third of the 66 Spaniards who have raised their arms in a goal of the gala round. A remarkable figure for a region whose total population is equivalent to just under 5% of the country’s population. From Federico Ezquerra, a pioneer in 1936, to Omar Fraile who concluded with a victory his counterattack in the promotion to Mende in 2018, passing through José María Errandonea who celebrated in 1967 his victory in the first prologue in history, depriving Raymond Poulidor of the yellow jersey. The Basques have always shone on the Tour, despite some frustrated dreams such as those of Joseba Beloki (three times podium in 2000, 2001 and 2002) or more recently Mikel Landa (4th in 2017 and 2020).
The investment of the Basque Country in Le Grand Depart will be around ten million euros. Organizers of the Bilbao outing estimate that it will have an impact on 190 countries that will see it on television, with a potential audience of 3.5 billion viewers.