Two years after Roberto Laiseka’s emotional Tour de France win at Luz Ardiden, Euskatel-Euskadi returned to the race’s 2003 edition with an even more powerful line up, led by Haimar Zubeldia and the enigmatic Iban Mayo, and an ambition to make an impact on the overall classification.
After two weeks of racing, both riders were in contention for a podium place ahead of another classic Pyrenean stage between Bagnères de Bigorre and Luz Ardiden. On the penultimate climb of the day, the giant Col du Tourmalet, Zubeldia experienced some of the most beautiful, but also some of the most frustrating, emotions of his career.
“I was very good. The orange fans roared in the ditches, they cheered us, they took us all the way to the top of the climb. Iban and I set a strong rhythm; Armstrong and Ullrich held our wheel but Hamilton and Vinokurov, our rivals for the podium, had lost contact. It was our opportunity. After crossing the summit with a significant advantage, our director, Julián Gorospe, ordered us to take it easy on the descent to recover for the final climb to Luz Ardiden. We had the enemy wounded and we could have finished them off if we had committed on the descent, but we chose to play safe and not risk losing everything with a fall. The podium vanished. The stragglers caught us on the descent and we finished the stage together.
We had a memorable Tour, with me in fifth position overall and Iban in sixth, but we will always wonder what would have happened if we had risked it all that day. We do not regret the decision though; we had very little experience and, for the whole team, those top ten places were a big victory".