Vila: Movistar is changing

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There was a time when the Movistar team was considered one of the most traditional teams in the WorldTour, but are those days definitely behind ‘The Blues’?

Certainly don’t be surprised if in 2022 it looks like the only Spanish WorldTour team is thinking a lot more outside the stage-race box that has been their comfort zone for decades, not to mention a few seasons.

The changes to effect this change in strategy had already started within the team over a year ago, said Patxi Vila, Movistar’s performance manager. Cycling news. It’s just that at that time they hadn’t been too obvious to the outside world.

For example, the team is already aiming to make more breakthroughs in cobblestone classics, a few years ago an almost no-go zone for Movistar. On top of that, they are already working on developing talented young riders from countries as far away – in terms of cycling – as Brazil, and already have Puerto Rican national champion Abner González on their books.

These policies will all be strengthened in 2022, says Vila. On top of that, they’ll combine all of the above with one of Movistar’s most enduring philosophies: that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and cycling success doesn’t always happen overnight.

“It’s a 42-year-old team, which is sometimes more successful, sometimes less. But in any case, we are currently in a process of change, ”says Vila.

“We want to make the team more international, with more types of riders and different profiles. But if these riders can give the team a more modern feel, they also need to adapt a bit to our techniques and practices as a team. And all of this takes time.

Giving Movistar a more international touch, he says, is something that “I wanted to bring to the team, as I have spent a large part of my career in non-Spanish teams, both as a driver and then as a manager “.

After graduating from college, Vila had the opportunity to turn pro relatively late, at age 26, with a former incarnation of the Movistar team, iBanesto.com, in 2001 before joining Lampre in 2003. Then, after his retirement, He spent a long time with Tinkoff and Bora-Hansgrohe in management before returning to Movistar in 2020 as Head of Performance.

Thinking back to the team’s season, he says: “I think 2021 has been a positive year for us. We confirmed Enric Mas as one of the best riders in the Grand Tours, then young riders that we recruited a few years ago like Matteo Jorgensen. [American was eighth in Paris-Nice], Johan Jacobs and Abner Gonzalez: They are all progressing well.

“We also chose to recruit relatively young riders, not extremely young like other teams have done. And I think that this coming year, with another small step forward, the project that we have put in place will show some results of this change in philosophy.

Some things, however, are much more set in stone at Movistar. As Lopez points out, Abarca Sports, the company that owned the Movistar team since its sponsorship by aluminum sheet company Reynolds in the early 1980s, has always thought “take things slow and calm.” As [head manager] Eusebio Unzué sees it, the best stew is cooked when you heat it over low heat. Not when you put it in the microwave.

It is apparently as part of this “step by step” approach that Movistar did not sign huge signings for 2022, preferring mainly to reinforce the team’s “young international” feeling with promising riders. These include names like the talented German all-rounder Max Kanter (Team DSM) and 20-year-old Brazilian neo-pro Vinicius Rangel, ninth in the recent U23 World Championship, and American time trial specialist Will Barta. (EF Education-Nippo), which was just announced on Wednesday.

The most well-established signings for 2022 include talented young Colombian climber Ivan Sosa (Ineos Grenadiers) and Basque riders Gorka Izagirre and Alex Aranburu (both Astana).

“For various reasons, Ivan has yet to show how much he can do, so he’s a bit incognito. But Alex has already made a big breakthrough. We think he’s going to have a lot to say in the Classics, ”he said.

“As for Gorka, he can play a role of team captain which we were a bit lacking in some races. When you have an overlapping race schedule then even two riders who have a lot of experience in this role like Jose Joaquin Rojas and Imanol Erviti sometimes need more support to keep communication between the guys on the road and the management behind.

As for already established team leaders like Valverde, the veteran rider’s goals are going to be “self-defined,” Vila said.

“He is the flagship driver of the team. It’s an example. His only goal, at age 42 next year, will be to be a mirror in which the youngest will be able to appreciate his fighting spirit, his meticulous professionalism and his pleasure of running. Everything he gets sportingly is a bonus.

Mas, meanwhile, has made significant progress in 2021, Vila argues, thanks in part to his place on the podium in the Vuelta a España. But it is also in part thanks to “the way he is now stronger to handle the attacks of his rivals, as he did in Valdepeñas de Jaén.” He had this ability in the past, and now it’s back. “

“I always ask three things of my runners: trust, commitment and respect. On all of these fronts, Enric is on the right track. With that, the results will come.

Classics and a classic release

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM APRIL 07 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte of Spain and Movistar Team Paterberg Cobblestones Fans Public during the 103rd Tour of Flanders 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen a 2701 km race from Antwerp to Oudenaarde RondeVlaanderen FlandersClassic RVV19 on April 07, 2019 in Oudenaarde Images Belgium

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in his first and only Tour of Flanders start in 2019. He finished eighth. (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

At the same time, says Vila, when it comes to cobblestone classics, Movistar needs to focus more than it currently does.

A few years ago, the team had started to venture into one-day cobblestone races by recruiting Northern Classics riders like Belgian specialist Jürgen Roelandts and giving Ivan García Cortina a chance to prove himself. last season. There was even a crossover when Alejandro Valverde made his Tour of Flanders debut in 2019 at age 37 and also finished in the top 10.

But Roelandts retired and Valverde never returned to Flanders, so it is perhaps not surprising that Vila’s plan is, as he puts it, “that Movistar devotes a lot more time and energy. to the Classics of the North ”.

Movistar’s increased interest in one-day races comes after a season in which they have achieved 15 victories, the highlights being the victory of Miguel Ángel López in the most difficult stage of Vuelta a España and second place in the general classification in Santiago de Compostela for Enric Mas.

But one of the toughest moments for Movistar this season also came in La Vuelta, when López put on a spectacular mid-stage outing. Then, following a mutual agreement, he left Movistar himself.

“On a personal level I would say it opened my eyes, in situations that I saw unfold right in front of me,” Vila, who was on the Vuelta and tried to persuade López to join the race so that he was standing by the side of the road, now thinks.

“Obviously, everyone’s character is part of what happens in these situations. But what I took away from what happened, six weeks later, is that it really pains me, because Miguel Ángel is a very good person and a very good runner But he was facing a situation he didn’t know how to resolve.

“It’s nothing more than that, something that can happen to all of us. It was very complicated to find a solution to what happened for both parties. This [his leaving the team] is the best for everyone as it would have been very difficult for us to deal with the situation in a positive way if he had stayed. We have all learned from this, both the driver and the team.

Part of Movistar’s reshuffle for next year is not just tied to the loss of López and Marc Soler, the former Paris-Nice winner heading to UAE Team Emirates. The departure of long-time sporting director and former Banesto rider José Luis Arrieta from the team, previously reported in the Spanish sports daily LIKE, was confirmed by Vila at Cycling news.

However, Vila did not provide more details on why Arrieta, the team’s sporting director since 2011 and 13-year-old professional rider in the team before that, was leaving.

Looking at the team itself, Vila acknowledged that having a sponsor in Movistar in place until 2023 provides some leeway to try to keep the team improving.

“Finding support is never easy, and Movistar’s decision to stay with us until a twelfth year in sport is a sign of confidence; He argued.

“Now we have to reward them for the trust they place in us, with results and the right attitude. “

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