Movistar Team released a mini-series of six 20-odd minutes episodes on Netflix portraying life in one of the top pro-cycling teams: "The least expected day" (original title: "El día menos pensado"). 2019 was Movistar's 40th consecutive year as a team (in the many guises of different sponsors, like Reynolds, Banesto, Illes Balears, Caisse d'Epargne... see here). It was also a controversial year for a team expected to win multiple Grand Tours. The plan didn't work as well as hoped and the series shows why in all its brutal and blatant honesty.
For any other team, what was achieved by the Spanish outfit in 2019 would've been an incredible result: winners of the Giro d'Italia with Richard Carapaz, podium at La Vuelta a España with second-placed Alejandro Valverde and winners of the best team prize at all three Grand Tours.
But what makes it under-par was the way it was all achieved and the repercussions of those choices. Too many leaders, confusing tactics, bad communication and a lot of resentment on show. Considering that they had, on paper, some of the best climbers in the world as domestiques as well, things were simply expected to go better.
In the end, the choice of two or three leaders per race went against them. Team INEOS did that for the Tour de France, but the rivalry between Landa and Quintana was not on the same healthy path as the one between Bernal and Thomas. From their unexpected win at the Giro in May to the Vuelta in August, things deteriorated and it culminated with half the team leaving for greener pastures.
What transpires is a team full of talented but frustrated riders: Richard Carapaz asserted that while at Movistar he didn't have enough chances to be the leader with so many others in the team, he said:
Here, I was always in someone's shadow, and I wanted to do better.
Which makes it ironic, given his choice of team for 2020, Team INEOS with Thomas, Bernal, Froome, Kwiatkowski, Sivakov, Sosa, all aspiring to Grand Tour glory. He might end up having fewer chances but, alas, a lot more money. Nairo Quintana needed a change and different challenges, and it showed in the first part of the 2020 season when while riding for Arkéa Samsic, he seemed happier and more motivated. It showed that Marc Soler has to go a long way before becoming a leader and that Mikel Landa lacks the skills to be one, that he's talented but doesn't have the mental strength to fight for his position in the team. Alejandro Valverde has an enviable position, which has been earned over the years with his consistency and winning prowess. He can look at the team from a manager's point of view, even though he's still riding his bike and saves their bacon more often than not. He also feels no pressure to perform because of his success and age, but that can be a frustrating trait for his colleagues as they feel judged and looked at by someone so experienced, a bit like Boonen at Quick-Step in the last few years of his career.
The docu-series is really well filmed and edited. It keeps the tension within the team well balanced with the passion of running a world-class team. It is a very good PR move from the Spanish team. They allowed riders to voice their concerns and failures (both theirs and the team's) in order to put things behind them, especially the controversial ones, like attacking at the Vuelta while the leader Roglic was involved in a crash, so much so that the race judges had to neutralise the stage. Movistar hopes that by putting it all out there, even some of the DSs thoughts (good or bad), it will show their human side.
And I think that works. We cannot all agree on tactics and behaviour, but at least we know that those choices are made by people who have a passion for the team they work for and we can agree to disagree. They didn't sweeten the pill with stories of incredible tactics and innovations, which couldn't be scrutinised, but showed when things went wrong as well as when they worked.
The footage is outstanding and it reveals a side of pro cycling we don't fully appreciate. In a period like this one, with no racing on the horizon, it is a beautiful reminder of why we love this sport so much and why the suffering is all worth it in the end, both as riders and fans. 9/10