Never let it be said that Rouleur does not have its finger on the pulse.
For despite it dropping in one of the first weeks of lockdown, it was only last week that we got round to binging our way through Netflix’s six-part Movistar documentary, El día menos pensado, ‘The Least Expected Day’. While lesser cycling publications talked about it months ago (luv u Cycling News/Weekly/Tips) we don’t like to rush these things. We’d rather be right than first. Not to mention the fact that there was Tiger King, Normal People – look out for the strade bianche in episode eight – and every series of the Simpsons on Disney Plus to get through first.
But get round to it we finally have. The fly-on-the-wall series following the Spanish side through the 2019 season is at once immensely watchable and a right mess. Which is nothing if not appropriate considering the subject matter.
That the overarching view is that the team was in shambles last year, if not exactly in crisis, is a bit bizarre when you consider what was actually achieved: stages and the team classification won at every Grand Tour, as well as the overall at the Giro d’Italia.
Yet even that success is painted in the programme as the team falling short. More screen time is given to Mikel Landa’s inability to make the podium of the Giro than to Richard Carapaz’s overall victory.
Indeed Landa, even if he’s not quite painted as an actual villain, is effectively thrown under the (team) bus for the shortcomings of the campaigns in which he’s involved.
Much of this narrative is formed from scenes on said bus, and around hotel tables, where he cuts a (self) isolated figure. The intended message – that he has an attitude problem, isn’t good enough for Movistar, and is, in effect, ‘other’ – comes through loud and clear.
One scene stands out from the team’s Giro victory celebrations. The Basque rider stands to give a speech and says that while he may not close out his career having won many trophies, the memories of his two years spent with the team will ultimately mean much more. It isn’t altogether convincing, particularly with the knowledge that two years is all the time he’ll be there.
As much as “show, don’t tell” might ordinarily make for better film-making, it is the interviews with team staff, particularly sports directors, that perhaps prove most revealing. The most damning, bordering on emasculating, criticism comes from DS Pablo Lastras: “He always wants to lead but in the end he doesn’t lead at all,” he says of the Basque rider.
And perhaps there’s some truth to that, but it cannot be the whole story. Landa clearly did not have the complete confidence of his employers, otherwise they would not have given him “co-leadership” at the Tour de France. With all the excitement over Julian Alaphilippe’s GC challenge, I don’t think we really grasped at the time how embarrassing it was for Movistar to finish the Tour with three riders in the top ten and none on the podium. ‘The Least Expected Day’ puts that shame front and centre.
“It felt like a civil war within the team,” says one of our talking heads. “They just weren’t compatible,” remarks another. Yet the more the senior staff seem to want to blame the riders for the outcome, the more they draw attention to their own flaws. What comes across from the film more than anything is a failure of Movistar’s management.
It was their choice to put Valverde – who appears untouchable, and as if he doesn’t give a damn about, well, anything – Quintana and Landa in the same Tour squad. Having done so, it was their inability to motivate the riders and organise them into a single fighting force that condemned the team to also-ran status.
In the final episode at the Vuelta we get a glimpse of some responsibility being taken by those in the team car but, again, they generally seem to blame the athletes.
Three of the best of whom, including Carapaz, who the directors accuse late on of selfishness and disloyalty, would leave the team without looking back. When there’s an exodus of any company’s most talented employees it should be seen as a sign that something isn’t right. In one episode Quintana speaks of the happiness he feels at the confirmation of his departure.
As with any TV show, however, the proof of the pudding is whether there’s a clamouring for a second series. Although ‘The Least Expected Day’ didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, we’d all like to know what happens next, wouldn’t we?