Expect a lot of conflict in Netflix’s The Least Expected Day: Inside the Movistar Team 2019

A behind-the-scenes chronicle of the bruised pride and tactical chaos at Movistar last season

March 28th, 2020 by | Posted in Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Friday, Netflix dropped the six-part, three-hour documentary series The Least Expected Day: Inside the Movistar Team 2019. Produced by the Movistar’s parent company, Telefónica, it’s an intimate, often thrilling, behind-the-scenes look at the WorldTour heavyweights’ tumultuous and triumphant season. It’s also a reminder of how good the Grand Tour racing was last year.

It’s beautifully filmed, and Movistar blue really pops in plenty of loving shots of the team’s equipment. Ample team car footage amplifies the victories and the discord, with general manager Eusebio Unzué, José Luis Arrieta or Chente Garcia Acosta running the gamut of emotions. There is liberal use of interviews with team members, coaches and staff to illuminate the controversies and manoeuvers.

The Least Expected Day is really a record of the team’s 2019 Grand Tours. Carapaz becomes the first Ecuadorian to win the Giro d’Italia and Movistar earns eight of the 30 Grand Tour top-10 spots (26.6%), with three names in the top-10 of both the Tour and Vuelta. That was the best among the WorldTour teams by far.

The featured riders face triumphs and disappointments, and the tension created by their rivalries—Mikel Landa vs Carapaz, Landa vs Nairo Quintana, and Quintana vs Alejandro Valverde vs Marc Soler—form the main story lines.

Episode 1 begins with Unzué literally sketching out the season’s outline for Quintana, Valverde, Landa, Carapaz and Soler. The rest of the first chapter isn’t linear, and jumping around the calendar is disorienting, which is on-brand for the most tactically bewildering powerhouse in the game.

Although the Trident’s well-known shenanigans at the Tour has more drama, the Giro’s tale, told in Episodes 2 and 3, is more intriguing, as Carapaz, to Landa’s chagrin, had Unzué’s support from the very first stage. Carpaz, or El Locomotora, is only 20-seconds faster than Landa after the opening time trial and Unzué admits he is the leader “behind the curtain.” Chaos on Stage 3 puts Landa ahead of Carapaz on time, but the Ecuadorian’s win the next day sets him back in the driver’s seat, and after his crushing Stage 14 triumph, he’s in pink for good, with Landa 2:50 back. “You fill me with jealousy,” Landa tells El Locomotora after the post-race celebratory dinner. However, Landa helps Carapaz and Vincenzo Nibali put time into Primoz Roglic on Stage 16, before Carapaz tries to lead Landa out for the Stage 20 win, Pello Bilbao stealing the prize. Roglic knocks Landa off the podium by eight-seconds on the final day time trial, but the Basque bounces back to be Movistar’s sharpest point at the Tour de France in 6th.

Richard Carapaz’s Giro win was Movistar’s highlight of 2019. Photo: Sirotti

Episodes 4 and 5 tell the story of that Tour, the second and final deployment of the Trident. The ensuing shambles, a sideshow of the Alaphilippe-Bernal main attraction, undercut the squad’s scoring three riders in the final top-10 and picking up yet another team classification victory. Landa and Quintana are co-leaders and each expects to be supported, and there’s always the chance that Valverde is going to go rogue, so tension is taut. A poor team time trial on Stage 2 loads the burden early. Stage 10 sees Quintana and Valverde carry on with the peloton after Landa crashes, the latter losing two-minutes and Chente left to cheer him up. On the stage to the Col du Tourmalet, Quintana, without telling anyone how bad he was feeling, is dropped and Movistar continue to ride hard on the front of the peloton, with both Landa and Valverde leaping over the Colombian in the GC. There are a lot of tight expressions on the bus. “It was complicated,” Landa recalls, “One day we favoured one, and the next day we favoured the other, and we didn’t progress.” The team releases a video of the Trident being chummy and united, and it’s obviously forced. By the time Quintana finishes a brilliant Stage 18 solo win from a breakaway, five minutes ahead of Landa even with Movistar whipping along the peloton behind, your head will be spinning. Quintana’s reception from some of the team at the post-stage dinner are, Landa admits, “a bit cold.” Landa and Quintana’s removed earpieces on Stage 20 speaks volumes about the mood at the end of the Tour.

Nairo Quintana’s Tour didn’t go exactly as planned but he made up for it with a stage win.

Nairoman expects to be the leader at both the Tour and Vuelta, but he isn’t the top Movistar rider in either race. Valverde’s runner-up spot behind Roglic at the Vuelta (Episodes 5 and 6), his highest Grand Tour place since 2012, is sweetened by a stage win. In his last season with the Spanish squad before moving to ProTour Arkea-Samsic, Quintana wins a mountain stage and finishes in the top-8 of both Grand Tours he races and wears the red leader’s jersey for one day in the Vuelta. The Spanish Grand Tour isn’t without its drama as Quintana announces on the first rest day that he’s leaving the team, and Soler, who was buried early in the race and had to fight hard to rise to ninth, remonstrates with the team car for having to wait for Quintana and Valverde on Stage 9 while in a position to win.

Valverde’s runner-up spot in the Vuelta was his best Grand Tour result since 2012.

Except for his second place in the Vuelta, Valverde’s year in the rainbow jersey is a cursed one. Valverde not only enjoys fewer victories than in previous seasons, but he also doesn’t take a classic or win the GC of any stage race. Valverde’s misfortune comes early in the season, a fall after attempting a wheelie in training (“I’ll pull a van der Poel,” he says) stymieing any hope of claiming the Liege-Bastogne-Liege win record. Suffering from sacrum pain in a rainy LBL, Valverde climbs off the bike with 103 km to go, and Unzué winces at the world champion’s insistence that he can’t stop farther up the road.

Everything looks warped through the prism of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the first two and a half months of the Movistar’s 2020 season—and any other team’s—seem inconsequential now, as if all the racing were building to nothing. We didn’t even get used to Movistar’s weird jerseys with their midriff pattern sometimes appearing in photos like somebody took a snapshot of a show on TV. With Quintana ripping it up for Arkea and Landa (finally free?) coming third in the Ruta del Sol for Bahrain-Merida, Movistar seemed like a team that never really got underway. New GC man Enric Mas didn’t providing any thrills over nine race days, Valverde averaged 12th place over three stage races and Soler, tireless worker at the 2019 Tour and “fxxxing kid” at the 2019 Vuelta, claimed the team’s only win and good results in two non-WorldTour stage races.