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Unzue recognises retirement is on the horizon as Movistar make changes

Annemiek van Vleuten takes centre stage amongst the Movistar team leaders
(Image credit: Photo Gomez Sport)

Cycling’s longest standing team manager Eusebio Unzué has recognised that his time at the head of the Movistar squad and its previous iterations is coming to an end and that he is now “working on the squad’s future”.

“I am getting closer and closer to seeing somebody else take over my position,” Unzué told local daily Diario de Navarra at the end of the team’s first get-together for the 2022 squad.

Unzué moved into the position of team manager at the Reynolds squad in 1984, a year before cycling’s second most long-standing team director, Belgium’s Hilaire Van der Schueren, began his career. Van der Schueren is currently director at the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert squad.

Since 1984, the Spanish Reynolds team has been through multiple sponsors, culminating in its current backer, Movistar. Unzué, first jointly with José Miguel Echavarri as the squad won five straight Tours in the 1990s, then alone since the mid-noughties, has remained at the helm ever since.

“I’m still excited about what I do and I feel fine. But I’m aware that it’s getting closer and closer to the point when I finally hand things over to somebody else. Nobody’s eternal,” Unzué told the Diario de Navarra.

“I’m working to ensure this team will continue and that there’s at least one Spanish team in cycling’s top category given what this sport has meant to this country historically. Generally everything new improves on previous versions of what’s come before, and that’s what’ll happen with me and with this team.”

With that in mind, Unzué recognised that recently the team had needed to do some work to get up to speed in some areas of infrastructure and logistics. He also pointed to the arrival of Patxi Vila, the performance manager previously with Tinkoff and Bora-Hansgrohe, who joined Movistar in 2020 as a key part of that process of modernization. He also viewed the loss of a ‘historic’ element of the team’s management, including directeur sportif Jose Luis Arrieta, as part of that process of inevitable change.

“In 2000, you’d need a decade to move things forward, now the time required is much shorter,” Unzué told the paper.

Unzué argued in the interview that a difference in budget was what made “almost all” the difference in results between his team and squads that had won a great deal more this year like Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates or Ineos Grenadiers.

“Cycling’s getting more attractive, which has brought in new backers with unlimited budgets,” Unzué said, “and that means they get greater logistical back-up in the teams, as well as better riders.

“We have to spend what we have to spend, and of course we’re not complaining. But there are certain riders who are out of our reach. Pogacar, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Bernal, Evenepoel... They are the new kind of champion that aged 20 or 20 and a bit are already aiming to win the top events. Previously, cycling was a question of progression, now it’s much more immediate.

“We don’t have such high quality riders as before. You look at Ineos and they’re all top-rank or second rank riders, there’s not one bad rider and they have to choose between excellent riders. UAE is the same thing, Jumbo, too. They have these amazing line-ups because of their capacity to sign riders and because of their infrastructure. We are trying to improve the latter, and hoping our time will come.”

Unzue underlined Alejandro Valverde’s consistency as a racer, pointed out that team leader Enric Mas had taken a step up with his second place in the Vuelta a España and insisted that a raft of promising young riders in the Movistar line-up would be fighting for top results soon. Movistar confirmed on Wednesday that Valverde will race for another year, meaning his time as a professional will now stretch into a third decade.

However Unzue also recognised that the loss of a top climber like Miguel Ángel López after his dramatic exit from the Vuelta a España was far from ideal, and that Marc Soler’s departure came “because he and his people needed a change and I agreed with that.”

What was very much on the plus side for Movistar, Unzué agreed, was the progress of the women’s team. 

Formed in 2018, Movistar ended the year with 2021 signing Annemiek van Vleuten in the top spot of the UCI WorldTour as well as the UCI WorldRanking. Her 12 wins this season included a gold medal in the Olympic time trial, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and two WorldTour stage races.  While Emma Norsgaard has had a breakthrough season with six wins. 

Movistar, directed by Unzué’s son Sebastian, are currently a very respectable third overall in the women’s team rankings as well.

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.