Culture

Netflix’s Movistar documentary is must-see TV for any bike racing fan

Credit to Movistar team management for allowing the film's producers to have final cut, and most tense and disappointing moments are not left on the cutting-room floor.

Much has been made about the apparent dysfunction and tactical misfires inside the Movistar team bus over the past few years, and Netflix’s new sprawling series delivers behind-the-scenes clues about why and how.

The six-part documentary — entitled “El Día Menos Pensado,” which roughly translates to The Least Expected Day — provides a raw, unfiltered look at the intensity, pressure, rewards and disappointment of the WorldTour peloton.

Rarely do fans (or journalists) get such an unfiltered, no-holds-barred look inside a team bus.

We see a sullen Mikel Landa, who keeps ending up as second-fiddle in his quixotic search to be a leader in a team full of captains. Nairo Quintana is stoically moody and self-isolated, yet breaks down in tears when he reveals he’s leaving Movistar to join Arkea-Samsic in 2020. Alejandro Valverde emerges as the team’s happy-go-lucky veteran who tries to keep the laughs going inside a bus as the tension ratchets up. Richard Carapaz is the real star, with telling glimpses of his roots in the Ecuadorian mountains to his internal coup d’etat to win the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

The team’s lead sport directors — José Luis Arrieta and José Vicente García —each shine in raw, unfiltered intensity. García provides a sometimes-hilarious, profanity-laced running commentary from behind the steering wheel of the team car.

Arrieta implodes more than once, with two episodes during the 2019 Vuelta that reveal just how fractured the team had become. The first time when Marc Soler was attacking for a stage win in Andorra, at the Vuelta, only to angrily react when Arrieta calls for him to sit up to help the chasing Quintana. The second came in the controversial stage when Movistar attacked in crosswinds after race leader Primoz Roglic and about half of the peloton were caught up in a nasty crash. Arrieta later apologized in tears for all the public criticism the team received.

Team manager Eusebio Unzué tries to keep the competing forces heading in the same direction, but can’t hide his frustration when the team blows it in the final mountain stage at the 2019 Tour, allowing Vincenzo Nibali to win when they had numbers in the chase group.

Yet for all its competing egos and ambitions, the team delivered some of the most impressive results in 2019. Movistar won the Giro, finished second in the Vuelta, and won the team prize and a stage at the Tour. That’s a lot better than many teams who seem to put teamwork and good PR ahead of results.

The overall quality and pacing of the documentary is top shelf. The directors mix race action with mounted cameras inside the race cars and team bus, and deliver telling documentary-style backstories of the team’s top stars. Editing is quick and sleek, keeping the action buzzing along, perfect for viewing during indoor training sessions.

Credit to Movistar team management for allowing the film’s producers to have final cut, and most tense and disappointing moments are not left on the cutting-room floor. This isn’t some PR-friendly fluff piece. The film reveals the raw emotions, physical pain and emotional intensity of racing at the top of the sport.

It would be interesting viewing to see some of the other teams in the peloton provide such an honest look at the day-to-day drama of the grand tours. GreenEdge broke ground with its “Back Stage Pass” series, and this long-form documentary takes it to the next level.

The Netflix documentary inside Movistar’s 2019 racing season is must-see TV for any cycling fan.

The Least Expected Day
The Least Expected Day documents Movistar Team’s 2019 season.