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For Movistar, the Vuelta a España is a special race. As the top Spanish team, the season’s third grand tour is more than just another bike race. The team races with pride on home roads in front of their fans, intent on bringing home the red jersey with Nairo Quintana or Alejandro Valverde.
In the mix of Spanish and Latin American riders is Aussie Rory Sutherland, who joined the team in 2015. The veteran is an important piece of the Movistar arsenal, doing a lot of the hard work on the flats long before the TV broadcast comes on.
VeloNews caught up with Sutherland on the first rest day to talk about how the Vuelta is changing, his expectations for Wednesday’s brutal stage across Andorra, and why so many Colombian fans are always hanging around the Movistar bus. Here’s what he had to say:
VeloNews: This Vuelta just looks wild from the outside; is it just as crazy from inside the peloton?
Rory Sutherland: Yes and no. Some people even say it looks boring, but I can guarantee you it’s not easy. It’s been a very hard-fought race so far. And from what we’ve seen, it’s been an unusual Vuelta, with so many guys crashing out with big crashes and massive pileups. Like in stage 2, when Nibali went down just because someone in front of you clips a wheel. The problem was that everyone was going 70kph. The Vuelta seems to be changing over the past four or five years. There are no more “tranquilo” stages anymore. When I went to my first Giro back in 2005, the break would go away, and we would just roll along easy for three hours. That is certainly not the case at the Vuelta.
VN.com: Have you been involved in a crash yet?
RS: Knock on wood, no, I’ve been pretty good. That is one of the benefits of working and protecting your leader. You’re almost always at the front, or very near the front, of the pack. So you keep yourself out of trouble. I am in the wind for most of the stage, so when we hit the harder finales, I drop back, and take it easy, and recover for the next day.
VN.com: It’s been hard to read the first half of the Vuelta, who do you see from inside the peloton looking strong enough to win?
RS: To tell the truth, I don’t know! I don’t think anyone knows. It’s incredibly open. We’ve seen the Tour guys have some struggles. It’s clear that none of the guys who rode the Tour are jumping away.
What these guys do have is the experience and depth in the second and third week. Guys like Nairo, [Chris] Froome, and Alejandro, they’re always there, but we’ve seen younger guys like [Esteban] Chaves fade off a bit, which is normal. But who’s going to win? That’s a real guessing game. I think we’ll know a lot more after Wednesday’s stage. There are going to be some guys who you might have thought could win will lose minutes.
VN.com: What’s it like inside the Movistar bus? The Vuelta is their Super Bowl; is there an extra buzz within the team racing on home roads?
RS: It’s really good. The mood is fantastic, and the atmosphere within the team is always positive. Just stand outside our bus, especially around Murcia, where Alejandro is from, it was a sea of people. And the Colombians are everywhere! I asked Nairo why we see so many Colombian fans everywhere, and he said that Colombians are very passionate and patriotic, and travel to see their sport heroes when they’re doing well. I’ve seen an amazing amount of Colombian flags on the road. It’s unbelievable. They’re everywhere!
VN.com: How is Quintana feeling? He seems a little off his best so far in this Vuelta …
RS: With the type of first week we’ve had in this Vuelta, we haven’t seen the climbs that Nairo can really go well. We haven’t seen the long climbs in the Pyrénées or Alps so far. We’ve had these shorter, 11 to 15-minute power efforts. With a bigger weight, you can power up those climbs, so that’s why we’ve guys like Dumoulin and Roche going well. Maybe Dumoulin can hold power for 10 to 12 minutes, but it will be a different story when you have to hold power for 20 to 30 minutes per climb, and do that two or three times in a stage. No one knows how they’re going to do after the Tour. The goal to win is there. Within the team, the tension is growing, but in a good way. Everyone is confident. It’s an unknown, but that’s the case of every team.
VN.com: Everyone is hyping that Wednesday’s stage is an epic in the making; do you think it’s going to live up to expectations?
RS: Yes and no. Look at Monday’s stage. On paper, it was supposed to be easy, but it was one of the hardest, fastest, and most exciting stages of the race. There is no question that it’s going to be hard on everyone. The big question is do you go flat out from the first climb? Is that sustainable? Then you’ve got five more to go. I think we have two first-category climbs in the first 20km. That’s crazy. There is fear out there. People are scared about Wednesday. It’s going to be a very fast selection right from the gun.
VN.com: Will everyone race hard with so many climbs in the stage?
RS: It’s going to be a race of attrition, and I don’t think it will be a brawl until the very end. It will be an interesting start. It goes straight up from kilometer zero. We rode that climb, and it’s one of the hardest climbs I’ve seen. It’s brutal. It goes straight up, six or seven kilometers, straight up the mountain. The mechanic asked me if I wanted to race with a 34 or a 36? I said, what?! Maybe I am just too old school. I always race with 39×29.
VN.com: When you speak of fear, that must be about making the time cut?
RS: If you’re not a GC rider, what are you supposed to do tomorrow? And the sprinters? And it also depends on how your legs go a day after a rest day. For a lot of teams, riders will be out of the race right from the first kilometer. If you get dropped on the first mountain, you cannot help your team for the rest of the stage. There is a lot of concern about how that last group will be. A bit will depend on how hard people race the stage. Who’s going to chase?
VN.com: You’ve come to this team after racing with U.S. and largely Anglo teams, how your Spanish coming along?
RS: Pretty good. I can understand everything, except what’s being said on race radio, but you can’t even hear that in English. When you gain experience, you don’t need to be told what to do. I know what I am doing. I am not a 21-year-old kid. Everyone on the team has a very good understanding of our roles, and we work well together. It’s a lot of fun on the team.