PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Rory Sutherland is ready to buckle up and go for the ride of his lifetime.
In fact, the adventure has already started as the 32-year-old Australian is settling in with his new team Movistar in what should be a season packed with thrills every minute.
“On this team, we’re thinking on the same lines. I’ve put my personal aspirations aside to do a specific job,” Sutherland told VeloNews. “The expectation is not to win races. If I come 100th in every race, that’s fine, because [Alejandro] Valverde is on the team to win races. Nairo [Quintana] is here to win stage races. My job is to support Nairo and Valverde, and it’s something I am good at.”
Sutherland is one of four new faces at Movistar as the Spanish team rolls into 2015 with huge ambitions. Others include Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida), Ruben Fernández (Caja Rural), and promising Spanish talent Marc Soler.
The team’s foundation is firmly in place, with Valverde and Quintana setting the highest bar possible, targeting just about every major race on the calendar, from early season Spanish races on home roads, through the Ardennes classics, the Tour de France, and Vuelta a España.
And Sutherland hopes to be right in the thick of things, slotting into a role as a jack-of-all-trades who can help motor in team time trials, pull on the flats, set tempo in medium mountains, and then drop off the captains at the base of the final decisive climbs.
“They want me to be a ‘gregario.’ I am not some 25-year-old kid trying to find themselves. We have a good vision of where my abilities lie,” Sutherland said. “I am 100 percent for somebody else. That’s where my talent lies. I’ve won races, sure, but I am not a Contador, a Valverde, I am not a Froome. I am happy with that. Finding your niche is very important in cycling. Sometimes riders can race 15 years and never get that.”
So far at Movistar, they haven’t talked specifics about the calendar, but it’s obvious that Valverde and Quintana are the team’s top leaders. And Sutherland can expect that wherever they go, that’s where he’ll want to be.
“Calendar? It doesn’t really matter what I want to do. To define my program, I need to read the press, and read where Alejandro and Nairo are going, because that’s where I will be,” he said. “They have the ability to win races. I will do better with them than by myself. Alejandro can win a lot more races, with GC and one-day races. He’s that snappy type of rider who can win a lot.”
Sutherland is hoping to find that “sweet spot” with Movistar that he admitted he couldn’t quite find during a two-year run at Tinkoff-Saxo.
In 2012, Sutherland got the call up back to the “bigs,” with a chance to return to racing in Europe after six productive seasons racing in the United States. He had posted strong results in every major U.S. race, yet as he turned 30, he knew his career was at a crossroads. He wanted the chance to return to Europe, and when Bjarne Riis came calling, he signed on without a second thought.
“In 2012, I was 30, I had some great results in the States, I won the majority of races you could win over there. I was coming toward the end of my motivational point,” he said. “Either commit to the WorldTour, to see if you could realize your potential. You need to discover where your personal top is. It was a chance of a lifetime. You’ll never get the chance to do this again.”
At Tinkoff, he completed the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and re-established himself in the peloton. Sutherland described it as “coming back home.”
“Europe is the big leagues. Racing in the U.S., with 150, 10 can win. In Europe, 200 guys, 100 can win. America is not easy racing. California, Colorado, those are hard races. The great thing about coming over here is getting into the grand tours; that changes your body. Even races like Dauphine, Paris-Nice, those are hard races,” he said.
Going into 2014, Sutherland expected to take another step up, and was tapped as one of the top helpers for team captains Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger. Something happened along the way, and Sutherland was diplomatic about it, but in the end, he didn’t race a grand tour in 2014.
“My entire program was with Alberto and Kreuziger, doing what I am good at, our goals were pretty aligned, but there was a diversion a few times,” he said. “It’s not something I was completely happy with, but when the ideas and the goals are not aligned 100 percent, it’s a little more difficult.”
After he was left off the Giro and Tour teams, Sutherland could read the writing on the wall. And once word went around that Peter Sagan would be joining for 2015, Sutherland told his agent to put out feelers. Movistar came back with an offer to work for Valverde and Quintana, and Sutherland was immediately interested.
“I thank Bjarne for the chance to return to Europe after being away six years, and for the opportunity, and it gave the chance to fulfill my potential,” Sutherland said. “It’s a great team, and I would have no problem going back.”
At Movistar, things are crystal clear from the start: “Valverde and Quintana are the captains, and everyone else is there to protect them,” Sutherland said. “We are going to win a lot of races in 2015. Everyone is excited about the coming season.”
Movistar is clearly a Spanish team, with roots dating back 35 years. Sutherland, who moved to Spain in 2013, has hired a private tutor to improve his Spanish so he can be onboard right from the start.
“My Spanish is getting better very quickly. I am being proactive, I am taking lessons, and I have a tutor. People do not speak English here. Dowsett, and the Italians, they speak a little English. The Spanish riders do not speak English,” he said. “This is a Spanish team, and we all need to communicate in Spain. I am excited about that.”
As they say in Spain, “Venga! Venga!” Sutherland is clearly more than excited about the challenge.