Jorge Sanz: “The key for success has been a mixture of confidence, experience and a great atmosphere”

5 October 2018
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Movistar women's team's 2018 overview

Telefónica-backed squad’s sports director talks about his riders’ excellent performances throughout the Blues’ first season in the UCI Women category.

Following five years in the team as a coach for the men’s structure, Jorge Sanz (Orcoyen, ESP; 1983) took charge one year ago of leading the most ambitious project ever in Spain’s women’s cycling. He would be the sports directors for the new female Movistar Team, which would end up setting the benchmark for many other structures, change his own career, the life of ten ladies and the history of the Pamplona-based organisation. Twelve months –and fifteen victories– later, Jorge explains how the dream was forged into reality, the secrets of all riders’ great progression and the reason behind the signings so far annoucned for the 2019 season.

THE FOUNDATION

Our goal, or the means we wanted to build to improve how the team worked and maximise the performance of all riders, was having a group of girls who got on really well with each other, in and out of the races. Knowing that we were building a new squad with members of very different teams, we held some doubts about how they would work together and the level they would reach together. To be honest, the response from all of them has been really positive. I’d say they were B+ or maybe even A, not wanting to be too optimistic about them (he laughs). Let me explain that: I don’t want to be too optimistic but they’ve won seven UCI races, eight national events, featured prominently at many top races and showed impressive character – so I have to be happy and proud about what they’ve done, while thinking there’s still room for them to improve.

– How is it possible to build such a strong bond between all the ladies like the one we saw this season?

I think it’s been a mixture of many thing. Most of them weren’t racing as professionals just because they couldn’t afford that, so this project has changed their lives and they always tried to make things easy from the very start as a result. The good thing is that passed on that spirit to those who were already part of big squads. That mixture of hope, experience and a good atmosphere has allowed us getting that far during the season.

Profile and career – Sanz combines cycling heritage and DNA –brother of Enrique, a WorldTour pro for many years with the Movistar Team; niece of Eusebio; son of Enrique, a former rider and team carer early in the organisaion’s history– with studies of Science of Physical Activity and Sport plus a Master’s Degree on High Performance in Collective Sports. On his way to the top of professional cycling, Jorge cut his teeth at the football club Athletic de Masnou, the Navarran Cycling Federation, Lizarte, the CD Valle de Egües and Lointek (UCI Women Team), a squad he directed for two seasons.

THE SURPRISES

– Talking a bit more about the individuals – could one seriously expect such a big step forward from Małgorzata Jasińska?

In 2016, ‘Jasi’ completed an already strong season, but in 2017, due to various reasons, she wasn’t quite there. I knew that, should we be able to manage her resting periods well, she would be able to be really consistent, because she’s one who works really hard all season. But the good thing is that she wasn’t only consistent, but also really strong, up there with the top contenders. I insist: it was sort of a surprise, because we weren’t expecting her to do so well, but I did know she was a rider who could keep that consistency throughout the season.

– The evolution, the ‘level bump’, for all Spaniards has been evident, but let’s talk about two names who are gaining great significance in the WorldTour scene as of the season we’ve just finished: Mavi and Eider. Very different, yet both improving every day.

That’s true – in Eider’s case, I already knew her from Lointek, knew about her strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, Mavi wasn’t a rider whom I really knew well, but had some good references from the rider and the person, and thought could be a huge asset for us, a really versatile competitor. I did think they would be progressing as they did this season. If you think about it, Eider just needed courses for her. He might have not been at the height of the expectations she rose for La Course or the World Championships due to stomach problems, but on the other races for climbers, she was impressive. Mavi’s performances are remarkable because she’s basically new to cycling -she’s spent only three years in the sport- and has adapted really well to the exigence of it. She knew just four or five riders, and was still tackling that learning curve. Considering that, her improvements have been astonishing.

– Behind them, there has been a group of elite domestiques who have also shone and claimed victories at many points of the season: Gloria, the young Alba, Alicia, Lourdes, Lorena… and Aude, who also became national champion.

I was actually talking about all of that with them just few days ago, and they concede that one of the key, most remarkable points of the season is that they’ve never focused on getting their results with just one main reference throughout the season, rather than going with two, three candidates and helping them with the rest of the team while supporting each other. We haven’t gone to many races with a plan of going for a good result with just one rider. It depended on the moment of the season we were at, though – if we had clear in mind a rider could aim for the goal, we set our sights on helping out just her. Everyone has assumed their roles in this team, and I value highly how sensible they’ve been, knowing their situation would vary depending on the race and form and standing up to either help the team or lead it and see “how far I can reach”. They admit that, if they’re not at the same level some other team-mates can reach at some point, they have to support them. And they did really well in that.

LEAVING THEIR MARK

– Do you feel like the efforts you’ve done have been valued as much as the ladies deserved, both by the media and the cycling world, during this 2018 season?

Yes. Having the backing and full confidence of such a big company as Telefónica allows you reaching further heights, being known by more people, and earning bigger recognition. We’re so fortunate to have them by our side.

– Finishing up with this overview, what can you tell us about the two signings already confirmed?

Both Roxane Fournier and Sheyla Gutiérrez were two rider profiles we were eager to get on board. Our team was clearly biased towards the climbing side, with three riders (Mavi, Eider, Lorena) who have struggled to find races where they could shine because of the calendar we had in this maiden season – though I’m hopeful they will enjoy much more space next year. Our goal, then, was to reinforce an area where we were lacking a bit, with riders different to them: rouleurs, sprinters, classics contenders.

Gloria, Alba and Lourdes were qualified enough to work on those terrains, but we wanted to further improve our strengths in that specific part of the calendar with a couple more talented ladies. Sheyla has already won some UCI races, including some classics. On the other hand, Roxane is a kind of rider we didn’t have at all – a real sprinter. I think she will help us gaining presence at races which we went to with no real goals because of the terrain they offered. We hope both riders to bring more muscle to the table in those tough classics, so we can play many different cards and relieve some pressure off their shoulders.

Not that we will be putting pressure on them, rather than the exigence they put on themselves. And it’s not only about Roxane and Sheyla – it would be unfair to put all hopes on them for the early season. Actually, with the level both Aude and Jasi have shown, plus Mavi and Eider in the hillier races, we’ve got 5-6 riders who can do well together and go chase good results depending on the specific terrain at any race.