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Back 2020-02-13

New on Zippcast: MOVISTAR TEAM Performance Director Patxi Vila

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Zippcast is back for 2020 with an interview with our newest pro team, MOVISTAR. Patxi Vila, head of performance for MOVISTAR TEAM, has had an impressive career as a rider and coach. He takes an analytical and patient approach to developing riders and optimizing performance. We talked with Patxi at MOVISTAR’s recent team camp in Mallorca about his work and vision for the team.

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Edited excerpts:

You just wrapped up sessions with riders at the velodrome working on time trial aero performance. What were you trying to learn?

Time trialing and positioning for aerodynamics are getting more and more important in professional cycling. It’s the first day for MOVISTAR that we are working on this new aero project. It’s a starting point. We want to make sure there are no big mistakes. We can start from a fixed good point and fine-tune over the next months.

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Riders were switching out clothing and equipment during today’s tests, from arm and leg warmers with road helmets to skinsuits with TT helmets. Why?

Most of the teams and aerodynamic people, they have their view of what a time trial position should look like. I have my view, also, so I was just trying to set up everyone from the starting point I want. That was it. Just see everyone at the same point, and we will develop the next steps.

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What has been your career path, as a rider and director, before coming to MOVISTAR?

Before being a professional bike rider, I was licensed in sports science. I had my university degree before being a professional rider. Then for 12 years, I was a professional bike rider. Then when I ended that I was working as head of road performance for Specialized for two years. Then I jumped to Team Tinkoff, where I was a coach and sports director. There I met Peter Sagan, and we moved to BORA… I was head of performance at BORA-HANSGROHE for three years. I switched to my home team—my first professional team was Banesto, which was the same team as MOVISTAR TEAM. And here we are.

What did you learn from working with Peter Sagan?

You always learn from everyone. Being a professional bike rider on the road is something that you need to spend a lot of time to understand. I always say we work with exceptions, not with rules. Most of the rules you apply to normal people, they don’t apply to our athletes because they are exceptionally good. It means you have to get the experience of being around professional road cycling to understand what you need in the race and what you need in preparation... technical advice, everything. To be head of performance, you need to have that 360-degree view around cycling. You need to understand what the rider needs. It’s a really special world that’s not easy to learn if you are not involved in it for a long time.

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MOVISTAR is your former team, but what else attracted you to this job?

Everything was coming together. MOVISTAR was switching from a pretty national team, a Spanish team, to an international team. It’s switching from a GC-focused team to a more "everything" team. We have a bunch of young riders who will be up there, for sure, in the coming years in the Classics. Also, I’ve known Eusebio (Unzué, the team’s general manager) for 20 years or more, and he told me ‘you need to join.’ He explained the whole thing, the (addition) of SRAM and Zipp. So there’s also the technical change.

What is your outlook for the team?

It’s a nice mix of young people and more veteran people. You have a nice balance between GC riders, helpers, some sprinters, some good classics riders. I hope we can be able to mix the technology and the science we are trying to bring to the team, thanks to you from SRAM and Zipp, with the tradition of this team. My hope is we are intelligent enough to apply the know-how of the team with some fresh air with more technology and more knowledge of what’s going on in the bike race.

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How do you look to bring in new technology? What are some of the ways you work with the riders to find those marginal gains?

I did the math last year. The difference between the winner and the second in a time trial, the average was like 2 seconds. It’s a tiny amount of time you need to save. That’s what can make the difference between winning and not winning.

We need to be smart and understand that, in the race dynamic, you win the race in the last meter. But if you are smart enough in the other 200k’s before the last meter, you can save a lot of energy. That saving of energy can bring you the win. Today there are no more marginal gains. Everything is important. It’s not marginal anymore. It’s just as important as all the rest. You need to do 100 percent. If you do 99, maybe you don’t win. You need to do everything. Everything is of the same importance. Some things will take more time, some less. But it’s the same importance for both.

Looking at some technical areas, what are your thoughts on disc brakes for road racing? What are the advantages?

First thing, you will always have the same braking power. It simply makes more sense. You can brake later, always the same. You can have the system of having a thu-axle of having the system stiffness much higher. I wouldn’t say it’s the future; it’s just the present.

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What about tire pressure?

It’s something we need to work on. It’s something I believe in. It’s not marginal. For me, having a good tire with a good grip and good rolling resistance means that you trust your bike. It means you will be more relaxed in the turns and be safe. There’s not that overthinking, that stress before the turn because you think you need to brake a lot.

What do you see tubeless technology working itself into the pro peloton?

It will be the future. If you look at other sports where there are wheels involved, we are the only sport where we still glue to rims. I trust in the technology of tubeless, and I think it will be the future.

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Follow @patxivila and @movistar_team on Instagram

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All photos by Brazo de Hierro @brazodehierro