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When a Movistar rider refused to obey team orders on live TV last year in the team’s home Grand Tour, fans everywhere were left to wonder what the heck was going on back in the team car.
Now we know: The sports director was banging his fists against every available inch of the interior of the vehicle and shouting a litany of profanities.
That moment and many others of note were featured in a documentary series centered on the Movistar team released on Netflix last Friday. The Least Expected Day (a decidedly non-idiomatic translation of the Spanish title, “El diá menos pensado“) is a six-part series chronicling Movistar’s 2019 Grand Tour campaign, one that featured several dramatic highs and lows. The show offers a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the team over the three races.
Over the last few days, I watched The Least Expected Day so that I could tell you, dear readers, whether I think it is worth your time. If you must know before reading further: I do.
To be more specific, here’s what I liked and didn’t like.
What I liked
My first thought within minutes of starting the show was, “Hey, the production values on this thing are pretty darn good.” As much as we often write about how little money there is in cycling relative to other major world sports, the producers of the Movistar doc (team sponsor Telefónica—more on that later) apparently invested enough in the project that I felt like I was watching something worthy of wide release.
Maybe I’m a cynic for not having expected as much going in, but I was pleasantly surprised by the polish of the final product, from the camerawork to the sound mixing. For an avid cycling fan missing out on the joy of watching bike racing right now, the opportunity to watch a piece of well-made racing content may alone make it worth it to tune in.
As for the actual content, I am happy to report that the documentary offers far more insight into the tensions and drama that plagued the squad last year than you might expect from a series produced by a sponsor (assuming you’re comfortable reading subtitles throughout if you’re not a Spanish speaker).
I won’t go into too much detail so as to avoid spoilers, but you will come away having learned at least a little bit more about: the uncertainty surrounding leadership at the Giro, that day at the Tour when Movistar dropped its own leader Nairo Quintana, that day at the Vuelta a España when Marc Soler vented his frustration with team orders out on the road on live television, and that other day at the Vuelta when Movistar pushed the pace in the bunch after the race leader was caught up in a crash.
Combining race day video with videos from pre-race training and studio interviews, the producers do a fine job of showing the mindsets and emotions of those involved in the various controversies, offering more honesty that you’ll usually get in a post-race interview. It’s not often that riders will call each other out, even when everyone knows what they’re really thinking, so it was refreshing to hear at least a few criticisms aired by the riders after a teammate did this or that frustrating thing.
That honesty extended beyond the flashy controversies. Viewers actually get at least a little bit of insight into the departures of the team’s many stars. Richard Carapaz just comes right out and says that he left Movistar to join Ineos for more money, which we all knew, but hey, good on him for saying it outright. Sports directors discuss Mikel Landa’s decision to leave the team for a chance to be the sole GC leader elsewhere—and one of them is pretty critical about it.
More generally, there were the personalities. Perhaps the biggest appeal for English-speaking viewers of the series will be the opportunity to get a better understanding of who the likes of Quintana, Carapaz, Valverde, and Landa really are, considering the fact that they generally give their interviews in another language.
The typically stoic Quintana actually chokes up as he bids the team farewell prior to his impending transfer to Arkéa-Samsic. Landa’s conflicted emotions are on display across two Grand Tours. Studio interviews with Carapaz and a visit to his home in Ecuador give viewers a chance to get to know him better as an ambitious but honest rider.
And considering the way so many in the English-speaking cycling world feel about Valverde, it’s at least worth some time spent seeing him the way the Movistar team and much of the Spanish public see him, as a savvy and sometimes even charming veteran.
It’s also worth mentioning that the series offers a welcome chance for viewers to get acquainted with the personalities of those directing things behind the scenes. Plenty of screen time is given to team manager Eusebio Unzué and sports directors Chente García Acosta, José Luis Arrieta, Max Sciandri, and Pablo Lastras, and they provide some of the most interest moments in the series. There’s that aforementioned explosion of frustration within the team car, and there’s also a series of occasions in which one director lays into no fewer than four Movistar riders in studio interviews over just two episodes.
What I didn’t like
My only major gripe with the series was the pacing, which I suspect will have a lot of viewers scratching their heads.
On multiple occasions, the producers decided to tease a dramatic moment in the story of the season only to suddenly cut back to several hours prior, or several weeks prior, to show some key element that happened before the action. Maybe one instance might have worked if set up properly, but The Least Expected Day does it surprisingly often, and to jarring effect at best. At worst it seems a little bit contrived.
Beyond that, it should also be said that at the end of the day, despite the show’s willingness to put some of the team drama and disfunction on display, it is still a PR play in a way. There are a handful of moments – fewer than I’d expected, but they’re there – where riders or staff say something that’s just too corny. I generally found myself sympathetic to the occasionally melancholy Landa, but he did make me cringe at one point by saying of the supposedly unheralded Giro roster, “We were basically just a group of friends.”
It’s not just the brief moments of corniness either. For one, while we are shown many of the dramatic behind-the-scenes moments, I’m quite certain others are left out. Nothing in the series ever gets all that ugly even if it may have in real life.
Nor, by the way, does the translated English. Spanish-speaking viewers can turn the English subtitles on if they want to chuckle at a pleasantly sterilized version of what people are actually saying. Throughout the series, for instance, Movistar’s riders and sports directors make pretty prodigious use of the word joder and others like it, but you will often see far more polite diction provided in the translated subtitles.
All told, I found The Least Expected Day to be well worth my time. It’s not perfect, but it’s compelling and enlightening at the same time. The Grand Tours served up a healthy dose of entertainment in 2019 and perhaps no team brought as much of its own additional drama to the table as Movistar. Since I won’t be watching any big live (outdoor) races in the near future, I was glad to have a chance to see the ample action from last year again in a new light.