Meet Mavi Garcia, the woman who very nearly won Strade Bianche

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This past weekend the world saw a brilliant ride by Mavi Garcia. With a courageous solo attack at Strade Bianche the 36-year-old almost won the iconic race on Tuscany’s gravel roads. World champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), unbeaten this year, only caught the Spanish rider in the final six kilometres, leaving Garcia to settle for second place.

It’s time to get to know the rider from Mallorca, currently part of the Alé-BTC Ljubljana team.

“I am so happy with the result in Strade Bianche,” Garcia told me. “I could see myself on a podium of a WorldTour race but not this one, absolutely not this one. This was my first Strade Bianche. I never did it before because I thought it wouldn’t suit me. However, my team manager at Alé-BTC Ljubljana said I should try it and so I did.

“I was quite nervous at the start because I had looked at the course and found the gravel pretty dangerous to be honest.”

After showing great form in the Basque races the week before, including a second place to Van Vleuten in the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, it was no surprise to see Garcia in a strong breakaway of 10 riders at Strade Bianche.

“I tried to get away because I prefer doing a solo but I got caught at the first attempt,” she said. “Then at 45 kilometres from the line I tried again and opened up a gap. A very long way out, I know. Ellen van Dijk and Amanda Spratt were behind me but were not working together enough to get me back.”

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There was a lot of confusion with the time gaps on Saturday, with the race broadcast showing the same gaps for kilometres on end. As Garcia explained, it was also confusing for riders in the race.

“I only heard a time difference of three minutes to the breakaway and five minutes to the peloton,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know that Van Vleuten had joined the chasers, [and] had attacked and I had no idea how close she was. It all went very fast and I had no time to react anymore.

“Beating Van Vleuten is very difficult of course but I almost did it this weekend. Maybe one day I will.”

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Garcia comes from the Spanish island of Mallorca. Her first sport as a kid was figure skating, something you wouldn’t associate with the warm climate of the Mediterranean.

“We skated on a solid wooden surface on roller skates,” she explained with a smile. From figure skating she soon moved to running.

“I did athletics for 25 years and had a lot of fun and success in the duathlon [the combination of running and cycling],” she said. “After that I tried to focus on cycling because I could do that sport professionally.”

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Garcia was very successful in duathlon with medals at the European and world championships and soon found success in cycling too. She performed especially well at the Spanish national championships with wins in 2017 on the road and 2018 in the time trial. She stood on the podium no less than six times in four years.

“The national championships are something special,” she told me. “In my first nationals, I rode with the regional team of the Balearic Islands with only one teammate. I could go for it and won the title.”

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From 2015 through 2017, Garcia raced with Basque trade team Bizkaia-Durango before joining Movistar in 2018 and 2019.

“With Movistar there was more a team strategy [at the national championships] because we had a lot of girls in the peloton,” she said. “This year it will be very hard because I am alone for my team but my goal is to win. I will try to do that. I am very motivated for the road race and the time trial. Both races are one of my goals this season.”

The Spanish national championships will be held in Jaén, Andalucia at the end of August. After that, she’ll also target the Giro Rosa in mid September. She does well in hard races like the Giro Rosa and the Tour de l’Ardèche. At the latter she was sixth overall at her first attempt in 2016, and took top ten places in 2018 and 2019. In 2018 she finished second behind Kasia Niewiadoma. She also got a 16th place overall in the Giro Rosa in her first attempt, and an 11th place two years ago.

“I like hard races like the Tour de l’Ardèche and the Giro,” she said. “You have to be so versatile and be good in all things. You also have to have luck and be very strong. Everything needs to work in your favor.”

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2020 is an unprecedented year in cycling. After the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana in February, where García finished in seventh place, Spain went into a complete lockdown.

“After all the cancellations I tried to make that switch mentally as soon as possible,” she said. “I stayed at home, worked on my strength, did a lot of indoor cycling and was so happy when I finally could ride outdoors again.”

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Garcia is now 36 years old and still improving every year. She naturally thinks about her future in the peloton.

“Yes, I am 36 years old now but I want to continue for a few more years,” she said. “I still want to find out where my limits are. I want to get to know and ride many more races, work on my endurance, and get better in general. I don’t know how long I will remain competitive but I am sure I want to ride on for a few more years to find out how far I can get.

“I just want to keep enjoying myself on the bike as much as I can. That’s my goal.”

José Been would like to extend a big ‘gracias’ to Yolanda Alvarez for helping with some of the translations.

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