The 2022 campaign ended a few weeks ago. What has been the tenth season of existence of the youth team is the last in which Guillermo Gutiérrez will be exercising managerial duties. The man from Reinosa (1987) has been at the head of the team for a decade, an intense period during which he has had the opportunity to coach dozens of young riders, many of them future professionals. A lover of the sport. “I’ve had a great time over the years, but I think the time has come to take this step,” he says.
What is your overall assessment of this season?
In general terms, it has been a very interesting year. From my point of view, the training aspect has been very good. In terms of results, which are not a priority in this project, we’ve had some very interesting moments in the season, perhaps best exemplified by Nil Aguilera’s second place in the Vuelta al Besaya or Joan Cadena’s victory in Valdefresno. I also believe that the level of this squad is much higher than what the results themselves can say, but in cycling, as we know, results obey to multiple circumstances, the rivals also compete with the same objectives as you and the level is always high.
The last edition of the Central Mountain Challenge can be a good example.
That’s right. It didn’t turn out badly in the end, but it’s true that I thought that as a group we would have one or two more points. In the end, David Puente’s stage win, a triumph that he deserved, gave a little bit of extra emphasis to a good participation in any case.
The 2022 season will be your last at the head of the youth team of the Contador Foundation, as you announced a few days ago.
There is always a beginning, there is always an end. It’s a personal decision that causes me some pain, because it’s been ten seasons. This is my home, the team was counting on me, but at this moment, after considering it, I think it’s the step I had to take. I don’t want people to make a big deal out of a decision that is mine. I am very grateful for the calls and messages I have received over the last few days. There have been many.
A decade, two lustrums, is a period that allows us to see, perceive or evaluate if the category has changed a lot in all this time?
I think that from year to year it has evolved positively. It doesn’t mean that this evolution is the best, but it does mean that everything is much more professional. A youth rider will always be a youth rider, but the riders take it much more seriously than before, where there was more, in other words, more passivity. For me that’s not a bad thing at all, especially if there are structures or sponsors who support, trust and work with the category. This seriousness is a way of giving something back to that support.
Is there no antagonism between ‘professionalism’ and ‘junior category’?
Junior cycling has evolved, that’s a fact. That’s a fact. We’ll have to see if it’s fashionable or not, it’s not easy to say now. What it does require is adaptation to the times, without a doubt. And beyond that, I think that in this evolution at a national level, all the work done by the Foundation has contributed its grain of sand. I am not saying that this evolution depends solely and exclusively on the Foundation, please, or that the Foundation has come to invent junior cycling. Of course I’m not saying that. But when the Foundation arrived in the category, there were things that were not done, certain material means did not exist, the announcement of the line-ups had not been developed… Nowadays, all the teams do it. What is clear is that in this project, a project that is already ten years old and that is still being maintained ten years later, the subject of studies is something obligatory and is non-negotiable, and that all possible means are made available to the youngsters for the development of their activity. What is not done, although it is said that this is the case for reasons that escape us, is to ensure neither the passage to professionals, nor the passage to U23 or even the passage to the second year in the category. No, not at all. No motorbikes are sold neither to kids nor to their parents. And of course no one is forced to come or to stay. These are recurrent criticisms, respectable, but they are not true.
The concept of ‘professionalisation’ does not fit well either, because it is an age spectrum in which studies should take precedence…
From my point of view, without a doubt, the best cyclists in the end are the best students. It’s something I see every year. Alejandro Ropero, in his time, was a magnificent student. Carlos Rodríguez, also Fernando Tercero… There are many cases. I think that the organisation of time, that management, those habits, is a sign and a sign. That organisation makes you a better runner. Obviously there may be exceptions of great runners who don’t study, but we have to focus on that: they are exceptions. Very few. I have no doubt, a great student will be a great cyclist.
How did you come to the Contador Foundation?
I was part of the Cantabrian Isidoro San Justo. The Foundation, through José Luis de Santos, contacted a couple of riders from our team and one of them asked me for more information about the project, which at that time was something totally new. He wanted me to talk to Fran Contador and then give him my feedback on it. In a stage start of the Vuelta 2012, in La Faisanera Golf, I spoke to Fran, I told him the situation, he explained the project and where he wanted to go and, to be honest, it was something that couldn’t be improved. It was very interesting. As a result of that talk, some time later, Fran contacted me and offered me to work with them if I was interested… In autumn we started collaborating. And until today.
A decade in which you have had the opportunity to work closely with several directors.
When I joined, there were José Luis de Santos and Paco Salvatierra. José Luis would later move up to the U23 structure, Paco would leave the project and Félix García Casas would arrive. José Luis, a great coach, trusted me for this role, that was something unique. I have worked very well with everyone and I have learned a lot, but I must say that Felix has been special because both in terms of knowledge and organisation he is the ideal person that everyone would like to have in a team. He is an impressive professional.
Over the years you have been able to manage many riders, is there anyone who has left a special mark on you?
In the junior structure there have been 22 riders who have gone on to become professionals or still are. All the riders had their own special light and I have a good relationship with all of them. Carlos Rodríguez was impressive from a sporting point of view, but as a person he is a guy who wins you over. He and his family win you over. Raúl García also impressed me because of the enormous change he made since he was a cadet. And Álex Martín for the enormous regularity he showed all year, winning from the Cabedo Trophy to the Vuelta a Talavera, the Vuelta al Besaya or the Tour de l’Ain. But there are many. Enric Mas showed great things. Juan Pedro López. Ángel Fuentes, who was an impressive cyclist… The first year Fran Pérez, Fernando Barceló, Miguel Ángel Ballesteros were already here… People of a very high level, who worked really well tactically and created an impressive team atmosphere.
You mentioned Rodríguez, Martín and García Pierna… Carlos and Raúl shared the team in 2019. Possibly the best squad you’ve ever managed?
The squad was impressive. There was also Pablo Gutiérrez, Fernando Tercero, Javi Serrano, Juanjo Rosal, Francesc Bennassar… I really enjoyed that year, but not because of the results, but because of the enormous commitment of the boys. It’s not easy for so much quality to live together without problems and without arguments. And that’s how it was, a very, very nice season. Unforgettable.
A decade is enough time for many anecdotes. Any confessable ones?
I remember that on one occasion, I won’t say the name, a cyclist got lost during a training session. He went to link the cranks with the potentiometer, went too far away and got lost from the rest of the group while we were doing some uphill tests. He didn’t have his phone on him or anything. After a while we finally found him, but there was some uncertainty. Curiously, another rider had told us, he swore and swore, that he had been talking to him on a climb… And he wasn’t with us! I also remember another one from the 2019 Cabedo Trophy, where in one of the races there was a situation in which four riders were in the lead and, with the background of the competition, they wanted to get as much time as possible ahead of their rivals at the finish line. I stopped them, because it was unnecessary, the race was on track, and I told them that the maximum was two minutes or I would drop all four of them.
And in the end it has been a very productive decade at all levels. Has anything been left out?
No. And the most important thing, what remains in my memory, has been the group building, we have all had a great relationship during and after. I have always said the same thing to the boys: the experiences you have in the youth teams are unrepeatable and you have to enjoy them to the maximum, because they are impossible in other higher categories. In U23 the pressure is greater and there is the prospect of the jump to professionalism. And in the elite the pressure is different and absolute, it’s already a job. The youth category straddles two realities. It is marvellous. In sporting terms, the boys who have been with the team this year have achieved everything that can be achieved. L’Ain at the time was a very important victory. In Belgium they have competed and won. The Víctor Cabedo Trophy, the Vuelta al Besaya, the Bizkaiko Itzulia, the Vuelta a Talavera, the Vuelta a la Ribera del Duero, the Spanish Cup, both individually and by teams,…