They say that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. They must have been thinking of Luis Ángel Maté. The cyclist from Marbella is competing in his fifth consecutive Tour de France. Team Cofidis has once again chosen Maté for the most important stage race in the world.
You had a rather difficult start to cycling: you had to move away and leave home very young… How do you remember that time?
It was a drastic form of emancipation, but it helped me mature, grow and made my goals clear to me. Since then, I have fought very hard to get to where I am, in spite of obstacles like being away from my family, who have always given me all their support, for which I am extremely grateful.
What do you remember about your beginnings as an amateur with Ávilas Rojas?
Back then, it was the best team around. Just getting in was a great accomplishment. It was the team where I learned to be a cyclist. With Emilio Esteve and all of us cyclists, everyone a great cyclist, I learned the sport: how to take care of myself, how to ride, attack, etc. I still owe them a lot even today. Now you see many talented professionals, but they need 'schooling'. That's why I'll always be thankful to Ávilas Rojas , for showing me how to be a cyclist.
You debuted in 2008 with Andalucía-Cajasur – on an Orbea – and then you went to Androni (2009-2010), where you had a fantastic Vuelta a Andalucía, winning the overall mountain category. How do you remember that stage?
You know, I was on the team with Simoni, Rebellin, Scarponi… all great cyclists. Scarponi, for example, is a genius. A teammate with charisma and an essential member of a team, for the work he does, his people skills, the ambiance he creates… If I had to create a team today, the first rider I'd sign is Michele, because he's an artist.
You signed with Cofidis in 2011. When do you think you'll reach your maximum level of maturity on the team?
When you're on a French team, in the end, you're still a foreigner, and the team gives you confidence, the possibility of being in the most important races in the world and a specific weight within the group; that is moment that marks the difference. It is a point of inflection, of maturity and responsibility on the team and also where you try not to leave anything to chance, so you don't betray that trust.
What do you expect in terms of the Alps?
I expect to fight. There are some very beautiful stages coming up, but also some very difficult ones, where there will be important struggles in which we need to be to try to earn a victory.
Of all the races you've competed in, which has been the most difficult for you?
The Camerino stage, in the Tirreno-Adriatico during my first year with Androni, was brutal: we covered 5,500 meters of elevation gain in 260 km, and we didn't even climb any mountain passes, can you imagine?
What did you think about the retirement of Joaquim Rodriguez?
I was going to define it as a loss, but that's not exactly it. Joaquim has completed a cycle, in which he has become a legend in this sport. He has won everything and has given a lot to cycling. Like I told him the other day, you've more than earned it, and it's time you enjoyed the well-deserved rest of a warrior and be with your family. Many times this sport demands a lot of sacrifices in that regard, and you spend a lot of time away from home. Joaquim has become a living legend in this sport, and he leaves behind a legacy that we will enjoy forever.
It is precisely because of this retirement that I wonder if you think that there is a good national reserve of young cyclists. Do you see a generational change by the young riders?
There has always been a reserve and raw material. What we need is to know how to exploit it, and for there to be public support, which it already has, as well as support from institutions and companies. There has to be a commitment and involvement to offer a chance to the young cyclists in this country.
What type of wheels do you prefer when training: tubular or clincher?
Clincher; inner tube and tire. I've used tubular before, but I think the other system is more convenient.
When you take a break during training, do you go more for pastries and Coca-Cola or a cereal bar and juice?
Pastry and Coca-Cola.
Are you methodical about your training plan or do you rely on your feelings?
Yes, I'm very methodical, and I am also very attentive to the power meter. Nowadays, it is so measured that you have to look at it if you want to do well in your training sessions. The only exception is in competition. I never look at it then, I analyze it afterwards. As a matter of fact, I keep it covered up…both for myself and my rivals.
Do you like to train by yourself or with your gruppetto?
It depends on the moment. Cycling is a sport that lets you practice it with friends or meet people with the same hobby, and you can also get away and disconnect in fantastic places by yourself.
After achieving any kid's dream, which is to go pro, what is your goal now?
The truth is that I do not have a dream or a set goal right now. I would love to be able to enjoy cycling like I have until now, even when I am not a professional; that is the most important thing. To enjoy this sport and everything it gives you on a daily basis.
This is a question that I've always wanted to ask as a fan… Why do you think that for an Italian, the first is always the Giro, then the Tour and then the Vuelta; for a French cyclist, it is the Tour, Giro and Vuelta; and for a Spanish rider, generally speaking, the priority is the Tour, Vuelta and Giro?
It is possible that we lag behind in terms of taking care of what's ours; in my opinion, it's a serious defect. We have to know how to appreciate our 'products', so that we can improve whatever is necessary or promote the good things. I hope that this changes in the future, educating young people little by little to appreciate our races or our brands.
What are you thinking about when you finish a grand tour?
The weight I have lifted off my shoulders (laughs). It is a very beautiful moment, the most beautiful perhaps as a professional cyclist. It is a great satisfaction to be able to finish a grand tour. And there is a lot to a stage…it's 5 or 6 hours in which there are hard moments, pleasant ones and exciting ones… And when you finish, the feeling, generally, is one of accomplishment.
Do you have any rituals before you set out?
No, I'm not at all superstitious.
Do you think that biomechanical studies are positive for road racing?
What I think is essential is having a good bike, the rest is secondary. The truth is that I'm not a big believer in biomechanical studies.
Test question: Do you know the dimensions of your bike?
(Laughs) I think I already answered that in the last question (laughs). You feel good with a good bike, regardless of whether you have a centimeter more or a centimeter less in the measurements.
Are you obsessed about the weight of your bike?
No. I think there are aspects: the rigidity of the frame, the aerodynamics… I think there has to be a balance among all the components, because you can have a super light bike, but one that is not rigid enough to transmit the power well. I'm obsessed with the bike as a whole.
What one word would describe you as a cyclist?
And finally, we're going to do a speed interview…I'm going to say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind:
Cycling – Passion
Breakaway – War
Tourmalet – Tough
Pyrenees – Competition
Alps – Landscapes
Paris – Culmination
Gruppetto – Save it for the following day
Office – Director (over the radio: Come in, come in!) (Laughs)
Indurain – Legend
Pantani – The best climber
Armstrong – The best of his time
Angliru – Extremely difficult
Basque Country – Cycling