Orbea Factory Team ascend to Andorra in force, as they bring three teams to the inaugural Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees. The squads are set to contest for the men’s, women’s and mixed category titles thanks to their line-up of Aleix Espargaró and Oliver Avilés; Ariane Lüthi and Sandra Jordá; and Joaquim Purito Rodriguez and Virginia Cancellieri.
The Spanish team boasts an ethos which is all about riders having fun and promoting cycling while racing for victories. It is no surprise, then, that they have brought one of the road World Tour’s greatest entertainers, Joaquim Purito Rodriguez, and Moto GP’s Aleix Espargaró into the fold. The pair complement the team’s dual purpose perfectly. While Virginia Cancellieri, Oliver Avilés, Ariane Lüthi and Sandra Jordá are all fantastic riders and great ambassadors for the sport in their own rights, too.
Espargaró and Avilés will contest the men’s category in the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees. The pair have the longest chances of victory, of the three Orbea Factory Teams; as Luthi and Jordá are the favourites for the women’s race, while Rodriquez and Cancellieri are the mixed category’s main contenders. That said, the combination of a fiercely competitive Moto GP ace and a professional cross-country racer is not to be discounted.
Avilés rides for KMC Orbea for most of the year, but also represents Rodriguez’s La Purito Andorra mountain bike race. He has already joined the Orbea Factory Team for the Andalucía Bike Race this year and brings well over a decade’s elite mountain biking experience to the partnership with motorbike racer, Espargaró.
“Well, I think that in stage races everything multiplies; both the good and the bad, but in my case, they are always good” Avilés said. “It is true that this last year has been hard and at the same time crazy, because of what we’ve all gone through with lockdowns and travel restrictions. I think that more and more cyclists will enjoy stages races, like the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees in the coming years.”
“What I, personally, love about stage races is that you’re able to share them with a good friend. This is truly priceless. Also being able to go out for a drink, in the host town after the race, with the rest of my mountain biking colleagues is very special” he concluded.
His partner Espargaró has clear goals for the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees, which match those of Avilés. “My target for the race is to have some fun and to test myself” the Aprillia rider smiled. “I’m not a professional mountain biker so I can’t pretend that I’ll be fighting for the win, even if I would obviously love for that to be the case!”
“I raced the Absa Cape Epic a couple of years ago, so I know how high the organisation level of the Epic Series is” Espargaró praised. “This is also why I decided to race the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees. I’m sure it will be a very high-level race.”
Moto GP fans need not worry unduly about the risks the man with 41 on his bike will be taking off-road. “I haven’t trained as much on my mountain bike this year” he confessed. “I train more on the road, as it is less dangerous. Fortunately, the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees is at the beginning of my holidays, so I have no Moto GP races immediately after it.”
Rodriguez and Cancellieri are gearing up for a more competitive approach to the race. This is in part necessitated by the grand tour stage winner’s competitive nature. “For me, competition is necessary in my life, be it on the fat tyres or the skinny ones. I love competition” Rodriguez emphasised. “I adapt as much to fighting for victory as I did when I was racing on the road, to the 2019 Absa Cape Epic. The Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees is something calmer and we might not have the goal of achieving victory, but I’m looking forward to the adrenaline of racing.”
“It will be the first time that I compete in the mixed category” he confirmed. “I met Virginia [Cancellieri] at a race and I was impressed by her. She seemed like a warrior! We will try to enjoy ourselves in the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees, but also go fast while focusing on fighting for the category title.”
His partner Cancellieri is two decades his junior, and only made her stage racing debut in Andalucía, earlier in 2021. “The Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees will be my second stage race” Cancellieri stated. “I now know how this type of race works and I’m a bit more confident, knowing what I’m in for. I’m looking forward to having fun through the flowy trails and challenging climbs that appear to make up much of the route.
“It’s the first time I’ll race in the mixed category, but I’m not intimidated by that” she added. “Most of the time I train with male friends, and I always feel comfortable riding with them; so, I’m quite sure it will be the same during the race. I’m honoured to race with Purito! It goes without saying that he’s the strongest and more experience one of the two of us. So, I’ll be happy to follow his suggestions during the stages. I think the most important thing will be to always talk to each other so that we can make our team work.”
Cancellieri’s Andalucía Bike Race partner, Luthi will pare up with Jordá in Andorra. The pair are among the favourites for the women’s race, especially given Lüthi’s stage racing pedigree. Lüthi last raced an Epic Series event in August 2020, in her home race: the Swiss Epic in Graubünden. “All Epic Series races I have participated in have been very well organised” Lüthi confirmed. “From the route marking and catering to the communication. The organisation certainly has remarkable experience in putting stage races together.”
“For me, as a professional, the level of media coverage a race can provide is a very important factor when it comes to deciding which races I take part in” the 4-time Swiss Marathon Champion said. “The organisation of the Epic Series certainly puts a lot of effort into giving exposure to the professionals, which I hugely appreciate. Last, but not least, the organisation has been very proactive in terms of gender equality, which is very important to me.”
“I’m a pure racer and will always give my best whenever I have a number plate on my bar” she emphasised. “However, I can’t be in peak shape all year around and some races in my calendar have to be less about the result than the learning experience and practicing the race situation. Nevertheless, there are always great stories to tell that may inspire people to get active and ride their bikes. That’s what our job is about at the end of the day.”
“If I can inspire a girl to go out and ride her bike, it makes me just as happy as winning a race” Lüthi beamed. “I’m extremely grateful to have found a sponsor, in Orbea, who shares that same intention. For too long, racing teams have put way too much pressure on athletes to win races and forgotten that we are not robots who can deliver win after win. Sport is about so much more than just a results sheet. And on the other hand, to feature at the top of that results list, a good team atmosphere is one of the most important puzzle pieces. Being part of Orbea Factory Team was definitely a fun experience so far, although I have discovered that I need a slightly earlier bedtime than my teammates.”
Her teammate for the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees is Jordá. The Spanish rider is vastly experienced but has as yet not raced her mountain bike in the neighbouring Principality. “I do not know the mountain biking in Andorra at all, but I understand that in this race there are long and very cool descents” she said. “With the number of mountains that Andorra has, the mountain biking there cannot disappoint. Also, with the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees being organised by the same series as the Absa Cape Epic, it will surely be a great event.”
Mountain biking fans can look forward to following the race from the Orbea Factory Team riders’ perspective. “The main characteristic that differentiates the OFT the most from other teams is our way of communicating” Jordá explained.” Our main objective is to show how day-to-day life is lived in a stage race; how the bikes work, how amazing the riding is, and how much fun we all have taking part together.”