Mr. Guillén, if we take a closer look at your career, we notice that you have a background in law – what did your path to La Vuelta look like?
When you study law, you have many possibilities when you finish. But it was clear to me that I really like business. Once I entered Unipublic [the organizer of La Vuelta] as the company’s lawyer, I had to deal with many things on the cycling calendar, UCI affairs, so I had to be very close to the cycling department. Honestly, I never thought I would become Unipublic’s General Manager after the previous one retired, but I really love the sport, I love the business, so this is the perfect position for me. So far, it’s been 14 years so I can say I have a little bit of experience with what I’m doing.
After an incredible 14 years with the race, is it even possible to choose a favourite year or La Vuelta moment?
When you are always involved in the route planning and all the organisation, it’s hard to choose. But for me, the 2012 Vuelta was an extraordinary, big one. It felt like a kind of historical shift happened. And since then, it feels like the Vuelta has been developing its personality every year.
The 2020 Vuelta, the pandemic Vuelta, was very tough. The most challenging one we’ve ever done and, honestly, we did a great job.
My other favourite moments include when the race returned to Basque Country after 33 years and when the race’s planners “discovered” the Bola del Mundo – a now-iconic climb close to the capital of Madrid. But one thing is for sure – the best edition is always coming up, it’s always the next one.
As we can see, La Vuelta is famous for always having new spectacular surprises such as climbs and summit finishes. How does the planning team scour for these gems?
We often obtain recommendations from people living in the areas, and we get very good reports from ex-riders. In the end, we rely on advice from people with experience because what is good for you, might not be good for the race.
One of the core principles of La Vuelta also seems to be to improve local infrastructure and to leave behind something anybody can use after the riders and team cars are long gone. Is that so?
Sometimes, we get approached by a territory’s administration offering to fix a certain road if we bring the Vuelta to them. If it’s doable and interesting for both the race and the local administration, we asphalt the road together and bring the race there. When we repair routes, we could say that is the real legacy of La Vuelta. It’s always necessary to have another social reason or motive behind the race. And the increased coverage and prestige of the race is a way to bring certain regions a lot more visibility.
There is clearly a cultural significance behind the places that get highlighted by the Vuelta passing through. After the sport, the riders and the spectators, how much does the race focus on “storytelling”?
We are lucky that our playing fields are the roads and cities, that’s the magic of cycling. We can tell many histories through all the kilometres the riders are making. For me, this is like a movie where you need to consider many aspects. We are on TV three to four hours a day and the commentators should be able to say something intriguing for the spectators, so they can cover both the sport and local history, so the rest of the world can see what [Spain] has to offer.
The partnership with ASO (Amaury Sports Organization, the company which owns the Tour de France) further helped boost La Vuelta’s prestige. How much has it really changed since ASO joined in?
Vuelta changed a lot, especially internationally speaking, because ASO is a very good media platform. And as a sports company, they understand perfectly how to deal with the sport. ASO also helps to maintain and form the distinctive Spanish “flavour” of La Vuelta. They gave us a very good philosophy. They said to us, ‘you are a Spanish race, focus on that. You have to be Spanish and, at the same time, international. Work on your Spanish personality, don’t try to be any other Grand Tour. Try to be the best ambassador of Spain.’
Moving from the race to the challenging position of Race Director, what do you find the most enjoyable about preparing the Vuelta?
Two parts are the most enjoyable to me. The first one is when we are in the office and we make the “script”, designing everything about the route. And the second-best part is when you can see all that becoming reality and pass through all these cheering cities.
As the only Grand Tour to do so, La Vuelta has a special tradition, spanning 40 years now: the official song of La Vuelta, which changes each year. In 2022, it’s the collaborative summer hit “C’mon C’mon” fronted by singer Lorena Medina. Can you tell us more?
It appeared back then when Spain took a turn towards democracy and music was something used to express freedom and transformation. La Vuelta wanted to take part in that and music was a very good way to do it. The La Vuelta song is one of the most popular songs in Spain over the summer and has made many participating singers famous.
Thank you, Mr. Guillén, for taking time out of your busy pre-Vuelta schedule to share all these intriguing insights with our readers. We wish you a smooth and hassle-free La Vuelta a España 2022 – we are sure to be glued to our screens on 19th August!