Interview with Abel Mustieles after the World Championship
Wednesday 26 September 2012
by Ben Swales

JPEG - 11.6 kb As we do every year, Tribal Zine have interviewed the top Elite riders after the most important event of the season, the UCI World Championships. Next in the series is the current World No. 2, who spoke to us for over half an hour on the phone about everything that happened in what was a disappointing competition for him. We’d like to thank him for his time and availability and for giving us his first interview after the event.

Tribal Interview

JPEG - 393 kb Hi Abel, thanks for talking to us. Second place… It’s a bit different this year, we don’t know whether to congratulate you or not, or whether you’re happy with your result after what happened. You seemed comfortable and confident in the Semi-Final, but things changed in the Final. Can you tell us about it?

Hi. First off, thanks for getting in touch and for your interest. OK, let’s see… Really, I’m happy with what I achieved in the Final. Especially after everything that happened. I was on the point of throwing in the towel when the second bike broke. I said to Cesar that I wanted to retire. The truth is, a lot of the fight went out of me at that moment. But my dad, Rafa Tibau, Cesar, Kenny Belaey, they all convinced me to carry on, so we fixed my bike. Benito overtook us because it took a long time to get everything sorted. The bike problems aside, I’d been feeling really good in the Final. I’d done some really good stuff. I started the competition super-motivated and I felt good in every aspect. In section one I put down a tactical dab, in section two they said I clipped a pedal, but I didn’t. The same thing happened to Vincent. Those observers were a bit keen I think. But, like I say, I was feeling good. In section 3 there was a move that you could go for, but unless you were left-footed like Benito, you missed the flag, so I had to dab up it again. I’d like to point that out; the trial, more so the Semi than the Final, was set by a left-footer. Us right-footers had to work twice as hard. I’d like to make a call to all trial organisers: I don’t want them to set trials in favour of one rider or another, but to set them neutrally, with both left- and right-footed moves. It should be fair. In Austria there was a big imbalance. It was in that section that my crossover broke, leaving me with no fluid in the brake. I grabbed my second bike and carried on, but that bike isn’t as good as my main comp bike; it’s the first prototype, it weighs a bit more and doesn’t behave in exactly the same way. I carried on and tried to re-find my rhythm. The brake wasn’t working brilliantly, but it worked enough, more or less. The truth is, my morale had taken a bit of a hit. I picked up a five in section four because I wasn’t as on it as I should have been. I think they got a bit carried away setting that section actually, there was one move that was impossible and that all of us fived. Section five went OK, but as I got to the end I lost a bit of control -my mistake. Section six went even worse and I was given a questionable five. But what the observer says is final. They gave us all questionable fives, as far as I can tell, but if an observer says it’s a five, it’s a five. I started my second lap and put down the same dab in section one as on my first lap. In the rock section I thought I could catch up a bit - it was my kind of section! I got through the first gate, which was really difficult, and then as I was leaning against a rock, preparing for a big up, the brake lever pulled right to the lever. I couldn’t believe it – not again! I put a foot down to see what the problem was and saw a brake pad fall to the ground, Followed by the mounts. JPEG - 474.7 kb I looked at Cesar and, obviously, I was devastated. I looked at the observer, who asked me what the problem was. Imagine everyone’s surprise when I asked for my card back. I got out of the section and sat on a wall, defeated. That was when Cesar, Kenny and my dad came over. I told them what had happened. It was so hard. Between them, they convinced me to carry on. We fitted the brake from the second bike to the first, losing more time. Benito overtook me, so we knew we were running out of time, and we carried on. I started to feel better on the bike, the brake was working, and things started to pick up. We went to section three, where the first brake had broken, and I got through it on a one –the same move that right-footers had to dab. In section four they had taken the impossible move out, so it was all good, apart from one really left-footed move again, where I caught a pedal. I got through on a one and Benito cleaned it, so it was OK for him. Vincent got a four, if I’m not mistaken, and then we were off to section five, where there were two really difficult moves getting up onto the big wooden letters The first was a static up from a block of wood half way up – it was so tight that I caught a pedal. I was on a one, so when I got to the second hard move I was of the mentality that it was all or nothing. I think I was the only one to get up that bit clean. When we got to section 6 Benito needed to get a five and I needed a clean to finish on equal points, but then I would lose on time. It was a really hard section, with a massive last move. I had nothing to lose, so I’d already decided that I was going to go for it. Benito dropped a foot half way through the section on the pyramid of pipes, and he dabbed the last move, but ended up fiving the section. JPEG - 134.7 kb In this final section everything went well, but the last move was so difficult. There was also a kicker up to a pipe that caused me some problems. I went at it three times. I got up it and fell off twice. I got up on the third attempt and arrived at the last move on 2:25 and with almost nothing left. Everyone else had made sure of this move with a dab, but even though I knew I’d already lost, I went for it. I landed it but picked up a time penalty. If I hadn’t got delayed at the kicker I would have cleaned the section. But it is what it is.

What do you think of the things that have been written about you since the competition?

I don’t want to get into a debate about that. We’re all friends. I can’t make excuses or complain about the questionable fives, because we all got those. Questionable for me, questionable for you, and sometimes even the observer himself wasn’t sure. It happened to us all though. No one here makes excuses. I’m just saying what happened to me. If I hadn’t had the problems with the bike, I don’t know if I would have won, but I really thought I could have done at the time. I certainly won’t be dwelling on whether I should have prepared my bikes better or anything like that. Breaking a crossover can happen to anyone, whether it’s a new brake or an old one. Stripping a brake mount on a prototype that you’ve been riding for nearly a year, fair enough, if that had been a production model it probably wouldn’t have happend, but these things can happen – just like a puncture or a snapped chain. It’s called luck.

Did you change anything on your bike for the Worlds to get it in top condition?

Pretty much everything, yes. New rims, hubs, bottom bracket, pedals… but the crossover split and I can’t do anything about that. My bike was like new, and I know that it’s the best bike in the world. My mistake was not changing the brake over instead of swapping bikes, but you know, you’re under pressure, you can’t get through the crowds, you sometimes make bad decisions. It seemed easier to just grab the second bike, but then that broke and that was that.

It must have occurred to you since that if you’d changed the brake instead of the bike, you could have won?

Yes. But like I say, it is what it is. They’re decisions you make under pressure and sometimes you make mistakes. But at the time you do what you think is best. No one things that they’ll break a second bike in the same place!

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JPEG - 367.1 kb You were probably the favourite to win the World Championship before that happened… Are you more motivated to win the World Cup as a result?

Yes. For sure. It was a heavy blow in Austria. I’m not saying that I would definitely have won if I hadn’t had those problems, but it definitely knocked some of the fight out of me for a while and caused me to make mistakes. And when the second bike broke… that’s NEVER happened to me. I may not have won, but it’s really nice to hear what people have been saying about me since. They know that I lost a lot of points and time because of the bikes. But yeah, it happens.

It’s an impressive feat to have all those problems and still only miss out on the top spot by such a small margin

Exactly. That’s what my girfriend, my dad, everyone has been saying. To be so close after everything that happened…

You’ve still got the World Cup. If you win that, it’s still been a great season – or would you swap the European Championship and the World Cup for the World Championship?

Haha – I haven’t got title fever, no. It’s good for sponsors, but I get more from progression in my riding than form actual results. I’m improving every ride, and I know that. That’s what’s important to me, whether it’s reflected in the results or not. This is a year of transition. A lot has changed, and things are getting better. I’m not going to change anything. It is what it is. Everyone has been saying that I lost because of mechanical problems and not to be sad. But it’s for that exact reason that I am upset. If I felt that I had been beaten because the guy who beat me was much better than me, like when Benito schooled everyone in Amberes, or when Vincent won in Val d’Isère, then that would be much better. However, in situations like this one, you don’t feel like you’ve been beaten, just that you’ve lost due to bad luck. Following on from that, it is difficult to tell who is the best from results alone. Is it the winner of the World Championship? The World Cup? The European Championship? Who knows? JPEG - 262.7 kb What I do know is that the best rider in the world is Gilles Coustellier, and I’d like to thank him for the exhibition that he put on for us at the World Championship, because that’s what it was: an exhibition. I’d like to thank him for being such and inspiration and such an idol to me. What he did at the worlds was to show that he is, by far, the best in the world. Not Benito, not Vincent, not me, but Gilles. We all have to work to be like him. It doesn’t matter what can or can’t be done on a 20” or on a 26”. Gilles has something that no one else has in his head, and it’s incredible. For me, after all the competitions and championships that I’ve been to, to see a rider who gives you goosebumps when he rides is something to be grateful for. I hope he keeps going for many years to come and I think it will be difficult to match him. Gilles is setting the standard for elite trials for a long time to come.

But you’re still young, and you showed a lot this year. Carrying an injury that made it difficult for you to use your brakes, you finished second in the Spanish nationals, you nearly win the World Championships not long after being operated on… It’s obvious that you’ll get there if you keep working at it.

Yeah, I know I can be a good rider, but you have to keep your feet on the ground and know your place. I don’t want to get into a discussion about who is the best in 20” or in 26”, but the best trials rider, all told, is Gilles, no question. I wouldn’t like to say who was the best in 20”, because we’re all more or less equal at the top.

Some say that things aren’t the same between you and Benito, that the relationship has changed. How do you see it?

Benito is a legend, that goes without saying. He’s won nine World Championships and has made trials history. It’s true that we don’t get on like we used to. I suppose that happens in competition, with rivalries between riders, brands… but like I say, you have to keep your feet on the ground; Benito is a legend, but I know that I just had bad luck this year. This year was different. We all had questionable fives, etc., but what happened to me didn’t happen to anyone else.

JPEG - 335.6 kb You’ve got the World Cup and Koxx Days left. How are you agoing to approach the rest of the season?

I’ve got the Trial Pro Series as well, organised by Event Performance. They look like really well organised competitions – I haven’t been able to go so far because of my injury. I’ll go to that, I told Gilles I would. If people go to the trouble of organising an event like that, you should go. I’ll go to the Martigues round and hopefully I’ll be able to go to the next one as well. It suits me – I want to compete. There’s something inside me that makes me want to compete. It’s not a case of easing the pain of this defeat; that will stay with me forever. I lost because of something that wasn’t my fault, and that hurts.

At least you know that there are a lot of people supporting you, including us, and that they know and understand how hard you have worked this season, irrespective of the results.

Yeah, I know, and I’m very grateful. In fact, in Austria people came up to me and told me how sorry they were about what had happened and that they knew how hard I had worked for it. That will stay with me as well, and will make me happy, even though I’m hurting as well. It gave me a lot of motivation, and I have to thank Austria for that, If I trained hard last winter, I’ll train twice as hard this winter.

It’s such a shame that it didn’t pay off, through no fault of your own.

Yeah. That sucks. Everything was going really well, perfectly, in fact, and then boom! But you have to see the positives and keep motivated. I’ll have a few bad days and then I’ll focus on other things.

Is there anyone else you’d like to thank or anything you’d like to say?

Yes, thanks to you guys for your support and for this interview, to everyone who was there with me and who couldn’t be there but were there in spirit, like my girlfriend, who couldn’t be there but is the biggest motivation in my life. And others, such as my trainer Jesús Otero, to whom I owe this whole year, my physio Jose, my family, Cesar, Rafa Tibau, Carles, for always being there and for being such great friends, to Kenny for motivating me and, like I said, to everyone who was there in Austria and who kept me going.

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Photos por Marco Patrizi, Mathias Lambrecht, Mr Ti, Sebastian Klipper.