The 34-time World Champion makes an assessment of the 2023 season, tells us what his sporting career has been like and sets very clear objectives for the coming year.
The TrialGP title took longer to be decided because Jaime Busto had a great first half of the season, but you dominated X-Trial from start to finish. Which of the two do you value more?
“I give more value to the Outdoor World Championship, because it was a very tough start where after six races we were tied on points. Everything was very tight and, in addition, it was difficult to find the way forward with the bike. Halfway through the season I think we made a good change; the team gave me what I needed and thanks to that we had a very good end to the season. For this reason, I give more value to the Outdoor title.”
More and more riders are coming through. How have you managed the physical side?
“We always try to work as hard as possible. It is important to take good care of injuries because at 37 years old it is more difficult to recover and that is where young people have the biggest advantage. Although this last year I have felt quite good, we have had a few scares, something that normally does not happen to me because I am an aggressive rider and it is difficult for me to control. But I still want to fight with the young riders who are pushing and that is a source of motivation.”
You have been working with Takahisa Fujinami for two years now. What is it like to have your former teammate of many years as your Team Manager?
“Fuji is very easy to work with because we have a very good relationship. In recent years as teammates we already worked side-by-side, and being with him in this new role is a source of pride for me. We are enjoying it, experiencing it in the best way and we have won four titles together, so it is also something incredible for him.”
You earned your 33rd and 34th titles last year. It is not very difficult to deduce what the main objectives are for 2024, right?
“The objectives are to achieve the maximum number of victories and fight for both titles. I am always obliged to win. We are also realistic and we have been winning titles for 17 consecutive years, so one year it will end; that’s why we have to enjoy it. I look back and see everything we have achieved and it is incredible. We stay in shape, we have the same goals and I want to enjoy the rest of my sporting career.”
Some time ago you managed to establish yourself as the rider with the most victories. You are close to the podium record. Do you have it in mind or do you prefer not to think about these kinds of things?
“Records are something exciting, fun and motivate you when you are close to achieving them, but during my career I have never paid attention to chasing records. I have always gone race-by-race, focused on what I had to do and not got distracted or lost focus trying to achieve certain numbers.”
How do you see Gabriel Marcelli’s progression? Do you think it will be possible to achieve a 1-2 in both disciplines in 2024?
“It is something very difficult, but I see a very good evolution from Gabri and he is ready to fight for the title. We’ll see. Jaime also had a very good 2023 season and is developing. He is a very strong rider with a lot of talent. It will be interesting to see the fight between the young riders and being able to be in the middle of it is something that is fun for me. Gabri does not stop evolving, he had a very strong end to the 2023 season, especially indoors. We will see this in 2024.”
After 17 years on the Repsol Honda Team, they offered you four more. What does the team mean to you and what do you think you mean to them?
“The relationship with the team is like that of a family. Since I arrived, having been able to win titles for 17 years is something magical and I think that on both sides it is something amazing. Renewing for 4 seasons at 37 years old is something that few teams would do. So, as I said before, I want to continue enjoying it and give it my all in 2024.”
Does it give you peace of mind knowing that your team continue to fully trust in you for the long term?
“Obviously, the fact that the team had confidence in me is a very good thing. It gives me peace of mind. I think I’ve earned that during my career; they have earned my trust and I have earned theirs, and it is something nice. We know that titles can be lost and we could have lost them during these 17 years, but this is sport. We have been lucky to experience something incredible. I only have words of gratitude for Honda and Repsol.”
The 2024 X-Trial season begins in Barcelona. How do you handle that? Is it more special than other rounds?
“The X-Trial in Barcelona is always special because we compete at home and you notice the love of the fans. It is something that gives you extra motivation. Furthermore, it is one of the important events of the season, because it is the first, so we will do our best to achieve the best result and put on a good show.”