Brains have a way of getting hung up on little details. Amongst the din of the world’s biggest bike race, that fact doesn’t change – if anything, the added strain exacerbates the issue. Which is why, despite not having any particular interest in Movistar’s Gorka Izagirre, I was suddenly intensely interested in one aspect of his life. Maybe.
The genesis of this came from two successive dinners in Bilbao. Paella one day, honestly couldn’t tell you the other. Taking a cursory glance at a wine list I am not cultured enough to understand or appreciate, there was something that stood out in the reds: a 2019 vintage called the Ilun. The producer: Gorka Izagirre Winery.
There are strange marketing arrangements all over the sport, and Gorka Izagirre seems fairly well liked in Spain; him putting his name on a wine and pocketing a payout could not be ruled out. But some cyclists are also multi-faceted, interesting people, involved in enterprises that might seem at odds with life as a professional athlete. Like Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroën), an enthusiastic home brewer who is now co-owner of a small beer brand churning out Belgian tripels. Perhaps Izagirre had a second life among the vines? Perhaps his weary legs trampled grapes in the off-season?
So at the stage 1 finish, I grabbed a Movistar press officer and tried to find out. I explained that I had seen the Gorka Izagirre wine. I asked whether Gorka Izagirre was involved in the Gorka Izagirre wine. “Yes, yes,” replied the press officer, absently.
“Is he actually a wine guy? Does he make it?!”
“ … can I talk to him about that?”
“Today is not the day. It has not been our day. [ed. Enric Mas had just crashed out of the race, although I didn’t know that yet.] Send a message to The Organisation and we can organise The Interview.”
I thought I was already talking to The Organisation, but this seemed promising. Later that night at another restaurant with Gorka Izagirre wine on the menu, it was time for some further research.
My first port of call: the winery’s website, where I found an origin story which claimed that Gorka founded the venture in 2005 with his niece. A red flag: Gorka Izagirre the cyclist was born in October 1987, which started to raise some questions on both the winemaking and niece fronts. But this is Spain, a nation of cultured day-drinking. I had a journalistic duty not to assume anything, including about a probably 17-year-old winemaker.
With a rising worry, I sent The Organisation a message on WhatsApp:
“Hi. Is Gorka Izagirre associated with the Gorka Izagirre wine brand? Or is that just someone else of the same name? Thank you!”
Two blue ticks. Zero response. Having been left on read, it was time for one last roll of the dice.
Enter Chris Marshall-Bell, an Escape Collective contributor who can actually speak Spanish. And so it was, after three days preoccupied with the question of whether Gorka Izagirre was a successful wine maker or whether a confused Movistar had just lied to my face, it was time to find the answer. Really, it was the perfect scenario – a question that I was interested in, and an answer I’d be happy with either way.
When Chris called Gorka Izagirre Winery, I’m told the conversation was “short and quick”, 58 seconds in length, beginning with some initial confusion before resolving into a kind of ‘not this again’ resignation.
“It’s the coincidence of a lifetime,” the woman on the other end of the line said. “The cyclist has nothing to do with the winery. The owner is a completely different Gorka Izagirre.”
There were to be no follow-up questions. No use of my pre-prepared list of questions – questions like, “does Gorka Izagirre ever look at a bottle of Gorka Izagirre and forget which one he is?” The phone call was over, the line went dead, and the dream of a winemaking pro cyclist was uncorked for good.
Chris Marshall-Bell contributed reporting for this story.
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