Aleix Espargaro speaks to me seated in the living room of his Andorra home, in the middle of a very lively and hectic family life. Max and Mia, the Espargaro twins who just turned two years old a few days earlier, are talkative and active playing just a few meters away. Their joyful squeaking punctuates the interview, providing a unique soundtrack. Behind him hangs the Aspar ART bike he was given as a present from Jorge Martinez for his wedding - a location he had to negotiate with his interior designer wife Laura, before she agreed to have it stood pointing skyward, front wheel vertical. When asked, Espargaro said that Aspar was upset when he left for team Forward (2014) and only forgave him when he invited his former team to the wedding.
The older of the two Espargaro brothers has been racing at world championship level since 2005 – it's easy to forget that Aleix Espargaro was the youngest ever Spanish 125cc champion of the 125 all the way back in 2004. He has ridden for some of the biggest teams in the last 15 years, but undoubtedly his contribution to the development of the Aprilia RS-GP in the last three seasons (and before that to the Suzuki) has brought him a well earned third contract with the Italian manufacturer.
Espargaro was never afraid to speak his mind. He was not shy to talk about politics, stand against bullfighting and also share his thoughts about his own team. Lack of staff, mistakes in the development., promises broken by the team and lack of support for the riders with early dismissal of his teammates. He was also the first to commend them about the changes done in the team’s structure.
Here, too, Espargaro speaks his mind. So much so that we have had to split the interview into two parts. In the first part, Aleix Espargaro talks about cycling, training, testing, the importance of family, how close he came to retiring, and how that turned into another contract with Aprilia. But first of all, he says he is happy at the prospect of racing again.
Aleix Espargaro: I am very happy they released the calendar. I am enjoying this lockdown but I want to race, I need to travel, I need some rock & roll.
Q: You look ready, very skinny, very fit
AE: Andorra is a very nice place to live and to train, but it is a very hard place as well, because there isn't a single meter of flat ground. I train a lot with the bicycle so I am very fit. I think I am skinnier than ever, 65 kg. I think on the physical side I'm better than ever. I used this time, this period to train a lot and obviously we need the rhythm, the pace of riding a MotoGP bike, but physically I feel better than ever.
Q: When you train by cycling it means you are not training the upper body, so how do you overcome that?
AE: I want to train my upper body, but I do it very carefully as I do not want to gain any grams of weight. During two sessions per week in my home gym with my physical trainer, I train the upper part of the body while trying not to use weights, so I try to train with just my body weight. Like this I have enough power but I don't gain muscle mass so much. The priority for me, as I am a very tall guy, to try to be as light as possible for the acceleration, agility and aerodynamics.
Q: You have been back on the bike at the mini circuit in Andorra, and on the RSV4 Superstock bike at Barcelona, can you describe the feeling of the first time on the bike?
AE: Yes, I mean, this is like riding a bicycle, you never forget. But especially the first day of riding at Montmelo on the Superstock bike, I remember when I rode it in the past I thought it was boring and very slow, which it is not, but if you compare it to MotoGP bike, it is. But the first time I rode it after three months in Montmelo, I thought ‘wow this is very fast!’ Then after two runs, I started to feel that the bike is slow, but at the beginning the feeling of speed was very nice.
Q: At the moment Biaggi, Savadori and Smith are testing in Misano, but you aren't there yet?
AE: The plan was that I would go there and ride the Superbike. The first day's schedule was for Bradley to try the new engine, different parts and to see how the bike is after such a long time. The plan was that I would ride the Superbike, but it was very difficult as there were no flights to go there. I had to drive for 12 hours just to ride one day, so at the end Aprilia said to me, we will postpone it, and that I should ride the old Superstock in Barcelona or wherever I can, and I will come next week. Because I will go there on 22nd June, so no rush.
Q: What is planned to be tested then
AE: During the two test days they were comparing the two different spec engines that I tried in Qatar. I think Savadori also tried the old spec bike, and the plan is to try everything again with me later on. Also, there was a lot of time with no activity for the engineers and the mechanics, so it was also a good schooling day for them. Next week I will travel to Portugal to Portimao to train with the Superbike bike for two days, and then I will fly to Italy. And I can't wait to ride the RS-GP because one test before the Jerez race is obviously more than welcome.
Q: Congratulations on your third contract with Aprilia - the longest an Aprilia rider has been under contract in the current age. How important was it for you to carry on with the project?
AE: The last two months of the last season, I didn't know if I should retire but I almost decided to go. Retire or see about other options for the future, because I struggled a lot and I know I won't be racing until I am 40 years old, so the last part of my career I want to enjoy riding, I want to fight for the podium. Last year I struggled a lot and I did not enjoy it at all.
But then after Christmas when I flew to Malaysia and I tried the new bike, everything changed in my mind. The new bike convinced me, but not only that, the direction the project is going towards with the arrival of [Massimo] Rivola, the arrival of a lot more engineers. Aprilia is going to another dimension so this convinced me.
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