Category: Movistar

Movistar keeps chin up despite rocky 2018

PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Hope springs eternal in professional cycling. Movistar gathered for its annual pre-season camp in the foothills of the Pyrénées hoping that 2019 turns out better than 2018.

The season ended with an incredible exclamation point with Alejandro Valverde winning the world title, but the team ended the campaign expecting more from key riders Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana.

Though there were plenty of positive highlights in 2018, including the emergence of Marc Soler and Richard Carapaz, both Landa and Quintana suffered with crashes and poor form that kept them from shining in July.

For 2019, the team isn’t changing its focus, but it is banking on a change of fortunes.

“We will wait to see how the Giro and Vuelta courses look, but I think it’s likely we will have a similar approach to the Tour as we did this year,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “Both Mikel and Nairo know it’s a good Tour route for them.”

In short, Movistar could well repeat its “all-in” strategy of bringing all three of its aces to the Tour. What remains to be seen is who will race the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

“If I couldn’t pull it off this year, then next year I will,” Landa said. “The lesson learned is that you’ve got to keep calm in complicated moments. I want to go to the Tour and I have to go to the Tour, and I don’t know anything else.”

Landa suffered a string of bad luck last July. A crash early in the Tour handicapped his chances yet he still managed to finish seventh overall mostly hobbled throughout the Alps. And then a crash at the Clásica San Sebastián took him out of the Vuelta a España and his season was largely over.

“We still believe in Mikel,” Unzué said. “He demonstrated his class at the Tour by riding into the top 10. He kept fighting despite injuries and by the time he was feeling like himself again the race was over.”

Unzué took some flack by bringing all of his firepower to the Tour last year even if it didn’t go to plan. At least Landa could still salvage a top 10 and the team won the overall team classification despite having Quintana struggle as well. The Colombian salvaged his Tour by winning a stage in the Pyrénées, but even he was mystified why he fell flat in the Tour.

“We tried some new stuff with training, and it didn’t work out,” Quintana said. “I finished the year without realizing my objectives. Next year let’s hope for better luck.”

Quintana takes confidence after getting a first glance at the 2019 Tour route heavy on climbs and altitude.

“I like the course. There are a lot of mountains and a lot of altitude, so that favors me. I still have that dream and I will keep fighting for it,” he said. “I have won a Vuelta and a Giro, but it’s the Tour that draws me most. I will keep working for that.”

Unzué said the team still has not plotted out its season goals, but it’s possible that Landa might race the Giro and Tour, with Quintana and Valverde racing both the Tour and Vuelta. Landa hinted that he’d like to go to the Vuelta as well, but said he wouldn’t race all three grand tours if the team wants him to race the Giro.

Unzué has a wealth of talent on his hands, with riders like Carapaz, fourth in the 2018 Giro, and Soler, a winner at Paris-Nice, on the move with ambitions for more. His biggest challenge is finding space for everyone. His top stars are committed through 2019, with both Landa and Quintana up for contract renewals at the end of next season.

Quintana said there was no tension between himself and Landa, insisting that they raced well together and even became friends.

And then there’s Valverde. The 38-year-old shows no signs of slowing down and suggested that he could race beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if he is still feeling good and winning races.

“Initially I was thinking that the Olympic Games would be a good place to stop, but maybe not if I am still competitive?” Valverde said. “I am very excited to be racing next season in the world championship jersey and that will give me even more motivation.”

Valverde, who won the prestigious Velo prize as best rider of 2018, confirmed he will race Tour of Flanders for the first time, and quickly downplayed his chances for victory in the Belgian monument, but said there is no way he’d race Paris-Roubaix. For Valverde, his season will look largely the same as well, with early season targets and then playing a wild-card role in the grand tours.

“The rainbow jersey hasn’t taken away my desire to win races,” he said. “In fact, it’s the opposite. With this jersey I want to win even more. To be world champion at 25 would have meant some heavy pressure, but at 38, it motivates you more to keep doing what you like doing.”

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Vuelta: With mixed emotions, Movistar finishes off GC podium

A three-week harvest of two stage wins, the points jersey, a top-5 overall, and the team prize would be a great Vuelta a España for just about any team, except Movistar.

The Spanish super-team leaves the Vuelta with mixed emotions. Movistar was a player in every facet of the race, but it fell short of its goals.

When Spain’s lone WorldTour team is racing on home roads with two of the pre-race favorites, anything short of overall victory is a disappointment.

“Sometimes in cycling, there are times when there isn’t a correlation between the efforts you put in and the results you take,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “We had the pressure on our shoulders because we were the local team with Nairo [Quintana] and Alejandro [Valverde].”

Movistar leaves the Vuelta without a grand tour victory or podium for the entire season. A fourth-place result by Richard Carapaz at the Giro d’Italia was its best all season.

For most teams, two top-5s in grand tours would be a step in the right direction. Not if you’re Movistar, a team accustomed to racing for the biggest prizes in grand tours.

What happened during this Vuelta? As Valverde put it, others were simply better.

“You have to know how to win and how to lose,” Valverde said. “I never get mad at myself because if you lose, it’s because others did it better than you did.”

Valverde, who suffered a career-threatening knee injury in a crash in the opening stage of the 2017 Tour, surprised at every turn. The 38-year-old came to the Vuelta to prepare for the worlds, but he grew into the most serious challenger to Yates.

He won two stages in the first week and clawed to within one second of the red leader’s jersey. Valverde emerged as the most direct threat to Yates, just 25 seconds back going into the final weekend.

The wheels came off the Movistar wagon for good in Andorra. Movistar tried an aggressive tactic to knock Yates off balance, but it was the Mitchelton-Scott rider who punched first and knocked Valverde off the final podium.

Valverde, however, leaves the Vuelta emboldened for the upcoming world championships.

“I will go for it in the worlds,” Valverde said. “It’s a one-day race and anything can happen. I’ll arrive full of hope, motivation, and a good moment of form.”

Valverde held up his end of the bargain, so it’s Quintana who will be wondering what happened.

“Today is a sad day,” Quintana said Sunday in Madrid. “We didn’t achieve our objectives. Valverde couldn’t reach the podium and I leave without winning a stage. It’s hard to win and sometimes people seem to forget that.”

The Colombian, who won the Vuelta in 2016, faded in northern Spain during three decisive climbing stages across the Cantabrian Mountains. Quintana looked poised to move into the red jersey after a solid ride up La Camperona, but he fell back at Les Praeres and suffered even more losses at Lagos de Covadonga. By the time the race hit Andorra, however, he was in full domestique mode to try to help Valverde salvage the team’s ambitions.

“[Quintana] put in big efforts to go for the red jersey in the first two weeks of racing,” Unzué said. “As soon as he realized he was not in position to win, he showed a great attitude to put himself at the service of Valverde.”

Quintana isn’t paid to be a super domestique. With an eighth overall and a 10th at the Tour de France this summer, 2018 marks the first time the Colombian did not hit a grand tour podium since his grand tour debut in 2012. Every year since then, he’s at least finished on a grand tour podium (and won two along the way) in 11 starts.

“We will have time to look at what we didn’t get right,” Quintana said. “We’ll have to do the work to be back at the maximum level. We’ll be back at the Tour de France next year; with whom and how, we can figure that out at the end of the season.”

Movistar took some consolation in the team prize and in how it carried itself throughout the Vuelta.

“I’m proud of the teamwork over the past three weeks. They were impeccable,” Unzué said. “In the end, all three podium finishers deserved to be up there. It’s a sort of generational handover.”

Movistar will try to get its ship back on course for 2019. Mikel Landa, who was seventh at the Tour despite a crash, will be back with untapped ambitious. Valverde will be riding out the last year of his contract and perhaps the final season of his career.

The pressure will be on Quintana, who turns 29 next year, to demonstrate that he can still win a grand tour. Crashes and other mishaps took their collective toll on the team’s stars in 2018. Movistar is hoping it can produce the victories that its fans and sponsors expect and demand.

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Movistar misfire opens door for Yates

LES PRAERES, Spain (VN) — Nairo Quintana went too soon and Alejandro Valverde (both Movistar) left it too late. Movistar got its wires crossed Saturday and opened the door for Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) to recapture the Vuelta a España’s race leader’s jersey.

The Spanish super-team was poised to take control of the Vuelta on the short but steep finale to Les Praeres in stage 14. Instead of winning the stage and claiming the jersey, Movistar was left wondering what happened.

“Today I risked a ‘bullet’ with these final attacks,” Quintana said. “Sometimes you hit the bull’s eye, sometimes you’re shooting in the air.”

Quintana surged clear midway up the short but very steep 4km climb, drawing out Miguel Angel López (Astana). His fellow Colombian didn’t help, allowing Yates and others to regain contact. Yates bolted clear on the final steep ramp and held off a chasing López and Valverde, who admitted he left it too late on the final false flat to the line.

“It’s too bad I didn’t know the climb. I thought it was steeper at the end,” Valverde said. “I waited too long. When I wanted to attack, it was already too late. I went up front to see if Nairo could come across, but it was a complicated climb for him. He did what he could.”

Instead of taking control of the Vuelta in what was the second of three straight mountaintop finales in northern Spain, Movistar let the race slip away to the very dangerous Yates who made the right calculation when to attack.

“I didn’t know the climb so I was conservative and decided to wait to make the right moment to attack,” Yates said. “I just made my own race. Movistar had the numbers which made me a little nervous, but I made my own race and I chose my moment to attack.”

The Vuelta is still a question of seconds, but Movistar finds itself on the wrong side of the equation. With time bonuses, Yates takes a 20-second lead to Valverde. Quintana slotted into third at 25 seconds back.

Movistar has a chance to rewrite the script in Sunday’s epic finale to Lagos de Covadonga, one of the emblematic summit finishes in Vuelta history.

Sunday’s 178km four-climb stage across Asturias ends atop the long, grinding Lagos de Covadonga summit. At 11.7km with an average grade of 7.2 percent, with ramps as steep as 20 percent, Covadonga will be the longest and most difficult climb of this Vuelta.

Movistar will be expecting to get back into the game in a stage profile that, at least on paper, is ideal for the Spanish team.

“Tomorrow will be very decisive because it’s a hard climb and it’s the third climbing day in a row, so a lot could happen,” Valverde said. “I’m feeling good. The GC is still very close, and that’s good because it’s more emotion for the race.”

Quintana won at Covadonga in 2016 en route to capturing the overall title when he won ahead of Robert Gesink and Chris Froome.

“It’s a climb that gives me good memories,” Quintana said. “It’s a very important stage for the overall in the Vuelta. Today I tried to attack and I tried to make the race. It didn’t go quite as well as I wanted but tomorrow I will try again and it’s another good opportunity for me.”

With Monday’s rest day and Tuesday’s 32km individual time trial up next, Movistar cannot let another opportunity slip through its fingers.

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Movistar will bring three-pronged Tour attack to Vuelta

What didn’t work in the Tour de France will be Movistar’s plan of attack at the Vuelta a España.

The Spanish team fell short of its Tour ambitions, but it will stick with the same game plan. Movistar will bring its unconventional three-pronged attack that fell short at the Tour and will hope it sticks at the Vuelta.

Team boss Eusebio Unzué confirmed to VeloNews at the finish line of Saturday’s stage 20 time trial he will take all three of his leaders — Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, and Alejandro Valverde — to the Spanish grand tour that starts August 25 in Malaga.

Movistar’s so-called “tricefalia” will ride again.

“If nothing happens between now and then,” Unzué said, “all three will race the Vuelta.”

Movistar fell well short of its ambitions for the Tour. The team won a stage in the Alps with Quintana and claimed its fourth team prize in five years, but it was never a serious threat for the yellow jersey in Paris.

“We came here looking for more than we have been able to achieve,” Unzué said. “It was a brilliant stage victory for the team with Nairo, but in the general classification, we had hoped to be able to be on the podium, but that was not to be.”

Some early crashes and losses proved costly to the team’s larger goals of trying to dethrone Team Sky.

Quintana recovered from a stage 1 setback when he broke two wheels to win his first Tour stage since 2018. The Colombian suffered from heat and a late-race crash to finish 10th overall, his second-worst Tour result since his dramatic runner-up debut in 2013.

Valverde fell short of his goal of winning a stage despite a daring long-range attack that put him momentarily into the “virtual” yellow jersey in the Alps. The veteran, who is targeting the worlds in Innsbruck, will use the Vuelta to hone his form.

Landa suffered from a heavy crash in stage 9 but fought back to a team-best seventh after finishing fourth last year with Team Sky. Both he and Quintana will target the overall at the Vuelta.

Two riders in the top 10, a stage win, and the team prize would be satisfying for most teams. Movistar left the Tour wanting more, however, and vowed to take on the Vuelta even more aggressively.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué:

VN: How is the balance of the Tour for Movistar?
EU: We came here looking for more than we have been able to achieve. It was a brilliant stage victory for the team with Nairo, but in the general classification, we had hoped to be able to be on the podium, but that was not to be. And I don’t want to explain it all away or attribute all of that to bad luck — which we’ve definitely had with the crashes for Mikel and Nairo. But we’ll move forward thinking about the things we have managed to achieve.

VN: How did the three-leader plan work out for the team?
EU: Starting with three leaders, they’re three guys who can contest the general classification; it’s not a problem of three leaders. If any of them had emerged at the top we would have supported him. It’s not a problem of three leaders. It’s just that our three guys, who were on a good level, were still far from the level of the best riders in the race.

VN: Sky came with two leaders, so sometimes it works …
EU: Sky could have had three leaders too, had it not been for Bernal’s crash. It’s not a problem of three leaders. They’re quality riders. They haven’t been able to achieve everything they’re capable of. Like I said, I’m not going to blame bad luck for not being where we should have been. Sometimes that’s just sport. Today we were a bit off in this time trial and maybe we’re paying for doing a lot of work in many key days, which is probably why Mikel and Nairo were both a bit far off from the times we think they could have had in normal times.

VN: How do you beat Sky?
EU: Sky’s a great team and this year, again, they have the strongest rider. [Geraint Thomas] is a guy and a rider that has never had much luck in the grand tours but nevertheless has been the most brilliant and most consistent rider. He’s taken two stage wins so you can’t take absolutely anything away from him. He’s been the dominant rider with a team to protect him.

VN: Movistar has a strong team, too, but couldn’t reach the podium, why?
EU: The squad doesn’t make a rider stronger. A rider has his level. Yes, the team is important, if you’re indeed the best. The team isn’t going to make you stronger — your level is what it is.

VN: Is Sky’s financial cloud a big advantage?
EU: To have the chance to spend what you want and then achieve your goals, you just have to congratulate them. It’s more than just great riders. It’s the science and their system and they way they prepare. Each year it’s easier for them to achieve something at the Tour and harder for the rest of us.

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Movistar taking ‘all for one’ tactic on cobbles

Riders like Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa can turn mountains into molehills. It’s the fist-sized stones of the jutting pavé of northern France that becomes their Mount Everest.

Everyone inside the Movistar team bus realizes that Sunday’s stage across 15 sectors of cobblestones will be a determining factor on how the rest of the Tour de France unfolds.

The mantra: save the day.

“The plan? To try to save the day as best as possible,” said Alejandro Valverde. “It’s going to be a crazy day. It’s going to be complicated. I believe that all the GC riders will be looking for this, to save the day, not to try to take time. It’s all about not losing time.”

Movistar is taking a one-for-all, all-for-one approach to the stage. With three legitimate GC options in Valverde, Landa, and Quintana, the team wants to keep all three cards in play moving ahead to the promised land of the climbs of the Alps and Pyrénées.

First, the climbers must endure their cycling version of purgatory.

“The idea is to try to stay together as a group and protect each other,” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “For us, this is the worst day of the Tour and the day that is the biggest disadvantage to us. Nairo and Landa weigh little more than 60kg. We are ready for the challenge with the goal of saving the day.”

Movistar has its rough strategy mapped out, with each of its leaders having one assigned “bodyguard.” For Valverde, it’s Spanish classics veteran Imanol Erviti. Daniele Bennati will be looking after Quintana, while José Joaquín Rojas is the man for Landa.

“We are all looking out for each other. There are three of us — Imanol, Bennati and myself — and we are all keeping an eye out on the three of them,” Rojas said.

“It’s three-quarters of a real Paris-Roubaix. I’ve done eight, so I am used to racing over the pavé. We have a few experts on the team for this type of terrain.”

In fact, Movistar was so worried about this stage and the overall challenges of the first nine days that it brought riders like Rojas, Bennati and Erviti and left home some climbing firepower, like Winner Anacona. With one fewer roster spot, Movistar brought brawn over bite.

“So far, we are going well,” Rojas said. “We have Mikel and Alejandro positioned nicely on GC, and we have Nairo very close to Froome, who is the rider of reference. We still have the whole Tour ahead of us. Nairo is showing that he’s good form, and we are confident that he’ll be there in the mountains even if he lost a bit of time on the first day.”

As team boss Eusebio Unzué has been saying since the Tour course was revealed last fall, the pavé could doom the GC aspirations of anyone.

Movistar is counting on its collective strength to keep its unique three-card GC bet in play.

“We will all try to stay together,” Valverde said. “If and when something happens, we have designated riders who will be with us. It will be a complicated stage, and we hope to save the day.”

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Quintana’s time loss complicates Movistar’s leadership hierarchy

Movistar’s three-headed GC monster got a lot more interesting following Nairo Quintana’s ill-timed flat on Saturday.

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Movistar unveils Tour squad to support Quintana, Landa, and Valverde

GC trio will count on a balanced lineup for both flat and mountain stages

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Landa, Quintana promise to play nice at Tour de France

Movistar’s Tour leaders are staying diplomatic ahead of the Tour de France

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Movistar opts for youth with Giro d’Italia selection

Up-and-comers Richard Carapaz and Dayer Quintana headed to Giro d’Italia as part of young Movistar lineup alongside veterans Rafael Valls

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Movistar will send Quintana, Landa, Valverde to 2018 Tour

MADRID (AFP) — Movistar announced Thursday all three of its top riders — Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, and the newly signed Mikel Landa — will team up to ride the 2018 Tour de France.

The squad is considered to be the closest rival to British team Sky, and its Tour lineup represents Movistar’s strongest assault on the yellow jersey yet.

The Spanish outfit snapped up climbing specialist Landa from Sky in August, with the objective of ending Sky and Chris Froome’s grip on the Tour. However, Movistar’s task could be made much easier if Froome is sanctioned for an adverse drug test result during his Vuelta a Espana victory in September.

Froome had twice the permissible amount of asthma medication Salbutamol in his system during the race, it was revealed this week. It’s unclear whether the UCI will find Froome at fault and suspend him or if he will be exonerated.

Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzue said his riders have “the ideal profile to believe in winning the Tour, which is one of the few races we have still to win.”

Quintana has won both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta and has twice finished runner-up to Froome at the Tour, in 2013 and 2015. However, the Colombian finished a disappointing 12th this year after loading his schedule with the Giro d’Italia in May, where he finished second to Tom Dumoulin, followed by the Tour.

Quintana will start his 2018 season on home soil at the Colombia Oro y Paz race, scheduled for Feb. 6-11.

Valverde will make his return from a broken kneecap suffered at the Tour de France at the Mallorca Challenge at the end of January, while Landa will wait until the Tour of Andalusia, Feb. 14-18, to make his Movistar debut.

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