Movistar will return to Tour with trio of stars

Despite a bumpy ride last year, Movistar is packing all of its firepower into the Tour with hope of dislodging Ineos and Chris Froome

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What didn’t work last summer doesn’t mean it’s won’t work this summer.

Movistar is bringing all of its firepower back to the Tour de France with the hope that its triple-threat can produce a yellow jersey at the end of July.

Movistar’s final eight-rider squad has yet to be decided, but the Spanish team will bring Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde to the Tour. Recent Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz is expected to race the Vuelta a España later this season.

“We continue to believe we can win the Tour,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “This is what the entire team is working toward.”

The question of who will lead Movistar during the Tour will be one of the top talking points in the coming weeks.

Both Quintana, currently racing the Critérium du Dauphiné, and Landa, fresh off finishing fourth at the Giro d’Italia, say they’re starting the Tour with the intention of winning.

There are already hints that there could be some cracks in Movistar’s coalition even before the Tour starts. During a press conference in late May in Colombia ahead of returning to Europe, Quintana said he will be Movistar’s outright leader.

“Unzué told me that I am going to be the leader for the Tour, and I’ve been training for that,” Quintana said. “I already told Eusebio that I prefer riders that move less, but to have them available so that I am truly protected and supported. That gives you confidence.”

Quintana, who was not happy with last year’s trident approach to the Tour, wants to reclaim his outright leadership of the Spanish team.

Yet with Landa and Quintana both up for contracts at the end of 2019 — Landa is rumored to be heading to Bahrain-Merida and Quintana has been linked to French team Arkea — it could be every rider for themselves.

Landa made it plain what his intentions are next month just as soon as he crossed the finish line in the final stage of the Giro in Verona.

“I will have my chance,” Landa said of the Tour. “We will have two leaders and I will fight for the GC.”

World champion Valverde, who missed the Giro d’Italia with injury, has already confirmed he will put his personal ambitions behind the interests of the team. He’s forgoing any GC ambitions and vows to try to knock Ineos off-balance.

“We’ll try to break the strength of Ineos, which has always dominated and it’s proven difficult to disrupt them,” Valverde told Radio MARCA. “The Tour de France is important for the team. I will be going to help the team so that either Nairo or Mikel can win. Later we’ll see if we can do something, but first comes the team.”

That means the team will rally behind Quintana and Landa, with both riders starting as protected leaders. Support riders will likely include Marc Soler, Winner Anacona, Nelson Oliveira, Carlos Verona and Imanol Erviti.

Of course, having more than one leader is an advantage for any team. Movistar revealed how potent that can be by winning the Giro with Carapaz, who attacked when all eyes were on Landa. And Ineos/Sky won its sixth yellow jersey last summer with Geraint Thomas, who also started as protected status behind designated team captain Chris Froome.

Movistar is hoping things go better in this year’s Tour than what happened in 2018 when it brought a similar lineup to France.

Even though it won a stage with Quintana and punched two into the top-10, with seventh with Landa and 10th with Quintana, last year’s effort fell short of expectations.

The triple threat didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Quintana was clearly off his best, though he saved his race with his first Tour stage win since 2013 in stage 17. Landa suffered a crash during the cobblestone stage that left him with a back injury in the first week that hampered him for the remainder of the Tour.

On paper, Movistar remains among the strongest teams when it comes to racing for GC in grand tours. More than any team beyond Ineos/Sky, Movistar has proven it can win over three weeks. Quintana boasts two victories (the 2014 Giro and 2016 Vuelta) and the long-running franchise won another Giro with Ecuadorian sensation Richard Carapaz in early June.

“It was a perfect execution over three weeks of racing at the Giro,” Unzué said. “And I really appreciated the way Landa acted when it came time to help Richard in key moments of the race. There was absolutely no problem between them.”

If Movistar can keep its house unified as it did during the Giro, it stands a real chance to win the maillot jaune in what’s a climber-friendly route that suits both Quintana and Landa.

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