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ALMERIA, Spain (VN) — Social media critics were back at their favorite pastime again Sunday on the Vuelta a España‘s first especial summit finish with a similar refrain— “what is Movistar doing?!”
Movistar had the last laugh after getting it right Sunday in a dramatic stage.
What the Spanish WorldTour team is doing is emerging as the most dangerous rival to Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma’s game plan to win a third consecutive Vuelta title.
“We have a plan on how to beat Roglič,” Movistar’s Enric Mas said during Monday’s rest day. “The only way to beat Roglič is to race as a team.”
So far, Movistar is putting its firepower to highly effective use.
Despite losing Alejandro Valverde to a crash last week, Mas and Miguel Ángel López now fill out the virtual podium as the Vuelta approaches the midway point.
Movistar insists it’s learned from a few miscues of the past when it often lined up with three GC captains only to see that tactics go off the rails.
Movistar’s Mas and López rode in smooth coordination Sunday up Velefique, marking the moves and then attacking at the right time.
“I followed Adam Yates because he was dangerous, and if he pulled away, it was going to be up to us to chase,” López said. “Later, when Mas went with Roglič, I couldn’t pull from behind because it would have hurt him.”
And with pre-race favorites Ineos Grenadiers struggling to find its way and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) flaming out, it’s ever-steady Movistar that presents the clear and present danger to Roglič.
Also read: Is the Vuelta Roglič’s to lose?
Mas is 28 seconds back, and López is close in third at 1:21 back. The pair emerged from a rough and tumble opening half as Jumbo-Visma’s most direct rival.
Ineos Grenadiers did much of the pacing Sunday up the steep, twisting finale at Velefique, dubbed the “Alpe d’Huez of Spain,” yet Egan Bernal struggled to match late-race attacks by none other than Movistar.
López followed early surges from Yates, and then Mas came over the top with only Roglič having the legs to follow.
“We attacked to try to distance our rivals as much as possible,” Mas said.
Movistar moves ahead of rivals
Some fans love to dig into Movistar and its tactics, and sometimes the Spanish WorldTour team has misfired.
Yet the team is one of the most consistent grand tour performers, last winning a grand tour with Richard Carapaz in the 2019 Giro d’Italia and hitting a Vuelta podium with Alejandro Valverde later that season.
In a grand tour, however, it’s not only about racing to be in the lead. To get into that position to race for top honors, teams and riders need to eliminate other rivals first, and that’s what Movistar was able to do Sunday.
Its late-stage aggression on favorable terrain pushed its two GC captains onto the virtual podium, and ahead of GC threats like Bernal and Yates, and emerging rival Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious).
“Now I have the confidence that was missing in the Tour de France,” said Mas, who finished sixth after targeting the final podium in Paris. “After a few years as a pro and a lot of hard work, on Velefique I found myself in a good situation and something almost unseen for me; first and second racing one-on-one.”
Mas couldn’t drop Roglič, and the Slovenian pipped him in the end for second place to take time bonuses, but it’s Movistar that is nipping at his heels.
“We started this Vuelta to win it,” Mas said. “We know that Roglič is very strong. We saw that Sunday, and he’s just back from the Olympics as the gold medalist in time trialing. And he has the final TT, so we have to be attentive.”
One hiccup from Roglič, and Movistar could catapult into the lead. There are still 11 stages to go, and despite losing Valverde and Johan Jacobs, Movistar promises to keep pushing.
Maybe this time they’ll get it right.