Richard Carapaz began as a back-up leader in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but took the steps planned by Movistar to have a chance at glory.
According to his team, “the leadership passed gently” over a handful of stages including the San Marino time trial and the Lago Serrù summit finish.
“He accepted the role of second lieutenant, one step down from the leader, having Mikel Landa as the leader when we began the Giro,” said Movistar sports director Max Sciandri.
“We were clear with the steps going towards the leadership. The turning point was the San Marino time trial, we knew it was going to be a bit of a truth step. Landa lost a bit of time there, and Richard started to chip it back. He had the fastest time on the climb. He said, ‘I’m ready’. The leadership passed gently.”
The team began without much attention. Landa had broken his collarbone at the start of 2019 and Alejandro Valverde, who was to race with number one on his back as world champion, did not start due injuries and a hard spring campaign in his legs.
Followers did not consider Landa a Giro favourite like Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) or Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and no one was talking about 26-year-old Ecuadorian Carapaz.
Carapaz, born at 3000 metres in the country’s northern border with Colombia, placed fourth overall in 2018 behind winner Chris Froome (Team Ineos).
“We were under the radar. I’d go through the [Italian newspaper] La Gazzetta dello Sport, and there wasn’t a mention of us or who we were racing for,” Sciandri said. “It’s strange, it’s not that we were new or so fresh, people know this team. Carapaz was 4th last year and Landa is solid.”
Carapaz established himself as the leader on the uphill time trial to the Republic of San Marino. On the first summit finish to Lago Serrù, the camera was on Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) riding to a stage win from the escape and Landa attacking, but Carapaz gradually gained time on then favourite Primož Roglič.
The next day, the threat level went to red when he attacked and won solo on the Courmayeur stage. It gave him the pink jersey that he kept until riding into the Verona Arena a week later as the 2019 victor.
Sciandri never saw a moment when Carapaz looked in danger. “We started the TT in San Marino. I had all the notes. We got to the start, I couldn’t even see out the windows with the heavy rain. Every corner was dangerous, but he handles stuff great,” said Sciandri.
“He’s prepared. He has something else inside, just not the legs. He probably has a leadership capacity inside of him, Just to handle these delicate moments.”
For years, Movistar has been looking for someone to take on Team Sky, now Team Ineos, in Grand Tours after multiple wins for the British WorldTour outfit with Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas.
“I don’t know. Sky can basically pull out a credit card and buy who they want,” added Sciandri.
“For sure, [Carapaz] is a guy who needs a team around him, that needs to believe in him, needs to work with him. We saw that happen, big guys put in a team to do a job and they get lost, because there are a lot of walls.”
Ineos team boss David Brailsford is reportedly offering Carapaz 10 times his annual €150,000 ((£132,000) salary to join next 2020 season. Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué wants to keep him with new hire Enric Mas, coming from Deceuninck – Quick-Step as Nairo Quintana and Landa are set to leave Movistar after 2019.
“Richard needs to stay in this team” Sciandri continued.
“He’s young. He’s got 10 years in front of him now to win races, to win Grand Tours.”