Coming into the Tour de France much was made of Movistar’s decision to select three bona fide leaders in their squad as they looked to topple Team Sky’s grip on the yellow jersey.
In previous year’s the Spanish outfit has been close to putting Nairo Quintana on the top step of the podium on the Champ-Élysées – but when it mattered most in the mountains Sky and, more importantly Chris Froome, always found a way to outwit his Colombian rival.
So when general manager Eusebio Unzue announced that he would be taking, Quintana, Mikel Landa – who was at Sky last year – and Alejandro Valverde to the Tour, eyebrows were definitely raised.
Now, as we’ve seen the first two weeks of action and with the riders enjoying a rest day its the right time to question whether this three-pronged Movistar experiment has worked?
If you look at the general classification, it would be tough to argue that it has. At the time of writing, Quintana currently sits in eighth position 4-23 behind race leader Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Landa sits in sixth, 3-42 back while Valverde is outside the top-10, 9-36 behind the leaders.
With the race entering the final week, you would have expected to see one of the Movistar leaders at least inside the top five. At the moment they are lagging behind Thomas, Froome and company, and haven’t especially livened up the race, save for a daring, but unsuccessful, long-range move from Valverde on stage 11 to La Rosière.
Delving back into the history books, where teams which have opted for a multiple pronged approach – history shows this type of offensive does not rarely bare fruits.
In 1989, PDM included Sean Kelly, Gert-Jan Theunisse, Steven Rooks and Raúl Alcalá in a bid to win the Tour – none of them finished on the podium.
So, history suggest this tactic doesn’t work and with Thomas, Froome, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) all looking stronger than Movistar’s best hope, which at the moment is Landa – the Spanish team are seeing hopes of a Tour victory slip evermore out of sight.
So what’s Movistar’s next move?
With the race heading into the Pyrenees this week, Movistar need to make a decision about who they are going to back in the final week. Valverde appears to be too far behind. So it leaves Quintana and Landa – it’s a question of who they feel has the capability of matching the current top five in the mountain stages to come.
Logic suggests Landa, not only is he higher up on the GC at the moment, he didn’t crack like Quintana did when times got tough on the Alpe d’Huez on stage 12. So the Spaniard would be the ‘guy’, but will egos get in the way?
However which way Unzue plays it behind the scenes, he has three leaders on his team who know they could walk into most other WorldTour teams and lead a team who has GC aspirations at any Grand Tour. The three leaders he has at his disposal are that good.
Movistar can say all is well in the camp and that the three leaders are getting on and know their roles. But what about when the race hits stage 16, in the Pyrenees and Movistar are still out of touch? Can you expect Quintana or Landa to just sit there and say ‘well that’s another Tour over and done with?’
It’s hard to see that happening. One of them will want to make a statement – Landa and Quintana are not the type of guys to settle for seventh or eighth place in the Tour.
Whatever happens in the final week of the Tour, it’s sure to be fascinating to watch. Movistar can’t do anything else other than make the race exciting. Whether it be Landa or Quintana they back Movistar have to ride aggressively. It’s quite simply win or bust for the Spanish outfit.