PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Movistar huddled this week in the shadow of the Pyrénées for its annual fall get-together, and there’s a novel idea brewing looking toward 2018.
Instead of dividing the grand tour calendar between its big leaders — Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana — Spain’s lone WorldTour team is considering something incredible: sending all three to the Tour de France.
“Nothing is off the table,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “We’ll wait to see what the Giro comes up with, but why not have all three at the Tour? It’s possible the Tour might be the first grand tour of the season for all three of them.”
It’s an electrifying idea in what could be a daring, all-in bet for the yellow jersey.
Conventional wisdom would suggest spreading the wealth and covering the bases, sending one rider to lead at the Giro d’Italia and another to the Tour, with the Vuelta a España in the offing.
And that’s very likely what Movistar will end up doing with the arrival of Landa, who insists on having his opportunities to lead in 2018.
Movistar, however, might throw caution to the wind.
“Why not have myself, Nairo and Mikel race the Tour?” Valverde said. “It would be a lot of fun.”
Initially, comeback kid Valverde was mulling the Giro-Vuelta double, with the idea of gaining form ahead of the world championships in Austria.
But he liked what he saw of the Tour de France route so much that he hinted that all three Movistar’s big GC leaders could race together next July.
“Imagine having the three of us, backed up by five strong riders, I think we could really light up the race,” Valverde continued. “With the way this Tour route looks, I really like it, and I think it could be very interesting to have all three leaders there. We’ll see.”
It’s a fascinating idea. Teams typically put everything behind supporting one leader. That makes sense on several levels. First, it assures harmony inside the team bus, and second, provides maximum strength to protect a singular leader.
But imagine if Movistar brought Valverde, Quintana and Landa to the Tour with fresh legs. And then let them race with completely unorthodox tactics and unexpected attacks.
Not only would it prove difficult to control, but also it could liven up a Tour that’s been stuck in a highly controlled, sometimes boring rut for a half decade.
Unzué said Movistar is considering the idea, but cautioned that the team has yet to define its racing calendar for next season. Each rider made a wish-list for 2018, and the team’s sport directors will meet in the coming weeks to map out the coming racing season. One key factor will be what the Giro d’Italia route looks like.
It’s obvious that everyone with a Movistar jersey wants to be a protagonist next July.
“I want to race the Tour. I am not going to deny it,” Landa said. “I still have to see what the best for the team. We are waiting to see the Giro route.”
The arrival of Landa to Movistar coupled with Valverde’s recovery from his knee injury last summer has Movistar thinking big. Quintana remains the team’s big bet for the Tour, at least in 2018, but Unzué isn’t afraid to consider shaking things up.
Unzué said Landa gives Movistar “an extra leg to stand on,” and said they want to give Landa his shot. Whether that means leadership at the Giro or sharing leadership at the Tour remains to be seen.
“Initially, the arrival of Landa allows us to cover all of our bases,” Unzué said. “The season is very long, and there are many objectives. There is enough space for everyone to have their opportunities.”
Unzué downplayed tension between Landa and Quintana, and said a recent string of incendiary headlines only reveals that both riders are “ambitious and want to win.”
Even Quintana, who confirmed he would not race the Giro next season, said bringing everything to the Tour could be interesting.
“Having Mikel on the team will only make us stronger,” Quintana said. “We’ve always had the assurance of Alejandro, so with Mikel, it makes the block of the team as strong as any in the peloton. Mikel can help us when it comes time to attack.”
Of course, the idea of sending three riders to the Tour who believe they might be able to win could backfire spectacularly. Even having two riders dispute for team leadership is ripe for disaster. No one wants to give up on a chance to have Tour glory.
The prospect of having all three of Movistar’s big captains racing to win at the Tour is as tantalizing as it is unlikely.