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Despite wearing the pink leader's jersey, Andrey...

Movistar shrugs off critics of its Giro tactics

Despite a convoluted situation in the Giro's stage 13 finale, Amador insists that the Movistar camp is harmonious with Valverde as leader.

CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI, Spain (VN) — Andrey Amador made history Friday to become Costa Rica’s first maglia rosa, and quickly downplayed the notion of a growing rift inside the Movistar team.

Amador promises to be a “gregario in pink” during Saturday’s queen stage, vowing to ride in support of Alejandro Valverde in the 210km stage 14 across the Dolomites.

“We came to this Giro with Valverde as the undisputed leader of the team,” Amador said. “He’s already demonstrated he’s strong in the mountains, and it would be wonderful to have Valverde inherit this jersey from me in tomorrow’s queen stage. I know who I am. I know why I came here, and I will be there for Alejandro in this Giro.”

Those words seem to put to rest the suggestion that Amador is racing his own race. It’s true, he’s been riding aggressively the past few days, but Amador insisted it is by design.

“The goal was to capture the pink jersey. I struggled a bit there when the big attacks came, because I am not a pure climber,” Amador said. “I fought hard to keep the distance to a minimum, and I knew I could catch back on during the descent. And Alejandro was taking pulls for me on the flats to open up as much gap as possible.”

Movistar was on the march Friday, sending riders into the breakaway, and then Valverde on the attack in the final two climbs, gapping overnight leader Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick-Step). That opened the door for Amador to make history.

It’s natural that Movistar’s internal dynamics come under the microscope with two leaders battling for the GC in a grand tour. Other teams have crumbled under pressure with two rival GC riders inside the same tent. Last year’s Astana team saw strain between Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, while the 2012 Tour de France was fraught with tension between eventual winner Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Speaking earlier this week, Movistar’s Rory Sutherland insisted there’s no double-dealing going on during this Giro.

“Unlike other teams, this team has always shown solidarity, there’s never any discussion or drama. I don’t know if it’s the Hispanic flavor or the team mentality, but it always seems to work here,” Sutherland said. “Amador is a second card to play, but Alejandro is the guy we’re going for.”

Movistar’s tactics also came under fire Friday when Giovanni Visconti raced all the way to the line to claim second at 43 seconds behind Mikel Nieve (Sky), eating up the second-place time bonus, a move that allowed arch-rival Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to sprint to third to earn a four-second time bonus in the GC group sprint. Nibali nudged two seconds ahead of Valverde into third, 41 seconds behind Amador. Some suggested it would have been better to sit up to help pace Amador and Valverde, but imagine the uproar if Visconti had waited, then Nieve had crashed or punctured, and Nibali or someone else won the stage?

Amador shrugged off that conjecture as critics reading too much into a very chaotic situation and a personally rewarding day in the Giro’s first true mountains test.

“The tactics today were perfect. We had guys up the road to be present, and we had riders to support me and Alejandro,” Amador said. “To be second in a stage is still something big, and it’s always better to fight all the way to the end, because you never know what could happen.”

None of the polemics could overshadow Amador’s pride and joy. After missing a chance to snag pink earlier in this Giro, the odds tilted in his favor Friday, and he had the legs to became the first Costa Rican to don the pink jersey.

“Today’s a historic day,” Amador said. “I am happy to be in these circumstances, in stage 13, at the halfway point of the Giro in the pink jersey. I know I am not a favorite to win, but to have this Giro means the world to me.”

Amador, 29, has been knocking around the peloton since turning pro with Caisse d’Epargne in 2009. His father is Costa Rican and his mother is Russian (his second last name is Bikkazakova), and he’s one of the few Central Americans to break into the European peloton. In 2011, he became the first “Tico” to start and finish the Tour de France. In 2012, he took his first and only pro win with a stage victory at the Giro, and rode to fourth overall last year.

“Costa Rica is a small country, but it has a big heart,” he said. “We don’t have a big cycling culture, but it’s growing every year. When you see a ‘Tico’ fan supporting you in a race, it’s as if they were 100. I want this jersey to serve as an example to young riders and what they can achieve if they strive to this level.”