Everyone inside the Movistar team bus realizes that Sunday’s stage across 15 sectors of cobblestones will be a determining factor on how the rest of the Tour de France unfolds.
The mantra: save the day.
“The plan? To try to save the day as best as possible,” said Alejandro Valverde. “It’s going to be a crazy day. It’s going to be complicated. I believe that all the GC riders will be looking for this, to save the day, not to try to take time. It’s all about not losing time.”
Movistar is taking a one-for-all, all-for-one approach to the stage. With three legitimate GC options in Valverde, Landa, and Quintana, the team wants to keep all three cards in play moving ahead to the promised land of the climbs of the Alps and Pyrénées.
First, the climbers must endure their cycling version of purgatory.
“The idea is to try to stay together as a group and protect each other,” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “For us, this is the worst day of the Tour and the day that is the biggest disadvantage to us. Nairo and Landa weigh little more than 60kg. We are ready for the challenge with the goal of saving the day.”
Movistar has its rough strategy mapped out, with each of its leaders having one assigned “bodyguard.” For Valverde, it’s Spanish classics veteran Imanol Erviti. Daniele Bennati will be looking after Quintana, while José Joaquín Rojas is the man for Landa.
“We are all looking out for each other. There are three of us — Imanol, Bennati and myself — and we are all keeping an eye out on the three of them,” Rojas said.
“It’s three-quarters of a real Paris-Roubaix. I’ve done eight, so I am used to racing over the pavé. We have a few experts on the team for this type of terrain.”
In fact, Movistar was so worried about this stage and the overall challenges of the first nine days that it brought riders like Rojas, Bennati and Erviti and left home some climbing firepower, like Winner Anacona. With one fewer roster spot, Movistar brought brawn over bite.
“So far, we are going well,” Rojas said. “We have Mikel and Alejandro positioned nicely on GC, and we have Nairo very close to Froome, who is the rider of reference. We still have the whole Tour ahead of us. Nairo is showing that he’s good form, and we are confident that he’ll be there in the mountains even if he lost a bit of time on the first day.”
As team boss Eusebio Unzué has been saying since the Tour course was revealed last fall, the pavé could doom the GC aspirations of anyone.
Movistar is counting on its collective strength to keep its unique three-card GC bet in play.
“We will all try to stay together,” Valverde said. “If and when something happens, we have designated riders who will be with us. It will be a complicated stage, and we hope to save the day.”