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With Landa exit, Movistar facing GC vacuum

A string of high-profile departures leaves Movistar desperate to shore up its grand tour options leading into 2020

Movistar, the peloton’s most successful grand tour team over the past decade behind Team Ineos/Sky, is suddenly facing a leadership crisis.

Monday’s confirmation of Mikel Landa’s departure to Bahrain-Merida exacerbates a growing hole in the heart of the Spanish team’s formidable grand tour presence.

Though still not officially confirmed, Richard Carapaz and Nairo Quintana are both expected to leave the ranks of the Spanish WorldTour team at the end of this season. Carapaz, the 2019 Giro d’Italia winner, is linked to Ineos, while Quintana, the 2014 Giro winner and 2016 Vuelta a España champion, is expected to move to French second-tier Arkea-Samsic, which harbors WorldTour ambitions for 2020.

Those three departures will mean the always consistent Movistar will see a vacuum at the top of its grand tour hierarchy.

Speaking to Spanish media at the end of the Tour, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué confirmed the departures of Carapaz and Quintana. In May, Unzué told VeloNews he is already moving behind the scenes to secure the team’s sporting future.

Why the sudden rush for the exit door? For Landa and Carapaz, it was a question of money. Quintana, meanwhile, has long clashed behind the scenes with many inside the Movistar organization, and both parties seemed ready for a change of scenery. Unzué was hoping to keep at least Landa, but now the veteran Spanish director is suddenly on the hunt for a major GC star.

“I hope if one goes, another will come,” Unzué said in an earlier interview. “Like every season, riders go, others arrive. This is cycling.”

The team won’t be resting on its laurels. With title sponsor Movistar confirmed to stay though the end of the 2021 season, Unzué has the sponsorship commitment and budget to attract top riders.

One problem for Movistar, however, is that there are not many marquee GC talents on the market that are not already spoken for. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is all but confirmed to move to Trek-Segafredo and other key riders are already locked up for 2020.

Unzué certainly has a few aces up his sleeves, and will be confirming some key arrivals in the coming weeks. At the top of the wish-list is promising Spanish talent Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who was second in last year’s Vuelta in what was just his second grand tour start. Other names linked to Movistar are Danish star Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and David de la Cruz (Ineos).

Movistar already has a solid base under contract, meaning it won’t entirely disappear from the fray. World champion Alejandro Valverde and improving GC rider Marc Soler are both under contract through 2021. The team also recently confirmed extensions for seven of its key support riders, including Andrey Amador, Nelson Oliveira, and Carlos Verona. On Monday, the team confirmed the arrival of up-and-coming sprinter Gabriel Cullaigh (Team Wiggins), just the team’s third UK rider in franchise history.

There’s also the tantalizing scenario, only a rumor right now, of budding superstar Mathieu van der Poel joining Movistar. Van der Poel has a long-running deal with Canyon, also the bike sponsor at Movistar. Though van der Poel is targeting the 2020 Olympic Games in mountain biking, his incredible spring performances on the road have accelerated plans for van der Poel to compete more at the WorldTour level. His current Corendon-Circus team races under a Professional Continental license, but van der Poel’s presence all but guarantees invitations to any races he’d like to race.

What is sure is that Movistar, which won the Giro with sublime tactics in May, is at a crossroads. For the much of the past decade, the team could count on being one of the pre-race favorites in nearly every grand tour it started. Now the team will be missing the guarantee that riders such as Quintana, Carapaz and Landa brought to any of the major three-week grand tours they started.

With its string of high-profile departures, the team is clearly in makeover mode. If it can land riders such as Mas and Fulgsang, its GC future will still be in play.

Team Ineos already has a lock on Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and recent Tour de France winner Egan Bernal. With the arrival of Carapaz, it will likely continue to dominate grand tours.

It’s likely that it won’t be Movistar who will be first in line to challenge Ineos. Instead teams such as Jumbo-Visma and others are moving up, putting Unzué is under even greater pressure to secure a big name for 2020.