Vuelta a Espana
(Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Movistar caught in another potential leadership squabble

The Spanish team has long struggled to balance the needs and ambitions of all of its GC captains

LUCERO, Spain (VN) — Another grand tour, another leadership squabble inside the Movistar team bus. This time it involves Nairo Quintana and world champion Alejandro Valverde over who is the outright leader at the Vuelta a España.

Despite assurances from Movistar staffers, who insist there is unity at the Spanish team, Quintana suggested otherwise. The Colombian star insisted at the start and again at the finish of Thursday’s sixth stage that Valverde, not him, is the outright leader of the Vuelta team.

“Alejandro is feeling good, and as a result, he’ll take the reins of the team,” Quintana told Colombian journalists. “He will be the leader, and I will have a little bit more freedom, to see where I end up. I’m not giving up, I am going to ride day to day to see how I feel, and try to take advantage when the chance presents itself. Right now, the rider that is the safest bet for the team is Alejandro. The decision’s been made.”

Quintana hinted he didn’t have a problem with that, saying he was starting to feel the wear and tear of a long season that also included a failed bid to win the Tour de France. Quintana suggested that Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué made the call that the team would back Valverde in a push for the podium.

On Friday, Valverde denied any reports of a rift. “We are a team,” Valverde told reporters at the start. “Whoever it is, so long as one of us is ahead, that’s good. There is not any sort of problem between any of us on the team, not with Nairo or with anyone.”

The Spanish team, loaded with GC talent that also includes Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa, has long struggled to balance the needs and ambitions of all of its GC captains.

Tongues were already wagging before the Vuelta started about potential drama at Movistar. Quintana is leaving the team at the end of the season, reportedly moving to Arkea-Samsic for 2020. This Vuelta is his final grand tour with the squad he turned pro with in 2012, so many were wondering how Quintana would handle the race.

It didn’t take long to find out. On the Vuelta’s second day, Quintana rode into a group of GC favorites on the stage to Calpe, attacking late to win the stage. At the time, Quintana insisted he and Valverde would share leadership duties throughout the race.

On Wednesday on the final climb to Javalambre, Valverde raised eyebrows when he attacked the GC group, drawing out archrival Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). The pair worked together to the line, in part to limit the losses to the attacking Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), but also gapped Quintana.

“The other day, what happened was that ‘Superman’ [Lopez] was up the road, and I was trying to limit the losses,” Valverde said. “What we are not going to do is f*ck each other over.”

The pair rode in together Thursday at Ares del Maestrat, and faced the decisive Mas de la Costa summit finale with everything in play. Quintana did not seem to mind that Valverde would be assuming a bit more responsibility in his final grand tour with Movistar.

“I am starting to feel tired,” he said. “We prepared for the Tour and we’ve been training all out.”

Movistar sport director Pablo Lastras shot down suggestions there is any strife within the team.

“Nothing happened at all. Don’t enter into a ‘polemica’ when there isn’t one,” Lastras told Eurosport. “We are in positions in the GC. The one who took advantage of the situation [stage 5] was Miguel Angel Lopez and that’s smart riding on his part. Nairo is good, he’s calm, and he’s at the same condition as he was in at Calpe. Don’t worry about him.”

Quintana started Friday’s stage in fifth overall, 1:23 back. Valverde is seventh, 1:28 behind overnight leader Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida).

With another hard mountain stage set for Andorra on Sunday, any hints of leadership squabble will likely be sorted out on the road.