News
Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Unzué explains Quintana exit from Movistar, laments tactical misfire during Tour

Movistar boss reveals how the team lost faith in the Colombian's ability to win grand tours, but vows to rebuild for future around Mas, Soler.

Why did Nairo Quintana leave Movistar? It wasn’t all about money or discord among the ranks. According to Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué, team brass believes that Quintana’s grand tour ship has sailed.

In an interview with the Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, Unzué said Quintana left Movistar because the team believes he’s no longer a top challenger for grand tours.

“He’s no longer with us because we believe that his moment to fight for the grand tours has passed,” Unzué said in the interview. “Nothing more.”

Quintana’s exit from Movistar to join French second-tier Arkea-Samsic has been among one of the most commented trades of the 2019-2020 seasons. The Colombian emerged as the team’s top grand tour hope during the past decade and delivered victory in the Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia, yet has struggled, at least compared to previous results, in the past three editions of the Tour de France.

Unzué was quick to thank Quintana for his success during his run with the team, but pointed out that his weaknesses against the clock and the ongoing rivalry with Chris Froome meant that Quintana won less than he might have.

“His struggles against the clock prevented him from doing even more,” Unzué said. “We have nothing but gratitude for his time with us. He was a key rider for us, and he allowed us for five years to dream of winning the Tour. He was very close in 2013 and 2015 of achieving it, but he had the bad luck of coinciding during this decade with Chris Froome.”

Quintana’s weakness against the clock has often left him playing catch-up on the likes of Froome. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

There were whispers of a growing rift between Quintana and Movistar management as the Colombian struggled the past few years at the Tour. And though publicly both sides have dealt with the split amicably — Quintana gave a tearful goodbye to Movistar last week in Colombia — Unzué’s comments reveal how much the team is looking to the future. New arrival Enric Mas and emerging talent Marc Soler will both see more leadership opportunities in 2020.

“Enric is a complete rider,” Unzué said. “He still needs time to develop as a rider. So far in the grand tours, he hasn’t ridden as a leader, he’s only followed wheels. He’s only 24 and needs another two or three years of experience in the Tour. We can’t already say we have a big champion.

“And Soler? He has an open road with us,” he said. “The time is right for him to step up. This comes at a good moment for him, and he will live up to the expectations.”

Of all the major WorldTour teams in 2020, Movistar is undergoing the biggest makeover when it comes to its GC lineup. Also leaving are Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida) and 2019 Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos).

Despite some criticisms of the team’s “triple attack,” Unzué said he remains a firm believer in taking multiple leaders to grand tours, but admitted that the team did not work well together during the 2019 Tour de France, pointing out the final mountain stage at Val Thorens as a missed chance.

Unzué admits Movistar’s trio of leaders did not combine well at the 2019 Tour. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“We raced worse than an amateur team that day,” Unzué said. “We had the chance to bring Valverde close to [stage-winner Vincenzo] Nibali, and I am sure he could have won the stage had Nairo and Mikel worked together. Valverde also lacked a bit of leadership, and he should have yelled out, ‘hey, pull, because I am feeling good.’ He didn’t do it, perhaps out of respect, but they should have known what to do. It would have been amazing to have won a stage in the rainbow jersey, but we weren’t up to the level that day.”

Unzué also criticized how Quintana did not help Landa during a key moment in the Pyrénées. Quintana had already lost too much time, and the team slotted him into a breakaway during the stage to Prat d’Albis, with the idea of having Landa attack from behind. Landa did drop the favorites, but when he reached the Quintana group, the Colombian did not help Landa.

“We saw on the Tourmalet that Quintana was not at the level to win,” Unzué said. “[He did not help Landa] and that was a lack of teamwork. The right attitude must be above everything else, and it was obvious, on that day, Nairo did not have it.”

Unzué said Quintana should have “lent a hand, no matter how small,” to give Landa a breather, but he didn’t. Unzué, however, says that’s not the reason why Quintana or Landa are no longer on the team.

“Those things were not determining factors on why neither of them are with us,” he said. “We’ve always had rivalries. We had Indurain and Delgado, and ‘El Chava’ [José María Jiménez] and Olano. These things happen because we never have just one leader. I always prefer to play several cards rather than just one.”

For 2020, Unzué will lean on Valverde one more season, and hope that his bets on Soler and Mas pay off.