Tour de France 2020

Good or bad, Movistar’s Tour team will produce fireworks

Movistar's three Tour de France GC leaders promise harmony. The unconventional approach could lead to strife ... or success.

What could possibly go wrong? That’s the tongue-in-cheek reaction to Movistar’s unorthodox decision of tossing everything and the kitchen sink at the yellow jersey.

The Spanish outfit is throwing convention to the wind, and bringing three leaders to the Tour de France in a bid to overthrow Team Sky.

Three-time podium finisher Nairo Quintana remains at the center of the team’s ambitions, but Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde both start as protected riders.

In pre-race interviews, both Landa and Valverde promise to play nice and ride to protect the team’s interests.

“The harmony between the three team leaders will be good,” Landa insisted. “Nairo and me, we got along well with each other. It’s a super team, one of the best, if not the best, in the Tour.”

Valverde also downplayed expectations of strife within the team, saying, “There won’t be any problems into the team. We will get on well with each other.”

“Besides, this year’s Tour route suits well our strategy of having three leaders,” he continued. “Launching one of us on the attack will hurt our rivals and create some uncertainty. We have to play those cards. I don’t know if we’ll win, but surely we’ll offer some fireworks.”

Many expect fireworks and more both on and off the bike.

Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana have ridden together at Movistar since 2012. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for teams to bring two protected captains to the Tour, but it’s rare to see a team bring three. Having a third option for yellow reveals just how deep Movistar is coming into this Tour.

The unconventional approach is also somewhat surprising from the usually conservative Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. He knows the opening nine stages of the Tour have enough traps that perhaps he is covering his bets with the hopes of having at least one rider with their GC options fully intact following the challenging cobblestones in stage 9.

If all three arrive in Annecy still within range of the yellow jersey, that’s when things could get interesting.

Landa is quick to admit he’s also thinking about yellow. He insists he’s only being honest about his ambitions, but also says he will race to help the team.

“I’d like to fight for the Tour victory, but we’ve yet to start the race and see how I can really do,” he said. “My aim is to fight for important results until the very last day.”

Landa points out the previous two Tours he’s raced in 2016 and 2017, he’s also raced the Giro d’Italia before. This year, he will arrive at the Tour with about 30 race days in his legs without having raced in the Giro.

A fresher Landa will be the enigma in Movistar’s three-pronged GC attack for the Tour de France. Landa had a front-row seat to Chris Froome’s victory last year and looked to be stronger than Froome on a few occasions, but loyally played the team role each time. He missed a third-place podium spot by just one second to Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale). After moving to Movistar this season on the promise of having leadership duties at the Tour, Landa’s ambitions might be hidden in plain sight.

“Last year, I was really close to the podium, and that makes me dream about being able to contest for the win,” Landa said. “I’m in good form, in good morale, mentally fresh, really excited and hopeful about my chances.”

Valverde has proven to be a loyal team player, but even he said he won’t an opportunity slip by if one presents itself.

“I’m going to the Tour in good condition,” said Valverde, who boasts 11 wins this season. “I’m focused on what we want to do. I want to do well, should it be working for Nairo and Mikel or rather, if the race asks us to do so, taking on bigger responsibility and fulfilling the team’s goals. I feel like my current form should be good to be up there with the top contenders.”

The key will be Quintana. If the Colombian survives the Tour’s first half and looks strong in the climbs, he could be the glue that keeps Movistar together. If he struggles early, it could turn into a race of every man for himself.

As Valverde promised, there’s sure to be fireworks no matter what happens.