Spain’s only WorldTour team always delivers drama at the Tour de France. And this year’s Team Movistar is packed with intrigue and possibility.
What the Spanish “blues” will be hoping to avoid is a repeat of last year’s behind-closed-doors drama when its leaders fractured inside the team bus. It might have made for great viewing in the Netflix documentary, “The Least Expected Day,” but certainly not for cohesive racing.
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That should be relatively easy to avoid, with Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana both gone. Perennial team captain Alejandro Valverde is back, with new Spanish hopes Enric Mas and Marc Soler stepping in to try to fulfill the cycling-crazed nation’s hopes.
Movistar always moves in the Tour, and though sometimes the arm-chair tacticians might be pulling out their hair at what they see on TV, perhaps no team in the Tour de France is consistently in the fray as the Movistar jersey.
With Landa and Quintana gone, however, the team will be lowering its expectations for 2020. It’s a rebuilding year for one of cycling’s oldest franchises, and the team’s goals will be winning a stage or two, and pushing their two young GC captains as high as possible. And, it goes without saying, racing for the team classification. It’s earned a trip to the podium in Paris as the top team in four of the past five Tours.
Dario Cataldo, Imanol Erviti, Enric Mas, Nelson Oliveira, José Joaquín Rojas, Marc Soler, Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Verona
Movistar’s back-bench remains one of the strongest in the peloton. With motors like Imanol Erviti, José Joaquín Rojas and Nelson Oliveira pushing things along, anyone on their wheel will go far in the Tour.
What’s changed dramatically for Movistar in the 2020 Tour is who is at the sharp end of the stick. Quintana, Landa, and Richard Carapaz are all lining up against their former team in Nice. That shakeup came after a tumultuous winter that resulted in a complete makeover for Movistar, with its three aces all taking offers from rival teams. Giro d’Italia defending champion Carapaz headlines at Ineos Grenadiers, with Landa at Bahrain-McLaren, and Quintana at Arkéa-Samsic.
Stepping into the void is two of Spain’s most promising young GC prospects.
Enric Mas joins from Deceuninck-Quick-Step, where he rode to second overall at the 2018 Vuelta a España. His Tour debut last year was overshadowed by teammate Julian Alaphilippe, but hopes are high that the wiry Mas can climb into podium contention by the third week. Also with protected status will be the explosive Marc Soler, whose bigger, almost Indurain-like build harkens to the team’s glory days of the 1990s.
And eternal team captain Alejandro Valverde is back for one more, perhaps his final, loop around France.
At 40, Valverde has no realistic pretensions for the overall, but like an old oak tree, he’s always hanging around. Last year, he was ninth without anyone really noticing. And on this demanding, climb-heavy course, another top-10, with a stage win thrown in for good measure, is certainly a realistic last hurrah for Spain’s “Green Bullet.”
Movistar won’t be carrying the burden of chasing the yellow jersey dreams of Nairo Quintana in this year’s Tour, and that could be a blessing in disguise. The Colombian rose to superstardom status under Movistar’s watch, but several frustrating attempts at winning yellow, there was no love lost at the end of 2019 when Quintana exited.
Stepping up are Mas and Soler, two home-grown talents who are poised to take the next step in their respective careers. The pair are different in style both on and off the bike. The relaxed and amiable Mas is an explosive climber on the steepest cols, and some have even compared him to Alberto Contador. Soler, meanwhile, is more of an old-school diesel who is overflowing with ambition and drive.
Both will be protected, but neither has the pressure to arrive to Paris on the podium. That doesn’t mean they won’t try. Both have an open ticket to do their best, and each will be pushing themselves to new, unknown limits. On paper, the course favors Mas more than Soler, but both will be given support and freedom to move. Valverde will provide his “guarantee” of always being there in the key moments.
This will be a new Movistar, yet with its same old attacking nature. The team will be able to race without the pressure of the elusive yellow jersey dream hanging around their shoulders. An unbridled, more cohesive Movistar might even be more dangerous. The team will be able to push riders into breakaways, especially on the lumpy terrain in the Pyrénées and Massif Central.
Last year, the team placed three in the top-10 and took one stage win, yet somehow that was seen as a disappointment for the firepower it brought. This year, a repeat performance would be a stunning success.
No matter what, Movistar will be in the mix almost every day. It always brings something out of the Tour de France.