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Vuelta a Espana

Can Movistar deliver at Vuelta a España?

Miguel Ángel López and Enric Mas take the lead for podium quest, with Alejandro Valverde as the wingman.

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The pressure is on Movistar to have a big Vuelta a España.

And by big, that means at least a podium and a few stage wins thrown in along the way.

As Spain’s only WorldTour team, the long-running squad with its DNA dating back to the 1980s always packs pressure on home roads for its national grand tour.

This year perhaps even more so.

Movistar lines up with a strong team, with the top goal of hitting the podium in Galicia on September 5.

“I come here with motivation and I want to be at the front and to be in the final positions of prestige in this Vuelta,” said Miguel Ángel López. “Our self-confidence is fundamental, because if you don’t believe you can do it, then it’s game over. The team is racing at home, we’ve worked hard, and the team is motivated — that’s what we’re here to do.”

Alejandro Valverde to play wingman role behind GC push

López and Enric Mas will share front-line GC leadership duties, with ageless veteran Alejandro Valverde as a wingman for stage wins and a third option without pressure.

Despite running one of the most successful grand tour programs in cycling history, the Movistar “blues” are in a bit of a rut, at least by their standards.

The team did not win a stage or podium in either the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France so far this season, and its last grand tour podium came with Valverde with second in 2019.

Valverde, who was second to Sepp Kuss in the Tour de France into Andorra, said he’s motivated despite suffering through a disappointing Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I’m very excited to be back at the Vuelta, it’s the race that I like the most,” Valverde said. “I’m also excited about the team, with Enric and Miguel Ángel, and I feel good as well, so if we can hit the podium and maybe win a stage for me, I would be very satisfied.”

https://twitter.com/Movistar_Team/status/1425898875446087683

Valverde, 41, has long been a team anchor at the Vuelta, with outright victory in 2009, six other podiums, and a winner of 12 stages.

Valverde, who was second overall in 2019 to Primož Roglič and ahead of Tadej Pogačar, downplayed his GC chances.

“A good GC for me is secondary. Being realistic, a top-3 for me complicated,” Valverde said. “I have some teammates who are very strong, so for me, to win a stage would be something beautiful at the end of this season. There are some good stages for me, but the rivals are very strong, and the wins are each time more ‘expensive.'”

With Valverde downplaying his GC ambitions, the team looks to its new leaders in López and Mas.

Mas, who rode to sixth at the Tour, will be the team’s other option on GC, but without the outright pressure of leadership he carried in France after López struggled early and did not finish.

“We finished the Tour with a bittersweet taste, because we were going for the podium and we ended up sixth,” Mas said. “This Vuelta represents another chance, along with Alejandro and Miguel Ángel as leaders, we are aiming for the podium.”

Movistar’s last Vuelta victory was with Nairo Quintana in 2016, and the years are ticking by.

And with riders like Quintana and Mikel Landa already moving on, and Valverde perhaps looking at his final grand tour, the future is with Mas and Ángel López.

López and Mas have both finished on the Vuelta podium, but not yet in a Movistar jersey.

This Vuelta marks perhaps the team’s final bet on the team’s three-pronged attack, with three GC riders all on the march for the podium.

So the future is now for Spain’s most successful if sometimes wildly unpredictable team.

On paper, Movistar brings a deep squad fortified enough to take the challenge to Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma. Anything less than a final spot will be viewed as a disappointment.

No pressure there.

Movistar for 2021 Vuelta a España:

Imanol Erviti, 37 — 14th Vuelta start, two stage wins

Johan Jacobs, 24 — grand tour debut

Miguel Ángel López, 27 — fifth Vuelta start, 3rd in 2018, two stage wins

Enric Mas, 26 — fourth Vuelta start, 2nd in 2018, one stage win

Nelson Oliveira, 32 — seventh Vuelta start, one stage win

José Joaquín Rojas, 36 — seventh Vuelta start

Alejandro Valverde, 41 — 15th Vuelta start, 2009 winner, six-times podium, 12 stage wins

Carlos Verona, 28 — fifth Vuelta start