On a day when the Colombian superstar confirmed his departure following an eight-year run with the Spanish powerhouse, Movistar is rallying the troops to put an exclamation point on the Quintana era with a victory in the Vuelta a España.
Quintana on Sunday captured the Vuelta’s leader’s jersey in a wet and controversial stage in Andorra. He holds a slender grip on red that even he admits he’s likely to lose in Tuesday’s time trial, with Alejandro Valverde still within range, in fourth at 20 seconds back in a tightly wound Vuelta.
“Above all we have to be content with the first week of the Vuelta,” Valverde said on Monday’s rest day. “We’re both riding well, we have two stage wins, we are first and fourth, and there’s still a very wide open Vuelta ahead of us. We have to keep working together to make sure that the jersey stays within the team.”
Despite some pyrotechnics involving Marc Soler in the soggy and intense climb through rain and hail Sunday in Andorra, Movistar presented a unified and smiling front Monday in Pau.
If Movistar was feeling any tension inside or out of the bus, no one was giving anything way.
“We always keep talking about who is the leader,” Quintana said. “We will see out on the road who has the strongest legs.”
Quintana and Valverde have emerged as two of the four strongest riders so far in his Vuelta. A punishing first week that included three summit finishes and a mix of heat, crashes, cold, rain and even hail has reduced the Vuelta to largely a four-horse race. Slovenian phenom Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates), a dramatic winner Sunday, is trying to elbow in on the party, now fifth at 1:42 back.
Right now, however, it looks like the winner will come from Movistar or Astana, with Miguel Ángel López, third at 17 seconds back, or Jumbo-Visma, with Primoz Roglic, second at just six seconds adrift.
“It will be very hard to keep the jersey, and it’s likely I will lose it,” Quintana said of Tuesday. “Superman is very strong, and even though he crashed yesterday, he will keep attacking until the end.”
Also Monday, Quintana confirmed he would be leaving Movistar after racing with the team since he turned pro in 2012. It was later revealed he would be joining French team Arkéa-Samsic, bringing along with him his brother, Dayer, Winner Anacona and Diego Rosa.
The long-anticipated move will put an end to the Quintana era at Movistar. Under the guidance of team boss Eusebio Unzué and his staff, Colombian emerged as one of the most consistent stage racers in the peloton, winning the Vuelta in 2016, becoming the first Colombian to win the Giro d’Italia in 2014, and finishing three times on the Tour podium.
The Quintana stint at Movistar didn’t come without its controversy. Insiders say there were sometimes ruffled feathers in the Movistar nest as several riders vied for leadership protection. The arrival of Mikel Landa in 2018 only exacerbated the internal power struggle.
Movistar rallied in 2019 to win the Giro with Richard Carapaz, who also confirmed Monday he would leaving Movistar to join Team Ineos on a three-year deal.
With Quintana, Carapaz and Landa all leaving — Landa is set to join Bahrain-Merida next season — the team will lean on Valverde to give new arrival Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Soler time to mature and evolve into leaders.
Soler, the promising climber and all-rounder, was quick to apologize Monday for his late-stage tantrum the day before. High on Sunday’s finale, he was leading the race when Movistar directors told him to sit up to help pace Quintana toward the finish. Soler seemed to think he had the legs and gap to win the stage — he was leading Quintana and eventual winner Pogacar by about 30 seconds with about 3km to go — when the call came through.
An emotional Soler angrily waved his arms and screamed in frustration. Some questioned Movistar’s decision to force Soler to sit up, but the call helped nudge Quintana into red, if ever so slightly.
Others were quick to label Soler as being immature, including sport directors at Movistar. Team DS Pablo Lastras told Spanish daily Marca that Soler had a lot to learn.
“It’s good to have character but he has to start listening and maturing,” Lastras said. “If we want to make him a leader, he must first be a domestique.”
On Monday, Soler owned up to his mistake with a public apology.
“We spoke about it, and I asked for forgiveness from the team, Nairo, and others, and it will never happen again,” Soler told journalists. “I was being hot-headed. It was the first time that I’ve been in a situation like that and it won’t happen again. We came here to win with Nairo and Alejandro, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
With Soler back on board, and Quintana still in the Movistar jersey in what will be his final grand tour in the “blue” kit, the team vows to fight as a united front.
Much of their luck will depend on what happens Tuesday. If Roglic takes more than two minutes, trying to claw back that much time in the second half of the Vuelta could be nearly impossible. If they can limit their losses to less, however, the fight is still on.
“We have to do the best time trial possible to try to limit the losses,” Valverde said. “It’s the third week that is going to decide everything. We have two cards to play with our tactics.”
Movistar struggled when it could not find cohesion inside the bus. But when they raced as a unified front, like they did in May at the Giro, Movistar is hard to beat.