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Erviti surprise could save Movistar

Movistar usually relies on early season stage race results to buoy its WorldTour standings, but things are pretty different in 2016.

For the past three years, Spain’s Movistar team has owned the top spot in the UCI’s WorldTour rankings, largely thanks to its ace climbers. The formula is usually a spring of minor early season GC wins and a run through the Ardennes that leaves the team positioned to dominate the rankings once the grand tours come around. But this spring, Imanol Erviti, a 32-year-old journeyman, may be the Movistar’s savior, having earned the team valuable points in two of the most unexpected places: Flanders and Roubaix.

“What a week! I’m super happy,” Erviti said after finishing ninth in Roubaix, a week after finishing sixth in the Tour of Flanders. “It’s always difficult to get into the break on a monument, like I did in Flanders, but entering two of them … It’s sort of a master trick.”

Movistar will need to pull out all the tricks it can if it is to claim the WorldTour team title for a fourth consecutive year. Despite Erviti’s shock run through the cobbles, the Spanish team is 113 points behind where it was at this point last season. Tinkoff currently leads the rankings with 683 points (for obvious reasons), while Movistar sits in seventh place, on 310 points.

Why are the boys in blue behind on points? Blame it on the rain — or snow, really. Tirreno-Adriatico was dramatically transformed by a storm that cancelled the race’s queen stage. Surely Alejandro Valverde would have punched into the top-10 (where WorldTour points are awarded) otherwise. Instead, he was 18th overall, 19 seconds away from 10th. Paris-Nice was similarly stymied by a cancelled stage in the mountains, but Ion Izzagire still managed fifth overall.

Fortunately for Movistar, Nairo Quintana has been pulling his weight with third overall at Vuelta al Pais Vasco and a GC victory in Volta Cyclista a Cataluna, which delivered 178 WorldTour points in total, including his points for stage results. Meanwhile, on the cobblestones, Erviti earned 40 points the hard way, riding to seventh and ninth at Flanders and Roubaix, respectively, after all-day exploits in the breakaway.

Forty points might not seem like much relative to Movistar’s final 2015 tally of 1,619, but the team only beat Katusha by 13 points last year. Hypothetically, it would have been even closer (or a different outcome) had Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez not withdrawn from Il Lombardia at the last moment.

Did Erviti have points on his mind when he rode the stones of northern France or the bergs of Flanders? Probably not. “I was so excited, because things had gone well in Flanders — I thought it was worth to take the effort,” he added. “I was over my limit at the finish, I couldn’t seek for a better place in the velodrome, but I’m content with what I did.”

On one hand, the early season scenario reflects cycling’s unpredictability, but on the other, it indicates how a deep, strong team can make its own luck when playing the long game for another overall WorldTour title. Although that award means little more than bragging rights, it’s still an honor for teams and sponsors alike.