Quintana, Valverde to share leadership at 2015 Tour, Vuelta

Movistar aims to break the mold with a two-leader plan for the Tour de France that focuses on Quintana but keeps Valverde on deck

PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Don’t expect behind-the-scenes drama between Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana heading into the 2015 Tour de France.

A house united is always stronger than a house divided. That’s the philosophy behind Movistar’s provocative decision to bring both Valverde and Quintana as leaders to both the Tour and Vuelta a España.

Valverde promised there would not be a repeat of the soap opera that engulfed Team Sky as Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome fought publicly and privately for control of the British team.

“This is nothing like Froome and Wiggins, far from it,” Valverde said Friday during a press conference. “I have no problem working with Nairo. We’ve been together these past two seasons, and we get along well. First, we go to the Tour with the idea of riding for Nairo, and then we’ll see what happens.”

There is no rancor between Quintana and Valverde, and they’re friends on and off the bike. And Valverde is the first to admit that the 24-year-old Colombian has a better chance of winning the Tour than he does.

“It’s very clear that Nairo has the qualities to win the Tour. I can be close, but it’s more complicated for me,” Valverde continued. “For the Tour, first we’ll back Nairo, then me. We’re a lot stronger together than he or I riding alone.”

Movistar is clearly taking a different approach to the Tour. Most major teams are backing one lone leader, with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Froome, and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) enjoying complete backing from their respective teams. Movistar boss Eusebio Unzue said the team has the “good fortune” to have two riders capable of leading who are also committed to working together.

“With Nairo and Alejandro working together, we have better chances of success. We are stronger together, rather than dividing our strength with distinct calendars,” Unzue said. “They can share the responsibility of the race between them. We go with Nairo as leader, but [with] Alejandro we have the assurance of a leader who has the experience that few in the peloton can bring to the Tour.”

This season, Movistar split the pair, sending Quintana to the Giro, which he promptly won, while Valverde got his shot at the Tour, where he finished a disappointing fourth.

Going into 2015, Unzue sat down with riders and staff to gauge the team’s mood and ambitions for a new season. The veteran Spaniard manager said they took lessons out of the 2014 Vuelta a España, when both Valverde and Quintana shared leadership. Quintana crashed out, but Valverde picked up the baton, and rode to third overall behind Contador.

Movistar is hoping to apply that Vuelta template to the 2015 Tour, with Quintana is the top captain, and Valverde poised in the wings if anything happens.

Movistar boss Unzue also confirmed that Quintana will not defend his Giro d’Italia crown, and instead will target the Tour and Vuelta double, with Valverde at his side.

“We have the Giro for younger riders who are looking for their chance to lead, such as Beñat Intxausti, Jesus Herrada, or Ion Izagirre,” Unzue said. “We believe the time is right for Nairo to target the Tour, and this route is ideal for him, as well as Alejandro.”

The decision to join Valverde and Quintana at the hip for the Tour simply reflects the reality within the Movistar camp. Valverde, 35, couldn’t quite reach the podium in 2014, finishing fourth, but he remains an explosive and productive rider who is a factor in any race he starts. And Quintana, despite winning the Giro in impressive fashion in May, remains relatively inexperienced at just 24.

“We cannot forget that Nairo is still a ‘chaval,’ and he is still progressing as a rider and a leader,” Unzue continued. “Valverde brings a depth of experience and tranquility that is invaluable to Nairo. And with Nairo there, Valverde doesn’t have to carry the entire weight of the team by himself. They’re stronger as a partnership working together.”

Quintana, too, seemed content to have WorldTour winner Valverde as his wingman. Not only will it give Movistar a one-two GC punch that the other top rivals will not have (assuming both survive the Tour’s treacherous first week), but it helps take the pressure off each of them.

“It could be a complicated situation, but we manage it well,” Quintana said. “It fills me with pride that a rider like Alejandro would vow to help me in the Tour. I am convinced that we are stronger together than ride separately.”

Sharing Tour leadership typically has backfired — look no further than the intrigue of the 1986 Tour with Greg LeMond battling Bernhard Hinault — but with Valverde and Quintana, it just might work.

Perhaps neither will start as a five-star favorite, but they will present a formidable pair that will create complications for their rivals.