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It’s a sign of the times in Spain that the defending Vuelta a España champion was looking at unemployment at the end of the 2011 season.
Juanjo Cobo lost his ride with Geox-TMC when the team collapsed following the exit of the title sponsor, throwing the future into doubt for a rider who posted one of the most impressive turn-arounds in recent cycling history.
Cobo said he never lost hope that he’d find a contract, but said he couldn’t be happier to pen a deal with Spanish powerhouse Movistar that will assure him a spot in the season’s most important dates.
“Things were complicated, but I knew I would never be without a team. I was happy the call came from (Movistar),” Cobo said Wednesday. “It’s important for me to be back on this team. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué said he had reached out to Cobo’s representative when Geox, the high-end Italian shoemaker, pulled the plug on the team’s sponsorship in mid-October.
“We wanted to wait to see what happened because Geox (management) was trying to save the team and we wanted to respect that,” Unzué said. “I told Cobo’s rep that he could be calm and count on us if things didn’t work out.”
The deal was finally hammered out in late December when Mauro Gianetti finally threw in the towel after a few final-hour efforts to save the team for 2012 fell short.
For Cobo, it’s a return to Movistar where he raced in 2010 he struggled to find motivation and barely managed to finish races. A return to Geox-TMC in 2011 saw Cobo deliver a surprise victory at the Vuelta.
Cobo says that Vuelta victory has changed him and he hopes to return the confidence to Movistar.
“My mentality has changed. Now I am super-motivated and that’s what was missing before,” Cobo continued. “I have a thorn in my back about the 2010 season. Things didn’t work out when I was here and I want to pay them back with some victories.”
Cobo joins Alejandro Valverde as the team’s two leaders for the major races for 2012.
While Valverde will be taking aim at the spring classics and the Tour de France with a heavy front-loaded racing schedule in his comeback season from a two-year racing ban, Cobo will center his attention on the latter half of the calendar.
“The plan is for Cobo to be fresh at the Tour and be 100 percent for the Vuelta,” Unzué said. “We want Cobo to be ready for the Tour, but arrive at the Vuelta in the best-possible condition to defend his title.”
For the Giro, both Cobo and Valverde have said they will not race the Italian tour this season. David Arroyo, the 2010 runner-up, has also said he will be skipping the Giro.
That means that Movistar will bring a team led by Maurizio Bruseghin and Giovanni Visconti, backed by a squad of young up-and-comers.