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The team hoovered up enough UCI points coming out of the Vuelta a España to put a virtual lock on a place in the peloton’s elite league when the next round of three-year WorldTour licenses are doled out.
That comes as a relief to Unzué, who’s been at the top of the sport for four decades.
“Mathematically, there are more points in play than what is between us and the 19th team, so it’s still possible [to descend], but that we don’t earn more points is also mathematically almost impossible,” Unzué said on Spain’s Radio COPE. “We hope to finish things off with these races in Italy and in Langkawi, and we can forget out some of this stress that the question of the points produced.”
Before the Vuelta, Movistar was right on the relegation bubble, ranked 18th in the team rankings, with the top-18 ranked teams across the past three seasons meeting the “sporting criteria” to qualify for the next round of WorldTour licenses.
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A big Vuelta and some other top results pushed the team safely up the rankings, and could even end the season passing Team DSM to finish off the rankings in 13th place.
Unzué, who’s criticized the UCI points ranking system that he said tilts too much in favor of one-day races, said the team was forced to adjust its calendar in order to chase points.
Movistar and Unzué have always raced as a stage race team, targeting one-week stage races and grand tours with a fleet of climbers and helpers.
“In the last 25 days, from the end of the Vuelta and these other races, it was about racing to get as many points as possible, but also trying to endure this period of stress that the situation produced,” he said. “We had some luck to be able to see the best version of Enric Mas during the Vuelta because he had bad luck with three crashes early in the season that really produced a crisis of confidence for him.”
Unzué: ‘Mas’s turnaround was impressive’
Unzué offered big words of praise for team captain Mas, who crashed three times this spring, and pulled out of the Tour de France with illness.
Mas rebounded during the Vuelta to finish second, and all but assured the team’s WorldTour future.
Unzué said three crashes involving Mas in early races provoked a massive drop in his confidence and his capacity to produce the results that he and the team expected, especially when it came to riding down Europe’s descents in top speed.
“We knew that this was something temporary, because he’s a rider who’s never had a problems in the descents,” he said. “In no time, in just four weeks, it was completely gone from his mind, and by the time he arrived at the Vuelta, he was the same Enric we always knew.
Unzué said if Mas had been able to finish off the early season races, such as Tirreno-Adriatico and the Critérium du Dauphiné, the team wouldn’t have had to suffer “these past four months.”
“If things had gone as expected earlier this year we wouldn’t have had to race with the calculator, or go to these races that we’ve never done before just to try to earn points,” Unzué said.
Hints of new sponsor, new signings
Unzué hinted that a new title sponsor and some new arrivals are imminent.
Spain’s giant telephone company Movistar joined as title sponsor in 2011, and is committed through 2025.
“We hope to have a second sponsor that will help us keep the riders we have and be able to sign some new promising ones for the future,” he said.
“We are in the market, and we have some new faces we’ll be revealing in a few days,” Unzué said, adding that he lamented being unable to bring back former rider Richard Carapaz, who signed a deal with EF Education-EasyPost. “It won’t be a ‘big’ name, because there isn’t that much on the market this year. Carapaz was a missed opportunity, and Adam Yates? Well, some have the luck of unlimited budgets.”
Unzué said the future of the team remains with Mas as well as younger riders who confirmed their talent this year, including Matteo Jorgenson, Gonzalo Serrano, and Alex Aranburu.
“We already have on our team the future of our team. This Vuelta reconfirmed that Mas is truly a ‘grand tour’ man. He’s going to keep being a rider for the grand tours and the one-week stage races,” Unzué said. “These young riders will give us more tranquility. They’ve been on the margin, but they will step up, and help us secure our future.”
‘We’d be delighted’ to sign Carlos Rodríguez
Unzué didn’t hide his interest in Carlos Rodríguez, the young rising Spanish star on Ineos Grenadiers.
Spain’s other young talent, Juan Ayuso, already penned a long-term deal to stay with UAE Team Emirates after finishing third in the Vuelta. Rodríguez, 21, rode to seventh in his grand tour debut at the Vuelta.
“Rodríguez is one of those riders whose contract ends next season, he’s going to be on the market,” Unzué said. “We’d be delighted, and it’s about being able to square the interests on both sides. He’s a rider who keeps improving with a solid base.
“He’s part of this group of young riders who are securing the future of Spanish cycling,” he said. “He’s a spectacular talent, along with Ayuso’s podium, they give us some hope following the exit of the big ones like Contador and Valverde. It will give the Spanish cycling fans some tranquility who are used to such big successes.”
Impressed with Van Vleuten’s worlds
Unzué said he was at a loss for words for Annemiek Van Vleuten, who rides for the Movistar women’s trade team, and her race-winning performance in Wollongong.
“It gets harder and harder to find the appropriate words to express what she’s been able to achieve,” Unzué said. “That’s part of what makes her great, that she was able to race with the idea to help Vos, and she could do it with the immense pain in her elbow.
“To have a new world champion’s jersey in the team is something special,” he said. “All the sponsors and supporters know what this jersey means, especially in the manner that she did it, and after the season she had by winning so much.”