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Movistar not looking past troubled Sky just yet

The Spanish squad is reserving judgment on Team Sky's sponsor woes as both squads prepare for the 2019 season.

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Movistar isn’t counting on a Sky-free world just yet.

Movistar has been one of Team Sky’s most stubborn rivals over the past several years. Nairo Quintana has come closer than anyone to knocking Sky off its track at the Tour de France, with the Colombian twice finishing second and once third overall behind Chris Froome.

The Spanish outfit, however, isn’t celebrating the possible demise of Team Sky at the end of 2019. In fact, Movistar’s top riders fully expect Sky to remain its most dogged nemesis not only in 2019, but beyond as well.

Quintana, speaking to reporters at a Movistar presentation in Madrid, isn’t banking on Team Sky folding after the international media company ends its support at the conclusion of the 2019 racing season.

“With its major infrastructure that it has, it’s assured that they will have a similar sponsor,” Quintana told EFE. “There will be many brands interested. I expect the team will continue.”

Sky’s uncertain future was on everyone’s lips during the Movistar team presentation at the Telefónica headquarters in Madrid on Tuesday. The news of Sky’s possible demise comes just as the Spanish telecommunications giant has assured its backing of Spain’s lone WorldTour team through 2021. There are already rumors flying that Movistar could be poised to sign Colombian sensation Egan Bernal if Sky manager Dave Brailsford is unable to secure new sponsors.

Quintana refused to speculate about his own future, with his Movistar contract ending in 2019, and said he will remain focused on preparing for the Tour de France as his central goal of the season.

Mikel Landa, who rode two seasons with Team Sky before joining Movistar this year, also said he fully expects Brailsford to secure a new sponsor. Landa doesn’t foresee Sky’s uncertain future to have too much impact during the major races.

“I don’t think the uncertainty will help us,” Landa said. “When the riders put on their jersey and get on the bike, it won’t be easy to destabilize them.”

Everyone will be keeping a close eye on Sky’s progress of searching out new backers. Landa, whose contract is also up at the end of 2019, said Brailsford knows how to keep the Sky riders focused on the task of racing despite the surprise exit of Sky while he searches out new backers.

“There will certainly be Sky riders who are more nervous about their futures than others,” Landa continued. “Brailsford is a specialist at maintaining the focus and tranquility of the riders. They’ll do their job, because they know they need a new sponsor.”

The uncertain future of Team Sky will have a major impact on the rider market for 2020. Riders like Quintana and Landa, who are both in contract seasons, might be interested in securing their respective futures early. If Brailsford does not secure the team’s future, Landa and Quintana would be competing in what would suddenly been a glutted rider market against the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, not to mention the rest of Sky’s all-star lineup.

Though Brailsford hasn’t put a hard deadline on securing a new sponsor, most of the top riders will start to look for new contracts by June or July if he cannot obtain a firm commitment by the start of the Tour de France.

There have been rumors that Sky could attract backing from Chinese companies or the French multi-billion-dollar luxury conglomerate LVHM, which already has a majority stake in Sky’s bicycle sponsor Pinarello. So far, Brailsford has been telegraphing a message of quiet confidence that the team will ride on past 2019.

One Movistar rider who doesn’t seem too worried is world champion Alejandro Valverde. Although he has not defined the exact year when he might retire — he’s suggested the 2020 Olympic Games could be a nice finishing salvo — he’s likely to stay with Movistar and the Eusebio Unzué franchise in the closing years of his career.

“It’s obviously good for us to have the backing of Movistar through 2021,” Valverde said. “I expect the [Team Sky] structure and team to continue and they will be strong as always.”