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Comment: Why Movistar will be better off without Quintana, Landa and Valverde

11 Jun 2019

Three’s a crowd. I’m not sure if this expression works in Spanish but somebody needs to translate it and explain it to Movistar team boss Eusebio Unzue if they can. Over the weekend, Spanish radio station Cope named the nine rider long list that will make up Movistar’s Tour de France eight-man team.

Included were Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. All three will be on the start line come July. All three will believe they can win yellow. All three will leave empty handed.

It’s like groundhog day.

Those three names are the same triple threat that Unzue entrusted to get the job done at last year’s edition and those were the three names that were among the biggest flops of the entire Tour.

Landa finished seventh which was worse than his fourth in 2017, Quintana won a stage but barely mustered 10th overall and Valverde finished 14th almost half an hour down.

Now Unzue is going back to the biggest race in the calendar with the same riders with the same goals and the same problems.

No, I'm the leader

Quintana thinks he is the leader, he is told he is the leader and then tells us that he is the leader. Except, you get the feeling he doesn’t actually believe he is the leader and he certainly doesn’t ride like a leader.

Then Landa will convince himself he is the better rider, like he did at this year’s Giro and the 2017 Tour. Ultimately, he will lose time somewhere in the first week or haemorrhage minutes in a time-trial.

He will then play second fiddle to a better-positioned teammate in the mountains despite being just as strong if not stronger as the road heads upwards. The cries of 'Free Landa' will chime and begin the delusions of possible glory as begrudgingly he works for his actual team leader, wishing they crack so he can be let off the leash.

Then there’s Valverde, who ultimately will only ride for what Valverde wants and rightfully so as he is Valverde, after all. Sure, he can't win yellow but then maybe he can, or maybe he can win a few stages if he skips a turn on the front for Nairo.

Dehydrated three-headed hydra

Then you have to think about how having these three in one team works.

None of them will get their own bottles. So when poor Imanol Eriviti drops back to the team car and orders a round of cold ones for the boys, he will be picking up bottles not for one rider but three.

Then who gets given their lunch musette by a fellow rider instead of grabbing it roadside from Max Sciandri who’s jumped out the team car? It's tough to do that for all three team leaders.

And at the end of the day when it comes to massages, who does soigneur Jose Angel Arenas rub down first? Someone's going to be left waiting.

You cannot prioritise one over the other two, they won’t accept it, and you cannot afford all three the same special treatment, there’s neither the time nor resources.

In a sport of such fine margins, this is the kind of stuff that can be your undoing.

Best laid plans

The painful thing for Unzue is that it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Unzue had planned for dual leaders as opposed to a triple threat at each of the Grand Tours. Landa at the Giro d’Italia and Tour, Quintana at the Tour and Vuelta a Espana, Valverde to the Giro and the Vuelta.

Equally distributing the weight across his three star riders. Landa would aim for Giro pink, Quintana for Tour yellow, and Valverde would be allowed to chase Vuelta red but also build the form to defend his rainbow jersey.

But then Valverde got saddle sore shortly before the Giro and pulled out. This left Movistar with only one leader, Landa, which could have still worked.

That was until an extremely talented and opportunistic Richard Carapaz took his chance, never looked back and then landed himself a pink jersey.

While this proved to Unzue that riding for two leaders instead of three works, all it did in the mind of Landa was incentivise him into racing the Tour for yellow despite that always being promised to Quintana, and that’s ignoring the fact a now-fit Valverde will also be there.

There’s no way Unzue cannot pick Quintana, Landa and Valverde to race the Tour. They are three of the best riders in the world and too good not go.

But then, there’s no way you can pick Quintana, Landa and Valverde to race the Tour together because they are all too good a rider to work together and will all ultimately play to one another's downfall.

All change in 2020?

If you believe what you read in the papers, Movistar will be a very different team in 2020. Quintana will have moved to Arkea-Samsic, Carapaz will be earning a mint at Team Ineos, Landa will be riding second fiddle to someone at Bahrain-Merida and Valverde will be calling time after the Olympics.

All four Grand Tour riders out the door with only one, Deceuninck-Quickstep’s Enric Mas, coming the other way.

Losing four riders all capable of winning a Grand Tour would be considered a disaster for most teams, but for Eusebio Unzue and Movistar, it may just solve his Tour de France headache.