Five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain is “puzzled.” He simply doesn’t understand what’s going on at Movistar, Spain’s only WorldTour squad.
“I’m puzzled by this abrupt change of direction as it’s a team that normally maintains a very stable structure of riders,” said Indurain. Yes, we can readily understand his sense of bewildering confusion.
“Nairo Quintana has gone, and Richard Carapaz, who won the Giro d’Italia. It’s a strategy Movistar didn’t follow in other years.” He might also have added that Mikel Landa decided to skip out of Movistar for a new contract with the Bahrain–Merida Pro Cycling Team.
There’s no argument that Quintana has underperformed over the last few years. Since a meteoric rise that took him to second place in the 2013 and 2015 Tour de France, he’s struggled to be a factor in the grand tours — his fourth in the 2019 Vuelta a España being the exception.
The Movistar partnership wasn’t working and it was time for a new beginning. Although a drop down to Pro Continental with French team Arkea-Samsic hardly seems like a wise decision. For whatever reason, Movistar let Quintana walk — and that’s one puzzle piece.
Movistar’s other big gun, Mikel Landa, also headed through the revolving door. Here again, it’s fair to wonder what’s happening behind the scenes at the Spanish squad in terms of rider support. And there was certainly no real friendship or cooperation between Quintana and Landa, who often saw each other as rivals and raced accordingly.
Perhaps most disturbing and puzzling was the exodus of Movistar’s Giro champion Richard Carapaz. Sadly, this story has a familiar ring: Team Sky/Ineos and their massive budget buying up whatever grand tour riders they need to keep Chris Froome winning the Tour de France.
There’s nothing to be done at Movistar when Ineos dangles an obscenely large paycheck. Yet, it does seem a bit surprising that the team couldn’t convince Carapaz to stay with the easy guarantee of full grand tour leadership of a Spanish team.
To counter that talent drain, Movistar picked up Enric Mas from Deceuninck–Quick-Step. The young Spaniard burst onto the scene with second place in the 2018 Vuelta a España. No less than Alberto Contador has talked him up as a future grand tour winner. Still, that’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a 24-year old kid without a lot of backup other than the ageless Alessandro Valverde.
“I hope the new signings can keep up the team’s good level, because changes like this can be complicated, although the team will have its reasons for doing what it did,” said Indurain. “With Valverde and Enric Mas, assuming he settles in well, we can have some great results.”
It’s no wonder that Indurain says he’s puzzled by Movistar’s new script. Take for example, the latest signing from Team Ineos: 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Rodríguez. For the last two years, he’s been riding for Kometa, Alberto Contador’s development team. Twice the Spanish junior time trial title champion, Rodríguez would seem like an ideal rider for Movistar as they look to reload.
“Carlos has achieved some really good results in Spanish races and in the last two or three years he’s been one of, if not the best rider of his age,” said Team Ineos director sportif Xabier Artetxe. Shouldn’t that quote be coming from Movistar’s team manager Eusebio Unzué?
That, in a word, is puzzling.