Quintana, Landa, and Movistar's leadership selection

Philippa York on the Spanish team facing tough decisions

One of the hardest lessons for the designated leader of a professional cycling team is when circumstances conspire to thwart the expectations placed upon them.

Then, as if not being as competitive as hoped isn't bad enough, there come the inevitable doubts and questions from the team and just about everyone with an opinion. The realisation that your place as undisputed leader is as strong as wet cardboard quickly follows.

Movistar expected Nairo Quintana to have won a Tour de France by now, he probably expected that too, and yet since 2013 he's reached a plateau. This year he didn't even make the top ten so alarm bells went off and the team has brought in reinforcements. It's been Landa Mania ever since. Don't get me wrong, Mikel Landa has the potential to win Grand Tours, but not all three-week races are equal and the Tour de France is the most stressful of them all. Strangely he's older than Quintana, normally the story includes a younger model but lets not be ageist, he's up and coming.

Quintana is already 'there' and probably wondering what all the fuss is about. However having to do two Grand Tours for the past four seasons has taken its toll, and all sparkle has been removed from his legs. Sorting that issue would have seemed easier than adding another to Quintana's problems but what do I know of little climbers being worn out.

History tells us that the two team leader scenario rarely works out well: LeMond and Hinault; Roche and Visentini; and Froome and Wiggins are all great examples of how it all goes wrong when egos and ambitions collide. In fact the only time I can think of relative success is Rooks and Theunise at PDM. They were friends, the same age roughly, and shared the same culture and the same ambitions. But they didn't win the Tour. Every other duo has seen the older model replaced by the young upstart and that eventually has seen the subjugation of the senior. It's natural selection.

Maybe Movistar think they the answer to this is in the shape of Alejandro Valverde - a wise head to keep the peace and set up the youngsters. To me that just seems like an added problem because realistically with eight-man teams there won't be enough workers left to do the hard slog miles if there are three leaders.

Commonsense says Valverde will do the Giro supporting Landa and then the Basque rider will do the same for Quintana at the Tour. Valverde then is sole leader at the Vuelta and the job is done. Perfecto. But with all the 'Mikel this and Landa that' it won't be that easy for the team management to keep their two climbers happy.

Landa has the advantage of being Spanish, Quintana knows the team inside out. Each has its merits and in terms of getting along, the riders will probably be fine. It's the associated followers, helpers and friends that'll be the ones saying 'you ought to have taken your own chance, you were the strongest' or 'it's not fair he always gets the best deal'.

If you analyse the riders physical and mental capacities then Quintana makes a better case to remain leader. He's calm, tactically good and copes with the stress. He can be ruthless when he needs to be but his time trialling is still a weakness and there's an underlying hesitancy to attack just to see what happens. This is something Landa does well. He may be a more robust rider physically but there are question marks on his concentration levels. It might not seem an issue but he needs to pay attention every hour of every stage and not just the ones that seem important. His time trialling is the same as Qunitana's, his climbing not as explosive but at a very high level. Coping with the stress of being the leader isn't yet known and given his petulance in the face of team orders it could be a gripe. He has everything to prove, and yes he has the potential, though Team Sky and Astana couldn't understand his needs, so it remains to be seen if Movistar can. They have a better chance of doing just that by virtue of being Spanish but the build up of Mikel Landa in the press has been so great that failure to do so will make a loud noise.

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