A stellar year from WorldTour's top squad
Movistar Team 2013
WorldTour Ranking: 1st/19
Win Count: 32
Top riders: Alejandro Valverde (3rd); Nairo Quintana (8th); Rui Costa (9th)
It’s very hard to fault Movistar’s 2013 season. This year has arguably been their best in a decade in terms of consistency and - even if it did not culminate in a Grand Tour victory outright like in 2006 (Pereiro in the Tour) or 2009 (Valverde in the Vuelta) - has concluded with 32 victories, podiums in the Tour and Vuelta, a repeat victory in the Tour de Suisse, gold and bronze for their riders Rui Costa and Valverde (albeit representing Portugal and Spain) in the men’s road race world championship and first place overall in the UCI WorldTour team ranking. Their only failure to make an impact, in fact, in road-racing in the 2013 season was in the one-day cobbled Classics and bunch sprints.
In fact, Movistar have proved without a doubt that even without Alberto Contador, Spain’s top stage racer, Spain’s top squad can give any team a run for their money in multi-day events. Nairo Quintana’s hugely successful Tour debut - he is the first rider since a certain Eddy Merckx to clinch a top three finish, King of the Mountains jersey and Best Young Rider title in one fell swoop, not to mention a spectacular final Alpine stage win - is probably the most memorable of their achievements, but there were plenty more.
Quintana’s victory in the Vuelta al País Vasco against Sky’s Richie Porte in atrocious weather conditions was a minor masterpiece for the young Colombian, but he won one of the toughest mountain top finishes at the Volta a Catalunya, too, and also took home the Tour of Burgos, Spain’s fourth biggest stage race.
As much as racking up three more victories than in 2012, what impressed about Movistar was the quality of those wins - 15 in the WorldTour which partly explains why they rose from fifth in 2012 to first overall in the WorldTour teams ranking. Which to choose from? British national time trial champion Alex Dowsett’s victory in the Giro d’Italia’s showcase chrono (ahead of Sir Bradley Wiggins) was one high point that could barely fail to impress, for example. But combined with a superb stage win for Beñat Intxausti and two for Giovanni Visconti, Movistar had numerous reasons to be cheerful in Italy’s Grand Tour despite - after Juanjo Cobo was injured early on - not having even an outside chance of a GC contender.
Other big stage race victories for Movistar included the Tour of Beijing with Beñat Intxausti again, and Rui Costa’s second Tour de Suisse in a row. As for Movistar leader Alejandro Valverde his results - his only wins were in Mallorca and the Tour of Andalusia - are deceptive, as his third place in the UCI WorldTour ranking shows.
Valverde was one of the few riders who can still race all season, with second places in Catalunya, Amstel Gold, San Sebastian and Lombardia, third places in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Vuelta and (not uncontroversially) the Worlds, a seventh in the Critérium du Dauphiné and an eighth - after losing out badly in the crosswinds in the second week when lying second overall - in the Tour.
Hugely versatile, in 2014 Valverde’s relationship with Nairo Quintana will be a whole new factor in his game. Some top riders, like Oscar Pereiro, had no problem working with Valverde, others - like Joaquim Rodriguez - felt overshadowed and moved on. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Movistar handle that relationship, and potential power struggle.
Movistar have been taken to task for their failure to shine on absolutely all fronts, in the cobbled Classics and bunch sprint stages as well as in their in-house speciality, the Grand Tours overall classification. But this is unfair, given there is no team out there that has managed to do that. More pertinent, perhaps, is the criticism of Movistar’s failure to adopt a more ambitious racing strategy in the key Pyrenean stage of the 2013 Tour. Combined with Saxo-Tinkoff and Garmin-Sharp, Movistar had Sky and Chris Froome up against the wall and settled instead for sinking Richie Porte’s chances of making second alongside his teammate in Paris.
But ultimately this is something for Internet forums - and the fact that Movistar have now opted, in the middle of Spain’s worst recession in half a century, to renew their sponsorship until 2016 says a lot about just how satisfying a season 2013 was for the Spanish squad. Only an outright Grand Tour win could make 2014 any better.
What to expect in 2014:
Nairo Quintana’s determination to make his mark on his debut Tour - and success - has now led to huge speculation as to what he will be capable of doing when a year older and stronger. Should he take part in the Giro, he will be one of the top favourites, if he is co-leader with Valverde - already down for the Tour and Vuelta - in July instead, he, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali will be the three Sky rivals expected to give Froome and Wiggins (should he race) the greatest grief.
Valverde has a bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but his invariably consistent form in September - no other rider has such a lengthy string of top ten places in a Grand Tour in the last decade - make him a natural favourite for the Vuelta. Should Quintana be at his side, if the Colombian fails to impact in the Giro, Movistar could finally net their first Grand Tour in five years on home soil instead.
24 years old, Ion Izaguirre - the former Euskaltel-Euskadi rider and Giro stage winner could well become Spain’s (much needed) next big star, whilst Juanjo Lobato is the country’s top young sprinter. Former Giro leader and 2013 Bayern-Rundfahrt winner Adriano Malori is an interesting addition from Lampre-Merida. After a second mediocre season, former Giro podium finisher John Gadret, meanwhile, arrives in Movistar with the words ‘last chance saloon’ all but stenciled on his jersey.
Juan Jose Cobo and former Volta a Catalunya winner Vladimir Karpets are two veterans whose departure from Movistar won’t cause too many waves, but Rui Costa's absence does not only mean that Movistar will be without the publicity benefits of having a World Champion in their ranks. The Portuguese rider’s ability both to win week-long stage races of the calibre of the Tour de Suisse two years on the trot as well as snatching Grand Tour stage wins is already a given. Movistar will be kicking themselves if he now becomes a Grand Tour challenger overall as well.
Who to watch:
Of the new signings the arrival of Nairo Quintana’s little brother, Dayer, will probably soak up most of the initial media interest, but there’s little doubt that - in the eyes of the press - what Nairo achieves - or fails to - will make or break the team’s year. However, Movistar have a stack of other works in progress, ranging from Dowsett to Intxausti to the erratic but talented double Giro stage winner, Giovanni Visconti and the Polish climber Sylvester Szymd.