After a mostly quiet spring, Carlos Betancur showed off a strong vein of form at June's Hammer Series before putting in an impressive ride at the Tour de France, finishing inside the top 20 overall despite riding in support of Nairo Quintana for most of the race. Movistar have since named Betancur in their starting nine for the Vuelta a España, where he and the rest of the squad will have a rare opportunity.
With Quintana skipping the event after riding both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour this season and Alejandro Valverde out for the year following his crash in the Tour prologue, Movistar have plenty of talent in their line-up but no obvious single leader for their home Grand Tour. Reinvigorated by his performances the past two months after a long stretch without any big results, Betancur is in as good a position as ever to seize the opportunity.
"I'd lost a bit of confidence but during the Tour I think I recovered a lot of that," Betancur told Cyclingnews this week during a stint of altitude training. "And now for the Vuelta, I'm going to give it the max. I'm going with high hopes. I've prepared well. If I arrive at a high level or not, we'll see, but I want to do a great Vuelta."
The highs and lows the enigmatic 27-year-old has ridden through during his career have been well-documented. After a promising start as an amateur he seemed to have arrived in a big way with AG2R La Mondiale in 2013, winning the Giro's young rider's jersey. But since starting 2014 in blistering form with two stage wins and the overall title at Paris-Nice, Betancur has scored nary a single WorldTour victory, going through long stretches without delivering encouraging results or even racing altogether, often disappearing from the public eye at home in Colombia for months at a time and dealing with fluctuations in body weight.
He left AG2R for Movistar in 2016 and quickly showed his potential with stage wins at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and Vuelta Asturias before registering a DNF at the Giro and then spending another long stretch out of competition. Having finally found consistency again this summer – and having told Spanish media earlier this year that he's finally realizing the importance of maintaining his racing weight – Betancur is adamant that the best is still yet to come, and that he isn't planning to spend the rest of his career merely as a domestique.
"When I came to Movistar, it was to a team of winners, and I'm in cycling because I want to get back to winning," he said. "I want to return to winning, to winning a Paris-Nice, to being among the favourites for a Grand Tour and to enjoying the Ardennes. If I've done it, I think I have to get back to it, because it's within me to do it."
Still officially unsigned for 2018, Betancur has a golden opportunity to show his value at the Vuelta, although he knows he has no assurances of being a featured rider, considering the other promising talents also on the roster. Up-and-comers Marc Soler, Rubén Fernández and Richard Carapaz all warrant consideration for chances to prove themselves.
"It's going to be the road that decides who will be the leader in the team," Betancur acknowledged. "The road is the only thing that can be in the charge of that decision. Without Alejandro, without Nairo, it's kind of hard to choose a leader ... The others are pretty young and have a lot of desire."
Whether as a GC hopeful, stage hunter or domestique, Betancur will have chances to put his skills on display in the race.
"It's a Vuelta where I think I can play a role because there are some punchy, explosive finishes," he said. "There's a bit to lose in the long time trial, but I think the time trial is more about feeling good than being a specialist."
In any case, Betancur says he's not thinking too hard about proving himself or silencing critics. There have been many throughout his still-young career, but critics seem to have little impact on Betancur. He comes across as tranquilo as ever even during a hard training block ahead of a major opportunity in the middle of transfer season.
"The truth is, I don't pay attention to them. The critics are going to be there whether you win or not, so I don't pay much attention to them. I'm happy, I'm content and I'm enjoying what I'm doing," he said.
"I'm going to give my all to the Vuelta, but I don't have anything to prove to anyone. I don't have to show anything to anyone. I don't have to show myself that I'm going well. I'm just going to do my thing and what team wants from me, and that's it."
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