After a difficult exit from AG2R La Mondiale, where team and rider agreed to end their contract 14 months before time, Colombian Carlos Betancur is aiming at a much-needed fresh start to his racing career with Movistar.
The 26-year-old’s career has been a rollercoaster up until now, with a victory in Paris-Nice in 2014 and fifth place in the Giro d’Italia the previous season followed by a seemingly relentless series of misfires in the Vuelta a España and other races since a year last March.
After a 20th place overall in the Giro d’Italia this May, Betancur has not raced since and in August he and AG2R La Mondiale opted to bite the bullet and go their separate ways. “We have not found the keys to allow Carlos Betancur to regain the level of performance that allowed him to win Paris-Nice,” the French team manager Vincent Lavenu said at the time, although Betancur, whilst thanking AG2R La Mondiale at the time of his departure, now claims the breakdown was irrevocable.
Since then Betancur has re-signed with Movistar, aiming to kick start his career again in a new team. “Why am I here? Because they’ve given me a contract,” he says with a smile when asked by Cyclingnews how he ended up in the Spanish squad.
Speaking more seriously, he added, “I think, too, Movistar will offer me more, I can learn a lot more and will make me feel happier. In AG2R there were a lot of things that didn’t allow everything to flow smoothly. It’s like when you don’t get on well with your wife. You have to break up.”
Whilst he had other offers, he says, “The team which suited me the best was Movistar. I and Eusebio [Unzue, team manager] know each other very well, and I think we’ll be able to work well.”
Unzue, Betancur points out, also knows Colombian cycling well and understands racing there. “Plus it’s the number one [UCI-ranked] team in the world,” he adds. “There’s lots of stuff to do here, two top riders to support, Nairo [Quintana] and [Alejandro] Valverde, and we hope we can do out best.”
But there is not just teamwork to be done. On a personal front, his goal, he says, “is to return to winning races. I’ve won them before, and I didn’t just do that by improvisation. I’ve beaten some serious names and I think I can do it well.”
Asked if he considers Movistar as a last chance saloon, Betancur disagrees. “I’ve had a lot of problems, some people have understood it, others haven’t. This is the team I’ve decided to sign for, and whether it’s my first team, the last or whatever, what I do know is that it’s a great team.”
He had, he recognises, lost affection for cycling in recent months. “But I was in a different situation. I love riding a bike, and that’s something that will be with me until the day I die.
“It’s true that my desire to win had faded a bit, but whether I like it or not, I’m sure with this team, that ambition will return, because I’ve found myself in a team in which I feel really happy.” He already hopes he will be racing not one but two Grand Tours next year, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
Warming to his theme, he argues “I’ve only been with Movistar a week, and it feels like I’ve been with them for four or five years. I think things will go smoothly.”
Betancur plans some other changes to go alongside a fresh start at his new team. He aims to live in Pamplona or Italy, “and to spend more time in Europe.” The question of how long Colombian riders opt to stay on this side of the Atlantic between races sometimes creates friction with European squads, but Betancur says that rather than that single issue, “in AG2R everything was difficult.
“But Eusebio is happy we [Colombians] spend a lot of time at home, so let’s see what happens. At the moment it’s like there’s an underlying issue” - of what went wrong between Betancur and his former team. “And here at Movistar, we’ll see who was right - AG2R, or Carlos Betancur.”
With that in mind, he will plan to spend spells of two to three months in Europe, then three to six weeks in Colombia. As for the races that he would most like to shine in again, rather than Grand Tours or stage races, he has his eye “on the Classics, although obviously I have a huge amount of respect for what Alejandro [Valverde] has done there.
“He’s shown he’s the world’s greatest Classics rider and for the moment, my idea is to help him to win them. And to learn as much as I can from him, because there’s so much he can teach me.
“For me, the best rider in the world isn’t the one who wins the Tour. It’s the one who wins the WorldTour. Alejandro’s won the last two WorldTours. He’s the best in the world. But he doesn’t make you feel like that, he’s somebody you can talk to easily.
“I’m going to do my best to help him, and I’m sure that Movistar will do their best to help me.”