Dani Moreno, 34, was one of Movistar's final signings for 2016, but he has hardly needed much time to familiarize himself with the Spanish squad. Movistar, then sponsored by Caisse d’Epargne, was his first ever ProTour team in 2008 and 2009 – and, in many ways, the Spanish veteran is going back to his racing roots.
A talented Ardennes Classics, Grand Tour and week-long stage race specialist, arguably Moreno’s only real weak spot is the cobbled Classics. The versatile rider had two near misses this season in high-level hilly one-day racing, breaking away in the final kilometre of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and finishing a strong second in Il Lombardia.
That said, Moreno’s last minute attack in La Doyenne was essentially to act as a foil for team leader Rodriguez, and in Il Lombardia, barring a complete disaster for lone breakaway Vincenzo Nibali, Moreno was essentially racing for second.
His one win in 2015 was a summit finish at the Vuelta a Burgos on the notoriously difficult Lagunas de Neila climb as he built his form for the Vuelta, where he claimed ninth overall. The result was his fourth top ten finish in the Spanish Grand Tour in five years. These results, along with Moreno well-established domestique work for Rodriguez, were enough to convince Movistar that they should open up a spot for the Spaniard. In 2016, Moreno will, therefore, once again find himself riding for Alejandro Valverde, as he did in 2008 and 2009 before spending a lacklustre year in Lotto, and then moving onto Katusha in 2011.
When asked about Moreno’s departure, his long-standing team leader at the Russian squad, Joaquim Rodriguez, says it was a hard blow, personally, for him to take. But Moreno’s exit was also, he says, expected and, up to a point, a necessary move for the Madrileño to make.
“In the final year he wasn’t so happy in Katusha even if he was happy with our particular group of riders. I knew it was likely to happen, and he remains a friend, but it’s still painful,” Rodriguez told Cyclingnews.
“I know he’ll do a great job for Alejandro in the Classics. He’s been a key support rider for me, both in the Ardennes and this year in the Vuelta on the Andorra stage in particular.”
As for why he left Katusha after five years, Moreno tells Cyclingnews “it was clear from pretty early on in the season that they [the management] didn’t want me [for 2016]. The day after Liege, in fact, they told me that.”
“Then at the end of the year, after Lombardia, there was a chance of continuing in the team, but by that point I wasn’t keen. I wanted a fresh start. It wasn’t ever a problem with the riders, I got on well with Purito and with the Russian riders, they’re very good team-mates. But there was an issue with the team management, a communication problem and if, at the end of the day, you’re not going to races feeling happy or motivated, and then there are races where you don’t race as leader when you’d been told that would be your status, you end up not wanting to race at all.
“Movistar is definitely going to be a way of re-booting the system,” Moreno said. “Sometimes, if you’re on the same team for too long, you can fade away and this is like a new challenge.”
“Obviously trying to win the Tour de France with Nairo [Quintana - who has already said he wants Moreno with him in July - ed.] is one of the biggest goals of the season. With Joaquim, it was getting harder to beat certain riders but Nairo can win the Tour, and trying to help him to do that is going to be something special.”
With regards to being limited in his personal goals for the Ardennes - where he won Fleche Wallonne in 2013 - Moreno points out that this is nothing new. “Ok I’ve got Alejandro there to race for, but I had the same situation in Katusha with Joaquim. But there are points that other riders have off-days” - as happened in 2013 when Rodriguez was injured in Amstel and could not take part in Fleche at the top of his form - “so why wouldn’t they give me a chance? If the leaders are ok, I’ll give them my support at 100 percent. But in cycling there are always opportunities.”
Moreno’s 2016 calendar is already relatively clear, with the Ardennes in a support role for Valverde followed by the Tour with Quintana. He will not be racing alongside Valverde in the Spaniard’s debut Giro d’Italia, saying “it’s not a race that suits me, I always end up suffering from allergy problems there and the bad weather affects me a lot, too. I like it as a race, but the cold is one of my weak points. Of the Ardennes Classics, Fleche and Liege suit him the best - “in Amstel the big gap between the top of the Cauberg and the finish isn’t good for me.”
Although he will now be taking on a formidable rival like Rodriguez, Moreno's says he knows he has at least one advantage over his former team-mate. “We both know how the other one likes to race and how we look when we’re suffering and are trying to hide it. But he’s the leader and I’m a team worker, and that’s a plus.”
Rio’s road-race is also on Moreno's radar. “It’s a life-long objective and this year is the one where I can do the best there, in terms of the route. I’ll have good form from the Tour, I’m good at the Classics and at the end of the day, Rio is going to be a very hard one-day race. Why wouldn’t I be able to do a good ride there?”