Eusebio Unzue’s involvement with the Movistar set-up stretches back more than 30 years, through the eras of Reynolds and Banesto, the reigns of Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, but if he ever tires of team management, then a second career as a spin doctor surely awaits.
On the man-made island of Neeltje-Jans after stage 2 of the Tour de France, as a huddle of television crews and reporters swarmed around the Movistar team bus, Unzue was quick to put an optimistic slant on what has been an inauspicious start to Nairo Quintana’s bid for overall victory.
Quintana was caught on the wrong side when the peloton split after swinging into stiff crosswinds and stinging rain after leaving Rotterdam, with a little under 60 kilometres remaining, and he finished the day 1:28 down on the front group, which included Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“In the end I’m happy because Nairo defended himself well in the final 50 kilometres, and our team did great work to help him,” said a smiling Unzue. “These are things that are to be expected, and what’s done is done.”
Quintana’s losses mean that he now lies 44th overall, 2:27 down on new yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara and, more pertinently, 1:39 and 1:27 behind Froome and Contador, respectively. It’s hardly an insurmountable gap for Quintana on such a mountainous parcours – the Colombian was over three minutes down entering the final week of last year’s Giro d’Italia, after all – but he cannot afford many more such missteps either.
“Anything can happen in the first week of the Tour, and with the wind and the crowds and everything else, it’s impossible that there wouldn’t be crashes and splits really,” Unzue said. “The first week is all about trying to suffer as little bad luck as possible, that’s enough.”
When Quintana emerged from the bus a short time later, he wore a rather less sunny disposition than his manager, though he, too, attempted to accentuate the positives from what had been a trying stage, which also saw his teammate and fellow countryman Winner Anacona among the fallers.
For one thing, both Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) were also caught behind crashes and splits, and both finished in the same group as Quintana. Perhaps as significantly, so too did Quintana’s stable-mate Alejandro Valverde, thus averting, for now at least, any threat of a leadership battle within the Movistar team.
“Between the weather and the falls, we had some bad luck but at least we limited the time we lost and we’ll hope to make it up later,” Quintana said quietly. “We knew that it was important to keep the team together and work with Astana and that way we were able to avoid losing too much time.”
With that, a soigneur beat a path for Quintana through the throng of reporters and he climb into the passenger seat of a team car, gently closing the door shut rather than answer any further questions. Rather than risk getting caught in a traffic jam aboard the team bus, the idea was to bring the Colombian as quickly as possible to the Movistar hotel across the border in Antwerp.
Monday’s stage brings the Tour to the Mur de Huy, where Valverde will hope to land stage victory and Quintana will, at the very least, aim to break even with Froome, Contador et al.
“We'll have to see how Nairo does and then decide if I can go for the stage or not,” Valverde said. “It'll also be a battle between the overall contenders: on a finish like that, you won't lose the Tour, but you might concede some seconds and, in modern cycling, that can be serious.”