'Mission accomplished' was how longstanding Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue presented his three leaders - Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde - for this year's Tour de France on Monday in Madrid. "They're all ready and in great shape for July."
Being sure that all three top names were in ideal condition to challenge for the Tour de France was easier said than done, but as the triumvirate of leaders took to the stage in Movistar’s glitzy Madrid headquarters, both the riders and their manager insist there is every sign they are on track to give their best in the Tour de France.
Valverde comes to the Tour fresh from winning the Route d'Occitaine for the first time in his career, and is - as he said - "in at least as good a condition as I was before last year's Tour, if not better." Quintana has come off the Tour de Suisse, where he won a tough stage, and perhaps equally importantly, limited his losses in the race's individual time trial to end up in third place overall. Landa, too, launched a dangerous, though ultimately unsuccessful, break through the mountains of Switzerland on stage 5.
The million dollar question of how the three will sort out team responsibilities and the final hierarchy in the Tour was not exactly avoided, but it would appear to be business as usual for now. In other words, the jury remains out when it comes to giving a public verdict. Unzue repeated his idea that the demanding nature of the Tour’s first week, particularly the cobbled Roubaix stage, may well help decide, so it may be that Movistar is deep into the Tour before the issue begins to be resolved.
Unzue gave Movistar’s long list of 10 riders for the Tour de France, from which eight will be selected. Apart from the triumvirate of Landa, Valverde and Quintana, the seven other possible starters are Andrey Amador, Nelson Oliveira, Imanol Erviti, Daniele Bennati, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Marc Soler and Jasha Sütterlin. Winner Anacona, currently training in Colombia, is the team’s eleventh man, should he been needed, but in any case, a final decision will be taken after Sunday's National Championships.
"We saw the other day I was doing well," Quintana told reporters, "and together with Mikel, we're moving in the right direction. It's a very complicated Tour, but we’ll try to do something."
Colombia, Quintana said, was in the news for both political and sporting reasons right now. Not only was there the question of Colombia in the World Cup in Russia, he pointed out that recently there had been presidential elections, and Quintana took the opportunity to congratulate the country's new premier, Ivan Duque, on taking office, and expressed hope Duque would resolve the current problems currently arising in the peace process with former guerrilla forces.
As for Quintana, there is the question of the Tour: "anything can happen, it's going to be a very open race, but in the first nine days it will be very important to work in a team," he reflected.
Landa added: "There are a lot of favourites but we have to think of ourselves."
"For now, it is mission accomplished, because our initial goal was to get to the Tour with all three riders, in the best condition possible," reflected Unzue. “Given the uncertainty about [Chris] Froome's participation, right now as rivals, we have to consider anybody who has won a Grand Tour who's in the line-up, which is [Tom] Dumoulin and [Vincenzo] Nibali, apart from Alejandro and Nairo, of course. Then there are riders like [Richie] Porte, Geraint Thomas, [Romain] Bardet, who are maybe not quite as experienced, but they all have options. So too, does [Primoz] Roglic." But Froome, should he race, Unzue said, "was the top contender by a long way."
The question of Froome's participation in itself, Unzue said, "was not something about which I can really add anything different to what I've said before. I would have been pleased if this subject was dealt with, unfortunately, that's not the case, and we still don't know what could happen."
Movistar, meanwhile, are looking at their own options rather than reflecting too much on their rivals. "We can't ignore Nairo's consistency, he's always been there on the podiums of the Grand Tours," Unzue pointed out. Since 2013, Quintana has made it in the top three of at least one Grand Tour each year, winning both the Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia into the bargain.
"Mikel is someone who gives us huge grounds for feeling optimistic, and Alejandro - who needs no introduction - can be up there in a key moment of all kinds, particularly in the last fortnight. If we get some good luck, too, then we've got every reason to be optimistic."