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2021 Team Preview: Movistar

PARIS FRANCE SEPTEMBER 20 Podium Dario Cataldo of Italy Imanol Erviti of Spain Enric Mas Nicolau of Spain Nelson Oliveira of Portugal Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil of Spain Marc Soler Gimenez of Spain Alejandro Valverde Belmonte of Spain Carlos Verona Quintanilla of Spain and Movistar Team Jose Luis Arrieta of Spain Sports director of Movistar Team Pablo Lastras of Spain Sports director of Movistar Team Best Team Celebration Trophy Flowers Mask Covid safety measures during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Stage 21 a 122km stage from MantesLaJolie to Paris Champslyses TDF2020 LeTour on September 20 2020 in Paris France Photo by Stephan Mantey PoolGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The longest-running team in the WorldTour peloton, Eusebio Unzué's Spanish squad dates back to 1980, racing as Reynolds, Banesto, ibanesto.com, Illes Balears, and Caisse d'Epargne, before telecoms giant Movistar took over title sponsorship in  2011. 

The team won five consecutive editions of the Tour de France through Miguel Indurain in the 1990s, while the likes of Nairo Quintana and Richard Carapaz have brought in three-week titles in more recent years. Alejandro Valverde has been the team's leading light for 15 years but age may just be catching up with the Spaniard, perhaps reflecting a transitional period for the team.

Manager: Eusebio Unzué

Squad size: 29

Average age: 27.2

How did they fare in 2020?

Wins:

WorldTour ranking: 18

Last season was arguably the worst in the team’s long history, with just two victories all year. The pandemic provided mitigating circumstances but for a team of Movistar’s stature, that’s simply not good enough. They were once again officially the best team at the Tour de France, but that reliable Polyfilla couldn't paper over these cracks.

The departures of Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz, and Mikel Landa left a gaping void in the heart of the team, and when your chief breadwinner Alejandro Valverde, who has provided a steady flow of 5-10 wins for the past eight years, stops hitting the mark, well, you’re in trouble. 

New signing Enric Mas had three sets of shoes to fill, and while that proved an impossible task, his fifth place finishes at both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España did eventually confirm the team aren’t pinning their future Grand Tour hopes on the wrong man. 

Elsewhere, amid the exodus of key riders and a ban on dealings with rider agent Giuseppe Acquadro, the squad was rejuvenated and internationalised, and while that process may bear fruit further down the line, 2020 itself was largely one to forget. 

ALTODELANGLIRU SPAIN NOVEMBER 01 Enric Mas Nicolau of Spain and Movistar Team White Best Young Jersey Breakaway Mountains Landscape during the 75th Tour of Spain 2020 Stage 12 a 1094km stage from Pola de Laviana to Alto de lAngliru 1560m lavuelta LaVuelta20 La Vuelta on November 01 2020 in Alto de lAngliru Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Mas on the attack at the Vuelta (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Key riders

Enric Mas: The Spaniard may not have stormed to a Grand Tour podium in the manner of his breakthrough runner-up finish at the 2018 Vuelta a España, but placing fifth at the 2020 Tour de France and Vuelta nevertheless underlined his calibre, consistency, and potential as a three-week racer. He wasn’t really able to hang with the best in Spain at the very end of the season, but the way he grew into the Tour de France after a shaky start, rising from 10th after 15 stages, was very encouraging. The 25-year-old, let’s not forget, was still eligible for the young rider classification, which he won at the Vuelta. He still has time to improve and Movistar will believe he can challenge for a Grand Tour title in the next couple of years.

Alejandro Valverde: In 2020, the former world champion endured his first barren season since he lost 2011 to a doping ban. At 40, he has been defying his age for a number of years now, so it’s hardly surprising that it might be finally catching up with him. For so long, Valverde has carried the team, with Monument titles, Classics, Grand Tour podiums, and more than 100 wins. Life after Valverde must be hard to contemplate, but it could be a reality they face sooner rather than later. Having originally spoken about ending his career at the end of 2022, he has hinted that unless he finds signs of his old self, he could hang up his wheels when his contract runs out at the end of this year.

Vuelta Espana 2020 - 75th Edition - 7th stage Vitoria-Gasteiz - Villanueva de Valdegovia 159,7 km - 25/10/2020 - Alejandro Valverde (ESP - Movistar Team) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2020

Is age catching up with Valverde? (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Miguel Angel López: Although the team have invested in Mas, he alone was never going to be enough to lead the line for a team that had been used to fighting on all Grand Tour fronts – often with multiple leaders. López comes in as a co-leader, allowing them to target a second and third three-week race. The Colombian, a former winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, has finished on the podium of the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta, and has been a consistent presence at Astana over the past few years. It will be interesting to see how responsibilities and schedules are divided up between himself and Mas.

Marc Soler: It will also be interesting to see what responsibilities are given to Marc Soler, another former Tour de l’Avenir winner. Having previously complained at the amount of work he had to do for Quintana et al, 2020 was supposed to be the year he had the chance to ride for himself. However, the season reshuffle saw Giro leadership scrapped in favour of the Tour and Vuelta, where Mas was the leader on both occasions. At the Vuelta in particular, he had a free role in a fluid team approach, but, despite a nice stage win early on, didn’t have the consistency to enter the GC picture. There’s a sense we still haven’t seen the best of Soler after he won Paris-Nice in 2018. At 27, the time is nigh to properly state his credentials as a Grand Tour rider. If not, he could find himself stuck behind - or rather in front of - Mas and López.

Iván García Cortina: Another key signing for 2021, Cortina diversifies the team’s scope and ensures they have one of the top Spanish talents. The 25-year-old packs a fast finish at the end of hard days, and is slated for big things in the cobbled Classics.

Cortina won a stage of the 2020 Paris-Nice

Cortina won a stage of the 2020 Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images)

Strengths

The arrival of López broadens the team’s horizons, while that of Gregor Mühlberger from Bora-Hansgrohe further strengthens the Grand Tour unit. It’s certainly in a much healthier state than it was in 2020 – whether it’s anywhere near the Quintana, Landa, Carapaz, Amador days is another matter. The Cortina signing is a really big one and allows the team to do something else away from the mountains.

Weaknesses

Despite the improvement in the Grand Tour department, you sense that Movistar are looking at podiums rather than victories, as they were a couple of years ago. Similarly, despite the arrival of Cortina, you sense the team aren’t very well equipped to cope if Valverde’s malaise does continue. There aren’t many riders on that roster who can reasonably be expected to win races. There are plenty of young riders who will need time to develop, but 2021 might be too soon for the squad to start firing on all cylinders.

Verdict

After a forgettable season, Eusebio Unzué’s team look better prepared going into 2021, but still not the force of old. If their key riders all hit the right notes, they have the ingredients for a great season, but if not, there’s not a lot to fall back on.

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.