"Javier, my head just told me enough is enough. I need to rest. Kind regards." That’s Alejandro Valverde in the evening after Il Lombardía, informing Spanish National Coach Javier Mínguez of his decision to decline his selection for the upcoming UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Mínguez could only accept the rider’s choice and send regards back.
This story, first told at Spanish digital newspaper El Confidencial, is quite revealing as to how the Spanish men's Elite team is approaching the Qatari event. Always an influential force in the men’s Elite road race, the pan-flat route of Doha has pushed it into a more peripheral role this year.
Despite claiming during the Vuelta a Espana that he had “plenty of cyclists” willing to go to Doha, truth is, Mínguez didn’t. Most of the current Spanish star riders were discarded off the bat because their abilities do not match the demands of the Doha course.
Meanwhile, others backed off because of the event being in mid-October, forcing them to extend their seasons for more than a month after an already busy racing schedule. That’s the case of Luis León Sánchez or the aforementioned Valverde. The injuries suffered by other potential nominees, such as José Joaquín Rojas and Rubén Fernández, didn’t help either.
Therefore, the Spanish team for the men’s road race is a circumstantial one rather than a change of guard, despite the fact it features five riders who have never competed in the World Championships as Elites.
Juan José Lobato, a sprinter who has netted five victories for Movistar Team this season and is set to move to LottoNL-Jumbo next year, is the designated leader despite having pulled out from five out of the eight latest races he has taken part in. His fourth-place finish in the Gran Piemonte classic is an encouraging sign, however.
Caja Rural’s Carlos Barbero and Diego Rubio, Cofidis’ Luis Ángel Maté, Etixx’s David de la Cruz and Dimension Data’s Omar Fraile are the five debutants that, along with Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo, Imanol Erviti and Fran Ventoso, will support Lobato’s bid for a good result in Doha.
If the spirit is rather low when it comes to the road race, the mood is optimistic when it comes to the individual time trial, where Jonathan Castroviejo is a legitimate contender after placing fourth in Richmond 2015 and winning the European Championships ITT only weeks ago.
“He is our best chance, no doubt, but the course doesn’t suit him at all,” Mínguez told El Confidencial.
The Basque rider has gone as far as to assert that the course is “anti-me”, citing how the pan-flat route doesn’t favour his relatively small engine against powerhouses like Tom Dumoulin, and even the tailwind wouldn’t allow him to make a difference with his sublime aerodynamic position on the bike.
“I will be happy if I have a good physical performance. Nowadays, with powermeters, we can tell if a performance is good without looking at the standings,” he said in a press release sent by the Spanish cycling federation.
Upbeat approach to the U23 RR
As for the rest of the Spanish national teams, no breakout performance is expected at the Junior race, while the women Elite team features three rouleurs in Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance), Alba Teruel and Alicia González (Lointek) who could well produce a top10 result or be present at the breakaway.
Meanwhile, the men’s Under 23 team is upbeat about its chances of shining in Doha. The reason is Iván García Cortina, a young powerhouse from Asturias who currently rides for Klein Constantia and is set to join the new Bahrain-Merida squad next season. Despite only having won one race this year, he has placed 24 times in the top 10 thanks to his consistency.
"His main quality is he can really hold a long sprint," the Spanish national U23 coach, Pascual Momparler, tells Cyclingnews. “Much of our hopes are deposited on him. He is strong enough and has real options of grabbing a medal, especially if the sprint gets messy.”
Momparler has set up a strong squad to help his case, with four good prospects in Daniel López (Burgos BH), Jon Irisarri (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA) and amateur riders Jaime Castrillo and Gonzalo Serrano. The latter will be the sole Spanish U23 rider to contest the ITT.