In what could be the most open, closest-fought Tour de France for years, Spain's Movistar outfit at least appears to have made things a little more difficult for themselves by throwing their support behind not one or two team leaders, but three.
With the introduction of eight-rider teams for 2018 – versus the 'usual' nine – sending what is now over a third of your roster to the race in a leadership role looks decidedly like that 'too many chiefs' cliché. Certainly, the five remaining riders will have their work cut out in the opening week if all three leaders require their help and protection, even if by the time the mountains come around, more of a pecking order will be naturally decided. Here, we analyse the eight Movistar riders' likely roles.
All three team leaders – Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa – have suggested that the pecking order will indeed be decided on the road, but while a 'two-pronged attack', often with a 'plan A' and a 'plan B', seems like a sensible approach from teams serious about the overall Tour title, Movistar may end up tripping and pricking themselves in the bottom with this trident.
We can, however, imagine a scenario in which Valverde takes the race lead following stage 6 and its 'summit finish' on the Mûr de Bretagne, and then, come the high mountains, Valverde settles into more of a super-domestique-cum-road-captain role.
But that still leaves Quintana and Landa as two extremely capable climbers, both with the ability to take a podium place, and in fact both experienced enough, and good enough, to win the whole thing.
A luxury problem? Perhaps. Many teams would give their back wheels to have just one rider with Quintana, Landa, or indeed Valverde's abilities. Yet for the sake of a harmonious three weeks, it can sometimes pay to have every team member's role strictly defined well before embarking on something as stressful as a Tour de France.
May the best man win, or at least quickly reveal themselves as Movistar's best rider.
Movistar's Tour de France team
Name: Nairo Quintana
Position: Team leader
Experience: Pedigree as the 2014 Giro d'Italia and 2016 Vuelta a Espana champion, and three Tour de France podiums to his name, finishing second in 2013 and 2015, and third in 2016
Quintana's bête-noire, Chris Froome, has always beaten him to the Tour punch, but could this year finally be the year that it all comes together for the 28-year-old Colombian climber? Last year's race didn't suggest progression, but Quintana's 12th place was seemingly a result of his fatigue from having ridden the Giro d'Italia at full strength, where he finished a close second to Tom Dumoulin. No such build-up this season: Quintana's eggs are all very much in the Tour basket.
Name: Mikel Landa
Position: Team leader
Experience: Fourth overall at last year's Tour suggests that he has the ability to go at least one better…
Landa left Team Sky for Movistar at the end of last season thinking about his own ambitions, but you can't help think that he may have been better advised to have headed elsewhere – to an outfit in greater need of a Grand Tour leader. The Spaniard can go ahead and win the Tour and justify his choice, of course, but Quintana has to look the slightly better bet on paper.
Name: Alejandro Valverde
Position: Team leader
Experience: Past podiums at all three Grand Tours show pedigree, but Quintana and Landa will be stronger
At the ripe old age of 38, to talk of Valverde as a Tour de France contender is surely folly. He's not about to win the Tour, and yet he's on equal billing with his younger teammates Quintana and Landa. And that's absolutely fine: Valverde's palmarès reveal a rider capable of winning on all terrains, and, true, he did win the 2009 Vuelta a Espana. What's more likely at this Tour, however, is that Valverde is afforded protected status during the first week, where the Spaniard has a very real chance of taking the race lead, either following the stage 3 team time trial, or, even more likely, following a stage such as the one to Mûr de Bretagne, and is then later plunged into more of a 'road captain' role to provide help and guidance to whoever emerges as the man most likely between Landa and Quintana.
Name: Andrey Amador
Position: Mountain domestique
Nationality: Costa Rica
Experience: A veteran of three Tours de France, and 11 Grand Tours, Amador knows the ropes
A long-time Movistar man, having joined the outfit in its Caisse d'Epargne days in 2009, Amador knows Valverde well, and his allegiances may lie with him, should push come to shove. A very capable GC rider in his own right, the Costa Rican climber should be able to provide bomb-proof mountains support to whoever needs him most, and is a good enough time triallist to provide added strength on stage 3's team time trial.
Name: Daniele Bennati
Experience: Two Tour stage wins to his name from the 2007 race
Bennati's past life as one of the world's best sprinters is unlikely to haunt him, but his knowledge of how to negotiate a flat-out stage finish will be greatly appreciated by the three team leaders who know that time lost early in the race, and especially during the first week, will only come back to bite them later on. Staying out of trouble ahead of the mountains is of paramount importance; Bennati has ridden the Tour seven times, finishing five of them, and it's this kind of experience that Movistar will be relying upon.
Name: José Joaquin Rojas
Experience: A veteran of six Tours de France
Rojas crashed out of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana with a broken leg, but has fought back to be part of this year's squad for the Tour de France – a race the experienced Spaniard hasn't ridden since 2014. He's come close to Grand Tour stage wins on multiple occasions, and would surely love to try again, but his services are likely to be tied up helping Movistar's team leaders on the Tour's flat and hilly stages.
Name: Imanol Erviti
Experience: Has ridden eight Tours de France, with only one DNF, in 2012
Erviti is a rare thing: a Spanish rider capable of mixing it with the Belgians during cycling's spring Classics season. What, then, you might ask, is such a man doing as part of a Tour de France squad charged with delivering one of the three mountain men to victory during the sunny season's biggest race? The answer, of course, is stage 9, from Arras to Roubaix: a slightly watered down version of Paris-Roubaix – a race Erviti finished ninth at in 2016 – and a stage that the GC contenders will need to negotiate unscathed. The Spaniard also brings vast Grand Tour experience to the table – yes, there's a theme to how this Movistar team was picked – having ridden, and finished all but one of, 19 Grand Tours, with two stage wins to his name from the 2008 and 2010 editions of the Vuelta a Espana.
Name: Marc Soler
Position: Mountain domestique
Experience: Just one Grand Tour to his name – last year's Vuelta a Espana – so this will be Soler's first Tour de France
Last but by no means least, Soler joins the roster as a rider who, in perhaps just another year or two, could lay claim to one of those 'team leader' roles himself. The 24-year-old starts his first Tour de France, and only his second Grand Tour, and will enjoy his role as a right-hand man in the mountains, whether that be to Quintana, Landa, Valverde, or all three… Soler will be at the Tour both to learn and to perform when he can, and who's to say the winner of this year's Paris-Nice won't be able to sneak himself a good overall result in the process?
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