Giro d'Italia: Chris Froome will attack in third week, says Unzue

Since Saturday afternoon, media attention on Movistar in this year's Giro d'Italia has been focused on Richard Carapaz and his breakthrough stage win for Ecuador.

But his win is only one component of Movistar's broad spectrum of achievements in the Giro d'Italia since the team was formed in 1980, under the sponsorship of Reynolds. For example, no other team on the 2018 Giro has such deep experience of going for the legendary Giro-Tour double victory – as Chris Froome is currently attempting this year.

Nairo Quintana's failed attempt at the double in 2017 is logically the freshest in fans' memories. But Movistar have two successful doubles in their history, too – when Miguel Indurain won the Giro and Tour de France back in 1992 and again in 1993. To this day, Indurain remains the only rider ever to do the 'double-double', winning both Grand Tours back-to-back in successive years.

Eusebio Unzué, who jointly oversaw Indurain's Grand Tour achievements with José Miguel Echavarri, remains in charge of the Movistar team, 26 years on. On the Giro for most of the first week, the longstanding Spanish manager believes that Team Sky are handling Chris Froome's challenge for both the Giro and Tour very well indeed.

"As the days go by, we're seeing their strategy is working," Unzué told Cyclingnews on the morning of stage eight, just a few hours before Movistar’s Carapaz captured a stunning stage victory.

"The first time trial in Jerusalem was not a great result, and Froome lost more time than he should have, and then lost a bit more on that uphill finish [on stage 4] because he was badly positioned. So the question we all wanted answered was whether he'd lost time in those two days because of poor form or because it just worked out like that.

"It turned out that he could stay with all the top names on the climb up to the Etna. That was a big test, particularly given the way they went up that climb" – with multiple attacks by GC riders – "and the fact that he got through so well is very significant.

"I don't doubt that in the last week we'll see a Froome who shows he is in optimum condition, and who is ready to go on the attack. And he has to, because his top rival Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) has made it clear that his good form is there."

No comparison

Unzué has seen both sides of the coin when it comes to Giro-Tour doubles, but he says that it would be wrong to make a direct comparison between Froome in 2018 and Quintana in 2017.

"That wouldn't be fair. Nairo's doing the Giro [in 2017] was partly a way of paying homage to the race, because the Giro was very interested in having a lot of top riders here for its centenary edition. And we were only too happy to contribute to that, given Nairo had already won the race and he loves it.

"But that meant he did the Tour and Vuelta in 2016, plus Giro plus Tour. All of that – four Grand Tours in 13 months – meant that we knew we were taking a risk, and we took it, and that was it."

Unzué conceded that Froome is doing exactly the same programme of Grand Tours in an identical time schedule, saying going for victory in all four races "is not impossible, of course. Physically, Froome is more mature, and he's more experienced, but it’s a very tough challenge."

Looking much further back to when Indurain took the Giro and Tour twice in two years, Unzué said: "There's no reason to think that it's harder or easier than it was back then. It's always going to be very difficult to do the Giro-Tour double. Here at the Giro, everybody's riding in equal conditions. The difference for those trying to do the double is that, logically, if they have done the Giro d'Italia then they come into the Tour with one Grand Tour already in their legs. And that difference in freshness is something you have to bear in mind."

As for Froome's rivals, Unzué pointed to Dumoulin, the rider who defeated Nairo Quintana last year, as the principal man to beat for the Briton. But he believes there are plenty of others. 

"Tom Dumoulin has  already made it clear in Jerusalem that his good form is there. And we know from our own experience last year how hard it is to get him to lose time. I'm sure that those few glitches that he had last year, as well as that bad luck on that day" – when Dumoulin had an upset stomach – "won't be repeated.

"So I think we're going to have some very exciting stages. And then we have see what riders like Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and [race leader and team-mate] Simon Yates can do. Strategically, the Australian team can get a huge amount out of having two leaders, and they can inflict a lot of damage. And right now, by attacking in the mountains so much, they're doing exactly the right thing, given I'd say they'll probably lose between two and three seconds per kilometre in the [stage 16] time trial to Froome and Dumoulin. It's true that there will be two hard mountain stages to come after that, but they need a good 'cushion' of time."

In praise of Carapaz

As for his riders, Unzué was both fulsome in his praise of Carapaz – and this was even before the young racer from Ecuador had won 'his' stage – and guardedly optimistic about the chances of Movistar co-leader Carlos Betancur, now lying 14th at 1:44 overall.

"For the moment, Carapaz is racing very well. Of course he's young and, sooner or later, given that consistency that is the big test of the Grand Tours, we'll be able to see if he can recover every day.

"But he already did well on the Etna, and that was a good sign of his quality. For Movistar, this is a different Giro: we're not so involved in the overall, so we're on the lookout to see what we can do. We're waiting to see if these young guys on the team can consolidate themselves. We've got no big objectives; we're just looking for a stage win."

Now, thanks to Carapaz's stage 8 win, it's a case of mission accomplished. Not that Unzué and Movistar will rest on their laurels.

"Betancur only lost 56 or 57 seconds on the Etna, which is good. We never stop hoping that his ability to do well becomes less uneven than in the past. He should get stronger as the race progresses, so let's hope he can do a great Giro overall."

As for the main GC candidates, Unzué is less certain that the time gaps will start to open considerably on Sunday's ascent of the Gran Sasso – a climb he knows from 1999, when his team's rider, the late José Maria Jimenez, finished second behind Marco Pantani.

"Things will stay pretty much the same from here all the way to the Zoncolan," Unzué predicted. "The Sasso is part of the first week, and it'll do some harm. But I don't think the eight or 10 GC favourites will open up big gaps between each other. The next big test will be the Zoncolan."

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