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Movistar duo Lopez and Mas going for broke in Vuelta a España

MATAR SPAIN MARCH 27 Enric Mas Nicolau of Spain and Movistar Team during the 100th Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2021 Stage 6 a 1938km stage from Tarragona to Matar VoltaCatalunya100 on March 27 2021 in Matar Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Despite two challenging Grand Tours this already year, Movistar have confirmed they remain as ambitious as ever for the Vuelta a España, with their leaders Miguel Angel López and Enric Mas saying they will be on the hunt for the overall win in the team’s home race.

Movistar’s outings at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year were beset with difficulties. Designated leader Marc Soler crashed out of the Italian race and again in the Tour on the first day, then López quit the Tour de France after his injuries also proved too much in the third week.

Enric Mas battled through to sixth in Paris but his one moment of potential glory, a stage at Luz Ardiden was squashed flat by Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) as the Slovenian pounded past for a second straight Pyrenean victory.

Meanwhile, ultra-veteran Alejandro Valverde had a brief cameo when the 41-year-old tried to chase down stage winner Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) on the descent off the Beixalis into Andorra. Despite their efforts, Movistar’s appearances on the Tour radar were rare.

“I had a bitter sweet taste after the Tour, I wasn’t totally unhappy, I went for the podium and got sixth,” Mas said on Friday, as the clock ticked down to the start of the Vuelta and the evening time trial in Burgos.

“Now I’ve got another opportunity and I’m feeling a little bit better than when I started the Tour in July.”

Neither Mas nor Lopez have raced since the Vuelta. While the lack of competition will have allowed the Movistar duo to rested up and recover, it could also make the early part of the race more of a challenge for them. The difficult ascent of Picón Blanco on Monday will provide a clearer verdict on that strategy.

“It’d could be important to gain time in the first week, but also not to lose it,” Mas said, perhaps hinting that that was a concern.

“The third week is extremely hard this year. And I get the feeling the flat stages are going to be very important, too. If you aren’t careful, you can lose as much time on the flat in the echelons as in the mountains, even one, two or three minutes,” Lopez emphasised, when asked about why Movistar’s Vuelta line-up has more all-rounders among its support riders than usual.

“We want to make sure we are protected in that area.”

Assuming they dodge the worst of any potential echelons and are in the mix for the mountain stages, both Mas and Lopez said that they were looking for nothing less than victory in the Vuelta.

“In my head, I think we can win it,” Mas said.

“We’re in Movistar, the team always says we start races looking for victory. It may turn out that some people are stronger than you, maybe they aren’t. This is our home race and both I and Miguel Angel are here to try to win it.”

“We are hoping to be in the highest part of the classification,” confirmed Lopez, “we’re racing in the team’s home event, and we hope to do well.”

Both riders have finished on the podium of the Vuelta a España in the past. In 2018, Mas placed second, in what was his breakthrough result in three-week stage racing, and López, already third in the Giro d’Italia, followed that up with third in the Spanish Grand Tour. While Lopez has not raced the Vuelta since 2019, last year Mas finished fifth and claimed the best young rider’s jersey. 

Over the years as cycling’s oldest team, Movistar have rarely been out of contention in their home race. But although Valverde was their last podium finisher when he placed second in 2019, the team’s last Vuelta victory with Colombia’s Nairo Quintana is beginning to fade out of view in the rear mirror.

One notable change in the Movistar Vuelta line-up is not on the team rider roster.

Jose Luis Arrieta, Movistar’s longstanding sports director for the Vuelta, will not be present, with Patxi Vila, who joined the team in 2020 after spells in management at Tinkoff and Bora-Hansgrohe, taking over his role.

How that change in management will affect the team’s strategy in the Vuelta, though, remains to be seen. Mas and López, in any case, know what their objectives will be.

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.