After taking second and third in the Tour de France, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana are due to repeat their double act as co-leaders in the Vuelta a España, Movistar sports director José Luis Arrieta tells Cyclingnews.
The Vuelta is a race in which the Movistar duo have had mixed fortunes in the past, ranging from victory to injuries and abandons. Valverde took an outright win in 2009, his sole Grand Tour triumph to date. He also has an impressive collection of podium positions and stage wins in his palmares, the most recent being in 2014 when he finished third overall and took one of his most impressive Grand Tour stage wins in La Zubia in the first week. Valverde’s first Grand Tour podium was as long ago as the 2003 Vuelta, where he won on the Envalira in Andorra and again in La Pandera summit finish in Jaen, en route to third overall. All at the age of just 23.
In the 2014 Vuelta, Nairo Quintana crashed out, injured after briefly leading in the Vuelta’s first week. Quintana has only completed la Vuelta once, in 2012 when he rode in support of Valverde, and raced it twice, but has never, unlike Valverde, done a Tour-Vuelta double.
But despite his relative inexperience in the Spanish Grand Tour, and the voyage in the dark for Quintana when it comes to taking part in two Grand Tours so close together in time - last year he did the Giro and Vuelta - the 25-year-old’s climbing ability in a race with nine summit finishes make the Colombian a much-feared contender.
Movistar were criticised in some quarters for an excessively conservative approach in the third week of the Tour, as they simultaneously fought to both dislodge Froome and maintain both their riders on the podium.
But whilst the internet forum jury is out on that particular question, probably permanently, on the plus side there were no rumours of any internal power struggle between Valverde and Quintana. The two, therefore, look set to act as a formidably strong joint challenge in la Vuelta.
"The tactic is going to be eat, drink and sit on wheels," Arrieta said with a grin. "No, seriously, we’ll see how it goes, but I don’t want to make any predictions."
The two riders, he confirmed, would be "co-leaders," with equal protected status. "Then we’ll just take things on the day by day, see how it goes."
As for the other favourites in the race, the rider who beat the two Movistar pros in July in France, unsurprisingly looms large in Arrieta’s vision of the Vuelta. The former pro argued, "If [Sky’s Chris] Froome and our two reach the [third week] time trial in Burgos on an equal footing then he’ll be more of a favourite. But Burgos is a long way off yet, and it’s too early to predict what will happen."
However, the Vuelta is always a much more unpredictable beast of a race compared to the Tour, with Arrieta arguing "every day in this race is potentially a key one. Everybody goes on about Andorra, the Asturian stages and the Burgos time trial as being key, but there are nine summit finishes. There are climbs all over the place. Every stage in this race has ‘something’. You can’t afford to relax in la Vuelta, ever."
The plus side for Movistar is that come what may, the pressure is notably lower than in some other WorldTour squads following the Spanish squad’s great season to date. In fact, Movistar’s spectacularly successful Tour - two podium places, the best young riders jersey and the teams prize - was one highlight on an impressive year all round.
"Coming here with Nairo and Alejandro, if everything goes normally, we’ll be amongst the front runners. But just looking at Grand Tours and how Movistar have got on this year, it wouldn’t be the same if we had gone to the Giro and done nothing, rather than what actually happened - going with a youngish squad and getting fourth with Andrey [Amador]. Then, of course, there’s everything we did at the Tour.
"We’ve got a great deal of illusion and ambition for the Vuelta, but we know we’ve done a great deal already in this year."
Both Valverde, after taking third in the Clasica San Sebastian and Quintana, after some criteriums, have rested up then done solid blocks of training in Europe. Quintana has been based in Andorra for ten days with team-mate Imanol Erviti, where the Movistar duo have reconnoitred the 2015 Vuelta’s stage 11 through the tiny Pyrenean country.
Arrieta does not believe that the Vuelta peloton will be waiting for nearly so long before things start to hot up on the climbs, though. "This Sunday [at Caminito del Rey]," he predicts, "we’ll see the first big sort-out."
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