Movistar's 2017 team presentation was hosted in the same venue as last year, an auditorium with an entrance hall located in the immense headquarters of Telefónica, Spain’s biggest phone company whose main brand sponsors the team formerly known as Caisse d'Épargne, Banesto and Reynolds.
The event was modest compared to the 2016 presentation and wasn't broadcasted live. Yet its echoes will last longer since it showcased a great challenge for the team's marquee rider, Nairo Quintana: attempting the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France double in 2017.
The narrative used by the team to introduce this quest was suited to Telefónica's ambition of positioning itself as a cutting-edge company on the data management business. The Chief Data Officer of the company presented a detailed analysis of the Pyrenean stage of the Vuelta a España 2016. Meanwhile, both team officials and riders pointed constantly to "data" when talking about Quintana's bid.
"We are in possession of data that gives us confidence that, if he completes the Giro d'Italia in good fashion, he will tackle the Tour de France in perfect shape," Movistar Team's General Manager Eusebio Unzue declared as an answer to the first question of a group interview.
When asked to elaborate this statement, Unzue explained: "In 2016 we saw in Alejandro Valverde that a rider is able to perform at a great level in both Giro and Tour. In the case of Nairo, after analysing his data, we are positive he performs better in his second Grand Tour of the season than in his first one.”
This allegedly uplifting evidence will be reinforced with a race program tailored to avoid fatigue. "Since his last race, which was the final stage of the 2016 Vuelta a España on September 11th, until the start of the Tour de France on July 1, there are nine and a half months, in which he will only race 40 days. Thus, he won't be tired even if the Giro will surely take its toll," Unzue explained.
The argument produced by Unzue to support his leader's Giro-Tour double was an historical one.
"Times have changed, but I can say that, in four out of the seven Tour de France I've won as a DS, we sent the victor to the Giro d'Italia ahead of the Grande Boucle. Indeed, Miguel Indurain conquered both in the same season twice. It's true that lately it seems that the Giro is too much of a punishment for the GC contenders, but we are confident that recovering from it won't be a problem for Nairo," he explained
Nairo Quintana's racing schedule until the Giro d'Italia, released by the team a week ago, includes the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (February 1-5), the Abu Dhabi Tour (February 23-26), Tirreno-Adriatico (March 8-14), an altitude stay at his home in Colombia and then the Vuelta a Asturias (April 29 to May 1) on the eve of the Corsa Rosa.
Quintana is expected to start his season by racing on one of the events of the Challenge de Mallorca, although which is yet to be confirmed.
Unfinished business, unfulfilled dream
Nairo Quintana's words in a group interview held after the presentation were consistent with his team's message. Off the bat he explained that the idea of attempting the Giro-Tour double came both from Unzue and himself "and was later agreed with the rest of the staff and the main sponsors of the team."
The Colombian rider tried so sound upbeat when rating his chances of succeeding in this challenge. "Last year I performed at a pretty similar level in both Tour and Vuelta, so I know I can get through two straight Grand Tours and be a contender in both." Yet he was quick to assert that the Tour de France was still "the main goal" of his season. "The Tour is my unfinished business and my unfulfilled dream," he said before stressing: "I have to win it."
"That doesn't go to say that I'm taking part in the Giro just because of passion, or for training," he clarified. "Only that my mood there will be a bit more relaxed, as it will be during the build-up. Tirreno-Adriatico, for example, is going to be different for me," he said implying that his approach in the Italian WorldTour stage race, which he won in 2015, will be relatively relaxed in term of goals and shape.
Talking about Grand Tours, it was almost mandatory to ask Quintana about his nemesis Chris Froome, the rider who has won the three Tours in which Movistar Team's leader has stood on the podium.
"I'm not a level below Froome. He is on the peak of his career, while I am still growing as a rider," Quintana remarked.
Last September, Quintana got revenge on the Briton by beating him at the Vuelta a España thanks to a carefully executed attack on the stage to Formigal.
"Defeating him was not that much of a relief as of a reward for how much me and my teammates had worked during the year," Quintana told the media.
He had a point to make about his team, too.
"My team's budget is limited compared to some rival teams', and that limits the potential of the riders we can recruit to help me. However, I'm happy with my teammates since they put their hearts and souls into working for me."
This assessment is particularly interesting considering it was made under the roof of his squad's main backer.
The decision of targeting both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France also means that Nairo Quintana has virtually ruled out the possibility of riding the Vuelta a España.
"It is a pity I won't defend my title at the Vuelta," he conceded. "But three Grand Tours in the same year is one too much," he concluded before shooting a final smile to finish off his press duties for the day and taking a plane headed to Mallorca.
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