On the surface, Movistar has had a very nice lead up to the Tour. 26 year old Rui Costa notched his first major stage race win (first of several probably), Alejandro Valverde looked quite fit in a super domestique role and teeny tiny 22 year old Nairo Quintana won the Route Du Sud. Any team would have loved to have such a nice lead-up. But looking closer perhaps this team will be more competitive the next couple of years and should look at this year's race as a big tune-up.
Here's the Movistar Tour lineup:
- Alejandro Valverde
- JJ Cobo
- Imanol Ervitti
- Rui Costa
- Jose Ivan Gutierrez
- Vlad Karpets
- Vasil Kiryienka
- Ruben Plaza
- JJ Rojas
Team Movistar is in an awkward, adolescent phase this year, sort of like Rabobank. They do have a clear-cut leader though: The Green Bullet. Probably if Valverde hadn't been suspended last year, he would be thought of as about equal with Evans and Wiggins as a pre-Tour favorite. But he was and so far his year has been quieter than normal. Is he ready to step back into a full blown Grand Tour and be a contender
? Maybe...but probably not. Top 10? Yeah. Top five? Good chance. Podium? Possibly. Winner? Doubtful. Its more likely that next year he''ll have his racing legs fully back and he'll be an obvious serious threat. This year though either he's coming into the Tour on an ever increasing level of fitness and so will surprise everybody-or he'll be just be a top 10 guy.
How about Rui Costa? Is should be noted that this is his third TdF plus he won the stage up to Super Besse last year so he knows his way around France. Still he's going into the race fully ready to play Valverde's domestique. Maybe next year he can play Plan B to Valverde. I'd like it if he rode the Vuelta or Giro for himself first.
Quintana? He's not here. Too young. 22. Perhaps a Vuelta ride this year to blood him in GT racing?
How about Cobo? You know, last year's Vuelta winner? Guy's done nothin' this year. Seems kinda farfetched that he can turn it on for the Tour. ( I tend to view Cobo like I do Arroyo who you remember had that great and surprising Giro in 2010. They both got lucky.)
Everyone else on the team are domestiques, including Rojas, so why do I feel like someone's missing? Honest. I actually at first had that feeling. I even counted the riders again to make sure I got to nine. Then it hit me. Rigoberto Uran. That's who's missing. And if their DS Eusebio Unzue had been able to find a replacement sponsor for Caisse d'Epargne two years ago, he never would have lost Uran to Sky (and Lulu to Rabobank). Best young rider of this year's Giro Big Rig Uran was-is-about a year ahead in development than Costa (even though he's a year younger) would have slotted into Movistar's Tour team nicely last year and co-starred with Valverde this year.
And that's how the sponsorship cookie crumbles.
Getty Images. Photo by Michael Steel