Team Sky announced their team long ago but let’s be honest, those announcements are dull as dishwater. It’s Chris Froome and a trusty band of minions who will work tirelessly for The Great Leader. No big drama there. Movistar and Astana on the other hand come with some fun potential. This is what they are bringing:
2. Vincenzo Nibali
7.Luis Leon Sanchez
I took the liberty of sorting the rider and assigning them a number to be able to explain it a bit more clearly. The number 1 rider is the clear and undisputed team leader in all official communication. The number 2 rider is the rider who claims to be 100% focused on helping number 1 since he “already did the Giro and is way more interested in Rio anyway, cross my heart and hope to die”. That rider would under no circumstances try to usurp the leader, no way, nuh huh, not ever, really really would never try and do that under any circumstances.......... Unless they feel really good and Number 1 has shown any minimal signs of weakness in the first stages that is. But I think that goes without saying.
Number 3 is the potentially strong stageracer who says he will back his leader without question but who is also harboring secret dreams of one day becoming a real live Grand Tour GC boy. If only No. 1 would show some signs of weakness there may be a window of opportunity....
Number 4 is the sparkling climber who has pledged eternal allegiance to No 1 but really has a terrific chance of taking a big stagewin in the mountains if only he would be let off the leash when needed. This is the guy who you can send up the road as a tactical pawn in a larger tactical game on the big mountainstages. Then all you have to do is hope and pray that his earpiece doesn’t fall out of his ear at a terribly unlucky time in the stage, just as you are about to call him back to work for No.1. But what are the chances of that really?
I could go on but while perhaps amusing it’s not necessarily a true depiction of the dynamics on those teams. Astana we know is not exactly a harmonious unit, with the built in tension between the Italian contingent and the Kazakhs and the added spice of who will remain with the team vs. who is heading off to Bahrain etc. But Movistar really has no history of dissent that we know o. Partly that is due to the unthreatened hegemony of Balaverde until recently but there has always seemed to be a great loyalty to the team as a unit. The dynamic of an outgoing big star/ego in the form of Valverde and an apparent new king has to be more complex though. We saw last year how the team dynamic at least became more conservative to accommodate Valverde’s podium ambitions and while I doubt we see a repeat of that it is somewhat hard to see in what way Valverde can become a top aide to Nairo and also to see him not chasing some individual glory. He’s a nice guy but he’s not that freaking nice.
If we look beyond the potential for infighting what we have basically two absurdly strong GC teams. On Astana Grivko is probably the only rider that doesn’t have, or has had, the potential to go top 10 in a Grand Tour á la pedale. Movistar has a clearer division between leaders and domestiques with guys like Erviti, Herrada and Gorka being absolutely top notch in the “pure worker” category of riders. I don’t know what the going rate is for high calibre pure domestiques but I’m pretty sure Movistar has more riders in the category that (should) earn top wages for their work capacity and dedication than any other team. And that in no small part probably explains their consistency in the GTs. Stars yes, but it is their overall strength that keeps them up there year after year.
If Movi is consistent then Astana may be more hit and miss. If we look past the fact that Aru is completely untested in the TdF and is the team leader on the mega-teams that has the least solid record, we’ll probably get more into that elsewhere, there are a few more gambles on the team. Fuglsang most notably is no rock. He had his window of opportunity in the Giro but faded badly and actually wasn’t much use to Nibali in the final stages. We’ve seen this pattern before, great at his best but he isn’t the kind of domestique who will just be up there every day like clockwork. Add to that LL Sanchez and Tiralongo who are both showing signs of aging. Still good but I wouldn’t want to depend on them the way I would have been comfortable to a few years ago. Diego Rosa on the other hand is pretty much a young version of LL Sanchez. Immensely promising and if he is dedicated fully to Aru then he could be one of the most valuable riders in the race. He did two GTs last year and we know he’s solid, plus he has a tremendous top level. If I were to gamble on a breakthrough rider in this race, Rosa would be high on the list, perhaps especially if Aru falters and opens the door for others.
In the end Movi is a strong team perfectly set up to support a top favorite like Nairo....... if you remove the Valverde uncertainty. If that isn’t an issue then there are no problems. Astana, I don’t know what to say. A slightly untested leader with a shark for a lieutenant and a band of individuals who may be better suited to chasing individual glory as backup....? If they can gel it into a unit it is gold but it is also a little like sitting on a keg of dynamite. We probably won’t know for weeks if it was gold or lunacy.