Mo­vis­tar go into this year's Tour de France as the only team with three riders ca­pa­ble of win­ning the yel­low jersey, in Nairo Quin­tana, Ale­jan­dro Valverde and Mikel Landa. But if they are to win, they need to finely bal­ance in­ter­nal rivalry while still ma

Procycling - - Contents - Writer: Edward Pick­er­ing Pho­tog­ra­phy: Getty Im­ages

Mo­vis­tar go to this year’s Tour with three GC lead­ers in their team. Will it work?

The good, and bad news for Mo­vis­tar is that they are go­ing to start the Tour de France with three riders who could win the yel­low jersey. Most teams are oper­at­ing a sin­gle­leader strat­egy, like Sky with Chris Froome or Ag2r with Ro­main Bardet. At best, some, like Mitchel­ton-Scott with Adam Yates and Caleb Ewan or Ka­tusha with Il­nur Zakarin and Mar­cel Kit­tel, have a GC and a sprint leader, but one of the strik­ing fac­tors about the 2018 Tour is the dearth of two-pronged GC as­saults. Which brings us to what could pos­si­bly be the bad news for Mo­vis­tar – that their three am­bi­tious Tour stars – Nairo Quin­tana, Ale­jan­dro Valverde and Mikel Landa – could eas­ily spend more en­ergy fight­ing each other than their ri­vals. The strat­egy is ei­ther a mas­ter­stroke by Mo­vis­tar chief Euse­bio Unzué, or a big risk.

Since 2013, riders have tried and failed to beat Froome in hand-to-hand com­bat. Quin­tana was a dis­tant sec­ond to the Brit in 2013. He got closer in 2015, but was al­ways play­ing catchup fol­low­ing Froome’s spec­tac­u­lar at­tack at La Pierre Saint-Martin in the Pyre­nees. In 2016, Bardet was Froome’s equal in the moun­tains, but con­ceded large chunks of time in the time tri­als. And last year, Rigob­erto Urán be­came the only rider to fin­ish within a minute of Froome at the Tour, but there was no real point in the race where he looked like be­ing able to put time into the Brit.

It’s pos­si­ble that Unzué has con­cluded that there’s lit­tle point in put­ting Quin­tana up against Froome af­ter four years of try­ing. How­ever, if Quin­tana, Landa and Valverde can work to­gether, they could suc­ceed where in­di­vid­u­als have failed. The plan wouldn’t be to repli­cate Sky’s moun­tain train – that would just play into Froome’s hands by do­ing his team’s work for him, and all he would have to do is fol­low, then beat which­ever Mo­vis­tar rider is high­est up over­all in the fi­nal time trial on stage 20. But if Mo­vis­tar are pre­pared to ini­ti­ate guer­rilla war­fare, they may suc­ceed. We’ve had a sneak pre­view of this tac­tic. In 2013, when Froome was al­ready in the yel­low jersey af­ter Ax-3-Do­maines, Mo­vis­tar helped to tear the race to shreds on the sec­ond Pyre­nean stage to Bag­nères-de-Big­orre. Their at­tack­ing rid­ing, along with that of GarminSharp, iso­lated Froome from his team-mates early. The prob­lem was, they were

so in­tent on dis­tanc­ing Sky’s Richie Porte that they for­got that they were in a po­si­tion to gang up on Froome. He laid low in the lead group and none of the three Mo­vis­tar riders gained time on him.

To suc­ceed in this tac­tic in 2018, their main ob­sta­cles are Froome, and then Team Sky. Sky’s moun­tain train has been so strong in the last six years that it’s very dif­fi­cult to at­tack them. When one or two of the four or five strong­est climbers in the race – Landa and Micha¯ Kwiatkowski last year, Wout Poels in 2016, Geraint Thomas in 2015, Porte in 2013 – is pac­ing the lead group, it stands to rea­son that only a few riders can hope to at­tack. How­ever, Quin­tana is a for­mer Tour run­ner-up, Valverde a third-place fin­isher and Landa’s best so far is fourth. And when Landa jumped ship from Sky to Mo­vis­tar, he weak­ened Sky and strength­ened Mo­vis­tar.

Mo­vis­tar might be well ad­vised to learn from what hap­pened at the re­cent Giro d’Italia. Long-range at­tacks which win the GC in a three-week race have been rare for decades, but they have a hun­dred per cent suc­cess rate in 2018 so far, with Froome’s suc­cess in Italy. This ap­proach is risky with a sin­gle leader, but Mo­vis­tar ar­guably have ex­pend­able lead­ers, and that gives them more op­tions – if one of their lead­ers goes for a long one and fails, they still have op­tions. It wouldn’t be all or noth­ing. How­ever, if it was a clear ad­van­tage to have three GC lead­ers, all the teams would do it. The pay­off is that there are fewer do­mes­tiques, and this is ex­ac­er­bated in 2018, with the teams re­duced to eight riders. Mo­vis­tar can only have five more riders. Bear­ing in mind there is a team time trial, seven flat stages and then the cob­bled stage be­fore the first rest day, do they have

Quin­tana will feel that he is the right­ful leader and Landa has al­ready been frus­trated at hav­ing to wait his turn at Sky

the per­son­nel to cover the open­ing phase, as well as of­fer sup­port to their lead­ers in the moun­tains? C ycling has a long and sto­ried his­tory of lead­ers turn­ing on each other. Mo­vis­tar can even look at Froome and Sky for a clas­sic of the genre – the 2012 Tour. Froome vis­i­bly chafed un­der the lead­er­ship of Bradley Wig­gins, openly at­tack­ing him in the Alps and Pyre­nees be­fore re­luc­tantly sit­ting up. The rivalry kept an oth­er­wise mori­bund Tour alive, but there wasn’t re­ally any sig­nif­i­cant jeop­ardy for the team it­self – first and sec­ond place were so safely wrapped up that even if Froome had over­taken Wig­gins and won the race it wouldn’t have been a disaster.

The 1987 rivalry be­tween Stephen Roche and Roberto Visen­tini at the Giro d’Italia was po­ten­tially more dam­ag­ing. Visen­tini led Roche by 2:42 be­fore the in­fa­mous Sap­pada stage, with Tony Rominger an­other 30 sec­onds be­hind and only two more riders within five min­utes. When Roche at­tacked, Visen­tini was left min­utes be­hind and the Ir­ish­man only took the race lead by five sec­onds, plus there were now 10 riders within five min­utes of him – a con­sid­er­ably weaker po­si­tion for the team, mit­i­gated when Roche ended up win­ning the race.

Mo­vis­tar might pre­fer to look to­wards the 1986 La Vie Claire team for a more suc­cess­ful ex­am­ple of strength in numbers. Over­all win­ner Greg LeMond and run­ner-up Bernard Hin­ault might have been at each other’s throats for most of the race, but the team ended up with five riders in the top 12, in­clud­ing three in the top four. But there are also less suc­cess­ful ex­am­ples: PDM put four riders in the top 10 in 1989, and none on the podium.

The cy­cling world might an­tic­i­pate fric­tion be­tween Mo­vis­tar’s lead­ers, but the same team has dealt with in­ter­nal rivalry in the past. Their 1988 Tour win­ner Pe­dro Del­gado was start­ing to look past his best by 1990, and Miguel In­durain looked stronger. How­ever, the team man­aged to keep In­durain on­side and rid­ing for Del­gado that year be­fore he took the first of his five wins in 1991.

Yet this year, Valverde won’t want to lose one of his last chances to go for the yel­low jersey, Quin­tana will feel that he is the right­ful leader and Landa has al­ready been frus­trated at hav­ing to wait his turn at Sky. It’s go­ing to be a tricky jug­gling act.

Valverde has been as strong as ever this year and won nine races by June

Landa swapped Sky for Mo­vis­tar last win­ter to get out from Froome's shadow

Quin­tana has been on the Tour podium three times and now, in his peak, wants a vic­tory

With three lead­ers at their dis­posal, Mo­vis­tar can a ford to go on the at­tack and use ag­gres­sive tac­tics to put other riders and teams un­der pres­sure, par­tic­u­larly in the moun­tains

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