Movistar Team close colossal year with 12 of their riders claiming a total 29 wins, only roster to win at all three Grand Tours in 2012 – Spanish squad ends in 5th at World Tour ranking, with 72 podiums and 225 top-ten finishes
Movistar Team improved in 2012 their already outstanding results in the season opening Telefónica’s stint as a cycling sponsor. The squad directed by Eusebio Unzué reached the 50-victory milestone as a WorldTour team since the start of 2011 after a record season. The only team in the world to claim wins at all three Grand Tours -six consecutive GT’s have seen the Blues raising their arms at least once-, the Spanish roster went just one short for 30 this year -with no less than twelve different names, as well as a team time trial, making the account- to put two of their riders -Alejandro Valverde (5th) and Rui Costa (10th)- into the UCI World Tour top ten, with the telephone squad in 5th overall as they ended in 4th -with Valverde as well as in a collective level- in the CQ Ranking, a fair prize to a regular block throughout the season.
Eight new faces brought Movistar Team the leap needed to tackle an even longer season than the previous one -almost 300,000 kilometers covered- and get into dominating style in the top tier. Two of the Spaniards coming for the 2012 season, Jonathan Castroviejo and Javi Moreno, claimed their placed within the ones most supported by the fans. The Basque rouleur, winner of the opening TT in the Vuelta a Madrid, made a brilliant summer. Called in for the Spanish olympic team as an underdog, he was taken into the spotlight after immense work for his team-mates in the road race -Valverde, Fran Ventoso and José Joaquín Rojas- and came close to the diploma (9th) in the individual time trial; he contributed to the emotive success by the team at the Vuelta’s opening TTT in Pamplona; and went red-yellow-red again at the World Championships. In the Spanish grandtour, where the Blues won the teams’ overall, also was Moreno, who crowned a sensational team work in Castilla y León to take the GC, without leaving his team duties for leaders like one of the other newcomers: Alejandro Valverde.
Valverde gets stronger, more experienced than ever
The Murcian had a season as well long as prolific: after extended preparations, he left for Australia in January with much willingness to succeed following a year and a half of stop, and in his first chance, the mountain-top finish in Old Willunga Hill, he crowned the work by Movistar Team -with Madrazo and Moreno as main helpers- to raise his arms for the first time and claim 2nd overall in the Tour Down Under. A prodigious streak started there: he took the overall in the Vuelta a Andalucía via a solo win atop Araceli; claimed a podium finish in Paris-Nice after taking another group sprint in the Lac de Vassivière; runner-up in Amorebieta after team-mate Visconti; ninth in the Tour de Suisse following his mid-season rest; and as an icing and a symbol of his return to top condition, two unforgettable races: the Tour and the Vuelta.
On French soil, and after almost three weeks of suffering for the squad -with the Metz massacre on stage seven, sending Gutiérrez and Erviti home after a previous abandon by Rojas-, ‘Bala’ squeezed his final chance, the Pyrenean stage atop Peyragudes, and profited from help by Costa, Rubén Plaza and Juanjo Cobo to be the Blue hero in the ‘Grande Boucle’. After another Olympic appearance in London, Valverde was one of the three protagonists in the Vuelta that turned cycling back into a mainstream sport in Spain, with two stage wins -he endorsed all four during the race and won the Points and Combination ones in the final day- and a second position overall forged with offensive spirit. The bronze medal at the Worlds in Valkenburg confirmed Alejandro is back even stronger than before.
On a negative side from Valverde were two crashes: the one suffered in the second day of the Volta a Catalunya, forcing him to abandon and conditioning the performances offered during the Ardennes classics; and the spectacular pile-up en route to Valdezcaray in the Vuelta, where he lost the leader jersey won 24 hours earlier in Arrate as well as 54 seconds that, looking at the final overall -1.16 between the Spaniard and GC winner Alberto Contador- could have well been decisive for the race’s outcome.
Costa, Quintana, Visconti rise up as new guides
Rui Costa became the other big man from Movistar Team with a 2012 season that put undisputedly set him as one of the biggest names in cycling. He claimed the first Blue victory in a WorldTour stagerace: the Tour de Suisse, where he showed to have the strength required to lead a team after winning atop Verbier. Seven days spent by the telephone squad at the front, with Alejandro Valverde gone the best possible domestique: at the only weak moment from the Portuguese, en route to Arosa in the penultimate day of racing, he was the guide to keep alive a jersey that he eventually won, after another big sacrifice from the Murcian, in the last finish line in Sörenberg. Tremendously regular -six top-ten finishes in big races, including a GC podium in Romandie-, he was the best Movistar Team finisher in the Tour and reached heights never claimed by a Portuguese rider. Aged just 26, the best is yet to come for the ‘poveiro’.
Two other signings, Nairo Quintana and Giovanni Visconti, showed inborn quality as well as compromise and bravery. The 22-year-old Colombian, a big helper for Valverde in the Northern trio of mountain stages in the Vuelta, chased the honor title of best newcomer in the 2012 WorldTour after taking six victories: a stage and the GC in the Vuelta a Murcia, with a brave descent towards Sierra Espuña followed by a big defence in the time trial; an identical exploit in the Route du Sud, with an exhibition in the Pyrénées en route to Arras; the Giro dell’Emilia, where he beat top-class competitors to claim the last success by the squad in 2012; and, above all, the Queen stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in Morzine, overcoming the Sky train and then-reigning Tour champion Cadel Evans. In turn, the Italian became the king of Biscay -claiming victories in the two races in the territory, Amorebieta and Getxo- as he led the team in the late-season races in Italy, decisively contributing to Quintana’s win in Bologna.
The cohesion by all team members was not a burden, but a help for individual success. Youngsters like Jesús Herrada or Andrey Amador took their maiden pro victories: the Spaniard won a rainy morning sector in Asturias’ day two; and the Costa Rican, after several previous attempts, triumphed atop Cervinia in the Giro d’Italia, the second success for the Blues in the Corsa Rosa -Fran Ventoso, crowned Spanish road race champion a month later in Salamanca and stage winner in Poitou-Charentes, was the first one in Frosinone- and a prestigious one that created a boom of attention at both sides of the Atlantic, specially from his ‘tico’ supporters. That Giro could have well seen a breakthrough from Beñat Intxausti, whose illness with two days from the finish avoided a top-ten finish after having won the Vuelta a Asturias overall. The Basque bounced back and ended up as a great domestique for Valverde in the Vuelta as he jumped into 10th in the GC. Rojas, stage winner and leader in País Vasco, and Samoilau, Belarusian ITT champ, closed Movistar Team’s account.