Movistar Team culminates 2015 season on top of the UCI WorldTour and on podiums of Tour, Vuelta — Telefónica squad set to seek for GT individual success in 2016
Wednesday marked ten days since the 2015 was officially over for the Movistar Team. Abarca Sports’ fifth season under Telefónica’s sponsorship was another huge boost for the squad managed by Eusebio Unzué, as well on the racing as outside. World impact of the Blues with remarkable initiatives and big social growth —having doubled its fan base to 600,000 followers this very October, one of the cycling squads most supported on SM— as a consequence of the extraordinary performance by its 28 riders from the start of the season, together with nearly thirty partners and almost fourty professionals devoted to the team’s success.
Consistency was again the biggest strength of the telephone squad, which shone almost flawlessly throughout the whole WorldTour. Already in January, they scored their first points with Rubén Fernández and an explosive Juanjo Lobato at the Tour Down Under, while Nairo Quintana finished on the podium in his first race in San Luis. In just 32 days’ time, five Movistar Team riders got a victory: Valverde, with an amazing display into the toughest trophy of the Mallorca Challenge; Rojas, who beat the top sprinters in the world in Qatar; or Moreno, with a surprise TT win in the Vuelta a Andalucía, all set the launchpad for the team leader’s brilliance as the first big WT stageraces beckoned in March.
Quintana, Valverde conquer sprints with genius moves
Tirreno-Adriatico saw the first-ever team victory as Nairo Quintana rode gloriously under the snow of the Terminillo, while Adriano Malori claimed again the throne of TT riding by taking the Camaiore prologue and finishing second in the longer TT in San Benedetto. One week later, Alejandro Valverde, the man who enjoys bike racing the most in the pro scene, turned the Volta a Catalunya into his playground: three stage victories —no matter if it was sprint finishes or brilliantly-timed attacks— and the GC runner-up, by only four seconds. The best prelude to his impressive April… and much to our regret, the place of Pablo Lastras’ serious injury, the man we still miss seven months after.
‘Bala’ only missed an Amstel Gold Race win to crown a massive Ardennes triple. The Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège were his for the third time, nine years after his first duo of victories in Belgium, and following a ‘Basque Week’ full of good results for the Blues: Ion Izagirre’s podium in the Itzulia —Quintana, beaten by allergies, could only finish in 4th overall— and the maiden win in Blue by José Herrada in Amorebieta. Four days earlier, Malori added La Sarthe to his previous 2015 TT victories in San Luis and Tirreno, later going on to defend his podium overall.
May started with the culmination of a dream: after a February attempt marred by injuries and 21 years after Bordeaux, Alex Dowsett claimed, with international partners and a working group mainly composed of Spaniards, one of the biggest wins in the sport with the UCI Hour Record, a symbol of the Movistar Team’s universal impulse. The other leg of the chair, Latin America, was a flag kept high by Nairo Quintana —supported in the mountains by Anacona— in the Tour de Romandie, where he finished in 8th place after showing fighting spirit in Champex-Lac. The Blue domination in Spain granted them 20 victories before the Giro in Asturias, where they secured a clean sweep with both stages and the GC.
Giro: Amador rises up — Tour: The dream continues
Despite not having their two main leaders abord in the Giro d’Italia roster and following a devastating stage four for Izagirre and Intxausti, their initial GC contenders, Movistar Team was outstanding once again in the 2015 ‘Corsa Rosa’: a stage win with a ‘rascal’ Beñat in Campitello Matese; the KOM jersey, the team’s first, with Giovanni Visconti; and most notably Andrey Amador’s fourth place overall, the definitive re-launch of a still promising career by one of the team’s most agreeable characters. At the other side of the Alps, in the Bayern-Rundfahrt, Dowsett completed his most successful month as pro cyclist with a TT win and the last yellow jersey.
The week prior to the Tour de France offered some other huge rewards to Unzué’s group: four national championships in Italy (Malori), Britain (Dowsett) and the TT-RR double in Spain with Castroviejo and Valverde. All four, together with Erviti, Nairo Quintana, Anacona, José Herrada and Gorka Izagirre, defended the Movistar Team jersey in the Grande Boucle. The race started off with a turn of bad luck on stage two, with Arrieta and Chente’s group tried to counter back with ambition into the first Pyrenees stage, again a setback. However, the Blues never lost hope nor full chances —they had already been third on stage nine TTT— and were close to a surprise GC victory with a phenomenal ride on stage twenty. The teams’ victory, the white jersey and places two and three overall for Quintana and Valverde —how hard did the Spaniard fight to smile in Paris!— were a fair prize in the world’s most coveted race to win.
Fighting until the very last meter
Ion Izagirre, Jesús Herrada and Marc Soler brightened up the month of August for the Movistar Team: the Basque finally claimed the Tour de Pologne GC, four decades after José Luis Viejo, putting an end to a bad streak of podium-not-win finishes and confirming his potential for one-week stageraces; Herrada fought till the final sprint to keep yellow in the Tour du Limousin; and the Catalan confirmed he’s one of those called for WorldTour success as he brought the Tour de l’Avenir back into Unzué’s realm. Valverde claimed, four days before Soler, the Blues’ 30th win of 2015 in Vejer, against Sagan, in the Vuelta; the 31st and penultimate win was brought by the second top scorer, Malori, in Poitou Charentes.
September and its hindmost Il Lombardia were an ‘almost’ for the Spanish squad, which nonetheless happilly extended the UCI WorldTour-winning streak for the Movistar Team in both individual and collective fronts. After coming close to abandon in Andorra, Nairo Quintana finished just half a minute behind the podium in the Vuelta a España with brilliant rides in Burgos and the Madrilian sierra; in the meantime, Alejandro Valverde, seventh overall, profited from an 11th-hour move to claim the green jersey. In the Worlds, Unzué and his boys made a decisive move towards the lead in the UCI standings with bronze in the Richmond TTT, while Malori added an ITT silver —a bitter 4th for Castroviejo— and Valverde, always Alejandro, shone against cobbled classic specialists and took 5th in the Road Race, extending his love story with the Championships.
Valverde’s fought 4th place in Lombardy was the icing to a sweet cake for Unzué’s, still willing to bring Telefónica a first GT overall win and confident about their strong chances. Four signings —Dani Moreno, the same rider finishing 2nd in Como just under a month ago; Oliveira, huge allrounding potential; Jorge Arcas, another gamble for Spanish youth; and Betancur, looking for his second breakthrough as pro— strengthen a serious block which will keep on searching for its masterpiece in 2016.