Each year, Pavé previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport. Today the Preview continues with #13.
#13 – Movistar
Part of the “fun” of the Season Preview/Review process is getting halfway into it and realizing you’ve perhaps over or underestimated a team or two. At least a preview gives one a bit more leeway in their estimations—after all, we’re talking about potential right? Case in point: Movistar.
Movistar might be the first over-ranked team of this year’s Preview—at least on paper. With few recognizable names, one can be excused for wondering how and why they made it this far. But give them a chance—they might surprise you (they’ve already won more races than several teams). Sure, they lost Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde’s been suspended. But Eusebio Unzue has proven himself to be a fine judge of talent—especially of the Spanish-speaking variety—and I’m certain he’s discovered a few future stars.
Beñat Intxausti is the first name to remember—even if you can’t pronounce it. After a second-place finish in last year’s Tour of the Basque Country and third in the Vuelta Asturias, the former Euskaltel rider looks ready to take the next step. He underwhelmed in the Vuelta, but with another year in his legs, the 24-year-old should continue to progress.
Unzue’s best signing will likely turn-out to be Xavier Tondo. Tondo finished sixth in last year’s Vuelta and quickly found a home after the announcement of Cervelo TestTeam’s demise. The biggest knock against him is his age—he’s 32—but with a team more or less dedicated to supporting him in the mountains of France and Spain, there’s hope of top-10 finish in France and a top-5 in Spain.
As for the rest, David Arroyo’s a candidate for another top-10 finish in the Giro, while José Ivan Gutierrez and Francisco Ventoso are always good for a few wins. Ignatas Konovalovas is someone to watch for the odd ITT victory here and there—especially during the final week of the Giro.
Overall, I have a hunch that Movistar will win more races than many will have expected as Unzue and his riders have a knack for pulling rabbits out of a hat—who knows, by next year we might be talking about his next superstar-to-be.
Man of the Hour: Few took Xavi Tondo seriously when he held on to win Stage 6 of last year’s Paris-Nice. But after the Spaniard finished second at the Volta Catalunya, it was clear that Cervelo TestTeam had stumbled upon some talent. After an up-and-down Giro, “Xavi” was given a chance to lead his team at September’s Vuelta, where he rode consistently to finish sixth overall in Madrid. Now he gets his chance to lead Movistar into the 2011 Tour de France.
On the Hot Seat: David Arroyo shocked a lot of people by finishing second in the 2010 Giro d’Italia. While the result was his third top-10 finish in the Italian Grand Tour, it was certainly several places higher (about eight) than many thought possible. He’ll be hard-pressed to equal last year’s performance in 2011.
Up-and-Comer: At 25, Jose Joaquin Rojas is Spain’s best sprinter since Oscar Freire. After several top-10 finishes in last year’s Tour de France, the Movistar rider is already off to winning start in 2011 thanks to a victory in the Trofeo Deija at this week’s Challenge Mallorca. While Rojas will likely never challenge Cavendish, Farrar, and Greipel, he’s more than capable of holding his own in smaller stage races—perhaps a win in the Giro or Vuelta is in the cards should things go well.
Best Pick-Up: I touted the merits of Branislau Samoilau in last year’s Preview—he did little to indicate my hype was unjustified. (Unfortunately, he also did little to prove that it was.) Regardless, I still think the 25-year-old Belorussian is someone to watch—especially now that he rides for a team that’s a bit more Grand Tour-focused than Quick Step. With time, he should build on his top-10 stage finishes in last year’s Giro and his twelfth-place GC ride at the Dauphiné.
Biggest Loss: Luis Leon won several major races over the course of his time with Caisse d’Epargne. Had Unzue found a replacement sponsor in time Sanchez might have stayed around for another few years as the team offered a climate in which the Spaniard clearly thrived. He’ll be missed.