Whisper it quietly – but don't quite shout it from the rooftops – Movistar’s fabled trident could be on the verge of coming good.
The source of much mirth over the years – to the extent, perhaps, that Netflix banjaxed season three of The Least Expected Day – Movistar’s predilection of entering a Grand Tour with a three-pronged attack and letting the road decide paid off on Monday’s opening summit showdown in La Vuelta.
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All three Movistar musketeers were present and correct at the pointy end of Stage 3, with Enric Mas zipping clear to take a few seconds on the red jersey group after being teed up by teammates Miguel Angel Lopez and Alejandro Valverde. The upshot is Mas, Lopez and Valverde all now nestled somewhat symbolically together in the middle of the nascent general classification and some TV executives ruing their decision for calling off the cameras.
By contrast, the Ineos Grenadiers trident of Egan Bernal, Adam Yates and Movistar defector Richard Carapaz seems all over the place, with the Olympic champion from Ecuador being shelled out of the main pack thanks to the tempo being set by Britain’s Yates, who himself lost half a minute on the second stage.
Yates and Bernal, the Colombian winner of the Giro, finished alongside Valverde and Lopez in the red jersey group three seconds behind Mas and 1:48 down on the day’s winner, Rein Taaramae, the Estonian veteran who rolled back the years with a victory on the Vuelta a full decade after his first.
And as Taaramae was making his move from the breakaway, it was the Bahrain Victorious team of another formerly wantaway Movistar alumnus, Mikel Landa, whose hard work was coming to nothing – a tenuous way, perhaps, of rolling out the line: the Rein in Spain falls mainly on Bahrain.
Ukraine’s Mark Padun – he of double Dauphiné summit finish fame – and Dutchman Wout Poels shared shifts on the front to whittle down the peloton and pave the way for their man Landa. But in a well-rehearsed scene – and one we indeed saw in the first series of the Movistar documentary, as well as in last year's Tour de France – Landa was unable to pull the trigger.
The Basque climber did not lose any time on a climb he knows well (and where he previously took a win on the Vuelta a Burgos). But he didn’t gain any either. Landa had clearly looked to put Roglic, Bernal and the Movistar men under pressure, but they had his measure. And the fact that, towards the end of the double-digit final kilometre of the Picon Blanco, it was Movistar who came to the fore – amid Bahrain’s tapering and Carapaz’s yo-yoing off the back – made things all the sweeter for the Spanish team.

The Spanish Movistar team ahead of Stage 3 of La Vuelta a Espana 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Anyone who saw the second season of The Least Unexpected Day – or simply watched the final mountain stage of last year's Vuelta – would not be surprised to see Movistar throwing down the hammer after Carapaz getting in a spot of bother. Valverde, the master, pulled masterfully for the final 1.5km before handing the baton over to Mas, the apprentice.
Sure, the time gain for Mas was a mere three seconds – but every little helps. That's the time gain one gets for winning a stage – and perhaps Movistar felt that, after their efforts, they had, indeed, won the stage on multiple levels. Mas even set a record on the Picon Blanco despite a block headwind for most of the ascent, which bodes well for the nine remaining uphill finishes on this race.
Carapaz's golden bike eventually crossed the line one minute down on the red jersey rivals to cap what would have been a great scene if only the Netflix cameras were rolling. That the man who jumped the Movistar ship after winning the Giro in 2019 picked up an additional 20-second penalty for an illegal feed will be chalked down as another not inconsiderable karmic victory.
While it’s early days, things are looking good for Movistar. Mas is 15 seconds down on Roglic and essentially in second place, Lopez – hoping to bounce back after his disappointing maiden Tour for the team – is “third” at 21 seconds, and veteran Valverde joint “fourth” at 27 seconds.
Compare this to Ineos Grenadier’s own trident of Bernal (+27), Yates (+51) and Carapaz (+1:45) – or indeed Bahrain's trio of Landa (+39), Damiano Caruso (+50) and Jack Haig (+2:26) – and there are many reasons for Movistar directeur sportif Chente Garcia Acosta to be happy.
Of course, far greater challenges than the Picon Blanco await. And there's a lot of time for Mas and his chums to implode. But for now let’s just savour the fact that Movistar may not simply be challenging for the team classification in Spain – but the maillot rojo. And with three riders looking in such fine fettle, that collective award could well follow.
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