The Grand Tour wizard: Eusabio Unzue’s four decades of success at the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta

There’s not many team managers been around as long as Movistar’s Eusabio Unzue.

During his time with the Spanish team – which started life in 1985 as Reynolds before becoming Banesto and then later a few incarnations of Illes Balears and Caisse d’Epargne – he’s racked up a staggering amount of professional wins.

Fifteen Grand Tours, four World Championships, 40 National Championships, 578 individual stages, 179 stage races and 165 one-day races.

We don’t have the room for a full breakdown of each of those 922 victories achieved by 137 different riders but the Movistar website has all of them here for those with a bit of time on their hands.

We do, however, in light of Richard Carapaz securing Unzue his fourth Giro d’Italia title as manager we want to focus on the Grand Tour wins dating right back to 1988 when Pedro Delgardo won the team’s first Tour de France.

So without further ado…

1988 – Tour de France – Pedro Delgardo – Reynolds

The first taste of success for the Reynolds team – and Unzue – wasn’t without its share of dramas.

Winner Pedro Delgardo, who’d been a part of the team in its amateur days before finding Vuelta success in 1985 with Orbea GIN MG, won the race by a comfortable margin.

But the Spaniard, who now works as a commentator, failed a doping test for probenecid, a medicine for the kidney and also a masking agent for anabolic steroids.

Probenecid was in the IOC list, but crucially not in the UCI list, meaning Delgardo was in the clear although Tour director Xavier Louy did suggest to the Reynolds team director José Miguel Echevarri that the rider should be withdrawn.

Some of the other riders weren’t particularly happy with Andy Hampsten, who had won that year’s Giro, describing it as ‘a crime against the public and against the sport’ to allow him to continue.

To further increase the ill-feeling, the sanction for this type of doping was a penalty of 10 minutes. He beat Rooks by seven minutes 13 seconds meaning had the same sanction been applied he’d have missed out on that first Tour win.

1989 – Vuelta a España – Pedro Delgardo – Reynolds

If Delgado’s win in the Tour was comfortable, his win at the Vuelta the following year was anything but.

Going into the race as the last winner of a Grand Tour – the Vuelta at that stage was the first GT of the year – expectations were high for him and the Reynolds team, which also featured a certain Miguel Indurain who had just won Paris-Nice.

Delgado won three stages – two individual time trials – and took the leader’s jersey on stage 16 in a race that, until that point, had largely been dominated by the Colombians and, in particular, Omar Hernandez.

Having lost Indurain to a broken wrist, Delgado had to hold off the challenge from another Colombian, Fabio Parra, who pulled himself to within two seconds of the Spaniard at one point.

He did manage to keep the Kelme rider at bay though and claimed his second Vuelta title by a margin of 35 seconds after a strong performance in the final ITT on stage 20 ended Parra’s hopes.

1991 – Tour de France – Miguel Indurain – Banesto

After a couple of barren years at Grand Tours – and a change of sponsor – Indurain’s reign as the king of the Tour started

American Greg LeMond went into the race as favourite and looked to be going strong until the peloton hit the Tourmalet on stage 13.

The reigning champion cracked on the final part of the climb and Indurain got away with a group of other riders. LeMond was able to get back on the descent but by that point, Indurain had already broken free.

The Spaniard then waited for the Italian Claudio Chiappucci who had managed to jump off the front the chasing pack and the pair worked together to turn the screw on LeMond.

Chiappucci won the stage, Indurain took yellow and LeMond had lost more than seven minutes.

LeMond tried to claw back time – which he did on the relatively-flat stage 16 – but suffered again when the race returned to the mountains, losing around nine minutes across the next two stages.

Gianni Bugno posed the biggest threat to Indurain but having a lead of over three minutes on the Italian going into the time trial on the penultimate stage meant that was a mere formality for the TT specialist.

1992 – Giro d’Italia – Miguel Indurain – Banesto

1992 was to prove a very successful year for Indurain who became the first Spaniard to win the Giro.

He didn’t have to wait long to grab the pink jersey – he took it on stage three – and once he had it, never gave it up.

The Indurain method was to win the time trials comfortably – he did so by 32 seconds on stage four and almost three minutes on the final stage – and keep it tight in the mountains.

His rivals, by contrast, were hoping to crack him in the hills.

Indurain struck the most crucial psychological blow on the first mountain stage, finishing in the front group and putting 30 seconds into eventual runner-up Chiappucci.

He’d eventually finish more than five minutes ahead of the Italian, who must have been sick of the sight of him by the time the pair finished up in Paris again just a couple of months later.

1992 – Tour de France – Miguel Indurain – Banesto

Indurain’s defence of his Tour de France title started in San Sebastian with a prologue which he won and he began the race-proper a day later.

He didn’t keep it and the jersey was taken from him on stage one by debutant Alex Zuille, who in turn lost it to fellow first-timer Richard Virenque a day later.

Virenque, who would go on to win seven polka dot mountain jerseys, would himself give up the jersey to his RMO–Onet teammate Pascal Lino the very next day.

Lino would keep the maillot jaune for 11 days but Indurain chipped away calmly with his time trial win on stage nine – in which he finished three minutes ahead of anyone else and more than four minutes ahead of Lino.

He took the yellow jersey after stage 13 and with only Chiappucci within two minutes of him from then on it was breeze into Paris, especially with another convincing time trial win on stage 19.

1993 – Giro d’Italia – Miguel Induráin – Banesto

The island of Elba – where Napoleon was briefly exiled – was the starting point for Indurain’s quest to become the first rider to secure back-to-back Giro-Tour doubles.

Unlike in 1992, when Indurain snatched the pink jersey on stage three and never gave it up, he had to wait until stage’s TT to take the overall lead but he didn’t keep it long, the Italian Bruno Leali taking advantage of a rain-soaked stage to gain a lead of several minutes.

Over the next couple of days that lead slowly ebbed away and by stage 14 Indurain was back in pink after getting into a breakaway with most of the leading contenders as they tackled two ascents of the formidable Passo Pordoi.

A win in the third time trial was enough to extend the Spaniard’s lead and even though Piotr Ugrumov managed to take 40 seconds off him in the penultimate stage, it wasn’t enough for the Russian to wrestle the pink jersey off Indurain.

1993 – Tour de France – Miguel Induráin – Banesto

Later the same year, Indurain became the first rider to secure a back-to-back Giro-Tour double with another dominant performance.

It was another Tour in which he took the jersey before the halfway stage and then contained his rivals to win at a canter, in this case just shy of five minutes ahead of Toni Rominger.

Rominger, to his credit, tried to attack Indurain at every opportunity in the Alps but he couldn’t shake the Spaniard off, Indurain sticking to him whenever he tried to spring a surprise.

The Swiss could console himself with the fact he finally got the better of Indurain in the Pyreneés on stage 16… but the margin was a mere three seconds.

He’d put 42 seconds into Indurain on the stage 19 time trial but it only served to move the Clas-Cajastur into second place on the final podium.

1994 – Tour de France – Miguel Induráin – Banesto

There was to be no Giro-Tour treble but Indurain’s dominance in France did continue that summer.

The 1994 race was almost a carbon copy as far as he was concerned – take the jersey on stage nine and keep it all the way to Paris.

Indurain’s performance on that stage’s time trial was a show of real dominance with only six riders able to stay within six minutes of him over the 64km from Périgueux to Bergerac.

Indurain built on his lead over Rominger in the Pyrenees but the Swiss rider abandoned on stage 13 leaving Virenque the nearest challenger at nearly eight minutes adrift.

Piotr Ugrumov and Marco Pantani pushed hard in the Alps but it was a lost cause as far as the top of the podium was concerned, although the pair did share the podium with Indurain in second and third respectively.

1995 – Tour de France – Miguel Induráin – Banesto

The 1995 Tour will be remembered for a number of things.

The death of Italian rider Fabio Casartelli after an accident on the Col de Portet d’Aspet, the continued emergence of Marco Pantani and, of course, Indurain’s fifth Tour win.

On paper it looks like it was, if anything, a classic showing from ‘Big Mig’ – a time trial win on stage eight to move into yellow and then defending the jersey successfully through the mountains until the opportunity to secure victory with another TT win late in the race.

But the foundations for his final Grand Tour success were laid not in France but neighbouring Belgium.

Indurain finished second to Johan Bruyneel after the pair escaped the attention of the bunch 22km from the end of a bumpy ride from Charleroi to Liege.

Bruyneel stuck to the back of Indurain’s wheel before beating him in the sprint to take yellow but for many, it was an uncharacteristic move from the Spaniard who had dominated previous Grand Tours with an almost-robotic approach to racing.

1998 – Vuelta a España Abraham Olano – Banesto

The Vuelta in 1998 was Olano’s only Grand Tour win but it wasn’t without its ups and down.

The Spaniard had to be on top form and spent much of the three weeks fighting off furious challenges from mountain specialists Fernando Escartin and Roberto Heras as well as fellow all-rounders Laurent Jalabert and Alex Zülle, all at the height of their careers.

The Vuelta opened up fractures in the team with Olana unhappy with the perceived lack of support from the Banesto team and management.

His teammate José María Jiminez took 4 stage wins, on several occasions leaving Olano alone on the climbs, and even taking the leader’s jersey from his team captain. Olano won it on the second time trial, but the events and subsequent media speculation soured his relationship with Banesto, and he decided for a switch to the ONCE team for the following season.

Following his Vuelta win, Olano finished 1998 in style, winning the World Championship time trial in Valkenburg to add to the World Championship road race he won three years earlier.

2006 – Tour de France – Óscar Pereiro – Caisse d’Epargne–Illes Balears*

A Tour marred by doping scandals and one in which Pereiro wasn’t actually confirmed as the winner until several months later.

Prior to the tour, numerous riders – including the two favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso – were expelled due to their link to the Operación Puerto doping case.

The drugs scandals didn’t stop once the race rolled out of Strasbourg and Pereiro himself initially failed a drug test in this Tour as well, but was cleared after providing sufficient medical evidence that he had a legitimate medical reason for taking the substance he failed for.

The battle between Pereiro and the American Floyd Landis swung back and forth in the final few stages and it was the latter who rode into Paris with the yellow jersey on his back after a stunning performance in the stage 19 time trial.

But after the Tour had finished, Landis was found to have failed a drug test after stage 17. The American contested the result and demanded arbitration.

The following September, Landis was found guilty and suspended retroactively and stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title making Pereiro the winner.

2009 – Vuelta a España – Alejandro Valverde – Caisse d’Epargne

The 2009 Vuelta was the first to start away from Spanish soil, beginning in the Netherlands and didn’t enter the Iberian peninsula until stage five.

This was a tough Vuelta – some stages had more than 5,000m of climbing – and Valverde took the leader’s jersey by finishing third on stage, the eight second time bonus allowed him to edge ahead of Cadel Evans.

From there he never really looked like losing it, adding seconds here and there and riding in an ultra-defensive manner.

Valverde was also helped by the bad luck that hit his rivals with Evans puncturing at a crucial point on Sierra Nevada and losing over a minute.

Others were hit with injuries or loss of form and when the Vuelta finished in Madrid it was telling that none of those riders in the top eight had taken a stage win in the previous three weeks.

Valverde won’t have cared too much, he finished 55 seconds ahead of Samuel Sanchez and one minute 32 seconds ahead of Evans.

2014 – Giro d’Italia – Nairo Quintana – Movistar

A first Grand Tour victory for Quintana – and a first for Colombia – started in Ireland, first with a team time trial in Belfast and then two further, very flat, stages as the race headed over the border to Dublin.

And the luck of the Irish clearly smiled on Quintana on a gruelling stage 16 which proved decisive, with the 24-year-old turning a deficit of two minutes 40 seconds to Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Rigoberto Uran into a lead of one minute 41 seconds.

The move into pink wasn’t without controversy and Quintana took full advantage of confusion on the descent of the Stelvio – some riders thought the it had been neutralised due to snow while others, including Quintana, pushing on – to hit the top of the GC.

His rivals were aggrieved, perhaps rightly so given that the Giro’s official Twitter account put out a message saying it had been neutralised only to delete and replace it several minutes later with a correction, but Quintana extended his advantage with victory on a mountain time trial three days later, eventually winning by almost three minutes.

There was some comfort for Uran, he completed a Colombian one-two by finishing second with Fabio Aru third.

2016 – Vuelta a España – Nairo Quintana – Movistar

After a podium place at the 2013 Tour de France and the Giro win of 2014, many expected Quintana to become the dominant force.

And while his performances were consistent – he finished second at the Tour in 2015 and third in 2016 – he had to wait two years for his next taste of top step success.

He took the red jersey briefly on stage eight and then again two days later but it was his lethal attack with Alberto Contador on stage 15 that did the damage for second-placed Chris Froome.

The Team Sky rider was just a fraction too slow to react to Contador’s move just 6km into the stage. Quintana ended up with a lead of three minutes 37 seconds to all but secure the title.

Froome did claw some time back with a win in the time trial on stage 19 – a credible two minutes 16 seconds no less – but it wasn’t enough and after losing a couple of seconds the day after he finished one minute 23 seconds behind Quintana as the race rolled into Madrid.

2019 – Giro d’Italia – Richard Carapaz – Movistar

It was another South American affair this year as Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian not only to wear the leader’s jersey of a Grand Tour but also go on and win it.

Much of the talk pre-race was of an epic battle between big-hitters Simon Yates, Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic.

But after Dumoulin crashed out, Yates lost a chunk of time in the second time trial and Roglic was left isolated in the mountains due to the inexperience of his team, the path to Giro glory opened for Carapaz.

Credit where it’s due though, Carapaz seized the pink jersey on stage 14 with a win which put his rivals in the shade and after that he never looked like giving it up.

Vincenzo Nibali tried to chip away at the 26-year-old but never really seemed to find the right time to launch an attack which would have put the pressure on.

Carapaz may have been a surprise winner but his ability shouldn’t have been doubted, he finished fourth in last year’s edition.

With Movistar employing their multiple-leadership approach for the Tour again this year – and the absence of Chris Froome after his horrific crash at the Dauphiné – will Unzue be celebrating another three-week stage race success next month? Only time will tell…

Main image and Giro 2019 image courtesy of BettiniPhoto/Team Movistar. All other images courtesy of Team Movistar.

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