Movistar and Liquigas are teams that seem to have been around forever, even though Liquigas has existed only in the new Millennium. Movistar, on the other hand, stretch back to the 1970s, and have an illustrious history that no team can match.
Cycling would lose a wealth of history is Movistar were to fold, such is the stable of talent this unmistakably Spanish team has wielded. The team started in 1976 as a group of amateurs, the ‘ Irurzungo’ after the town they came from, Irurtzun, a small town in the North East of Spain just North of Pamplona and south of San Sebastian. The team has won the Tour seven times in its existence, with three different riders, as well as the Giro twice and the Vuelta four times.
The 80’s started strongly for the team, albeit with a light pink jersey, with stalwart José Luis Laguía taking a run of Vuelta mountains jersey as well as Spanish stage races to supplement a couple of Spanish Road championships. The signing of a young Pedro Delgado however enabled the team to win the Tour de France for the first time in 1988, although Delgado tested positive for probenecid, a steroid masking agent, although the punishment for this at the time was a mere 10 minute penalty – something Delgado didn’t actually receive, which would have destroyed Delgado’s lead and placed him 3rd overall. The fact the drug was banned on the IOC list but not the UCI ultimately enabled the blue Reynolds kit to establish its first Tour victory. Justice was served the next year however, when Delgado mysteriously missed the start of his prologue time trial, and subsequently lost three minutes (2.54), placing last on the stage. He fought his way back to 3rd by the end of the race, still 3.34 down, but was overshadowed by the every changing battle between Lemond and Fignon, and indeed his own team mate Miguel Indurain, who, having won Paris-Nice, won his first Tour stage.
With a new decade can a new sponsor, Banesto, who became title sponsor following a year as co-sponsor.Indurain was obviously the key man, winning five Tours from 1991-5, with the standout years being 1992-3, where he did the Giro-Tour double and subsequently defended it, no doubt leading to many headlines of being able to ‘bank’ on his success thanks to their financially astutue sponsor. By the end of the 90’s however, the team had reverted back to the Vuelta mountains classification, and with Indurain gone, a new leader needed to be found.
Hope emerged fairly quickly though – the team realed off two white jersies in the Tour through Fracisco Mancebo and Denis Menchov, before Illes-Ballears, the goverment of the Ballearic Islands, stepped in to take over from outgoing Banesto in 2004. Bank Caisse d’Eperange came in in 2005 as well, and Alejandro Valverde appeared to be the new saviour of Spanish cycling, having transformed from the sprinter who had gotten himself the nickname ‘the Green Bullet’ into a climber capable of sticking with and beating Lance Armstrong to the summit of Courchevel. Combined with Mancebo’s year earlier Vuelta triumph, things looked to be going up for the team, especially when Floyd Landis gifted Oscar Pereiro, a perenial Top 10 finisher, a 30 minute break to take the yellow jersey in 2006. Whilst he failed to hold it in the race, Pereiro ended up as Caisse’s 3rd Tour winner thanks to Landis’ positive test, although theoretically Pereiro should too have been stripped under the UCIs salbutamol law, which had already been used to strip Alessandro Pettachi of many Giro stages. Still, the team has a tour win in each of its completed decades, so it won’t worry too much. Valverde continued to be the life blood of the team, quite literally, as he was banned for a blood bag from the Operation Puerto case matching his DNA after Italian police tested the bag after the Tour made a jump into the country. Outlawed from the 2009 Tour due to another Italian excursion, he instead won the Vuelta, before being belatedly banned.
With Valverde out, Caisse where out as well, and the team stuggled along with Luis Leon Sanchez, who jumped ship when sponsor troubles meant it looked like the team may indeed fold. It didn’t, finding Movistar, the telecommunications company, to keep them going, although the ulta cool blakc jersies were gone. For those nit picking, not all of Caisse’s jersies are seen above: the 2006 one had the sponsors reveresed whenever the team wasnt racing in Spain, and the 2007 jersey had white cuffs and arrows protruding from the collar, but these are minor enough to be near unnoticable. The team recruited heavily around Valverde’s return, bringing in Vuelta champion JJ Cobo when their continaul pursuit of Alberto Contador fell through. The two will probably struggle around to 9th in the Tour…
Liquigas are one of my favourite teams at the moment, spurred by the success of Peter Sagan and the soon to depart Vincenzo Nibali, as well as a determination not to align themselves with the overly scientific approach of the Skys and Garmins of the peloton. They have also been the home to many of the great names of the Pelton: Mario Cipollini, who took the teams first win in Qatar, the shifty ‘Killer’ Danilo Di Luca, the reborn Ivan Basso as well as honorary Brit Magnus Backstedt. Add Fillipo Pozzato, Franco Pelliozotti and Daniele Bennati to the alumni and you realise just what a powerhouse the team has been since its 1999 inception. The pictures start however from 2001, then 2005, when the team gained entry to the top tier, given the seemingly impossibility of finding pre 2005 images of them.
Liquigas began in 1999, and if anyone can find pictures of them in their second division days, I’d appreciate the heads up! In 2001 they had a rather awful black mess of a kit, before in 2005 the team kicked off properly, with Mario Cipollini rocking a Bianchi as team racked up the victories before Bianchi left them in 2006. With Di Luca avoiding the lime green winning the inaugral ProTour in 2005, he quickly moved to get rid of it in 2007 by winning the Giro team time trial with the team before winning the event overall – quite the transformation from his Ardenne Classic days, although he had rattled off Liege again in 2007. He was on the verge of pulling off another year without the Lime Green kit as ProTour leader until he was disqualified from the final race due to the Oil for Drugs story, with Cadel Evans taking the white kit prize instead. Clearly Di Luca just hated Lime Green, and showed as much by upping stick to the dull grey of LPR-Brakes.
Meanwhile, Liquigas won a few Tour stages, taking the Giro points classification with Bennati, as well as building a reputation as a deceptively strong TTT unit. It was with Ivan Basso’s return at the end of 2008 from his doping ban that the team got going again however. Whilst his 2009 was a washout, struggling to a 4th place at the Giro whilst Pelliozotti took KOM at the Tour, he returned with Nibali the year after to wreck havoc on the Giro, winning an epic race with his team mate in third. He capitulated at the Tour however, though Nibali got the team 2 out of three grand tours by taking the Vuelta. By 2011, the jersey finally lost the beloved/hated Lime and went white, with Peter Sagan destroying the peloton in most races whilst Nibali and Basso struggled to quite finish off the opposition. Assuming they keep their sponsorship going, and Sagan healthy, the team will be doing well for many years…