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Dani Moreno: New captains, same lieutenant

SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — The one-two punch of Joaquím Rodríguez and Daniel Moreno was for years one of cycling’s most formidable combos, but the dynamic Spanish duo is united no more. Moreno’s Katusha contract expired as the year ended, and he left his team of five years to join Movistar for 2016.

After two years of what Moreno characterizes as “internal problems” with Katusha management — stressing that it was not his teammates — signing with Movistar seems to have been an easy decision. It is a return of sorts for the Spaniard, who rode with Movistar’s predecessor Caisse d’Epargne in 2008 and 2009.

Among the best lieutenants in the peloton, the 34-year-old will now put his talents to work for Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, and he expects the results to be as good as they were when he rode alongside Rodríguez — if not better.

“I think I can still achieve the same as before, or more even. Because I’m definitely more at home here,” Moreno told VeloNews in San Luis, where he is taking on his first race with his “new” team. “When one is more at home, one can accomplish better things,” he said. “The last few years, in Katusha, were not very good for me, psychologically.

“I joined Movistar with the goal of continuing to enjoy the bike and with hopes of taking on a new challenge,” Moreno continued. “Going to the Tour, trying to help Nairo, is an idea I like. And of course, getting to the classics with Alejandro — it’s something really exciting for me, making a super-team for the classics.”

It hasn’t taken Movistar’s new lieutenant very long to fit in to his new surroundings.

“I think we’ve all gotten accustomed to each other quickly,” he said. “It’s easier for me in a Spanish team that I’ve already ridden for. There are many people I already know.”

That bodes well for Movistar, but don’t expect Moreno to sideline himself when opportunities arise. The winner of La Flèche Wallonne in 2013 and three stages at the Vuelta, Moreno also earned several grand tour top-10s. In his final race of the 2015 season, Il Lombardia, Moreno was deemed team leader at the last minute when illness forced Rodríguez to withdraw from the race — and Moreno ended up on the podium, second to Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali.

“There are always races, there are always moments that I can take advantage of, and whenever I have opportunities, I try to take advantage of them,” Moreno said.

“In Katusha, I didn’t have many opportunities, but I took advantage of them when I could. Back in 2008 [at Caisse d’Epargne], it was the same; when I had my chance, I was able to take advantage of it. So I hope it goes the same this year.”

Of course, Moreno is the consummate team player, and that means taking things as they come rather than making specific plans this early in the season. “We’ll see what opportunities I’ll have — I don’t know when they’ll arrive, but when they do, I intend to be at 100 percent. As always.”