With less than a week to go until the Vuelta a Espana starts in Torrevieja, UAE Team Emirates has named its eight man squad for the last Grand Tour of the season.
Fabio Aru and Fernando Gaviria spearhead the Emirati formation, who will have support from a well-rounded team, including rising star Tadej Pogacar who will earn his first ever Grand Tour cap.
The squad is topped off with the Italian trio of Valerio Conti, Oliviero Troia and Marco Marcato, as well as the Colombian duo of Sergio Henao and Juan Sebastian Molano.
The 21 stages of this year’s Vuelta will kick off with a 13.4km Team Time Trial in Torrevieja on Saturday and run until the final sprint stage in Madrid on September 15.
Along the way there are six flat stages, a 36.2km Individual Time Trial, three lumpy stages, and nine mountain stages – eight of which feature summit finishes.
Aru, who won the Vuelta in 2015, is relishing the prospect of returning to Spain after bad luck, injury and surgery has curtailed his last twelve months.
The Italian said: “As always, the Vuelta a Espana represents an important and stimulating challenge, both in terms of the route and the quality of the start list.
“I’m excited and ready to race, especially since the operation I had four months ago. The goal is to compete at high level but also to be consistent.”
Gaviria said: “I am happy to make my debut in an important race like the Vuelta, the only Grand Tour I have never participated in. There aren’t many stages for the sprinters, and we’ll have to take our chances when we can – this is what makes the Vuelta even more challenging and stimulating.”
Egan Bernal is still struggling to believe he won the Tour de France.
The 22-year-old became the youngest winner of cycling’s biggest race in 110 years when he took victory ahead of Ineos team-mate and defending champion Geraint Thomas last month.
“To be honest, I don’t really believe it yet,” Bernal said on the Team Ineos website. “I feel the same as I did before the Tour. I think I just need a couple of days at home, staying really calm, and then I’ll start to believe that I have won the Tour. I can’t process it.
“I have won the biggest race, but I’ll still be happy to win a small race. Right now I think that I am the same guy that started the Tour in Belgium one month ago.”
Bernal began the year targeting the Giro d’Italia and showed his excellent form with victory in Paris-Nice in March.
He suffered a broken collarbone in a training crash which ended his Giro hopes, but immediately turned his attention to the Tour and was elevated to co-leader alongside Thomas after June’s Tour de Suisse – in which Thomas crashed out and Bernal went on to take overall victory.
Bernal had only raced the Tour once before – finishing 15th last year while helping Thomas to victory – but despite his youth he never seemed fazed by the spotlight which came with co-leadership of a team which has now won seven of the last eight editions.
“Maybe the key to winning the Tour is just trying to enjoy it,” Bernal said. “During the Tour, the media talk about pressure, pressure, pressure, but if I’d started to think about that, maybe I wouldn’t have ridden the same.
“But throughout the Tour I knew I had prepared in the best way I could. What could I do then? Just enjoy it and ride as fast as I could.
“I knew I would do my best so I would have been happy with any result – either winning the Tour or helping G win. In the end I just knew I needed to go full gas, enjoy the race, and stay calm.”
In a Tour which will be remembered for Julian Alaphilippe’s improbable 14-day spell in the yellow jersey, Bernal did not take the lead until a weather-shortened stage 19 when his attack on the Col de l’Iseran proved decisive.
With the following day’s stage also truncated due to landslides, Bernal had little time to get comfortable in yellow and was still trying to get his head around it as he stood on the podium in Paris.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “I almost cried on the podium. When I was really young, I saw (Alberto) Contador and the big battles with (Andy) Schleck, then guys like (Sir Bradley) Wiggins and (Chris) Froomey.
“I saw them on the TV. And wow, I couldn’t imagine that one day I would be there. On the podium I was thinking of them. It was just amazing because my Dad and my girlfriend were there. It was a special moment.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
It was another long weekend full of racing for UAE Team Emirates, with riders spread across Europe in a mix of one-day classics and stage races.
In Poland, Fernando Gaviria began to show what he is capable of as he continues to recover from his knee injury. The Colombian has already taken two second-place finishes in two consecutive flat stages at the Tour de Pologne – narrowly missing out on the wins to Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) on Stages 1 and 2 respectively.
In the UK, Alexander Kristoff went into the Ride London-Surrey Classic looking to match his 2017 performance, which saw him take top spot on the podium. However, bad luck beset the Norwegian with a crash in the final phase of the race decimating the peloton and causing havoc with the sprinters’ lead out trains.
Kristoff said: “I got involved in the crash with 2km to go. I lost about 20 positions and used a lot of energy to get back to the front. On the final straight we went early but then the guy in front of (Roberto) Ferrari stopped and we lost our speed, just as Quickstep took us on the right hand side.
“They had a really strong lead-out and were coming too fast, so I didn’t have time to react. I managed to get on the wheel after a while but it was too late for me.”
The race was eventually won in a reduced bunch sprint finish by Elia Viviani (Deceuninck Quick-Step).