With Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas embarking on a homecoming lap around Britain next month, the responsibility for success within Team Sky at the Vuelta a España passes to a new crop of riders, and while a thoroughbred GC option is missing from the roster, the team still boasts a stable of quality for almost all terrains.
In David de la Cruz and Sergio Henao the team have two previous top-10 finishers in Grand Tours, while Michal Kwiatkowski has the natural ability to either target stage wins or a first top-10 GC position of his career. The Polish rider has been racing almost non-stop, with 67 race days already in the tank this year, and a Tour de France and Tour de Pologne in his legs. The question remains as to whether he will use the Vuelta as a testing ground for his GC future or as preparation for the World Championships later in the year.
What’s certain is that Team Sky will not accept riders merely seeing out the season and touring around Spain for three weeks. Sergio Henao has the qualities to contest, either for stage wins or a GC challenge, while Dylan van Baarle will be looking to take his first win in team colours after a slightly slow start to life at Team Sky.
The team also arrive in Spain with two exciting Grand Tour debutants in Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov. The Russian may just be 21 years of age but he has moved almost seamlessly into the pro ranks and delivered solid performances throughout the season. Geoghegan Hart – now in his second year with the team – has come on in leaps and bounds with impressive rides at the Tour of California and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Salvatore Puccio and Jonathan Castroviejo make up the rest of the team.
There may not be a pure sprinter within the ranks, nor any of the Grand Tour powerhouses, but Team Sky head to the Vuelta with a powerful selection of riders. What’s more, without the necessity to see a train of riders on the front dictating the pace for hours, we might actually get to see their riders let off the leash and allowed to race.
Team Sky's Vuelta a España team
Name: Michal Kwiatkowski
Position: Team leader
Experience: The 2018 Vuelta marks Kwiatkowski’s first attempt at riding two Grand Tours in a row, and two Grand Tour attempts in a single season, for that matter. His past Vuelta experience amounts to a DNF in 2016 but his form in recent weeks has been impressive. Along with helping Geraint Thomas to a Tour de France win, the former road world champion carried form into a winning ride at the Tour de Pologne. The questions are whether the Polish rider has anything left in the tank, and whether those reserves will be used to mount a tentative GC challenge or if he will scale back and use the Vuelta as a training exercise ahead of the Worlds. He remains the most talented rider on the team.
Name: David de la Cruz
Experience: Seventh overall in 2016, De la Cruz is one of the Team Sky riders who has an outside chance of challenging for the podium at the Vuelta. His debut season in Team Sky kit has yielded two individual wins and third overall at the recent Vuelta a Burgos, but if the former Quick-Stepper can remain upright, and healthy, he could be a genuine feature of the final week of racing.
Name: Tao Geoghegan Hart
Experience: London-born Geoghegan Hart has enjoyed a strong second season at Team Sky with significant roles at the Tour of California and the Critérium du Dauphiné. The performances of Egan Bernal this year have drawn the majority of plaudits but Geoghegan Hart has applied himself and taken a number of steps this season. As he told Cyclingnews earlier this week, the Vuelta isn't just about experience, and the young rider is a decent outside bet for a stage win in the mountains.
Name: Jonathan Castroviejo
Position: Time triallist/domestique
Experience: The second rider on this list after Kwiatkowski to ride the Tour de France this year, Castroviejo has settled into life at Team Sky after a move from Movistar in the winter. His role at the Vuelta will depend on whether his team can genuinely challenge on GC but there are few domestiques in the peloton as consistent as the Spanish national time trial champion.
Name: Sergio Henao
Position: Climber and possible GC rider
Experience: There is a nagging belief that Henao has never quite fulfilled his true potential, with just one top-10 finish in Grand Tours. That result came at the 2012 Giro d'Italia, and, despite several top-20s, the Colombian has either ridden in the service of others or failed to live up to expectations. Now 30, Henao is free from the shackles of riding for Chris Froome and could in theory be Team Sky's GC leader. Whether that transpires remains to be seen, but the Vuelta is significant race for Henao. With younger riders coming through and Froome and Thomas elsewhere, the Colombian has a rare opportunity to demonstrate his qualities.
Name: Pavel Sivakov
Experience: There hasn't been a Sivakov on the startlist at a Grand Tour since Pavel's father Alexei lined up for BigMat-Auber 93 at the 2002 Vuelta a España. Sivakov junior makes the cut for the Vuelta after a steady year of progression, and it's telling that he has made the cut ahead of riders like Diego Rosa, Ian Stannard and Owain Doull – all of whom haven't raced a Grand Tour this season. Sivakov has everything in his locker and rode consistently well at Pologne, Suisse and Romandie this year. He will race the Vuelta for experience but there's no doubt that Team Sky have him lined up as a future Tour rider.
Name: Dylan van Baarle
Position: Domestique/breakaway opportunist
Experience: Perhaps Van Baarle hasn't shone in Team Sky colours in the way many expected after his move from Slipstream Sports, but the 26-year-old has been a solid team player in stage races throughout the campaign. He was on the Tour long-list, but, after missing out in July, he heads to the Vuelta for his first attempt at the Spanish race. There are a number of stages that suit the Dutch rider's characteristics, and infiltrating breaks will be his best chance of success.
Name: Salvatore Puccio
Experience: With four Vuelta starts to his name, Puccio will bring some much-needed experience to the squad. The Italian domestique may not have won a race in the professional ranks but his skills lie in working for others. A proven asset over three weeks and devoted team player, he will be called upon to keep the younger riders in check.
Cyclingnews has compiled a bumper list of 12 riders to watch for the forthcoming Vuelta a España. Watch the video above to see who made it into our list and click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel.