Following on from his spectacular win at Mende airfield in the 2015 Tour de France, Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) has returned to the Vuelta a Espana after a three year absence on the hunt for another Grand Tour stage victory and with his eye on the UCI Road World Championships this September, too.
The 34-year-old has good memories of his previous Vuelta participation in 2012, when he clinched a stage after powering out of the break in the north-western seaport of Ferrol.
Fast forward three years and this August, Cummings has already been in one major breakaway on the road to Cazorla. The Briton used his time trialling skills to eke out the move with a final solo drive before being sucked in by the peloton. However, as he now says, his chances were minimal.
"That breakaway was doomed from the start, but if you go you might as well try," Cummings tells Cyclingnews. "I was just hoping for a bit of confusion because finishes aren't always as they describe them in the route book so you just hope it's more suitable. But it wasn't, it was the other way round."
Before the Vuelta he says he went through the route book and put "quite a few crosses against stages, the same as in the Tour. You put down those crosses, but it's like you can try 100 times and it doesn't work out, then you try once and it does."
Even so, the MTN-Qhubeka rider's move on stage 6 confirmed what he already felt - his race condition is "good. I've got my eye on the Burgos time trial, too, with a view to hopefully getting selected for the Worlds and Rio."
"It's difficult because I'm probably not at my best now, but I still think I can do a good job, we need a top 10 [in Richmond] to get two spots at the Olympics and I think on a good day I could get that."
Cummings says that he feels motivated because of how he handled doing the Tour-Vuelta double back in 2012. "At the Tour I had a lot of crashes, I was getting better and better and then I had another crash which finished me."
"Then in the Vuelta, half-way through I started going really well."
"I've only done the race once, but I had a great Vuelta, I loved. It's good viewing on TV, too. They get the route right, and from the riders point of view, it's always a bit calmer in August than in the Tour, which makes it more relaxed."
Cummings says he is feeling even better than in 2012, although he weighs a little more than after the Tour. "But" - he jokes - "that's because my head's got so big after winning that Tour stage. I had to get all the doors in my house widened, too," - he continues with a grin - "to get my head through, it's been expensive. I couldn't afford not do those post-Tour criteriums."
Cummings did five criteriums in August before starting a training build-up for the Vuelta of "two days on [training], one off, two days on, one day off. I think it's gone all right."
After the Tour whatever comes up in la Vuelta will be almost a bonus, although as Cummings says "it's about getting the balance" - between motivation and relaxation right. "I think the appetite is still there, but I'm more relaxed, and perhaps it's easier than when you're desperately trying to make it happen."