Spain's David De La Cruz has hit the ground running with his new squad in 2018, netting the first time trial victory of his eight-year career at the first possible opportunity with Team Sky. De la cruz won Sunday's final stage at the Ruta del Sol, taking out the time trial by six seconds over Andrey Amador (Movistar) and seven seconds over LottoNL-Jumbo's Stef Clement.
A former athlete who switched to cycling as part of his recovery from a series of injuries, De La Cruz's career did not really hit top gear until 2016, when, as a rider with Quick-Step Floors, he led the Vuelta a España for a day and won a stage to Naranco. He then finished seventh overall, having made it into the break with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador to Formigal in the Pyrenees that effectively poleaxed Chris Froome's chances of victory that year.
After another season with the Belgian squad and a stage win in Pais Vasco last April, De La Cruz is now racing alongside Froome in Team Sky. Although the 28-year-old Catalan said after Sunday's win that he had had his eye on a possible triumph in the final time trial, "going from knowing that you can win to actually doing it is not always so straightforward."
"I saw that the GC riders were coming through and none of them were managing to beat my time, so I got more and more optimistic," De La Cruz said afterwards.
He was not wholly surprised at his victory, saying, "It's not something exceptional. I've been up there in races like Paris-Nice and Pais Vasco, but either way I'm very happy. The team has been great to me, we've done a lot of work with the time trial bike over the winter, and winning against rivals like these is very important."
As for the course itself, with its six kilometres of steadily rising gravel pathway, De La Cruz recognised that it was "a very difficult time trial course, one where you couldn't really keep a constant pace. So it was more a question of going flat out and seeing where that got you."
"I didn't have any problems. There were a couple of corners that, looking back, you think, 'I could have taken that one better', but that was it."
It was, he said, the first time he had ever raced 'off-road', which presumably made it all the more difficult - and victory all the more satisfying.
De La Cruz’s big target in the season, in any case, will come much later in the season, when he hopes to be on top form for the Vuelta a España.