Owain Doull has set himself the goal of gatecrashing a Team Sky Grand Tour squad in 2019. The talented Welshman has been with the team for two seasons and is set to extend that stay for the foreseeable future after agreeing terms on a new contract, but he is yet to make his Grand Tour debut – a target now firmly in his sights.
"I'm getting on a bit now. I'm 25 now so I'll be 26 next year, and to not have done a Grand Tour yet is quite a big thing for me and my development. Everyone talks about the difference it makes once you've done one, so obviously that's a big objective for me for next year," he recently told Cyclingnews at the Canadian WorldTour events in Quebec and then Montreal.
"I have to keep pushing towards that, and keep proving to the team that I can make the grade. You have to be consistently good, and if you're not, then you're cut from the long list."
Team Sky have built their roster around Grand Tour successes, and while some young talent has risen through the ranks, the team has a reputation for buying the best support riders in the business. This factor, coupled with the fact that Chris Froome has dominated the stage-racing season since 2013, has meant that gaining selection for a three-week race while on Team Sky is a challenge in itself. In 2018, the team also rode with a bloated 30-rider roster, and with several athletes doubling up with Grand Tour programmes, opportunities for the likes of Doull were limited.
"I was on the long, long list [for the Vuelta - ed] but I think that there must have been about 17 or 18 guys on it. After I got ill at the Tour de Suisse, that was my only real chance of showing the team what I could do over such a hilly race. Once that happened, the Vuelta was almost out of the picture, and it became about making the best of the races that were left.
"With this team, a lot of guys tend to double up on Grand Tours. That's great for the team, and we have riders who you know can do a job, but it also makes it harder to get into a Grand Tour team. At Sky, everyone is so motivated and everyone is fighting to do them. Maybe on some teams you could do one Grand Tour in a year, but here it's hard for a guy like me. But this is still the best place for me to be, and to keep pushing and to keep learning."
Despite missing the cut for a Grand Tour this year, Doull has stepped up in his second season at WorldTour level. He's ridden as a solid domestique for much of the campaign, but also finished 11th at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of the year and third at the British national road championships in early July.
He was active in the second of the two Canadian WorldTour races, and has been selected to ride the world championships as part of Team Sky's team time trial squad.
There have admittedly been setbacks, but Cardiff-born Doull has shown resilience and tenacity.
"It's been up and down again. I was really happy with how the Classics went at the start of the year, and I was hoping to do more in the second half of the year but then I had a couple of mishaps.
"I was sick at the end of the Tour de Suisse, when I was in good shape there. Then Nationals went well, and I went back to altitude, did the RideLondon-Surrey Classic, and then I was hoping to do well at the BinckBank Tour. But I crashed and had several days out with a concussion. I tried to reset for Plouay [Bretagne Classic] but got food poisoning there. So it's been up and down, but there are still some goals left."