The team has options and quality in abundance when it comes to one-day racing but is relatively thin on the ground when it comes to the three-week outings. Their only bona fide Grand Tour rider, Rigoberto Urán, has already completed the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this year, and a third three-week race has been deemed excessive.
Having been present in each of the past four editions of the Vuelta, where he laid foundations for three individual time trial titles at the World Championships, Tony Martin will also skip the race. The 39-kilometre chrono on stage 17 would ordinarily entice the German but he has not raced since breaking his collarbone at the Tour de France and feels that optimum Worlds preparation can be done elsewhere. The fact that this year’s event is being held in the USA just 10 days after the Vuelta's finish would seem to have something to do with it.
That seems to be the case for Michal Kwiatkowski, whose priority will be to keep the rainbow jersey of world road race champion on his shoulders for another season, while sprinter Mark Cavendish is currently preoccupied by his return to track racing. Julian Alaphilippe, who burst onto the scene this spring with second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche-Wallonne, was tipped for a debut Grand Tour at the Vuelta but has chosen instead to target one-day races, namely the Grand Prix de Plouay, and Grands Prix Cyclistes de Québec and de Montréal.
That leaves Etixx with a mixed bunch of riders whose focus will be getting into breakaways and grabbing opportunities if and when they arise. Gianluca Brambilla, Pieter Serry, Carlos Verona, and David De La Cruz will show interest on the climbing stages, while Niki Terpstra, Maxime Bouet, Martin Velits, Iljo Keisse and Nikolas Maes all possess the power for the flatter or undulating days.
"We have a nice team, a mix of experienced riders and young guys. Our goal is to try and be a protagonist by entering into the breakaways, and doing the best we can in any situation as the race evolves," said directeur sportif Rik Van Slycke in a press release.
"In a race like La Vuelta any day can be something unexpected, and we will see what opportunities we can pounce on day-by-day. We will see what we can do in the final grand tour of the year."
De La Cruz comes into the race still recovering a broken collarbone sustained at the Tour de Pologne just two weeks ago. He was always keen to be on the start line in Puerto Banús on Saturday and just hopes the injury won’t have hampered his preparation too much.
"I'm super happy to be at the start. Together with the team, we did everything to make sure I was recovered and ready for this race. I really wanted to be at La Vuelta. I would like to thank Etixx-QuickStep, and the medical staff, for the trust they had in me, and for helping me to make sure the condition is there to race without any risks," he said.
"Of course I don't know how I will be, as I lost a few days of training. But I think I should be OK with the preparation I had before my crash. But at an exigent race like La Vuelta, you never know. The most important thing at the moment is to be at the start and then see what the race can bring, and what I can do in supporting the team."
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel, please click here.