On the eve of the queen stage of the Santos Tour Down Under, Movistar's Rubén Fernández, 23, is one of the new faces of the World Tour. The Spanish winner of the 2013 Tour de l'Avenir lays ninth overall with the ambition of approaching the past performances of his team's representatives in the South Australian event.
In the past seven editions of the Santos Tour Down Under, the Movistar team, previously known as Caisse d'Epargne, made the final podium on five occasions, with José Joaquin Rojas (3rd in 2008 and 2009), Luis Leon Sanchez (2nd in 2010), Alejandro Valverde (2nd in 2012) and Javier Moreno (2nd in 2013).
"I'm very happy," Fernández told Cyclingnews in Adelaide after stage 4. “I had planned a first peak of form to do well here and my feelings are great. I like everything here: the weather, the organization, it's super organized! Nothing is missing. The race is nervous, which is what I need to adjust myself to the racing conditions of the World Tour. It's exactly what I heard from my three training mates, Rojas, Luis Leon and Valverde. We have a usual meeting point in Murcia to have breakfast together before riding."
Last year, while riding with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, he began on a high note as he finished sixth overall at Volta ao Algarve behind no less than Michal Kwiatkowski, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Alexandre Geniez and Wilco Kelderman, "only one second down on the fifth place," he remembers with a hint of regret. He'll return to the Portuguese race next month prior to riding Paris-Nice and the Giro d'Italia.
"My ultimate dream is to win a Grand Tour," he said. "I'm not there yet. I hope to get there step by step, with serenity. Firstly I want to become a Grand Tour rider. This kind of long racing suits me I think. I'm a climber. I also do well against the clock and I'm fast enough to sprint in a small group. This year, it'll be about improving my cycling, learning the job, helping my team and trying to win a stage somewhere."
While Fernández just stepped up from Pro Continental level to the WorldTour, Spain has only registered one neo pro at the highest level for 2015, namely his team-mate Marc Soler, and another one joined his former team Caja Rural-Seguros RGA: Miguel Angel Benito. "There is a lot of talk about the continuity in Spanish cycling," Fernández said.
"Samuel Sanchez just retired. Valverde, Contador and Purito are still very strong albeit getting old. It's not going to be difficult to replace that generation, it's just impossible. But we'll try. It's wrong to say that there's no one after them. Other climbers like Carlos Verona and David De La Cruz have a good future I think. Contador is doing a great job with his foundation to develop young riders. There's still quality in Spanish cycling. What's missing are teams for riders to step up."