Rigoberto Uran will lead EF Education First-Drapac at the Vuelta a España that starts in Malaga on Saturday. A crash at the Tour de France forced the Colombian to later abandon the race but he can now look to redeem his Grand Tour hopes this season at the Spanish Grand Tour.
"Rigo is our leader and will contest the general classification," said the team's director Juan Manuel Garate. "We have the space to show how good he is and how good we are with this team at the Vuelta."
After finishing second overall at the Tour de France last year, Uran had focussed his attentions on July's French Grand Tour with a goal of finishing one place better and winning the overall title. An unfortunate crash during the cobbled stage 9 caused injuries to his left leg and arm. He continued racing, but lost significant time in the Alps stage 11 to La Rosiere and then made the difficult decision to not start stage 12 to Alpe d'Huez.
After a recovery period, Uran next lined up at the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian where he finished sixth, among a chase group that finished 16 seconds behind breakaway riders; winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and runner-up Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).
The result shows good form heading into the three week race in Spain where Uran will line up with Mike Woods, Dani Moreno, Pierre Rolland, Simon Clarke, Mitch Docker, Tom Van Asbroeck and Sebastian Langeveld. Uran has competed in the Vuelta a España four times, with his last appearance in the 2014 edition.
"This team is really strong for this Vuelta," Uran said. "I have strong guys for the climbing days, guys for the flat stages and guys for the wind. I'm really happy with the team for this Vuelta, and I believe we can do something special."
The Vuelta a España will include nine summit finishes - six of those coming over eight stages during the Vuelta's second half - and two individual time trials. There are six flat stages and four mid-mountain days.
"It's a hard Vuelta without many opportunities for the sprinters. Lots of technical, narrow roads," Garate said. "Flat stages, on paper, all of them have an area of wind. It's important to ride with focus. We can't ride in the back and relax. There's no time for that. Flat stages, on paper, all of them have an area of wind. We need to focus every day from day one."
Woods had a break-out performance in his debut at the Vuelta last year finishing seventh overall. He competed in the Giro d'Italia in May where he finished second on stage 4 into Caltagirone. That performance, coupled with his runner-up place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, make him a capable rider for the punchy stages, while also being a strong support rider for Uran in the mountains.
"With the length of a Grand Tour, anything is possible," said Woods, who crashed at the recent Tour of Utah but finished ninth overall.
"If I can come around, my goals will be to target a stage win in week three and do whatever I can to help Rigo in his general classification pursuits.
"We're bringing a team with a lot of talent to this year's race, and with Rigo motivated for the GC, I expect to see lots of pink at the front of the race."
Uran will also rely on the likes of Rolland and Moreno in the mountains. Moreno has competed in the Vuelta 11 times and has finished inside the top-10 overall on five occasions with stage wins in 2011 and 2013 editions.
"Dani Moreno has the most experience in the Vuelta on our roster," Garate said. "I expect him, as he's done in the past, to be close to his leader. He's a confidence man. He speaks the same language as Rigo. That's important."
Rolland, who has won two stages at the Tour de France and one at the Giro d'Italia, said his main objective is to add a stage win at the Vuelta to his list of accolades. He has competed in the Vuelta three times, where he did not finish the 2010 edition, and was 50th overall in both 2015 and 2016 editions.
"My main personal objective is to win a stage, so that I can add my name to the list of riders that have won a stage at each of the three Grand Tours," said Rolland, who is set to leave the team at the end of this season having signed a two-year contract with Vital Concept Cycling Club.
"I will race offensively when the route is good for my strengths. I leave the team at the end of this season, and I would really like to finish my story with EF in the most beautiful way."
EF Education First-Drapac for the Vuelta a España: Rigoberto Uran, Simon Clarke, Mitch Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Daniel Moreno, Pierre Rolland, Tom Van Asbroeck and Michael Woods.
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