Vuelta a Espana: Every day an opportunity for Cannondale-Drapac

An inexperienced but motivated line-up for American team at Vuelta

For Cannondale-Drapac's sport director Tom Southam and his riders, the Vuelta a España is not about cycling; it's all about rugby. More or less.

"For them, it's about picking up the ball and running with it," Southam tells Cyclingnews, this being the director's metaphor for how his team has to take the opportunities in the Vuelta the instant they come up, and use them to the best of their abilities.

He points out that the team have no major GC ambitions this year, after Andrew Talansky, fifth last year, suffered a knee problem following the Clásica San Sebastian and Davide Formolo, ninth, came down with bronchitis after the Tour de Pologne.

"We've no major initial GC ambitions, which means every day is an opportunity. That's how we raced the Giro d'Italia, at the start, and Davide Formolo ended up doing well. It was how we started racing the Tour, up to a point, and things built from there [all the way to second overall for Rigoberto Uran - Ed.]. If we could get a stage win, say, in all three major Tours, that would be amazing."

Amongst those options for a stage win is Belgium's Tom Van Asbroeck, already with several top 10 places at the Vuelta back in 2015, whom Southam believes "could have a chance in the Vuelta sprints. After a week's racing here, the sprints start to change pretty fast, and Tom could still be there on some of those hilly stages. Look at how well [Orica-Scott's] Magnus Cort Nielsen did last year" - winning two sprint stages in the third week - "and with all due respect, he's not a top drawer sprinter."

However, a lot of Cannondale-Drapac's ambitions will centre around their Grand Tour debutants - Tom Scully, Brendan Canty, Will Clarke and Toms Skujins.

"What's nice is that we've got guys doing their first Grand Tour, they aren't fatigued with it, they're going in trying to keep that momentum going," said Southam. "Will Clarke's not young, Skujins isn't, and Canty's not super young, so they're physically ok to do it, and given what they've seen the other guys can do in the other Grand Tours, it's all about [having the attitude of] 'here's the ball, pick it up and run with it'."

Southam is quietly hopeful, too, that Michael Woods will be able to handle the pressure of a second Grand Tour. "He's done the Giro d'Italia, he's 30 and super motivated. He's been at altitude so we expect him to be good. He was in that move with Pierre Rolland [which Rolland won] and he was fifth on two stages, so it's a matter of pride for him and us to confirm what he's capable of doing in the Giro d'Italia."

For Southam, hitting the ground running means doing that from the absolute start, with the first team time trial.

"It may or may not be the first big sort-out for GC because it's only half the length of the TTT last year, but we want to do it properly, because if you go to it and don't do much because you haven't got a GC guy, then afterwards you feel terrible. And then from there onwards, we're going to be looking towards Andorra."

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