The wild cards for the 2018 Vuelta a España were revealed on Tuesday, with Cofidis, Caja Rural, Euskadi-Murias, and Burgos-BH the four Professional Continental teams to receive invites to the Spanish Grand Tour.
In addition to the 18 WorldTour teams who automatically have a place on the start line, organisers ASO and Unipublic can choose four teams from cycling's 'second division', and for 2018 there's a mix of old stalwarts and fresh faces.
Cofidis, a French team with a number of Spanish riders and a key race sponsor, have been mainstays at the Vuelta ever since their debut season back in 1997, while Spanish outfit Caja Rural have participated in the past six editions.
As expected, there is no room for Aqua Blue Sport, despite a stage victory last year in their debut season. As a result, the Irish team will not be present at any of the Grand Tours in its second season.
Manzana Postobón were the other wild card team from 2017 but have understood since the start of the season that they wouldn't be returning this year. French squad Fortuneo-Samsic have also been turned down, despite Warren Barguil's hopes of riding the Vuelta as well as the Tour de France.
Spanish teams squeeze out their international rivals
Those teams have essentially been squeezed out by the Vuelta's commitment to its 'home' teams. The rise of Euskadi-Murias and Burgos-BH means that there are now three Spanish Pro Continental teams in the peloton and they'll all be on the start line of the Vuelta in August, along with Movistar, Spain's only WorldTour team. After several rocky years that came with the country's economic crisis, Spanish cycling seems to be returning to health.
Euskadi-Murias were set up in 2015 and, much like the old Euskaltel-Euskadi WorldTour team, have an emphasis on riders from the Basque Country, a region of northern Spain. After three seasons in the Continental ranks, construction company Murias Group increased their backing, allowing the team to acquire a Professional Continental licence, and team manager Jon Odriazola performed an overhaul of the squad, with 10 new riders in a roster of 20.
So far this season the team has raced at WorldTour level at the Vuelta al País Vasco – their home race in the Basque Country – and the Volta a Catalunya, but the Vuelta a España is the biggest step in their journey.
"Sometimes dreams come true," said one of their riders, Mikel Bizkarra, on Twitter. "Thanks very much to the Vuelta. We'll give our best to be right up there."
Similarly, Burgos-BH, established in 2006, have moved up to Professional Continental ranks with a bolstered roster and race programme. They signed three WorldTour riders over the winter, of which Matvey Mamykin, who has ridden the past two Vueltas with Katusha, is likely to be team leader.
The 2018 Vuelta a España begins with an individual time trial in Málaga on August 25, and finishes in Madrid on September 16.
Vuelta a España teams
AG2R La Mondiale (FRA)
Astana Pro Team (KAZ)
Bahrain Merida (BRN)
BMC Racing Team (USA)
Lotto Soudal (BEL)
Movistar Team (ESP)
Quick-Step Floors (BEL)
Team Dimension Data (RSA)
Team EF Education First-Drapac (USA)
Team Katusha-Alpecin (SUI)
Team LottoNL-Jumbo (NED)
Team Sky (GBR)
Team Sunweb (GER)
UAE Team Emirates (UAE)
Cofidis-Solutions Crédits (FRA)
Caja Rural-Seguros RGA (ESP)
Euskadi Basque Country-Murias (ESP)