AG2R on hunt for stage wins at Vuelta a Espana

AG2R La Mondiale's Alexandre Geniez will not be racing for a high GC position at this year's Vuelta a España, which starts in Malaga on Saturday. Instead, the French WorldTour team will set its eight-man squad on the hunt for stage victories.

Geniez finished in an impressive 11th place overall at the Giro d'Italia earlier this season, and was due to ride this year's Tour de France in support of Romain Bardet, but was replaced less than a week before the start by Mathias Frank, as Geniez hadn't recovered sufficiently from his Giro efforts.

Now, AG2R directeur sportif Julien Jurdie is looking for stage wins from the 30-year-old Frenchman, who has twice won stages at the Vuelta before – in 2013 and 2016.

"Unlike when he raced the Giro, Alexandre will not be at the start of the Vuelta to aim for the overall classification," confirmed Jurdie on the team's website. "He has already shown in the past that he knows what to do when he is in a position to take a stage victory. He has prepared well in the mountains, and is capable of doing great things."

If AG2R has to assign a leader for this year's Vuelta, then Tony Gallopin will take up the mantle. The Frenchman was forced to pull out of this year's Tour de France with illness mid-way through the race, and was unable to assist team leader Romain Bardet for the second half of the Tour.

"Tony's participation in the Vuelta was not planned at the start of the season, but since he was forced to abandon the Tour, that changed the plans a little," said Jurdie.

Like Geniez, 30-year-old Gallopin knows what it takes to win a Grand Tour stage, having won stage 11 of the 2014 Tour de France when riding with Lotto Belisol.

"Tony is returning to this event eight years after his first participation. The sensations are there, and we hope that success will not be far behind. We certainly know that he's capable of taking a stage, but he could also look to do well in the general classification," Jurdie said.

Luxembourg's Ben Gastauer will be hoping to kickstart what has so far been a quiet season for him, and could be a dark horse for a stage victory.

"Ben is an experienced rider, and he's already proved his abilities at a Grand Tour," said Jurdie, referring to the 30-year-old's 21st place overall at the 2014 Tour de France.

"He's strong enough to perform as the third rider to keep our squad high in the overall team standings, and he's a valuable worker for the whole group."

Other hopefuls for a stage victory come in the shape of the very capable Mikaël Chérel, who finished 18th overall at the 2015 Tour de France, and veteran Hubert Dupont.

Dupont, 38, brings considerable experience to the squad, having ridden 21 Grand Tours, finishing all of them bar one. He finished 11th at both the 2011 and 2016 editions of the Giro d'Italia, and 17th at the Vuelta back in 2007.

Younger riders like 24-year-old Nans Peters, riding his first Grand Tour, will be thrilled to be able to draw on Dupont's considerable experience, as will Alexis Gougeard and Clément Chevrier, despite their own achievements.

Although only 25 years old, Gougeard is already a Grand Tour stage winner, having taken a solo victory on stage 19 of the 2015 Vuelta, which happened to also be his first three-week race.

Since then, Gougeard has ridden the Tour de France, once, in 2016, and rode last year's Vuelta.

Chevrier, meanwhile, despite his relatively youthful 26 years, is already a veteran of four Grand Tours, and will be riding his third Vuelta.

AG2R La Mondiale for the Vuelta a España: Clément Chevrier, Mikaël Chérel, Hubert Dupont, Tony Gallopin, Ben Gastauer, Alexandre Geniez, Alexis Gougeard, Nans Peters

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