Richard Carapaz has hailed his first season with Team Ineos Grenadiers a roaring success, saying he feels like he's been at the British team for five years and setting his sights on the Tour de France yellow jersey.
The Ecuadorian returned to his home country this week after a delayed 2020 campaign in Europe that saw him make his Tour de France debut and finish runner-up at the Vuelta a España.
He was welcomed back with an event inside the police headquarters in Tulcán, in his home province of Carchi, where he spoke during a press conference.
"For me, it has been a special year," said Carapaz, who joined Ineos from Movistar at the turn of the year, having won the Giro d'Italia in 2019.
"It was a spectacular season, because I adapted rapidly. It feels like I've been in the team for five years. I don't know if it seems that way from the outside but I already feel like a veteran there.
"We've had a lot of success in such a short space of time, so imagine what we can achieve in three or five years. It's a long-term project, because we have the ability, the motivation, the dream, and the desire to do great things."
Carapaz started his 2020 campaign in South America at the Tour Colombia and only ventured to Europe once the season resumed in August. He was meant to defend his Giro title but was switched to the Tour de France in a swap with Geraint Thomas, although the Giro title was eventually won by Ineos' Tao Geoghegan Hart.
An attacking display following the withdrawal of Egan Bernal didn't quite yield the polka-dot jersey at the Tour but did help land a memorable stage win as he crossed the line arm-in-arm with Michal Kwiatkowski on stage 18.
Carapaz then went to the Vuelta and rode consistently to finish second behind Primož Roglič. Despite launching a dangerous attack on La Covatilla on the penultimate day, he was unable to take the red jersey that he'd worn earlier in the race, but had no regrets.
"It's a big achievement. I was beaten by the best rider in the world, and for me it was confirmation that I can keep dreaming big, to keep daring, to keep rubbing shoulders with the best in the world," he said.
Carapaz said that self-belief extended to winning the Tour de France, which would be another first for Ecuador after he claimed the country's first Grand Tour victory at the Giro. He talked of his debut this year not just as filling in for Thomas, but as "leaving tracks" for the future.
"Now we know we're capable of dreaming of the title," he said, according to El Universo. "I'm convinced of that and that's the new target we've set in the near future."
The possibility of Carapaz - who shares a team with 2019 Tour winner Egan Bernal and 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas - challenging for yellow in 2021, however, appears compromised by the Olympic Games. The road race in Tokyo takes place just six days after the final stage of the Tour, leaving little time to shake off the fatigue of the Tour and the jet-lag of the journey to east Asia.
"For me it's a big target, because the Olympics is a big occasion, not just as a rider, but as an Ecuadorian, defending the colours of the flag," Carapaz said.
"I want to be at 100 per cent at the Olympics because we're not just representing a brand or a person; we're representing a whole country. For me it's going to be a big challenge."
Carapaz said he would wait until the routes for all three Grand Tours were revealed before finalising his plans.
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