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Chaves and Nieve lead Mitchelton-Scott into Vuelta a España

Crowd favourite Esteban Chaves has signed on for another two seasons at Mitchelton-Scott
Crowd favourite Esteban Chaves has signed on for another two seasons at Mitchelton-Scott (Image credit: Getty Images)

Esteban Chaves and Mikel Nieve will lead Mitchelton-Scott at the Vuelta a España (October 20 to November 8) in a team that will target both stage wins and potentially the GC. 

The Australian team had voiced concerns over racing the Spanish Grand Tour after five positive COVID-19 cases at the Giro d’Italia and their subsequent withdrawal from the race. However, after management talks on Wednesday, it was decided that the team would head to Spain. 

There is no place on the roster for Adam Yates, however, who was at one point a potential candidate for a place on the eight-man roster but he is still recovering from his Liège-Bastogne-Liège crash. It looks as though he will not race in Mitchelton-Scott colours again, with his move to Ineos Grenadiers set to take place at the end of the year.

"We are throwing the net wide in terms of looking for all possibilities in this year’s Vuelta," said directeur sportif Julian Dean.

"Esteban was good towards the end of the Tour de France and said he came out feeling really good, so it will be exciting to see him race and back at the level he was at a couple of years ago. 

"It will be a great opportunity for him because he is healthy, he hasn’t had any crashes or illnesses and can go into the Vuelta looking to make the most of the opportunity to go for a good result overall. Mikel has returned from his crash at the Tour, his progress back has been good, he might need a little bit of time to ride into it but obviously he has won stages at Grand Tours before, so certainly, as we get further into the race, we will be looking to give him opportunities for a stage win."

The rest of the team is made up of solid climbers and debutants, with Robert Stannard and Callum Scotson both making their Grand Tour debuts. Alexander Edmondson, Dion Smith and Nick Schultz make up the rest of the team.

Smith raced the BinckBank Tour and impressed during several one-day events since racing resumed. He won Coppa Sabatini in September and had top-ten finishes in both Milan-San Remo and Milan-Turin. 

According to Dean, the 27-year-old will be given opportunities but from the start and, without a firm favourite for the GC in the race, Mitchelton-Scott will be looking for chances to shine.

"Dion Smith is another rider that we will look to provide opportunities for. He has had a cracker season and picked up some great results and a win and deserves to have our full support to go for some of the stages more suited to him," said Dean.

"This year you’re going to have to be really competitive early on if you’re coming to the race looking for a podium or high GC result. There’s the Tourmalet on stage six and already a couple of hilltop finishes before that. It is a hard edition and clearly one of the big challenges we are going to face is the weather with the race being all in the North of Spain at this time of year, particularly some of the stages up in Asturias and the stage up to l’Angliru. 

"In general, we will be looking to maximise the opportunities with the potential we’ve got in our team line-up. We’ve got some young blood in the team with Scotson and Stannard who will hopefully be the future of our team, and so it will be good to help them get through their first ever Grand Tour."

Chaves finished third in the Vuelta a España back in 2016 but has struggled to match that level in recent times. A virus hit him hard in 2018 and, although he has shown flashes of his old self, he has yet to mount a GC bid of his own over three weeks in the last few years. He came through the Tour de France a few weeks ago, however, and is still relatively fresh. 

The 30-year-old Colombian finished 23rd in Paris and tried to make it into several breaks. He also offered support to Adam Yates as the British rider fought for a top-ten and the Colombian is relishing the chance to have more space in the Vuelta.

"This year, because of the timing of the race and the circumstances, like everyone, I feel a bit weird, but I feel like I am arriving in good condition especially after the Tour and World Championships," Chaves said.

"Sometimes you finish a Grand Tour and don’t really feel good and you are super tired but this time after the Tour it was not the case. I could continue along the general line that I am doing this year and if everything continues like this, then the Vuelta will be no exception. 

"We will race hard from the beginning; it is really hilly and if you have good legs then you need to be aggressive and take any chances from the start."