The calibre of riders that the Spaniard has had to share space with in the past - the likes of Chris Froome and Tadej Pogacar - has limited his scope to, as he puts it, chase his own dreams. However, even with the fellow arrivals of Miguel Ángel López and Vincenzo Nibali, he believes he can carve out those opportunities at Astana in 2022.
"At Astana, it’s clear there are strong riders for the GC, like Supermán [López] and Nibali, but I have to find a space to keep chasing my dreams," De la Cruz said during a press call from a recent team training camp.
"I have gained a lot of maturity and learned a lot from my previous teams. I think I’m going to find my space here and I’m very excited about it. After a week of pre-season training I felt like I was only just turning professional, so there’s a lot of motivation."
The big dream De la Cruz references is the podium of a Grand Tour.
“I know I have to keep improving a few things, but I think it’s possible,” he said. “With the right support and circumstances, it can happen. It’s what I work for and it’s my main motivation in cycling.”
De la Cruz’s potential was evident from the moment he won a stage and placed seventh overall at the 2016 Vuelta a España. However, that’s as good as it has got, even if he has underlined his credentials again by repeating that result in each of the past two seasons.
He has only missed one edition of the Vuelta in the past nine years, but has only made two appearances apiece at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, pointing out that he never had any sort of leadership role there.
Things look set to follow a familiar pattern in 2022, as he heads to the Giro to support López before being granted more freedom later in the season at the Vuelta.
“The Vuelta is my home race and my big goal,” De la Cruz said.
“I never tried to do GC in the Giro or Tour so I have no experience there, but at the Vuelta I will be in a familiar position. I will go for my own result and I’m really looking forward to it.”
As for whether he can bridge that gap between seventh place and the podium, he remains optimistic that, even with his 33rd birthday approaching in May, he has room for improvement.
As an all-rounder who possesses a solid time trial and robust climbing ability, he has the basic build of a GC contender but admits his weak points are descending, as well as positioning in the peloton. Those are shortcomings that he feels can be addressed in his new surroundings.
“Being in a team like Astana with a GC focus, it will be more easy. When you’re in a team with many different goals, like classification jerseys or stage wins with different riders, it makes more difficult, but what I always saw at Astana is that they go for one goal really concrete. It helps a lot to do GC when you have a team that are looking for this goal," he said.
“This was the first time in my career where, before choosing teams, I was looking at what kind of rider I am and what kind of team I want to sign for. When I looked at Astana, I had the feeling it was quite similar to how I am as a rider. I’m a GC rider and I’m quite an aggressive rider. I see Astana following the same path. Astana’s strongest point has been doing the Grand Tours, and in an aggressive way. Once I spoke with [Alexandre] Vinokourov [team manager -ed] and he explained the project for the future to me, it was quite an easy decision to make. I’m really happy with it, because it was the first time choosing a team by looking at if I can really fit in there, and I think at Astana I will."
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