If Rubén Fernández (Movistar) is already looking ahead to the next season, it's because he can't wait to consign 2017 to the past. After a solid first two seasons at WorldTour level, the former Tour de l'Avenir winner was beset by injury this year, halting the progress of one of the brightest talents in Spanish cycling.
"I won't say that it's been a year to forget, but there are good years and bad, and this one went awry from the crash I had before the start of the season," said Fernández in a Q&A with Spanish newspapers, referring to the broken jaw he suffered in training this time last year.
Fernández started his season in February but was unable to replicate the top 10 overall finishes he'd recorded in 2016 at the likes of the Tour Down Under, Tour de Pologne, Vuelta a Burgos, and Tour of Britain. In the end, a foot injury that was apparently linked to problems in his mouth brought a premature end to his only Grand Tour – the Vuelta a España – and with it his season.
"In the Vuelta my foot injury complicated things. It was the final straw," said Fernández.
"In the end it all came from the mouth, from the tension, and it came out in the foot. I had many cavities that wouldn't be seen on normal check-ups. I had to go to a specialist centre in Vitoria and through them I went home and went about resolving it with my dentist. In the end, since everything is linked, having cavities in the mouth can affect you with injuries in the knee, with tendinitis, or whatever. As of today, it's resolved. In fact, they removed two wisdom teeth, which was the end of it. At the moment it's no longer hurting, so that's a good sign."
Fernández, now 26, is hoping that, with a solid winter under his belt, he can kick on from where he left off at the end of 2016, when his week-long results, combined with his work at the Vuelta – where he wore the leader's jersey for a day and supported Nairo Quintana to overall victory – earned him a new three-year deal with Movistar, who labelled him 'one of the biggest sources of excitement for the team.'
"In the end you can't do anything but recover and move on. That's the only way," he said. "The only way was to think that now another year is coming and you have to sort everything out. That's what we've done, and now we have to start the year calmly. You always try to start off on a good footing, hoping everything goes well and without problems, and then what will be will be," he said.
"Above all, I'm doing things calmly. Rushing isn't good, and you have to prioritise doing things well."
Fernández would like to return to the early-season programme of his first two years at Movistar, which both brought top 10 finishes at the Tour Down Under. If all goes well, he'll ride a Grand Tour, expressing a preference for the Vuelta given the heat and the way he usually comes into form at that time of the year.
In any Grand Tour, he would be deployed as a pure domestique for one of the team's star leaders, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa, but he's also aware that he has yet to win a race as a professional. The overwhelming priority, however, is simply to enjoy a campaign free from the complications and problems of the past 12 months.
"If everything goes smoothly I'll be happy. Because this year has been hard with injuries, relapses, and you never stop having to pick your head up. It seemed that every time I was coming through one thing, something else came along.
"In principle, I would like to have a stage win or an overall win in a week-long race. Winning a Grand Tour stage? That would be the pinnacle, but it's not easy to win anywhere. Whatever comes my way, it will be good. We all have opportunities, and when they come, you have to know how to take full advantage of them."
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