It is a testament to how high Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) has been flying through the early part of his career that despite taking five wins, two of them at the WorldTour level, he defines the first part of his 2022 season as 'not as good as he hoped'.
Plenty of riders would give their right arm for what the 23-year-old achieved in the first six months of 2022: a pair of stage wins in the Tour de Romandie as well as the British Time Trial title, along with two other wins in Norway and Coppi e Bartali.
But as Hayter points out to Cyclingnews, there were some downsides, mainly not getting selected for the spring Classics. Then although Hayter doesn't highlight it, his absence from the Ineos Grenadiers selection at the Tour de France surprised some outside observers given how well he'd done in Romandie and at the Critérium du Dauphiné. All of that has made him keener to get to the Vuelta a España.
Before the Vuelta a España kicks off in Holland in just over two weeks, Hayter is hoping for success in the Tour de Pologne, with Monday's hard uphill finish in Przemysil a possible target on his radar. Given that was where João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) put a hefty down payment on his overall win last year, Przemysil could have a major influence on Pologne's GC again.
"It's definitely a 'don't-know-til-you-try' one," Hayter told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2 of the Tour de Pologne, "but I've done a good training camp with the team. Hopefully, tomorrow [Monday] will be good for me. It's certainly a good finish for me."
"For the overall, I'll hopefully have a good crack at it. They changed the time trial [on Thursday, likely to decide the race - Ed.], it was meant to be 16 kilometres with a flatter section at the start, but now it's 11 kilometres. But I think it still could be good for me, depending on how the other stages play out, I could have a chance of the lead. I'll keep myself up there and see what happens."
In his favour, uphill finishes like Monday's have always been something of an in-house speciality of Hayter's. Memorable victories of that type include the 'wall' stage at Alcala la Real in the 2020 Vuelta a Andalucia, in his first full year as a pro, and winning at Longiano in Coppi e Bartali in 2022.
'A lot of guys going for the Vuelta'
Beyond Pologne, the definitive list of starters for the Vuelta a España for Ineos-Grenadiers will likely be taken after the Vuelta a Burgos and Pologne, according to Hayter, although he knows he's on the long list for now.
"There's a lot of guys going for it in the team, and we don't exactly know who's going, but hopefully I'll have a good chance," Hayter said. "After missing out on the Tour, it'd be quite exciting to do that."
It's testament to his ambition Hayter is disappointed with the first part of his season.
"After last year was really good, with 15 wins, I hoped to step on from that. Obviously with Romandie and the Dauphiné it was really good. But before that I struggled and then I didn't get selected for the Classics.
"But that was also my form. I had COVID, then I went straight into the racing and I didn't quite have the right preparation for the races. And I was doing well, but not at my best, but I've been getting better and better since and that's good."
Making a performance estimate from the very flat opening day's racing in Pologne, his first since the National's in June, was difficult, although he knows the challenges are just around the corner, starting Monday and then continuing through to Thursday's tough TT in the Tatras mountains.
"When you're riding into a headwind all day, it’s super easy to stay in the bunch," Hayter says, "and it's hard to know when you're tired. But we'll see soon enough."
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