With the first half of the Tour de France decked out with sprint stages, all eyes are on Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Demare, Marcel Kittel and Nacer Bouhanni. But Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro) isn't in the race just to make up the numbers, the 25-year-old is dreaming of winning a stage.
McLay picked up a number of top 10 performances in last year's Tour – without a full lead-out train - and marked himself out as a sprinter on the rise. This year began with a win in the Trofeo Palma, but back-to-back crashes left him on the sidelines and it has been a stop-start season ever since. While he arrives at this year's Tour with more experience under his belt, he is perhaps not quite at his very best in terms of speed and form.
"The season started really well with the first weekend but since then I'm been running into little problems. I've felt good the last week in training and hopefully I can come good and we'll get something out of it," he told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Tour.
"I've not checked exactly when the sprints fall but I've heard there's possibly nine possibilities, so you've got to make the most of them. I'm a bit more experienced but at the same time maybe the build up hasn't gone as smoothly. But on the weekend the season starts again and we'll see how the legs are. I just have to go 100 per cent, be confident in myself and give it a good crack."
McLay's first early season crash came in a bizarre turn of events at the Trofeo Palma. After winning the sprint, he collided with a photographer just after the line. He was taken to hospital with cuts, bruises and a split lip after a tooth tore through his mouth. The second fall came in Belgium in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, just as he was beginning to find some form.
"I broke my rib, but to be honest I don't know if I broke it in Mallorca or Het Nieuwsblad. I did quite a lot of races with that, without realising it, and I was in a lot of pain. Since then I've had a good training block but was a bit unfortunate to get a bit sick. It's normal stuff that happens but the timing hasn't been ideal. Somewhere underneath there I'm on pretty good form and hopefully I can show that."
While McLay comes into the Tour de France dreaming of winning a stage the reality is that he's also out of contract at the end of the season. Another impressive Grand Tour would certainly elevate his status within the market – while a Tour stage would bring in greater interest from the WorldTour teams. McLay's aim is to win a stage, not a contract but he well aware that the two are intrinsically linked.
"Winning a stage is the dream and if I have good legs on one of the flat stages and have a bit of luck then who knows," he said.
"I don't think we've got a team here specifically for that. Had my build up gone a bit better then maybe we'd have more guys for that but we've got good guys who can do something in the finish and as we saw last year no team really got a grasp on the last few kilometres. It's pretty open.
"For anyone that hasn't re-signed or extended the next three weeks can make a big difference. I think you take it as it comes, and see what happens."
Whether McLay even wants to move into the WorldTour ranks is another matter entirely.
"That all depends on what happens in the next three weeks," he said. "There are plusses and minuses in being in bigger or smaller teams. You get more chances in smaller teams and perhaps more support in the bigger teams. My options are open so far and I'm as clueless as everyone else."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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