Nick Schultz is hoping the 2017 Vuelta a Espana can be the groundwork for success ahead of his second season with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA. The Australian made his Grand Tour debut last year with the Spanish squad and believes he will be a better rider for having done so in his debut neo-pro season.
While on a three-week break during the off-season that included a day at the Ashes in Brisbane and a beach camping trip, the 23-year-old made sure to do as many 'normal' things as possible before turning his attention to 2018. Spending time with old friends who have "absolutely no idea about cycling" also helped Schultz unwind before he switched back into training mode.
Notorious for his off-season 'blowouts' when it comes to eating, Schultz's dining habits have slowly refined in recent years, and he explains he has sought out quality over quantity
"I appreciate food more so for the experience than just stuffing my face. I like to go to nice restaurants and enjoy a nice food experience rather than just go and eat as much as I can over the off-season," Schultz told Cyclingnews.
With his off-season consigned to history and plate portions trimmed, Schultz then turned his attention to building his base for the new year and improving on his debut neo-pro season.
"I think mentally I definitely feel more confident going into the 2018 season just having completed my first pro season and also doing a Grand Tour in that season," he said. "This year, when I go into a week-long stage race I won't be thinking a week is really long and this is the limit of everything I have ever done before."
Having made it to Madrid to finish his first Grand Tour, Schultz is hoping to reap the benefits in shorter one-week races and step into a leadership role with the team, having shown his potential with seventh overall at the Tour of Norway in 2017.
"It sets a new benchmark in terms of doing a three-week tour so when I go into a week, sure it is hard and it is long, but in the back of my mind I'll know I have completed three weeks at the highest level before," he said. "I think that will certainly play a role in hopefully boosting my confidence. That is something I struggle with everything now and then, backing myself and reminding myself that I do have a place in the peloton.
"In terms of ambitions, I would like to become a rider in the team that is looked upon to go for the odd result and forming a part of the upper echelon of the team. If there is a race that suits my capabilities, then the team can turn to me and say, 'OK, Nick, you are in good form and we are going to have some guys work for you today.' That is really hard to pinpoint a particular race with that. I want to take it as it comes."
Races that Schultz names as potential targets for 2018 include the Ruta del Sol, Volta a Catalunya, Tour of Norway, Route du Sud, and the Vuelta a Burgos with an eye on a return to the Vuelta. However, the Vuelta is dependent on his season through August rather than a major ambition for 2018.
"If I am up to it and performing then I think I will feel comfortable to go if the team selects me. Having done it, it is so hard and if I am not up to it, I don't want to go just for the sake of doing it," he said. "I think I have to be at my very best to be on the start list. It is hard to set aside a goal for August, September at this time of the year."
Skipping the Australian summer in January to attend the team presentation in Pamplona and a training camp in Benidorm, Schultz's season debut is to come at the Challenge Mallorca or Etoile de Bessèges. From either southern Spain or southern France, Schultz is then keen to hit the ground running and ensure that 2017 was a blocking block and not a career highlight.
"I am sort of training harder than I was last year because I do want to get stuck into it straight away but with a view to continually build my form up to races like Tour of Norway in late May, and that is a really busy time of the year and a good time to be hitting peak form."