The fourth Arctic Race of Norway showcased more in-depth in Norwegian cycling than the sprinters/classics riders who took over from pioneer Thor Hushovd, namely Edvald Boasson Hagen, Alexander Kristoff and Sondre Holst Enger, as climbers Odd Christian Eiking, 21, from FDJ, and the 2014 U23 world champion Sven Erik Bystrøm, 24, from Katusha, are ready to tackle their first Grand Tour with the Vuelta a España starting this coming Saturday in Galicia.
"I feel the form is here now," Eiking told Cyclingnews after finishing fifth overall in the Arctic Race of Norway as well as riding for Arnaud Démare in the sprint stages while Bystrøm was once again exemplary at the service of Kristoff. "After a lot of work at the front of the peloton, the shape should be good for the Vuelta", Bystrøm said. "At the training camp in December, it was already decided that I'd go for Vuelta, which is a great Grand Tour to start with. I had some knee injuries at the beginning of the season, and also a bad crash at Tour de Yorkshire so we had to reschedule a few races, but since the pre-Olympics training camp with the national team, my progression is very good."
Eiking also took part in that camp in Livigno, Italy, after which he asked FDJ for a start in the Spanish Grand Tour. "I really wanted to do the Vuelta," the rider from Bergen explained. "To ride a Grand Tour is a little dream and a little goal and I'm not sure if the Giro is as good for a neo pro. Maybe I could have waited for one more year but the staff at FDJ was pleased to hear that I felt ready to do it now.
"I think the Vuelta suits me with a lot of short climbs to finish with," Eiking added. He was echoed by Bystrøm who said: "Short hills should suit me well. I'd like to go for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the future."
Bystrøm last rode to victory in Ponferrada, Spain, to avoid a bunch sprint at the U23 world championship two years ago. Eiking finished fourth at the Tour of Norway in May. "I got the chance to ride with Thibaut Pinot when he won the Critérium International in March," he remembered. "I had no problem to work for him all day. He's an inspiration for me."
Bystrøm and Eiking might both have a free role at the Vuelta as neither Katusha nor FDJ will line up with a top sprinter or a GC favourite. Rein Taaramäe is the captain for the Russian outfit while the French team has Alexandre Geniez and Kenny Elissonde to target the top 15 overall.
Two more Norwegians are scheduled for the Vuelta: Sindre Lunke with Giant-Alpecin and Vegard Stake Laengen with IAM Cycling.