With the Alberto Contador Foundation taking up management of the new Polartec-Kometa Continenteal team, which will act as a feeder program for Trek-Segafredo, it's no surprise that the 11-rider roster is heavy with talented young Spanish riders.
Polartec-Kometa is the next step for Contador's foundation, which started in 2013 and already operates a cycling school for children, a junior team and a U23 team.
Along with two riders from Italy and one rider each from Austria, Eritrea, Netherlands, Colombia and Luxembourg, the Continental team features reigning Spanish U23 champion Isaac Cantón, Miguel Angel Ballesteros, Juan Camacho and Diego Pablo Sevilla.
Cyclingnews spoke with each of the team's Spanish riders at the recent team camp in Tucson, Arizona, where title sponsor Polartec brought riders from the Continental team as well as others from the foundation's junior and U23 teams for a brief get together and several training rides.
Ballesteros was the Spanish junior champion in 2010 when he was 15 and has been riding with the Alberto Contador Foundation since joining the U23 squad in 2015. The rider from Murcia in southeast Spain said the call from Fran Contador to join the U23 team took him by surprise.
"At the beginning I thought it was a joke," he told Cyclingnews, "but in the end it was true."
As a rider who can climb well and has a fast finish, Ballesteros prefers stages races and one-day races with climbs, but his all-round abilities allow him to place consistently. In 2016 he led the season-long Spanish Cup through to the final race, slipping out of the lead only after mononucleosis forced him to miss the final race.
"I'm not a pure climber, but I climb very well," he said. "I'm also fast in a small group, so I consider myself a complete rider."
Perhaps he gets that ability from training with Alejandro Valverde, Ballersteros' neighbour.
"I've trained with Alejandro many times," he said. "I live close to Alejandro's house. His group of riders used to pass in front of my house, so I got to know them and started to train with them almost every day."
At 1.88 metres, Camacho is one of the taller riders in the peloton and has the power to excel in time trials, where he was the Spanish junior champion in 2013. The rider from Ocaña, a small village about 60km from Madrid, joined the Contador Foundation team in 2014 in his first year in the U23 ranks.
"I started with the foundation in 2014 after the world championships in Italy," he told Cyclingnews. "I made contact with Fran Contador, and I started with the team the next year. I spent four years on the U23 team and have the opportunity this year to pass to the professional level with the foundation. I'm very happy to continue with this team and with these people that are in the team now."
A rouleur who prefers the Classics, Camacho will be the oldest rider on the team, which will look to him for leadership for the other riders throughout the year. He said he's hoping to improve his time trial skills as he seeks to develop into a top-level pro.
"I feel very fortunate to be here along with people like Ivan [Basso], Alberto [Conatdor] and Jesus [Hernandez], who have so much experience in cycling. I think that I will be very well guided in my career, and with this opportunity I think that we will all go very far."
Cantón, the reigning Spanish U23 champion, is from Argamasilla de Alba [Ciudad Real] and joined the U23 team in 2017 after getting a call from Fran Contador.
"I quickly said yes, I want to be on the team," he told Cyclingnews. "And from there, I am here."
As one might expect, Cantón considers the win that brought him the Spanish champion's jersey his biggest victory.
"I have done other good results, but the 2017 Spanish U23 championship was the best," he said. "That day was a tough day for me, and when I thought everything was lost, that's when everything came back to me and I could win."
Cantón had joined a group of a dozen or so riders in a breakaway near the end of the race, and he worked with trade-team teammate but regional competitor Diego Pablo Sevilla to secure the win. His big one-day win aside, Cantón says he prefers stage races.
"My main characteristic is performing well in the tours," he said. "Everyday I feel better as the days go on, so my recovery is very good. I am more of a climber than anything else, but I also perform well in the flat stages.
"Sometimes I attack from far away, looking to go into small groups," he said. "Other times if that is not possible, I look for a last attack. If I go with a small group, I have a fast finish and have the possibility to win."
Sevilla, from San Martín de la Vega near Pinto, has been with the Contador Foundation since his first year on the junior team in 2013. Already sporting a long list of podiums and wins on his palmares, he was third behind Canton in the Spanish U23 championship road race after working with him in a group of 10-12 over the final kilometre.
Sevilla was also the national cyclo-cross champion as a junior in 2012 and again in 2014, but he says neither of those results are his personal favourite either.
"My best result was not a victory," he told Cyclingnews. "I finished 13th in the GC of the Tour de Normandy this year and was the third young rider in the race. In that race I realised that I can be there."
Sevilla said he does not consider himself an exceptional rider in any particular aspect of cycling, but he's a complete rider who can make it over the mid-sized mountains and contest a sprint from a small group. He said he was excited to be able to stay with the foundation's first Continental team, and he hopes to grow with the program.
"For me, to become a professional here in the foundation is super important, because I did not think it was possible to become professional outside of this project," he said. "Without the foundation I probably wouldn't be at this point in this moment, especially being here with people like Fran and the directors. I am very proud to wear this jersey, and I hope to wear it many years from now."
Polartec-Kometa 2018 Roster: Miguel Ángel Ballesteros (Spa), Juan Camacho (Spa), Isaac Cantón (Spa), Patrick Gamper (Aut), Michele Gazzoli (Ita), Awet Habtom (Eri), Willen Inkelaar (Ned), Matteo Moschetti (Ita), Wilson Estiben Peña (Col), Michel Ries (Lux), Diego Pablo Sevilla (Spa).
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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