Ireland's first Pro Continental team Aqua Blue Sports is just days away from making its Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana. For the first time since 2009, a team in its debut season has been granted a wild card entry to the Spanish Grand Tour and Aqua Blue Sports are promising to make a mark on the race.
The team has already announced a custom white edition of its jersey in recognition of the wild card entry granted to the team by race organisers ASO. The team will also stand out in the peloton with the stars n stripes jersey of American champion Larry Warbasse.
Having started its debut season racing aggressively in order to earn race invites to WorldTour events, sport director Tim Barry explained the wild card invitation saw a shift in team tactics and approach.
"From that point on, we changed our plans for the second half of the season," Barry said. "We've done our best to try and prepare well and focus on La Vuelta with the riders that we have, to come there with knowing that we can do a good race.
"It was a special moment for everybody in our organization because we're such a young and a new team," he added of the moment the team learned of the invitation. "It's amazing. At the start of the year, it was the top of a dream list to do one of the Grand Tours as in year 1. We can't wait for it to happen. We want to do a good job and represent the team well and do a tribute to the race."
The team enjoyed its first victory at the Tour de Suisse in June with Warbasse and have gone on to enjoy success at the US national titles and then the Tour of Austria with Stefan Denifl winning the overall. Aqua Blue Sports also enjoyed a promising Arctic Race of Norway where Michel Kreder finished third overall while Adam Blythe has been consistent all season but it yet to taste victory.
Considering the team performances in its first year, Barry is confident his riders will convert their chances at the Vuelta with a balanced squad of sprinters and aggressers.
"We've got some good sprint results lately as well. Adam Blythe was second in a stage of the Tour of Burgos recently, second in a stage of Wallonie and very close to the win. It's very possible that he could win a stage of La Vuelta in a sprint finish. We've got a lot of attacking riders. We've got some good climbers with Larry and Stefan. We'll look at the full race with them while the other guys will focus on stage results and support each other," said Barry.
"Our spirit will be to race aggressively and leave a mark in the race, to work well as a unit and really make an impact. With the nature of our team and the way the team is organized with Aqua Blue Sport being an e-commerce site that interacts with the public, it's important for us to be visible and to get a lot of exposure, so people can go to the website, shop and support the team. We need to put on a good show, which we have done so far. We also need to get results."
Although Aqua Blue Sport is yet to confirm its squad for the Vuelta, it has named a provisional team. Included in the team is Adam Blythe (GBr), Mark Christian (GBr), Stefan Denifl (Aut), Aaron Gate (NZl), Lasse Norman Hansen (Den), Michel Kreder (Ned), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) and Larry Warbasse (USA).
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