Wilco Kelderman will lead Team Sunweb's general classification bid at the Vuelta a España, but the team are cautious about their prospects given the Dutchman has only recently returned from injury. Instead, the German-registered team described the sprints as their 'main focus' when they announced their young line-up for the Spanish Grand Tour on Thursday, with Phil Bauhaus chosen to lead the line.
Team leader Tom Dumoulin is expected to ride the four-day Deutschland Tour next week and a series of shorter races after finishing second in both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.
Kelderman, 27, had planned to ride the Tour de France alongside Dumoulin before getting his own crack over three weeks at the Vuelta, where he finished fourth overall last year. However, the Dutchman's season has been blighted by injury. A collarbone fracture at Tirreno-Adriatico in March kept him out until June, and after finishing fifth at the Tour de Suisse, he crashed again at the Dutch national championships, injuring his shoulder and preventing him from riding the Tour de France.
He has since recovered and trained enough to take to the start of the Vuelta but, given the lack of racing in his legs, the team aren't setting their sights too high.
"We’re very pleased to have Wilco at the start, which could be considered a small miracle after another difficult period with recovering from a complicated injury," said sport director Aike Visbeek.
"He has worked hard to come back, but we don’t know how stable his level will be throughout the three weeks of racing. We’ll have to take a day by day approach, with the aim to keep him in the GC and see where he stands going into the third week."
After finishing on the podium of both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France this year with Dumoulin, Sunweb will adopt more of a stage-hunting approach at the Vuelta, with Phil Bauhaus leading the line in the flat stages, of which there are only a few in a typically hilly Vuelta route.
The 24-year-old German won a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné last year, though his only win this campaign came in February at the Abu Dhabi Tour. His build-up has been far from ideal as he struggled with sickness at the Tour de Pologne, finishing almost dead last on the first three days before abandoning on stage 4.
Sunweb will call on the experience of German duo Simon Geschke and Johannes Frohlinger, while three riders make their Grand Tour debuts: Australians Jai Hindley and Michael Storer, and Dutchman Martijn Tusveld. Another Dutchman, Mike Teunnisen rounds out the eight-man team.
"Phil will be our sprinter at the Vuelta whilst we aim for a result in the sprints," said Visbeek. "We’re also excited to have three riders making their grand tour debut with Jai, Michael and Martijn. Heading to Spain will be great for their long-term development and we’re looking forward to seeing what they do with the opportunity."
The Vuelta a España gets underway on Saturday August 25 with an 8km individual time trial in Malaga and concludes in Madrid on September 16.
Team Sunweb for the 2018 Vuelta a España: Phil Bauhaus, Johannes Frohlinger, Simon Geschke, Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman, Michael Storer, Mike Teunissen, Martijn Tusveld.
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