MALAGA, Spain (VN) — Tao Geoghegan Hart was gulping for air after an intense time trial effort Saturday only to look up and see a half-dozen journalists hovering around him.

The highly touted grand tour rookie was barely 8km into his first grand tour and he was already the center of a media scrum.

“It wasn’t too crazy,” he demurred. “It was a nice way to start the Vuelta.”

The 23-year-old hopes to melt back into the woodwork the next few days, at least in terms of being out of the media spotlight. Expectations are piled high on Geoghegan Hart, who earned his first grand tour ticket in his second year at Sky. Last year, the team was all-in for Chris Froome to win and Geoghegan Hart was squeezed out in favor of more experienced riders.

This year, Sky is racing without Froome or Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, so there’s more room for youth. Neo-pro Pavel Sivikov is also making his grand tour debut this week.

Sky won’t be on a sightseeing trip. Along with Michal Kwiatkowski and David de la Cruz, the team has real GC ambitions.

“The mood is great,” he said. “We’re here to race our bikes and get stuck in. Whatever we get here is a big bonus on what’s been an incredible year and an incredible season.”

Team Sky has won four grand tours in a row; from Froome’s triple-crown sweep from the 2017 Tour and Vuelta and the 2018 Giro d’Italia capped to Thomas’s surprise 2018 Tour. With that kind of success, it’s difficult for younger riders trying to fight for a grand tour spot.

“It’s a pleasure to be here, for myself and Pavel, young guys coming into a big team like this,” he said. “This team always commits to the grand tours. I know the last couple of days we’ve been with the staff. Everyone is more switched on than normal.”

Many view Geoghegan Hart as Britain’s next big star and he is quietly being groomed to possibly take over team GC leadership in the coming years. Along with prospects like Egan Bernal and Sivikov, Sky’s grand tour future won’t end when Froome and Thomas, both in their early 30s, eventually retire.

Geoghegan Hart is one of the many graduates from the Axeon Hagens Berman development team. Though he missed out on a Vuelta slot, he had a busy rookie season in 2017, racing 80 days across a mix of WorldTour and high-level races.

This year, with 50 days of racing coming into the Vuelta, capped by fifth in the Amgen Tour of California and fifth at the Vuelta a Burgos. Strong riding at the Critérium du Dauphiné helped Thomas seal the overall title in June.

Sky brass is downplaying expectations and does not want to put too much pressure on their protégé’s shoulders. His longest race was nine stages during the 2017 Tour de Suisse. No one knows how his legs will hold out for three weeks.

“From what I’ve seen, every day looks pretty hard,” he said Saturday. “I don’t want to say ‘day by day,’ but you get the impression.”

Geoghegan Hart admitted he felt a touch of nerves in the days leading up to the Vuelta. Sitting around the team hotel for hours on end didn’t help an unoccupied mind. By race day Saturday, he slipped into the pre-stage routines. A solid 18th in the opening prologue revealed his ambitions.

“Everyone’s here to race. When we put numbers on our back and everyone’s excited,” he said. “We hope to tap off what’s been a great season of grand tours here over the next few weeks.”

Geoghegan Hart didn’t miss a beat. He snuck into the main breakaway of the Vuelta’s first road stage Sunday. If he keeps that up, he might get a few more finish-line media scrums before this Vuelta is over.