Could Sky win its fifth straight grand tour — dating back to Chris Froome’s 2017 Tour — with de la Cruz?
That’s a lot of pressure to put on the 29-year-old, but he’s not slouching from the chance to lead the defending champion’s team even if he knows he’s not up to Froome’s stature.
“You can never count out anything,” he said in an interview Monday. Geraint “Thomas won the Tour, and he was never in the top 10 before of a grand tour. I am not thinking like that, and I am going to try to do the best I can.” [related title=”More Vuelta news” align=”right” tag=”Vuelta-a-Espana”]
De la Cruz has yet to prove he can go the distance in a grand tour to seriously challenge for the podium. His career-best result in eight grand tour starts is seventh overall and a stage win in the 2016 Vuelta while riding with Quick Step.
With his move this season to Sky, the Spanish all-rounder will see solid support as well as higher expectations.
“I don’t see it as added weight, but an opportunity,” he said. “Last year I also came to the Vuelta with Quick Step with the same responsibility. I don’t give it too much thought, but rather see as a challenge, as something exciting.”
De la Cruz has been tapped by some as Spain’s next great stage racer. He’s been hampered by crashes and illnesses over the past few seasons, but he’s been able to deliver when healthy and on form.
Sky signed him this season both as a workhorse for Froome and to be a leader at certain races. He delivered a time trial win at the Ruta del Sol, ninth overall at the Tour of the Basque Country, and a stage win at Paris-Nice this spring before helping Froome win the Giro in May. Third overall at the Vuelta a Burgos in northern Spain earlier this month only bolstered his quiet confidence.
De la Cruz isn’t going to scream from the mountaintop that he’ll win the Vuelta, but he’s not going down without swinging.
“I have a lot of ambition for the Vuelta,” he said. “I don’t like to say exactly where I want to finish, but it’s obvious that I’ve trained and sacrificed to do a good GC. I am motivated, and we’ll see where I end up.”
De la Cruz won’t be lining up as a five-star favorite for the Spanish grand tour starting Saturday, but he certainly will be a top-10 contender. And perhaps even more. Or at least he is hoping so.
“This Vuelta gets harder as it unfolds,” de la Cruz said. “It’s obvious that there are riders who have done better than me, winning or reaching the podium. I am confident in my chances, and that’s what counts.”
With defending Vuelta champ Froome and Tour winner Thomas racing the Tour of Britain instead of the Vuelta, other teams will be expected to take on responsibility for the race. De la Cruz knows that should work in his favor.
Even without Froome or Thomas, Sky brings a strong team to the Vuelta, with Michal Kwiatkowski, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Dylan Van Baarle also expected to start.
De la Cruz said racing alongside Froome during the Giro was an eye-opening experience.
“It was like a university,” he said. “Beyond the result, which was something beautiful to win against all odds, what will stay with me is what I learned — to see how Froome managed the bad moments. When you see everyone against you, and how Froome managed the pressure, and how he could turn the race on its head. It’s something that will always help me in the future.”
Whether he can profit from those lessons will be seen over the next three weeks.
The 73rd Vuelta opens Saturday with a prologue in Málaga.