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Team Sky has won six of the past seven yellow jerseys with three different riders, an unparalleled achievement in modern cycling. After Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas, who comes next?
This year’s Vuelta a España could see the emergence of Sky’s next grand tour candidate. Expectations are already sky high for Colombian sensation Egan Bernal, but it is Michal Kwiatkowski who seems poised to be the next rider to step into the spotlight.
On Wednesday, Team Sky confirmed its eight Vuelta starters that also includes GC candidate David da la Cruz as well as up-and-comers Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov, both making their grand tour debuts. [related title=”Vuelta news” align=”right” tag=”Vuelta-a-Espana”]
Team boss Dave Brailsford offered telling praise of Kwiatkowski’s grand tour potential ahead of the team’s bid for an unprecedented fifth straight grand tour victory.
“In Michal Kwiatkowski, I believe we have a rider who is capable of one day winning a grand tour,” Brailsford said. “This Vuelta provides another opportunity for him to further himself and gain valuable experience as a GC rider.”
Most indications are that Kwiatkowski is heading to the Vuelta to prepare for a run at winning the world title in Innsbruck. It’s obvious that both the 28-year-old Pole and Team Sky have one eye on the rainbow jersey and another on the Vuelta’s red jersey.
The future could well be now for the 28-year-old Kwiatkowski.
“The Vuelta selection is another important step in my career,” Kwiatkowski said. “I’ve never raced two grand tours in one season, so I am intrigued to see how my body will react to that challenge. But I don’t feel any pressure — just excitement before a new experience.”
Kwiatkowski is already a confirmed hitter in one-day and one-week stage races. A world champion in 2014, he’s won Milan-Sanremo, Clásica San Sebastián, two editions of Strade Bianchi, Amstel Gold Race, and E3 Harelbeke.
This year has seen an impressive progression in stage races. He won the Volta ao Algarve for the second time and Tirreno-Adriatico this spring before slotting into a helper’s role during the Tour de France. Kwiatkowski was impressive across the big mountains of France and powered straight into the Tour of Poland, winning two stages and the overall on home roads earlier this month.
With the Vuelta, Kwiatkowski will start a second grand tour in the same season for the first time in his career. That could be setting the stage for a run at the overall at next year’s Giro d’Italia.
“It’s been a busy summer for me,” he said. “This year I’m trying to finish the season with a slightly different approach. I think that staying in a racing rhythm might just suit me.”
Kwiatkowski’s emerging GC role is confirmation that Team Sky is looking to the future. While Froome and Thomas show no signs of slowing down, neither are spring chickens, at 33 and 32, respectively. Brailsford said as much during this year’s Tour de France, confirming that the team will be building riders to take over the leadership helm in the coming seasons.
With Kwiatkowski and Bernal waiting in the wings, the team is also developing younger riders such as Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov.
“In Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov, we have two young riders who I’m convinced will experience success in grand tours in the future,” Brailsford said. “Both Tao and Pavel’s selection reflects the great attitude both riders have adopted since joining Team Sky. Their willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed; commitment to hard work; and most importantly their desire to learn, have been exemplary and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
With defending champion Froome and Tour winner Thomas heading to the Tour of Britain, most do not expect to see Team Sky winning this year’s Vuelta. With the depth of Sky’s roster, however, the team is bringing riders capable of challenging for the podium — if not more. Rounding out the team are ace workers Jonathan Castroviejo, Salvatore Puccio, Dylan Van Baarle, and worlds contender Sergio Henao.
The 73rd Vuelta starts Saturday in Málaga.