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Vuelta a Espana

Pedro Delgado laments lack of Spanish stars: ‘We need a new rider of reference’

Former Tour-winner Delgado says Spanish fans feel 'like orphans' as other nations dominate the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

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The once-proud and prolific Spanish peloton needs a new champion to engage and inspire the home crowds.

That’s according to former Tour de France winner and TV commentator Pedro Delgado. Speaking at an event last weekend in his hometown of Segovia, Delgado told the wire service EFE that Spanish fans need to be patient.

“We have some promising riders like Carlos Rodríguez or Juanma Ayuso, and we’ve been counting on the unstoppable Alejandro Valverde, but right now we’re a bit lost, not only the fans but also the riders,” Delgado told EFE.

“Spanish cycling is a bit in the doldrums right now at the international level,” Delgado said. “It needs a new reference and someone to animate the media and the fans so they can see ‘one of ours’ winning the big races.”

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Valverde, 42, is retiring at the end of this season, the last of Spain’s “gold generation” that included the likes of Alberto Contador, Samuel Sánchez, Joaquim Rodríguez, Carlos Sastre, Óscar Freire and others.

Before that, Delgado and Miguel Indurain carried Spanish pride to the top of the peloton in the 1980s and 1990s.

With Valverde on the way out, and riders like Ayuso and Rodríguez still needing time to develop, Spanish cycling is in a bit of a funk.

Enric Mas, 27, hasn’t quite been able to engage the wider Spanish public and media despite finishing second on the 2021 Vuelta a España podium and twice in the top-six at the Tour. This year’s Tour ended poorly for Mas and Spain’s Movistar team, which is now fighting to retain its spot in the WorldTour.

“We need a new rider of reference,” Delgado said. “Enric Mas is a magnificent rider, but he’s stuck at a certain level, and he cannot break out of it. Sometimes it’s not his fault, there was COVID, and he’s struggled to remain confident in himself, which is decisive for victory. We’re all left a bit like orphans.”

Delgado’s comments come just days ahead of the start of the 2022 Vuelta a España. Typically, Spanish riders would be among the GC favorites and fans would respond in kind. Without a big favorite, fans and media are having a hard time finding someone to cheer for among one of their own.

Mas will be an unknown figure after abandoning the Tour, and Valverde said he’s hoping to win a stage, and now focusing on the GC.

Delgado said it will be another year or two at least before riders like Rodríguez and Ayuso, who are with Ineos Grenadiers and UAE Team Emirates, respectively, can fully develop their talents.

With Valverde gone by the season’s end, Delgado admitted things are a bit bleak right now in Spanish cycling.

“Cycling used to be France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain. Now it’s much more international. There are still a lot of Spanish riders, but we don’t have the same number of Spanish teams like before,” he said. “We need to get that rider that’s going to capture everyone’s attention, to get them glued to their TV sets and their radios, and who can bring in the readers for the newspapers.”

Spain, like France before it, might have to wait for a while longer before it boasts another Tour de France winner among its ranks.