Vuelta a Espana

Sky back in red, but for how long?

Even without marquee riders Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, Team Sky reminded everyone on Sunday that it’s a force to reckon with in any grand tour it starts.

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CAMINITO DEL REY, Spain (VN) — A different name but the same result: Team Sky is back in the race leader’s jersey in a grand tour.

Even without marquee riders Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, Team Sky reminded everyone it’s a force to reckon with in any grand tour it starts.

Michel Kwiatkowski put Sky back in red a day after just missing the victory in Saturday’s prologue opener. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) out-kicked him for the win, but Kwiatkowski took consolation with the leader’s jersey.

After winning four grand tours in a row, Team Sky is now leading its fifth.

“It’s a bit of mixed feelings,” Kwiatkowski said about taking over red from the struggling Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing).

“I was thinking winning the stage, both yesterday’s and today’s,” he said. “It’s not the way I wanted to take the red jersey.”

Kwiatkowski was secretly hoping to bookend leader’s jersey for Team Sky. Froome last wore it in Madrid last summer as the final victor and the all-rounder Pole was hoping to capture this year’s first Vuelta red jersey Saturday in the 8km time trial. Dennis pipped Saturday and Valverde out-kicked him Sunday.

Even if it’s not the fairytale result Kwiatkowski was yearning for, Sunday’s performance confirms to everyone that Team Sky won’t be taking this Vuelta sitting down.

Along with Kwiatkowski, the team brings a motivated squad that also includes Tao Geoghegan Hart, David de la Cruz and Sergio Henao.

Even if defending champion Froome and yellow jersey winner Thomas are not here, Sky is.

“The team rode great today,” Kwiatkowski said. “We were thinking about the stage win and the red jersey today. We will stay aggressive. We have many ambitions in this Vuelta.”

Is one of those ambitions to win? Sky isn’t counting anything out.

De la Cruz has fully protected status, along with Henao as a solo flier.

After racing the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France and the Tour of Poland (which he won) all at a very high level, Kwiatkowski is simply wondering how long his legs will hold out.

“I will not be upset if something goes wrong in this Vuelta,” he said. “We have to look at how it plays out on the team. We will race in a different manner. We have to cooperate between us.”

Even with a world championship course waiting in Innsbruck that’s ideal for his skillset, Kwiatkowski confirmed he is using this Vuelta as a test to see how far he can go in the overall classification.

“I can tell you a lot more in Madrid,” he said of the worlds. “First I have to get to the third week and then try to recover before thinking about the time trial and road race.”

Kwiatkowski is racing a second grand tour in the same season for the first time of his career. It’s part of a plan to see the next step in his GC ambitions.

A proven winner in one-week stage races, Kwiatkowski sees this Vuelta as a stepping-stone to perhaps greater things in grand tours.

“I am here to develop myself as a GC rider,” he said. “That is something that drives me to one day to really go for the GC.”

Sky is back in red early in this Vuelta. Don’t be too surprised if Kwiatkowski might have the jersey in Madrid after all.