Cannondale-Drapac takes a rookie team to the 2017 Vuelta a España. With four riders making their Grand Tour debut and another starting his first Vuelta, there are plenty of new experiences on offer for the squad in Spain (and France and Andorra). The team clad in green will be led by Basque sport director Juanma Garate in cooperation with Tom Southam.

The 2017 Vuelta a España starts with a 13.9-kilometer team time trial in Nîmes, France on Saturday, August 19.

“The Vuelta this year has a team time trial, one individual time trial, four stages that will most likely end in a bunch sprint, six hilly stages and nine uphill finals,” said Garate. “The design of this year’s Vuelta opens a lot of possibilities for aggressive teams and riders.”

With no GC contender in the line-up, Cannondale-Drapac will capitalize on its squad’s motivation to animate in pursuit of stage wins.

“The average age in our team is 27 years. It’s probably not the youngest team at the start, but I think we do bring the team with the most rookies,” said Garate. “Not only do we have four riders racing their first Grand Tour, but we have another two riders who have only ever done one Grand Tour in their careers.

“We want to continue with the attitude that we showed as a team during this season, specifically in the Giro and the Tour,” Garate added. “Of course we don’t have high GC ambitions, but we do want to win a stage as we did in the Giro and the Tour de France.”

The Vuelta finishes on September 13th with nine laps at the traditional city criterium in Madrid.

Mike Woods (Vuelta Debut)

Garate: Mike Woods is the guy that can really surprise people. Not people from within the cycling world, because people surely know him after his stellar performance in his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, earlier this year. He’s really focused for the Vuelta, and Mike feels really comfortable when there is a steep uphill final. There are plenty of those this Vuelta. He’s the key rider of our Vuelta team. I don’t want to put pressure on him, but I think he’s going to be our man this month.

Woods: Racing the Giro was a great learning experience. Watching Pierre Rolland’s heroics really rubbed off on me, and I learned that I am capable of going deeper and taking greater risks tactically than I had previously thought. Definitely the experience of riding a Grand Tour has given me a better perspective on bike racing, and it has made me, in general, stronger. But after a big season already, I am really traveling into the unknown here at the Vuelta, so I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.

I have had a solid preparation for this race with a great training camp with Alex Howes in Colorado. I came very close to winning stages at the Giro, so obviously I would like to try and win a stage at the Vuelta. But I am going to keep my personal ambitions relaxed until I get a better feel of how I am going in the race. I’m looking forward to it as well as hanging out with the guys and having Sean and Olga as team chefs. Doing a Grand Tour is the ultimate brocation: all-you-can-eat great meals, epic adventures, massages, goofing around on a team bus all while racing around Spain. It should be pretty sweet.

Simon Clarke

Garate: This is Simon’s ninth Grand Tour and he’s going to be our road captain. He’s smart, and he can read the race well. His role this Vuelta is going to be super important because he’s done as many Grand Tours as all the rest of our line-up combined.

Clarke: I like the Vuelta because of its relaxed approach. It gives you a chance to really enjoy the race. There’s less of a stress factor and generally, there’s really good weather. It’s a fun race to be part of. My personal goal is to target various stages throughout the Grand Tour and also to help look after and nurture the young guys that will be doing the Vuelta as their first Grand Tour. It’s important to make sure they have a bit of guidance to help them through in the best way possible.

Davide Villella

Garate: Villella is only 26 years old, but he has a lot of experience doing two Grand Tours a year. This Vuelta is going to be all about breaks, and I hope Davide can arrive at the finish of a stage in a break. He has sometimes missed the confidence when arriving at the line with the break, and we will work on that and try to get him more confident. We are sure he can win from a break.

Villella: The weather is always very warm in the Vuelta, which makes it a challenging race. And sometimes the race gets really crazy, like it did last year in the shorter stages that were part of the Vuelta. Any Grand Tour is special, since everyone knows the races so well. My personal goal is to try and get in a good breakaway that possibly holds it to the line, so that I can win a stage. But mainly I will be a support for the team. I’m aiming for creating a good team spirit during the three weeks.

Will Clarke (Grand Tour Debut)

Garate: Will Clarke was the last one added to our roster. He had a crash in Colorado, but he was our reserve rider, and he will take to the start instead of Davide Formolo, who is ill. He and Tom Scully will have more or less the same role. When there is an open final, these two can really surprise in the final. And they will lead-out Tom van Asbroeck in the sprinter’s stages.

Clarke: I’m super happy to get the call-up for the Vuelta. It was one of my goals for the year. I have never raced for three weeks in a row, so I’m just looking forward to going through the whole experience. Everyone says once you have done a Grand Tour, it raises you to a new level.

Personally, I would like to get in some breakaways and be active in the race to support my teammates. I think as a team we are fully capable of stage wins, so coming away with that is the aim. I’m still pretty sore from my crash in Colorado. My arm and hip are a bit swollen, with stitches in my knuckle. It’s not ideal, but as a bike rider, I think we all have these moments, and you become stronger by pushing through them.

Joe Dombrowski

Garate: This is going to be Joe’s fourth Grand Tour. I was happy about his performance in the Tour de Suisse, after the Giro d’Italia, but he was mentally really tired. Now he’s had some rest and he will race the Vuelta highly motivated, more than ready to be competitive in the mountains again. This Vuelta has a lot of opportunities for him. He needs to ride offensively at the start of the stages, because we need to anticipate riders like Froome or Contador. He needs to be smart, to not lose too much energy when trying to get into a break for example.

Dombrowski: The Vuelta is often decisive on more punchy finishing climbs with less traditional mountain stages than the Giro. I haven’t studied the route in great detail yet, but in a three-week race there are always lots of opportunities and you can play different cards as the race develops. I am motivated, and with that and an open mind you can go far. Winning a stage would be nice.

The overall ambiance of the Vuelta is nice. It seems to retain a more laid-back feel compared to races earlier in the season. We have a young team, with some fun guys. You bond tightly with the group of riders and staff at a Grand Tour. It’s almost a month together 24/7. With the group we have, I think there will be good camaraderie, and the good times at the dinner table can bring us together in the race each day.

Tom Scully (Grand Tour Debut)

Garate: We have seen what Tom Scully can do when there is a nervous final. That’s how he won stage four of the Route du Sud. When there is no longer any control in the race, Scully shines. He has a lot of power, and he can make the difference. This is his first Grand Tour, and we are proud to have him on our rookie team.

Scully: When I heard I was going to ride the Vuelta, at first I was excited, then I started to get a bit anxious, but now I am motivated that it’s actually going to happen. Just completing a race of this distance and duration will be valuable for me to grow as a rider. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in helping out the team and take any opportunities that might come up. I can’t wait for this three-week road trip with a great bunch of people: riders, mechanics, soigneurs, sports directors – just the whole Slipstream Sports crew really.

Brendan Canty (Grand Tour Debut)

Garate: The Vuelta is going to be Brendan’s first Grand Tour and the Vuelta is really a good race for that. For Brendan, this is an opportunity for him to grow as a rider. He looks young, but he is already 25 years old, so this is the moment to start to look forward and think about three-week races. I think this kind of races adapts to his characteristics. I would like to use Brendan, especially the last week, to make him stronger at the end of the Vuelta, looking toward next year.

Canty: I wasn’t too sure if I was going to get to start in a Grand Tour this season, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t, but it was always in the back of my mind that the Vuelta could be the best possibility. I’m very excited to be given the opportunity and look forward to seeing how the race unfolds. I’d like to make it to the finish in Madrid as a start, but more importantly, I hope to be able to make valuable contributions towards the teams’ objectives throughout the three weeks.

Being selected for the Vuelta has also been a catalyst for my parents to book flights and make the trip over to Spain. I’ll be really looking forward to seeing them during the last week of the Vuelta, and that’s some added motivation. I’m also yet to be sick of rice or pasta during stage races, so I’m curious if my perspective changes after racing for three weeks. We have team chefs Sean and Olga with us, so I’m sure the food will be another highlight.

Tom Van Asbroeck

Garate: For sure, there will be opportunities for Tom Van Asbroeck this year, and since he’s lighter than a couple of months ago, he can survive the climbs. When there is a peloton of fifty or sixty riders left, he might even be able to be part of that too, so we will see how he climbs in the first week and then we make a strategy for the second and third week. In those weeks, there are a lot of stages that suit fast finishers who can survive the climbs. So maybe we will have some nice opportunities to win stages with him.

Van Asbroeck: I raced the Vuelta once in 2015. The experience was good, and I’m guessing this time around will be as hard as my first Vuelta. At least I know now how hard that is! Two years ago, I was really suffering the day after the first rest day, so I am definitely going to pay attention to that these next few weeks. I’m hoping to be able to do my thing in the sprinter’s stages and maybe win a stage. I will go into ‘survival mode’ on the mountainous stages, and I hope there’s still something I can do in those stages to support our team leaders though.

Toms Skujins (Grand Tour Debut)

Garate: Toms is a super smart and strong rider. When Toms has in his mind to be in a break, he’s in the break. So it’s really interesting to have him on the team this year. This is going to be his first Grand Tour, and I think Toms needs to realize racing a three-week race is not impossible. Specifically, he can be an important rider in the first two weeks.

Skujins: Every first-time Grand Tour rider would tell you that a successful three weeks are ones you complete and make it to the final day. Sure that’d be a success in itself, but I don’t want to just make it to Madrid. I want to be there and feel like I’ve impacted the race. Having been in a break. Helped the team win a stage or two and learnt some more Spanish. I’m also looking forward to three weeks of chef Sean and Olga’s cooked meals.

Cannondale-Drapac for the 2017 Vuelta a España:

Brendan Canty (AUS)
Simon Clarke (AUS)
Will Clarke (AUS)
Joe Dombrowski (USA)
Thomas Scully (NZL)
Toms Skujins (LAT)
Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL)
Davide Villella (ITA)
Mike Woods (CAN)