Sky aims for third consecutive Grand Tour podium at Vuelta
Geraint Thomas and Team Sky, Tour de France 2013, stage 16
Sergio Henao will lead Sky's campaign for a third consecutive Grand Tour podium finish at the Vuelta a Espana that begins tomorrow.
Performance manager Rod Ellingworth is confident the team is up to the task ahead of the opening 27km team time-trial to Sanxenxo.
Rigoberto Uran finished second overall at the Giro d'Italia in May and is another option for the outfit in Spain that does not include Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who was fourth last season.
"Going into the Vuelta with a good chance of another podium is quite a big thing for us," Ellingworth told Cycling Weekly. "It shows the depth of the team. I certainly think the key person at the moment is Sergio, but Rigoberto will be there. I think Rigo on form can also podium if he gets it right."
Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali enters the race as a favourite and Ellingworth is confident Sky and the Italian's Astana team is evenly matched in terms of strength.
"The nice thing about our team is we've got a strong group wanting to be there," he said.
"You've got [Luke] Rowe with his first Grand Tour. He's super excited. [Salvatore] Puccio, it's only his second Grand Tour, he rode so well in the Giro that he's got another opportunity. You've got Christian Knees who missed out on the Tour and lots of people would say we should have taken him. Christian being Christian has kept on the ball and is very enthusiastic about the Vuelta. He leads well on the road. Edvald [Boasson Hagen] obviously wants to race after what happened at the Tour. All that is key."
Boasson Hagen crashed during stage 12 of the Tour and was forced to withdraw due to a fractured collarbone. He'll be an option for Sky in the undulating sprint stages.
Henao, 25, and Uran, 26, joined teammates for a training stint in the run-in to the Vuelta and all indications are good.
"They didn't ride [Vuelta a] Burgos but some of the guys stayed on after and the two Colombians joined them. We did a full week looking at different climbs so they've got all the knowledge they need," Ellingworth said.
Henao finished inside the top 20 at the Giro, where Sky won the stage two team time-trial, and this month was fifth overall at the Tour of Poland. He has two individual victories to his name this season with a stage win at both the Volta Algarve in February and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in April, the latter which preceded a second place at Fleche Wallonne.
"When you look at him as a development rider he can't fail," Ellingworth said.
"He went into the Giro to try and perform better than he did [previously] and he didn't, but he learnt from it and moved on. I think that's the key point. Whatever happens he's going to learn for the future.
"It's a little bit like Froomey last year," he continued. "One of the things we said about Froomey during the Vuelta was in actual fact if didn't make the podium it may be the best thing in terms of him staying hungry. It's nice to stand on the podium at the end of a Grand Tour and he just missed out but I think it was one of the biggest learning points. My opinion on Sergio is if he gets a podium it would be absolutely fantastic, top six is realistic, top 10 is a definite do-able."