The 2017 Vuelta a Espana is a poignant moment for the pro continental Irish based team, Aqua Blue Sport. This is their first GT and a chance to show the rest of the World Tour their talents; namely with their British sprinter, Adam Blythe…
This article is a guest piece written by Will Turley, or as some of you may better know him as, The Cycling Delegate. Follow this link to add him on Twitter and hear all of his musings about this year’s Vuelta a Espana…
As a British cycling fan, Adam Blythe is a rider whose career trajectory I have being following closely for the past number of years. With the presence of one of the all-time greats of sprinting in Mark Cavendish on the British scene, Blythe is a rider is often sadly underrated as a sprinter.
Read on for why Adam Blythe is a rider you should be keeping a close eye on during this year’s Vuelta.
The Early Years
Adam began racing from a young age, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. As a junior he demonstrated great promise on both the Track and Road, most notably scoring victories in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Juniors in 2007 and the Junior Euro Team Pursuit Champs in 2006 and 2007.
Although a talented track rider, Blythe chose to chase his ambitions on the road, leaving the British Cycling Academy at the opening of the 2008 season. He took a leap of faith by moving overseas to Belgium, rather than remaining in the UK, where his progression on the road would be limited; a decision which has yielded significant benefits.
After racing for professional feeder teams for two seasons, he was offered the opportunity to become a stagiaire for Lotto-Silence (now Lotto-Soudal), for the remainder of the 2009 season. Blythe clearly impressed the Lotto bosses in this period as he was offered a two year contract at the conclusion of it. After just two years on the Belgian domestic scene, Adam had already hit the top ranks of cycling, now racing with the likes of Philippe Gilbert.
Following his stint at Lotto, he’s raced as a professional for three other WorldTour teams (BMC, Orica-Greenedge and Tinkoff), along with year a continental level with NFTO. He now races for the newly established Irish Pro-Continental outfit of Aqua Blue Sport.
A Year on the Conti scene
In 2014 Adam Blythe took a huge risk by dropping down two divisions from WorldTour to Continental level, to race with the now defunct NFTO outfit. At BMC, Blythe was tied down to predominantly domestique work, therefore, this move would allow him unprecedented freedom to chase his own wins all season.
The significant downside attached to this move was that if Blythe wasn’t successful, he may have never got the opportunity to make the jump back up to WorldTour again. But he made it work, and probably even better than he imagined. Adam took victories in the National Criterium Championships, the Tour Series and then the big one – The RideLondon Surrey Classic, causing quite the upset to the WorldTour teams.
Adam’s decision had paid off, he had taken the most prestigious victory of his career, along with becoming an even more valuable commodity to the WorldTour teams wanting to sign him.
Close but no Cigar
There’s no denying that Adam has been sprinting incredibly quickly this season, but unfortunately second place has been the story of his season. Currently, he has amassed four second places, in the Nokere Koerse, Handzame Classic, Tour de Wallonie Stage 4 and most recently Stage 2 of the Vuelta a Burgos.
The second place at the Handzame Classic back in March appeared the most frustrating. Aqua Blue had done some frankly incredible work to keep Adam up front within the final 10km, but they ran out of men in just the last 600m, meaning that Adam was slightly swamped, and had to start his sprint from far back.
These are some great performances, however, Adam is a born winner, and will still be extremely motivated to achieve his first victory of the season. Could the Vuelta be the place?
Aqua Blue and the Vuelta
Despite this being their debut season, Adam’s team Aqua Blue Sport have earned a wildcard spot for the final Grand Tour of the season – the Vuelta a Espana.
This is a massive opportunity for the team, and is recognition of the results they’ve achieved in less than one season of existence, such as Larry Warbasse’s incredibly emotional victory on the summit finish of Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse, to name just one.
With the Vuelta being infamous for limited sprint opportunities, stage wins for pure sprinters here are few are far between. The 2017 edition of the Vuelta is even more brutal than the average; I’ve only identified four stages that could end in a bunch sprint, them being stages 2, 4, 13 and the grand finale in Madrid. Adam is going to have to make each sprint day really count, if he wishes to achieve an illustrious stage win for the Aqua Blue boys.
The team’s Vuelta squad is packed with talent, and I sense great opportunity for Adam in this race; Connor Dune, Michel Kreder, Lasse Norman Hansen and Aaron Gate form a powerful train, who can compete with the WorldTour teams, in my opinion.
A stage win for Adam Blythe in this year’s Vuelta is not merely a dream, but something that is in the realms of possibility.
The Future of Aqua Blue
A newly formed team can often struggle in the year of their inception, as it is more often than not a huge learning curve for riders and staff alike. But, Aqua Blue have already hit the ground running in their debut season. What can we now expect in the future?
Adam will obviously continue to chase sprint wins, and with a leadout that will have now have the experience of one season under their belts, expect the Aqua Blues sprint train to be a very well-oiled machine in 2018.
Stefan Denifl took a significant victory for the team this season, by clinching the overall title at the Tour of Austria. I don’t see no reason why Aqua Blue can’t take more GC wins next season with Denifl, and potentially Larry Warbasse as well.
One of the most intriguing prospects for Aqua Blue next season is the signing of the young Irishman Eddie Dunbar. This season a winner of the U23 Tour of Flanders, Dunbar is extremely talented, and may already start to deliver wins for Aqua Blue in his first season there.
What I can definitely predict for Aqua Blue’s future is that they will continue to ride every race aggressively, and remain an inspiration to Irish cycling fans.
How do you think Aqua Blue will fare at this year’s Vuelta, will Blythe lead them to Grand Tour stage win success? Fancy writing a guest contribution of your own? Don’t hesitate to drop us a DM on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com with your ideas!