Transfer Talk: David de la Cruz

The somewhat erratic climber turned stable GC contender has decided to hang up the marine blue of Quickstep for the lighter shades of Team Sky for the 2018-2019 season. Could de la Cruz bring some fire to an otherwise plain and systematic Sky team? Or is he just more cannon fodder for Froome’s infamous mountain train?

Quickstep’s GC talent turns to Team Sky for the 2018 season. CREDIT: InsideThePeloton (edit)

Team Sky weren’t afraid to announce the arrival of their new GC talent, breaking the news before the Spaniard had even traveled to his home Grand Tour, La Vuelta a Espana, where he would go onto lead Quickstep’s GC ambitions. De la Cruz appeared to be excited at the prospect of joining the British outfit for the 2018-2019 season,

“I’ve really enjoyed my time at QuickStep but I definitely feel that, at this point in my career, Team Sky is the best place for me to progress and to be the best rider I can be.” he said, “I think the team understand my skills as a rider and what I can offer to the team, so I’m really happy to be joining Team Sky and I am looking forward to this new challenge.” 

Team Sky boss and current subject of a lot of public scrutiny, Dave Brailsford, had this to say on the Spaniard joining the team,

“We have a principle that riders should approach a race looking to win, supporting someone else winning, or learning how to win for the future. Jonathan and David know how to win across a range of different scenarios.”

He was certainly right with one of those comments surrounding de la Cruz, the former Quickstep man will certainly fill a ‘supporting (role) for someone else winning,’ but how often will he be able to spread his wings in Team Sky colours? At Quickstep, we grew accustomed to the Spanish GC talent lighting up the week long stages races, attacking both uphill and on the descents. His fire for victory is unquestionable, he’s a man that wants to win bike races. However, how much will this fire interrupt Sky’s systematic ethos? Have the British team just signed themselves a new Mikel Landa?

Humble beginnings

Late to the professional cycling scene, de la Cruz penned his first official contract with Caja Rural in 2012 at the ripe old age of 23. It took him towards the twilight of his first season as pro to really impress the wider community, a string of top stage placings in the Volta a Portugal propelling him to 5th overall and winner of the youth classification.

Such a result soon got spotted by another pro continental side, Netapp Endura. The Spaniard would go onto spend two following seasons at the German based outfit, impressing in mountain breakaways whilst also getting a handful of Grand Tour appearances under his belt. 2015 marked his move up into WT level with one of the top teams at the time, Etixx Quickstep. Still a team focused on the spring classics and stage wins in the Grand Tours, de la Cruz was brought in to throw his weight around in the mountains, an attempt to bolster Quickstep’s lack of climbing talent.

Moving to Quickstep in 2015, de la Cruz soon found his WT legs. CREDIT: Breakthrough Media

His breakthrough ride with the Belgian outfit came in the summer of 2016 at his home Grand Tour, La Vuelta. He took victory on stage 9’s summit finish to the Alto del Naranco, besting the rest of his breakaway rivals. The Spaniard then went onto finish the race in 7th place, largely due to his breakaway exploits on stage 9.

At the start of the 2017 season, de la Cruz was touted as Quickstep’s man for the week long stage races, as well as being announced as their likely leader for the following summer’s Vuelta a Espana.

2017, from elation to devastation

Many will remember the start of the 2017 season as Alejandro Valverde’s stomping ground, obliterating the rest of the field in almost all of the Spanish based stage races in the first half of the season. One fellow countryman hot on his heels throughout was David de la Cruz, the Quickstep rider finishing just off the podium in fourth place at the hotly contested Tour of the Basque country. De la Cruz also impressed away from home soil as well, besting the Spanish darling, Alberto Contador, in a two up sprint to win the final stage of Paris Nice.

His trajectory going into Grand Tour season was impressive and many thought that he may travel to the Giro, ready to lead the Quickstep outfit alongside Bob Jungels and provide a GC presence in an otherwise sprint heavy team. Unfortunately the Spaniard didn’t make the cut, Lefevre opting to gear his Giro squad around Gaviria and Jungels. With Dan Martin the assured team leader during Tour season, his eyes soon fell on the Vuelta a Espana, a race that had yielded many gifts for him just a year previously.

Preparations began again at the Vuelta a Burgos, de la Cruz hot on the heels of a resurgent Mikel Landa for the majority of the race. Despite his younger teammate, Enric Mas, nipping ahead of him to claim the second spot on the podium, de la Cruz looked ready to battle in the impending Vuelta. His form was clearly at peak level going into the three week race, playing an instrumental part in Quickstep’s second place in the opening day’s TTT before going onto finish second behind a wily Vincenzo Nibali on stage 3’s finish in Andorra. In the stages that followed, the Spaniard never finished outside the top 35, his position in the GC sliding up and down the top ten as the weeks progressed.

De la Cruz looks on as his place in the Vuelta top ten ebbs away. CREDIT: Ciclismoafondo

Fatigue visibly got a stranglehold on the Quickstep rider as the Vuelta drew to a close in a mountainous third week. He slowly slipped places in the overall and re-focused his ambitions on a stage win before the race’s end. Abandoning his GC ambitions, we were able to see de la Cruz at his best, barreling down descents as he tried to escape the grasps of the favourites behind. Unfortunately, it was on one of these slippery descents where he soon met his race’s end, just one stage away from completing the race in Madrid.

Whilst he may have slipped places as the race drew to it’s bitter end, the talent that the 28 year old demonstrated throughout the race was enough to gain a lot of interest from Team Sky fans, excited at the prospect of an exciting climber in the prime of his life heading to their team. After having defiantly lead Quickstep’s GC ambitions in the three week race, many questioned whether he’d take a more back seat role at Team Sky; after all, he’s in the prime of his career and beginning to show real talent and composure as a Grand Tour team leader.

The new kid in a very strict playground

De la Cruz arrives at Team Sky after one of their most successful seasons to date, a monument victory as well as two Grand Tour wins. Whilst it may have been an impressive year for the British outfit, it didn’t go without it’s criticisms and numerous doping allegations. In what almost seems an attempt to create a new ‘ethos’ at Team Sky, David de la Cruz heads the list of exciting new names heading to the team. As well as signing the talented climber, Team Sky have also turned out their pockets to bring in time trialing superstar, Jonathan Castroviejo, as well as a wealth of big names in the youth scene.

With these exciting new signings, it seems as though Team Sky are trying to move themselves away from the predictable, systematic image they’ve built for themselves over the past few seasons. Instead of treating the mountains of the Tour de France as one long drag race, they now aim to light the race up in an attacking manner, one sure to raise their admiration in the wider cycling community. There’s only so many races a team can win before their fans start to get tired and move on, they want to see action and drama, experience the tension and breathlessness of each and every cycling race. Signing exciting riders like David de la Cruz is bound to do this…right?

Will de la Cruz get a taste of victory in Team Sky colours? CREDIT: Naszosie

That is of course if this is the direction that Team Sky are planning to head towards. This signing could just be yet another one of the many conscriptions of young cannon fodder for the lifeless Team Sky mountain train.

It will be a nervous start for de la Cruz in 2018; as well as trying to find his winning legs, he’ll also slowly have to find his place among the team. Quickstep’s inner ring was a totally different ballpark to that of Team Sky’s, the Spaniard will have to adapt, and fast, if he’s going to make it at the British outfit.

Opportunity, an ever-changing and subjective definition

Many riders announce their arrival at a new team with the mention of ‘more opportunity’, but that phrase doesn’t exactly seem to go hand in hand with Team Sky. The pecking order at the British outfit is clear and plain to see, Chris Froome runs the show and will do until he retires from the sport. From their the baton will befall his apprentice, Geraint Thomas; there is simply no room for any other GC competition, albeit healthy or un-healthy competition i.e Mikel Landa. No rider heads to Team Sky with the ambition of becoming a Grand Tour team leader, de la Cruz has effectively sacrificed his years of progression at Quickstep for a tasty bite of the Team Sky grand tour winning cake.

Whilst cycling is officially a solo sport, riders taking personal victories rather than being attributed to their teams, it remains a team sport at heart. When one rider wins, the rest of his team also does. This is one of the reasons why many riders from smaller teams sacrifice their leadership roles to head to larger teams with flawless winning records.

De la Cruz celebrates with his Quickstep team after Martin’s impressive third place in this year’s Paris Nice race. CREDIT: The Irish Times

But this just doesn’t seem to apply to David de la Cruz, he rode in Quickstep colours for two years, the team that has consistently topped the leaderboards of most wins in a single season. He’s tasted the best cake that money can buy and chosen to throw it away for a second rate option, it’s a decision that doesn’t make much sense.

That is until you swap the word opportunity for money, the mechanism that makes the world go round and influences the decisions of nearly every single person on the planet. It would be ridiculous to say that a boost in yearly salary wasn’t one of the reasons that the Spaniard made the move to Team Sky, and whilst we can’t necessarily say it was the main reason; it’s certainly an ugly contributing factor.

A possible 2018 calendar

2017 demonstrated de la Cruz’s talent in week long stage races, his electric attacks perfect for clinching crucial time over his rivals at the most inconspicuous of moments. With Chris Froome now preferring to head to his Grand Tours with close to zero race days in his legs, this leaves the leadership role in the smaller races open for others in the team to fill. Whilst Geraint Thomas will more than likely head the British outfit in their Italian campaign again, David de la Cruz may prove their first option on the Spanish front.

De la Cruz has experience leading the smaller Spanish stage races. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Much like his early season start for Quickstep in 2017, de la Cruz will likely head to the Ruta del Sol, Tour of the Basque Country and Volta a Catalunya races; a podium and possible overall victory his personal aim. The spring classics will mark a period of rest for the Spaniard before training starts again for the summer’s Tour de France. He’ll head to the Dauphine alongside Froome, honing his place in the Brit’s infamous mountain train. The Tour de France is the ultimate goal, de la Cruz more than likely replacing fellow countryman, Mikel Landa, in the Team Sky lineup.

With the Grande Boucle done, hopefully Team Sky will allow the Spaniard some freedom to chase his personal goals; another shot at the Vuelta top ten. Whilst he won’t head Team Sky’s Vuelta lineup, this will likely befall Wout Poels if Froome opts out of defending his title, he will certainly go as a wildcard to play later in the race.

It will certainly be a year of ups and downs for de la Cruz, finding yourself in any team, let alone Team Sky, is a difficult process.

Final opinions

Where will he slot into the Team Sky dynamic? Take up where Mikel Landa left off, one of Froome’s final men in the mountains.

Will he take a big WT victory in 2018? Potentially a stage in one of the week long Spanish tours but nothing more, unfortunately.

Is this a transfer that needed to happen? Certainly not, his arc of progression at Quickstep was going perfectly and they were nurturing him into an excting and new GC talent, I’m afraid Team Sky may just train this out of him…

 

What do you guys think of the de la Cruz to Team Sky transfer? Make sure to leave a comment down below! If you’ve enjoyed this Transfer Talk article, make sure to routinely check the website and Twitter page so you don’t miss out on the next one!

 

 

 

 

 

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