The Vuelta á Espana starts on Saturday with a Team Time Trial round the streets of Barcelona, and for the first time in 29 years a homegrown Scot will be on the start line.
Oscar Onley and Sean Flynn will be riding for Team DSM-Firmenich for the final grand tour of the season, and we caught up with the duo on the eve of the Grand Depart.
After learning of selection for the Vuelta, Edinburgh-native Sean Flynn said it was a bonus to make his Grand Tour debut in his maiden season as a professional, as he told Scottish Cycling:
“For both of us, it wasn’t necessarily agreed at the start of the season but was a possibility, but as the season progressed it was set as a goal for the second part of the year. We’ve gone through the preparation phases to get ready, we’ve both came here quite well prepared which is quite nice!”
We believe it’s the first time that Scotland will have two riders in the same Grand Tour, with Oscar Onley aiming to contend the general classification but potentially will opt for hunting stage wins, while former Edinburgh RC rider Flynn will be on lead-out duty for Italian sprinter Alberto Dainese but still hopes for opportunities for individual success:
“I think it’s quite exciting with Alberto, he’s definitely one of the fastest sprinters on the startlist here, so I’m looking to help him in the sprint stages to get him in the right place and on the intermediate stages when it’s a bit more unpredictable, then we’ll all be getting stuck in and seeing what we can do!”
Onley’s rise in the past 12 months has been exceptional, with the Kelso native producing a strong showing last Autumn at the curtailed Tour of Britain, before going toe-to-toe with Jonas Vingegaard on his way to third at the CRO Race last October.
The former Spokes RT rider moved full-time into the WorldTour set up at Team DSM this season, and similar results have followed, with strong performances in the Tours of Algarve and Hungary, backed up most recently by a top ten overall finish at the WorldTour Tour de Pologne at the start of August.
Replicating that performance in the Spanish heat, that the Girona-based rider has became well accustomed to, would be a fantastic achievement but the possibility of stage wins is also tempting, and deciding between the two goals may be difficult:
“I think it’s a mix of both, I’ll go in with the mindset of not losing any time, so I’ll see how it goes.” Onley explained.
“I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m 15th on general classification and I’m stuck in that ground where I can’t go for stages, so a certain point me and the team will make a decision and see if we stick with the GC goal or aim for stages.”
A purist race for the climbers, this edition of the Vuelta offers only the single 25km individual time trial and sees the return of the brutal Alto de l’Angliru amongst nine summit finishes. With some of the others taking place during the races trip in Andorra, and what looks to be an epic finish on the Col du Tourmalet during a brief excursion into France.
There’s a mix of youth and experience within the ranks of the squad with Onley and fellow neo-pro climber Max Poole having the guidance of former Tour de France podium finisher Romain Bardet to rely on with in the Team DSM ranks:
“Myself and Max Poole have the same goal of not losing time for the general classification and then Romain Bardet is here more for stages, and he can guide us really well in how to manage ourselves over the three weeks, but the main focus of the team is stages, with Alberto [Dainese] and Sean for the flatter stages. We have a really nice group for going for those stage wins”.
Fatigue will play a part with both riders’ previously furthest stage races being 10 days long, but Flynn is looking forward to the challenges that a three-week race will bring:
“For me, I’m quite excited to see how my fatigue is beyond the seven- or ten-day point, which we both know fairly well. I’m quite intrigued to see how the body reacts and what that’s like, it’s something I’ve always wondered how it would feel to do a Grand Tour, so we actually get to see in real-life what it’s like so, that’s quite exciting.”
Former MTB XC rider Flynn joined Team DSM as it was then known in the winter, having ended a very successful season with third division outfit Tudor Pro Cycling including an excellent performance at the U23 “Baby” Giro d’Italia and a tenth-place finish in the Commonwealth Games Road Race and led out Finn Crockett to a brilliant bronze medal in Warwick.
The 23-year-old has enjoyed the move to the top tier of professional cycling:
“It’s definitely been a big step up, but I definitely felt like I was ready for it at the time. I also knew a few of the guys at the team from before from racing like Oscar and a few others, so it didn’t feel completely alien. The biggest step up has been the standard of racing and races, but I felt it’s gone quite smoothly and felt quite natural.
“It’s been a really good environment to learn, and the team have given me opportunities, the Vuelta included, so it’s been pretty ideal.”
We thank Oscar and Sean for their time and wish them and the entire Team DSM-Firmenich squad the very best of luck for the next three weeks.
You can watch the whole Vuelta á Espana uninterrupted on GCN+ and Discovery+, British Cycling members can receive 15% off GCN+ by checking out the Membership section of the website.