Four wildcard entrants will compete alongside the eighteen World Tour teams in the 72nd edition of the Vuelta a Espana. The Grand Tour will see the teams of Cofidis Solution Credits, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Manzana Postobon competing alongside the established stars of the peloton but it is the new Irish Pro Continental team Aqua Blue Sport that will be aiming to make a big splash on debut at Grand Tour.
The team has drawn attention with its attacking style in early season racing and no doubt it was that animation that led to the Irish registered team being selected by Vuelta organisers ASO as a wildcard for the event. The team was the brainchild of Irish businessman Rick Delaney and he was over-the-moon after the announcement.
"We spoke in the team presentation at the start of the year about winning on and off the bike," said Delaney. "We dreamed about trying to perform at the highest level and we hoped that we might achieve a world tour start at some point in the future.
"Three months in to our first season we have a Grand Tour invite. I believe it is very important to dream and this is evidence that dreams do come true. It is an emotional moment. I dreamed of a grand tour start and now it has been realised."
The Aqua Blue Sport team has a diverse roster, including two Australians; Calvin Watson and Leigh Howard. The two have both ridden Grand Tours in the past with Howard the more experienced with five previous appearances at the three week events to his name.
General Manager of Aqua Blue Sport, Stephen Moore, welcomed the invitation and said that the team are ready to take the big leap into Grand Tour racing.
"Aqua Blue Sport has been working hard to show that we deserve this place. That hard work is already paying off. We will be putting together a strategy to give our Irish and international fans a lot to cheer about when the race begins. Before that we will continue to compete and hunt for that coveted first win."
Aqua Blue Sport have been knocking at the door for their first professional win this season, with Adam Blythe placing second twice within the past week of racing at the Hanzame Classic and Nokere Koerse. The Vuelta will offer the fledgling team a chance to show that they belong at the top level of the sport, something that was the team's stated goal entering the professional in their debut season.
SBS and Cycling Central will be broadcasting the final eight stages of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana LIVE with daily highlights of the entire race. Details will be confirmed closer to the date.