Harry Tanfield ready for daunting test of Grand Tour debut at Vuelta a Espana

Harry Tanfield had expected his season to be over by now but is instead gearing up to make his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana.

The 25-year-old will embark on by far the biggest race of his still young career when the opening stage rolls out of Irun on Tuesday morning.

Tanfield only got confirmation of his selection last weekend as his AG2R La Mondiale team shuffled line-ups following the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix, throwing himself into preparations since.

“I thought I would be on off-season by now,” Tanfield told the PA News agency. “As soon as I found out, I booked a flight and came to Spain the next day.”

This year’s Vuelta promises to be one quite unlike any other.

Pushed back beyond the usual end of the season by the pandemic and shortened to 18 stages after the cancellation of a planned start in Utrecht, the Vuelta boasts an exceptionally hard route and an eclectic mix of cycling royalty and Grand Tour rookies thanks to the overlap with the Giro d’Italia.

Two-time winner Chris Froome will race his last race for the Ineos Grenadiers alongside Richard Carapaz, but is up against defending champion Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin – desperate to make up for their Tour de France disappointment – as well as Thibaut Pinot, Luis Leon Sanchez and Dan Martin.

At the other end of the experience scale, Tanfield is one of four British Grand Tour debutants in the race alongside Lotto-Soudal’s Mark Donovan and Bahrain-McLaren pair Fred Wright and Stevie Williams.

Primoz Roglic is the reigning Vuelta champion. Credit: PA

The threats of coronavirus and the weather – with snow already falling on several parts of the planned route – add to the unknowns for Tanfield, who has never tackled a race of this length or difficulty before.

While he said the snow “couldn’t be any worse than a day out in North Yorkshire in December”, the Great Ayton rider admitted the Pyrenees go beyond his more usual comfort zone in the Moors.

Asked if he was daunted by the route, Tanfield said he had read the roadbook as far as next Sunday’s planned finish on the Tourmalet and stopped there.

“That stage looks ridiculous, being blunt,” he said.

AG2R La Mondiale will take an opportunist approach to the race as they target stages, and have in Tanfield a rider whose biggest win to date came from a breakaway at the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018.

“We haven’t got a GC leader, it’s more about stage hunting really, which is kind of nice because we’re free,” Tanfield said. “It gives everyone a chance to race.”

The unexpected opportunity could also be a golden one with Tanfield still in talks over a new contract for next season.

Credit: PA

“You get opportunities to do races like this very rarely,” he said. “A lot of people have lacked racing this year and I’m one of them. I’ve got what I’ve got and you try to make the best of it.”

“I did some good racing at the Tour of Poland and then Poitou-Charentes (in August), but nothing special,” he said. “Coming off the back of those races I had good legs but then it’s two or three weeks to the next one.

“I’ve set a load of records in my local club 10, if that’s anything to go by, but obviously it doesn’t count towards the next race or the next contract.”

If racing is what Tanfield needs to find his legs, an 18-stage Grand Tour could be just the thing.

“Let’s hope I ride into it, eh?” he said.