In men’s professional cycling, a three-week Grand Tour debut is like a coming-of-age ceremony, a ritual that all top-level riders must go through to take the next steps on their journeys to becoming established professionals.
Debutants push their bodies to race harder and for longer than ever before. Some thrive, and others struggle.
Finn Fisher-Black (UAE Team Emirates), Max Poole (DSM-Firmenich) and Felix Engelhardt (Jayco-AlUla) all made their Grand Tour debuts at the 2023 Vuelta a España. They spoke to Cyclingnews a few days after the race ended in Madrid to tell us what went right, what went wrong and what they learned.
Anticipation and expectation
All three riders had been planning all year for three weeks in Spain, but nothing could fully prepare them for the demands of a Grand Tour.
“You never feel ready,” said Fisher-Black. “I’m empty after a one-week race, and I couldn’t imagine going for another two weeks…At the start, part of me was worried; what if I’m just getting dropped in the last week, every day, just getting my head kicked in?”
Pre-game nerves are part of sport, but when the task at hand is so beyond the limits you’ve reached before, they multiply. Excitement also intensifies, however. The three Grand Tours are not only the longest races on the cycling calendar, but they are also the biggest events. That realisation comes for many riders at the pre-race presentation.
“The team presentation was something I’ll probably never forget,” recalled Poole. “You feel like you’re there then, I think. It’s been hard to get to this point, not just this year but over the years.”
The size of the event and realisation of a dream also added to the occasion for Engelhardt.
“It’s definitely more work and more effort that goes into the race…all the teams bring their kitchen trucks, the buses and whatnot – it’s just the highest level of racing that you can get,” Engelhardt said.
“It’s definitely motivating to give your best, but…there’s a lot of pressure and fighting to get into a Grand Tour squad, so you want to deliver and show the team why you’re there in the first place.”
The race is on
The Vuelta began with a controversial and dramatic team time trial in Barcelona. Engelhardt and Poole couldn’t possibly have had more different experiences.
For Poole, it was the ecstasy of winning your first Grand…