Who Will Win The Vuelta?

Chris Froome and Alberto Contador top the bill with a wide cast of contenders behind them, the likes of Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk are looking to build on their experiences from the Giro while Nairo Quintana and Tejay van Garderen are among those looking to salvage something from a season that has yet to go to plan. Then come a new wave of stage races like Miguel Angel Lopez, Simon Yates, Pierre Latour and Warren Barguil to name just a few.

It makes for a fascinating contest with varying degrees of motivation and fatigue and all on a testing course with more summits than the United Nations and most riders have not bothered with route recons.

Route recap: there’s an emphasis on the vertical with 12 mountain stages including ten uphill finishes that rang from the spiky 2km Mirador de Ezaro to longer, grinding climbs like the Col d’Aubisque and the Alto de Aitana with several hard contests in between like Peña Cabarga and the Lagos de Covadonga. There’s an opening team time trial and a late solo 37km time trial to Calp, the scene of so many pre-season training camps. The summit finishes are spread throughout the race, unlike the Giro and Tour there are fewer set-piece stages for the big names to target, instead they have to be ready again and again. Time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds apply on every road stage with 3-2-1 seconds at all intermediate sprints.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador is the prime pick. He’s won this race three times, is on home soil and has the motivation and form to win. Form? Well all we’ve got to go on his triumph in the Vuelta a Burgos, the traditional pre-Vuelta tune-up and he won by one second after placing second on the mountain stage to Lagunas de Neila which suggests he’s on the mend after leaving the Tour de France after crashes and illness saw him quit in Andorra but is no ringing endorsement. He’s suited to the repeated summit finishes. His team look suitable on paper, enough to limit the damage in the opening team time trial but the real question is coherence over the three weeks with riders set to go their separate ways as Tinkoff folds.

Esteban Chaves is next. A year ago he was an exciting climber, now he’s a grand tour contender. Can he go the three weeks? He fell ill in the Giro this year and faded in the closing days of the Vuelta last year so the question is worth asking. He’s explosive and suited to the route and Orica-BikeExchange bring a solid team including Simon Yates who is an outsider for the race, if DNA alone was enough then Adam’s fourth place in the Tour de France should translate to a podium for Simon but it’s not so simple; still he’s a sharp finisher who can take time bonuses. The other question for Chaves is form, he’s only raced once since the Giro and that was the Olympics where he was discreet. Yates is the safer form pick as he’s been good in Burgos but Chaves showed up last year without racing for months before and was the best rider of the opening week.

Nairo Quintana started July as the great hope and finished as the big flop. He was still third overall but paradoxically this was because he was off the pace, it invited him to ride steadily so he paced his way to the podium. If third in Paris was a flop then it shows the standards he’s measured by but he’s still hunting that grand tour win and if he’s found out what went wrong in July – nothing’s been made public – then he’s a strong podium pick. Still the spiky route isn’t ideal for a rider more at ease on long summit finishes and he’s sharing the team leadership with Spanish Stakhanovite Alejandro Valverde, the man who just can’t seem to stop racing. Valverde is very suited to this route too but after the spring classics, the Giro, Tour and Olympics he’s got to be stale now. If both are tired then watch for the new generation with José Herrada and Rubén Fernández.

Talking of fatigue, what is Chris Froome here for? The win or the base miles? He’s not just attempting a Tour-Vuelta double: he’s won the Dauphiné, enjoyed some post-Tour criteriums and had a return trip to Rio to collect a bronze medal. If back-to-back grand tours are hard enough this schedule makes it harder. He was second in 2014 but after he’d crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken wrist. Still this race matters to him, a late injury replacement call-up in 2011 saw him go from rejection by Sky to their strongest rider. He’s been planning to ride it ever since the route was announced so this is no late “we might as well ride” option. He rode last year and crashed out with a broken foot but before that happened he’d been off the pace but he’s the best grand tour contender around so for all the questions he’s going to get a high rating. Peter Kennaugh was once tipped for great things but hasn’t delivered on this but is quietly coming into form and Sky look strong as ever with Michał Kwiatkowski and Leopold König worth watching.

Steven Kruijswijk is back for that tricky second album after his hit ride last May. He looked assured in the Giro until crashing out and there’s not going to be a snowflake in sight along the way. He’s been a rider of the Giro and translating this to the Vuelta isn’t obvious but he’ll surely have had the Vuelta in mind for months now and has to be first among the “revenge” candidates. He was alone at times in the Giro but Lotto-Jumbo team Robert Gesink is a precious help, sixth in the 2015 Tour de France shows what he can do when fortune smiles.

BMC Racing have two leaders in Samuel Sanchez and Tejay van Garderen with opposing tales. For Sanchez there’s experience and no pressure, nobody is expecting him to win so a top-1o and a mountain stage would be nice. The same goal applies to van Garderen only he needs a result and to make amends for July. He told the cyclingnews podcast that he’s not been training hard since the Tour and that he’ll look to ride steady and maybe go in the breakaways but curiously the show mentioned they interviewed him after he’d been reconning the route, not something that’s done by those hoping for a casual result. Pocket rocket Darwin Atapuma was active in the recent Tour of Utah and Ben Hermans is a strong climber either in support or to take a mountain stage.

Astana have looked weaker this year in grand tours and start with their hopes invested in Miguel Angel Lopez, 22 years old and riding his first grand tour. He’s inexperienced but has won the Tour de Suisse, proving long and mountainous stage races suit and that win was taken in style, he attacked while in the yellow jersey and the Vuelta has been his big goal all year. If anything he could look off the pace early as the sharper climbs don’t suit him but expect him to look better on the longer climbs. The rest of the team is strong on paper, L-L Sanchez hasn’t delivered for a while but always threatens while Andrey Zeits was floating up the Vista Chinesa in the Rio road race.

Andrew Talanksy skipped the Tour de France to focus on the Vuelta and this is a decisive race for him. He’s lost more races than he’s won, getting worked over in the Tour of Utah and falling off the podium in the Tour de Suisse. We’ve seen him hang with the best in the mountains before though so if he can get it together then the podium is possible given his freshness. Cannondale’s Joe Dombrowski has been a loyal sherpa to him and the team bring Pierre Rolland looking for an Indian summer to his season.

Now for a quick run through some other names. Warren Barguil made a name for himself in this race with two stage wins in 2013, one a crafty win and the other by dropping Rigoberto Uran à la pédale in the Pyrenees. He’s talented but is he motivated here, he’s riding after the Tour didn’t work out but should be relatively fresh given his truncated season. Lampre-Merida’s Louis Meintjes climbed into the top-10 of the Tour de France so here’s a route to suit without the pressure but how motivated is he? Pierre Latour is a promising rider starting his first grand tour while Ag2r La Mondiale team mate Jean-Christophe Péraud rides his last, Latour is said to be the next Romain Bardet but is a bit heavier and still a work-in-progress. Lotto-Soudal bring in-form Bart de Clercq while Louis Vervaeke is a Belgian stage race prospect, both could aim for a stage and the top-10 and Thomas De Gendt is always good for a mountain raid too. Etixx-Quickstep’s Gialuca Brambilla isn’t Spanish despite the way some mistakenly pronounce his name (it’s Bram-bill-ar, not Bram-bee-ah), he’s a punchy climber and in decent form, a stage win would do nicely as he aims for the Tour of Lombardy next month.

FDJ bring a little and large double act with Angliru stage winner Kenny Elissonde recovering from persistent knee injury alongside Alexandre Geniez, the Colossus of Rodez who’s cracked the top-10 of the Giro, in form and looking to take opportunities before a move to Ag2r La Mondiale where more servile duties await. Igor Anton and Merhawi Kudus are Dimension Data’s best bets in the mountains and for GC with Omar Fraile aiming to repeat last year’s mountain prize win. Cofidis’s Stéphane Rossetto is a strong rider who might surprise while Bora-Argon 18’s Gregor Mühlberger was a promising U23 about to dive into the deep end of his first grand tour.

Caja Rural bring a stack of wind-up stage hunters and remember this is their biggest race of the year, while others look to peak elsewhere the team plans much of its season around the Vuelta with Hugh Carthy as an added curiosity, he’s climbed among the top-1o in World Tour races this year but recent results in Burgos saw him looking slower, training or off the pace?

Alberto Contador
Esteban Chaves
Steven Kruijswijk, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde
Simon Yates, Miguel Angel López
Talansky, Meintjes, Rolland

Finally a quick scan of the sprinters. Few are racing given the few opportunities present, even Nacer Bouhanni who needs some World Tour wins and rides for a team with big commercial interests in Spain isn’t starting after he looked at the route. Instead Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quickstep), Niccolò Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo), Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin), Jonas Van Genechten (IAM Cycling), Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Jempy Drucker (BMC Racing), Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) and Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) are the obvious names to watch for and there are nine possible sprint stages but without big name sprinters there are not big trains either so several flat finishes are likely to see the breakaway stay away instead and there are plenty of other riders to hunt for stage winners too who’ll get some blog limelight in the coming daily previews.

41 thoughts on “Who Will Win The Vuelta?”

  1. What I love about being absolutely nuts about pro cycling is that the Vuelta and the Giro are equally as interesting as Le Tour. Even the unusual bunch of sprinters should make it more intriguing.

  2. Superb preview, as always, for the fun last-chance-saloon GT. I actually think Tinkoff have ridden reasonably coherently for a team largely going their seperate ways at the end of the year, although I don’t sense whether that is triumph of the management or a reflection of the personal loyalties within the team. (E.g. Sagan riding for Kreuziger at the end of the TdF).

    Any thoughts on how Matvey Mamykin might go? Probably too young for a push at the young riders competition by looked sharp during Burgos.

    • Katusha didn’t get a mention above at all, it’s odd that Joaquim Rodriguez has vanished. As you say Mamykin is going well after being a strong U23, it’s been rare for Russian riders to do as well in the pro ranks as they did in the U23 races but one to watch for.

      • Yes, Rodriguez’s decision to end his career at the Olympics made sense in some ways but looks odd when it has come to this race. The squad Katusha have sent here looks a bit patchwork and I can see why you didn’t mention them.

        They also haven’t got off to the best start with their preparation. Got lost during their TTT practice today. There is some brilliant footage (on their team FB and twitter) of a clearly lost squad on a dirt track trying to work out where to go and having to ask directions from a jogger with a dog who appears understandably bemused by coming across an elite cycle team during his morning run.

  3. Lil typo in the Froome paragraph (2nd in 2014, not 2015).

    Really looking forward to this. Expecting much more exciting racing than the Tour produced

  4. Excellent as always – can’t help but point out a couple of corrections, 2014 was when froome broke his wrist in the tour and Quintana already has a grand tour to his name

    Great preview, gets the mouth watering for some proper non track cycling again

      • He pulled out of the Olympics, which suggests otherwise perhaps?
        The cooler, damper climate of northern Spain will suit. I think he could get dragged along again to another podium.

        ‘Dragged’ could also be the operative word of the tour, as we all know who we are expecting to light the blue touch paper!
        Who has got the cajones to attack a fresh and rested Alberto Contador on his home ground?

  5. Bit of a blast from the past, but if Tyler Farrar is ever going to win another grand tour stage this is the “sprint” field to go up against.

  6. I love the Tour de France because it’s the race that made me fall in love with bike racing. The Veulta I love because it’s position in the season brings so many unknowns and with that so many opportunities for the unexpected to happen. I can’t wait and hopefully we’ll get to see Chaves’s smile light up at least one stage if not the whole race.

    • “fewer set-piece stages for the big names to target, instead they have to be ready again and again.”

      That sums it up. Difficult to predict. Excitement certain. Could be the best of the season GT’s.

      With so many summit finishes, a steady great climber will shine.

  7. About Froome “…but he’s the best grand tour contender around ..” I’d replace grand tour with Tour de France, based on his current palmares.
    I’d like to see Chaves (or perhaps Quintana) win La Vuelta 2016 but as usual, I hope for an exciting race with lots of contenders racing to win rather than trying not to lose.
    It was interesting to read an essay elsewhere on how the Vuelta needs to be improved – a race that has been held up recently as a formula the other grand tours should emulate.

    • I agree with the general sentiment of the article you are referring to but wanting a grand tour where Sagan and van Avarmaet can contest the GC is maybe a step too far. A more balanced route and the opportunity for say somebody like Alaphilippe or Brambilla to contend, along with time trialists, wouldn’t be a bad thing though in my opinion. Even if they just threw an interesting route in every few years.

      • I understand folks wanting a GT their favorite guy can win and sometimes the organizers will try to tilt things in one direction or another. The defanged 2009 Giro d’Italia course sop to BigTex might be the most recent example…but then you end up with a “winner” like Menchov so it’s “be careful what you wish for” as GT’s have a habit of serving up plenty of surprises no matter the course design. I’d hope the 3 would all try to be distinctly different rather than end up with more of a formula than they have now.

  8. I’m sensing a bit of Vuelta deja vu with the 12 summit finishes, like last year. Surely when you don’t even get a sprinter who can climb ok like Bouhanni coming along, when he hasn’t done a grand tour all year, and your national tour pretty much crisscrosses one region then you’ve took the whole uphill finish thing too far. Variety is the spice and all that.

    • Absolutely. The Vuelta’s reliance on uphill sprints can make for formulaic racing. I’d also like to see the sort of route you mention above tried every few years – not often; just as a change.

    • I prefer many uphill finishes tan many flat or semi flat stages across la Meseta… These steep finishes have become the idendity of the Vuelta, I of course prefer dolomite stages with various climbs above the 2000m, but this kind of terrain simply does not exist in Spain. So why shouldn’t they use what they have and come back to Ezaro and la Farrapona?
      In turns, in terms of regions visited, it is really too repetitive. We have one year one week in Andalucia and the other one one week in Galice, with predominance of the latter who has in almost all vueltas some stages. It is a pity as there are beautiful possible route in the mountains of central Spain for instance, near Madrid or Avila.

      • There are obviously many mountain ranges in Spain so even if they do want to stick to the uphill sprint formula they don’t have to stay in the North, as you say. The riders no doubt don’t enjoy 40c temperatures but bright sunshine and parched landscapes are as much a part of the Vuelta as the sunflowers at the Toyr and snow drifts at the Giro.

      • Is it feasible to ever hold a stage/s in the Canary Islands?
        Would be a fantastic spectacle, although it may interfere with the tourist season somewhat?

  9. Doesn’t there have to be a Dutch surprise in this grand tour. Three of the last three have had a Dutchman come out of relative nowhere to threaten the GC win and then fall off in the last week, crushing the hopes and dreams of the Dutch fans. Maybe Gesink?

  10. The lack of notable sprinters is also interesting given the Worlds parcours . Where will those hopeful of winning the rainbow jersey be riding instead? I cannot remember a year where nearly all aiming at the worlds avoided the Vuelta.

  11. In the Velta, I always look forward to witnessing the emergence of the under 23 category. Who is going to step up and perform at that next higher level and perhaps move up in the team peeking order.

  12. I enjoy the Vuelta with the mix it brings and uncertainty based on fatigue of usual favourites, emergence of new talent and general unknown of how it will play out.

    Hoping Chaves wins

    Quintana could do with the win but once again will Valverde support him on home turf?

  13. Haimar Zubeldia for the win !

    He is wearing #91 for this race. He normally has a 9 on his back.

    Does this mean he will no longer be inconspicuous ?

  14. I can’t understand this lack of motivation thing.
    Bouhanni should be looking to salvage his season (his boss should have made him come – he’d be the best sprinter here and he owes the team) – as should Quintana; Froome should be looking to prove that he can win more than just the Tour (but, as usual, has focused more on the cash of post-Tour criteriums than the Vuelta – I think he’s only interested in money and having a ‘6’ next to ‘number of TdF wins’); and young riders like Barguil and Meintjes should still be looking to prove themselves, especially Barguil after a lacklustre Tour.
    At worst, the Vuelta has to be about the equivalent of a Monument so why would you not be motivated?
    Kruijswijk looked stronger than Chaves in the Giro, so why do you favour Chaves more – explosivity?

    • Kruijswijk Vs Chaves: this is exacly what I would say, more explosivity for the latter as seen in last Vuelta. Kruijswijk has mostly been good in the Giro so far, and the climbs (and their repetition) are quite different there in Italy. It is less explosive stuffs.

  15. Can’t tell exactly but it seems you’re inferring yateses are identical twins when they aren’t really, they just look very similar.
    That’s an interesting point on the way to pronounce Brambilla’s name; hopefully he’ll make his name here for punchy accelerations as opposed to punches.

  16. Can’t see it being anyone other than Froome unless someone new comes out of the woodwork like Tom Dumoulin did last year. I think Sky looked at the other riders taking part and thought, we could win this because everyone is going to be in the same place as Froome as they’ve all ridden the Tour de France

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