Vuelta a España Preview

Glance at the startlist and it’s part stellar, part nebula with a handful of teams coming with serious GC ambitions and others, well they’ve not exactly had a plan in place all year. It’s part of the race’s charm with plenty of surprises ahead for the next three weeks.

Route summary: eight uphill finishes plus a further mountain stage with a descent to the finish, the Vuelta’s course is as vertical as ever. In recent years the race has characterised by short, steep climbs which are notably different from the Alpine ascents of the Tour de France and Giro and this year’s route is similar but some climbs are longer but rougher too meaning they’ll last longer. The opening team time trial suits the big teams for the stage win but the 13km distance will keep the time gaps short. The 36km time trial is the longest time trial in the grand tours this year and crucially it comes relatively early in the race meaning it’s not a late test of freshness but one for the specialists and experts. The are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds at the finish line and 3-2-1 seconds at the intermediate sprints.

The Contenders: cast your mind back to early May and Primož Roglič was the pre-race pick for the Giro with the only doubt that he’d won so much already this season including the Tour de Romandie on the eve of the race that the concern was he’d turn stale late in the Giro… which, to abbreviate and approximate, happened. Now we’ve got the reverse, there’s no form to go on as he hasn’t raced recently, just the knowledge that the Vuelta is a target and we know what he can do when he’s on form. He’s suited to the time trial and handy on the punchy climbs as well, he’s taken stages with short sharp climbs in, say, Tirreno-Adriatico so the Vuelta course suits, he’s not a diesel. Jumbo-Visma bring an armada to Spain with Tour podium finisher Steven Kruisjwijk, fourth in the Vuelta last year, is supposed to be on team duty and where George Bennett can play his own card and the experienced Robert Gesink to guide things in the mountains.

Perhaps last time you saw Migel Angel Lopez (Astana) was on the slopes of Monte Avena when he was slapping a spectator who’d made him crash on the climb of the Giro and arguably his only memorable moment of the Giro, harsh but after he finished fourth on the opening day he struggled and “only” finished seventh. The only rider from last year’s podium to start – he was third – he’s still 25 years old and a serious contender again. His problem is the time trial, he consistently loses time here (excepting the one Tour de Suisse where he beat Fabian Cancellara on the way to winning the race overall, on a high altitude course). Astana bring a stacked team with Jacob Fuglsang having recently re-signed with the team and probably riding in service as a result with Ion Izaguirre in need of a result.

Nairo Quintana has won the Vuelta before. Movistar’s trident has already broken before the race started with Richard Carapaz injuring his shoulder in a Dutch exhibition race leaving Quintana and Alejandro Valverde as joint leaders. Valverde’s normally good for a high place overall and stage wins but he’s looking less of the El Imbatibile these days. As for Nairo Quintana it wasn’t long ago he was duelling with Chris Froome and now his long time nemesis isn’t racing but recently he’s been off the boil. Does he want to be here? He crashed hard the Tour this year and still won a stage and even if he’s leaving the team – the latest is that the management of Arkéa bank have been asked to sign off the move at a board meeting – it’s still a prestigious stage win to take and within his grasp.

Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates) had iliac artery surgery this spring and then rode the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France as part of a fast-track comeback. Just starting was an achievement and he finished both too, including a decent 14th place in Paris but this means he’s won’t be as fresh Ichnusa out of the fridge either. He’s won the Vuelta before and is suited to the hilly course but his team are weaker compared to when he won. He can surprise from in time trials too but has often done this when the TT comes late in the race. Tadej Pogačar starts and if youth is a theme of the season, the young Slovenian is one many will watch but winning a grand tour outright on his first go is something that even Egan Bernal didn’t try. Just doing two weeks and showing on the mountain stages is a good showing.

EF Education First have five riders capable of the top-10. Rigoberto Urán was seventh in the Tour de France and seventh in the Vuelta last year too (pictured) but did you notice him? He’s consistent rather than flamboyant on the bike and the climbs and long time trial should suit him so we might be seeing a lot more of him but how to win? Hugh Carthy had a spectacular stage win in the Tour de Suisse but will the Spanish rampóns be too sharp for him and the time trial stage could be ruinous. Dani Martinez and Sergio Higuita are two promising Colombians, Martinez won the big stage of Paris-Nice earlier this year and Higuita’s a versatile rider who’s a good pick for an uphill stage win and perhaps more but this is first grand tour. Tejay van Garderen will like the TT stage but climbs and piecing together a three week race will be hard but he’s riding well and the whole team should be entertaining to watch.

Esteban Chaves has the run of the Mitchelton-Scott team. He’s been on the comeback from mononucleosis and rode the Giro partly as a support rider for Simon Yates, partly as a test. The team are frank about their ambitions and now downplay his chances saying the GC is an objective but they’re coming for stage wins as well. He’s been untouchable in the Vuelta before but will need this kind of form again just to make the podium.

Team Ineos bring Wout Poels and Tao Geoghan Hart. Poels arguably made a name for himself in the Vuelta when he rode for Vacansoleil and was duelling with Froome, Wiggins and Cobo but now it’s harder to see him contesting the win. Geoghan Hart gets a shot at leadership which does seem a bit like giving a teenager the keys to a Porsche but he’s been lively of late and while Pavel Sivakov won the Tour of Poland and the Tour of the Alps, Geoghan Hart could easily have won had tactics turned out differently and a top-10 would be a solid start for the 24 year old.

Bora-Hansgrohe bring another top heavy team with Rafał Majka capable of a stage win and a high place overall and then Felix Großschartner and Davide Formolo have a shot too but how to win overall?

Once upon a time Team Sunweb resembled the Pied Piper as they led all the best U23 riders out of the village but now things are less of a fairy tale for the German-Dutch team. Still Wilco Kelderman and Robert Power are big assets. Kelderman’s had a chaotic season, unable to start the Giro he then rode the Tour instead but that didn’t work out so he’s one of several riding the Vuelta to save the season.

Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) can be agonising to watch, he constantly looks like he’s going to crack in five seconds’ time but continues to power on and on. He’s strong in time trials, good on steep climbs and comes off a good Tour de Pologne but looks more like top-10 contender than a winner but he’s another just happy to be starting after injuries plagued his season so far.

Primož Roglič
Miguel Angel Lopez
Nairo Quintana, Fabio Aru
Rigoberto Urán, Esteban Chaves, Steven Kruijswijk
Poels, Fuglsang, Latour, Valverde, Bennett

64 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Preview”

  1. The Vuelta seems rather an after thought this year, for various reasons many of the top riders are not here. I know it is a favourite race for many but excitement and anticipation seems to be in short supply.

    Jumbo Visma do seem to be the stand out team and Primoz Roglic must start as favourite. “Superman” Lopez has often not lived up to his promise maybe this is his chance to shine. As
    to the rest not really sure a case can be made for one rider over another.

    One rider who could well shine is Sam Bennett, he deserved to be at either the Giro or Tour, he has a chance to dominate the sprints here. Is there any news on a possible move to another team?

    A surprise could come on stage 14, the route runs along the coast for a long way, if the winds blow it could change the whole complexion of the race.

      • That’s what I had read and it makes sense given Ellia Vivani is moving on. However there does not seem to have been any official announcement but perhaps I have missed it with all the other transfers that have been announced in the past few weeks

      • U dont need a train if you have Mørkøv …buch super surfer and the brain behind most of Kristofs and Viviani’s victories.

        (and i still think Mørkøv would make as credible TDF GC winner as G.Thomas).

        • sorry whhhhhaaaaaaaa? Morkov is a great rider but at what point has he ever looked like a GT rider?

          he’s won one GT stage – 2013 Vuelta (a non mountain stage ahead of T.Farrar and Cancellara)
          his highest GT finish is 93… every race he’s ever finished highly in is a sprinters race: Paris Tours, Tour of Qatar, Gent Wevelgem… he wore the Polka Dot Jersey in the 2012 TDF but only between stages 1-7 never taking points on a hills above Cat4 with Froome taking it the first day they climbed a Cat1.

          Thomas on the other hand finished 31st in the 2011 TDF leading the race over the highest peak that year, then 22, 15, 15 in 2014,15,16. Bearing in mind he was riding classics and GT’s in 2015 he finished 2 and 5 in Paris Nice/Tour De Suisse, winning Paris Nice the next year. He also placed 15 in the Dauphine in 2013 all whilst winning E3 and finishing in the top10 two times of the Tour of Flanders…

          This is possibly the stupidest comment I’ve seen on INRNG.

          I’m not Welsh or even a massive Thomas fan, but the suggestion that he magically transformed or wasn’t marked out a huge talent before focusing on Grand Tours is absurd.
          And don’t forget – he was also the youngest rider in the race in 2007, people within cycling knew how good Thomas was long long before he won the TDF and everyone sudden accused him of being a magician/fraud.

          • Come on, give the guy a break and don’t pull the stupid card right away. From his posts it’s obvious he’s a fan of Danish cycling. Let him have the joy of getting carried away a bit by chauvinistic feelings. We probably all have that from time to time :-).

        • Okay. Fair enough. I took it as a thinly disguised dig at Thomas possibly doping.
          Not that I have a clue either way, I just feel sorry for Thomas (if clean, which it’s fair to assume till proven otherwise) constantly being done down despite being one of the biggest talents in cycling for the past decade. I like Morkov but Thomas always had GT potential and through luck/circumstance/team dynamics took a while to truly show it.

          • I don’t think anyone who read your comment was left in any doubt about what you took Morten’s little post scriptum as1 I hope you take it in your stride if I say that is possibly the stupidest take on an aside in a comment:-)
            I took it as a suggestion or rather a strong opinion that Mørkøv – don’t you love those Danish ø-letters?! – is a more well-rounded rider than what his performances in the role he has been given and excelled in can reveal. With appropriate training and support he could – or so Morten apparently thinks he has reason to believe – or would be as good as Thomas.
            PS A general problem which often leads to silly arguments that can on both sides smack of one-eyed chauvinism is that we are almost invariably so much better informed about riders of our own nationality than those from other countries. Not because we are nationalistic idiots or bigots, but simply because we haven’t followed the latter as closely and for as long as we have the former.

          • Errr okay…

            Although I’m neither Welsh nor British and think it’s a little bit of a stretch to say Morten was just saying Morkov was a good rider when the line was ‘Mørkøv would make as credible TDF GC winner as G.Thomas’…

            So happy to take that in haste and slight jest I jumped on something that possibly didn’t warrant it but disagree with everything else in your comment.

          • You were right first time. The others are cutting a troll far too much slack. Morten sees everything on Sky and Ineos as 100% doping and no more. He’s such a great fan of Danish cycling that he can’t even spell Vingegaard correctly, a rider who can’t be a doper, obviously, because Morten likes him. It’s the logic, the ethics and the intelligence of the kindergarten.

  2. In the Wilco Kelderman paragraph:

    “…unable to start the Giro he then rode the Tour instead but that didn’t work out so he’s one of several riding the Giro to save the season.”

    Second “Giro” should presumably be “Vuelta”


  3. There’s only two things certain in a Grand Tour.
    Taxes, and a Movistar team points victory.
    Aru on 3 x chainrings with Nairoman? I think our host’s already on the Rioja 😀

  4. Lopez for the win….

    Better remove Fuglsang, he is not there for a GC result, he is there for Lopez and for the Worlds, Emilia, Torino & Lombardia. Races he podiumed in as a neo pro +10y ago and before he started focusing in the GC freakshow that started at the 2011 Vuelta and has continued until 2018/9.

  5. Thoughts in George Bennett long term?
    Seems vocal about having another shot at being a GC leader but seems to be down the pecking order especially with Dumolin coming in next year.

    • Bennett was already behind Kruijswijk and Roglic in the pecking order. Now he’s behind Dumoulin too. He will need to change teams and maybe SK will need to as well. Unless they’ve lost their ambition. We know that a fit Dumoulin can attempt 2 grand tours a year and now Roglic is doing it too. Only one guy can win.

  6. Fabio Aru not being”as fresh as an Ichnusa out of the fridge” had me not in any sort of disagreement but somewhat in bewilderment. But then Ilearnt that “Birra Ichnusa, or simply Ichnusa, is the name of a popular Sardinian-made beer” that is “named after the Latinized ancient name for Sardinia, Hyknusa” and described as “a lager (4.7% ABV) with a hoppy taste” with a recommended serving temperature of 3 °C.

    For some reason I have always had a certain fondness for Aru’s style or better said his lack of grace under pressure. I also have the impression that coming back from an iliac artery surgery is always not as simple as it may seem. On a slighly lower level of competition I know of cyclists who were not fortunate enough or did not for one reason or another manage to return to their previous best performances. Which is why Fabio Aru is both my sentimental favourite and the rider I will probably follow most keenly.

    • Well researched on the lager front.
      I wondered what that reference was. I’ll have to try a bottle of that now.
      Alas for Larry T, however, Ichnusa is now owned and brewed by Heineken Italia.
      Dutch-owned. A portent for Aru’s chances at La Vuelta perhaps?

      • Sadly, beers have become multi-national products mixed up to mimic the original flavor by just a few massive brewers. I think it’s the same for ice cream in the USA, we lived near a place called the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” where they mixed up all the brands from the cheap stuff in the massive plastic tubs to the super-premium designer names. I bought some Ichnusa the other day because it was on-sale at the supermarket. I can’t tell any taste difference between it and Nastro Azzuro, Peroni or Moretti so if I want something more than simply wet and cold, I’ll look at some micro brews which are gaining in popularity here in Italy for the same reasons I suspect in the rest of the world?

  7. Which Movistar team will turn up? The one from the Giro where they rode smarty as a single unit focused on a clear goal, or the parade of clowns going in every direction that made little impact at le Tour?

    Cycling, like all sport, loves a great comeback story, so hopefully Chaves and Aru find their classic form after recent health issues.

    • The one that wins the team prize and where Valverde and Quintana finish in the top five. In grand tour terms, these two riders are probably the best two in the race. They would likely have carried Carapaz to victory but now we’ll get a Valverde stage win or two and Quintana will always be there but not spectacular.

    • Carapaz won the Giro on the road fairly and squarely… but it was because he was gifted time by the lack of awareness from other teams, rather than how Movistar proactively put others to the sword or dominated the race.

      The cracks always seem to appear when the emphasis is on them to carry it to the others in races. I wouldn’t be surprised if Soler is their highest finisher.

      • Nibali did it with Horner in the Vuelta and did not learn that lesson (despite lecturing Roglic on his trophy cabinet).
        Carapaz would probably have won anyway – unless it was Landa – but this was tactical duncery.

        • And the thing is, it was obvious at the time: I (and I’m sure many others were) was thinking during that stage ‘You’re giving one of the top favourites a lot of time while fixating on a rider who is no better than him’.

  8. I like the Vuelta, the riders usually seem to bit a bit more of a mixed bag and the heat / steep climbs make it a bit different. I also like it as it’s one of the pointers of coming into spring where I live and I start to ride in daylight again. No idea who may win, it’s interesting about what’s said above about longer climbs this year – will that suit certain teams better, or change tactics much? Funny route to look at on the map – a lot of Spain not visited!

  9. Well done, thanks! Two questions – #1 Why did Groupama show up without bikes at the presentation? #2 Conventional wisdom suggests it no longer possible to race both the Giro and Tour to win, yet there are riders here who tried to win the Tour who still seem to be considered contenders to win La Vuelta. Why? I understand why they might show up as a “last-chance-saloon” thing but do they really have a chance to win? As I posted earlier I’d love to see a rider from Colombia win this.

    • The break between TDF and Vuelta is longer than the break between Giro and Tour.
      Also, its nearing the end of the season so everyone is a bit tired, it evens the playing field a bit.
      Last but not least. The Giro/Tour double you have to ride the hardest GT when you are allready tired, and most of the other contenders have the TDF as their one and only goal for the season.

      The TDf/Vuelta you ride the easiest when you are tired, and only a few of the riders has the race as the main goal for their season…

    • I agree Larry, there seems to be a lot of mixed thinking regarding the Vuelta. The winner tends not to be one that has figured greatly in the TdF and that tells its own story.
      As I believe you are suggesting, it feels like teams get lazy and through their GC rider in there because the talent pool isn’t as thick they can bag an end of season win. The Vuelta always seems to have that ‘runners-up’ prize to the TdF feel about it. Like the Europa Cup to the Champions League. But this approach seems only destined to fail.

  10. Roglič’s problem at the Giro seemed to be that he just couldn’t quite handle the big climbs. That’s where the others will need to pressure him.
    This is possibly Kruisjwijk’s last opportunity to win a GT with Dumoulin joining the team, but he didn’t try to win the Tour on the last day, so he’d probably settle for a podium here too.
    I still think Lopez had every right to slap that spectator. I’m not normally a fan of assault, but the guy had assaulted him – knocking him off his bike – and it wasn’t an accident: he was doing something inherently likely to cause that to happen.
    For me, Carapaz was the favourite and now there isn’t one.
    Good luck to Aru on his comeback – can’t see him winning, but a stage win would be nice and hopefully a reasonably high GC position, which would be a good sign. Would be nice to see Chaves return to form too.
    Fuglsang could be a possiblity – depending on his fitness. I’d have thought the moment he was out of the Tour he’d have switched focus to this race (but I read above that he’s focusing on one-day races, which may well be wiser). Someone like Thomas could have tried that too, having come 2nd in the Tour and been lightly raced this year.

    • Did you actually see footage of the fan “assaulting him”? I certainly never have and its my understanding the totality of the incident – before, during, after – wasn’t caught on camera. If this is true, and I stand to be corrected, it would seem you are claiming more than can be proved in what, from what has been shown, looked more like a reckless fan running into Lopez than an “assault”. Should we be striking reckless fans?

      • As I explained above, the ‘fan’ knocked him off his bike – that is not disputed. It’s not an accident, because it’s an activity inherently likely to produce this result.
        Ergo, I have no sympathy for the ‘fan’ (more accurately, ‘moron pointlessly trying to get himself on camera’) when he is slapped by a 10 stone weakling with less force than my septuagenarian mother can muster.
        Maybe getting a bit of a slap would lessen this tedious blight on the sport, if only the Helen Lovejoys could manage not to get themselves in a tizz about it.

          • True, he did. Spectators have been seriously hurt by riders riding into them, unlike those receiving a bit of a slapping.
            Your confusion might just stem from a massive and meaningless bias in favour of one team.

          • RonDe, or person who does a fine impression of him, I don’t know why you’re determined to add antagonism to this page (also, your comments to Morten), but I’m singularly uninterested.

          • O how I wish you guys or gals would get a handle, it doesn’t have to be a giveaway or even witty, you know : anon 1 , anon 2 , anon 3 ….. Just so the rest of us could work out who was saying what to whom ( as the limerick goes).

          • Niobe, I generally can’t be bothered to fill in my name when replying to an Anonymous – they don’t so I don’t see why I should.
            After my original comment, every second comment here is me. (None of the other Anonymous comments elsewhere on the page are me.)

  11. Its been a bit of a weird grand tour year. So far we’ve had two new winners and both from South America. Does this mean the omens line up for Superman Lopez? Hard to see. He is genuinely bad at time trials and Roglic should be the thick end of 3 minutes in front of him over 36kms. Yet Roglic himself seems to have a fading problem over 3 weeks if Tour 18 and Giro 19 are the guides here. But, to be honest, he should be walking this race which is full of guys who have either never won or never win grand tours anymore. There was a time Quintana, another South American, would only have had to turn up to win a race with this kind of field but who genuinely thinks he wins grand tours anymore? Chaves? He is more famous for smiling than winning and the sentimentality that some seem to regard him with puts me off him. Still, he’s benefitted from weak fields before so if he’s on a flyer – although he’s as bad at the ITT as Lopez – who knows?

    If Carapaz had made it to the start line I likely would have picked him as the potential winner. But he didn’t and so Roglic has to win this race. If he can’t beat a bunch of lightweight climbers on a Spanish course, a course that suits him just as well, then how can he hope to beat the Froomes annd Dumoulins, out through injury, and the Bernals and Thomases, who haven’t turned up?

    But I don’t tip full of confidence and a surprise winner is just as likely.

  12. Seems a bold call to have Roglič as the out and out fav on 5 rings based on his form of six months ago really. Only the Slovenian champs since the Giro.. didn’t see it, but seems he didn’t exactly light it up

  13. Is the Vuelta cursed when it has opening TTs? Wasn’t it the Vuelta a few years ago that started with a TTT on a bike path and it had to be neutralized? Today it’s a garden hose and a poorly parked team car?

  14. Astana have rather marked out their stall, and perhaps you could say that Ineos have as well (I.e. they’re not expecting to win). 25 seconds is not the Vuelta, but you’d expect them to be a bit closer.
    Astana are going to want to cede that time and they won’t want 3 weeks of protecting a jersey, but not exactly an auspicious start to the race by Brailsford’s bikers.
    Still it wasn’t until the third week last year that the race began to sift the wheat from the chaff.

  15. Finally saw (thanks Eurosport!) video of the Jumbo TTT fiasco. OK, so the pavement was wet. But you just blast through it and hope-like-hell you can make the next turn with wet tires? Whose fault is that? You gambled…you lost. STFU and race! Forza Colombiani!!!

  16. Nice ride by Quintana. I’m glad to see that and would love to see him keep going.
    I only saw the last 10km and cannot access any post-race coverage from the UK: so what the heck happened to Astana and, especially, to Ineos? 10 minutes? Are Geoghegan-Hart and Poels just not GC contenders? Did they take a wrong turn? A baby pool flood them off the road? The support for them seems solid, no?

    • Valverde single-handed destroyed them all on the last climb. Looks like a lot of folks thought the race starts only 2 weeks later, like in a Tour or a Giro.

    • I guess they must be stage hunting. The Poels-Geoghan-Hart partnership does not really speak of them putting together a serious bid for a GC tilt. Still, 10 minutes is a lot. Only De La Cruz seems to have got into the forward group.
      What is it they say about riding at the front if you want to win?

        • Good question. Obviously they weren’t in the larger group of favourites which gained about 40 secs on Lopez’s group about 20km out. The eventual winning group of five gained about 40 secs on them, and they had about 2 mins on Lopez by the finish. I just can’t see them losing an additional 8 in that space of time so there must have been a bigger split earlier. Cycling news make no mention of it.

  17. I love la Vuelta, the sandy beige landscape and vivid green-black foliage, the orange and olive groves, the empty space, the sunsets, the melancholy of the closing season, its beautiful. Something tells me this Vuelta will be a connoissuers race, maybe not the strongest startlist ever but many medium-mountain stages with opportunities for ambushes and intriguing tactics in store. Great to see Quintana showing some panache and Aru and Chaves possibly back to their best too.

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