A look at the overall contenders for the Vuelta and it’s a step into the unknown with little to go on when it comes to form, fatigue and motivation. It all makes it more open, there’s a lot to look forward to and the first week of racing should tell us plenty.
Route summary: the winner has to excel on the climbs but with 54.2km of time trials, part team time trial, part solo a lightweight climber on a weak team can be three minutes down on rivals and that’s a lot of ground to make up, even with the frequent summit finishes. There are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds for stage wins, and a handful of climbs have 3-2-1 second time bonuses. All the stage profiles re a click away at inrng.com/vuelta
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is back but how is his back? He’s won the last three editions but quit the Tour de France with injuries. A case of reculer pour mieux sauter given Jonas Vingegaard was in yellow and had enough mountain support so Jumbo-Visma could release Roglič to recover and aim for bigger goals like the Vuelta? Or was the late announcement of his selection a tentative pick? Roglič is a stage-racing machine and can do it all, except at the Tour de France which weighs on the mind but look at his record over time and there’s more reassurance, he is particularly well suited to the Vuelta with the shorter climbs, the time bonus sprints and the flat time trial. Sepp Kuss can climb with the best but the time trial makes any overall ambitions harder but they should thrive in the Utrecht team time trial.
Now in his fourth season as a pro Remco Evenepoel starts his second grand tour. Expectations vary, a sizeable Belgian media contingent has signed up and a nation awaits. Yet there’s no pressure, if can finish with a good GC result, show well on some stages with perhaps a win and above all make it to Madrid, then he’s well on track. But we also know he’ll like the time trial, he climbs well, has improved his descending and his signature move is to just attack and ride away from the field solo. Yet the course with all its summit finishes doesn’t offer too many places for this and he could be prone to an off day or a wobble on a climb. Quick-Step’s team looks able and arguably superior to their Tour team with able climbing support for Evenepoel. Julian Alaphilippe could conceivably win the Vuelta, just not this year where we can expect more of what he did in the Tour de l’Ain, making moves and testing himself as the form builds. Ilan Van Wilder is a promising rider to watch too.
Can Jai Hindley pick up where he left off? He finally cracked Richard Carapaz on the last mountain stage of the Giro to take the overall win. That was a surprise result but he did it through steady riding all race, that kind of form can get him on the podium again. The flat time trial will make things harder for him and it’s also a penalty for Sergio Higuita whose form for the uphill finishes looks very good but piecing together a three week grand tour win is another matter. Wilco Kelderman will like the time trial stage but as ever he’s consistent rather than sparkling, he’s yet to win a road stage in his decade-long career.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) has tilted at the Giro many times but only has one grand tour win and that’s the 2018 Vuelta. He’s back again and a genuine contender with some wins since resuming racing after his Giro DNF. But as ever he can shine in the build-up to a grand tour, the harder part is riding at a high level across the three weeks of a grand tour. He’s surprisingly handy in a TT but often when there’s a climb or corners, the Vuelta’s course is not for him. With the team scrabbling for UCI points they might try to insist he rides steady and doesn’t go into the red too often, finishing fourth overall would be a lot better than leading the race and collapsing. But if he’s at his best he can win.
Ineos, wait for it, bring a strong team. This makes picking their best rider for a preview hard. Richard Carapaz is often consistent and while he’s likely to be moving teams over the winter, seems unlikely to coast. Pavel Sivakov looked strong on his way to victory in the Vuelta a Burgos, and the triumph ought to help him get more of a claim on leadership. Meanwhile Tao Geoghegan Hart was good in Burgos too and seems suited to longer stage races although this Vuelta’s hardest stages come midway and the final week isn’t furious. 21 year old Carlos Rodriguez starts his first Vuelta and what role will he have, presumably a support role and maybe take aim at a stage win if possible.
Second last year, can Enric Mas do more? Arguably he doesn’t need to improve on this, the imperative is to finish the Vuelta, and preferably as high up on GC as possible as Movistar need the UCI points and a safe and steady ride is more rewarding this time than anything risky. The opening TTT won’t help. Alejandro Valverde rides his farewell race but it’s hard to see him repeating his 2009 win, it’s remarkable he’s still active at the age of 42 but his performances, and win rate, have been on the slide in recent seasons.
João Almeida needs to win the Vuelta or Giro one day because Tadej Pogačar looks set to reign as the UAE’s team’s Tour de France leader. A stage winner in Burgos, he won after his now regular pattern of hanging back on a climb but never quite being dropped. He’s very punchy on shorter climbs, it’s the long ones that have proved harder for him but he’s improved a lot here. Teenager Juan Ayuso rides his first grand tour and so far he looks like he can climb and time trial with the best, now to see he stays for three weeks. Brandon McNulty is worth watching too, able in the time trials and a good climber but will he be working for Almeida from the start?
Astana’s leader is Miguel Angel Lopez who returns to the race after quitting the Giro early and leaving the Vuelta in huff last year. The Colombian can ride away from the field on a summit finish and has been on the podium in the Vuelta and Giro but the top step? To finish first, first finish because he hasn’t completed a grand tour since the 2020 Tour de France. Vincenzo Nibali rides his last Vuelta and had a noble Giro with fourth place but how to improve on that, he’s more steady than spectacular with age.
EF Education have an interesting team with Hugh Carthy, Rigoberto Uran and Esteban Chaves but how to win? Carthy and Uran are steady riders who can diesel their way to a solid top-10 finish and if both can, then think of the precious UCI points. Chaves is 32 now and also turning into a bit of a diesel as well.
Mikel Landa is the leader for Bahrain. Mercurial as ever, he’s likely to take a pasting in the time trial but could pop up for a stage win and ride high on GC. Gino Mäder is more consistent and hauled himself into fifth place in last year’s Vuelta.
Among the others, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is stage-hunting and would sign today with both hands for a repeat of 2018 where he took two stage wins. Ben O’Connor returns after his Tour de France disappointment. His Ag2r Citroën team will ship time in the opening stage and O’Connor’s form is unknown but he can climb with the best on a good day, it’s just hard to see how to win overall. Thymen Arensman (DSM) is only 22 and now starts his third Vuelta and fourth grand tour, he’s a grand tour prospect and took his first career win with the time trial stage at the Tour de Pologne and a top-10 would be a result. Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert keep beating expectations but Domenico Pozzovivo and Jan Hirt can aim for a top-10 and maybe a stage on the way. Israel-PremierTech are hunting points but it’s a tough ask as Michael Woods will lose out in the time trial, he’ll need his best form to win stages and ride high on GC while Chris Froome showed form in the Tour make the breakaways but more is a big ask for the 37 year old. Last but not least Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) has a big engine and returns with more experience, watch for him on the mountain stages.
|Richard Carapaz, João Almeida
|Simon Yates, Remco Evenepoel
|Hindley, Lopez, Sivakov, Mas, TGH