Vuelta a España Preview

A look at the contenders for the Vuelta a España. The 2023 edition has plenty of star names, but a short list of genuine contenders. It’ll be fascinating to see how Remco Evenepoel copes with the Jumbo-Visma armada and where others find their opportunities.

An team time trial in Barcelona this Saturday but at 14.8km time gaps won’t be big. There’s one solo time trial, Stage 10 in Valladolid and it’s 25km brief too. The Vuelta is always mountainous but this year’s edition feels a touch more. There are eight summit finishes, and more days in the mountains as well, and the first Monday is a big day into the Pyrenees with a finish above Andorra to tell us plenty.

There are only six stages at the most for the sprinters, assuming they can get over some climbs and this is self-reinforcing, few sprinters have showed up so few teams will chase to set up a sprint, tilting things further to the breakaways. The breakaways should have a great time because of this and because of many middle mountain stages too. There are 10-6-4 second time bonuses at the finish line and there are also 6-4-2 second bonuses at either the intermediate sprint of the day or at the top of a pre-defined climb.

After winning the Vuelta last year Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) wanted to win the Giro but Covid-19 had other plans. Now he’s back at the Vuelta. The Giro was supposed to mark a step in his progress, the Vuelta could prove another same given the challengers here. He’s already said he’d like to win overall but it’ll still be a success if he just wins stages instead, re-framing the reference points for the expectant Belgian press pack. One year ago Evenepoel was a contender for the Vuelta expected to excel in the time trials and limit losses in the mountains, and sure enough only one rider was within a minute in the Alicante time trial, but he was even dropping rivals on the summit finishes and this climbing saw him run away with the race and it’s this kind of riding that makes him a real contender. The sole individual time trial of the race is a brief 25km stage so there’s not much chance to pull out a lead and defend, he’ll have to make moves in the mountains and rely on his power to sprint for time bonuses.

Sprinting for time bonuses atop a mountain? This is the speciality of three-time Vuelta winner Primož Roglič who is joined by two time Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard. Roglič looked at ease in the Vuelta a Burgos, winning the race with such ease that he barely got out of the saddle so the form looks perfect. He’s backed by a very strong team in their quest to win all three grand tours in one season, a feat yet to be achieved in men’s pro cycling.

Jonas Vingegaard barely needs an introduction, the two time Tour winner is arguably the best grand tour rider going and on paper superior to Roglič, but form’s unknown and the spiky Vuelta course might be to the Slovenian’s preference given the time bonuses. Frankly if he’s in top shape then Vingegaard doesn’t have to worry about sprinting as he could be well clear to start with. He might fancy the Tour-Vuelta double, yet the placid Dane might equally fancy riding in support and either way Jumbo-Visma will want to place two riders on the podium. The Dutch team is in a luxurious position as they can make moves while rivals react and the rest of the team is very strong and all aligned behind the red jersey challenge. Plus there’s Sepp Kuss who can make the top-10 even while helping the other two.

Third last year, Juan Ayuso (UAE) has had the Vuelta as his season’s goal. His year got off on the wrong start with a niggling injury but on the mend he still won the TT stage of the Tour de Romandie and finished second in the Tour de Suisse. He looks like a superstar in the making for the way he rides, but also his fluency in both Spanish and English, owing to a childhood partly spent in the USA. Fast in time trials and an excellent climber, he’s aggressive too and unlikely to cruise to the safest result possible but all the same, how to get past the riders named already? Plus form is unknown as he’s yet to race this month.

João Almeida gives the UAE team more options. Once upon a time he was a punchy rider who seemed to have his limits in the very high mountains and long climbs so the Vuelta ought to suit but he’s become a more steady rider. With this he can cruise to a high overall position but how to win? Let’s not overplay things but the Portuguese rider is faced with congestion on his team, he needs a result here or he’s going to find himself slipping down the workplace pecking order; put simply if Ayuso proves better the Spaniard could also lead in the Giro next year and remember Pavel Sivakov is joining. Jay Vine brings more options and it’ll be interesting to see how UAE management organise all this, especially if Marc Soler and sprinter J-S Molano want a shot at a stage win too.

Ineos come with the traditional strong team, but like recent times it’s hard to see them winning a grand tour to follow Egan Bernal‘s 2021 Giro, he is still improving in rehab terms but seemingly not a challenger yet and talking about helping team mates. They came close in this year’s Giro with the dependable Geraint Thomas. Thymen Arensman is promising and has sort of made the Vuelta his preferred race of late. Laurens De Plus is a valuable worker but can equally ride high. But how to win? Thomas is very consistent while Arensman could be the surprise but it’s hard to see them giving Jumbo-Visma the slip. Can they ditch the train formation and deploy ambush tactics?

Second overall in Madrid last year, can Enric Mas (Movistar) do more? He’d surely sign for the same result given the competition here. He was last seen crashing out of the Tour de France on the opening day, a disaster but the positive view is he could recover and reset better than if he’d crashed out later in July. Last year has being roasted online for sitting on the wheels but he’s was on Evenepoel’s wheel when everyone else had been cracked and that makes him a podium contender.

Is that it for the GC contenders? Not quite but any names cited from here on require a surprise if they’re going to win the race outright. Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) looks like an archetypal grand tour specialist but yet to stand on the podium in one and so he can hope to be among the top-5 and see what comes, his team is strong with Emmanuel Buchmann, Lennard Kämna and the promising Cian Uijtdebroecks in his grand tour debut.

Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Easypost) is inconsistently consistent, when things go right he can diesel to a solid top-10 overall but his third place via the Angliru stage win in 2020 is surely his peak. Eddie Dunbar (Jayco) had a good Giro but fell back in the third week which isn’t reassuring. You might see Romain Bardet (DSM Firmenich) on the start list and yes has the GC pedigree but is here to hunt stages and while it’ll be interesting to follow Max Poole and Oscar Onley, few can see them on the podium in Madrid. Bahrain are good at grand tours but how to win, Damiano Caruso can be solid, Santiago Buitrago looks better suited to stage wins and Antonio Tiberi is promising, unless a Spanish cat runs out into the road in front of him.

Roglič, Vingegaard
Mas, Thomas, Almeida
  • Breakaways: within days most of the field will like be over ten minutes down following the Andorra summit finish on Monday and then Javalambre on the first Thursday. So plenty of room for breakaways and with this ambush stages as waves of riders go clear and the chance for a GC outsider to surf the moves. Think Jai Hindley to Laruns in the last Tour, only wilder and different riders hoping for a ticket to rid
  • Vuelta a porvenir: one of the hidden competitions this year is not the white jersey competition as Ayuso and Evenepoel are eligible. Instead it’s a fascinating glimpse into the future with many grand tour debutants and young iders. Almost 20 riders eligible to ride the Tour de l’Avenir but start in Barcelona with a variety of hopes and expectations

78 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Preview”

  1. Thanks for the preview! To be honest the thought of Jumbo steam rollering their way to GT win number 3 this year is not going to have me glued to the Chesterfield. Jumbo’s biggest problem might well be missing van Aert, Laporte & Benoot from the Tour. I believe Remco will have to come up with a “Formigal 2016 type ambush” to win the GC, but the ITT has some nice long flat straight sections so he should gain some time there.
    The most interesting for me, is seeing how all the younger riders do in a 3 week race. A top 20 finish for some of them seems quite possible.

  2. For me, Vingegaard is the favourite – his TdF performance was crushing – but it really all depends on his form. I do wonder if Jumbo-Visma will already have instructed Vingegaard that he is here as support for Roglic in the hope that they keep their two GC riders happy. Hopefully not.

    Roglic only just beat Thomas at the Giro, and his ride wasn’t so sparkling.

    Evenepoel is still untested in a grand tour against the best riders: at last year’s Vuelta, Roglic crashed and Evenepoel took more time on 2nd place Mas in time trials than he won by overall. Of course, Evenepoel may have attacked more and taken more time in the mountains if he’d needed to, but we just don’t know. It’ll be very interesting to – hopefully – see him against some of the very best.

    Pleasingly, the course seems to have fewer stages that are mostly flat and then end with a climb than the Vuelta usually has. Those types of stage, generally, are a bit dull tactically as everyone just waits till near the end before attacking – and there’s really only one tactic. This is less good news for Roglic, who is the best at winning sprints at the top of mountains. (Get rid of time bonuses and this ‘wait till the very end and sprint’ tactic is less likely to occur.)

    I hope riders attack if someone stops for a tactical bike change, as Jumbo-Visma are making a habit of.

    • “Roglic only just beat Thomas at the Giro, and his ride wasn’t so sparkling.”
      Seemed to me Rog was still not in peak form, having undergone major shoulder surgery in late 2002 and rehab continuing into 2023. Lots of missed training time. Also seemed Rog rode very conservatively & defensively in Giro, then smashed the last stage’s uphill TT. It was a good overall strategy

  3. Great preview, thank you.

    How did J-V decide to send its top 2 riders and Sepp Kuss to the third-ranking GT?
    Does Vingegaard get bored after the Tour? Does Roglic enjoy a late hot summer? Are they both going to ride in support of Kuss?
    What if they are both several minutes up on GC and just end up racing each other?

    • According to Vingegaard himself, this was settled already back in December 22, so not an impulsive decision. As this obviously has been pre-planned, I suspect the thought is to see how Vingegaard phiscally copes with doing 2 GTs and adjust his training regime accordingly for and future attempts of doing a double.
      I don’t expect he will go for the win unless the chance arises; it is more a probe into uncharted territory to see what happens.

    • Sounds like you all assume everyone’s default choice is not to race and that racing calls for an explanation. Racing is fun and an addictive thrill and from a racing perspective the vuelta seems like the coolest grand tour to be a part of for GC contenders at least.

      • Well said. I think most people had a certain contempt for Team Sky (and before that, LA) for paying almost exclusive attention to the TdF. If you’re not excited to see the best racers racing each other, then why are you here?

        Additionally, JV is shopping for a new main sponsor. And, frankly, who knows how much the feat of winning all three GTs in a single season will be remembered. I doubt it will be the trivial footnote that some seem to think it will be, especially when people look back and see that it happened during the Pog and Remco era.

  4. In hindsight looking at stage 20 of the Tour, Vingegaard was probably already thinking about the Vuelta. He had the Tour in the bag already, so no need to expend more energy to get that stage. It will be exciting how this race plays out!

    • Why not? But his speciality is waiting until the days he’s needed, not doing anything until the big mountains.

      We’ll remember the Giro and the way riders contrived not to take the race lead early for the way it would be demanding on their time and energy, as well as for the whole team. It’ll be hard to achieve this time – and no point saving things for the final week given there’s plenty throughout – but perhaps we see some rider who is not a prime GC candidate allowed to take some time in the first week in order to lead the race. Or Jumbo just don’t mind and could lead from Barcelona to Madrid.

  5. Groupama-FDJ seem to be talking of just-turned-twenty and ultra-lightweight Lenny Martinez for a GC place. Maybe that just means top fifteen or so but even that looks ambitious with the squad almost all fresh from the Conti. Grégoire is full of confidence and has sparkling form too. Their only experienced rider, Rudy Molard, will need to stop the youngsters getting too excied and avoid them going into the third week completely empty.

    DSM appear to have a better balance of youth and experience.

    • With the chance for breakaways it’ll be interesting to see how they do too. But this doesn’t mean automatic results, the likes of Martinez and Grégoire will just learn plenty and get used to World Tour racing and the demands of a grand tour. It feels like Molard will be telling them to go to bed every evening and threatening to take their phones away… but from the sounds of things the likes of Martinez and Grégoire are already very serious about their work.

  6. Thinking about this a little differently on this morning’s run. Sure JV want the GT slam. But did they conclude it will take all of 2 prominent GT winners and Kuss to beat Remco in order to do it. Also, suppose Remco and his, relatively, weaker team actually beats them. Talk about vaulting his already stratospheric prominence AND next year’s TdF storylines. This is going to be fun. Super interested in Cian Uijtdebroecks formally announcing himself on a big stage. Sounds like this has been his focus for the year and wouldn’t be surprised if Vlasov is all in on supporting him.

    • Interesting, re Uijtdebroecks. Am curious about him as there’s been so many whispers, but I haven’t really watched him. So I just looked at his results – he hasn’t really done anything in the senior ranks yet, has he?

      4th in a Tour de Suisse stage was the best I could see. Obviously he’s still really young and it’s his first year, but it’s been fairly low-key stuff so far, no? Would seem surprising for Vlasov to be supporting him.

      • Interesting that he gets a lot more air time than Max Poole who is the same age and has beaten Uijtdebroecks in every head to head this year!

      • Top-10 in all the stage races he’s finished this season and the Tour de l’Avenir winner last year, there’s plenty of talent. It’s a mark of how expectations change that not winning on a debut is unusual but he turned pro out of the junior ranks and it can be that it takes time, he’s making steady progress. In a way he’s in Evenepoel’s shadow, there’s less pressure on him because Evenepoel gets all the limelight in the Flemish media.

        • Yes, all good points, and well taken. And I was thinking the same about how expectations have shifted!

          I wasn’t meaning to question his talent – it’s too early to come to any judgement presumably, but no reason to doubt him, I agree. My point was really that his results don’t point to someone who should be leading at a grand tour (yet) – I’d be surprised if Vlasov was supporting him. It’ll just be really interesting to see for how long he can stay with Vlasov and the others (and for how long into the race).

          • From what I understand, Vlasov will go for GC, and Uijtdebroeks has a free role (he will try to go for a good place in GC, but if that doesn’t work out he can go for stage wins or whatever).

      • Bora always said they wanted to build him up slowly.
        And it’s a bit ridiculous these days we expect from every 20y old junior coming to the seniors he must show outrageous results from the get-go. Though having some outstanding wunderkinder right now, that’s still not the normal. Not every Avenir winner ends on GT podiums the following year.
        I like the more conservative approach here, nobody is helped by burning young riders up with way to high expectations. History books are full with young riders who broke mentally under too much pressure.

    • Depending on their confidence with Jonas’s form, it could be read either way.

      Either they are so confident that they can spare a selection and give it to a Vingegarrd of questionable form, or they desperately need a somewhat in form Vingegarrd to counter Remco.

      • I’d have thought having won the Giro and Tour already Jumbo have no need for desperation at all, unlike Evenepoel who will be desperate to deliver after a Giro abandon and to validate his 2024 Tour potential.

  7. I’ll be taking an ABV (anyone but Visma) approach to the Vuelta this year. I’d be relatively surprised if one of their riders doesn’t win though. You have to be pretty thankful for Mathieu Van Der Poel (and Pogacar) I suppose or we’d be pretty near a position where one team wins every major race. It would be nice to see Ayuso really challenge.
    I usually struggle to get into the Vuelta. The stages tend to be like darts matches. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen all of them. I’ll try harder this year though.

    • The thing with the Vuelta is you don’t have to follow as much. In fact you can’t as the TV coverage isn’t start-to-finish. Instead it pays to tune in for the finish, typically there’s action almost every day but late in the stage, the racing seems designed to bring regular action but often for the finish. Of course the riders can blow things apart at the start, crosswinds can happen etc but it does have a different rhythm sometimes.

      • I wonder if/when the Vuelta will get TV full coverage? Given the Tour, Giro, Monuments & Worlds all now have full TV coverage it feels rather odd that the Vuelta doesn’t. As the Vuelta seems to be considered the least important of the 3 grand tours, not having full TV coverage when the other two do can’t be helping any hope they may have of changing that perception.

        • While on the subject of TV coverage. Unlike Inner Ring, I have no other choice than follow the race on GCN and wonder if it will again be mired by the insufferable Gobshite Kirby, and that as soon as Orla hands over I shall be forced to resort to the albeit unintelligible but agreeable Dutch commentary* for the next three weeks? (*I find Ambient too somnolent.)

          • I wasn’t going to pick at this scab, but this is another reason I struggle with the Vuelta. Hatch gets the Giro, they share the Tour and then the Vuelta is all Kirby. I struggle to sit through him. GCN have done well to modernise and improve the Eurosport cycling coverage, it seems strange that they haven’t moved him and his weird cabaret act on. I can only presume that he has a long contract and/or owns Eurosport.

          • Speaking of commentary, Ned Boulting seems always be doing a commentary with either David Millar (Tour) or Matt Stephens (Giro). It is supposed to be the “international coverage”. Any idea where I can listen to this commentary apart from the ITV highlights/coverage peppered with Ads?

  8. What is Spanish for chapeau?
    The dig about Tiberio and cats was just genius 😉
    This is why we come to this blog, for the technical insight, the culture and the in-jokes!

  9. If the Vuelta is half as interesting as this year’s tour, it would be great. It looks like it has all the necessary ingredients for a tasty meal, I just hope nothing boils over too early.

    I like Roglic and I hope he wins. But I would also love a surprise winner like Mas, Kuss, Almeida or even Carthy. But hopefully not because of falls, injuries or illness.

  10. Apropos of nothing, but does anyone know why all of the English-speaking commentators are pronouncing ‘Lidl-Trek’ as ‘Leedle-Trek’? I get that that is how it’s pronounced all over Europe and that they’ve obviously been instructed to do this by the team (because they’re all doing it), but it doesn’t make sense that Lidl have done this when that’s not how the people you’re aiming your ‘product’ at say it. In my local Lidl, they even have a section called ‘the middle of Lidl’, so even Lidl don’t pronounce it Leedle.

  11. Aside of Poole, Martinez and Uijtebroecks, it will be interesting to see how Vauquelin copes with a GT, even if his form has been more uncertain since his crash in Romandie.
    As for the sprinters, will Groves will be as dominant as some say ? He lookes very strong in the spring, and apparently it’s his main goal for the season. Who else ? Dainese ? Coquard for his first GT stage, after his first WT win in January ? Molano ? Askey or Watson ? Van den Berg could also win a few stages…

    • Vauquelin’s interesting as he can climb and time trial, and is tipped for big things – for British readers think of a 22 year old Geraint Thomas – but as you say he’s had some serious injury and rehab issues even if these haven’t been chronicled that much, they lower expectations.

      As you say for the sprints it’s not obvious and the sprint stages might not even see a sprint. Groves and Marijn Van den Berg ought to get at least a stage each.

  12. I agree with Evenepoel’s comments regarding the unnecessarily dangerous conditions for the TTT, due to holding it so late that it was dark. As he said, “You cannot change the rain, but you can change the time,”

    • Remco started at 20:19. Sunset was 20:33 with ‘civil twighlight’ lasting 29 minutes after that.
      – On a normal day the start times would have been perfectly okay.

      Didn’t see it for myself but DSM apparently started at the same time as the rain.
      Organisers do have to change plans but this looks like instead of the golden hour they got big heavy cloud cover that brought on an early darkness. Guess they could have shortened the gaps to bring starts forward but this would only have pared maybe five minutes off Remco&Co start time.
      The complaint about darkness was justified in the event, but the planned stage times were good. However, in the organiser’s position I would have planned a sunset podium.

      • They knew the rain was coming from at least a couple days before, so they could have decided to start the TTT 1-2 hours earlier… (or at least tried to do that—I know the local authorities have their say about that too, but it would have been better publicity for them too!).

    • Huh I never had Evenepoel down as a philosopher. His wisdom is up there with “he who cycles in front of car gets tired, he who cycles behind car gets exhausted.”

  13. The Renewi Tour, as it now is, perplexes me. They had a great parcours a few years back, and they got rid of it.
    It’s so easy to have a fantastic week-long stage race in the Benelux countries – could be in October (and hope for ‘bad’ weather).
    1. Sprint stage in Luxembourg
    2. Liege-Bastogne-Liege-style stage
    3. West Flanders stage – hope for wind
    4. Short time trial
    5. Crit-style city centre stage
    6. Amstel-style stage
    7. Ronde-style stage

  14. I’m curious about the white jersey at the vuelta. Of the 174 riders still in the race, 56 are eligible for this jersey. Essentially one third. Is this a huge number for a GT?

    • Just a quick check on the last 4 years (since then we have a white jersey @Vuelta) says that around 50 were pretty normal. Only looked at final GC, don’t know about how much started.
      Giro same time around 40, Tour 22-30.

      • It’s huge but it’s normal, especially as the Vuelta is where grand tour debuts tend to happen. Obviously the Tour is no place for a newcomer, and the Giro with its long stages and being part of a busy time of year with other (stage) races means it gets less. So the Vuelta is the perfect place for a rider to get their first experience of riding for three weeks.

        • Indeed if we could have a quick look at the stats, we´d probably see that more than 50% of current pro cyclists rode the Vuelta as their first GT.

          An amusing bit of trivia or an interesting fact is that the three-time Vuelta winner rode two Giros and two Tours before his first Vuelta…

          If we are to believe Twitter – and why shouldn´t we?:-) – the UCI commissar had to resort to the videos captured by the roadside fans´ mobile phones in order to get the bonus sprint points right.

          What had happened to the organizers´ video (or photo) equipment? Or was it simply a case of not knowing and not being to tell (before looking at the fans´ videos) who was who (rather than having no idea about the correct order of the riders)?

          • My guess is that the last minute decision to take the GC times at 9km to go – a random point on the course normally only indicated by a 9km to go sign – meant they took the timing equipment/photofinish cameras off the Montjuic climb point so they could take the times correctly at the 9km to go point – and hoped they could manually/visually ID the riders at the top of the Montjuic climb…only the riders were so fast it wasn’t easy. Just a guess though.

          • Replying to myself. but apparently the standard, accepted procedure for judging the bonus sprints (and presumably also the mountain points) is to rely on the Mark One eyeball of a commissaire (who has reached the spot on a motorcycle ahead of the riders).

            If and when the commissaire is not 100% sure (or he wants to be sure that he got it right), he can use the TV picture, other race officials and even fans´ mobile phone videos.

            Apparently it is not at unusual that the commissaire needs some help from somebody – and this is not difficult to believe; it often takes quite some time before we see the riders´ names and points on the screen.


Comments are closed.