In advance of this Saturday’s start of the 2012 Vuelta a España, here’s the second part of VeloVoices’ overview of the 22 teams, their main protagonists and their eclectic mix of title sponsors! Only in cycling …
The final list of participants is subject to change in the last few days before the race, but these are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing.
Sponsors: An Italian sheet steel manufacturer and a Ukrainian steel producer.
Overview: Il piccolo principe, Damiano Cunego, who finished sixth in the recent Giro d’Italia, will lead the team with a mixture of Eastern European and Italian support in the hopes that he will be able to improve on his best finish in this race – 16th in 2004. Cunego has typically used the race to find his form ahead of the World Championships but the Vuelta has recently been brought forward a week to encourage greater participation and completion. He’ll have the wonderfully named Colombian Winner Ancona for help on the steepest of climbs, but if Cunego falters, Lampre have enough Eastern European firepower to go for stage wins plus Morris Possoni can play his part in the sprints.
Sponsors: An Italian distributor of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and an American bicycle manufacturer.
Overview: The team will be riding in support of Eros Capecchi – 21st in 2011 – who’s moving next season to Movistar with mountain-climbing goat Sylvester Szmyd. He too will have Colombian assistance in the mountains [must-have high mountain accessory – Ed] from Jose Sarmiento. Piste performer Elia Viviani will be looking to score points in the sprints and, with no news on a replacement sponsor, the rest of the lime-sherbet clad boys will be looking to animate the race, pad out their palmares and land a contract for next season.
Sponsors: The Belgian lottery and a Belgian window and door manufacturer.
Overview: Lotto-Belisol will be hoping Jurgen Van den Broeck, fourth-placed in the Tour, will be able to step onto the podium at the Vuelta. For the sprints – and breakaways – they’ve got Gianni Meersman who’ll be led out by Adam Hansen, sadly been shorn of his twitter best-buddy Greg Henderson. You just know that the Vuelta’s not going to be as amusing as the Tour. [Is that a challenge? – Ed].
Sponsor: A Spanish mobile telecoms operator.
Overview: Alejandro Valverde will be playing best supporting rider to leading man and defending champ, Juan Jose Cobo, who looked to be finding some vestige of form towards the end of the Tour. They too have Colombian assistance in the form of Route du Sud winner Nairo Quintano. Basque Jonathan Castroviejo will add extra firepower in the team time-trial, and in the run into the foothills, while Jose Joaquin Rojas will be looking to try on the sprints jersey for size. We’re not convinced that Cobo will be firing on all cylinders, and neither are team management, hence former Vuelta winner Valverde as plan B.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Sponsors: A Belgian pharmaceutical company and a Belgian laminate flooring manufacturer.
Overview: OPQS don’t appear to have a GC contender in their squad, so therefore we assume that they’re looking for stage wins with time-trial world champion Tony Martin and sprinter Gert Steegmans. It’ll be interesting to see how cyclo-cross god Zdenek Stybar fares in a three-week Tour with tons of high mountains. It looks as thought the team selection has been made on the basis of anyone who hasn’t yet ridden or completed a Grand Tour: not exactly a recipe for success, but maybe they feel they’ve already won enough this season.
Sponsors: A conglomerate that provide chemicals and explosives for the mining industry and a wealthy Australian businessman.
Overview: The Aussie team will continue to hunt stage wins and maybe even the points jersey with its sprint-heavy squad: Simon Clarke, Allan Davis, Julian Dean. Also expect the team to perform well in the opening time-trial with their three former-piste boys Wesley Sulzberger and brothers Cameron and Travis Meyer. Eritrean Daniel Teklehaymanot may look to get into the mountains jersey in the early days but we suspect their shirts will be seen prominently at the front of a charging peloton in the final kilometres on those six flat stages.
Overview: Robert Gesink will lead a team loaded with talent hoping to redress the disasters that befell him and his teammates at the Tour. He’ll be supported by Laurens Ten Dam, Bauke Mollema, third-placed in Vuelta a Pais Vasco, and Juan Manuel Garate. Lars Boom, fresh from his Eneco tour win, and Matti Breschel will have an eye on those flat stages but will also be responsible for driving the peloton to the foothills. You sense that team management is losing patience with Gesink and there’s plenty of talent awaiting in the wings.
Sponsors: A US electronics retailer and a Japanese automotive company.
Overview: Potentially, another team looking for new contracts so expect riders like Tiago Machado, Markel Irizar and Maxime Monfort to toe the party line, whatever that is, while Linus Gerdemann goes on the attack. They’re unlikely to win the team competition, like they did in the Tours of France and Utah, but they should shine in the team time-trial. Their sprinter Daniele Bennati will be hoping for some victories and to figure in the race for the points jersey. We could be wrong but frankly the team selection doesn’t appear to have much rhyme or reason.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
Sponsors: A Danish and a Russian bank.
Overview: The team will all be riding in support of their recently returned leader, Alberto Contador, who is surrounded by his faithful cohorts Benjamin Noval, Jesus Hernandez, Sergio Paulinho and Dani Navarro. It’s not the strongest of sides but the recent influx of Russian rubles will facilitate bolstering their effectiveness and, more importantly, their points for next season. It’s hard to know how Contador will perform after six months on the sidelines and we gained no clues from the recent Eneco Tour where he was content to remain safely in the bunch. However, at VeloVoices Towers, we wouldn’t bet against him taking his second Vuelta victory.
Sponsor: A satellite television broadcaster.
Overview: Sky will be fielding a stellar team in support of the runner-up from last year’s Vuelta and this year’s Tour, Chris Froome, a rider with a point to prove. Ever wanting to outdo other teams, Sky has not one, but two Colombians: Sergio Henao and Olympic silver medallist Rigoberto Uran to support Froome. Also in the squad are hardmen Ian Stannard and Juan Antonio Flecha and they come loaded with additional firepower in the mountains with Tasmanian Richie Porte. It’s going to be a fascinating contest.
Sponsors: A European organiser of luxury camping holidays and a Belgian farm supply company.
Overview: Vacansoleil’s Tour didn’t go according to plan in any way, shape or form. They’ll be looking to put matters right at the Vuelta, where once again they’ll be seeking exposure for their sponsors in the form of stage wins and breakaways. Invisible at the Tour, we’ll all be hoping that Johnny Hoogerland is back on form, while Thomas De Gendt will be looking for opportunities to repeat his Paris-Nice type escape to victory. Frankly, after their bad luck at the Tour, this Grand Tour can only get better.
Tomorrow we’ll preview the five key stages of this year’s race.
VeloVoices Vuelta a Espana previews