The 68th edition of the Vuelta a Espana starts on Saturday in Vilanova de Arousa with the traditional team time-trial. Set to take the start line are 198 riders representing the 19 WorldTour teams and three wild-card Pro Continental teams. Here’s a run-down of all 22 teams, their title sponsors and names you should be looking out for during the three-week race. Team line-ups are subject to change in the final few days before the race starts, but were accurate at the time of writing. Part two follows tomorrow.
Sponsor: A French life insurance and pension provider.
Overview: The team is going into the race with its favoured strategy of a two-pronged attack by its two pocket rockets: Colombian superstar Carlos Betancur, fourth in the Giro and winner of best young rider, and Italian Domenico Pozzovivo, who will both be relishing those 13 mountainous stages. The boys will have assistance in the climbs from former maillot jaune-wearer Rinaldo Nocentini and compatriot Matteo Monteguti. Expect to see the distinctive Ag2r kit in breakaways, as riders get precious airtime for their sponsor and maybe, just maybe, a stage win.
Sponsors: An independent Dutch oil company and a Japanese manufacturer of bike parts and accessories.
Overview: It’s all about the sprints for these boys but there’s no Tour de France star Marcel Kittel nor last year’s five-stage Vuelta winner John Degenkolb. They’ll still be looking to score on the flat stages but this time with some of their promising younger riders such as Ramon Sinkeldam and Nikias Arndt, who shone in the recent Arctic Tour of Norway. Coming off top ten stage finishes in the Tour of Poland are youngsters Warren Barguil, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Tom Peterson, and Georg Preidler who’ll all be stage hunting in Spain.
Sponsor: A Kazakh business consortium.
Overview: The team will be led by 2010 Vuelta winner and this year’s emphatic Giro victor, Vincenzo Nibali. He’s the bookies’ and most people’s favourite to win two Grand Tours this year. Of course, he’s also eyeing the World Championships, being held at home on a course that really suits him. Nonetheless, he’s coming to the Vuelta, loaded for bear with the Astana ¨A¨ team, including his coterie of Italians plus TdF’s 7th place Jakob Fuglsang, contract hunting Jani Brajkovic and Eneco Tour top-ten finishers Maxim Iglinskiy and Andriy Grivko. Rainbow ambitions aside, it’s hard to see Nibali finishing off the podium.
Belkin (formerly Blanco)
Overview: Belkin look to be going with their successful Tour duo – and former top-ten Vuelta finishers – Bauke Mollema and Laurens “Wolfman” ten Dam but might this be a Grand Tour too far? Just in case, the team have a Graeme Brown leading out and Theo Bos for the sprints plus multiple Grand Tour escape artiste and stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez and his compatriot, 2001 Vuelta stage-winner, Juan Manuel Garate.
Sponsor: A Swiss bicycle manufacturer.
Overview: BMC are yet to announce their line-up but one suspects they’ll be fielding an interesting team of stage hunters including the current world champion, Philippe Gilbert, who’ll be looking to score his maiden win in what is turning out to be a rainbow-cursed year. Last year’s two stage wins in the Vuelta propelled him into that jersey, can he strike again?
Sponsor: A Northern Spanish saving bank and its insurance subsidiary.
Overview: Head honcho will be 2010 Giro runner-up David Arroyo, ably supported by a host of familiar names such as Francesco Lasca, Antonio Piedra, Javier Aramendia and Amets Txurruka. Expect their smart, slightly retro, racing-green jerseys to figure prominently in most of the breaks and I would anticipate that they’ll set their sights on wearing the King of the Mountains jersey early on.
Sponsor: An American bicycle manufacturer.
Overview: Race leader Ivan Basso will be looking to rescue his injury-hit season with a good GC placing after recent top tens overall in the Tours of Poland and Burgos. He’s refinding his mojo but can he improve on his 2009 fourth place? He’ll have help in the high mountains from Jose Sarmiento and Maciej Paterski and he’s already picked up a few tips from Samuel Sanchez, with whom he recently rode the penultimate climb, to help his challenge. The team have Daniel Ratto in the sprints, providing he manages to hold his line. [Ratto was disqualified for irregular sprinting at the recent Tour of Burgos – Ed].
Sponsor: A French credit company.
Overview: After a disappointing Tour campaign, Jerome Coppel will lead the team ably supported by compatriots Yoann Bagot, Nicolas Edet and Spaniard Luis Angel Mate. 2011’s under-23 road race world champion silver medalist Adrien Petit will be looking to (finally) make his name in the sprints. Again, GC ambitions aside, rather like Ag2r, expect them to be ever-present in breakaways to secure that all-important airtime, and maybe even a stage win, to placate the man holding the purse-strings.
Sponsor: A Basque telecoms provider.
Overview: In what will most certainly be their final Grand Tour appearance, the team’s leader will be Samuel Sanchez who’ll be hoping to go one better than his 2009 second spot. To help him the team will field their usual selection of mountain goats including Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve and Igor Anton, the latter hoping to rediscover the form he enjoyed in the 2010 Vuelta. Expect the Carrots, who are all in the shop window seeking new teams, to feature prominently in breaks and every time the roads turns skywards. Let’s hope they can set off into an orange-free sunset with at least a stage win and a podium placing.
Sponsor: The French national lottery.
Overview: Another French team looking to put a disappointing Tour campaign behind them. Thibaut Pinot is once again their main GC hope and he’ll have help from the diminutive Tour de l’Ain best young rider Kenny Elissonde and Alexandre Geniez. Neither of FDJ’s main sprinters, Arnaud Demare nor former French champion Nacer Bouhanni, are taking part, which leaves the sprints to Geoffroy Soupe and flying Finn Jussi Veikkanen. Again, expect the team to fly the flag, probably with Anthony Roux, in a number of breakaways.
Sponsors: A US-based multinational manufacturer of GPS systems and a Japanese technology provider.
Overview: Dan Martin will lead the team’s assault on the Vuelta, a race where he’s had success in the past with a stage win to La Covatilla and 13th overall in 2011. This will mark the first time Martin has started two Grand Tours in one season. He’ll have protection provided by Classics stars Nick Nuyens and Johan Vansummeren , who will both deliver Martin to the foothills and lead out sprinters Koldo Fernandez and Tyler Farrar.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the remaining eleven teams, from Katusha to Vacansoleil-DCM.