Vuelta a España 2018 begins this weekend. Twenty-one stages from Malaga to Madrid. It’s the most open Grand Tour of the year but how crazy could it be? Euan puts down his tapas and picks up the road book to preview the race.
Question: Which three riders do you think will be on the final Vuelta podium?
It won’t be surprising if you struggled to answer quickly and confidently. With Chris Froome not defending his title, the dynamics of this year’s Vuelta make it the most open Grand Tour in years. Unlike the Giro or the Tour, there are no riders going into the race as red-hot favourites. This could get very interesting.
We start off with the usual Vuelta dynamics. As well as riders who’ve had the Vuelta as a long-term goal, there will be guys trying to salvage their season or save their reputation. We have the usual heady mix of those with nothing to lose and those in danger of losing a lot. Stir in the riders who are hoping the Vuelta will be their breakthrough race and you have a cauldron coming to a lively simmer. To give it a little bit more heat, this year’s Vuelta dynamics are a little different from recently.
Several riders who would usually be serious GC contenders have stated their real goal is to win the World Championships at the end of September. How deep will they go in Spain?
And finally, the most interesting prospect of all. With nearly 10% more climbing at the Vuelta than the Giro or Tour, this is a race where it’s very possible to lose a lot of time. With repeated big days in the mountains, it might end up being a case of who loses the Vuelta least rather than who wins it.
The bookies’ pick
If you consider the top ten contenders according to the bookmakers, it’s easier to make a case for why they won’t win rather than why they will.Embed from Getty Images
Richie Porte (BMC) is the favourite in the betting markets but his most recent Grand Tours have been more famous for badly timed mechanicals and horrible crashes. It’s hard to remember what his strengths and weaknesses are in a three-week race.Embed from Getty Images
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Fabio Aru (UAE) will all be contenders but they were last seen at the Giro losing time hand over fist. No matter how well they’re doing in Spain, there’s always going to be the possibility of a bad day hanging over them.Embed from Getty Images
Miguel Angel Lopez will be in the picture for Astana – but which Superman will we get? He who flies up the mountains or the Clark Kent who never seems at one with the world around him?Embed from Getty Images
Other Colombians in the mix will be Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Uran (EF et al) – both totally capable of a podium result but equally capable of a bad day in the saddle. [Or just a general lack of attack – ed]
This is not to have a laugh at how fragile these riders are but to highlight how precarious the Vuelta could be. Every one of the riders above is capable of going on a marauding attack in the mountains and grabbing themselves a bucketful of time.
The razor’s edge
But how temporary will any advantage gained be? How big a cushion would you need to feel comfortable you could win this thing? Right up until the finish line in the final Saturday of the race, time can be lost much more easily that it can be won. This is a race that’s going to sit on a razor’s edge all the way to the end.Embed from Getty Images
Ironically there is one rider who is famous for starting Grand Tours slowly but making decisive moves in the final week, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). However, the Italian is coming back from a horrendous Tour de France injury and has already ruled himself out as contender. Nibali says he’s in Spain to prepare for the Worlds. But can he stop that competitive urge if he believes the podium is within his grasp? Or is he just bluffing?Embed from Getty Images
We have the prospect of a massively unpredictable race. Throw in names like Wilko Kelderman (Sunweb) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) and one could name around 15 riders who have realistic podium ambitions.Embed from Getty Images
And there’s another scenario that’s possible. The 2013 Vuelta a Espana had a favourites list not unlike this year. Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo, Joaquim Rodriguez, Thibaut Pinot, Balke Mollema and Dan Martin were all being talked about before the race. Just like this year, there was a lot of talent but no-one standing head and shoulders above the others. The winner in 2013 came from the left field… Chris Horner.
It’s up to you to decide who this year’s Chris Horner could be!
Let the racing begin.
Header image: © GETTY/Velo/Tim de Waele