Vuelta a España preview: Teams and sponsors (part 1)

The 67th edition of the Vuelta a España, the last of the year’s three Grand Tours, kicks off on Saturday 18th August with a team time trial in Pamplona, following the route used for the famous running of the bulls. There are 198 riders representing the 18 WorldTour teams and four wild-card Pro Continental teams set to take to the start line for 3,300km of riding, largely in Northern Spain, taking in 37 mountains.

Many fans will be familiar with the main riders in the peloton, but have you ever wondered about the mysterious sponsors whose names are plastered all over every available square inch of the riders and their equipment? If so, here’s the first of a two-part overview of the 22 teams, their title sponsors and main protagonists. While many of the peloton’s high-ranking riders have secured contracts for next season, there will also be large numbers counting on a good Vuelta performance to increase their chances of full-time employment next season.

All team line-ups are, of course, subject to change in the final few days before the race starts, but are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing. Part two follows tomorrow.

AG2R La Mondiale

Sponsor: A French life insurance and pension provider.

Overview:  AG2R go into the tour with their usual multi-pronged attack comprising Nicolas Roche and John Gadret, both probably hoping for a top ten finish. They will be supported by Christophe Riblon and former maillot jaune wearer Rinaldo Nocentini. Given that Roche is off to pastures new (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) next season, it’ll be interesting to see whether he or Gadret gets better supported. They also have riders such as Maxime Bouet and Blel Kadri to grab valuable airtime in breakaways plus Lloyd Mondory and Sylvain Georges to mix it up in the sprints.

Andalucia

Sponsor: The Spanish region of the same name.

Overview:  As a wild-card selection, this team knows it’ll be expected to animate the race even though it’s not going anywhere near Andalucia. Regular Vuelta watchers will be familiar with the names of Adrian Palomares, Jesus Rosendo and Juan Jose Lobato, who tend to ply their trade on the more mountainous stages and may even make a bid for the King of the Mountains jersey in the early stages. They are unlikely to figure either in a stage win or the general classification.

Argos-Shimano

Sponsor: An independent Dutch oil company and a Japanese manufacturer of bike parts and accessories.

Overview: After a disappointing Tour where all their eggs were in one basket, the team is hedging its bets in the Vuelta. They have sprinter John Degenkolb for the six flat stages, Simon Geschke for the 40km individual time trial and want-away Frenchman Alexandre Geniez for the general classification, solidly supported by the experienced Koen de Koert. Again, as a wild-card entry they’ll be looking to provide ample justification to the organisers for their selection and, with a nod to their Far Eastern sponsors, they’ve selected Ji Cheng and, possibly, Yukihiro Doi.

Astana

Sponsor: A Kazakh business consortium.

Overview: Astana will be looking to add to their promising 2012 and perhaps erase their poor performance in last year’s Vuelta where their highlight was a second place on the penultimate stage [allegedly fuelled by Sheree’s home-made banana and chocolate cakes – Ed]. To be fair Fredrik Kessiakoff had been lying fifth on GC before tummy troubles laid him low. After his joust for the King of the Mountains jersey in this year’s Tour, expect him to again challenge for the general classification. In support he’ll have Tour of Turkey runner-up Alexandr Dyachenko, Andrey Kashechkin, who was third in the 2006 Vuelta, and Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto.

BMC

Sponsor: A Swiss bicycle manufacturer.

Overview: Looking at the squad composition, I’d say BMC will be looking for stage wins and fine-tuning ahead of the World Championships in Valkenburg, to be held on essentially the Amstel Gold course. In particular, they’ll be hoping that Philippe Gilbert can rediscover his mojo. The team includes Brent Bookwalter, Alessandro Ballan and Amael Moinard, a top 20 finisher in the Vuelta. We could be wrong, but we’re saying just don’t expect too much from this team.

Caja Rural

Sponsor: A northern Spanish savings bank.

Overview: As another of the wild-card entries, Caja Rural appreciate that their role is to animate the race by getting into breaks and grabbing plenty of on-air exposure for their sponsor. However, they do have some experienced riders who’ll be looking to maybe win a stage or feature in the chase for KoM points. Look out for David de la Fuente, national Bulgarian champion Danail Petrov – third in the Tour of Turkey– ex-RadioShacker Manuel Cardoso, the Portuguese national champion and no relation to the other Cardoso on the team, Andre. [So, no cycling families story there, then – Ed.]

Cofidis – Le Credit en ligne

Sponsor: A French credit company.

Overview:The team will be mounting a stout defence of David Moncoutie‘s King of the Mountains jersey, which he’s won four times in succession. He’s hoping to win it for a record-breaking fifth time in what is highly likely to be his last year as a professional rider. Cofidis do business in Spain so expect Moncoutie’s teammates, such as job-hunting Mickael Buffaz and Luis Angel Mate, to be figuring in escapes and looking for opportunities to grab airtime for their sponsor. Leonardo Duque will be hoping to score points in the sprints.

Euskaltel-Euskadi

Sponsors: A Basque telecoms provider and regional development agency.

Overview: They may have secured funding for the next three years but the team need to bag more UCI points to keep their place in the WorldTour. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s leader for the Vuelta will once again be Igor Anton who, with few time-trialling kilometres and plenty of mountain-top finishes, must surely believe that this time he’ll climb atop the podium, particularly given all the stages in his stomping grounds. He’ll be looking to replicate his 2010 form but, this time, avoid crashing out. He’ll start slightly on the back-foot after the team time trial, not one of the team’s competencies, but he’s got solid support around him including experienced hand Amets Txurruka and climbing sensation Mikel Landa. Typically we can expect to see those orange jerseys to the fore every time the road heads skywards and particularly where they’ll have their usual fanatical support.

FDJ-BigMat

Sponsors: The French national lottery and a chain of independent builders’ merchants.

Overview: Having missed the Tour due to health issues, Arnold Jeannesson, riding in his first Vuelta, will be looking to at least replicate his 2011 Tour position (14th) or top perhaps the recent Tour success of teammate Thibaut Pinot –  a stage win and top ten on GC. The team also includes the French national road race champion and one of their key sprinters, Nacer Bouhanni, who has a number of wins to his name this season. Plus there’s strong, experienced  support in the form of Remi Pauriol and William Bonnet.

Garmin-Sharp (formerly Garmin-Barracuda)

Sponsors: A US-based multinational manufacturer of GPS systems and a Japanese technology provider.

Overview: Christophe Le Mevel will be looking to secure his future with an improvement on his 2010 15th place but he may well have to play second fiddle to recent Tour de l’Ain winner Andrew Talansky. We can expect the team to perform well as usual in the opening team time trial. They’ve got sprinters Koldo Fernandez and Murilo Fischer while most of their other riders such as Johan Van Summeren are better suited to the Classics than the high mountains. It looks as if the team leader will have his work cut out.

Katusha

Sponsor: A Russian business conglomerate.

Overview: Giro runner-up  Joaquim Rodriguez will be hoping he can make the step up on a course better suited to his capabilities: more steep inclines, less time-trialling. He’ll have his Vuelta a Burgos winning wingman Dani Moreno to support him along with double Vuelta winner Denis Menchov, Alberto Losado and Xavier Florencio. Expect to see a number of their Russians heading up the road in breakaways and then, in the dying kilometres, time-trialling away from their companions only to be recaptured by the peloton before the finish line.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the remaining eleven teams, from Lampre-ISD to Vacansoleil-DCM.

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website