The 2016 Vuelta a España, starting Saturday in Galicia, features little for the sprinters, making teams leave home their fast men for climbers and classification riders.
None of the sprint stars will line up in this year’s three-week grand tour, preferring instead a combination of the Cyclassics Hamburg and the Tour of Britain.
>>> Vuelta a España 2016 start list
This year, 10 of the 21 stages are summit finishes. Only the final stage can guarantee a bunch sprint. Team Tinkoff said that, stage 13 "should provide the sprinters with a somewhat rare opportunity for a stage win – if they can conquer the succession of climbs in the middle of the stage."
Cavendish, Marcel Kittel (Etixx–Quick-Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and other top names, like upcoming sprinter Caleb Ewan (Orica-BikeExchange), will prepare elsewhere for the sprint-friendly World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
The Vuelta's top sprinters for 2016 include lesser-known names like Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data).
"We have the team built entirely around Steven Kruijswijk," Sports Director Addy Engels said. "A team with men who strongly ride uphill, as well some guys for the flats."
>>> Vuelta a España 2016 route features 10 summit finishes (video)
Froome indicated there is no room for the sprinters and called the Vuelta "tough course" this year.
Sky's top gun, Italian Elia Viviani is returning home from winning gold in the Olympic Omnium and is racing in Hamburg on Sunday.
Only Giant-Alpecin believes in the sprinters' chances. "There should be plenty of opportunities for a fast finish during the three weeks," explained Sports Director Luke Roberts, who is bringing Nikias Arndt.
Etixx said that the sprinters have "few opportunities to take centre stage" and left out Kittel. Instead, it takes non-household name, Belgian Gianni Meersman.
Australian Caleb Ewan, who won his first grand tour stage last year in the Vuelta, will race in Hamburg and the Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France the following Sunday.
"We are heading into the Vuelta a España with one very clear objective," said Orica-BikeExchange Sports Director Neil Stephens. "And that is to achieve the best possible general classification result that we can [with Esteban Chaves]."
Javier Guillén, the Vuelta's race director, defended his race for having the right amount of mountain stages and said that it is not the place to come if one wants to prepare for the worlds.
"We don't want this race to be a training race for other races," Guillen told Cycling Weekly last year.
"I think we are in the right position, this is what we want and like. Some people don't like it, some do."
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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