Hype for this year’s Vuelta a Espana began much earlier than usual. From the moment Chris Froome’s bid for the 2014 Tour de France yellow jersey met its ill-fated end on the cobbled roads of northern France, cycling fans started to look ahead towards a potential dual in the Spanish grand tour between him and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who had already confirmed his intention to ride. When Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) also crashed out of the Tour a few days later, the stage seemed set for a clash of the titans.
Of course, it won’t simply be a matter of these big names turning up and immediately riding at top form. Both Froome and Contador haven’t raced since the Tour having needed the time to recover from the injuries sustained, so are likely to be a little off the pace, at least to begin with. In Contador’s case, a GC bid may fail to materialise, as the Spaniard has already stated that he is aiming for stage wins rather than the overall.
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Either way, none of these riders will have to contend with defending Vuelta champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), who was withdrawn from the race by his team after displaying low cortisol levels.
Quintana, on the other hand, goes into the Vuelta having spent the last few months preparing specifically for it. After a long rest to recover from his Giro d’Italia win, he immediately returned to winning ways with overall victory at the Vuelta a Burgos last week. Froome may have got the better of the Colombian at the Tour last year, but will likely find it more difficult to overcome him this time round.
As well as Froome, four other Brits will be riding. Peter Kennaugh and Luke Rowe will be on domestique duty for Froome at Team Sky, with the former in particular expected to be a crucial helper in the mountains. Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) rides in first grand tour, while for David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) it will be the last in a long and eventful career.
One Brit who won’t be riding is Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who will participate in the Tour of Britain instead. Not that the Vuelta would have offered him many opportunities anyway – as ever there are considerably less stages that look like nailed-on bunch sprints than at the Tour.
The first week in Andalusia features only two such stages, with most of the other days featuring either too many hills or an uphill finish to deter pure sprinters. Those with powerful teams will however have a chance to claim the red leader’s jersey early on, should they do well in the opening team time trial and claim the bonus seconds at the finish of the following day’s flat stage.
The first GC showdown occurs – typically for the Vuelta – as early as stage six, and should catch out anyone who has not prepared well for the race. The second week features a couple more summit finishes, before culminating in the hardest part of the race – three successive mountains top finishes on stages 14, 15 and 16, with gradients of 24% on the former and a total of five summits in the latter.
Much of the final week in Galicia will encourage breakaways and puncheurs, but the final weekend provides to final opportunities to change the GC. Saturday finishes on the out-of-category Puerto de Ancares, and specialists against the clock finally have a chance to shine in a 10km time trial the day after.
Vuelta a Espana 2014: The stages
Stage 1, Sat Aug 23, Jerez de la Frontera, 12.6km, TTT
Stage 2, Sun Aug 24, Algeciras to San Fernando, 174km
Stage 3, Mon Aug 25, Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera, 188km
Stage 4, Tue Aug 26, Mairena del Alcor to Cordoba, 173km
Stage 5, Wed Aug 27. Priego de Cordoba to Ronda, 182km
Stage 6, Thu Aug 28, Benalmadena to La Zubia, 158km
Stage 7, Fri Aug 29, Alhendin, 165km
Stage 8, Sat Aug 30, Baeza to Albacete, 207km
Stage 9, Sun Aug 31, Carboneras de Guadazaon to Aramon Valdelinares, 181km
Rest Day – Mon Sep 1
Stage 10, Tue Sep 2, Real Monasterio de Santa Maria de Veruela to Borja, 34.5km, ITT
Stage 11, Wed Sep 3, Pamplona to Santuario de San Miguel de Aralar, 151km
Stage 12, Thu Sep 4, Logrono to Logrono, 168km
Stage 13, Fri Sep 5, Belorado to Obregon Parque de Cabarceno, 182km
Stage 14, Sat Sep 6, Santander to La Camperona Valle de Sabero, 199km
Stage 15, Sun Sep 7, Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga, 149km
Stage 16, Mon Sep 8, San Martin del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona Lago de Somiedo, 159km
Rest Day – Tue Sep 9
Stage 17, Wed Sep 10, Ortigueira to Coruna, 174km
Stage 18, Thu Sep 11, A Estrada to Mont Castrove Meis, 174km
Stage 19, Fri Sep 12, Salvaterra de Mino to Cangas do Morrazo, 177km
Stage 20, Sat Sep 13, Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil to Puerto de Ancares, 164km
Stage 21, Sun Sep 14, Santiago de Compostela, 10km, ITT
Vuelta a Espana 2014: Teams
Vuelta a Espana start list >>
Ag2r La Mondiale
Caja Rural – Seguros RGA
Trek Factory Racing
Vuelta a Espana 2014: The Jerseys
Red jersey – overall classification leader
Green jersey – points classification leader
Polka-dot jersey – mountains classification leader
White jersey – combined classification
Vuelta a Espana 2014: TV Coverage
The Vuelta a Espana will be broadcast live on British Eurosport. Both Eurosport and ITV4 will show highlights each night.
Vuelta a Espana TV schedule >>
Vuelta a Espana 2014: Recent Winners
2013 Chris Horner (USA)
2012 Alberto Contador (Spa)
2011 Juan Jose Cobo (Spa)
2010 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita)
2009 Alejandro Valverde (Spa)
2008 Alberto Contador (Spa)
2007 Denis Menchov (Rus)
2006 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
2005 Denis Menchov (Rus)
2004 Roberto Heras (Spa)
Vuelta a Espana 2014: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Chris Horner (USA) RadioShack-Leopard in 84-36-04
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 37 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-36
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 3-22
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Saxo-Tinkoff at 7-11
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r at 8-00
7. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 8-41
8. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 9-51
9. Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura at 10-11
10. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 13-11
Defending champion Chris Horner withdrawn by Lampre-Merida team after cortisone treatment for bronchitis
Alberto Contador still recovering from injury sustained at Tour de France and his form going into the Vuelta a Espana
Provisional list of starters for the 2014 Vuelta a Espana, August 23-September 14
Peter Kennaugh and Luke Rowe also named in Sky's nine-man line-up for final Grand Tour of 2014
Orica-GreenEdge selects British neo-pro Adam Yates for his Grand Tour debut at the end of August