With defending champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) out of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana (August 23-September 14), there will be a different rider stood on the top step of the podium at the end of the race. But who?
Here we go through the main contenders and rate their chancesof glory.
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Nairo Quintana, MovistarQuintana has everything going for him heading into La Vuelta – a mountainous route that suits him perfectly; great form, having won the Vuelta a Burgos last week; and what looks like the race’s strongest team to support him. Teammate Alejandro Valverde has been named co-leader, but, given that he was as underwhelming at the Tour as Quintana was impressive at the Giro, will surely end up working for the Colombian.
Chris Froome, SkyWinning the Vuelta has become Froome’s major objective since crashing out of the Tour, a fact that will concern everyone else who harbours ambitions for the overall. If he’s at his best form he’ll be the man to beat, but that’s a big ‘if’ given he hasn’t raced since the Tour. There’s also no early time-trial for him to take control of the race as he usually does, and he’ll be without key domestique Richie Porte.
Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-SaxoContador has said he’s only riding for stage wins – but then again he also tweeted a few weeks ago that it was ‘Goodbye to the Vuelta’ altogether. It would be in his interests to lower expectations by playing down his chance, so, were he to recover quickly, don’t expect him to shout about it from the rooftops. The Spaniard has been competitive in the overall standings in every grand tour he has ever started and has won in the past despite less than ideal preparation – he certainly should not be written off.
Joaquim Rodriguez, KatushaHow Rodriguez must have cursed as he witnessed Froome and Contador revise their season’s ambitions to winning the Vuelta. ‘Purito’ had picked this race out as the grand tour for him under the assumption that the field would be weaker than in the Tour and Giro, only to see the Vuelta’s roster swell with most of the world’s best stage racers. Nonetheless, the numerous steep uphill finishes and bonus seconds suit the Spaniard’s style of riding, so he could yet triumph.
Andrew Talansky, Garmin-SharpTalansky is another to ride off the back of a Tour de France abandon so, like the others, it is difficult to assess his chances. But going into the Vuelta having abandoned the Tour is usually grounds for a better performance than riding it having completed the Tour, as the likes of Thibaut Pinot and Jurgen Van Den Broeck have done. Should the American be off form, Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjdeal are both interesting options for plan B.
Rigoberto Uran, Omega Pharma-QuickStepSecond overall behind fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana in the 2014 Giro d’Italia, Uran has had a very quiet season since and is another rider who goes into the Vuelta with completely unknown form. However, he can be relied upon to have at least one good day in the mountains – and one bad one, too.
Carlos Betancur, Ag2rAll is not well between Betancur and his team. The Colombian has frustrated manager Vincent Lavenu by failing to get into top shape and missing key races, and is set to leave at the end of the season. He has the talent to compete for the overall, but is doubtful we’ll see the full extent of that talent on display at the Vuelta.
Ones to Watch
Peter Sagan, Cannondale
For all his consistency and success, 2014 has been something of a frustrating year for Sagan. He was absent from all the key moments in the spring monuments, and failed to pull off a stage win at the Tour de France despite multiple opportunities. John Degenkolb and Nacer Bouhanni may get the better of him in the flat sprints, but he’s likely to win a few of the race’s uphill finishes.
Tony Martin, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
We’ve grown accustomed to Martin doing something special in stage races these days, and his day-long solo breakaway in stage six last year lives long in the memory. He’ll have team leader Rigoberto Uran to work for and is primarily building his form for the Worlds, but could be given some licence to attack.
Adam Yates, Orica-GreenEdge
The 22-year old Briton caps off a brilliant first season as a pro with his debut grand tour. Though 5th at the Tour of California and sixth at the Dauphine confirm his talent, a challenge for the overall in a grand tour remains too much to ask for such a young neo-pro. He’ll be looking to get into some breaks and last in the race as long as possible.
Fabio Aru, Astana
Aru wowed everyone with his brilliant climbing at the Giro back in May, and looks like one of the next big things in cycling. Like his fellow Giro podium finisher Rigoberto Uran, however, he has yet to demonstrate the kind of season-long form that pink jersey winner Quintana has proved capable of, and finished an assuming 64th overall at the Tour of Poland a fortnight ago.
A look ahead to the final Grand Tour of the 2014 season, the Vuelta a Espana, starting on Saturday, August