Vuelta a España 2016 preview: The contenders

We run through the riders who could be challenging for the win at the 2016 Vuelta a España

Alberto Contador, Tinkoff

Tour of Spain - Stage 20

Alberto Contador will be aiming to take his fourth Vuelta win. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

Alberto Contador has only entered three Vueltas throughout his illustrious career, in 2008, 2012 and 2014 - ominously, he managed to win all three.

On each occasion he was seeking to bounce back having been either barred from riding or underperforming at the Tour de France, and he finds himself in a similar situation this year having abandoned the Grand Boucle in July.

Overall victory at the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month suggests he’s got the form, and he’ll be looking to sign off on a high before he leaves Tinkoff for Trek-Segafredo at the end of the season.

Chris Froome, Sky

Chris Froome escapes with Alberto Contador on stage sixteen of the 2014 Tour of Spain

Chris Froome has 'unfinished business' in Spain. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

His three Tour de France victories may already have enshrined Chris Froome’s name in cycling history.

However, the Vuelta remains something of a bogey race for him - he was edged into second by Juan Jose Cobo and Alberto Contador in 2011 and 2014 respectively, just missed out on the podium in 2012 and was even forced to abandon on his most recent participation last year.

He enters this year’s race on the back of a stressful Tour and two gruelling Olympics races, so will likely lack the sharpness of most of his rivals.

Nairo Quintana, Movistar

Nairo Quintana on stage two of the 2016 Tour de Romandie

Nairo Quintana's Tour de France didn't go to plan. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Watson)

A season that started so well with overall victories in Catalonia and Romandie was diluted when Nairo Quintana failed to pull off his season’s major target of winning the Tour de France, and he enters the Vuelta seeking his first Grand Tour victory since the 2014 Giro d'Italia.

The Colombian rode very defensively for fourth overall at last year's Vuelta, but if he puts his mind to some serious attacks over the route’s many high mountain passes he’ll install fear into the whole peloton.

Esteban Chaves, Orica-BikeExchange

CHAVES Johan Esteban036pp

Esteban Chaves won two stages at the 2015 Vuelta. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

It will be fascinating to see whether Simon Yates can ride anything like his twin brother Adam did at the Tour last month, but his primary role will be to support team leader Chaves.

Chaves has improved yet further since his breakout fifth place finish at the Vuelta last year, managing second overall behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at the Giro earlier this season, and overall victory this time around does not look beyond him.

Steven Kruijswijk, LottoNL-Jumbo

Steven Kruijswijk slipped off the podium on stage 20 of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Graham Watson

Steven Kruijswijk slipped off the podium on stage 20 of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Graham Watson

We could be about to find out whether Steven Kruijswijk's surprise performance at the Giro d'Italia this spring was a mere flash in the pan, or whether the Dutchman can continue to be a bonafide Grand Tour contender.

If the latter is true, the mountainous route will provide him the chance to make up for his disastrous crash at the Giro when in the pink jersey by winning the Vuelta instead; if the former turns out to be more accurate, LottoNL-Jumbo can turn to Robert Gesink.

Samuel Sanchez, BMC Racing

Sanchez riding the Tour de France in 2015. Photo : Yuzuru Sunada

Sanchez riding the Tour de France in 2015. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a stage win at the Tour of the Basque Country proved that Sanchez is still a force to be reckoned with, and he’s been named as team leader of BMC Racing for the Vuelta.

But at 38 years of age the Spaniard may be incapable of sustaining a GC bid for three weeks, so the onus may fall on teammate Tejay van Garderen to register a good result for the team.

Andrew Talansky, Cannondale-Drapac

Andrew Talansky at the 2016 Tour de Suisse. Photo: Graham Watson

Andrew Talansky at the 2016 Tour de Suisse. Photo: Graham Watson

Andrew Talansky may not be the biggest name contesting for overall victory, but he does have one major factor in his favour - unlike most of the other contenders, he hasn’t already competed in a Grand Tour this season, meaning he should have much fresher legs.

The American’s career hasn’t progressed as hoped since impressing as a young rider, but this could be the race where he finally betters his Grand Tour-high of seventh overall at the 2012 Vuelta.

Miguel Angel Lopez, Astana

Miguel Angel Lopez on his way to the overall win at the 2016 Tour de Suisse. Photo: Graham Watson

Miguel Angel Lopez on his way to the overall win at the 2016 Tour de Suisse. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Watson)

Riders as young as 22 are rarely capable of competing for the overall at a Grand Tour, but the latest Colombian prodigy Miguel Angel Lopez - who won the Tour de Suisse earlier this year - could be capable of doing so.

Astana are usually in the mix in GC races - last month’s Tour de France was the first time in ten Grand Tours that they failed to place a rider in the top five - and without stars Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru, Lopez could be their strongest rider.

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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.