The 2015 edition of the Vuelta a España has attracted a stellar start list, with the majority of the big names from the Tour de France returning for a second bite of the Grand Tour cherry.
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Usually there are few standout candidates for the overall win at the Vuelta, which sometimes throws up a surprise winner – see Juan Jose Cobo in 2011 and Chris Horner in 2013 – but this year seems set for a big name to take the title.
Who should you put your money on? Take a look at the best odds you can get for the pre-race favourites.
Nairo Quintana – 9/4 at Sky Bet
The Colombian left it a little too late to try and dethrone Chris Froome at the Tour, saving his attacks for the last two stages in the Alps. He did put time into the Brit, but not enough to recover the defecit inflicted by Froome over the first 18 stages.
The Tour was Quintana’s big target for 2015, but I’m sure he won’t turn down the chance to win his first Vuelta title to salvage his season.
Traditionally the Vuelta features mountains that are so ludicrously long and steep that only the true climbers can compete, and with nine new summit finishes on offer Quintana is sure to feature strongly.
A relatively sedate final week could mean the race is all-but over by the stage 17 time trial – a 39km affair in which a rider could lose several minutes. He has improved his time trialling in recent years, though, so don’t expect to see the Colombian capitulate there.
Chris Froome – 3/1 at PaddyPower
Froome is only the second Tour de France winner to go on to start the Vuelta since the Spanish race moved from the spring to the autumn in 1995.
The other was Carlos Sastre in 2008, with the Spaniard finishing third behind Contador and Levi Leipheimer that year.
Froome has a strong pedigree at the Vuelta, finishing second, fourth and second in his three appearances for Team Sky. Second could be his destiny again, though, with the exertions of the three-week Tour de France surely not behind him yet.
There’s not much chance to ease into the race, with the first summit finish coming on stage four and then a whole host of mountains in the stages after that.
The time trial will suit him down to the ground and could be the difference maker if he is to win the race.
Alejandro Valverde – 5/1 at Bet365
Like at the Tour, Alejandro Valverde‘s chances of winning the race overall are somewhat hampered by the presence of teammate Quintana.
Team manager Eusebio Unzue insists Movistar are stronger when the pair ride together, but I’m sure Valverde would be keen to be the sole leader at the Vuelta.
The Spanish champion has an enviable history in his home race, notching up eight top-five finishes including a victory in 2009. But with Quintana likely to be the dominant force in the mountains, Valverde could be resigned to another podium place at best this time round.
Fabio Aru – 15/2 at Sky Bet/Vincenzo Nibali – 12/1 at PaddyPower
Like Movistar, there’s a bit of debate as to who will lead Astana at the Vuelta – Fabio Aru or Vincenzo Nibali?
The bookies are edging towards Aru as the best chance of a turquoise winner, but only just. Nibali had a torrid start to his Tour defence in July, finding himself out of contention as early as stage 10 but recovered to take a stage win up La Toussuire.
Aru is slightly more well rested than his colleague, having only raced only the Tour of Poland since finishing second at the Giro d’Italia behind Contador in May. Like Nibali at the Tour, Aru lost time to the Spaniard relatively early in the race but came back strongly at the end of the race.
The young Italian finished fifth in his first Vuelta last year, winning two stages in the process, but the time trial is likely to be his Achilles heel.
Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010 in what was a relatively weak field but will be keen to avenge his disappointment at the Tour and push for the victory.
Watch Cycling Weekly’s guide to the Vuelta a España
Joaquim Rodriguez – 20/1 at Bet365: The Spaniard’s odds of winning a Grand Tour have lengthened year on year, and with the strong field he’s up against this year his drought is likely to continue.
Rafal Majka – 25/1 at Bet365: Majka will lead Tinkoff-Saxo in the general classification but a top-10 finish is probably the best he can hope for. With Peter Sagan also racing the team will likely be looking for stage wins, meaning Majka’s won’t be able to count on their full support like Contador did in the Tour.
Tejay van Garderen – 33/1 at PaddyPower: The American was in tears as he abandoned the Tour de France with illness in July while sitting in a podium position. He’s changed his focus to the Vuelta, but the parcours doesn’t really suit his style. Whether he can keep up with the best climbers is a question that has plagued his career and the harsh slopes in Spain could prove a test too far.