Remco, Roglič or Vingegaard? Five general classification contenders for the Vuelta a España 2023

Will it be a Jumbo-Visma hat trick? Or can Soudal Quick-Step, Ineos Grenadiers or UAE Team Emirates do anything about it?

Five contenders for the Vuelta a España (l-r) Geraint Thomas, Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel, Jonas Vingegaard and Juan Ayuso
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There is a lot of hype around this year's Vuelta a España. Perhaps understandably, given the amount of general classification that is stacked on the start list; those lining up in Barcelona on Saturday will include the three Grand Tour defending champions.

A relentlessly tough course - with no need to cater to those preparing for the World Championships -  means it is a race for climbers, and the lineups prove that. There are nine summit finishes, with stage 13's Col du Tourmalet finale promising to be a spectacle, and only one individual race against the clock, as well as one team time trial.

There are four former Grand Tour winners in the lineup, including Jonas Vingegaard, the Tour de France winner just last month. The Dane's ability to dovetail with co-leader and Giro d'Italia champion Primož Roglič at Jumbo-Visma will be fascinating to watch, as the team seek to become the first to win all of the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour in one season.

Remco Evenepoel is one of the biggest names in cycling at the moment, and the recently crowned individual time trial world champion will be seeking to retain his crown as Vuelta champion. At this, he resumes his duel with Roglič.

Along with these three, there are others in contention, notably Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), with the former Tour de France winner proving that he can still race with second at the Giro earlier this year. Juan Ayuso and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) are another pair which could challenge, with both finishing on the podiums of Grand Tours in the past.

The big five

Primož Roglič
Team: Jumbo-Visma
Country: Slovenia
Vuelta starts: 3
Best GC result: Winner, 2019 - 2021
Best stage result: 1st, x10, 2019-2022

Primož Roglič on the podium of the Vuelta a Burgos

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Four stage races in 2023, four overall victories for Primož Roglič. The Slovenian is hard to look past as a contender for the maillot rojo. It helps, too, that he has won the race three times before, so knows what it takes to triumph at the Vuelta.

He won the Vuelta a Burgos this month, the first race back since he won the Giro d'Italia in May, proving that he is in good form ahead of the second Grand Tour test of the year. No rider has won the Giro-Vuelta double since Alberto Contador in 2008, but the 33-year-old has a great chance to do so.

If he stays upright - crashes have been an issue in the past, including last year - then Roglič is one of the best bets to be triumphant come the end of the Vuelta. The biggest thing standing in his way might just be his teammate, Jonas Vingegaard, the two-time Tour de France winner; how they work together as a team will be one of the biggest subplots of the race. They might be playing nice for now, but at some point there will be a decisive move.

Where Roglič has the better over his teammate is in his punch to the line, and there’s plenty of uphill sprints in this Vuelta for that to be telling.

Jonas Vingegaard
Team: Jumbo-Visma
Country: Denmark
Vuelta starts: 1
Best GC result: 46th, 2020
Best stage result: 14th, 2020

Vuelta a España contenders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The last time Jonas Vingegaard tackled the Vuelta, he was not the all-conquering two-time Tour de France champion we know now, but as a callow 23-year-old in 2020, part of a team which helped deliver Primož Roglič to victory. A lot has changed since. He has won 20 races, and established himself as one of, if not *the* pre-eminent Grand Tour racer in the world.

The Dane was comfortably dominant at the Tour, looking a cut above everyone, including the arguable best rider in the world, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). Vingegaard finished seven minutes ahead of him, and over 10 minutes ahead of the rest of the field, such was the magnitude of his win. Stage one in Barcelona on Saturday represents the first time he has raced properly since Paris, but one can be sure that he is not at the Vuelta to just make up numbers, he'll want to win.

The Vuelta’s queen stage that finishes on the Tourmalet looks primed for him - and also underlined once again just how strong he is against the clock with that phenomenal stage 16 time trial at the Tour. He looks ready to follow in Chris Froome's footsteps and do the Tour-Vuelta double.

Just like Roglič, he has four GC wins to his name this year, including a Grand Tour, and so the matchup between the two men in yellow will be fascinating.

Remco Evenepoel
Team: Soudal-Quick Step
Country: Belgium
Vuelta starts: 1
Best GC result: Winner, 2022
Best stage result: 1st, x2, 2022

Vuelta a España contenders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can Remco Evenepoel do it again? The defending champion returns to the race he won last year as a two time world champion (road race 2022, time trial 2023), and with the experience of yet another year at the highest level. 

The Belgian is undoubtedly one of the best one-day racers in the world - twice consecutive victor at Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa and Liège-Bastogne-Liège - but he will face a greater test over three weeks, such is the depth of the field at this year's Vuelta.

He might have been forced out of the Giro d'Italia with Covid, but he looked like a match for Roglič and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in the first week, and Evenepoel will be itching to show he belongs at the top table alongside Vingegaard. The route does suit him rather less than some of his competitors, but the young man is a quick learner, and expect him to battle all the way through.

Evenepoel doesn’t seem distracted by all the rumours of him wanting an exit from Soudal-Quick Step, and his preparation for his Vuelta defence - altitude, heat training and course recons - has been meticulous as ever. 

Juan Ayuso
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Country: Spain
Vuelta starts: 1
Best GC result: 3rd, 2022
Best stage result: 3rd, 2022

Vuelta a España contenders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It seems like a case of when, not if, Juan Ayuso will win a Grand Tour. The great hope of Spanish cycling rode to third last year, and has the ability to do even better at this Vuelta. If he wins, he would be the race’s youngest ever winner; he turns 21 on the penultimate stage.

This season began late due to a persistent problem with tendonitis, but when he did finally get going he demonstrated his improvement against the clock, winning time trials at both the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse, the latter against Remco Evenepoel, and meant he finished second overall.

The 20-year-old has centres his whole season around this one race, and so has no other distractions coming into the race. Ayuso can also rely on the presence of the Jumbo-Visma duo and Evenepoel to take focus off him, a blessing for such a talented rider at his home race.

He will line up alongside João Almeida, a very capable Grand Tour racer in his own right, with four top tens at three-week races, including third at the Giro earlier this year. It is the less heralded two-pronged attack at the Vuelta, but it could work very well.

Geraint Thomas
Team: Ineos Grenadiers
Country: UK
Vuelta starts: 1
Best GC result: 69th, 2015
Best stage result: 12th, 2015

Vuelta a España contenders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once more unto the breach, once more. Geraint Thomas will line up for his 19th Grand Tour this Saturday, and seems to be in some of the best form of his career. The Welshman was so close to a Giro d'Italia win in May that he could taste it, before it was snatched away from him by Roglič. The two will duel once more on a course which suits the both of them.

The inclusion of a team time trial and flat TT plays to his advantage, and he reminded everyone in Italy that he remains no slouch in the mountains despite his advancing years. In fact, on stage 16, he put almost half-a-minute into Roglič on steep slopes that similarly characterise the Vuelta.

His pre-race form has not been startling, but then Thomas is very good at putting all his eggs in one basket. As he said this week: "It's easy to commit now I know I'm at the end of my career. I might as well commit to this and see what I can do. Then I've got the rest of my life to chill and drink cocktails."

He might have 14 years on Evenepoel and 17 on Ayuso, but the wily campaigner will still be on their back wheels in the mountains, you can almost guarantee it.

Other contenders to watch

João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) has already been mentioned, and the Portuguese rider will be itching to show he is as good as Juan Ayuso, his teammate, across the three weeks. He has never finished lower than sixth at a Grand Tour he has finished.

If it's more Spanish hope you want, then look no further than Enric Mas (Movistar), who switched his ambitions to the Vuelta after crashing out of the Tour early in July. He has finished second at the race three times, and has never finished lower than fifth; whether he can really take the fight to the galacticos above is another question, however.

Another rider hoping to salvage their Grand Tour season this year is Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was forced out of the Giro early on through illness. The Russian is a consistent, if unspectacular, GC rider, and his second place at the Vuelta a Burgos in August gives us a concrete idea of his form, unlike others.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.