By David Hunter
The last grand tour of the year, for me the best. The mix of brutal climbs, sun and the relaxed atmosphere makes this race special. Coming near the end of the season, it also provides younger riders with a chance of landing some big results.
There is no messing around in the Vuelta, it might only be stage 3 but we have a killer of a climb. I know it’s only cat 3, you need to remember that a Vuelta cat 3 is a leg breaker! This climb is 1.5km and is constantly above 10%. Purito won here in 2012, it’s a shame he’s not racing.
The following day sees the riders finish with a cat 2 climb. It’s long, 11km at 5%, but the final 4km is at 7.5%. Riders who have a poor start to the race, can kiss goodbye any chance of winning the red jersey.
A few quieter days follow before this peculiar looking stage. The climb to La Camperona was featured in 2014, with Ryder Hesjedal taking a stunning victory. It is so steep, words do not do it justice. Thankfully the organisers have made it be on a Saturday, so everyone can see it in it’s full glory.
Stage 10 and the day before the rest day, the riders will need it! We end with the especial climb, Lagos de Covadonga. This is a brutal climb, Piedra won from a breakaway back in 2012.
The day after the rest day and it’s Pena Cabarga. It featured back in 2013, when Kiryienka won. Most will remember it for Horner dropping Nibali. It’s a special climb.
Another Saturday full of climbing. We cross into France and finish with the Aubisque. 17km at 7% will push the riders to their limit.
The following day we only have a stage of 118.5km, but it’s going to be explosive. The final 4km is tough, really tough!
The final mountain stage, stage 20, and the riders have to tackle Alto de Aitana. It’s a climb that many know from winter training, but that won’t make it any easier. It’s 21km at 6% and finishes at an Air Force base!
Alberto Contador – we’ve been here before. Contador quits the Tour, returns with a win in the Vuelta. Now in the twilight of his career, how many more grand tour wins does the great man have? Certainly, he performs much better in the Vuelta than he does in the Tour. He will be hoping to sign off his Tinkoff career with another red jersey, the 4th of his career. He will be the man the rest have to beat.
Chris Froome – is he seriously here to compete for the red jersey? Last year he crashed and quit after stage 11. I’m not sure what we’ll get from him this year. Looking at the Olympics, it’s clear to see that his form already started to decline. It’s a massive ask for him to reverse that and peak again for the Vuelta.
Miguel Angel Lopez – the 22 year old will start his first grand tour, fresh from winning his first world tour event. His win in the Tour de Suisse was sensational and he has a huge future ahead of him. Astana have managed him well so far and they won’t put any pressure on him for this race. They’ll take it day by day and hope that he can survive into the third week. The other riders need to be careful, he is a unbelievable climber, and shouldn’t be given any freedom.
Samuel Sanchez – the veteran Spanish rider enjoyed a wonderful start to 2016. He won a stage in Pais Vasco, was 6th overall, 6th in Fleche Wallonne and 4th in LBL. This has given the management at BMC the confidence to make him team leader. Considering the size of their squad and Sanchez’s age, this is a bold move. It’s been 9 years since his last stage win in this race, do not be surprised to see him changing that!
Nairo Quintana – after a disastrous Tour(he still made the podium!) the little Colombian wants to set the record straight in Spain. Supported by Valverde and Moreno, he has ever chance of bettering his 4th place from last year. No one is sure if we’ll get his top form, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Alejandro Valverde – could be the first man in modern times to finish in the top 10 of all three grand tours, in the same year. He is an amazing cyclist, and if Quintana falters, he’ll be on hand to lead Movistar.
Esteban Chaves – so close to winning the Giro, the little Colombian now sets his sights on the Vuelta. He had a brilliant ride here in 2015, taking two stages and 5th on GC. It is a race that is great for his characteristics, but how will his legs respond after such a demanding Giro? He’s still relatively inexperienced and it’s not easy to be competitive in both the Giro and Vuelta. Maybe he can follow the path of Fabio Aru, who was 2nd in the 2015 Giro and won the Vuelta!
Steven Kruijswijk – such a tremendous Giro, but ultimately disappointing. His big crashed denied him a career defining moment. It’s difficult to come to terms with such a moment, we shall have to see how Kruijswijk responds. His climbing in the Giro was better than I’d ever thought he was capable of. If he can refind that form, he will be a big threat here.
Robert Gesink – he’s not had a great season, with injuries really slowing him down. He was 6th in the Vuelta back in 2012, something he would hope to better. The Dutchman is a great climber, he just needs a break!
Simon Yates – the boy from Bury will have be spurred on by Adam’s performance in the Tour. Simon is an exceptional climber, a rider capable of challenging for stages and a high finish on GC. Could be this year’s surprise.
The Young Guns
The Vuelta is a great place to start your grand tour career. This year we will see Hugh Carthy, Pierre Latour, Odd Christian Eiking, Jack Haig, Matvey Mamykin and Lilian Calmejane. No doubt they’ll be taking it “day by day” but they’ll all want to impress the viewing public. Keep an eye out for Carthy, he’s firing on all cylinders!
We’ve been here before. Contador, leaves the tour early and arrives at the Vuelta way above his rivals. Red jersey number four for Alberto.
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