By David Hunter
Vamos! You can take your Giro and Tour de France, it’s La Vuelta that has a place in my heart. I’ve never been sure exactly why this is my favourite grand tour, I think it’s the mix of brutally steep climbs and the laid back feeling that gets me. Maybe it’s also because I love Spain!
This is classic Vuelta territory, a stage early in the race that will end the hopes of many riders. We won’t find out who wins the Vuelta in this stage, we’ll find out who won’t. It is a cliche, but one that is very true. This isn’t a well known climb, but it’s bloody hard.
Did I say I mention I love this race due to the brutally steep climbs? Welcome to hell.
The organisers have decided to return to a little loop around Andorra! 95.5km of action packed climbing, which finishes at Cortals d’Encamp. This is the most important day of the whole race.
We dip into France for a very difficult 36km ITT, one that offers some hope to the climbers.
We’re now in the Basque Country, which means very difficult roads and hugely passionate fans. The stage ends with 6.9km at 8.6%, which will be very difficult after such a demanding day in the saddle.
You might think I’ve got the wrong picture here, but this stage is one that could ruin the GC hopes of many riders. The problem isn’t the climbing, the issue is that almost all the stage is on the north coast of Spain. If the wind blows, this day will be awful for the little climbers.
Back to brutally steep climbs! We have a shortish stage of 154km, but with 4 cat 1 climbs, this is a very demanding day in the saddle. We end with 8.1km at 9.6%, another one that will really hurt the legs.
Another short stage full of climbing. This time it’s 145km, with 3 cat 1 climbs. The final climb isn’t the hardest in the race, but the length of the climb will be too much for some.
Movistar – on home soil, there always one of the teams to beat. They arrive with Valverde, Quintana and Carapaz as their team leaders, which is incredibly strong. Carapaz already has the Giro to his name, which makes him one of the riders to beat in Spain. Quintana had an up and down Tour, taking a stage, but only finishing 8th on GC. Valverde was nice and consistent in France, eventually finishing in 9th place. Given that both Quintana and Carapaz are leaving the team, I wonder what their approach will be. On paper, Carapaz should be their undisputed team leader, but that’s not a guarantee. The ITT isn’t great for any of them, but we have lots of mountains to make up time.
UPDATE – a training crash has left a massive doubt over the participation of Richard Carapaz, with a decision to be made on Thursday or Friday. Without him, they are left with Quintana and Valverde, a pairing that hasn’t always worked well together. However, it also provides Marc Soler with a big opportunity, one that he needs to seize.
Jumbo-Visma – whatever Movistar can do, they can do better. The Dutch squad are here with Roglič, Kruijswijk and Bennett. They are fully behind Roglič as team leader, which is a sensible move, as the route suits him very well. They will want to start by winning the TTT, but it’s not just the kilometres against the clock in the Slovenian’s favour. Roglič is very strong on steep gradients, just think back to his excellent performances in the Basque Country. He was 3rd in the Giro, but an illness during the race hampered his performance. Kruijswijk is also “fresh” from finishing 3rd in the Tour, if he’s maintained his form, they will be incredibly hard to beat.
Astana – another team who have three strong riders: López, Ion Izagirre and Fuglsang. The Colombian was a disappointing 7th in the Giro, a position that gives a false impression of just how strong he was. If he wasn’t getting a mechanical, he was slapping fans about the face! He was 3rd here last year, and this is the grand tour which is best suited to him. Arriving with such a strong squad is clearly the fashion, but no one knows how strong Fuglsang will be.
EF Education First – Urán, Martinez, Carthy and Higuita! Like Movistar and Astana, they arrive with a squad dripping with talent. Rigo’s season was interrupted by injury, but this left him nice and fresh at the Tour, where he seemed to grow into the race and finished 7th on GC. He is a very solid grand tour rider, one that rarely disappoints, and his consistency should be applauded. As the team have a number of options, it puts them in a strong position on the big GC days. The team aren’t used to being in this position, I hope they respond by continuing to ride an attacking race. Urán’s goal is the podium and a stage win, something he’ll be confident of achieving.
Ineos – arriving with “only” Poels and Geoghegan Hart, they must feel inferior to the other teams! You know that I’m only joking, but it’s interesting to see how they match up against the stronger squads in this race. After winning a stage in the Dauphiné, Poels was far from his best in the Tour, and I don’t know why. He has previous at this race, finishing 6th in 2017. After crashing out of the Giro, Geoghegan Hart will be hoping for better luck in this grand tour. Still just 24, he’s an exceptionally strong climber, and was hugely impressive in the Tour of Poland. We’ll have to wait and see just how far he can go in this race.
The strength of the above teams will make life very difficult for everyone else, and I can’t see anyone else challenging for the red jersey.
The strength of the teams increases the chances of a surprise result. In the big GC days, we could well see a big break go down the road, as long as it has representation from the strongest teams, which would have a big impact on GC. As much as I would love to see this scenario play out, it is still in the unlikely category. Looking at 2019 form, and previous results in the Vuelta, I think we’ll see Miguel Ángel López winning his first grand tour. Vamos!
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