We are having a feast of cycling this year. Thanks to the Olympics, the usual post Tour drought, usually filled by Eneco and Poland, has passed much quicker then usual, and already we’re onto the Vuelta. Helping the feeling of time flying by is that Alberto Contador is back from his two year suspension, yes, the one he was given earlier this year. Of course, the fact it was backdated meant he had still ridden plenty races, maintained the race fitness, and so ‘only’ lost his results, and got an effective 6 month ban. Still, if the public are willing to accept back David Millar (I don’t, so luckily I can still whinge about it!), the have to accept back Contador. Can he pull off the ultimate revenge reposte and take his first Grand Tour back?
Contador is certainly favourite, purely because of who he is – the man with One Giro, two Tours and a Vuelta to his name (even though he’d insist it should be 2, 3,1) Aside from Valverde and Cobo, he will be the only man in the race to have won a Grand Tour. The route is practically made for him, and if you believe internet innuendo, was. With an obscene amount of summit finishes, or flat stages that then feature steep finishing climbs, its pretty much his ideal Grand Tour – the TTT is on the first day so his team isn’t tired, and even the long time trial, which you’d have put money on him winning anyway, has a mountain in it, just to tip the balance ever so slightly more in his favour. His form was clearly good at the Eneco tour, so that doesnt look like too much of a problem, so the questions are thus – can he deal with his weak team (probably, he’s done it before)? Just how good is Chris Froome? And can he really win a Grand Tour after months out and earn the red stripe on his self fashioned logo? (given when he won the Vuelta, the jersey was still gold, not red)
Juan Jose Cobo
I’ll be honest, I’m including ‘The Bison’ purely because it would be disrespectful not to talk about the defending champion. Cobo won last year because of his bubbling under the radar of the main contenders, going unnoticed before attacking on Angrilu to take the victory. As much as Sky would like to tell everyone that the reason he won is because of time bonuses and because they chose the wrong gears, Cobo was the rider who won the race in great attacking fashion, for which he should be applauded. Cobo is notoriously up and down however – bouts of depression limit his great potential – and he works highly off self confidence. His last race win was the Vuelta last September – whether he can fashion another challenge for glory is dependent on his mental state. Hopefully, he’ll prove last year wasn’t a one off.
The Kenyan/British talent was the man who rode the course fastest last year, but lost because of time bonuses. Not that he can complain – everyone knew the rules before hand, and that was the first time in my memory anyway that time bonuses had decided first place in a Grand Tour. What Froome did have grounds for complaint about was having to tow Wiggins around despite having beaten him in the time trial – an act that Sky claimed in the Tour de France was evidence that they were supporting the right man (in Wiggins). As much as his polite demeanor suggests otherwise, this probably was quite annoying for Froome. Agreed to have been the best climber in the Tour, it will be interesting to see how Froome does against some of the purer climbers in Contador, Anton and Rodriguez. I have an iffy feeling he may not do as well as predicted, but if anyone knows how to suprise, it’s Froome – you don’t come second in the Tour and Vuelta by chance.
Fresh from a break after having the Giro poached off him at the last instant by Ryder Hesjedal, El Purito and his explosive acceleration are another party that, like Contador, will be absolutely salivating over the route. The time trial aside, it is nicely made for Rodriguez, although less long grinds and more sharp walls may have been more to his liking. It is this which means Contador will probably have the edge over his Spanish rival. Rodriquez should still be able to pick up stages however, and will want to at the least get on the podium. Rodriguez is one of the most consistent riders int he world, as backed up by his consistently high world ranking – but can he trade that for the top step of the podium he so desires?
Anton was on his way to victory in the 2010 Vuelta before he fell off and had to retire with a broken arm. Vincenzo Nibali ended up taking the win that time, and Anton came back in 2011, with the race going into the Basque Country, home of his Euskatel team, with hopes of finishing what he started. Unfortunately, he was off the pace, and was dropped on various early climbs, and so struggled around before taking said Basque Country stage. This year, Anton is really back to avenge 2010, and the 59 kilo climber certainly has what it takes to use the mountains to his advantage. Whether he can get rid of Contador is another question, but he should be up there with the best if he is back to full fitness.
Jurgen Van den Broeck
The Belgian is back for another crack at a Grand Tour, and presumably to get on the podium – 4th in two Tour de Frances is his best Grand Tour result. Aggressive in the Tour, it will be interesting to see if he can continue his form into the Vuelta, although given he isn’t in my Velogames team, he will presumably destroy the field and rampage to victory. He won’t mind the time trial, but still isn’t as good at is as people make out – but the mountains will be a playground for his new found attacking style.
The big question is whether Gesink can get to the end of the race not having suffered some sort of mishap, whether it be crash, injury, puncture etc. If he can, the podium and even the top spot could be within his grasp, such is his talent. If not, well, then look forward to more bad noises coming out of Rabobank.
Thomas de Gendt
De Gendt insists he’s not really going for the overall, but after 3rd in the Giro and a win on the Stelvio after attacking over the Mortitolo, it’s hard not to include him in a potential winners list. If he goes for stages, so be it, but with his new found infamy, he’s going to have to lose some time, a la Thomas Voeckler in this years Tour, before being let off the leash. That said, he could target the King of the Mountains, to give David Moncoutie a rival for once. Whether he then gets drawn into a GC battle, we will have to see.
Elsewhere, the Vuelta doesn’t enjoy the same high calibre of sprinters as it does GC men. It still serves as a ‘blooding’ ground for sprinters, which is why Ben Swift is probably the best man there given the Sky train, although new boys Nacer Bouhanni, Ellia Viviani and John Deglenkob upset the party. David Moncoutie will be going for yet another King of the Mountains, although this year, with the number of summit finishes and lack of mountains before hand, it could be trickier then anticipated, and the jersey may well go to one of the GC contenders by default.