LEON, Spain (VN) — Call it the “rebound and reload tour.”
The 2011 Vuelta a España will see a fair share of big-name riders hoping to use the season’s final grand tour as a chance to redeem a season marred by bad crashes or use it as a trampoline for the world championships.
If the preliminary start list revealed by race organizers Thursday is any indication, the Spanish tour could see its strongest and deepest lineup in years.
Thanks in large part to several big names who’ve crashed out of the Tour de France or performed below expectations throughout the season, the Vuelta is a chance to make up for lost ground.
And with the world championships looming in late September on a sprint-friendly course, many of the rainbow-jersey contenders will be in Benidorm when the Vuelta kicks off on August 20.
No lack of GC contenders.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) will be back to take on all challengers.
The other two podium finishers — Ezequiel Mosquera and Peter Velits — are not expected to start. Mosquera’s unsettled hydroxyethyl starch case means last year’s runner-up likely won’t be starting while Velits raced the Tour and will not start (his twin brother, Martin, will race).
With the entire Tour de France podium racing at the Colorado tour, Nibali’s most serious challenge could come from Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Jurgen van den Broeck, two riders who saw their Tour hopes spoiled by heavy crashes.
Both expected to be challenging for the Tour podium and have now been prepping to make a run for a shot at Vuelta victory.
Janez Brajkovic and Andreas Kloden, who also crashed out of the Tour, are likely to line up for RadioShack.
Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) skipped the Tour to prepare exclusively for the Vuelta, which he has set as his top goal of the season. Antón crashed out heavily while leading last year and wants nothing less than overall victory this year.
Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre, whose Geox-TMC team was not invited to the Tour, will be on the hunt for the Vuelta podium following a disappointing Giro d’Italia that saw neither men seriously challenge for the top-three.
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), hot off victory at the Vuelta a Burgos, will be looking to ride onto the podium after falling just short in last year’s edition when he lost more than six minutes in the late, decisive final time trial.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) will be aiming for his second podium of the season following his breakthrough second-place ride at the Giro in May.
Astana will line up with recently-signed Andrey Kashechkin, who is back with the Kazakh-backed team for the first time since he tested positive for blood doping in 2007.
Daniel Martin will have his shot at the GC with Garmin-Cervélo after he was overlooked for the Tour. Martin, a winner of last year’s Tour of Poland, could be an outsider for the final podium.
There’s no chance of a Vuelta appearance by Alberto Contador, whose name does not appear on the preliminary start list. The Giro champion has repeatedly said he will not race this year’s Vuelta.
Taylor Phinney (BMC), who won the Eneco Tour prologue and carried the leader’s jersey for two days there, is expected to make his grand tour debut.
Andrew Talansky, who’s had a great rookie season with Garmin-Cervélo, is also expected to be making his grand tour debut.
Phinney and Talansky will be looking to leave a mark in the Vuelta’s time trials — the opening TTT and the 47km ITT in stage 10 — as well arrive to Madrid to get a full grand tour in their legs.
Another eye-catching debutante will be Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), who blazed to victory at the Tour of Poland and who’ll be a major contender for the world title in Copenhagen.
Sprinters galore and worlds prep
The Vuelta continues to draw a top sprinter’s field as well as riders who are looking to hone their form ahead of the world championships.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Alessandro Pettachi (Lampre-ISD), Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek), Sagan, Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Chris Sutton (Sky), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) and Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank-SunGard) are among some of the top sprinters lining up in Benidorm.
Mark Cavenish headlines HTC-Highroad in what will be the team’s final grand tour before shuttering its doors at the end of the season. Also penciled in to start are Matt Goss and John Degenkolb for the sprints, with Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch for the time trials and Kanstantsin Sivtsov and Martin Velits for the GC.
Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler line up for Garmin-Cervélo in a team loaded with stage-hunters and riders looking ahead to Copenhagen; but Jonathan Vaughters told reigning world champion Thor Hushovd he would not be racing the Vuelta.
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) and world’s runner-up Matti Breschel (Rabobank) will also be using the Vuelta as a trampoline into Copenhagen.