Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Vuelta history: Winner in 2010, 7th in 2011
Strengths: Nibali has a distinct advantage over the Spanish mountain goats in that he can time trial as well as climb. Astana brings a crack team to the Vuelta, as strong, if not even stronger, than the Giro-winning team. His descending skills are legendary, and they will come in handy in this mountainous Vuelta.
Why he can win: By far the most complete of the GC contenders in this Vuelta, Nibali knows what it takes to win a grand tour. His time trialing skills will be a huge advantage. En route to winning in 2010, he took six minutes out of Rodríguez in a flat, 40km time trial. This year’s test against the clock is lumpier, but Nibali can take gains in the second week, and ride defensively through the Pyrénées.
Where he can lose: Even Nibali admits he’s not in top shape coming into this Vuelta, estimating his fitness at “75 percent.” Whether that will be enough to seriously challenge for the red leader’s jersey remains to be seen. The first week could prove disastrous to his GC ambitions.