Vuelta a Espana
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Vuelta sees high numbers of ‘Americanos’

A swarm of riders from North and South America are expected to dominate the Vuelta across all terrain

Just call it the “Vuelta de los Americanos.”

Riders from the Americas — both North and South — will leave an indelible mark on the 2019 Vuelta a España.

This Vuelta matches a decade-long high of nine riders from the United States lining up Saturday in Torrevieja. Some 13 riders from the South America — 11 from Colombia and one each from Ecuador and Argentina — assure that the season’s final grand tour will have a strong foreign accent.

“It will be nice to have someone to chat to during the race if we get the chance,” said Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo). “People have commented on how few Americans were in the Tour de France, but it’s just the way it lined up this season. There are a solid number of Americans in the WorldTour now. Most of us have ended up at the Vuelta this year.”

Joining Stetina at Trek-Segafredo will be Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), with others including Logan Owen, Tejay van Garderen and Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), Will Barta (CCC Team), Ben King (Dimension Data) and Sepp Kuss and Nielson Powless (Jumbo-Visma).

The Vuelta has typically seen a higher presence of U.S. riders than the other grand tours. Over the past decade, at least four have started every edition since 2010, matching this year’s nine starters in 2015 and 2016.

That’s in contrast to the Tour de France, which has seen fluctuations from a record number of starters of 10 (in 1986 and 2011) to the low single digits. Over the past five editions, the U.S. has averaged between three and five riders at the Tour.

Why the difference? There are few factors. Roster reductions from nine to eight have made it more difficult to earn a spot, especially for the Tour. This current generation of U.S. riders is also more focused on support roles, compared to the GC boom from the LeMond to the controversial Armstrong eras, when U.S. riders were more often at the center of a team’s overall ambitions.

The Vuelta, though it has gradually become more difficult and competitive over the past decade or so, was often the grand tour of choice for younger pros to make their three-week race debut. That’s true this year, with Barta, Powless and Owen all making their respective grand tour debuts.

This year’s crop of Americans includes solid chances for stage victories. Americans have long performed well at the Spanish grand tour, capped by Chris Horner’s overall victory — the lone U.S. GC win — in 2013.

Nine Americans have won Vuelta stages over the years — including Italian Guido Trenti who raced with a U.S. license — including two last year by Dimension Data’s Ben King. King and Stetina can expect to have freedom to move in search of stage victories this year, while van Garderen could go well in the 36km time trial in Pau in stage 10. The others are largely riding in support for their respective captains.

Riders from southern hemisphere of the Americans, meanwhile, will be front and center in this Vuelta.

So far this year, Latin Americans won both grand tours — Richard Caparaz in the Giro d’Italia and Egan Bernal in the Tour — both firsts for their respective countries as well as the riders.

Of the top pre-race favorites, all but Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Lotto) and a handful of others hail from the Americas, so it’s possible that Latin Americans could follow the UK-sweep of all three grand tours of 2018.

Only Ecuador’s Carapaz and Max Richeze (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) of Argentina are not Colombian.

Colombian starters include 2014 winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) along with pre-race favorites Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First), Miguel Ángel López (Astana), and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott). Others include Sergio Higuita and Dani Martínez (EF Education First), Sebastian Henao (Ineos), Fernando Gaviria, Juan Molano and Sergio Henao (UAE-Emirates), and Darwin Atapuma (Cofidis).

So it is a record number of “americanos” in one grand tour?

Not quite: according to journalist Cillian Kelly, the record during the past decade was 28 starters from across the Americas in the 2013 Giro. The all-time record was 40 riders from North and South America during the 1986 Tour de France, won, of course, by American Greg LeMond.