‘I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself,’ the riders on this list probably mutter through gritted teeth after purchasing Outside+ passes just to read about themselves on VeloNews.
Well, it’s mid-August, the leaves will soon be falling from the trees, and for one reason or another, this hasn’t been the season you’d wished for. Time is running out but the Vuelta a España provides a chance at rescuing a season or proving a point for these seven riders.
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- How to watch the 2022 Vuelta a España: Online, streaming, and on television
What’s going on? Movistar has some explaining to do when it comes to its rather woeful recruitment in the last couple of seasons, as well as a lack of planning when it comes to the succession of Alejandro Valverde. Central to that inquisition must be the development of Enric Mas who has taken just one victory in three years on the Spanish team. Yes, he’s been consistent when it comes to grand tours, and in many ways that’s priceless, but this year he has been a shadow of his best self, and there’s a possibility that he and his team could be relegated from the WorldTour come the end of the year.
The Tour was a write-off due to COVID-19 but Mas heads to the Vuelta with a huge point to prove. He must deliver, both in the short-term to ensure his team’s WorldTour survival, but also when it comes to looking further ahead in his career. Is he a grand tour leader that a team that once included Miguel Indurain, Pedro Delgado, Alex Zulle, and Abraham Olano can really rely on? Missing out on signing Richard Carapaz looks like an even bigger blow than it did in June.
Miguel Ángel López
What’s going on? Movistar’s loss has now become Astana’s loss with the diminutive Colombian abandoning the Giro and then finding himself wrapped up in a doping investigation. No charges have been made and the climber has denied any wrongdoing but not much has gone right for López on the road this season. There have been a handful of results but nothing like what Astana had been hoping for when they re-signed him following his tantrum at Movistar. A stage win is the bare minimum for the 28-year-old in this year’s race, while a consistent surge in the mountains wouldn’t go amiss either. Meanwhile, Astana has won just four races all year, with two of those victories coming via the Kazakhstan national championships. If there’s going to be an investigation maybe start with why this team has become almost irrelevant in the WorldTour.
Team: AG2R Citröen
What’s going on? You’re only as good as your last race, as the old adage goes, and O’Connor had a Tour de France to forget. Trying to replicate or better fourth overall from last year was always going to be tough but the Australian had a decent spring and looked on course for at least a top 10 before the Tour rolled around. However, everything unraveled in late June and July and by stage 10 the 26-year-old was heading home for a much-needed rest. Batteries recharged and with his full focus on the Vuelta, O’Connor has the chance to immediately bounce back after a tough summer. A stage win and a top-five finish would do nicely, especially as a stage would complete his grand tour set. Given his strong start to the year, O’Connor can look back at a strong body of work, but he will be hungry to make up for the lost ground at the Tour. He can still turn what’s been a decent season into something great.
What’s going on? With one win all year, it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been the Bora homecoming that Bennett and his entourage were envisaging. Injuries, a less than perfect end to last season, and a lack of form have all contributed to an underwhelming campaign that leaves the Irishman with just a couple of months to save his year. He’s won a stage in every grand tour he’s raced since 2018, and that run has to continue if the Irishman is to salvage the year and prove that he’s still one of the fastest sprinters on the circuit. Bennett from a couple of years ago would have cleaned up at this upcoming Vuelta, and the opposition isn’t particularly strong, so there are no excuses at this point. He probably has the best leadout in the race too.
Tao Geoghegan Hart
Team: Ineos Grenadiers
What’s going on? He won’t want it, but there is a degree of sympathy towards Geoghegan Hart and his current predicament. The British rider stunned the cycling world with his Giro d’Italia win two years ago, and while few riders can claim to match that level of success the 27-year-old is constantly measured against that triumph. It wasn’t a fluke — you can’t win a three-week race by accident — but that Giro was a perfect storm for the Londoner in terms of both form and circumstances. Replication is not an easy goal.
This year has been punctuated by illness at several points, while Geoghegan Hart then has to put up with questions like ‘well, Hindley is winning, so why aren’t you?’ Sitting through that without snapping takes more maturity and resilience than most of us can muster. All of that said, Geoghegan Hart is a racer and at some point this season he needs to leave his mark. Forget about next year, and where he sits in the Ineos pecking order, he needs to have a solid Vuelta in which he makes an impression on an individual or team basis.
Team: UAE Team Emirates
What’s going on? In a recent interview with VeloNews the UAE Team Emirates leader explained that he would have challenged for the podium had he not been struck with COVID at the Giro. That statement holds water given that the 24-year-old was fourth in the race when he was forced out, and that he naturally improves the deeper into a race he goes. With his form back on track, and with a team built around him, the Portuguese star has the chance of solidifying himself as UAE’s plan B when it comes to grand tours, and finally cracking a podium in a three-week race. The course is there for the taking, while he arguably has the best team in the race to back him up.
Team: Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
What’s going on? We didn’t want to include two riders from the same team, and frankly Remco Evenepoel has enough of the spotlight and pressure on his young shoulders, so we’ll highlight his older teammate, Julian Alaphilippe, instead. The Frenchman has endured terrible luck this year with a toxic combination of illnesses and injuries scuppering his spring and summer. Patrick Lefevere isn’t a happy man, and while a third rainbow jersey could still pan out, it’s the next few weeks that will determine the Frenchman’s season. At least in the eyes of his paymaster. There’s no doubt that the world champion could come away from the Vuelta with a handful of stage wins, and that would certainly prove a point to Lefevere and those who have written off the Frenchman after a disappointing season.