The Vuelta a España is always guaranteed to bring the fireworks.
Grand tour racers on one final charge, riders looking to rescue lost seasons, and rookies landing big opportunities are a constant at the Spanish tour in an explosive mix that makes for great racing. And this year’s Vuelta will be no exception.
This summer’s race packs a field as deep as that of any Tour de France, with Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz, and Mikel Landa all slated to start. Add to that a course that’s tough from the opening stage all the way through to the final time trial and its a guarantee for three weeks of action.
The 2021 Vuelta a España rolls out Saturday and will be studded with fascinating threads to follow. These are the three storylines we’re getting stoked for:
A resurgent Primož Roglič vs Egan Bernal and his hat-trick hunt
Both Roglič and Bernal bring their own unique storylines to the race. While Roglič is looking to make it three Vuelta titles in a row this summer, Bernal is hoping to complete his grand tour set after winning the 2019 Tour de France and this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Also read: Can Roglič make it three in a row at the Vuelta?
Who will come out top in the race for the red jersey?
Roglič is on the redemption trail after crashing out of the Tour and then riding into Olympic TT gold just four weeks later.
The Slovenian ace has made a habit of rebounding from prior disappointment. He won his first Vuelta in the same season that he had lost his grip on the lead of the 2019 Giro, and then defended his title just months after being ousted from the 2020 Tour’s yellow jersey on the very last day of racing.
Roglič has strong odds of making it a third maillot rojo in a row as he heads up a strong Jumbo-Visma squad also including Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk.
But Egan Bernal and Ineos Grenadiers will make it plenty difficult.
Bernal tore apart a slightly underwhelming field on his way to the pink jersey this spring and packs the swaggering explosivity needed to succeed in Spain. How he dovetails with co-captains Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates will make for a fascinating watch at this year’s Vuelta.
Carapaz finished second at last year’s race and is on red-hot form after placing second at the Tour last month and taking gold in the Tokyo road race. The Ecuadorian is every bit as strong as Bernal and the fight for superiority within the team will be tense. Adam Yates will also be looking for his chances in his first grand tour with Ineos Grenadiers and is likely to be bullish in the fight for leadership.
Will it be all-behind-Bernal or will Ineos go with a trident tactic? Either way, the British squad will have to make sure to keep close tabs on its true rival, Roglič.
Can Quinn Simmons and Tom Pidcock score on debut?
There will be two high-profile rookies toeing the start line in front of the Burgos cathedral Saturday.
Former junior world champion Quinn Simmons and classics star-turned Olympic mountain bike gold medalist Tom Pidcock will be making their grand tour debuts at this year’s Vuelta, and both have the potential to set the race alight.
Pidcock has blazed his way through his first year in the WorldTour with Ineos Grenadiers. The 22-year-old clocked a series of top results in heavyweight classics brawls with Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in the spring before scoring his debut pro victory at the Brabantse Pijl. As if that wasn’t enough, Pidcock then came back from a fractured collarbone to take gold in the Olympic mountain bike race last month.
It seems that Pidcock can excel in everything. The Vuelta may be his first-ever three-week race, but after winning the eight-stage “Baby Giro” last year, there’s no reason why Pidcock can’t go deep into the Spanish tour. GC won’t be on the cards some time yet, but look for Pidcock punching for stage wins and riding with captains Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz on his wheel in the mountains.
Simmons heads to the Vuelta with Trek-Segafredo after finding his WorldTour legs with overall victory at last month’s Tour de Wallonie. The burly Coloradan is dreaming of a stage win in his grand tour debut – the grippy, windy stages of the opening week will see the 20-year-old Simmons in the terrain that gives him the platform to turn a dream into reality.
Fabio Jakobsen looking to cap a sensational comeback
Fabio Jakobsen‘s return to racing is one of the good news stories of the 2021 season. A stage win on his return to the Vuelta a España would make that all the better.
Jakobsen will be the centerpiece of Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s sprint train at this summer’s Vuelta in what will be his first grand tour since his horror crash at last year’s Tour of Poland. The Dutch speedster clocked two stage wins at last month’s Tour of Wallonie and will be looking to keep the momentum rolling in his second-ever Vuelta.
Also read: Jakobsen returns to winning ways in Wallonie
Can Jakobsen put a cap on his comeback with a victory in Spain? It will be a tough test, with Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Démare, and Jasper Philipsen all slated to start the race Saturday.
There are around six nailed-on sprint finishes in this year’s typically mountainous Vuelta, and two of those opportunities fall in the final week. Jakobsen’s conditioning after eight months of rehab and no racing may be as much a limiting factor in his ability to strike as is the threat of Ewan and Co.
It will be a victory over adversity that we all can cheer for if Jakobsen scores in Spain. And with Deceuninck-Quick-Step losing Sam Bennett at the close of the season and uncertainty lingering over the future of Mark Cavendish, it could put Jakobsen into the Quick-Step sprinter’s throne for the seasons to come.