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Vuelta a Espana

Tour setbacks help bolster Vuelta start list

Several top riders will compete in the Spanish grand tour that kicks off August 25 in Malaga.

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For every crash, illness, and abandon in July, the Vuelta a España start list gets that much better.

A rash of setbacks and bad luck during the Tour de France will see the 2018 Vuelta come up the winner.

The Spanish grand tour is less than four weeks away (August 25-September 16) and the Vuelta’s start list is starting to gain some heft. A rough and tumble Tour means a few riders will head to Spain in hopes of salvaging their season.

First up was Movistar, which confirmed over the weekend it will bring its three-pronged attack to the Vuelta — with Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa — with the hopes that it will work better than it did in France.

“If nothing happens between now and then,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué, “all three will race the Vuelta.”

Three big names recovering from crashes that took them out of the Tour are still on the Vuelta bubble. Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac) is all but guaranteed to start, while Richie Porte (BMC Racing) is likely. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was forced to undergo surgery July 31 for a back fracture he suffered on Alpe d’Huez and might not be ready in time for the Vuelta start. None of those riders have been officially confirmed.

The big question is what will Sky do. Defending champion Chris Froome is expected to take a break after starting four straight grand tours, and winning three on a trot, while recently crowned Tour winner Geraint Thomas is questionable. Tour sensation Egan Bernal is not expected to start.

Even without Sky’s “big three,” riders such as Sergio Henao and David de la Cruz can pick up the mantle. Michal Kwiatkowski is also expected to start, but will likely use the race to prepare for the upcoming UCI road worlds in Austria. Team Sky officials said Monday no decisions on the Vuelta are made.

“We still don’t know what Sky is doing,” Vuelta director Javier Guillén told Marca. “They have not confirmed which riders are coming.”

Teams across the peloton are still mulling their options but a few big names have been confirmed. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), and Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates), who all raced the Giro d’Italia, are expected to be in Malaga on August 25.

Sunweb will bring Wilco Kelderman, who fourth overall last year after he crashed and missed the Tour. Tom Dumoulin, second in both the Giro and Tour, will not race the Vuelta. Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin, third last year and ninth in the Tour, is also expected to race the Vuelta.

Astana is expected to bring last year’s third-place podium man Miguel Angel López and possibly Jakob Fuglsang while the Tour’s fifth-place rider Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett could be tapped for LottoNL-Jumbo.

Austria’s climb-heavy course for the world championships should see a few worlds-bound riders head to the Vuelta. It’s expected three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will return to the Spanish grand tour for the first time since 2015 to prepare for the more challenging course in Innsbruck. Bora officials said a final decision is not yet made.

“We need to see how Peter recovers from the crash and the Tour, and then we will see,” said sport director Patxi Vila, adding that Sagan also might want to take a run at the WorldTour points title. “We really need to see how he recovers from the crash.”

The Vuelta’s growing difficulty has seen an exodus of the top sprinters who avoid the many climbs and uphill finales that mark the modern Vuelta. A few sprinters are expected to start, including Caleb Ewan, who was left off the Tour by his Mitchelton-Scott team, Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo).

One name that will be missing is Spanish star Alberto Contador, who retired at the end of last year’s Vuelta with a victory lap in Madrid a day after winning on the Angliru climb.

The 73rd Vuelta starts August 25 in Malaga with an 8-kilometer prologue. The route stays in southern Spain for the first week and heat will be an issue. Mountaintop finales come fast and early, with uphill finishes in stages 4 and 9 before three straight mountaintop finales in northern Spain in stages 13-15. Stages 17, 19, and 20 see more summit finales, with an individual time trial in stage 16. The Vuelta finishes in Madrid with a bunch sprint on September 16.