Who will win this year’s Vuelta a Espana?
That isn’t to say it will be easy. The route of this Vuelta is harder than that of the Tour (only four flat stages, six big mountain stages, and eight tricky, lumpy stages), plus the list of contenders is longer and more diverse in Spain that it was in France. Froome may be the favorite, but there are no fewer than 16 top-notch GC riders waiting for a hint of weakness.
Chris Froome. Only Froome gets five stars. Why? Because he’s the world’s best grand tour rider right now and is tired of finishing in second, as he did in 2016, 2014, and 2011. Froome really wants the Tour/Vuelta double, too, which hasn’t been achieved in 22 years. Plus, that 40km time trial suits him perfectly.
Romain Bardet (AG2R): The only man who seemed truly willing to take Froome to task at the Tour de France must be champing at the bit ahead of a race that is sure to be less controlled and, frankly, harder. The long TT doesn’t work in his favor, but Bardet’s attacking style is well-suited to a Vuelta course that’s downright vicious.
Fabio Aru (Astana): Aru fell ill in the final week of the Tour, lost his yellow jersey, and eventually slipped to fifth. But before that he was looking like Froome’s top challenger. If he can bring that climbing form to Spain, look out.
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo): His final race, in his home country. You better believe Contador is going to go bonkers. And bonkers Contador is the best sort of Contador.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida): The Shark of Messina has been discreet in the lead up to this Vuelta, but that’s what sharks do, right? Swim around down in the dark then bite you out of nowhere? Nibali doesn’t have Tour de France fatigue, raced decently well in the recent Tour of Poland, and is well suited to this Vuelta route.
Esteban Chavez (Orica-Scott): Few ride the Tour de France as a warmup, but Chavez did. After a personal tragedy and a bit of illness, his GC run in France wasn’t in the cards, but that just meant that the smiling Colombian could use it as the world’s highest-profile training block.
The Yates Brothers (Orica-Scott): Adam is probably fresher that Simon, as he didn’t do the Tour, but neither brother can be ruled out. These two in combination with Chavez could do some serious tactical damage on the Vuelta’s short stages to Sierra Nevada and the Alto de l’Angliru.
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo): Remember when Kruijswijk almost won the Giro? He does. He’s fresh, no tired Tour legs, and hyper-motivated.
George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo): There’s something to be said for confidence, and the belief that you can ride with the best. Bennett did just that in July, hitting new heights at the Tour. He was in the top 10, hitting power numbers he’d never seen before, then an illness forced him out heading into the final week. He knows the best can’t drop him easily. So he won’t be dropped easily.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin): Though he was relatively quiet at the Tour of Poland, his last tuneup race, there’s little question that Zakarin will climb well in Spain. The TT could be an issue, though.
Rohan Dennis (BMC): Dennis appears to be making the slow transition to GC contender. He certainly has the engine to do so. The 40km TT will suit him well, too. He may be the only rider in this whole list who won’t lose time to Froome.
Bob Jungels (Quick Step): Jungels is in the same boat as Dennis. Both are bigger fellas looking to pull a Tom Dumoulin and morph into a Grand Tour winner. Jungels has already shown his GC prowess, though, finishing 6th at the Giro last year and 8th this year.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC): There was a time, not too long ago, when van Garderen questioned whether he is a GC rider at all. He is. We’re sure of it. And he needs a good grand tour to prove it to himself. Hopefully this Vuelta is that grand tour.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb): Teammate Warren Barguil will likely be on the hunt for stages again, but will also prove an invaluable domestique for Kelderman’s run at the overall. Sunweb’s decision to leave Tom Dumoulin at home means that this is Kelderman’s big shot.
Carlos Betancur (Movistar): He’s often described as one of the most gifted cyclists in the pro peloton, but held back by a lack of discipline. That means when he’s hot — when the training has been good, finally — he’s very hot. The Tour de France seems like good prep for a rider like this. As long as he didn’t go off the rails after he finished the Tour (in 18th), he should be flying.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step): With Bob Jungels taking some of the GC load, Alaphilippe is free to test himself a bit. He’s coming back from injury, and his form is somewhat unknown. But a Vuelta that seems designed for unpredictable racing, a fit Alaphilippe should excel.