Vuelta’s first four leaders have one thing in common

Through the first four stages, the Vuelta a España has, for the most part, been dominated by fresh faces, riders new to the grand tour game.

Hopefully by now you’ve read Fred Dreier’s love-note to the Vuelta a España. Maybe he’s convinced you to fall in love with the Spanish grand tour or to even proclaim it as the season’s best three-week race (which it is). But if that’s not enough, consider this: Through the first four stages, the Vuelta has, for the most part, been dominated by fresh faces, riders new to the grand tour game.

Of course, the stage 1 team time trial was won by Team Sky — no surprise there — but the man who slipped on the red leader’s jersey at the end of the day was Peter Kennaugh, not Chris Froome. Kennaugh, a two-time British champ, has never worn the leader’s jersey in a grand tour before.

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But the 27-year-old didn’t have long to enjoy the overall lead in Spain. On Sunday, the maillot rojo went to his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski. We all know about the Pole’s pedigree, but he too had never worn a leader’s jersey before in a grand tour.

Have you picked up on the pattern yet? Well it keeps on going: Movistar’s Ruben Fernandez was in red for the day on Tuesday after second place in stage 3. He too was a first-timer in the GC lead at the Vuelta — or any three-week race for that matter. And after the Vuelta’s second uphill finish, Darwin Atapuma wore red (you know, not his normal, BMC Racing red). Only one Colombian has won the Vuelta, Luis Herrera in 1987. On Tuesday, however, Atapuma insisted his role was to ride for team leader Samuel Sanchez.

If the battle for red still doesn’t get your blood racing, it should also be noted that two of the stage winners to date are first-timers.

On one hand, there’s journeyman Gianni Meersman, winning his first grand tour stage Sunday after 10 seasons as a pro. He’s generally tasked with leading out top sprinters, like Etixx – Quick-Step teammate Marcel Kittel. At the other end of the spectrum, Lilian Calmejane making his grand tour debut in the Vuelta, confidently rode his way out of the break to win stage 4 on a tough uphill finish. Oh, and we should mention that 2016 is his first year with a major pro team.

So to anyone who gripes when Team Sky puts the Tour de France in a stranglehold, I say this: Watch the Vuelta, and you’ll see plenty of fresh faces on the podium and in the leader’s jersey.