Vuelta O’Clock. It’s always difficult to know exactly what to expect in Spain, but this year we don’t even have Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali or Simon Yates to throw our money at. The Giro Champion – Richard Carapaz – is also absent after an eleventh hour crash and subsequent withdrawal. Moreover, we’ve all been wrestling with a route that seems stacked with walls in the middle week but serves up a strangely calm finale. The result? An unpredictable Grand Tour in terms of both standings and substance.
Honourable Mentions – Movistar
Nairo Quintana will fancy his chances in Spain – but only because Nairo Quintana always fancies his chances. After years of fighting the Colombian’s cause, I am going to dismiss his chances completely this year. Alejandro Valverde is far harder to dismiss not least because of an urge to deliver a big victory in one of his last outings in Rainbow stripes. Sadly, the 38-year-old is unlikely to topple the bookmaker’s favourites over the three weeks period. Finally, there’s Marc Soler who has an opportunity to step up after riding the Tour in a diminished role. Unfortunately for Movistar, the Spaniard should be aiming for nothing more than a breakthrough top ten. It’s tough to see him getting on top. They’ll miss Carapaz.
Fifth Place – Pierre Latour 40/1
I’ll start with my boldest selection, AG2R leader Pierre Latour. The Frenchman will be leading a Grand Tour with serious GC ambitions for the first time. He was thirteenth at last year’s Tour splitting a white jersey focus with Romain Bardet duties. He was seen as a risky selection at this year’s Tour, after struggling with injury and race days, and was rotated out of the squad at a late stage. The gutsy climber was quietly impressive at the recent Tour of Poland but still arrives remarkably fresh; just 26 race days in 2019. There’s a fine line between ‘fresh’ and ‘rusty’ and Latour’s hopes could be blown apart with a slow opening week. However, I’m happy to back the Frenchman for a breakthrough ride at the race which hosted his biggest victory to date in Aitana two years ago. They’ll be plenty of stages that suit, but a return to his best ITT form will be pivotal to his charge.
Fourth Place – Tadej Pogacar 25/1
There’s something in the air which suggests we could crown another very young debut Grand Tour champion. Alongside Tao Gheoghegan Hart and Sergio Higuita, Tadej Pogacar forms a trio of exciting talent with a very real chance of making the podium. Why should they be scared of perennial underachievers and tired old pros? With Higuita likely to work for his captain, UAE’s Pogacar provides the most realistic hope of cracking the top five. A stealthy but brilliant winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, the Slovenian has floated seamlessly onto the World Tour and already looks the part. If he climbs to the best of his ability, he should comfortably make the top ten. It would take a remarkable performance for the 20-year-old to sit top of the pile in Madrid. A raggle-taggle UAE team are unlikely to ease any big race nerves, or indeed provide top support in the mountains.
Third Place – Rigoberto Uran 25/1
I’ve constantly dismissed Rigoberto Uran’s chances at the top table but he does tick a lot of boxes this time around. He was stronger than I expected at the Tour and – of those arriving from Paris – Uran has the most reasons to be cheerful. Hugh Carthy, Daniel Martinez and Higuita provide a stronger platform than July’s duo of Michael Woods and Tangel Kangert, but questions remain over the #PinkArgyle and their ability to control a group. Nevertheless, Uran is likely to hold his form into September and could complete his set of Grand Tour podiums. As always, I’d love to see Uran finally on the front foot and taking time on elite rivals… but I won’t hold my breath.
Second Place – Miguel Angel Lopez 2/1
After a mixed bag at the Giro – and a difficult time at the Tour – we could be about to see the return of the mega-Astana from the first half of the season. Once again, their squad is stacked after management fused together the Giro and Tour line-ups for a mixture of form and freshness. The interesting addition is Jakob Fuglsang; it will be the first time the Dane has raced alongside Miguel Angel Lopez this season. It poses more questions than answers, but Lopez will surely be the more suitable leader. Both Lopez and Astana have had plenty of bad luck during this year’s three-week racing but Lopez loves the Vuelta and will be one of the leading protagonists. Perhaps just one man will block him from glory…
Winner – Primoz Roglic 11/8
Something went wrong at the Giro for Primoz Roglic. We might not have realised it at the time; but he was a few pedal strokes from his best and a developing sickness impacted his final week. And he still came third. With short sharp climbs and a sizeable time-trial (plus a TTT) the route is brilliant for Roglic. We’ve seen just how good he is on the spiky, rolling roads of the Basque country and he could dominate a number of stages. If he gains an early lead, he is now experienced enough to go on the defensive. With a team that includes Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett, the Slovenian should be oozing with confidence.