The Grand Tours keep coming. I can’t remember a season where the gap between the Giro and the Vuelta felt so quick. The Vuelta holds no surprises. The route is spiky and comes to a head in the final week. The field is packed with a mixture of big name GC riders seeking redemption and we’ve even got a top tier sprinter! Here are eight predictions…
Move over Vincenzo Nibali there’s a new threat to Chris Froome. Miguel Angel ‘Superman’ Lopez is also challenging ‘The Shark’ to the most popular nickname in pro cycling. His performances this past week have certainly showcased his superstar potential and you’ll see plenty of superman references floating around Twitter. The origin of his nickname is a little less fun. Swarmed by knife-wielding thieves on a training ride in Colombia, Lopez fended offer any threat and, presumably, saved his much-loved bike. It’s no wonder he’s so cool in the face of the Vuelta’s most daunting summit finishes.
If the Grand Tours were a series of films, the Vuelta Espana would be the third instalment with plenty of action, plenty of plot twists and plenty of your favourite characters. There wouldn’t be time for a long build or slowly unravelling story and we might even see a major shock in the opening scene. It would only be mediocre commercial success but the critical reception would likely be brilliant. The Vuelta calls up leading GC riders with varying form, fitness and motivation for an end of summer showdown packed full with summit finishes. Get your popcorn, it starts this Saturday.
After a weekend of ludicrously brilliant racing, yesterday’s Vuelta stage brought the GC showdown to a lull and today’s rest day allows for a longer pause for thought. Tomorrow racing resumes with – surprise, surprise – a summit finish on the Alto Mas de la Costa. You could argue the stage won’t play a role in deciding the classification but, on closer inspection, it’s got all the ingredients for more mayhem. It’s the day after the rest day, there’s a 21% section and the entire top five have reasons to ride hard. The following day won’t feature the GC contenders – a rarity in Spain – and could see the peloton slow to a crawl as they did on Stage 13. The varying intensity of stages has been a theme of the race so far.
The post-Tour lull has hit harder than in previous years. Both the Grand Boucle and May’s Giro d’Italia were given appropriate fanfare but the Vuelta has almost crept into prominence. The Olympics hasn’t helped matters, with road (and track) cycling continuing to gain in popularity and a dramatic men’s road race stacked full of big names. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to get excited about the Vuelta when the race wound up the most exciting Grand Tour of 2015. This year we see a familiar mix of leg-numbing climbs and riders seeking redemption.
It’s time for Spain’s premium stage race and this year’s line-up rivals even that of the Tour de France. For starters, the overflow from the Tour is of the highest class and we and gearing up for an exciting rematch between Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome. In addition to the pair, many have been referring to Astana’s elect as one of the strongest teams in recent history. It’s certainly not balanced, with a number of team captains- Fabio Aru, Vincenzo Nibali, Mikel Landa- expected to align their expectations. Their big names, however, will at least be supported by some of the domestiques who served the team so well in the Giro. In Andorra on Stage 11 we’ll see non-stop climbing in what may well be one of the hardest days in recent memory. A line up so strong and a stage so hard? Not bad for the youngest of the three Grand Tour siblings.