Vuelta a Espana: Chris Froome & Nairo Quintana among contenders
Ten riders who could challenge for overall victory
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 21/08/15 2:08pm
The Vuelta a Espana is set to be one of the most fiercely contested grand tours of the season.
Almost all of the world’s best stage racers will be present and will do battle on a course containing no fewer than eight summit finishes.
Here are the riders who could challenge for the red jersey…
CHRIS FROOME (TEAM SKY)
Age: 30. Nationality: British. Best Vuelta result: 2nd (2011 and 2014).
Froome goes into the race hoping to become only the third man in history to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season and will be one of the leading favourites. The mountainous route suits him nicely, and the 39km time trial on stage 17 should also give him an edge over his rivals.
NAIRO QUINTANA (MOVISTAR)
Age: 25. Nationality: Colombian. Best Vuelta result: 36th (2012).
Quintana decided to race the Vuelta after finishing strongly at the Tour on his way to taking second place overall. He got better as the race wore on, which suggests he still has plenty of energy left in the legs. He will relish the look of the eight summit finishes but struggles in time trials and will consequently need a decent overall lead going into stage 17 if he is to claim the red jersey.
VINCENZO NIBALI (ASTANA)
Age: 30. Nationality: Italian. Best Vuelta result: 1st (2010).
Like Quintana, Nibali improved as the Tour progressed and claimed a win on stage 19 on the way to finishing fourth overall. He can’t climb as well as Froome or Quintana, so he could be handicapped on the eight summit finishes, but he is a strong all-rounder and, as a former winner, he has the pedigree to claim victory.
ALEJANDRO VALVERDE (MOVISTAR)
Age: 35. Nationality: Spanish. Best Vuelta result: 1st (2009).
Valverde performed brilliantly at the Tour in support of Quintana and ended up finishing third overall. The Vuelta has always been a target for his season, so having to share co-leadership of Movistar with Quintana is a setback of sorts, but the pair proved at the Tour that they can form a potent partnership and the Colombian could just as easily propel Valverde to victory as the other way around. However, the long climbs don’t suit Valverde as well as they do Quintana and Froome.
FABIO ARU (ASTANA)
Age: 25. Nationality: Italian. Best Vuelta result: 5th (2014).
Once Nibali’s domestique, Aru is now the equal of his fellow Italian at Astana and it will be interesting to see how the leadership of the team plays out at the Vuelta (the Kazakh squad also have Mikel Landa – see below). Aru finished fifth at last year’s edition and second behind Alberto Contador at this May’s Giro d’Italia, so it appears that a grand tour win is just around the corner. He is an excellent climber and will need to flourish on the summit finishes because his time-trialling is lacking and he is likely to lose time on stage 17.
TEJAY VAN GARDEREN (BMC RACING)
Age: 26. Nationality: American. Best Vuelta result: 35th (2010).
Van Garderen returns to the Vuelta for only the second time in his career, primarily because he had to leave the Tour earlier through illness. He was placed third overall at the time, having performed admirably in both the tricky first week and then the Pyrenees, and had been on course for a first grand tour podium. Missing out will provide ample motivation, but the steep climbs of the Vuelta could put him at a disadvantage to the likes of Quintana.
MIKEL LANDA (ASTANA)
Age: 25. Nationality: Spanish. Best Vuelta result: 28th (2014).
Six months ago, Landa wasn't a potential Astana team leader, but he then won two stages on the way to finishing third overall at the Giro and he is now one of three general classification contenders for Astana, along with Nibali and Aru. Landa was arguably the best climber at the Giro – better and more consistent than both Contador and Aru – so he will be licking his lips at tackling the Vuelta’s eight summit finishes. Like Aru, however, he could lose vital seconds in the time trial.
JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ (KATUSHA)
Age: 36. Nationality: Spanish. Best Vuelta result: 4th (2010, 2013 and 2014).
Time is running out for Rodriguez to claim the grand tour victory that has somehow eluded him during an otherwise excellent career, so he will no doubt be feeling slightly unlucky to come up against such as strong field at this year’s Vuelta. He is a climbing expert but prefers shorter and sharper ascents, so the longer climbs of the race could prove difficult, as could the time trial. However, he has finished fourth at the Vuelta three times and could well be in and around the top five one again this year.
DOMENICO POZZOVIVO (AG2R-LA MONDIALE)
Age: 32. Nationality: Italian. Best Vuelta result: 6th (2013).
Pozzovivo returns to grand tour action after exiting May’s Giro in a horror crash early in the race. He is a pure climber and will relish the Vuelta’s summit finishes, but he lacks the ability to launch explosive attacks, so if the likes of Froome, Quintana and Aru start going at each other hammer and tongs, Pozzovivo could find life difficult. Nevertheless, he has four grand tour top 10s to his name and should be back in the mix at the Vuelta.
RAFAL MAJKA (TINKOFF-SAXO)
Age: 25. Nationality: Polish. Best Vuelta result: 19th (2013).
Majka is set to be Tinkoff-Saxo’s team leader after playing at supporting role to Contador at the Tour, where he showcased his climbing talents with a brilliant solo victory on stage 11. He also gave a glimpse of his general classification potential by finishing sixth at last year’s Giro, and he will be looking for a similar result at the Vuelta.