The Vuelta a Espana may well stand on the top step of the podium when it comes to the three Grand Tours this year. Many of the favorites who crashed out of the Tour de France will be in attendance and flat stages are a rarity in Spain so an action-packed and explosive race is on the cards; save the best ’til last indeed.
Belkin are a team with deep overall potential at the Vuelta. Wilco Kelderman took 7th place at the Giro d’Italia and may well mature into a rider with podium potential at his second Grand Tour this year. Kelderman has serious back up; Robert Gesink, although returning from heart surgery, has huge experience at this level and Laurens ten Dam is one of the most consistent riders in the peloton.
The inimitable Peter Sagan will take the start for Cannondale. Sagan is yet to win a Grand Tour stage in 2014 – but he should set this right soon enough. The lumpy nature of many Vuelta stages should mean that Peter is able to stay with the frontrunners when many of his sprint rivals drop back.
Astana use FSA handlebars, stems and seatposts. They are here with young Giro standout Fabio Aru. As the climbs take their toll, the Italian will be right up there. Look out for Andrea Guardini in the sprints too.
MTN-Qhubeka start their first Grand Tour. Gerald Ciolek, 2013 Milan-San Remo winner, will be one to hang tough on the medium-mountain stages, where he should have little trouble dispatching the remainder of the peloton. If Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea) slips into a break on a hilly day (of which there will be plenty at this year’s Vuelta – a total of 13 mountain stages, 8 with summit finishes), expect him to challenge for the win. Louis Meintjes, second at the Under 23 World Championships last year, is a consistent climber and should be solid for a top 20 in his first Grand Tour – no mean feat at such a young age.
Lampre-Merida have a squad with incredible strength in depth; Winner Anacona, Jose Serpa and Przemyslaw Niemiec could all ride into the top ten – they look set to trouble the race favorites whenever the road goes uphill. It has truly been Colombian cycling’s year, so we think that the Vuelta could be Anacona’s moment to shine.
If you were to watch only one stage, make sure it’s stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga. With the absence of the Angliru, this is the classic climb of the Vuelta. The second of three consecutive mountain-top finishes, if the overall favorites have any cracks, this could be where they start to show. It has an average gradient of over 7% and kicks up to 15% in places.
FSA-riders will help to make La Vuelta the most exciting Grand Tour of the year, so we’ll make some bold predictions. We predict that MTN-Qhubeka will take a stage win in their maiden Grand Tour, and that Andrea Guardini will take a Grand Tour stage win against some of the big-name sprinters. And the overall? We can’t predict that, but we can guarantee that FSA-supported riders will animate the contest for the red jersey right up until the final stage.
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