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2019 Vuelta a España preview: four South Americans and a Slovenian vying for victory

Another climber's feast in the final Grand Tour of the year

Saturday marks the start of the final Grand Tour of the year, as a team time trial kicks off the Vuelta a España in Salinas de Torrevieja. Like the Giro d’Italia, this Grand Tour is light on Ineos power and looks to be a scrap between Movistar and Jumbo-Visma. Canadians can watch the fireworks on FloBikes.

The Route

It’s another climbing heavy course, with eight summit or uphill finishes, with the first coming on Stage 5 at the Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre in Teruel. Week One ends in Andorra with a 96-km stage that assails two Cat. 1 climbs and an HC, and a gravel section between a Cat. 2 and the summit finish. Week Two heads into France for the only time trial of the race. Stages 13 and 15 bring the pain in two summit finishes. The final week has two more mountain top finshes, with Stage 20 almost an anticlimax of ascending compared to Stage 16.

The Contenders

To be reductive, this is a race between four South Americans and a Slovenian. Richard Carapaz won this year’s Giro, becoming the first Ecuadorian to take a Grand Tour. He has two Movistar teammates that have taken Vuelta titles, Colombian Nairo Quintana and world champion Alejandro Valverde. Valverde is too long in the tooth to be a contender, but one feels this race is Quintana’s final chance to earn another Grand Tour. Movistar will go through its usual opera of chasing each other down.

Jumbo-Visma is also loaded for this race. Steven Kruijswijk and Primož Roglič have both been on Grand Tour podiums this season, and they have fine support in George Bennett and Robert Gesink. It’s Slovenian Roglič who will be Movistar’s main worry. After dominating the early part of the Giro, Roglič fell off to general disappointment. He’ll be hungry and keen, but he hasn’t raced a lick since the Giro.

Can Primož Roglič turn Giro disappointment into Vuelta glory? Photo: Sirotti

Despite coming seventh in the Giro, Colombian Angel “Superman” Lopez will best be remembered for slapping the hat off a supporter who knocked him from his bike. He was anonymous in the recent Tour of Poland. But he was also third in both the 2018 Giro and Vuelta and brings along a powerful Astana squad including Jakob Fuglsang, last seen being unable to live up to the hype at the Tour de France, and the Izagirre brothers. Lopez won the Colombia 2.1 race and Ciclista a Catalunya this year.

After reigning champ Simon Yates and Mitchelton-Scott decided all three 2019 Grand Tours was a little too Carlos Sastre-esque, Colombian Esteban Chaves became Mitchelton’s main main for the Vuelta. Chaves took a win at the Tour de France, completing his comeback from the mononucleosis that ended his 2018 campaign in June. Ever since his fantastic 2016 when he was runner-up in the Giro and third in the Vuelta, Chaves hasn’t made the top-10 in four Grand Tours.

The Youth

This will be an interesting race as far as up-and-coming riders. Ineos’s main fellow is 24-year-old Brit Tao Geoghegan Hart, who started brightly at the Giro and then fell away before climbing off the bike. He was fifth in the recent Tour of Poland. Fabio Aru may find himself overshadowed by young UAE-Emirates teammate Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia), who started his WorldTour career with 14th in the Tour Down Under before winning the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of California. EF Education First’s 22-year-old Sergio Higuita was second in the Tour of California immediately after joining the team from Continental outfit Fundación Euskadi. The oldest of these youngsters, Pierre Latour (AG2R) gets a crack at his first Grand Tour of the season.