We’ve seen the big guns of cycling contest the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France already this year, but the race miles in their legs haven’t dissuaded a strong field from arriving in Sevilla for the 75th anniversary of the first Vuelta a Espana. Everyone from former champion Denis Menchov (Rabobank) to the Schleck brothers — riding in their last grand tour with Bjarne Riis before moving to take over the leadership of the Luxembourg Cycling Project next season — to former Tour de France winners Carlos Sastre and Oscar Pereiro will be in attendance with their teams when the race gets underway on 28 August.
The opening stage, a team time trial prologue in the ancient Andalusian capital city of Sevilla, will make history as the first nighttime stage in the Vuelta’s history. before setting east along the Mediterranean coast in the first week. The ride to the coast in the first three stages augur well for breakaways, with undulating routes accented with categorized climbs.
The first real opportunity for the sprinters will come on Stage 5; technically the run into Marbella on Stage 2 presents an opportunity for a stacked field of points hunters including Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, and Tour green jersey Alessandro Petacchi. The race, though, is thoroughly a climber’s race. The one rider most notable in his absence? Defending champion Alejandro Valverde, the longtime Spanish hope who made good on his potential last year with his first grand-tour victory only to lose his long court battle and earn a suspension for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto scandal three years prior. Will a Spanish champion emerge on home soil in his absence — or will the year that saw Spain conquer the Tour de France, the French Open and Wimbledon with Rafael Nadal, and the nation’s first ever World Cup end with a sobering defeat on home soil?
THE VITAL STATISTICS
- START LIST (redirect to velonews.com)
- THE ROUTE
- Stage 1 – Saturday/28 August – Sevilla (TTT) – 14.4km
- Stage 2 – Sunday/29 August – Alcalá de Guadaíra to Marbella – 173.7km
- Stage 3 – Monday/30 August – Marbella to Málaga – 157.3km
- Stage 4 – Tuesday/31 August – Málaga to Valdepeñas de Jaén – 183.8km
- Stage 5 – Wednesday/01 September – Guadix to Lorca – 198.8km
- Stage 6 – Thursday/02 September – Caravaca de la Cruz to Murcia – 151.0km
- Stage 7 – Friday/03 September – Murcia to Orihuela – 187.1km
- Stage 8 – Saturday/04 September – Villena to Xorret de Catí – 190.0km
- Stage 9 – Sunday/05 September – Calpe to Alcoy – 187.7km
- Rest day one – Monday/06 September
- Stage 10 – Tuesday/07 September – Tarragona to Vilanova i la Geltrú – 175.7km
- Stage 11 – Wednesday/08 September – Vilanova i la Geltrú to Andorra (Pal) – 208.4 km
- Stage 12 – Thursday/09 September – Andorra la Vella to Lleida – 172.5 km
- Stage 13 – Friday/10 September – Rincón de Soto to Burgos – 196.0 km
- Stage 14 – Saturday/11 September – Burgos to Peña Cabarga – 178.0km
- Stage 15 – Sunday/12 September – Solares to Lagos de Covadonga – 187.3km
- Stage 16 – Monday/13 September – Gijón to Cotobello – 181.4 km
- Rest day two – Tuesday/14 September
- Stage 17 – Wednesday/15 September – Peñafiel (ITT) – 46.0km
- Stage 18 – Thursday/16 September – Valladolid to Salamanca – 148.9km
- Stage 19 – Friday/17 September – Piedrahita to Toledo – 231.2km
- Stage 20 – Saturday/18 September – San Martín de Valdeiglesias to Bola del Mundo – 172.1 km
- Stage 21 – Sunday/19 September – San Sebastián de los Reyes to Madrid – 85.0km
- FLAT STAGES: 11
- MOUNTAINOUS STAGES: 8
- CATEGORIZED CLIMBS: 40
- SUMMIT FINISHES: 6
- TIME TRIAL DISTANCE: 60.4km (14.4km TTT/46.0km ITT)
- TOTAL DISTANCE: 3326.3km
KEY STORYLINES HEADING INTO THE VUELTA
Can Schleck pull it off this time? – After taking his third consecutive white jersey as the best young rider of the Tour de France, Andy Schleck has been training in hopes of finally capturing his first grand tour. The 25-year-old Luxembourg rider has been the runner-up at the past two Tours de France, slotting in behind Alberto Contador both times. He won the Sint-Niklaas Criterium on July 30, and has kept a low profile ever since in hopes of building his fitness to a peak point for the three weeks in Spain. After abandoning the race last year in the eighth stage with stomach cramps, Schleck returns to the Vuelta in 2010 hoping to finally break his streak of near-misses to earn a breakout victory ahead of next year’s grand tours.
- Will this race suit Menchov? – Another man of near-misses, Menchov won his first Vuelta a España in 2005 after Roberto Heras was ejected from the race after testing positive for EPO. Menchov earned the victory on the road in 2007, but has not raced in the Vuelta since after focusing his efforts on the Giro and Tour the past few years. The gambit paid off when he won the 2009 Giro, but his results in France have left something to be desired. Menchov makes his return to Spanish grand-tour racing hoping to recharge his engine and rediscover his winning ways. He was right there behind Contador and Schleck this year in France, finally reaching his first Tour podium — the 32-year-old Russian will be hoping that third-place finish was a mere prologue for bigger things to come in the Vuelta.
- Can any Spaniard step up to take the new leader’s jersey? – The jersey to designate the overall leader in the 2010 Vuelta has been completely revamped, designed by Spanish fashion designer Custo Barcelona in an all-new red-and-black motif to celebrate the race’s 75th anniversary. But with last year’s champion Alejandro Valverde nowhere near the sport thanks to his doping ban, and Tour champion (and 2008 Vuelta winner) Alberto Contador winding down his last months at Astana before moving in the offseason to Saxo Bank, is there a legitimate Spanish contender in the field to maintain national pride? Former Tour winners Oscar Pereiro (after the Floyd Landis expulsion in 2006) and Carlos Sastre (2008) are both lining up with their teams to start the race in Sevilla. Of the two Sastre has to be the better hopeful — though this will mark his third grand tour of three held this year. With Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez opting out of the Vuelta after his 4th place finish at the Tour in July, Sastre will do his damnedest to return to podium contention. One darkhorse to watch out for, though, might just be Xacobeo-Galicia’s Ezequiel Mosquera. The 34-year-old has maintained his winning form from last year and could just upset the more well-known faces in the race.
Which sprinter will emerge on top? – A superstar-packed group of sprinters will be on the line next Saturday, suffering through the team time trial yet salivating over their opportunities to come later in the week. Alessandro Petacchi, fresh off his first career points classification title at the Tour de France, headlines the field of candidates in the Vuelta. He will once again have to fend off the challenge of young guns such as Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar. The former has already broken the record of Tour stage wins by a pure sprinter; the latter is coming off a second consecutive victory in the Vattenfall Cyclassics. They will also get a fight from Daniele Bennati, the Liquigas speedster who took third behind last year’s points winner Andre Greipel and overall winner Valverde in the points classification. With both of them absent from this year’s race, the Italian also has to favor his chances. All told, this will be one hell of a dogfight amongst the men who are likely to factor into next month’s world championship race in Australia as well.
- Which team will control this race? – With Astana fielding nothing like the team it took to the Tour de France, and Radio Shack being denied entry by the race organizers, it will likely fall to the teams of Liquigas (for Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali) and Saxo Bank (for the Schleck brothers) to control the peloton in this race. Saxo Bank will be able to depend on the services of Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady, with Juan Jose Haedo and Baden Cooke potential spoilers in the sprints. Kreuziger will be the alpha at Liquigas, with Nibali (and Robert Kiserlovski) serving as wild cards. Euskaltel-Euskadi and Caisse d’Epargne, as the preeminent Spanish teams, will also likely take an interest in driving the field at various points in the race.
MY TEN FAVORITES IN EACH JERSEY COMPETITION
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
|1. Andy Schleck||1. Mark Cavendish||1. David Moncoutie|
|2. Denis Menchov||2. Alessandro Petacchi||2. Andy Schleck|
|3. Carlos Sastre||3. Daniele Bennati||3. Denis Menchov|
|4. Ezequiel Mosquera||4. Tyler Farrar||4. Ezequiel Mosquera|
|5. Roman Kreuziger||5. Oscar Freire||5. Juan Manuel Garate|
|6. Joaquin Rodriguez||6. Fabian Cancellara||6. Tom Danielson|
|7. Luís León Sánchez||7. Stijn Devolder||7. Christophe Kern|
|8. Tejay van Garderen||8. Leif Hoste||8. Joaquin Rodriguez|
|9. Oscar Pereiro||9. Theo Bos||9. Carlos Sastre|
|10. Vladimir Karpets||10. Baden Cooke||10. Vincenzo Nibali|