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Road Racing

Vuelta a España GC preview: Can anyone dethrone Primož Roglič?

Here are the contenders vying for the red jersey.

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The final Grand Tour of the season is upon us, the Vuelta a España.

The Spanish Grand Tour is the more relaxed cousin of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. The racing in scorching temperatures will be fierce, but the comedown from the Tour de France marks the Vuelta out as a laid-back palette cleanser to the all-or-nothing nature of the French Grand Tour.

So, three weeks of stage racing around Spain, we’ve already had a look at the course in our stage-by-stage preview but at the end of it, one rider will pull on the final red jersey and be proclaimed the overall winner. Who will it be?

The favourites

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s who we rate as the top favourites for the 2022 Vuelta a España. Read on for more about each of these riders.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Roglič
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Hindley, Carapaz
⭐⭐⭐: Mas, Yates, Evenepoel
⭐⭐: Landa, Almeida
⭐: López, Valverde

The GC contenders

With only four days to go until the start of the race, three-time defending champion Primož Roglič was finally declared in and will be on the start line in Utrecht.

His absence through injury was mooted, having crashed on stage 5 of the Tour de France and forced out of the race in the third week, with a view to recovering and returning to racing at the Vuelta for a possible fourth red jersey in a row.

The Slovenian hasn’t raced since stage 14 of the Tour de France but will no doubt be turning up to the Vuelta looking to exact at least a little revenge for another missed bid for the yellow jersey. His days as Tour de France leader are likely over with Vingegaard’s ascension, so locking in a fourth Vuelta title will further solidify his position as the next best GC option at Jumbo-Visma, behind the man who took down Tadej Pogačar.

Behind the Slovenian is an intriguing cast of characters. Ineos Grenadiers have a compelling squad, half of which is made up by Grand Tour debutants but spearheaded by the departing Richard Carapaz, who has made the podium three times at Grand Tours for the British team but is yet to bring home an overall victory. The Ecuadorian will have to find a way to beat Roglič both uphill and in the time trial, especially the team effort where Roglič has the likes of Rohan Dennis and Edoardo Affini at his disposal. We still count Carapaz as the man most likely to break Roglič’s run of victories.

Another is the man who beat Carapaz at this year’s Giro d’Italia. A strong performance at the Vuelta will solidify Jai Hindley in the upper echelons of current GC riders and likely stop people from underestimating him. His Bora-Hansgrohe team is split between supporting his goals for the red jersey and stage wins for Sam Bennett, but again a race featuring a total 50km across individual and team time trials will not favour Hindley.

One rider who will be relishing the time trial kilometres is Remco Evenepoel. Every decision the 22-year-old makes in his second Grand Tour participation will be under the microscope as we all collectively try to figure out whether he can be a rider competitive for the overall in three-week stage races.

Simon Yates is another whose consistency over three weeks has meant that in 13 Grand Tour appearances he’s only made the podium twice, once on the top spot at the 2018 Spanish Grand Tour. His BikeExchange-Jayco squad looks set up to have a good go at the team time trial and the 30-year-old already has eight victories this season including two stages at the Giro d’Italia.

While a lot of attention on Movistar will centre around Alejandro Valverde’s (probable) final Grand Tour of his career, Enric Mas offers the Spanish squad their best chance of victory on home roads. Movistar could use the points in the ongoing relegation scrap, which will likely combine with the team’s usual conservatism and see Mas settle for a high overall placing rather than a no-guts-no-glory assault to try and snatch the red jersey no matter the cost.

What to make of Mikel Landa? The Bahrain-Victorious rider has played down his hopes of a podium place, and has one victory in three years, the overall at the 2021 Vuelta a Burgos. However, in the six Grand Tours he’s finished since 2017 he’s placed in the top 10 every time, and usually in the top five. His third overall at this May’s Giro d’Italia gives hope.

If UAE Team Emirates want to avoid going without a Grand Tour victory for the first time since the rise of Pogačar in 2020, it’s up to João Almeida. With Pogačar opting out of a Vuelta revenge tour, his Portuguese teammate gets top billing and a chance to build on his fourth and sixth placings at the 2020 and 2021 Giros before a DNF in 2022. This is another chance for the 24-year-old to prove he has what it takes to conquer Grand Tours and with a supporting cast containing Brandon McNulty, Marc Soler and Juan Ayuso, they could be a dark horse team to keep an eye on.

The sprinters

While unconfirmed at the time of writing, Tim Merlier will find himself in a unique position should he make the start line of the Vuelta a España, in that he will be the only top-level sprinter not having to share a squad with a rider harbouring designs on the overall classification.

The Belgian road race champion, who is off to Patrick Lefevere’s Quick-Step outfit next year, missed out on Tour de France selection while teammate Jasper Philipsen took the sprinters’ world championship title on the Champs-Élysées on stage 21. A Vuelta stage win would complete Merlier’s set of Grand Tour victories.

The aforementioned Sam Bennett arrives as the sprinter with perhaps the most to prove. Winning a stage at the last four Grand Tours he’s raced cemented the Irishman as one of the peloton’s top fast men, but as things soured between the sprinter and Patrick Lefevere he hasn’t raced a Grand Tour since the 2020 Vuelta. Now back at Bora-Hansgrohe, he once again missed out on Tour de France selection as he struggled with form. The pressure will be on, but he has a talented lead-out operation in the shape of compatriot Ryan Mullen and Danny van Poppel, the latter of whom beat him in the European Championships road race last weekend, so the German team won’t be lacking for speed.

While Bennett shares a squad with GC hopeful Jai Hindley, Pascal Ackermann also finds himself in a UAE Team Emirates squad balancing bunch sprint hunting with João Almeida’s overall ambitions. The 28-year-old German has not been as prolific as he was in the 2018-2020 period, and like Bennett hasn’t raced a Grand Tour since the 2020 Vuelta. He’s another sprinter looking to reassert himself at the top of the sport.

Kaden Groves makes his Grand Tour debut and will be looking to build on his Volta a Catalunya and Tour of Turkey wins this season, and has enough firepower within the BikeExchange-Jayco squad to help deliver him to the pointy end of sprint finishes. Groupama-FDJ’s Jake Stewart is another three-week debutant, recently victorious at the Tour de l’Ain, the 22-year-old will be relishing his first crack at a Grand Tour. Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen is another rider who has a fast enough finish to either contest the bunch sprints or reduced breakaway contests.

Other riders to consider

Outside of the GC contenders and sprinters are a number of intriguing riders who will be on the start line in Utrecht.

World champion Julian Alaphilippe arrives for his first Grand Tour kilometres of the season, a horrible crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège derailing his second season in the rainbow bands. He will no doubt be making up for lost time.

Thibaut Pinot will also be looking for stage wins, having come close at the summer’s Tour de France, the Vuelta could prove a happier hunting ground. A resurgent Bob Jungels will carry a lot of Ag2r Citroën’s hopes for stage glory, while Nans Peters and Ben O’Connor could also deliver. The likes of Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sergio Higuita, Israel – Premier-Tech’s Michael Woods, and whoever Bahrain-Victorious and EF Education EasyPost decide to bring (when they get around to releasing their squads) will also be worth sticking a fiver on.

Another rider to consider is Miguel Ángel López, who recently returned to Astana-Qazaqstan after a bizarre episode where he was accused and subsequently cleared of being linked to drug trafficking. Has he put it behind him and now able to challenge for the red jersey, or failing that, stage wins? Vincenzo Nibali also makes the line-up, in what will be the Italian’s final Grand Tour of his career.

Who do you think will win the 2022 Vuelta a España? And which other riders are you most looking forward to watching?

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.