A record six former winners to square off at Vuelta a España

The return of ex-champions Nibali, Froome, Valverde, Yates, Quintana, and Roglič marks a record for the Spanish grand tour.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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There will be a plethora of champions at the start line Friday for the 2022 Vuelta a España, with no less than six former winners lining up in Utrecht.

Race officials confirmed that number is a record, and compared to other recent grand tours, six ex-champions in any three-week race is exceptional.

The former winners include three-time defending champion Primož Roglič (2019-2021), Alejandro Valverde (2009), Vincenzo Nibali (2010), Chris Froome (2011 and 2017), Nairo Quintana (2016), and Simon Yates (2018).

“It is enormously appreciated that these champions of La Vuelta wish to return,” race director Javier Guillén said. “Their loyalty is a true sign of acknowledgment for our event. For Valverde and Nibali, it will be the last time as they plan to retire at the end of the season, and I have no doubt that the Dutch and Spanish public will show them the appreciation they deserve for their achievements.”

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The Vuelta starts Friday in Utrecht with a team time trial and will mark the final grand tours for Valverde and Nibali, both of whom retire at the end of this season.

All six of the former winners come to the Tour with mixed ambitions.

Of the six, only Quintana and Yates come with confirmed GC goals. The others remain enigmas to an extent due to injuries and other issues.

Quintana, sixth at the Tour de France, returns to the Vuelta for the first time since 2019 with Arkéa-Samsic. Yates, a winner in 2018, will lead BikeExchange-Jayco. Both line up as podium favorites.

Roglič is a bit of a mystery following his departure from the Tour, but he should also be in the mix for the podium if he’s fully recovered.

If he wins again, four Vuelta victories would match the mark held by Roberto Heras.

Froome is coming off a COVID-19 infection that saw him leave the Tour early and is not expected to fight for the GC.

Valverde and Nibali will both be at least trying to win a stage in their last hurrah. Back for his first Vuelta since 2018, Nibali was fourth overall at the Giro in May, and Astana-Qazaqstan brings a deep squad with Miguel Ángel López, Alexey Lutsenko, and David de la Cruz.

Valverde, who will be starting his 32nd career grand tour, has also been fending off health issues following a hit-and-run incident in July. He last finished on the Vuelta podium in 2019 with second overall.

The presence of six former winners at the Vuelta is a record for the race since its creation in 1935. The former maximum number of previous champions was four in 2018, with Valverde, Nibali, Fabio Aru (winner in 2015), and Quintana.

According to race officials, the average number of former winners since 2000 is 2.31 per edition.

Compared to other grand tours, this year’s Vuelta is also exceptional.

The Giro had a maximum of five previous winners most recently in 2009, with Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni, Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, and Danilo Di Luca, all Italian.

The last time the Tour de France had that many was back in 1992, with Laurent Fignon, Greg LeMond, Stephen Roche, Pedro Delgado, and Miguel Indurain all starting that year’s Tour.

However, the record among all the grand tours combined is held by the grande boucle, with seven winners taking their places at the 1914 event, with Louis Trousselier, Lucien Petit-Breton, François Faber, Octave Lapize, Gustave Garrigou, Odiel Defraye and Philippe Thys all at the line.

Guillén celebrated the former champions, but also lauded a new generation of riders coming through, including Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers), Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), and Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) among some 68 riders making their respective Vuelta debuts.

“More generally, the return of previous champions to our roads means that our public is already used to their names, their faces, and their racing styles,” Guillén said. “But, this year, people will also become familiar with new stars.”

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