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Vuelta a Espana

Four North Americans to light up the Vuelta a España: Stage-hunters and podium dreamers

Though it's a thinner number compared to the Tour de France, the North Americans will be at the sharp end of the action.

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A relatively thin crop of North Americans is slated to race the 2022 Vuelta a España starting Friday in Utrecht.

Michael Woods is the lone Canadian, while Lawson Craddock, Sepp Kuss, and Brandon McNulty are the U.S. riders in the Vuelta field.

That’s a relatively thin number compared to the bumper crop of North American starters at the 2022 Tour de France when 11 headed to France, with seven Americans and four Canadians.

Also read: How the North Americans fared at the Tour de France

All four are sure to leave their mark.

Woods is coming off a bout with COVID-19 that saw him exit the Tour de France early, and brings big ambitions to the Spanish grand tour.

“I’m doing quite well after having COVID and I wasn’t impacted too long but it took me a fair amount of time to recover from the crash I sustained on stage 9 of the Tour de France so I definitely needed a bit of time off,” Woods said. “I think of all the grand tours, it is the one that suits me the best. I am really excited to do another GC run, especially at a race I have had success at in the past, finishing seventh in 2017 and also winning two stages.”

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In fact, the entire North American contingent should ride directly in the action.

Woods is chasing GC, while Craddock will be a key helper for overall favorite Simon Yates at BikeExchange-Jayco.

Kuss, a Vuelta stage winner in 2019, will line up alongside three-time defending champion Primož Roglič at the always ambitious Jumbo-Visma.

McNulty makes his Vuelta debut and will have freedom to make his own way, with UAE Team Emirates also bringing João Almeida as a GC captain.

Here’s who’s racing:

Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange-Jayco)

Cycling: Campus Bike Exange Tarragona DESCRIPCIÓN / DESCRIPTION Cambrils -Tarragona (SPAIN)
Lawson Craddock starts his second grand tour this season with BikeExchange-Jayco. (Photo: Luis Angel Gomez ©PHOTOGOMEZSPORT2021)

Vuelta record: Fifth start

Age: 30

Vuelta best: Three times with top-10’s in stages

After racing the Giro d’Italia in May, Craddock is back for his fifth Vuelta start. The Texan is proving himself a key ally to Simon Yates inside the BikeExchange-Jayco bus.

Yates, a winner in 2018, starts as a clear podium favorite in the UK’s rider’s first Vuelta appearance since winning. Just like at the Giro, where Yates was lighting up the stages before a knee injury sent him home, Craddock will check his personal ambitions to ride for the team.

That’s not to say he might have a chance to ride into some breakaways at some point deep into this Vuelta, but the team’s priorities from the start are to protect Yates and try to win a stage with Kaden Groves.

Craddock will open his jack-of-all-trades toolbox to help out wherever and whenever he’s needed.

Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma)

Primoz Roglic celebrates winning his third Vuelta
Sepp Kuss celebrates winning last year’s Vuelta with Primož Roglič. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Vuelta record: Fifth start

Age: 27

Vuelta best: Stage win in 2019, eighth overall in 2021

It’s hard to believe that Kuss will be already making his fifth Vuelta start. His debut in 2018 revealed his promise, and he followed it up with an emotional and joyful grand tour stage win in the Cantabrian mountains in 2019.

While a committed helper during the Tour de France, Kuss has been stretching his GC legs a bit more during the Vuelta. Though he is riding in support of Roglič again in the Slovenian’s quest for a record fourth straight Vuelta crown, Kuss could see more freedom if the legs are there.

Last year he rode to his first grand tour top-10 with eighth overall by chaperoning Roglič through the mountains. The pair went first and second at the decisive climbing stage at Lagos de Covadonga.

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates)

Brandon McNulty rode a spectacular Tour de France. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Age: 24

Vuelta best: Vuelta debut

In just his third WorldTour season, McNulty is starting his first Vuelta in his fourth grand tour start in his young career. After a promising Giro debut in 2020, he’s emerged as a top helper for Tadej Pogačar in the past two editions at the Tour.

His third place high in the French Pyrénées at Peyragudes only telegraphed his quality to the larger peloton. His 2022 season has been his best so far, with three victories, second at the Volta ao Algarve, 11th at Critérium du Dauphiné, and 20th at the Tour.

The Arizonan rolls into the Vuelta with no pressure, and will have freedom to see how long he can hang with the explosive climbers. On paper, the Giro and Tour might be better suited to McNulty’s racing style, but the Vuelta presents a new horizon for America’s most promising grand tour rider.

Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech)

Michael Woods at the Tour of Britain
Michael Woods is focused on ending the season on a high. (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Vuelta record: Fourth Vuelta

Age: 35

Vuelta best: Stage wins in 2018, and 2020, and seventh overall in 2017

Woods returns to the Vuelta for the first time in two years following a few rough-and-tumble seasons. Crashes, illness, COVID-19 and other challenges have slowed him down, but not diminished his drive.

After pulling out of the Tour in July, a refreshed Woods is keen to make up for lost time.

The lone Canadian in this Vuelta will be chasing both stage victories and a strong GC. The lumpy, explosive course is ideal for his style of racing. If he can survive the first half and get through the stage 10 time trial in the top-10, anything is possible on the GC front.

Israel-Premier Tech brings a balanced squad, with a team full of stage-hunters, including two-time winner Chris Froome also chasing stages following an encouraging Tour. Woods will have room to roam in chasing his personal goals.

An American in France

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