North Americans in the Vuelta a España: Stage-hunters, rookies and helpers

Sepp Kuss, Quinn Simmons, Joe Dombrowski and Chad Haga headline the North American contingent at the 2021 Vuelta a España.

Photo: James Startt

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Six Americans and two Canadians across six teams line up Saturday for a steady North American contingent in the 2021 Vuelta a España.

There’s a grand tour rookie in Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and a Vuelta stage-winner in Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma).

With Kuss riding in support of defending champion Primož Roglič, there won’t be a GC contender this year, but riders such as Joe Dombrowski (UAE Emirates), Chad Haga (DSM) and others will have the green light to chase stage wins.

“It’s actually a better situation that we have Primož on the team,” Kuss told VeloNews this week. “If Steven [Kruijswijk] and I went as leaders, of course, we want to shoot for the best result. Steven’s finished in the top-three in grand tours and he’s really consistent – he knows what he has to do. But for me, I’ve never finished in the top-10 in grand tours, so I don’t know what’s possible.”

Six U.S. starters is about on par with the number of riders starting the Vuelta over much of the past decade.

Riders like Kuss and Lawson Craddock, back for his fourth Vuelta, will be riding for clear GC leaders, with Hugh Carthy leading EF Education-Nippo.

Also read: How the US riders fared in the 2020 Vuelta

Trek-Segafredo brings grand tour rookie Simmons as well as stalwart Kiel Reijnen, and the team will be riding for Giulio Ciccone, who will be taking his first run as a lone protected GC leader.

Israel Start-Up Nation brings two Canadians, with Vuelta debutant Alex Cataford and James Piccoli, back for his second crack at the Spanish grand tour.

“I’m really excited to return to the Vuelta, and I’ve prepared really well for it,” Piccoli said. “I’m ready for the heat and the climbs and I can’t wait to be an aggressor in the race. I’m putting the finishing touches on my form here in Burgos and it should be all systems go for the Vuelta.”

La Vuelta does not quite pack the same rich history as the Tour among American riders, and the U.S. riders did not really become a steady presence at the Vuelta until the 1990s.

Also read: No leadership no big deal to Sepp Kuss

Mike Neel, an American cycling trailblazer, was the first American to ride the Vuelta in 1977, and got the momentum going for an American boom years later.

Robin Morton, the first woman to manage a top professional men’s team, brought the first American-registered team to the Vuelta, with Xerox-Philadelphia in 1985. Seven Americans rode for Xerox, and with Olympic champion Alexi Grewal riding for Panasonic-Raleigh, eight Americans raced in that edition of the Vuelta.

The record number of U.S. starters is nine, with three times in the past 10 years.

The Vuelta typically sees a higher presence of U.S. riders than the other grand tours. Over the past decade, at least four have started every edition since 2013.

That’s in contrast to the Tour de France, which has seen fluctuations from a record number of starters of 10 (in 1986 and 2011) to the low single digits. Over the past few editions, the U.S. has averaged between three and five riders at the Tour.

Why the difference? There are few factors. Roster reductions from nine to eight have make it more difficult to earn a spot, especially for the Tour.

Also read: How the North Americans fared in the 2021 Tour de France

The Vuelta is also a race that sees many riders make their respective grand tour debuts, such as the case as Simmons with Trek-Segafredo.

This current generation of U.S. riders is also more focused on support roles, compared to the GC boom from the LeMond to the controversial Armstrong eras, when U.S. riders were more often at the center of a team’s overall ambitions.

Levi Leipheimer became the first U.S. rider to hit the podium, with third in 2001 and second in 2008, and Chris Horner is the only U.S. rider to win the Vuelta, in 2013.

Ten U.S. riders have won Vuelta stages over the years including Italian Guido Trenti who raced with a U.S. license, most recently with Sepp Kuss in 2019.

North Americans in the 2021 Vuelta

Alexander Cataford, 27 (Israel Start-Up Nation) — first Vuelta

Lawson Craddock, 29 (EF Education-Nippo) — 4th Vuelta

Joe Dombrowski, 30 (UAE Emirates) — 4th Vuelta

Chad Haga, 32 (DSM) — 4th Vuelta

Sepp Kuss, 26 (Jumbo-Visma) — 4th Vuelta, stage win 2019

James Piccoli, 29 (Israel Start-Up Nation) — 2nd Vuelta

Kiel Reijnen, 35 (Trek-Segafredo) — 4th Vuelta

Quinn Simmons, 20 (Trek-Segafredo) — grand tour debut

US riders in Vuelta a España by year

2021 — 6
2020 — 5
2019 — 9 — matches all-time high
2018 — 6
2017 — 6
2016 — 9
2015 – 9
2014 – 4
2013 – 6 – first American Vuelta GC win (Chris Horner)
2012 – 3
2011 – 4
2010 – 6
2009 – 3
2008 – 1 – Leipheimer 2nd overall + two stage victories
2007 – 4
2006 – 3
2005 – 4
2004 – 5
2003 – 6
2002 – 4
2001 – 4 – first American Vuelta podium (Levi Leipheimer, 3rd)
2000 – 2
1999 – 6
1998 – 3
1997 – 4
1996 – 4
1995 – 3
1994 – 0
1993 – 0
1992 – 0
1991 – 0
1990 – 0
1989 – 0
1987 – 0
1986 – 2
1985 – 0
1984 – 8
1983 – 0
1982 – 1
1981 – 0
1980 – 0
1979 – 0
1978 – 0
1977 – 1 – first American participation

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