[This article was written in the week before the start of La Vuelta and has not been updated.]
Fabio Aru, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde won the race before. In 2015, Aru won the race ahead of Joaquim Rodríguez and Rafal Majka, although the real battle raged between Aru and Tom Dumoulin. Wearing the red jersey, the Dutchman cracked on the final stage on mountainous terrain after Aru’s then team Astana put huge pressure on him. Dumoulin lost nearly four minutes and dropped to sixth place overall.
Aru definitely could use another success. His move from Astana to UAE Emirates didn’t pay off until now. His best results in 2018 is sixth place on the Tour of the Alps.
Quintana is another former winner with a huge question mark hovering over his head. His main goal in 2018 was winning the Tour de France, but he finished 10th, almost a quarter of an hour behind winner Geraint Thomas. He enjoyed one moment of glory though when he won the short mountain stage to Col du Portet.
Nibali rides the Vuelta a España as preparation for the World Championships road race in Innsbruck, Austria. The Sicilian had two major objectives in 2018 – the Tour de France and the Worlds. He crashed out of the first race with a fractured vertebra and so there is one goal left. Yet, he surely won’t mind to win La Vuelta while he is at it. That said, his performances in stage races haven’t bene very well in 2018. Yes, he won Milan-San Remo in brilliant style, but in multi-day stage races he never finished on top 10.
Other stand-out names on the entry list include Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran, who both abandoned with injuries from the Tour de France before the race entered the mountains. La Vuelta could be their chance to bounce back. Porte was on a winning streak after he wrapped up the GC at the Tour de Suisse, but his Tour de France dream ended with a broken collarbone in the cobbled stage to Roubaix.
Simon Yates is another rider who showed great form in 2018. The 25-year old Briton rode thirteen days in the Giro d’Italia’s maglia rosa and pocketed three stages in Italy before he cracked in the final week. It all came down in the Colle delle Finestre stage, when Chris Froome bravely attacked with Tom Dumoulin in pursuit, and Yates collapsed and lost nearly 39 minutes. So he wants to show the world he is back on his feet and ready to win again.
Wilco Kelderman was strong in last year’s Vuelta, but just missed out on the podium in the last mountain stage with a summit finish at the insanely steep Angliru. Ilnur Zakarin took his position and finished third, but the Russian has been invisible in 2018.
On the 2016 Giro d’Italia, Steven Kruijswijk emerged as a legitimate Grand Tour threat, but he has been largely under the radar since then. Yet, he emerged with a strong performance on the recent Tour de France. If he manages to continue in a similar vein he might be ready to win his first Grand Tour. Two years ago he was close to winning the Giro when he crashed into a wall of snow at the side of the road before somersaulting and landing on his back.
Favourites 2018 Vuelta a España
***** Richie Porte, Simon Yates, Nairo Quintana
**** Wilco Kelderman, Rigoberto Uran, Thibaut Pinot, Steven Kruijswijk
*** Michal Kwiatkowski, Fabio Aru, Miguel Ángel López, Vincenzo Nibali
** Daniel Martin, Adam Yates, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin, Alejandro Valverde
* Richard Carapaz, George Bennett, Emanuel Buchmann, Bauke Mollema, Ion Izagirre
Vuelta a España 2018: Route map, height profiles, and more
Click on the images to zoom
Stage 4: details Puerto de Alfacar
stage 9: details Alto de la Covatilla
stage 13: details La Camperona
stage 15: details Lagos de Covadonga