The GC Contenders
Alberto Contador has won all three Vueltas that he has lined up for, taking the red jersey in 2008, 2012 and 2014. On all three occasions, he’s been trying to come back from bad performances at the Tour or other races. He missed the Olympics in Rio after abandoning the Tour due to illness, but won the Vuelta a Burgos at the beginning of August. Expect him to be hungry for the top spot on the podium in Madrid; if he is successful, he will tie with Roberto Heras for the largest number of individual Vuelta wins.
Nairo Quintana finished in fourth place in last year’s Vuelta and will also be looking to improve on a lacklustre Tour. His only Grand Tour win to date is the 2014 Giro d’Italia, and it’s now or never for the Colombian rider to prove that he’s got what it takes to provide a real GC performance. The numerous mountain stages might be his greatest weapon in the fight if he can keep up on the climbs.
Chris Froome has joined the pantheon of Tour greats this summer, and holds two second-place Vuelta finishes from 2011 and 2014 respectively, but had to abandon last year’s race when he broke his foot during a fall on the 11th stage. He seems optimistic about this year’s Vuelta, but has warned that he’s not in the same form as he was at the beginning of July, having expended his energy on the Tour and the Olympics, where he took bronze in the time trial. However, the course seems well-suited to him and he could surprise himself - and the bookies.
Esteban Chaves is an up-and-coming Colombian rider who finished second in this year’s Giro, and he’ll be one to keep an eye on for the GC. In the 2014 Vuelta he came in 41st, and last year finished in fifth, showing that he is constantly improving his form. He’s moderately priced with bookies to take the title, and if he pulls it off you’d be in for a handsome payout indeed. He’s a splendid climber and the course will suit him well, and the team backing him, which includes Simon Gerrans and Simon Yates, will be ready to defend him the whole way.
This is a Vuelta for the climbers, with 11 stages classified either as medium-mountain rides or as flat-out mountain ascents. The Lagos de Covadonga will be a proving ground in stage 10, with 12.6 kilometres of climbing and a total ascent of 1056 metres. It could make or break the race for key players as the mental burden of spinning furiously up the gradients could hurt their heads just as much as their legs. Another test will come on the Aubisque climb during a brief foray into France on stage 14, which will see the riders take in 1,710 metres - and that’s after hitting the Col Inharpu and the Col du Soudet. Don’t lump your cash on a sprinter - pick the best climber you can find and back him.
- Sports.net’s top tip: Contador has a pattern of winning the Vuelta after a bad Tour, and 2/1 on him to win is a good shout.
*Please note that odds may fluctuate.