Opening salvo time. Note that the arrows are pretty randomly assigned at this point, since it's not clear where each rider is coming from. Next week's version will probably make more sense. So view this first one as more of a stab at ranking each rider's prospects.
1. Cadel Evans ↔
Assuming everything's equal, Evans would be the best of the lot here. He showed in the Tour that he can limit losses on the climbs and inflict enough pain in the time trials. Of course, this isn't the Tour, and the second time trial is probably 20km or so shorter than he would like. Then there's the question of how he feels coming off his supreme effort in July. If he can be called a "favorite," it's tenuously and somewhat by default.
2. Sammy Sánchez ↑
Strangely quiet year, which makes one wonder where his form is at. At his best, he's solidly among the favorites, and his second place in the penultimate ITT at the 2006 Vuelta, plus his stage win on a classics course and top-7s on most of the climbs mark him as an ideal Vuelta rider. If he's on, he's probably positioned to move up here.
3. Tom Danielson ↑
Hm, well, nobody should be better rested than the snake-bitten Discovery climber. At his best, he was dusting Sanchez and the rest of the peloton at Granada last year. He might not even give some of that back in the time trials. His form is a complete mystery, so we won't know what more to add until the racing gets serious, but his ceiling is the top step.
4. Carlos Sastre ↓
Third last year even with two prior grand tours under his belt... an amazing accomplishment. This year, however, Sastre hasn't shown much spark. If a different rider appears at the start Saturday, then maybe it's game on. But you'd have thought he was in ideal shape for the Tour, where he never got going.
5. José Ángel Gómez Marchante ↓
He finally poked his head up at the Vuelta a Burgos with a couple minor placings, but in this field he will have nowhere to hide in the time trials. Thankfully (for him) 70km of time trials is survivable, but it places him at a clear disadvantage.
6. Denis Menchov ↓
Er, well, the only past winner in the field. That counts for something. He looked pretty broken when he exited the Tour, and it's not like he can't climb along with his more obvious chronoman pedigree. And he's in his prime. So why do I have zero confidence that he'll do anything?
7. Stijn Devolder ↑
Discovery made him their captain, which isn't a title to dismiss. And there seems to be little he can't do. But he's a little light on Grand Tour leadership experience. I suppose he's one of those guys who's been there for Johan, and anyway Danielson has been sick and Brajkovic keeled over in week 3 last year, so why not?
8. Damiano Cunego ↓
At some point we'll start moving his name out of the favorites column into the watch-out-for area. Nobody thinks he's a serious contender here; rather, he's in training for the Worlds. But he can keep the spot warm while we see if Rogers rides. I guess I've wasted enough of your time...
9. Janez Brajkovic ↑
Tour de Georgia winner best known for hanging around the podium for two weeks at the Vuelta last year before going into complete free-fall. He's a young, developing rider, and the Vuelta will always look like a good race for him as long as the time trial mileage stays low, or maybe even when it doesn't. But one year seems like too short a time to turn around that disaster, and anyway he's third in line in the Discovery machine.
10. Oscar Pereiro ↓
Pereiro did about what you'd expect at the Tour: hang around on most of the tough stages but eventually conceding time in dribs and drabs, even a few chunks. It's hard to see how that effort set him up to ride a great Vuelta, or why he's anointed the leader of Spain's strongest team. But there he is, and until he explodes in week 2, I guess he can have Caisse d'Epargne's reserved spot on this list.