Stage 2: Alhaurin de la Torre - Caminito del Rey, 158.7 km
Oh, man, hills already?
This is the first stage of La Vuelta where the GC can change, and it certainly will, with a very tricky climb at the end. The climb to Caminito del Rey has been marked as 4.7 kilometres long, and has an average gradient of 6.5 percent, though if you take away the first kilometre it looks more like 8%. It is preceded by a fairly flat, if undulating stage, with only one category three climb on the way.
Last 5 kilometres:
While Peter Velits took the red jersey in the TTT, it's very unlikely he'll keep it into the week, with all 198 riders on the same time, and bonus seconds at the finish mean that the red jersey will certainly go to the day's winner.
Velits also leads the points classification, and the winner of the stage will probably snap up that as well. With the intermediate sprint on top of a small hill, some sprinters may be discouraged.
This will be the first stage in which the jersey will be awarded (though for some reason Martin Keizer was prancing around in it after stage 1) with the two 3rd category climbs meaning that the winner of the first will wear it on stage three.
As the most likely outcome of this stage is cagey riding until the last kilometre, followed by an uphill sprint, my top two favourites are Daniel Martin and Alejandro Valverde. Martin is very good at short uphill finishes, with several good rides in La Flèche Wallonne and other hilly classics. He also did well in stage three of last year's Vuelta, with its 6% slopes to the finish. His biggest demon - positioning - may not be an issue, as the climb is long enough to thin out the field. While it's always difficult to judge Martin's form - and indeed, he has not raced since San Sebastian, he is always best at the beginning of a Grand Tour, and he has a relatively good team for this sort of stage. Valverde is another pick. He rode well in San Sebastian and the Tour, and he is one of the most consistent riders in the peloton. He will be ready for this stage, and has fast legs on a finish such as this.
Katusha have a team well suited to this stage. With Joaquím Rodríguez and Daniel Moreno on their team, there's a good chance of their finishing on top with either. While Moreno hasn't shown his 2013 form since, well, 2013, he did do well in Burgos, and Rodríguez is one of the world's quickest, though he'd rather it steeper. Moreno may be the one going for it if they are together in the last kilometre, he's got a better sprint.
Chris Froome and Sergio Henao will be Sky's top riders for the day, with Henao showing his form in Poland, and Froome reminding us that he's a good puncheur on the Mur du Huy. Henao is faster, though Froome may wish to strike an early blow for the red jersey.
Some will say that Peter Sagan will win, but...eh...come on. No. Also look out for Rodolfo Torres and Pello Bilbao.