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Vuelta: Team ambitions

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JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images

The Vuelta is almost upon us. Three weeks of racing that used to be an afterthought in the season and a good place for aspiring World Championships riders to hone their form for their big objective. Those days are behind us though as the race has transformed into one of the most hotly contended races in the last few years. And with this year Worlds moved to the slightly less scorching October temperatures in Qatar it seems no one sees this as a prep race either (the fact that there hardly are any sprints may contribute too). There is still a huge diversity in the quality of teams here though as some have big ambitions and some are more or less scraping the bottom of the barrel to find riders to fill out the team rosters in the fall races. In that respect there is a huge difference from the TdF even if the cast of favorites looks almost as strong, the drop-off in quality behind them is a lot more drastic here.

So let’s go through the teams and get an idea of what to expect from the different teams.

Ag2r

Why are they here? To have a send-off party for Jean-Christophe Peraud who is retiring after the race. Also to see what young Pierre Latour can do in a three week race. He had a good run in the Swiss stage races and the kid can climb but his recovery may not be all that at this point. The Vuelta is interesting though as you don’t have to wait half the race for the climbing to begin.

Rating: Tourist class. Latour is interesting but not a very solid bet. A stagehunter like Bakelants might be their main hope for a notable result. Beyond that there isn’t much to hang your hat on.

Criterium du Dauphine - Stage Eight Photo by Kristof Van Accom/Getty Images

Astana

Why are they here? Taking a bit of a Grand Tour breather while giving their young talent “Superman” Miguel Angel Lopez a chance to take a stab at GC. They really used up most of their firepower though and were maybe hoping Aru would have had a second GT in him. Without that a bit of the air went out of the 2016 Astana balloon.

Rating: Tourist class. López could provide some excitement but he doesn’t have the most serious backup. Expectations are probably well toned down.

BMC

Why are they here? To see if they can have any use for Tejay Van Garderen or if he is a total loss this year. This is of course codeword for “hope Samuel Sanchez can save the day”. Would probably be more fun if we get to see guys like Dillier, Teuns, Atapuma and Drucker do their own thing but who knows with BMC.

Rating: Business class. It should be apparent pretty fast if Tejay is worth keeping an eye out for in the GC. Meanwhile I think the rest of the crew will be looking for opportunities wherever they pop up. Team cohesion hasn’t really been a BMC thing since Evans won the Tour.

Etixx

Why are they here? Etixx are sending a bit of a rabble but, being Etixx, even their rabble is pretty high caliber. With no real point in sending a sprint team and Kittel opting for some other prep for Qatar, this is a pure stage hunting crew. Brambilla may be hot to try his luck in the GC after his brilliant Giro but will probably rather take a stage win over some decent top 10 place overall.

Rating: Tourist class. But active tourist. Alert ones, not the kind to drink 5 GTs early and then pass out for the rest of the trip. Guys like Stybar and Meersman can usually make something happen.

FDJ

Why are they here? Well, they have to be. Thank you World Tour.

Rating: Luggage compartment. When your best bet for a result is Kenny Elissonde it means you’ll have a tough three weeks. Or a relaxed three weeks perhaps. Geniez could pull something off but he just announced he’s moving to Ag2r next year so question is how motivated he and FDJ are.

IAM

Why are they here? To finish the team’s last ever GT in style. True to their character it’s more likely to be a quiet anonymous affair. Matthias Frank could do something but for the rest it’s an underwhelming line up.

Rating: Tourist class. Sad to say but while I’m sure Genechten & co will give it a go in the sprints there isn’t much here for this bunch to do.

Lampre

Why are they here? Louis Meintjes might have gas left in the tank to make this interesting but otherwise this is all about giving some race time and GT riding in the legs of younger riders.

Rating: Tourist class. And what happens with Lampre in the offseason? A lot seems to be up in the air.

Lotto-Soudal

Why are they here? To keep Adam Hansen’s string of GT appearances alive most of all. Also letting the poor GC types on the team have a little bit of a chance. Bart De Clercq is a solid mid level guy, more exciting than Maxime “17th place” Monfort but perhaps not as dependable and Louis Vervaeke is a young promising climber who looked excellent in the early summer. He is getting his second GT start here and it will be interesting to see if he can show himself in a stage or two.

Rating: Tourist class. Using a GT to give helpers/up-and-comers a chance to test their wings isn’t a bad thing. And with guys like De Gendt, Hansen and De Clercq it’s not unlikely they can walk away with something as well.

Movistar

Why are they here? To give Nairo his second Grand Tour win. After a lackluster Tour this would be an excellent place to stage a comeback. Hard to see a Vuelta parcourse as his absolute cup of tea though. You get the sense that it will favor a punchier attacking rider.

Rating: First Class. The support isn’t as stellar as some Movi GT lineups but solid enough. Quintana should have the backup he needs. If he can’t win with this support he probably couldn’t win anyway. Plus Valverde is riding his third GT of the year. This ought to be fun.

Esteban Chaves kisses Luk Benies

Orica

Why are they here? Giving Esteban Chaves another shot at a first GT win. Weirdly enough none of the Orica spaniards are here for support but the team is decent anyway. Simon Yates, Howson and Haig could well surprise if their batteries aren’t empty and Chaves isn’t used to a ton of support on the climbs anyway.

Rating: Business Class. Chaves is probably the most interesting name in the whole race and should he falter you have guys like Gerrans, Yates and Keukelaire who could well save the race for Orica with an opportunist stage win.

Cannondale

Why are they here? Getting Andrew Talansky’s career back on track. The American was a strategic scratch from the TdF specifically to give him time to rebuild from a lost spring and get him back up on the level Cannondale need him on. The Vuelta has worked well for him in the past so we’ll see how it goes. I bet they were expecting a less stacked field of competitors though, in this company even a stellar Talansky might struggle to reach a top position. Davide Formolo who somewhat surprisingly re-upped with the team would also like to make up for a disappointing Giro.

Rating: Business Class. Albeit on a bit of a kid’s ticket.

Giant-Alpecin

Why are they here? To throw whatever they can find in the heap of riders in and hope maybe Warren Barguil does better than he did in July. Not a huge amount of plans in this bunch it feels like. Some kids who get a shot, some filler.

Rating: Tourist class. The Vuelta was good to Barguil before he tried his hand at the Tour. If he is motivated he could do well but it won’t be a repeat of last year’s success with Tommy D I bet.

Katusha

Why are they here? Why indeed. This is clearly the leftovers, Katusha will spend their autumn power on other targets.

Rating: Luggage compartment. Unless Taaramae has a good day or two.

LottoNL-Jumbo

Why are they here? Steven Kruijswijk FTW. Take two. This time without the wall of snow, I suppose is the plan. The team looks much the same as their Giro group, could turn out well. Gesink adds some firepower hopefully.

Rating: Business Class. Apparently Cruiseship has been ill for a bit which has messed with his prep a little but unless that bothers him this could be an interesting three weeks for the guy who looked magnificent in May (until his encounter with said wall of snow)

Tour de France podium Jean Catuffe AFP

Team Sky

Why are they here? To win with Landa Kwiatkowski Froome. Can he avoid the August fade this time? Will Kwiatkowski continue on the trajectory from Rio and show himself as a GT rider? Are König and Kennaugh fit and useful again? Lots of questions but you can bet that Sky aren’t here to try for TdF style domination. If all goes well they will ride under the radar a bit and hope Froome is good enough to smash everyone in the end.

Rating: First Class. Losing Landa makes the team a little less interesting but if Froome is fit that may be a blessing from the team cohesion standpoint.

Tinkoff

Why are they here? One last hurrah with Alberto. It must be an odd experience to come to the race with one of the top favorites but being on a team that is being dismantled. If this is a bunch of guys with their heads halfway out the door then Contador could be in trouble. If it’s a dedicated group, then everyone else might be in trouble instead.

Rating: Business Class. For now at least. Contador could well be arriving to this race with anger in his estomago.

Trek-Segafredo

Why are they here? To make a big splash with Haimar Zubeldia! I’m not even kidding. Well a little bit. I suppose their main idea is to poach a win with guys like Felline or Bonifazio. Trouble is there isn’t really that many stages where guys like that can come into their own. Maybe Zoidl is a better bet for a breakaway stage win?

Rating: Stealth Fighter Class Luggage compartmentHaimar Zubeldia. Their main guy is Haimar Zubeldia. In 2016. Alberto Contador can’t transfer in soon enough.

Direct Energie

Why are they here? To get in every breakaway possible I assume. Maybe Calmejane can provide some excitement?

Rating: Tourist class. Dangerously near getting demoted to the overhead handlugage compartment.

Bora-Argon18

Why are they here? Nine guys trying to convince management they should be a part of the future upgraded Bora team? Without much chance of huge success.

Rating: Luggage compartment

Cofidis

Why are they here? Getting a nice tan and dreaming sweet dreams about what might have been if there were enough sprint stages to make the trip worthwhile for Bouhanni. Now instead they are doomed to eternal breakaways but if they’re lucky they may get away with letting Luis Ángel Maté go in all of them.

Rating: Luggage compartment

Dimension Data

Why are they here? To crown Igor Anton as the undisputed King of Grand Tours that we always knew he was. .............. or get a stagewin. Whichever seems more likely to you. DDD have a few potential good shots in this race, Sbaragli could be useful in the sprints against this competition and Kudus will be fun to follow too. But in reality they could also walk away empty handed. Not that they will cry to much considering their party-style Tour de France.

Rating: Tourist Class . And no Chris, having Tyler Farrar here doesn’t change that.

Caja Rural

Why are they here? As usual, try and make a mark as the main Spanish Pro Conti team. Win a stage and see what Hugh Carthy can do on the big stage. The British climber has taken an unusual route but has been so impressive this year that he was almost sure to get a World Tour ride for next year. Turns out it will be with Cannondale but let’s not write him off just yet. There is still time

Rating: Business Class. They get a friendly home-team upgrade because they probably have more ambitions than some in this race.