You know what I mean. Every Vuelta, we get a less than motivated peloton, and breakaways sneaking ahead to win the big mountain stages. Last year, those climbers were Fränk Schleck, Mikel Landa, Bert-Jan Lindeman and Alessandro Di Marchi on summit finishes, with Ruben Plaza and Nicolas Roche chipping in on stages finishing in a descent. That's not counting the other stages where a break made the differene. Anyway, there's always a band of guys (being Spanish is a help) who win Vuelta stages here there and everywhere. Let's try and find them.
Where do you look for Vuelta form? Well, Burgos of course. Alberto Contador won that race, but the mountain stage went to Sergio Pardilla, who timed his attack perfectly and matched Contador in the run to the line, very nearly clinching the overall. In a career spanning Movistar, MTN-Qhubeka and now Caja Rural, he's always been a second-tier GC rider, but as a stage hunter I see a lot of potential for a stage win. Caja Rural is full of great climbers, including young British rider Hugh Carthy, who — and can I just see how much I like seeing British riders get to the top the old-fashioned way — climbed brilliantly in Catalunya must surely be targeting a Vuelta stage, and Pello Bilbao could pop up anywhere.
Also coming out of Burgos happy would be BMC's Ben Hermans, who finished second in that race, nearly sticking with Contador on the top slopes of the final stage. He'll be a Van Garderen domestique until Van Garderen blows up horribly. (Hint: If you want to see that, tune in to stage eight. The only suspense is where it will happen). Then he'll be free as a bird to target a mountain stage. On his own team, there's Atapuma and Sanchez to make their mark for BMC.
Astana is a minefield. That's not a commentary on the city's tourism, but the results of a glance at their team. Dario Cataldo, Michele Scarponi, Miguel Angel Lopez and Luis Leon Sanchez are all riders who could make a mark, and only one of them will go for GC, surely. I certainly expect to see Scarponi lift his arms in the air.
Trek-Segafredo have a shipment of fresh meat coming in for next year, so anyone there who's out of contract will need to make their mark here. And Riccardo, I'm looking at you, mainly. Zoidl has promise as a climber that never really was delivered on — he has never scaled the heights he hit before moving to the World Tour, where he delivered a victory in his native Tour of Austria. But there's potential to be lived up to here, and now is the time to do it. Elsewhere on that team, Fabio Felline is going to do what Fabio Felline does. What's that again?7
Finally, Gianluca Brambilla will hope to live up to the standard he set with his magnificent Giro by improving on his inauspicious exit from 2014. If Ivan Rovny is in a break with him, count on him riding faster than at least one of his companions.
That's eleven guys, which even the Vuelta can't have enough mountain stages for, so let's try to put names to stages. I estimate four of the big mountain stages will go to breakaways, so let's work out who will take glory. I can definitely picture one of the stages going to Scarponi. He's been a Superdomestique de luxe for Astana for the last couple of years, and to me this looks like a race full of chances for him to reap the rewards.
I've got to believe Caja Rural will come home with at least one stage. With Luis Leon Sanchez (Yes, remember he rode for them) and Omar Fraile, they took home the mountains jersey for the last two years, but amazingly, they have been winless since 2012, when Antonio Piedra won by more than two minutes on Lagos de Covadonga. This time, however, they have a stronger team than ever, and one that can perhaps repeat Piedra's success.
As Jens said, it looks like every man for himself at BMC. Samuel Sanchez is my pick to nab a big mountain day for the team. Gianluca Brambilla is also a stage pick, because Etixx have to do something here, right?
In summation, I'll pick Pardilla for stage 10, Scarponi for stage 14, Brambilla for stage 17 and Sanchez for stage 20, because who chases breaks anymore, am I right?