I don’t think of myself as someone who sees the Tour as the only significant road race of the year. Hardly a controversial view here at the Café, but unusual for a cycling fan, and most particularly a British cycling fan. The track world cup is probably the second-most covered cycling event round my way.
Still, I realise I’m Tour-centric when it comes to jerseys. They should be yellow, white, green, and spotty. At all times and in all races. That isn’t entirely serious. I know that I’m not going to convince people that yellow should replace pink in future Giri, and that’s okay (though, surely, we can all get behind polka-dots on every mountains jersey). We should, though, standardise the awarding of jerseys for GC, points, mountains, and (vitally) young riders.
Instead of this, we get a hodge-podge. I’ve sat on my sofa fairly frequently trying to work out why there are two kinds of sprinters’ jerseys in some races, what the hell Primus have to do with anything, and what is being combined for a combination jersey? The last one is particularly irksome, and occurs in a Grand Tour. I watch a lot of cycling, and I’m pretty informed. I can’t give an explanation of why that jersey exists, who it rewards (other than Valverde) or what colour it is, without checking. How likely is that to attract a causal audience?
All of this is leading, slowly and tediously, towards my main point. There isn’t a white jersey (okay, okay, a young rider classification competition) at the Vuelta. That’s stupid. Not just because I’m Tour-centric bore who is too dumb to cope when things change, but because the white jersey forces fans to think about young riders. We notice them, we follow them, we wonder if they’ll develop into stars… we start watching more cycling. We come back. Oh, and when we come back… we start watching the white jersey competition again.
Every sport needs a narrative around the next generation to maintain audience interest, and you only have to look at the demented and overtly manufactured social media pushing of the “nextgen” tennis world to see how seriously this is taken by governing bodies. Except, of course, in cycling.
So, before we get into the preview section of this, um, preview, a plea to the UCI and ASO: Make 2017 the last year you run the Vuelta without a young riders’ classification. Obviously, it should be a white jersey, but I don’t care if you bring back the Footon-Servetto jersey, we need to see our young stars being promoted. Even if you have to pay yourself for a couple of years, I guarantee two things – it’ll do more for the future of the sport than all of the awful races you prop up, and it’ll be easier to find sponsorship for this jersey than it is for half of your leaders’ jerseys. Do the right thing.
Anyway, there won’t be a white jersey at this year’s Vuelta, and that’s a shame. Particularly because it is a Grand Tour that has frequently proved a launching pad for young careers. Away from the brutal spotlight of the Giro and Tour, and with many riders’ seasons winding down, this is a chance to shine. As ever, the 2018 parcours is varied, and whilst it isn’t necessarily the best place for a pure sprinter to make a name for himself, everyone else is covered.
So let’s have a look at some of the “kids” in the race, and set out what they might hope to achieve, and what that would mean for the sport.
The time to shine is now
Miguel Angel Lopez
I’ve been talking about this young Colombian for some time now, and it is time for him to start showing the results. Injuries wiped out the end of last season and the beginning of this, but he was riding impressively in Burgos to win an uphill stage and take 4th overall. He climbs, he time-trials, and he’s got age on his side. What he needs to do now is put it all together. That might take some time, but he hasn’t yet finished a GT. I say that the former Tour de l’Avenir winner finishes this Vuelta, and does it with a decent overall finish. That’ll depend in part on Aru’s form, but if he isn’t needed as a lieutenant don’t rule out a top five for him. 12/1 with Paddy Power for the win is too short, but he’s the most exciting youngster in the field.
Yates… and Yates
Simon and Adam are mixing up the confusion this year, by turning up in a Grand Tour together. That’s great, because things had been straightforward until now. More seriously, both have been talked about in some circles as potential Grand Tour winners, and I’m not convinced I see it. They’ve had their chances and both climb well, have racing nous, and can time trial adequately. They need to be stepping up towards meaningful contention around about now if we’re to keep viewing them as potential winners. Of the two, Adam appears to be more of a pure climber, whilst Simon has the better kick. There are stages that would suit both, and you’d assume Simon is fresher. Both, of course, could end up in service to Chaves if his softly-softly approach to the Tour has him ready to contend here. Worth watching and possible stage winners, but I’m sceptical of their overall chances.
Bob Jungels and Davide Formolo
Two riders you can’t really put together in terms of their strengths and styles, but similar in that they are seen as potential winners, but neither is well-rounded enough to succeed. We know Jungels as a time trialler who can ride well in the hills but tends to be dropped by the best on the biggest climbs. I hoped, during the offseason, that he’d improve his climbing. His Giro suggested he hadn’t, yet. We’ll see if that changes, but otherwise he’s likely to be looking at another top ten, and maybe a stage or two (though there’s competition in the TT).
Formolo, on the other hand, is definitely not known as a time trialler. He managed a top ten in the Giro, but was eight minutes down on Jungels. He needs to improve as a time trialler, as well as climbing more consistently with the bets in the sport. Another top ten is possible but unlikely.
Magnus Cort Neilsen
There isn’t a white jersey, so I’m not just looking at general classification here. MCN is moving to Astana next season and is, I’d say, on the brink of being considered in the top division of the “hardman who can sprint” group. This isn’t exactly Flanders, but there are a few stages that could suit the young Dane very well, and he won two stages last year. Repeating that could go a long way towards confirming the positive impression he’s made over the last couple of years,
Time on their side, but could make some noise
It seems rather odd to say that Roson has time on his side, as he’s older than several of this list. Still, with a transfer to Movistar coming over the winter, he isn’t likely to be riding for himself much over the next couple of years. Caja Rural appear to have Hector Saez as their leader but it is Roson who I’d fancy as their best rider. He was 21 when he joined Caja Rural after a junior career with some promise but far from stellar results. I noticed him when he won the uphill stage of the Turkey tour last year and he’s been even more impressive this season. He’s a climber and not much more, but if he can go well on these mountain stages, he’ll be an asset to the Movistar leaders, whoever they turn out to be next year.
Continuing the Movistar theme, they are sending a team to this Vuelta that is decidedly below their best. With Valverde injured, and Quintana exhausted, they are led by… hang on, that can’t be right… really? No, I’m not buying that.
Let’s just say that Movistar don’t have a clear GC leader, which means that for once there is a chance for lesser riders to shine. 23 and riding easily his best season, Soler could be one of the beneficiaries. He’s a solid time trialler (7th in the Swiss tour, giving up bunches of time to Dennis and Kung but just seven seconds to Izagirre and Spilak, for instance) and can make some noise in punchy stages, as he did in the last stage of Paris-Nice this spring. He was also third in the Catalunya GC.
I’m not saying he’s going to star in this Vuelta, or even that he’s a future star. I will say that he’s young, improving, and I see a fair bit of Ion Izagirre in his riding. Keep an eye on him, won’t you?
I’ll be honest, I feel a bit dirty including Moscon on this list, and I’m certainly not rooting for him at the moment. Still, I think we need to accept that he’s going to be around for a while, and whatever I think about him as a man, I rate him very highly as a cyclist. Obviously the classics are his bag, but he’s proving versatile and has some climbing and sprinting arrows in his quiver, too. Sky will be supporting Froome, of course, but there are a few stages where he could pop up. Degs, Trentin, and MCN are the competition, but he’s good enough to get involved.
They’re very young and I think they’re good – will we glimpse it here?
A quick glance at FSA-DS tells me that Sunweb’s young Dutchman needs little introduction; at least 170 of you know exactly who I’m talking about. Those eight score and ten will also be able to tell you that his season has been fine, but not exactly what the optimists would have hoped for. 9th in California is probably his best result of the year, which doesn’t live up to winning Tour de l’Ain as a neo-pro. Still, there’s time for him to turn the year around and this is a course that might well suit him. Everything Sunweb touch turns to gold at the moment, and I could see him raising his arms in triumph at some point. Maybe it’ll be stage 17?
Not a man we’ve heard much about this year, the young Swiss rider is a neo-pro at BMC and his last year in the U23 ranks was a sight to behold. He’s a decent climber and an excellent time-trialler, and I think there’s a chance we’ll see that on a bigger stage here. You’d expect him to be a meaningful part of BMC’s all conquering TTT squad in the first stage, but a top-ten in the ITT later in the race would be a step forward. He could easily contest a stage or two from a breakaway, as well.
If you can tell me who the youngest man in the field is without looking, I’ll be very impressed. Nope? Leonard Kamna, Sunweb. Decent first season, not someone I yet have much to say about. The second youngest man in the race, though, is Aguirre, and he’s worth a moment of your time. There’s every chance you’re sick of hearing this by now, but here we have a young Colombian who appears to be a prodigious cycling talent. I’ve kept an eye on him since I was told to by our own Vlaanderen90 many years ago, and he’s moving through the ranks nicely.
Manzana aren’t going to take home the GC prize, but they’re going to make some noise in this race. As long-shots go, I would put forward their baby climber as a potential stage winner, and a man with a chance to become the next next big thing.
Bring on the 2017 Vuelta, and the glimpses of the future it affords us.