Primož Roglič is such a good cyclist, man. It’s hard to imagine a set of skills more suitable for winning most Grand Tours, most of all this Vuelta. He has a diesel engine but still has a kick. He has one of the best time-trials in the world. He’s one of the best climbers in the world and he is on what has until recently quietly become one of the best teams in the sport. Take George Bennett. Kiwis, when they put their mind to things, have historically been good at them (citation: the wikipedia article for rugby union) and Bennett is no exception. He’s a pure climber and a very good one. Steven Kruijswijk rides as well but surely won’t harbour many GC hopes having done the Tour. No, this is Roglič’s team and he is the overwhelming favourite for this. He made a huge mistake in the early season, overshooting his form in a way that was so telegraphed, even I could see it. He was never winning that Giro after smashing Romandie in the way he did but the quieter way he’s approached this Vuelta (literally the quietest way imaginable, he hasn’t raced since June) means he may have learned his lesson. When you look at the other bookies’ favourites, you see Kruijswijk (already dealt with), Lopez and Quintana, none of whom will be near him in the time-trial. They may as well be starting with a two minute handicap. If they’re lucky.
So the question is: can anybody beat him? I was a big anti-Primož preacher before the Giro but I see no reason to do so again. Time to go through the candidates, starting with the common-sense second favourite, Miguel Angel Lopez.
Lopez, as my dad would say, has been a persistent disappointment ever since tearing up that Tour de Suisse in, shit, that was in 2016? A new climbing sensation from the very moment he joined the peloton, he has never quite been able to secure Grand Tour success. There is a lot of always the bridesmaid, never the bride to it all: he often gets a high GC placing and is very visible, usually in the youth jersey while never actually threatening to win the damn thing. That’s going to change this Vuelta though: there isn’t a youth jersey. Look, Lopez isn’t going to win this. Despite initial promise in the time-trial, he’s not gaining any time there and as of yet, he hasn’t delivered on his promise in the mountains, not to the extent that will bring him victory in this race.
How about Nairo Quintana then? The Vuelta is one race he has managed to win even after riding a pretty poor Tour de France, so could it happen again? In all likelihood, no. Quintana has disappointed and disappointed, and may not quite have the support of his team with any World Tour points to fly the coop alongside him. He’s a talented rider who has proven he can win Grand Tours but it looks like his days of doing so could be over.
That is all of the red-letter favourites leaving me only with outsiders to talk about. I’ll start with my personal dark horse, Wilco Kelderman.
I have never bet on cycling before in my life. I’m sorry Andrew, but I don’t have your nerve. However, I was very tempted to drop to the Boylesports, three minutes’ walk away and put an each-way bet on Wilco Kelderman at eighty to one. Now, I’m aware he’s coming back from a neck fracture but does nobody remember what happened in the 2017 Vuelta? He had a great ride to fourth, and if he has shaken off the issues from his crash earlier in the season he could do one better. I believe he will get on the podium.
Then there is Esteban Chaves. A combination of physical and mental issues stayed his rise to the top of Grand Tour racing just as it looked inevitable but the talent is still there. He’ll probably look really good on the first mountain stage and finish one hundred and third on the second one. I’d love to see him succeed and it is always a possibility.
Fabio Aru is another whose career seems to have stalled. For a few days in 2017 he looked every bit a yellow jersey contender before injury after injury derailed him. His season has been thrown off so I don’t expect a win but a showing can’t be counted out.
Uran and DFMart need to be mentioned. Neither will win but both could feature. Wout Poels as a GC leader sounds strange: his speciality is riding brilliantly on two mountain stages, not nine. Tadej Pogacar is - and I recognise this is a hot take - too young.
So there you have it, an approximation of a GC preview. Bring on the racing.