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VUELTA’18: The PEZ Preview!

Vuelta’18 Preview: The third Grand Tour of the year, la Vuelta a España, is the hardest fought of the season and has the excitement and unpredictability the other Tours lack… and eight summit finishes. Ed Hood runs though the course and favorite riders for the final podium in Madrid – No bull!

It wouldn’t be la Vuelta without a Toro

Folks ask about the distance between the Grand Tours and your average bike race in Scotland [Ed’s home country]. Le Tour: around a light year. The Giro: a couple of kilometers. The Vuelta: maybe 100 meters; all the janitors are working in school and besides, it’s too hot to ‘sweat the small stuff.’ You have to love the race and its ‘vibe.’

From the coast to the mountains – La Vuelta has it all, especially the mountains!

And its time has come round, again.

PEZ knows that ‘time is money’ in this world so takes you through the 21 stages in one sentence each:

Stage One: At eight K it’s just too long to call a ‘prologue’ – this one is for the specialist rouleurs.

Stage 1 – Too long for a prologue

Stage Two: ‘Let’s ease the guys into it,’ is not a sentence you’ll hear uttered by the Vuelta organizers; summit finish at Caminito del Rey – Ouch!

Stage Three: ‘Lumpy’ with a capital ‘L’ – for the baroudeurs, it could be the third race leader in three days?

Some tough roads in-land from Malaga

Stage Four: ANOTHER summit finish – make that four leaders in four days.

Stage Five: And another for the ‘brawlers.’

Vuelta stage 6 for the Italian champion?

Stage Six: Viviani.

Stage Seven: For the sprinter who can get over hills – just might be an Elia double?

Stage Eight: Almost 200K and HOT – as will be the sprinters.

Stage Nine: Summit finish and the highest point of the race – today is a biggie for the GC guys.

Dan Martin won on La Covatilla in 2011 – He’s bound to be near the front in 2018

Stage 10: Post-rest day, some guys go up, some ‘block’ after their day off – but it could be another Quick-Step Floors day?

Stage 11: Yates S. has won on this finish, enough said.

Simon Yates has won here before

Stage 12: Galicia, God’s country, lumpy, windy, you could be in Scotland – and another for the street fighters.

Quintana in 2016

Stage 13: And Quintana has won here, so. . .

Stage 14: Asturias, pan flat – just kidding – and another summit you know what.

Stage 15: Lagos de Covadonga; legendary, mythical – Robert Millar has won here. . .

Robert Millar takes the stage

Stage 16: The ‘chronomen’ will have been hiding in the gruppetto on Covadonga and making the most of their rest day, this is for them – 58 rings to the fore; but the lightweight guys will have to battle each other hard.

Stage 16 TT – One for the big gear men

Stage 17: The Basque Nation, summit finish – a special day.

Stage 18: Sprinters, step forward! What do you mean, ‘they’ve all gone home, dude?’

The Shark was happy with his win in Andorra in 2017

Stage 19: Andorra and ANOTHER summit finale – like PEZ soothsayer, Vik, always says; ‘The Spanish Hill Climb Champs.’

Stage 20: A nice short stage – pity about the six killer climbs and yes, summit finish. . .

Stage 21: Flat with nice fountains and architecture – for the fast men who have survived what Iberian gravity has been punishing them with for the last three weeks.

The Favorites:
In our book – and that of the bookies – there are nine men who can win.

Richie Porte (BMC & Australia): is the bookies fave at 5/2 but a lot depends on how he’s recovered from yet another of his crashes – the latest one was in Stage Nine of Le Tour. Despite his ‘favorite’ tag he’s not been ‘talked up’ too much and the lack of pressure to perform might just be what’s required to finally get him on to a Grand Tour podium in what will be BMC’s last Grand Tour.

Porte – Hoping not to crash

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott & GB): His Giro was stellar, albeit his spectacular collapse had us scratching our heads. He’s second in the rankings with the bookies at 100/30. His second place overall after a dazzling last stage win in Poland says all we need to know about his form. Those nine summit finishes will suit his skin and bone physique and a win is possible.

The final week will be important – Simon Yates needs to save his energy

Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia): We’re not sure we agree with the bookies on this one; third fave at 7/1? Despite a stage win, his Tour was disappointing and to our eyes the man just doesn’t seem to sparkle liked he used to. But he’s a past winner of this race – one of four in the field – and will have huge support in the mountains.

Nairo needs a win to justify his wage packet

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): Sorry, another one where we can’t get on the bookies wavelength, fourth fave at 9/1 – despite his brilliant start to the season, it’s a long time since 2009 and his last Vuelta GC win. And besides, he’ll be ‘in service’ to Quintana.

The wily ‘Old Fox’ Alejandro Valverde will be dangerous on home soil

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana & Colombia): Is fifth favorite at 10/1 and for us is a much better prospect than either Quintana or Valverde. Second in Oman, third in Abu Dhabi, third in the Alps, third in the Giro and second in Burgos says it all. But at 24 years-of-age is it one Tour too many in a busy season? Nonetheless, at those odds he’s well worth a punt.

Could this be the Vuelta for Lopez?

Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac & Colombia): Is number six with the ‘turf accountants’ at 14/1. Sixth in the tough San Sebastian Classic suggests he’s well over his premature Tour exit – and this is a man who has stood on Grand Tour final podiums in the past. He could do so again.

Uran could make the podium

Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates & Italy): the third of the four previous winners – he mugged Dumoulin here in 2015 – his season has been less than stellar with the Giro a disaster for him but recent top 10 placings in Wallonie and Poland suggest a recovery; the bookies believe so, 18/1.

Fabio needs a result

Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb & The Netherlands): He was fourth here last year and despite the fact that he seems to have been around for a long time, he’s only 27 years-old. He missed the Tour through injury and perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise, he’ll certainly not just be ‘ticking off the days’ to Madrid and his autumn break; 20/1 say the men who used to always wear visors, in the movies.

Wilco Kelderman – outside bet?

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida & Italy): if I was a betting man, I’d go for a ‘double’ – Uran and Nibali to make the podium; with Nibali at 33/1 that’s a nice bet if it comes up. ‘The Shark’ won the Primavera in emphatic style but was another victim of the cruel monster that is Le Tour. He won’t be here just to make up the numbers and should come into his own in the savage last week. Let’s not forget that this man is one of the elite club who have won all three Grand Tours, this one in 2010.

The Shark of Messina might add another Vuelta to his palmarès

On Saturday the punditry stops, the rubber hits the hot tar and in 23 days the winner of the final Grand Tour of 2018 will be crowned.

Whatever happens, it won’t be Mr. Froome on the Vuelta’18 podium – Maybe Nibali?

2018 Vuelta a España Stage List (August 25 to September 16):
Stage 1: Málaga – Málaga 8.0km (ITT)
Stage 2: Marbella – Caminito del Rey 163.5km (uphill finish)
Stage 3: Mijas – Alhaurín de la Torre 178.2km (hilly, flat finish)
Stage 4: Vélez-Málaga – Sierra de la Alfaguara 161.4km (mountain finish)
Stage 5: Granada – Roquetas de Mar 188.7km (hilly, flat finish)
Stage 6: Huércal-Overa – Mar Menor (San Javier) 155.7 km (flat)
Stage 7: Puerto Lumbreras – Pozo Alcón 185.7km (hilly)
Stage 8: Linares – Almadén 195.1km (flat)
Stage 9: Talavera Reina – La Covatilla 200.8km (mountain finish)
Monday 3 September: Rest day
Stage 10: Salamanca – Bermillo de Sayago 177.0km (flat)
Stage 11: Mombuey – Luinta (Ribeira Sacra) 207.8km (hills)
Stage 12: Mondoñedo – Faro de Estaca de Bares 181.1km (flat)
Stage 13: Candás – La Camperona 174.8km (mountain finish)
Stage 14: Cangas Onís – Les Praeres 171.0km (mountain finish)
Stage 15: Cistierna – Lagos de Covadonga 178.2km (mountain finish)
Monday 10 September: Rest day
Stage 16: Santillana del Mar – Torrelavega 32.0km (ITT)
Stage 17: Getxo – Balcón de Bizkaia 157.0km (mountain finish)
Stage 18: Ejea de los Caballeros – Lleida 186.1km (flat)
Stage 19: Lleida – Col de la Rabassa (And) 154.4km (mountain finish)
Stage 20: Escaldes-Engordany (And) – Collada de La Gallina (And) 97.3km (mountains)
Stage 21: Alcorcón – Madrid 100.9km (flat).

Up-to-date start list on CyclingFever.com. As always, live TV on Steephil.tv.

# PEZ will be there, all the way through with words, pictures and the opinions that others are afraid to voice – and European Editor, Alastair might just even be roadside for a stage or two? Keep it tuned to PEZ FM – and it has to be San Miguel in the ice box. #

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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