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Olot - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) - Christopher Froome (Team Sky) pictured during Volta a Catalunya 2016 - stage 2 from Mataro to Olot 178.8 km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016

VUELTA’16: PEZ Preview The Protagonists

Race Preview: Ed Hood moves from his review of the 2016 Vuelta a España ‘Stats and Stages’ to look at the pool of possible winners – The Protagonists. The list of top ten riders includes all the likely suspects, but who is fresh and who wants/needs the victory in Spain? Take your pick or go with Ed’s Top Tip.

The Vuelta? It seems like five minutes ago we were previewing the Giro!

Whilst the Tour is the centre of the cycling universe and ‘the man in the street’ is unaware of such a thing as ‘la Vuelta’ it’s one of the biggest three stage races on the planet and a beautiful addition to any rider’s palmarès.

As well as a huge race to win in its own right it’s also – due to its place in the calendar – a key preparation race for the World Championship. It’s unlikely that any of the names we’re about to list will be in contention for the world title but the likes of Gerrans, Terpstra and Stybar – who all ride the Vuelta – will all be ‘fine tuning’ in España.

Our list of contenders is the dozen names the organizers cite as favorites – who are we to argue?

Warren Barguil (Giant & France): The man looks a million dollars on the bike – in the Kreuziger mould; but those two Vuelta stage wins in 2013 flattered to deceive and there’s been little to write home about since, including a lacklustre 2016 Tour de France. A top ten is unlikely, a stage win is possible – maybe.

Morzine - France  - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Warren Barguil (FRA-Giant-Alpecin) pictured during stage 20 of the 2016 Tour de France from Megeve to Morzine, 146.00 km - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2016

Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange & Colombia): The ever-smiling Colombian rode a brilliant Giro with a stage win, day in pink and podium place. In last year’s Vuelta there were two stage wins and two spells in red; he’s a year older, should be rested after his Giro exertions and the brutal parcours are right up his street – a podium is well possible.

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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff & Spain): Unquestionably the best stage race rider of his generation he has a 100% success record in the Vuelta – as well as being one of only a handful of men to win the ‘Big Three’ of Vuelta, Tour and Giro.

His focus was on the Tour but early crashes ended that dream – mores the pity, it’s hard to imagine him being part of the procession which trailed Froome around France for two weeks. The Vuelta a Burgos may not be the world’s biggest tour but his recent win there shows he’s well back on track and it’ll take a good man to beat him into Madrid in three weeks time.

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Chris Froome (Sky & GB): As a Tour winner you can pretty much do what you like and Froome doesn’t need to ride this race; but it’s a saddle burr to him, he’s determined to come back and win after two second places – once he’s eventually won it he’ll probably never ride it again.

The ‘but’ is that he looked tired in Rio and it’s unlikely he’ll be fresh enough to challenge the much fresher men like Contador and Chaves. Froome didn’t have to go too deep in the Tour but the round of post-Tour media commitments and criteriums takes its toll and that showed on his face in Rio.

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Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNl-Jumbo & The Netherlands): Were his Giro strength and consistency just the ‘legs of his life?’ Or can he replicate it in the Iberian Peninsula?

After years of being a ‘nearly’ man he rode like a champion in the Giro until an untimely brush with a snow bank ended the dream – until that point he looked like a winner to us. It’ll be very interesting to see how the man with squarest shoulders in cycling fares.

Andalo - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL - Jumbo) - Valverde Belmonte Alejandro (Spain / Team Movistar) - Ilnur Zakarin (Russia / Team Katusha) pictured during stage 16 of the 99th Giro d’Italia 2016 from Bressanone - Andalo 132 km - foto LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana & Colombia): Another of those excellent young Colombian climbing talents and an inspired winner of the Tour de Suisse. He’s backed by one of the toughest squad in the business and the parcours are just like him – watch for him.

Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida & Republic of South Africa): The slim climber was top ten in the Tour and despite filing that performance under; ‘difficult to drop’ he’ll still have all those French kilometers in his legs. The Vuelta is one 2016 Grand Tour too far for him in our book.

Megeve - France  - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Fabio Aru (ITA-Astana) - Louis Meintjes (SAF-Lampre-Merida)  pictured during stage 18 of the 2016 Tour de France from Sallanches to Megeve ITT, 17.00 km - photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos © 2016

Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R-La Mondiale & France): This will be the French veteran’s last race and whilst we expect heroics – the man will not want to go out as a ‘has been’ – we think Old Father Time has too tight a grip of the former Olympic Mountain Bike medalist’s shirt tails to be shaken off.

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Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia): Did they get his pre-Tour program wrong or was he indeed on antibiotics as he trundled around France behind Monsieur Froome? Whichever, this was not the same man who rode so brilliantly on l’Alpe d’Huez in 2015. Quintana ‘passed’ on an Olympic ride so obviously something wasn’t right. Clues are thin on the ground then; but anyone who rode the Tour – irrespective of where they finished – is at a big disadvantage in a race as tough as this one.

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Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac & USA): This race is his main target for 2016 but was that collapse in the closing stages of Utah nothing to worry about – just part of a slow build up to the Spanish Tour – or a major cause for concern? He was fourth in California and fifth in Suisse – he’s been seventh in the Vuelta before, in 2012 and if he displays the form which won him the 2104 Dauphine he might just be ‘there.’

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Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): Bids to become the first man that we can think of to go top ten in all three Grand Tours in the same season. But despite all that experience and talent he looked very tired in Rio and it’s hard to see him having recovered sufficiently to be a real force in this race.

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Tejay van Garderen (BMC & USA): The American had his second disastrous Tour de France on the trot and the red and black team has actually nominated Oviedo’s finest, Samuel Sanchez as their main man. Without the pressure – which Tejay seems unable to shoulder – the tall, Swiss Tour stage winner might just perform. Sanchez? He’ll be his usual super-reliable self.

stage 5 - Criterium du Dauphine Libere 2015

That’s the Organization’s top dozen – but there two other names that we’d be remiss not to mention:

Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA & GB): We first spotted this young man when he won the Tour of Korea in 2014 riding for Britain’s perennial Condor team. This year he was top ten and best young rider in Catalunya and won the Vuelta a Asturias overall – no big predictions but it’ll be good to see how he fares on this huge stage.

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Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange & GB): The young Englishman will be out to emulate ‘bro’ Adam who was fourth in the Tour and best young rider. The former World Points Champion has been performing strongly in Spain as of late, including a win in the Prueba Villafranca de Ordizia. Whilst the team will be ‘all for Esteban’ the Englishman might just be granted a wee bit of freedom.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Nibali Vincenzo (Team Astana) -Yates Simon (Team Orica Greenedge)- Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Team Movistar) - Valverde Alejandro (Team Movistar) pictured during le Tour de France 2015 - stage 3 - from Antwerpen to Huy -159.5 KM - on monday 06-07-2015 - photo Dion Kerckhoffs//Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2015

Ed Hood’s Top Tip: The overall winner will be? Alberto.

Olot - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) - Christopher Froome (Team Sky)  pictured during Volta a Catalunya 2016 - stage 2 from Mataro to Olot 178.8 km  - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016

Read Ed’s Vuelta ‘Stats and Stages’ preview HERE.

Keep up with all the Vuelta news in EUROTRASH, plus the PEZ race reports. You can watch live action on Steephill.tv.

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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 1,200 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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