ALTHOUGH THE TOUR DE FRANCE is long since finished there is still plenty more cycling to come this year.
Along with the Giro d’Italia and the Tour itself, the Vuelta a España is cycling’s third Grand Tour and it begins this Saturday.
This year’s Vuelta gets underway in Bendiorm with a 14km team time trial and finishes in Madrid three weeks later. There are 22 teams taking part making up a total of 198 riders.
Similarly to the Tour de France there are not that many individual time trial kilometres on the route, just one 40km stage against the clock. But unlike the Tour which had four summit finishes, the Vuelta is geared even more toward the climbing specialists as there are six mountain top finishes on the route.
One of these summit finishes will be on the climb of the Angliru on Stage 15. The climb is 13km long and contains sections with a gradient approaching 25%. It is one of the most feared climbs in world cycling.
The last time the race included this climb was in 2008. The stage was won by Alberto Contador who went on to win the race overall. Positioned at the end of the second week, the Angliru will again go a long way to determining the overall winner of the Vuelta.
The 66th edition of this Spanish race will also visit the Basque country for the first time since 1978. The last time the race visited the region, separatists blocked the route in protest which ultimately led to the cancellation of a number of stages.
The sojourn into the Basque country will be on Stage 19 and the penultimate Stage 20. The Basque-based team Euskaltel-Euskadi will do their utmost to take a stage win on either or both of these stages.
So, any decent riders gonna be there?
Historically, the Vuelta fails to attract the same quality of riders as the Tour de France but there will still be plenty of big names on the startline on Saturday who will be aiming to win the race.
Riders who crashed out of the Tour such as Bradley Wiggins and Janez Brajkovic will be aiming to bounce back and prove their worth having been robbed of the opportunity to impress in July. There will also be a number of G.C. contenders present who didn’t ride the Tour at all — Michele Scarponi, Igor Anton, Carlos Sastre, two-time Vuelta winner Denis Menchov and the reigning Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali.
Since 1995, when the Vuelta a España was moved from April to its current slot in the calendar, the race has also been used by some as a preparation race for the World Championships.
This year the Worlds takes place in Denmark just over a week after the conclusion of the Vuelta. As such there are also plenty of riders present who believe the have a chance of becoming World Champion on what is a relatively flat route this year — Heinrich Haussler, Matt Goss, Peter Sagan, former World Champion Tom Boonen and this year’s Tour green jersey winner Mark Cavendish.
Any Irish riders taking part?
Roche is coming off the back of a disappointing Tour de France where he wasn’t at his best due to preparations that were hampered by injury. The AG2R-La Mondiale team leader also rode the Vuelta last year when he finished in seventh place overall, his best result so far in a Grand Tour. He will be looking to improve on that again this year and should have the full backing of his French team.
Martin will be riding his first Grand Tour of the year. The specialist climber suffers every spring with allergies and as such usually comes into his best form in August and September. He will be looking to build on his recent performance in the Tour of Poland where he won a stage and narrowly finished second overall.
Martin has ridden the Vuelta before in 2009 when he finished in 53rd place. He has been keen to keep the pressure off himself in the buildup to this year’s Vuelta by claiming that he has the backing of his team to go and chase a high G.C. place but that there is no burden of expectation.
But he, like Roche, is certainly capable of a top 10 finish. Should both riders succeed in this endeavour it will be only the second time that two Irish cyclists have finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour after Stephen Roche and Seán Kelly finished third and fourth in the 1985 Tour de France.
The 21 stages of this year’s Vuelta a España are all live on both British Eurosport and ITV4.