The Tour is over, but there’s still a good reason to wake up in the morning. The Vuelta isn’t all that far off.
Chris Froome has crushed the Tour, and the GC men who’ve been struggling for second place for three weeks now turn their attentions on something to take home. The Vuelta was, arguably, the most difficult and exciting Grand Tour last season, with Alberto Contador storming away to victory in an amazing, long range attack to take the red jersey after everyone had written him off.
Contador announced before the Tour was over that he would not be returning to defend his Vuelta win. There’s a very long shot that could change, but the confirmed cast of characters will be stunning without a doubt. Giro winner Vicenzo Nibali will target the Vuelta, and should enter as the favorite. His form in May was stunning, and he’ll enter the race without the sting of a recent three week tour in his legs. Astana played it carefully at the Tour, sending Jakob Fuglsang with mixed support, and Nibali could even have the help of Janez Brajkovic is the Slovenian is healed up from his Tour crash.
Third at the Tour, Joaquin Rodriguez should be ready for the Vuelta after an impressive campaign in France. He’s now been on the podium in no less than three Grand Tours in a row, and making it four would be the feather in the cap of one of the world”s most underrated stage racers. He will be examined to make sure his fitness is there, but unless something dramatic is wrong, he’ll be a strong contender to take the red jersey he came just short of last September.
Alejandro Valverde was 8th when all was said and done, but was much better than the result says. Only a broken wheel and a flying peloton in the winds could tear him from a podium spot. He spent much of the rest of the Tour supporting revelation Nairo Quintana, who took not only third overall, but swept up the white and polka dot jerseys in the process. Valverde is back at the Vuelta looking for another podium, though he has the form to take a victory if Nibali hasn’t found his legs by the mountains.
Team Sky has already bagged two Tours in two years, but wouldn’t mind picking up another Grand Tour as well. Enter the Vuelta, and enter the two Colombian’s on the squad, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran. The two will be dangerous as a pair, both capable of climbing the cruel heights on offer yet again in Spain. Both are looking for big results, and they’ll need it. In house, there are an awful lot of cooks in the kitchen, with Brad Wiggins, Chris Froome and Ritchie Porte all capable of winning big races, and with both Colombians arguably at a comparable level. Somebody will have to go, and Henao and Uran may well be riding for Vuelta glory as much as they are trying to land a fat contracts.
The Vuelta is a month off, but there’s hope of an even more impressive and brilliant Grand Tour left this season.