The last Grand Tour of the year kicks off on Saturday in the ex-pat haven of Torrevieja and with very few stand-out GC contenders, we could be in for an exciting three weeks of racing.
Most of the World Tour teams have opted for a mix of youth and experience – which is probably the most over-used phrase across all of the team announcements – and that means the Vuelta is going to be so unpredictable.
But just who is racing? Over the teams’ social media whizzes for the answer…
AG2R La Mondiale
It’s a young – and almost-exclusively French – team which is representing AG2R Lad Mondiale at the Vuelta with 29-year-old Silvan Dillier the elder statesman of the eight-man squad.
Pierra Latour, who’s had a stop-start season following a crash in February, will lead the charge for the men in blue, white and brown.
Latour has a Vuelta stage win already to his name (in 2016) and was the best young rider at last year’s Tour de France but his chances of an overall win are slim.
The Kazakh team have certainly rolled out the big guns after a disappointing Tour de France.
Jakob Fuglsang, who showed some fantastic early season form before having to abandon the Tour after a crash, is the undoubted leader.
And having recently signed a new deal to stay with the team plus the fact he has the likes of Ion Izagirre, Omar Fraile and ‘Superman’ Lopez in his service you’d have to say he was one of the big favourites to win his first Grand Tour.
It’s all about stage wins for Bahrain Merida with a relatively young squad heading to the start line in Alicante.
Mark Padun is the GC leader but the team have made it clear that winning the overall is a secondary objective.
Padun and Dylan Teuns are the designated mountain hopefuls while 25-year-old German Phil Bauhaus is the man for the sprint stages.
Bora have THE in-form sprinter in their team for the Vuelta in Sam Bennett.
The Irishman has 10 wins to his name already this year and comes into the race on the back of three stage wins at the Binck Bank Tour.
Elsewhere, Rafal Majka and Davide Formolo have both had good results in the Vuelta GC ranking previously.
Another team on the hunt for stage wins is CCC who are taking a squad with very little Vuelta experience (six of the eight are racing it for the first time).
The individual time trial into Pau (sound familiar?) looks the best chance for Paddy Bevin and debutant Will Barta to shine.
Victor de la Parte, racing his first Grand Tour, is the designated GC rider although, rather strangely, he admits that the first week might be difficult given his lack of racing.
The Belgian team head to Spain with a mixture of youth and experience and the eight chosen ‘wolves’ have already racked up more than a dozen race wins already this year.
As is usual with the Grand Tours, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious GC leader but that didn’t stop them at the Tour de France when Julian Alaphilippe held yellow for more than a fortnight.
Deceuninck have had another fantastic season on the win front already and we’re sure that tally will grow over the next three weeks.
EF Education First
EF Education First seem to be doing so much this year, inside and outside the WorldTour/traditional calendar, that it’s difficult to know where any of their riders are at any given time!
But their line-up for the Vuelta certainly looks like it could reap some serious rewards.
Rigoberto Uran is the GC leader while we’re all looking forward to seeing if Hugh Carthy can tear up the Vuelta in the middle part as much as he did at the Giro.
They’ll be active in breaks as ever and given how much success they’ve had already this season, they look a good shout for a stage win or two.
Without Thibaut Pinot or Arnaud Demare, the Groupana-FDJ line-up does have the feel of a ‘reserve’ side.
Marc Sarreau is the sprint hopeful while Steve Morabito is riding his 16th and final Grand Tour before retiring at the end of the year.
The team, while missing the two big guns, does include French national time trial champion Benjamin Thomas who has an outside chance in the ITT on stage 10.
It’s been an incredibly tough couple of weeks for the Lotto-Soudal team following the tragic death of Bjorg Lambrecht after a crash at the Tour de Pologne.
There’s plenty of experience in the team going to Spain and they’ll be looking to repeat the success of earlier this summer when Lotto-Soudal picked up four stage wins.
Expect to see plenty of the Lotto-Soudal logo on your TV screens with breakaway king Thomas De Gendt – one of those who saw success in France – in the team and has one eye on the hunt for the mountains jersey.
Brit Simon Yates has decided not to defend the Vuelta title he won last year but Mitchelton-Scott still have a strong squad heading to the Iberian peninsula.
Everything will be centred around Esteban Chaves but in their team announcement, the Aussie outfit made it clear that stage-hunting was the name of the game.
They did that successfully at the Giro and Chaves – who finished on the podium at the Vuelta in 2016 – Mikel Nieve and recent Tour de Pologne stage winner Luka Mezgec will be trying to emulate that in Spain.
We’d already waxed lyrical here about how Richard Carapaz had a real opportunity to win his second Grand Tour of the year… and as we were about to hit publish an email confirming his non-involvement came through.
To be fair, Movistar had previously revealed he was in danger of not starting given a crash a couple of days ago.
He’s been replaced in the line-up – which still looks strong with World champion Alejandro Valverde and former Vuelta winner Nairo Quintana – by the vastly-experienced Jose Joaquin Rojas.
Team Dimension Data
It’s been a season to forget really for Dimension Data who have struggled for race wins and impact.
And given that the squad for the Vuelta features two Grand Tour debutants, it might be safe to assume that expectations are pretty low.
First-timers Rasmus Tiller and Nicholas Dlamini will be able to rely on the experience of the likes of Evald Boasson Hagen, Ben King and Louis Meintjes and you just never know, there may be some late season joy.
It’s been a case of musical chairs in the Team Ineos line-up with David de la Cruz replacing Kenny Elissonde at the 11th hour with the latter seemingly not having been told why.
The team is led by Tao Geoghegan Hart and Wout Poels and it will be interesting to see the young Brit develop further on a Grand Tour stage having had his Giro cut short thanks to a crash.
Stage wins rather than GC may be the order of the day but that should give the team the freedom to illuminate the race.
After two podiums from the first two Grand Tours, it looks like Jumbo-Visma once again mean business at the Vuelta.
We count three possible GC contenders in the Dutch team’s line-up with Primos Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett all capable of a top-three spot.
All three will want to prove themselves ahead of the arrival of you-know-who next year.
Katusha Alpecin are in the same boat as Dimension Data – albeit with two fewer victories this year according to ProCyclingStats – so anything at the Vuelta would be much welcomed.
Four of the eight are starting a Grand Tour for the first time so expectations will be low although the likes of Enrico Battaglin and Daniel Navarro have enough under their belt to go around.
They’ll need to be a bit more visible than they were in the Giro and Tour if any of the riders are to use the Vuelta as a possible shop window given the reports the team might close or merge at the end of the year.
The departure of Tom Dumoulin has finally been confirmed and that might see Wilco Kelderman get his chance to shine.
The Dutchman leads the Sunweb team into the Vuelta and given the lack of big-name contenders, you think he’d be a decent bet for a top-five if not the podium if he can just stay out of trouble.
Max Walscheid is the man for the flat sprint stages while we’d expect to see Nico Roche visible at key times and in the odd break.
Trek are another team going into the Vuelta without a single leader, although John Degenkolb would seem the obvious choice as a captain if nothing else.
The German has 10 stage wins under his belt and, along with Edward Theuns, looks the most likely for stage success this time out.
Theuns comes into the race on the back of a decent showing at the Binck Bank Tour but aside from his two podiums on stages there it’s not been a vintage season for the Belgian.
UAE Team Emirates
Former Vuelta winner Fabio Aru heads a strong-looking UAE side alongside Tadej Pogacar.
The Italian was forced to miss the Giro after having surgery to fix a constriction of an iliac artery but managed to fly under the radar at the Tour de France and score himself a 14th-placed finish.
In terms of the sprints, Colombian Fernando Gaviria looks the likely contender to challenge Sam Bennett for the points jersey.
Adn here completing the line-up are the wildcard teams…