You know that feeling… the sweaty palms, the butterflies in the stomach, the flutters of the heart…
Yes, it’s Grand Tour time again!
Neither police raids on teams nor allegations of drug trafficking and money laundering and no, not even Nairo’s Tramadol drama-trauma will blunt my appetite for three weeks of (hopefully) mad cap racing, this time in the wilds of Spain.
Ah, the Vuelta. Often seen as the poor cousin of the Giro and the Tour, this race has in recent years established itself if not a new then a more multi-faceted identity than it had before. Though its place in the racing calendar means that the stars of the Tour usually give it a miss, it has enough going on to more than make up for that, which you can read more about here.
This year could be remarkable. If Primoz Roglic turns up in the same form he has for the past three years, then he may well capture a fourth consecutive Vuelta crown, which will be unprecedented. Which, in truth, will be kind of boring. What I’m looking forward to is to see whether Australian Jai Hindley can win his second Grand Tour in a year and establish himself as a credible threat to Vingegaard and Pogacar, and what Evenepoel can pull out of his locker.
Surely next year Hindley will take on the the Dane and Pogi at the Tour. His career to date has been handled very well and it could be fascinating to see if the boy next door (he looked like a shy 12 year old when he held the Giro trophy in front of the press at end of May this year) can beat Roglic on turf he’s made his own.
I feel that Roglic’s star is on the way down, yet that is in part due to the frankly surprising emergence of his teammate Vingegaard. Even still, I can’t see Roglic beating a fully fit Pogacar or Vingegaard again in a Grand Tour. I feel he could beat an in-form Hindley in terms of experience, as the Aussie doesn’t seem battle hardened enough – which is a remarkable (and possibly stupid) thing to say about someone who’s won the Giro. He just seems so nice though!
Enric Mas will be up there but he seems to always have at least one wobble per Grand Tour which knocks him back, though he will be emboldened by his 2nd place to Roglic last year.
Installed as 2nd favourite by the bookies is Remco Evenepoel, and if I was Hindley I might be a bit miffed by that.
Remco has taken 11 wins already including Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the recent Clásica San Sebastián and his GC victories this season include the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of Norway. With the Dutchman comes great expectations and it would be great of some of these bear Grand Tour fruit. Imagine him, Vingegaard, Pogacar and Hindley in a 4-way battle at the Tour? That would be something to see.
Remco comes with an air of ‘will he / won’t he?’ ‘can he / can’t he?’ that in the past has suffocated some very talented riders. Here’s hoping he’s firing on all cylinders at this Vuelta and gives a true account of his powers.
Can he win a three week tour or is he better built for week long stage races and one day classics? Well, let’s see!
Richard Carapaz of Ineos rounds out the possible winners of the 2022 Vuelta, but I can’t see him winning if any of the others are in top form.
France’s favorite, Julian Alaphilippe will also be in attendance and hopes to put on a good show in the Rainbow Jersey and it will make a big change for him to be riding in a Grand Tour team with a GC favourite alongside him. In fact, the whole team will find that a novel experience.
“Remco will be our leader for the GC, that’s clear. He can count on the full support of the team. But I think it’s really important to take it day after day, for now we are focussed on the team time trial.”
Bring it on!
Here’s a decent way to waste 49 minutes of your Friday…