OK, let’s take the last part first. I’m a little angry that you even asked. In fact, step right back and get out. Overlooked, barely on TV, only vaguely on the internet, this is the grand tour that’s always third in the pecking order to the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. The English-speaking world is slow to tune in, and for no good reason. But this year it is set up to be the GREATEST cycling stage race of all time. And so should it be. In the modern cycling calendar all the pro tour teams want a piece of it. It has the same set of illustrious winners – Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, etc. – and there’s no gap where Lance Armstrong won it, because the best he could do was fourth (subsequently voided). And for those who watched the Giro outperform the Tour this year in terms of competition at the top and a changing leaderboard right at the death, you can expect even more from the ‘Tour of Spain’.
Arguably the best three riders in the world at the moment are all racing: Britain’s-slash-Kenya’s-slash-South Africa’s Chris Froome, Colombian Nairo Quintana and two-times previous winner Alberto Contador of Spain. Of recent grand tour winners only this year’s Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing. See the other favourites at the bottom …
So because it is likely to be the stage race of the year we have a competition going with a massive prize: the four Bloomsbury cycling books shown in the thumbnails below.
How to enter
All you have to do is enter a fantasy team at the road.cc Fantasy Cycling competition online and then enter our mini league called ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You have to sign up to road.cc first and come up with a password, but you don’t have to pay any money.
Having signed up and named your team, you go to the ‘Pick team’ tab and choose nine riders for the first stage with a fixed budget of 160 points and riders of various point-costs. Every day before the next stage begins you can change two riders. However if you leave your team as is, you carry over these two unused transfers to the next day, so you would have four to transfer after one day, or six after three days unused, etc.
To enter our league click on the ‘Leagues’ tab and you’ll see ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’ near the top. Enter a bunch of other leagues too, why not. Ours will be the simplest to win though, as you are probably the only person reading this.
How to choose your riders
You can score a lot of points in a lot of ways: placings in general classification, points classification, young rider, king of the mountains, the top 20 home in any stage, the intermediate sprints, the mountain points, etcetera. But you’ll not win anything with kids, or, that is, the majority of the domestiques who will be riding purely to get their team leaders into the top places, then dropping back into obscurity, scoring you nothing.
In light of which it makes sense to put two of the very cheapest riders in your team, so that you can afford seven winning riders.
Which riders are best for which stages?
It’s important to distinguish between the various types of race. The flat stages will be won by the sprinters (designated by green ‘PC’ symbols next to them), the mountain stages by the best all-rounders or climbers, the medium mountain stages can be won by anyone, especially towards the end of the competition, and the time trials will be won by Tony Martin. The first stage is a short team time trial. I have no idea who will win this, but Astana, Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Sky look … as good as any.
There are a few good websites to go to work out who those in the know think will win each day. The website oddschecker compiles all the betting odds and the website c-cycling.com has brilliant previews every morning before the race (which seem to then massively influence the oddschecker odds).
How to follow the Vuelta online
Because of the British riders, there will be good articles in the usual online newspapers: Telegraph, Guardian, etc. The Guardian had no minute-by-minute last year for the Vuelta, but might this year.
Steephill.tv is the best for complete coverage of all kinds, and it links to the c-cycling preview every morning when this is up.
Road Cycling UK‘s site I have to plug too as they’ve just finished making the brilliant Infographic Guide to Cycling with us. But yes, very good Vuelta content up already with an article on who will win king of the mountains.
The official Vuelta a España website was a bit crap last year if I’m honest, but part of that is because the Tour de France coverage is so good on the internet that anything else seems a come down.
Chris Froome Sky’s big hope. He was disappointed to drop out early of this year’s Tour de France having won it last year. And he’ll be keen to show he is no grand tour one-shot. Having won the Critérium du Dauphiné (points competition) before the Tour, and having had time to recover from the falls that knocked him out of the Tour, he should be in good form. Notably he was second in the 2011 Vuelta.
Nairo Quintana This year’s winner of the Giro d’Italia and in a very strong Movistar team along with past Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain. He is only 24 but looks impossible to beat in the mountains when on form.
Alejandro Valverde As mentioned above he’s won this thing before (2009) and been on the final podium on four other occasions, last year coming third, only 1 minute and 36 seconds from the red jersey. He was fourth in the Tour this year too, so at 34 years old, and on home soil, Valverde is still very much a contender.
Alberto Contador The other big-name Spaniard is considered by many to still be the best cyclist out there. Despite having two grand tours stripped from him, he has legitimately won all three big grand tours, and five in total not counting the two that were nixed. The doping conviction (an ‘accidental ingestion of the banned doping product Clenbuterol’ in very small amounts) may not make him a popular figure with everyone, but his combative style and constant mountain attacks make him, at worst, an exciting villain.
Chris Horner Let’s not forget the American who won the Vuelta last year. Can he do it again? No way, he’s 42. Send him out to pasture. (Still, let’s hope he does.)
Cadel Evans The Aussie battler – sorry, love that cliché – is also on the northern side of 35, but the former Tour and Giro winner has maintained some decent form. He hasn’t won anything too major recently but was third in the Giro d’Italia last year and beat a decent field to win the Giro del Trentino in April.
Joaquim Rodríguez The Spaniard they call ‘Purito’ – for the dubious honour of being one of few riders not to dope – is in the prime of his career, but risks never achieving any major honours. This has to be his Vuelta if he’s to push himself above Contador and Valverde in Spanish hearts. Highly rated, he’s been on the final podium in all three grand tours without ever being more than a bridesmaid. Coming second in last year’s World Championship is the icing that didn’t quite make it onto the cake.
Fabio Aru Perhaps more an outside bet, the Astana rider is second fiddle to his team-mate Nibali and didn’t ride in the Tour de France this year, but he did finish third in this year’s Giro when free from the shackles. The Italian climber seems indefatigable in every stage. His team-mate Tanel Kangert will help Astana have a good shot at Stage 1, the team time trial (which they won at this year’s Giro).
Rigoberto Uran My personal favourite, the Colombian who left Sky last year for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, has come second in the Giro for two years running, and was unlucky not to win it this year. Another young gun like Aru and Quintana who will likely be a big name for some years to come.
Tony Martin OK, he won’t win the Vuelta, but he is so dominate in time trials he deserves a mention. The German is a shoo-in for Stage 10.
Peter Sagan He cruised to the green jersey of points victory in the Tour this year, without winning a single stage, and is likely to do the same here. He can sprint, he can handle a mountain or two, and he’s a smart cookie, always managing to get himself in the right place for the finish. The sprinters: Bouhanni, Ferrari, Degenkolb, Boonen, etc. may run Sagan close, or a top GC rider may win the points competition with so many to compete against, but my idiotic money is on Sagan.