Last chance saloon: 10 riders who need a result at the Vuelta a Espana

A look at those who really need to perform to save their seasons

The Vuelta a España has increasingly become something of a land of second chances. Unlike the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, few riders build their entire seasons around the Spanish Grand Tour, and so it can represent an opportunity to make up for lost time. Cyclingnews picks 10 riders who, for one reason or another, have not enjoyed the 2018 season they, or their teams and teammates, had hoped for, and will be out to make amends between Málaga and Madrid.

Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac)

Poor Rigoberto Urán. One minute he's finishing second overall to Chris Froome at the Tour de France, and then the next, a mere 12 months later, he's sprawled on the cobbles of stage 9 at this year's race, his Tour challenge all but over.

"That's bike racing," chirrups everyone, and indeed it is, but now Urán heads to the Vuelta a España to try to make amends.

It's been a lean season for the EF Education First-Drapac team, with the 31-year-old Urán having taken two of the American outfit's four wins so far in 2018.The Colombian won a stage at the Colombia Oro y Paz in February, and then appeared to be coming to form nicely with a stage victory at the Tour de Slovenie ahead of the Tour de France.

Sixth place at the Clásica San Sebastián in early August indicated that Urán was recovered from the injuries he sustained just 30km from the finish of the cobbled Tour stage to Roubaix - he would lose more time the next day to Le Grand Bornand, and finally quit the race two days later, having been unable to bounce back. But San Sebastián was the last time that he raced, and so he goes to the Vuelta start in Málaga on Saturday as somewhat of an unknown quantity.

The opening-stage individual time trial will be a crucial opportunity for Urán to lay down a marker and show that he's ready to win his first Grand Tour. Handy against the clock, he could do a lot worse than win the stage to help get the EF-Drapac win tally rolling.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

Simon Yates' implosion at the 2018 Giro d'Italia is not what the British climber will want to be remembered for. Having barely put a foot wrong before stage 19 to Bardonecchia - via the Colle delle Finestre, when eventual Giro winner Chris Froome skipped off for a day at the head of affairs - Yates was left scrambling just to get through the stage, eventually crossing the finish line almost 40 minutes down, exhausted in the pink leader's jersey that passed to Froome's shoulders.

This year's Giro may have slipped his grasp but, already feeling wiser and promising a new approach to the Vuelta a España, if Yates can produce the same kind of performance in Spain as he did in Italy before things went belly-up - and, most importantly of all, hold that form - then the Vuelta is there for the taking.

Set to be assisted by twin brother Adam on a strong Mitchelton-Scott squad that also includes rising star Jack Haig and the ever-reliable Damien Howson, it could be a case of second time lucky for the 26-year-old.

At risk of committing the ultimate crime and lumping twins together as one entity, Adam is in just as much need of a good result, really, having come unstuck at the Tour de France and fading to finish 29th overall, despite having gone into the race as team leader.

But with Simon the designated leader for the Vuelta on paper, Adam might be content with helping his brother to a podium finish, which is well with Simon's capabilities. And Adam's, for that matter.

Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data)

South Africa's Louis Meintjes starts his second Grand Tour of the year with a point to prove.

Eighth place overall at both the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Tour de France, riding for Lampre-Merida and then UAE Team Emirates, saw him return in 2018 as a team leader at Dimension Data. He had ridden for the South African team in their guise as MTN-Qhubeka for three seasons as a youngster, with team manager Doug Ryder hoping to develop Meintjes into the first African podium finisher at a Grand Tour by 2020.

Part of that plan was for Meintjes to miss the Tour de France in 2018, in favour of the Giro d'Italia, and to then look at a serious challenge for the Tour in 2019 and 2020. And that's still the plan. However, suffering from illness from the very beginning of the Giro, Meintjes had to quit the race following the individual time trial on stage 16, while sitting back in 46th place overall.

Instead, responsibility for the GC went to 22-year-old Ben O'Connor - the young Australian who really came of age at this year's Giro, and who's been a rare highlight in what has been a pretty appalling season up to this point for the African team, with just five wins this year - only one more than Quick-Step took at the Tour de France alone.

Hopes now rest on Meintjes' shoulders for a good performance at the Vuelta. Healthy again, and having finished ninth overall at the recent Vuelta a Burgos, Meintjes has the full backing of a decent-looking Dimension Data squad as he looks to feature at the pointy end of the Vuelta battle for the red jersey.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin)

In some people's books, ninth place overall at the Tour de France would be cause for celebration, but for Ilnur Zakarin and his Katusha-Alpecin team, it counted for little, as Zakarin's goal had been a top-five finish in Paris. It really wasn't good enough for a rider who's paid to win races - big races - for the team, but whose last victory was the Russian time trial title in 2017.

The rangy Russian really built his Tour top-10 finish through keeping within reasonable distance of contention with ninth place for Katusha in the team time trial on stage 3, and then a steady rise up the GC through the Alps and the Pyrenees before reaching single GC figures thanks to the individual time trial on the penultimate day of the race.

Zakarin's fifth place overall at the 2017 Giro d'Italia had promised so much, backed up with third overall at the Vuelta later in the year. In 2018, all of Zakarin's eggs were put into the Tour de France basket - an event he'd ridden only once before, in 2016, when he'd come away with a stage win at the summit finish of Finhaut-Emosson ahead of Jarlinson Pantano and Rafal Majka, and a 25th-place finish overall.

Teammate Marcel Kittel had a similarly unsatisfying Tour, with the sprinter only having won twice this year - in stages at Tirreno Adriatico back in March - which amount to half of the team's meagre four victories this year, with the two others having come from Nathan Haas on a stage of the Tour of Oman, and Tony Martin in the German time trial national championship.

Katusha-Alpecin is not quite a team in crisis, but a lot will be expected of Zakarin and his band of currently-not-that-merry men at the Vuelta.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

His Tour de France stage win at Saint-Lary-Soulan - the punchy 65km-long road stage with a summit finish - wasn't enough to placate Nairo Quintana, who just about stayed inside the top 10 in Paris, despite his 69th place finish in the final time trial.

The Tour had not started well for the Colombian, who lost more than a minute on stage 1 after breaking both of his wheels when he hit a traffic island with just over three kilometres to go. Inside that that magic 3,000-metre mark would have seen him given the same time as the group he'd been in when the accident happened. Alas, it wasn't to be Quintana's Tour.

His problems were compounded two days later when he and his Movistar teammates could only manage 10th in the team time trial, losing nearly a minute to their rivals at BMC and Sky.

As one of the three prongs - alongside Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa - of Movistar's multi-leader approach to the Tour, the Spanish team is only an injured Landa away from trying the same trick at the Vuelta. Landa's crash at the Clásica San Sebastián has ruled the Spaniard out of his home Grand Tour, and now, surely, Movistar have to put all their firepower behind Quintana to ensure that the Colombian climber is given every opportunity to repeat his Vuelta success of 2016.

Valverde, despite his 38 years, may want to show that he's still capable of winning the race he won back in 2009, but spreading themselves too thinly again may backfire.

Quintana, meanwhile, a decade younger at 28, has years left in him yet, but there's nevertheless no time to waste; victory in Madrid on September 16 would reset his Tour de France ambitions, and prove to Movistar that he's worth going all-in for in future. But where would that leave Landa, who finished seventh at the Tour?

Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Rafal Majka goes to his second Grand Tour of the year hidden, somewhat, from public view by the showman teammate that is Peter Sagan.

While the world champion will again chase stage wins, the points jersey and ever-increasing popularity, just as he did at the Tour, Majka will calmly set about trying to recreate - or, ideally, surpass - his third place from the 2015 Vuelta a España.

Despite winning two stages in 2014 and 2015, and winning the polka-dot jersey as 'king of the mountains' in 2014 and 2016, the Tour de France has never really been a happy hunting ground for the 28-year-old Polish rider, who so wants to perform on cycling's biggest stage.

He may have been overshadowed by the constant clowning and incessant winning of Sagan in recent years, but Majka will be hoping to put another disappointing Tour behind him, where he finished 19th overall in Paris, and instead look forward to what could be a high overall finish in Madrid in what looks to be one of the most open editions of the Vuelta for years.

Richie Porte (BMC)

Crashing out of the Tour de France for the second year in a row at such an early stage of the race may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Richie Porte.

Having finally officially announced cycling's worst-kept secret - that he's headed for Trek-Segafredo for 2019 - the Australian, after also recovered from injury, may feel unburdened and ready to reward his BMC teammates with something in Spain that he's been promising for years: a Grand Tour victory.

At 33, Porte knows he hasn't got forever on his side to get that elusive Tour de France win, and so he may as well get on with winning the Vuelta a España or the Giro d'Italia. He'll enjoy full support at a tough 2018 Vuelta and, if he can finally top the podium, he'll go into 2019 with the monkey off his back, in a new team, knowing that he has what it takes to perform across three weeks - and perhaps be ready to drastically improve on his fifth place from the 2016 Tour de France.

Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates)

The Italian goes into this year's Vuelta a España knowing full well that he has what it takes to win the Spanish Grand Tour. As Vuelta champion in 2015, Aru showed the likes of Joaquim Rodríguez, Rafal Majka and Nairo Quintana exactly what kind of rider he is: an attacking, gifted rider, who really should have gone on to take further Grand Tour victories.

Since then, illness and injury have taken their toll on the 28-year-old, who had to quit this year's Giro d'Italia in great distress, having pushed his body to the limit with overtraining and an undiagnosed gluten and dairy intolerance.

Aru was initially set to regroup and attack the Tour de France, but has instead wisely waited to mount a full-on effort at the Vuelta. Aru may feel as though he needs to get something out of this year's Vuelta to give him a much-needed psychological boost, and his UAE Team Emirates squad will be just as keen to see him back at his best.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot will be more than happy to put the unfortunate bout of pneumonia he suffered following two extremely tough mountain stages at this year's Giro d'Italia behind him.

Hospitalised after stage 20 between Susa and Cirvinia, having held on to his third place overall the previous day on the Colle delle Finestre stage that did it for race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Pinot was a non-starter for the processional final stage of the Giro into Rome. What should have been a day for Pinot to revel in a second podium finish after third place at the 2014 Tour de France was instead spent with a temperature of 40ºC and being taken care of by Aoste's finest medical minds, who diagnosed pneumonia and wrote a prescription for no more bike racing.

Pinot returned to racing at the Tour de Pologne in early August, where second place on the final stage to Yates secured the 28-year-old third place overall, and there's a sense that the Groupama-FDJ leader is now freed up to fulfil his potential at the Vuelta.

Pinot has spent his time since the Polish tour training in the French Alps, and while a top Vuelta finish is very much on his mind, so is the hilly Worlds road race in Innsbruck, Austria, at the end of September.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)

Nacer Bouhanni has won five races this year - more than Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish combined - but that belies what has been a turbulent and dispiriting campaign for the French sprinter.

A change in management at Cofidis at the end of 2017 saw Cédric Vasseur replace Yvon Sanquer, who'd signed Bouhanni on a big salary in 2015, and Bouhanni's status has since been diminished. He has clashed with sports director Roberto Damiani and was pulled from Milan-San Remo in what was a torrid spring, and his lead-out man Christophe Laporte was promoted to the team's lead sprinter. Bouhanni rallied to win four races in May but by then his spot in the Tour de France squad had been placed in serious doubt by Vasseur, and even though he won a stage at the Route du Sud - defying team orders and sprinting against Laporte - he was left at home in July. For someone who had been touted as a surefire Tour stage winner for a number of years, it was another major setback.

The Vuelta, of course, isn't the Tour, but it nevertheless represents a late chance for Bouhanni to score a major victory, his five wins this year having come at HC level or below. More than that, though, it's an opportunity to reassert himself at Cofidis. An early exit seemed on the cards but now it looks like he will stay until the end of next season and, even though he has only been given a one-man lead-out 'train', the Vuelta could see Bouhanni rebuild some of those bridges.

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