Dropped chains, 13 minute breaks and in particular broken bones have made this year’s Grand Tours action-packed, and that looks set to flow over into this year’s Vuelta a España. With so many riders having their Giro d’Italia or Tour de France ruined – in many cases early on – the Spanish Grand Tour represents a final chance to redeem their season.
With that in mind Cyclingnews looks at ten riders who will be throwing it all down to rescue their seasons or even their careers.
1 - Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions)
‘Caught a break’ was penned as a positive term, but Garmin-Transitions’ Christian Vande Velde has caught more breaks than he can handle in 2010. The American’s season has been wiped out by injuries sustained at the year’s first two Grand Tours: the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
The rider told Cyclingnews ahead of the Vuelta he considered retiring from the sport after his latest injury, so a solid performance at the Spanish Grand Tour will be important for Vande Velde’s mental state as much as for his professional future.
Vande Velde’s woes started at the Giro where a broken clavicle ended his campaign on Stage 3. The rider’s more important Tour campaign was equally as short lived. Vande Velde’s race was over by the time the peloton reached Spa at the end of Stage 2, thanks to two broken ribs from a crash on the descent of Stockeu.
So while Vande Velde will start his third Grand Tour in 2010 like teammate Julian Dean, he has started just five Grand Tour stages to the New Zealand rider’s 38. At 34 years of age Vande Velde isn’t getting any younger and while he will lack his peak form, the Garmin-Transitions man will be looking to not only finish a Grand Tour this year but to do so with a respectable result (taking into consideration his build-up to the race).
2 - Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Fränk Schleck was billed as the ultimate right-hand man for brother Andy heading into this year’s Tour de France. But after suffering a triple fracture to his clavicle on the Tour’s Stage 3, which controversially included several cobbled sections, the only support Fränk could offer was in spirit.
With that disappointment behind the elder Schleck, he now has the opportunity to end both his season and his time at Bjarne Riis’ Team Saxo Bank on a high note. While Schleck will face the added hurdle of a bunch of general classification riders hungry to save their respective seasons, Riis believes the less prominent of the dynamic duo can be successful at the Vuelta.
Tour injury aside Schleck has had a decent season, winning a Tour de Luxembourg stage en route to second overall, while he went on to add a Tour de Suisse stage victory before claiming the race’s overall title. Schleck has little history at the Spanish race, starting but not completing the race in 2009, but it will be interesting to see how the current Luxembourg national champion slots into the role of a protected Grand Tour general classification rider.
3 - Simon Gerrans (Team Sky)
Australia’s Simon Gerrans swapped from Cervelo Test Team to Team Sky for the 2010 season, but the results he’d enjoyed at his old squad are yet to follow. That’s due to a host of reasons, injury and a different role at key races among them.
Like many of the riders on our list, Gerrans suffered a setback at the Tour with a – you guessed it – broken bone. Gerrans broke his arm on Stage 8, ending any chance he might have been given to ride for stage success after team leader Bradley Wiggins' general classification bid crumbled.
Having won at least one Grand Tour stage in the past two seasons, the Vuelta is Gerro’s final chance to continue that record. Fortunately for Gerrans, after the team’s Tour experience Sky director Dave Brailsford has said that the squad will focus on chasing stage victories as much as on Thomas Löfkvist's assault on the general classification. That will no doubt be music to Gerrans' ears.
4 - Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team)
That Carlos Sastre is a Grand Tour winner is something that nobody can ever take away from the Spaniard, but the form – and circumstances – seen at that Tour de France in 2008 hasn’t been replicated since. While the 35-year-old has already secured his future for 2011 with Geox, the fact that his Cervelo TestTeam hadn’t offered him a new contract by August speaks volumes for Sastre’s recent results.
That’s not to say that Sastre isn’t still a good ‘thereabouts’ general classification rider, as he has proven to be throughout much of his career. Eighth at this year’s Giro d’Italia shows that he’s still a valuable rider to have aboard certain teams but it appears that challenging the Andy Schlecks or Alberto Contadors of the world is increasingly unlikely for Sastre.
That aside, the Vuelta will be Sastre’s third Grand Tour of the year. It is in itself a noteworthy accomplishment in a era when general classification riders contest at most two of the three events and even then usually just one with any serious intentions for the overall standings.
5 - Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo)
Once upon a time, long ago, an Italian by the name of Daniele Bennati could beat Manxman Mark Cavendish in a sprint. Just two years on it seems as though the latter rider is unbeatable, yet Bennati believes that he can repeat history and has the chance to prove it in Spain.
Cavendish will make his Vuelta debut this year, looking to add more Grand Tour stage wins to the five he collected at this year’s Tour alone. Bennati didn’t line up at this year’s Tour meaning that the Vuelta will be the pair’s first head-to-head battle at a Grand Tour this season.
In fact Bennati’s two victories this season – at Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Oman – came during a time when Cavendish was either suffering from dental issues or lacking in form, which means that the pair hasn’t had a true in-form battle yet this season. The odds are stacked against Bennati, but in the sprinting world there’s no bigger scalp to claim than Cavendish and this will serve as added motivation for the 29-year-old.
6 - Christophe Le Mével (Française des Jeux)
A 10th place finish at the Tour de France does funny things for you, and ever since that result last year, France’s Christophe Le Mével has been touted as a developing general classification contender. Yet while sharing leadership at his French ProTour team in this year’s event, Le Mével could only muster 42nd place.
With the ink reportedly dry on a Garmin-Transitions contract, Le Mével needs to prove that French Grand Tour top 10s aren’t rarer than the Javan rhino and that he’s capable of consistency. At 29 Le Mével is coming into that general classification sweet-spot from a physical development standpoint, something he’ll certainly be looking to capitalise on.
It’s been a long time between drinks for Le Mével at the Vuelta. In fact he has only contested the race on one previous occasion, way back in 2005 when he finished 66th overall. If he outdoes that number by 50 places or more, it will be a strong indication that good things could follow if he moves to Jonathan Vaughters’ squad next season.
7 - Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions)
Team director Jonathan Vaughters described Tom Danielson as a lottery ticket when he spoke to Cyclingnews at the beginning of the year, adding that he stands by the rider’s potential. Six months on, Vaughters is still holding that ticket waiting for his numbers to come up.
Danielson hasn’t endured a terrible season by any stretch of the imagination, but it has been a quiet one. Danielson has done well at times, particularly on home roads, such as when he finished second at the Tour of the Gila in preparation for his 10th place ride at the Tour of California. Yet when he hit European shores he could only manage 25th at the Tour de Suisse.
Hopes of winning big on the 32-year-old are starting to fade for Vaughters, but if Danielson can get his head in the right place in time for the Vuelta, he could well string together a good race.
8 - David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne)
David Arroyo’s ride to second place at the Giro d’Italia was a glimmering light in what’s not been one of Caisse d’Epargne’s brightest years. As the squad fended off likely closure and rider controversy, Arroyo pedaled his way into the maglia rosa for five days and ultimately finished the Giro as the closest rider to Ivan Basso.
Since that stunning result, however, the 30-year-old has been laying low, with 12th place at the Vuelta Ciclista a Burgos the closest thing to a result worth mentioning. As he returns to a Grand Tour everyone will be waiting to see if Arroyo can back up his Giro performance with another top five finish.
Arroyo’s history at Grand Tours is notable, with a handful of top 20 positions spread between all three of cycling’s biggest stage races. However there’s a difference between a top 20 and a title contender: Arroyo’s about to show whether he’s developed from one into the other.
9 - Marzio Bruseghin (Caisse d’Epargne)
Like Carlos Sastre, Marzio Bruseghin is one of those riders who can consistently ride a strong Grand Tour. Yet unlike Sastre, Bruseghin has never gone all the way, something he hoped to change at the Giro d’Italia this season only to crash out on the same stage that claimed Christian Vande Velde.
With the sun beginning to set on Bruseghin’s career, the 36-year-old is undoubtedly hoping to ensure he ends it as a Grand Tour winner. The Vuelta is a race in which Bruseghin has enjoyed some success, finishing in 10th place in 2008.
Given that the rider has no results on the board since the Giro, and provided little to get excited about during his brief campaign there, the likelihood of maintaining his run of top 10 Grand Tour placings is difficult to judge.
10 - Andrey Kashechkin (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Like many of the riders above, Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin has some great results to his name. However, he is also a convicted doper. Putting aside that shady past for a moment, there’s still a huge question hanging over Kashechkin’s head: can he still race?
Lance Armstrong made no secret of his insecurities as he returned to the peloton from retirement, and returning to competition for the first time since the 2007 Tour de France puts Kashechkin in a similar position. Armstrong received a protection detail in the form of his entire Astana squad during his return at the 2009 Tour Down Under and was afforded some room by the peloton. Whether the peloton is as welcoming to Kashechkin on his return is questionable, as is how his form will compare after three years on the sidelines.