10 riders to watch at the 2020 Vuelta a España

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Richard Carapaz, Primoz Roglic and Thibaut Pinot headline the 2020 Vuelta (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Vuelta a España kicks off on Tuesday, with a unique 18-stage edition that runs until Sunday November 8. 

While the Tour de France and the ongoing Giro d'Italia swapped positions, the Vuelta is again the final Grand Tour of the season and has attracted a typically eclectic field of riders. 

From those who are in search of a second chance after the Tour de France, to others who are about to ride the 18 most important days of their seasons, there are plenty of big names and big storylines in Spain. 

Here, we take a look at 10 of the riders who could have a big impact on the race as a whole. 

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)

  • Age: 30
  • Best Vuelta result: 1st in 2019

Liege Bastogne Liege 2020 106th Edition Liege Liege 257 km 04102020 Marc Hirschi SUI Team Sunweb Primoz Roglic SLO Team Jumbo Visma Tadej Pogacar SLO UAE Team Emirates photo Peter De VoechtPNBettiniPhoto2020

Roglic won Liège-Bastogne-Liège after his Tour de France disappointment (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

After such an intense second half of the year, Roglic's entire Vuelta a España campaign rests on his motivation and question marks over the amount of fuel that remains in the Slovenian’s tank. 

There’s no doubt he has the quality to mount a serious campaign and Jumbo-Visma wouldn’t dispatch their Tour de France runner-up to such a difficult race to simply make up the numbers, but the 30-year-old will need to be dialed in and focused right from stage 1 if he is to defend his 2019 red jersey.

Roglic's rides in both the World Championships and Liège-Bastogne-Liège demonstrated that there's no Tour de France hangover but two Grand Tours, in such a short space of time, is tremendous ask – even for a rider of Roglic’s talents. 

With Tom Dumoulin, Robert Gesink, George Bennett and Sepp Kuss, the Dutch team are easily the strongest ensemble on paper but teams just as competent and talented have been undone by fresher and more agile opposition at the Vuelta before.

Wout Poels (Bahrain McLaren)

  • Age: 33
  • Best Vuelta result: 6th in 2017

Tour de France 2020 107th Edition 5th stage Gap Privas 183 km 02092020 Wout Poels NED Bahrain McLaren photo POOL David StockmanBelgaBettiniPhoto2020

Poels gets a shot at leadership (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Poels nursed himself through the Tour de France and eventually recovered just enough to help Mikel Landa but the experienced Dutchman heads to the Vuelta a España with a rare chance to ride for himself. 

His best result in a Grand Tour came in the Vuelta, with sixth in 2017, but that was his first and only top-ten in a career that has been based around helping others. 

Given the calibre of the opposition and the lack of depth within the Bahrain McLaren team coming into the race, Poels may be better served targeting stage wins than a top-five on GC. But if he can navigate an incredibly tough first week he may also find that his best role comes in nurturing the young talent within the squad. 

Kevin Inkelaar was a real find, and could be one of the surprise packages of the race.

Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)

  • Age: 27
  • Best Vuelta result: 18th in 2018

LA PLANCHE FRANCE SEPTEMBER 19 Richard Carapaz of Ecuador and Team INEOS Grenadiers Polka Dot Mountain Jersey during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Stage 20 a 362km Individual Time Trial stage from Lure to La Planche Des Belles Filles 1035m ITT TDF2020 LeTour on September 19 2020 in La Planche France Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Carapaz was meant to ride the Giro but was an attacking force at the Tour (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Richard Carapaz will lead Ineos Grenadiers at the Vuelta and he - not Chris Froome - will be the Ineos rider that rivals fear over the coming weeks. 

That's understandable, given that Froome is still not at his previous level following that horrific Dauphiné crash in 2019. Meanwhile, Carapaz rode himself into excellent form at the Tour de France and narrowly missed out on winning two stages and the King of the Mountains jersey. 

The route certainly suits Carapaz, with a host of mountain-top finishes and hilly stages, and just one individual test against the clock. 

Ineos also arrive with a hugely talented squad and, after missing out on GC success in both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, will be desperate to finish the year with a flourish. 

The last time the British team went an entire season without winning a Grand our came back in 2014 but Carapaz could ensure that record isn’t updated for another year at least.

Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)

  • Age: 27
  • Best Vuelta result: 9th in 2016

Tour de France 2020 107th Edition 10th stage Ile dOleron Ile de Re 1685 km 08092020 Davide Formolo ITA UAE Team Emirates photo Kei TsujiBettiniPhoto2020

Formolo had to abandon the Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The Italian crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone and hasn’t raced since but, with Tadej Pogacar putting his feet up and Fabio Aru not set to start the Vuelta, the UAE squad are in need of a rider to pin their GC hopes on. 

Step forward Formolo, who, although he's targeted one-day wins in recent times, still comes into the Vuelta with three top-ten finishes in Grand Tours. 

As with most riders with GC aspirations, the first week will be critical, especially given the fact that Formolo hasn’t raced in well over a month. The parcours in this year’s race is so demanding that riders will not be allowed to ride themselves into form but if Formolo can survive the first week then a top-five could be within his grasp. 

However, if the game plan is to merely enhance the limited race days on Formolo’s 2020 calendar as part of his 2021 prep, then hunting stage wins could become the focus.

Enric Mas (Movistar)

Enric Mas in the 2020 Movistar jersey

Mas was signed as Movistar's next Grand Tour leader (Image credit: Photo Gomez Sport / Movistar Team)
  • Age: 25
  • Best result: 2nd in 2018

Movistar have won just once all season and their impoverished campaign will lead to a deep inquisition of what went wrong at a later date. They have the chance to at least salvage a slither of pride at their home Grand Tour with a team built around Mas, the evergreen Alejandro Valverde, and Marc Soler. 

Although Valverde is a former winner of the race, it’s Mas who stands out above the rest. His fifth place at the Tour de France didn’t pull up any trees but it came after a difficult 2019 and demonstrated that the 25-year-old was worth the long-term investment from his Spanish employers. 

The 2018 Vuelta runner-up improved as the Tour went on and, if he’s managed his form in the intervening weeks, he could once again prove to be one of the most consistent riders in the race. 

As for Valverde, he finished second last year, and his record over the years is beyond incredible. However after such a lacklustre year, the 40-year-old would need to provide another career defining ride to count himself as a contender. It’s Valverde, and this is the Vuelta, so who knows.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)

  • Age: 30
  • Best Vuelta result: 6th overall and two stage wins in 2018

Team GroupamaFDJ rider Frances Thibaut Pinot C lies on the ground after a crash during the 1st stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France cycling race 156 km between Nice and Nice on August 29 2020 Photo by AnneChristine POUJOULAT AFP Photo by ANNECHRISTINE POUJOULATAFP via Getty Images

Pinot took another knock at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Pinot heads into the Vuelta a España hunting self confidence more than anything else. 

The Tour de France was a deeply bruising experience for the Frenchman, who came into the race as a genuine contender but was left hampered by his crash on the opening stage and the lingering injuries that affected him for the remaining three weeks. 

In 2018 he came to the Vuelta, won two stages, and finished sixth overall and anything close to that level of performance would allow the popular Frenchman to distance himself from his disappointing Tour experience and head into the new year afresh. 

The route has plenty of opportunities for Pinot to shine and, like most of the riders on this list, his mental freshness will be a major factor as to whether he mounts a serious bid for the overall. Groupama-FDJ also have David Gaudu as back-up.

Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling)

  • Age: 34
  • Best Vuelta result: 7th overall in 2017

Tirreno Adriatico 2020 55th Edition 3rd stage Follonica Saturnia 217 km 09092020 Michael Woods CAN EF Pro Cycling photo Roberto BettiniBettiniPhoto2020

Woods will welcome the punchy terrain (Image credit: Bettini Image)

The 34-year-old Canadian wasn’t deemed fit enough to race the Tour de France due to his serious injury sustained in the spring but he has bounced back since August with a stage win and eighth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico and two top-tens in the two Ardennes races that made it through the COVID-19 reshuffle. 

With Dani Martinez and Hugh Carthy also in the team, it’s hard to tell which EF rider will have the best chance of GC success or whether the team will focus solely on stage wins, but Woods was seventh in the race back in 2017 and won a stage the following season. 

With so little time trialing and a heavy dose of hill-top and mountain finishes, a relatively well-rested Woods could shine.

Alexander Vlasov (Astana)

  • Age: 24
  • Best Vuelta result: N/A (debutant)

Aleksandr Vlasov won the Giro dell'Emilia

Vlasov has been one of the breakout stars of the 2020 season (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Russian should be in the midst of rescuing Jakob Fuglsang from the abyss at the Giro d’Italia but illness robbed the 24-year-of that chance and, after just one completed stage, the former Baby Giro winner was forced to retreat, take stock and dial his attention towards the Vuelta. 

The Izagirre brothers offer greater security when it comes to chasing GC results over three weeks, simply due to the fact that Vlasov has never raced for longer than ten days, but the talented climber could be on the cusp of another breakout performance. His climbing displays this season have been exceptional and, with Fuglsang toiling at the Giro and Miguel Angel Lopez nursing his wounds at home, Vlasov has a golden opportunity to stake his claim to Grand Tour leadership in 2021. 

Last year the Vuelta’s rising star was Tadej Pogacar. This time it could well be the rider from Vyborg. The Astana team at the race look more than capable of riding for GC, too.

Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)

  • Age: 27
  • Best Vuelta result: N/A (debutant)

Guillaume Martin Cofidis 2020 Tour de France

Guillaume Martin animated the early part of the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Martin faded towards the end of this year’s Tour de France, slipping from third to 11th in Paris and his Vuelta participation represents the first time he has tackled two Grand Tours in a single season. For those reasons alone, the 27-year-old starts the Vuelta a España with modest ambitions.

In all likelihood, he will target stage wins and the aggressive nature of the Vuelta will suit his style of racing but this is very much about using the race as a building block for 2020 when a more complete and stronger Grand Tour rider will head to France targeting a top-five.

Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation)

  • Age: 34
  • Best Vuelta result: 7th in 2014

Tour de France 2020 - 107th Edition - 16th stage Grenoble - Meribel - Col de la Loze 170 km - 16/09/2020 - Dan Martin (IRL - Israel Start-Up Nation) - photo POOL/BettiniPhoto©2020

Dan Martin could quietly return to GC form (Image credit: Bettini Image)

Injuries and bad luck have plagued Dan Martin in recent seasons and at 34, there’s an argument to suggest that his best years are behind him. But his strong rides in the Ardennes, and his performance at the Tour when he could have easily gone home and rested, demonstrate that the Irishman is still hungry and motivated. 

It’s also worth remembering that, until the end of 2018, Martin was a consistent Grand Tour performer, with three top-tens in the Tour and a memorable stage win on the Mur de Bretagne. 

Like Esteban Chaves, another rider who has faded in recent times. Martin has the chance to rekindle some Grand Tour stature before the year ends and Chris Froome joins Israel start-Up Nation in 2021. At the very least, he should put up a fight for several of the stage finishes that end with ascents.

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