The start of the 2019 Vuelta a España is just three days away, and Cyclingnews has taken a look at 10 of the major contenders to gauge their form ahead of the race, which starts in Salinas de Torrevieja in south-east Spain on Saturday, August 24.
1. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)
Overview: From the end of February until the start of May, Roglič won the overall classification of every race he entered: the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie.
He then wasn't able to win the Giro d'Italia, having started as one of the favourites, but he gave it a very good crack, winning the opening time trial and holding the pink leader's jersey for the next five days. He also won the second individual time trial on stage 9, and remained in second place overall until an untimely mechanical problem and subsequent crash on a teammate's borrowed bike on stage 15 effectively put him out of contention for the maglia rosa.
Nevertheless, be battled bravely on in what was only his fourth Grand Tour, eventually securing a podium spot – third – in Verona. After fourth place at the 2018 Tour de France, and that third at this year's Giro, Roglič could easily step up again – figuratively and literally – at this Vuelta. (EB)
Highlight: His continued rise and rise, winning the overall at the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour de Romandie and two time trials at the Giro.
Lowlight: His bid for Giro victory effectively ended after a mechanical and crash on stage 15.
2. Richard Carapaz (Movistar)
Overview: Despite the presence of more experienced, more proven GC riders on his own team, it would be no surprise to see Carapaz emerge as the true leader of Movistar over the next three weeks. The Ecuadorian proved his abilities back in May, when he won the Giro d'Italia, in what was only his fourth Grand Tour participation. While he's lain low, training in his home province of Carchi, his co-leaders Quintana and Alejandro Valverde have raced the Tour de France.
He resurfaced at the Vuelta a Burgos in early August, taking third overall but looking rusty on the summit finishes – understandable after over two months away from racing. Nevertheless, Carapaz will look to follow in the footsteps of Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde as the only riders in the last ten years to podium in Burgos before going on to win the Vuelta.
A strong team on paper, as ever, Movistar will be looking to avoid the apparent confusion on the road between their three captains at the Tour de France. Aside from the leaders, Marc Soler and Antonio Pedrero, who took fourth in Burgos, will be the key domestiques. (DO)
Highlight: Winning the Giro d'Italia.
Lowlight: It's hard to imagine one – his season has already exceeded all expectations.
Overview: Ostensibly at the Vuelta this year to support Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk nevertheless has the firepower to himself be a contender, should he find himself in the right position.
Coming off the back of third place at the Tour de France in July – and fourth place at last year's Vuelta – the Dutchman is set to ride as a lieutenant de luxe for his less experienced Slovenian teammate. But if Jumbo-Visma win the opening team time trial on Saturday – as they threaten to do – and Kruijswijk finds himself leading the line at the finish, the 32-year-old will find himself in the red leader's jersey as early as the first stage.
A talent-packed roster of possible winners is always better than none, however, and judicious wrangling of their many talents has ensured that the Jumbo-Visma riders are a happy bunch. In George Bennett and Sepp Kuss, they have further options and support in the mountains, and will be the team to beat at this year's Vuelta.
Jumbo-Visma have had a truly vintage year. Expect Roglič or Kruijswijk – or both of them – to finish on the podium. (EB)
Highlight: Third place at the Tour de France – Kruijswijk's first Grand Tour podium finish after 16 nevertheless consistent attempts.
Lowlight: None really to speak of, other than momentary upset at having dropped from third overall to fourth at the Tour after stage 18, only to bounce back to the podium on the penultimate stage to Val Thorens.
4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Overview: Will there be one last hurrah for Quintana at Movistar? The Colombian has spent the past eight seasons with the Spanish WorldTour team, but will almost certainly change teams in 2020.
Having won the 2014 Giro d'Italia and the 2016 Vuelta a España in Movistar colours, Quintana now appears to have become hamstrung by being part of a team seemingly unsure whether to throw its full support behind him or Mikel Landa at Grand Tours. Quintana has decided to take control of his own destiny and is heading for pastures new – rumoured to be French Pro Continental outfit Arkéa-Samsic. Landa, too, in fact, will leave for Bahrain-Merida at the end of the season. The result is that a younger model – 24 -year-old Enric Mas – will come in from Deceuninck-QuickStep to replace them.
With Landa off, and this year's Giro winner, Richard Carapaz, rumoured to be bound for Team Ineos next season, Quintana might have found himself as top dog again at Movistar if he'd stayed. But his mind is made up, and the upcoming Vuelta will be one of his last appearances in the blue and black of his team. He does, however – on paper – stand a very good chance of taking the win, and giving Movistar a fantastic farewell present. (EB)
Highlights: Second overall at Paris-Nice back in March, and a well-taken solo stage win and eighth place overall at the Tour de France.
Lowlights: A Tour de France in which there were once again too many chiefs.
Overview: At the Giro d'Italia in May, on the stage-19 summit finish at San Martino di Castrozza, Chaves signalled that he was back at something approaching his best when the Colombian took an emotional stage victory, which was his first since the Giro the previous year. Between the two victories, the 29-year-old had experienced the frustration and helplessness that comes with battling mononucleosis.
Chaves finished the 2018 Giro in a lowly 72nd place overall, and didn't race again over the following seven months. It was a far cry from his podium places at the 2016 Giro – where he was second to Vincenzo Nibali – and the Vuelta the same year, when he finished behind Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome.
To repeat what he did at this year's Giro and win stages at the Vuelta is of course well within the Colombian climber's grasp, but he may also prove capable of showing that the old Chaves is back – really back – and compete for the podium in the coming weeks. Sixth overall at the Tour of Slovenia in June showed consistency off the back of the Giro, and having since had two months away from racing to train and rest further, we could see the Chaves of old firing on all cylinders in Spain. (EB)
Highlight: An emphatic, emotionally charged Giro stage win.
Lowlight: Possible frustration in the journey 'back', but he seems in a good place now.
Overview: Like López, Majka has not raced between the Giro and the Tour de Pologne, skipping the summer races for a tilt at the Vuelta. The Spanish race was the site of his last win, back in 2017 at Sierra de la Prandera, and a stage victory plus top-five placing would be a dream Vuelta for the Pole.
Majka finished ninth in Poland, his only warm-up race. He was up there on the tougher stages, but clearly not in top form just yet – and that's exactly how he'd want it to be, with plenty of tough climbing stages lying three weeks away.
He’ll enjoy strong support in Spain, with Gregor Mühlberger and Felix Großschartner featuring in the Bora-Hansgrohe squad along with Davide Formolo, riding his final Grand Tour for the team before moving to UAE Team Emirates. (DO)
Highlight: Steady riding through the spring netted top tens at Catalunya, Tour of the Alps and the Giro.
Lowlight: Still searching for that elusive major victory.
7. Miguel Ángel López (Astana)
Overview: Another rider who has kept quiet since the Giro, López has only raced the Tour de Pologne since completing the first Grand Tour of the year, where he finished seventh and took the best young rider's jersey.
López perhaps fell short of expectations at the Giro, where a repeat of his 2018 podium never looked particularly likely. Can he repeat his third place – or better – in Spain? It's hard to say. López certainly enjoys the support of one of the strongest teams at the race, with Jakob Fuglsang, the Izagirre brothers, Luis León Sánchez and Dario Cataldo featuring in a team packed with climbers.
The Colombian was quiet in Poland, finishing 40th overall while staying out of the limelight. His performance really said little about his form, but he'll no doubt be there or thereabouts. (DO)
Highlight: Winning Colombia 2.1 and the Volta a Catalunya.
Lowlight: Never quite looking at his best at the Giro.
Overview: Urán has so far been unable to repeat – or better – his second place at the 2017 Tour de France, but this year's Vuelta would be a great place to do it.
The 32-year-old Colombian is fit, healthy and raring to go, having had a slower, far-from-ideal lead-up to this year's Tour after crashing and breaking his collarbone at Paris-Nice in March. He returned to racing at the Tour of California in May, and then finished third at the Route d'Occitanie in late June, proving that he was approaching some sort of form ahead of the Tour, despite the setback.
Seventh overall at the Tour was a decent enough result, but it was a subdued performance, with only flashes of the old Urán in the Pyrenees and Alps. However, Urán said on the occasion of EF Education First releasing their Vuelta squad that he has "huge motivation" for this year's race. His best overall finish there is seventh, achieved last season, but he'll have a strong team around him this year, with Tejay van Garderen, Dani Martinez, Hugh Carthy and Sergio Higuita all capable of keeping pace with the best in the mountains.
With Richard Carapaz, Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves, Miguel Ángel López and Urán alone on this Cyclingnews list, it's worth remembering that South Americans have already won two out of two Grand Tours this season. In the same way that British riders won all three Grand Tours in 2018, could Urán or one of his compatriots make it a full house? (EB)
Highlight: Perhaps yet to come, but seventh overall at the Tour de France isn't to be sniffed at.
Lowlight: March's crash at Paris-Nice, which set back Urán's build-up to the Tour. A reset goal of the Vuelta will be his opportunity to shine.
Overview: After a poor 2018, iliac artery surgery back in April seems to have solved what was slowing the Italian all season. He got back to racing in Switzerland in June ahead of the Tour, and rode steadily to 14th overall at La Grand Boucle. Often hanging with the favourites group deep into the climbing stages, his best performance in France was 19th on the Tourmalet.
Nevertheless, the race was a positive step on the road back to his best. The Vuelta will be the next test for the 2015 winner, and he'll hope for more signs of progress in Spain. Aru hasn't raced since the Tour, instead opting to train in Sestriere ahead of the year's final Grand Tour. For anyone hoping for a repeat of 2015, expectations should be tempered. (DO)
Highlight: Successful diagnosis of, and return from, his iliac artery problem.
Lowlight: Another season not at his best, though through no fault of his own.
10. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb)
Overview: Possibly the darkest of horses among our list, Kelderman will be looking to grasp this opportunity to turn an injury-hit season around with both hands. With Tom Dumoulin’s season over thanks to a lingering knee injury sustained at the Giro d’Italia, and the Dutchman heading to pastures new in 2020, the Vuelta might just be Kelderman’s chance to stake a claim as Team Sunweb’s GC leader going forward.
Kelderman crashed out of the Volta a Catalunya, fracturing a collarbone and a back verterbra and subsequently missing out on the Giro. At the Tour, he left the race on stage 16 suffering from back problems, and he hasn't raced since. A repeat of his 2018 Vuelta (10th overall) or even better, his 2017 race (fourth overall) would put some shine on a tough season. (DO)
Highlight: Fifth at the UAE Tour? It's been a hard year.
Lowlight: The crashes and injuries.