- AG2R Citroën
- Astana Qazaqstan
- Bahrain Victorious
- Team DSM
- EF Education-EasyPost
- Ineos Grenadiers
- Israel-Premier Tech
- Kern Pharma
- Lotto Soudal
- UAE Team Emirates
It will be a Vuelta a España with 23 teams on the start line, and the list of objectives across the 184 riders runs even longer than the three-week race from August 19 to September 11.
Jumbo-Visma lead the 18 WorldTour squads, claiming race number one as they line up with three-time winner Primož Roglič, while Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic – as the top two UCI ProTeams – join the start list. There are also three wildcard entries, rather than the two seen at the Tour de France, with Spanish teams Euskaltel-Euskadi, Kern Pharma and Burgos-BH joining the fray.
Some teams will be chasing stage victories, jerseys, or perhaps points to chase off relegation threats, while others will be targeting the overall title, although, with the unpredictability of a three-week race, plenty of targets will change from the opening team time trial stage in the Netherlands to the finish line in Madrid.
We have analysed every team, picking out their leaders and looking at each group's hopes and aims to put together this complete team-by-team guide ahead of Friday's start in Utrecht.
Who? French WorldTour outfit that's been going since the early 1990s.
Leader: Ben O'Connor
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: Bob Jungels
AG2R Citroën head to the Vuelta with renewed GC ambitions after Ben O'Connor's early exit from the Tour de France. The original plan was for the Australian to hunt stage wins that would complete his Grand Tour set, but he left the Tour after the first week and, as such, has had a chance to re-set and bring a red jersey bid into the equation.
O'Connor placed fourth at the 2021 Tour and had a strong season leading up to this year's Tour, including third at the Critérium du Dauphiné, so the podium is a realistic aim if he's back in form.
The rest of the squad is built for breakaways and support, with Clément Champoussin and young Finnish climber Jaakko Hänninen among the names that stand out, while Andrea Vendrame can sprint from a reduced group on a hilly day.
Nans Peters, like O'Connor, could complete the Grand Tour set with a stage win, as could Bob Jungels, who won a stage at the Tour in a sign he's getting back to his best after two difficult years of injury. Jungels, a world class rider, is moving to Bora-Hansgrohe next season and, after AG2R helped him back through surgeries, will want to go out with a bang.
Full line-up: Ben O'Connor, Clement Champoussin, Jaakko Hänninen, Andrea Vendrame, Bob Jungels, Nans Peters, Nicolas Prodhomme, Dorian Godon
Who? Second-division squad built around Mathieu van der Poel and improving every year, set to rise to the WorldTour in 2023
Leader: Tim Merlier
Objectives: Stage wins
Rider to watch: Robert Stannard
Alpecin-Deceuninck are towards the top of the UCI World Ranking but are still a second-division outfit, and this Vuelta marks the first time they're riding all three Grand Tours in the same season. They'll be a fully-fledged WorldTour outfit in 2023 but they're rounding out this chapter of what has been a remarkable growth story by targeting stage wins – most prominently sprint wins – over the next three weeks.
Tim Merlier is their main man, having missed out on the Tour de France at the expense of Jasper Philipsen. The Belgian champion, who's off to QuickStep-AlphaVinyl next year, can claim to be just as fast, if not faster, and is the man to beat in the bunch finishes at this Vuelta. He was runner-up behind Fabio Jakobsen at the recent European Championships and said he got 'the wrong medal', indicating his form and hunger ahead of the race.
Alpecin-Deceuninck will, as they usually do in Grand Tours, bring a strong lead-out for the sprints. Their full squad is yet to be confirmed but Robert Stannard is set to be one to watch after winning the recent Tour de Wallonie. The Australian all-rounder hasn't had the smoothest rise but is still only 23 and with plenty of room for improvement, while his countryman Jay Vine is another to watch.
Full line-up: Tim Merlier, Floris De Tier, Jimmy Janssens, Xandro Meurisse, Robert Stannard, Lionel Taminiaux, Gianni Vermeersch, Jay Vine
Who? Second-division Brittany-based team set to rise to the WorldTour in 2023
Objectives: Stage wins
Rider to watch: Dan McLay
Arkéa-Samsic have their sights set on the WorldTour and are getting a taste for it with this Vuelta invite, allowing them to ride two Grand Tours in one season for the first time in their history.
After several past outings at the Tour de France, they were supposed to head to the Vuelta with a former winner in Nairo Quintana. He was a late scratch from the start list though after news emerged that he had tested positive for tramadol at the Tour. He'll now be fighting his Tour disqualification at CAS rather than riding in Spain.
The rest of the Arkéa-Samsic squad (just seven men) is largely made up of domestiques who were set to support Quintana, though they do have a sprinter in Dan McLay. The Briton is not among the top-tier of fastmen but, with several possible sprint stages and a shortage of the world's fastest on the start line, there could be an opportunity to be grasped.
Full line-up: Elie Gesbert, Dan McLay, Anthony Delaplace, Thibault Guernalec, Łukasz Owsian, Clement Russo, Simon Guglielmi
Who? Kazakh team managed by Alexandre Vinokourov
Leader: Miguel Angel López
Rider to watch: Vincenzo Nibali
Astana Qazaqstan are having a dire season and they desperately need a turnaround at the Vuelta. Their hopes lie almost squarely on the shoulders of Miguel Ángel López, the mercurial Colombian climber who walked out of last year's race on the penultimate day, while in a podium position.
That infamous episode triggered his dismissal from Movistar and return to Astana, but his second stint was undermined by a knee injury that took him out of the Giro in the first week. He wasn't fit in time for the Tour de France but will now lead the line at the Vuelta, although he was mired in more controversy recently as his name appeared in a Spanish anti-doping investigation and he was temporarily suspended by his team.
López, on his day, is a world class climber with queen stage victories at the Tour and Vuelta to his name, two overall podiums and six top-10s. But time trialling is a huge weakness and he hasn't finished the last four Grand Tours he's done.
Elsewhere, David de la Cruz will try and hang onto a respectable GC result while supporting López. There's also a final bow – and perhaps a final firework to be set off – for Vincenzo Nibali, winner of all three Grand Tours and the 2010 Vuelta, who's retiring at the end of the season.
Full line-up: Miguel Angel López, David de la Cruz, Vincenzo Nibali, Samuele Battistella, Vadim Pronskiy, Harold Tejada, Yevgeniy Fedorov
Who? Bahrain-funded team set up in 2017, who have delivered success and controversy in recent years
Leader: Mikel Landa
Rider to watch: Santiago Buitrago
The Bahrain Victorious team head to the Vuelta with a strong line-up headed up by home favourite Mikel Landa with Jack Haig absent having finished third last year after his similar early Tour de France abandon.
The Spanish climber is spectacular on his day but has had an eventful and turbulent career. This year's Giro was surely his smoothest run at a Grand Tour and he made the podium, although that in itself raised doubts about whether he has that extra ingredient to become a Grand Tour champion.
Wout Poels is set to make his 20th Grand Tour appearance as a luxury domestique, while Gino Mäder adds more class to the line-up in his first Grand Tour of the season. The team will be focused on the GC and the odd possible breakaway, with Colombian puncheur Santiago Buitrago one to watch after a breakthrough year and a stage win at the Giro.
Full line-up: Mikel Landa, Wout Poels, Santiago Buitrago, Gino Mäder, Fred Wight, Jasha Sütterlin, Luis León Sánchez, Edoardo Zambanini
Who? Australian team funded by Gerry Ryan, originally known as Orica-GreenEdge when it started in 2012
Leader: Simon Yates
Rider to watch: Kaden Groves
In Simon Yates, BikeExchange-Jayco have a former winner and one of the top Grand Tour contenders in the world. He hasn't had a fortunate run in the past couple of years but Yates remains a supreme talent who can now time trial with the best as well as producing his characteristic explosive climbing performances.
Yates looked on course for Giro contention this year after winning the stage 2 time trial but was then set back by a knee injury. Even if he recovered to win a stage, he had to rest up and miss the Tour de France, but the benefit for the Vuelta was the fact he could re-set and take square aim at the Spanish Grand Tour. His pre-race results – victory at Ordiziako Klasika and the Vuelta a Castilla y León, plus 6th at the Clásica San Sebastián – certainly suggest he's ready to hunt the red jersey he won in 2018.
The rest of the squad is largely built around supporting Yates, although there's a lack of real high mountain support, Lucas Hamilton being the only one who'd really be expected to survive the big climbs. Still, the likes of Luke Durbridge, Lawson Craddock, and Michael Hepburn will be useful in the opening team time trial. There's also a Grand Tour debut for Kaden Groves, a sprinter who can get through the medium mountains. He's off to Alpecin-Deceuninck next season but should find the parcours to his liking.
Full line-up: Simon Yates, Lawson Craddock, Callum Scotson, Kaden Groves, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Lucas Hamilton, Kelland O'Brien
Who? German team who reached the WorldTour with Peter Sagan in 2017 but have since transitioned to the Grand Tours
Leaders: Jai Hindley, Sergio Higuita, Sam Bennett
Rider to watch: Wilco Kelderman
Bora-Hansgrohe's transition into a GC-oriented team continues at this Vuelta, even if they've made room for sprinter Sam Bennett. The Irishman was snubbed from their Tour de France line-up and the explanations from the team suggested they were fully committed to chasing titles at Grand Tours after Jai Hindley's surprise victory at this year's Giro d'Italia.
Hindley returns to the fold in a squad that, despite containing a sprinter and two lead-out men, features multiple potential GC cards. Sergio Higuita is untested at three-week level but has enjoyed an outstanding debut season for the German team, with five wins, including the Volta a Catalunya. Meanwhile, Wilco Kelderman, third at the 2020 Giro and fifth at the 2021 Tour de France, adds a third genuine contender. Emanuel Buchmann was due to add a fourth card but illness means he's been replaced by Italian climber Matteo Fabbro, still a strong mountain domestique.
Hindley, who lacks major flare but lasts deep into the final week, arguably starts as the likeliest leader but the talk in the camp is of an open strategy intended to keep their rivals guessing. If they are true to their word, it could be spectacular.
With one pure domestique in Jonas Koch, the rest of the squad revolves around Bennett. His inclusion itself, which was in doubt, is something of a punt given the Irishman's form, but he has also been afforded the backing of two lead-out men in Danny van Poppel and Ryan Mullen. Bennett's win at Eschborn Frankfurt in May is his only victory since returning to the team at the start of the year and he desperately needs to rediscover any hint of form.
Full line-up: Jai Hindley, Sergio Higuita, Wilco Kelderman, Matteo Fabbro, Sam Bennett, Ryan Mullen, Danny van Poppel, Jonas Koch
Who? Second-division outfit hailing from the Burgos region of northern Spain
Rider to watch: Jetse Bol
Breakaways will be the name of the game for the invited wildcard team. They don't have a GC or sprint prospect and so will be out to honour their presence in the race and show off their sponsors by escaping up the road.
Two of the riders on the team's original lineup – Dutchman Jetse Bol and Angel Madrazo – have stood on a stage podium at the Vuelta before, with the Spanish rider taking first and Bol second on a stage finishing on the Alto de Javalambre in 2019. Climber José Manuel Díaz won the Tour of Turkey last year and could be one to watch on his Grand Tour debut.
Madrazo, though, was forced out of the race this week having tested positive for COVID-19. They'll start with seven after young Spaniard Manuel Peñalver also tested positive.
Full line-up: Jetse Bol, Victor Langelotti, Oscar Cabedo, José Manuel Díaz, Jesús Ezquerra, Daniel Navarro, Ander Okamika
Who? French team whose title sponsor is a long-time backer of the Vuelta
Leader: Bryan Coquard
Objectives: Stage wins
Rider to watch: Jesús Herrada
Cofidis line up without their GC leader Guillaume Martin, who had done the Giro d'Italia but only did half of the Tour de France after contracting COVID-19. He was set for a Vuelta start and won the recent Tour de l'Ain but the team decided he'd already accrued a lot of race days, and perhaps sensed an opportunity for him to score UCI points elsewhere in the WorldTour relegation battle.
In the absence of a GC leader, Cofidis are out for stage wins, led by sprinter Bryan Coquard. The Frenchman has never won a Grand Tour stage and, despite a promising start to life at Cofidis, hasn't won since February.
Still, the opportunities at this Vuelta are numerous and the number of top-tier sprinters is limited. Coquard will have Davide Cimolai to lead him out, while the rest of the team looks set up for breakaways in the mountains, with the in-form Remy Rochas and former Tour de l'Avenir winner Ruben Fernandez on the start list.
But perhaps their best shot is Jesús Herrada, who has been a consistent breadwinner for the team in the past few years and seems to come alive at the Vuelta.
Full line-up: Bryan Coquard, Jesus Herrada, Jose Herrada, Davide Villella, Ruben Fernandez, Thomas Champion, Remy Rochas, Davide Cimolai
Who? German-registered WorldTour team formerly known as Sunweb
Leader: Thymen Arensman
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: John Degenkolb
Team DSM once again head into a Grand Tour with an open strategy and a non-committal stating of ambitions. Thymen Arensman is on a "day-by-day approach" but it's clear he's their general classification leader.
The 22-year-old is a rising star who's off to Ineos Grenadiers next year and comes to the Vuelta after riding the Giro earlier in the season. With experience under his belt, he now gets a leadership opportunity away from the shadow of Romain Bardet, and will be keen to grasp it.
Arensman, who was third at the Tour of the Alps and sixth at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, is an all-rounder who has a very strong time trial – second on the final day of the Giro d'Italia – and can also survive the longer climbs with a rouleur's style akin to his compatriot Tom Dumoulin. His runner-up finish at the recent Tour de Pologne underlined his pre-race form.
Arensman is the team's main prospect, with John Degenkolb offering an alternative route to a stage win in a squad that lacks big star quality but will surely be out for opportunities in the breakaways.
Full line-up: Thymen Arensman, John Degenkolb, Marco Brenner, Nikias Arndt, Mark Donovan, Henri Vandenabeele, Joris Nieuwenhuis, Jonas Hvideberg
Who? US team formerly known as Slipstream who mix the WorldTour with off-road adventures
Leader: Hugh Carthy
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: Esteban Chaves
EF Education-EasyPost are among those threatened by relegation and, although they have some breathing room, a good Vuelta would see them to safety. They haven't released their full line-up and probably won't do until a couple of hours before the race, knowing their laid-back approach, but Hugh Carthy is set to lead the line.
The British climber had a disappointing and frustratingly erratic Giro d'Italia but still finished in the top 10. At the top of his game, he can thrive on long and epic mountain stages while also backing up with a solid time trial for someone so skinny. The high point of his career so far arguably came at the 2020 Vuelta when he won on the famous Angliru summit finish and made it onto the final podium.
The rest of the squad is set to revolve around supporting Carthy and hunting breakaways in the medium mountains, with no sprinter in sight. It's unclear if Rigoberto Urán will be racing but his GC credentials have taken a hit in recent years, while two-time stage winner Esteban Chaves could well step up to the plate on his Grand Tour debut for the team.
Full line-up: Hugh Carthy, Rigoberto Urán, Esteban Chaves, James Shaw, Mark Padun, Julius van den Berg, Merhawi Kudus, Jonathan Caicedo
Who? Basque team who are back showing off their orange colours at the Vuelta
Rider to watch: Luis Angel Maté
Euskaltel-Euskadi are one of three wildcards handed out to home second-division outfits, racing their second Vuelta in this new incarnation of the famous old all-Basque team. After the opening stages in Holland, the Vuelta hits Spain in the Basque Country, and you can be sure the team will be eager to light up those three stages in their bright orange jerseys.
With no GC leader and no sprinter, it's all about the breakaways, earning airtime and exposure and putting themselves in the hunt for what would be a dream stage victory. All of them will be up the road at one point or another but it's worth keeping an eye on Luis Angel Maté, a relative veteran starting his 12th Grand Tour. For every kilometre he spends in the breakaway, he'll plant a tree, and that's something worth getting behind.
Full line-up: Luis Angel Maté, Joan Bou, Mikel Iturria, Mikel Bizkarra, Gotzon Martin, Ibai Azurmendi, Carlos Canal, Xabier Azparren
Who? Long-running French squad sponsored by the national lottery
Leader: Thibaut Pinot
Objective: Stage wins
Rider to watch: Jake Stewart
Groupama-FDJ have Thibaut Pinot in their ranks, which will always create excitement among the fans, even if he's not going for the overall title here. The Frenchman has had a rough time with injuries in the past couple of years and heads to the Vuelta on the back of a Tour de France where he was below his best to start with and was further held back by a prior COVID-19 infection. He heads to the Vuelta not in shape to re-launch his GC career but hopefully to hunt stages in the mountains.
That will also be the name of the game for the likes of his trusted ally, Sebastien Reichenbach and Rudy Molard, both of whom finished in the top six at the Tour de l'Ain. Bruno Armirail and Quentin Pacher round out the climbing wing of the squad.
On the other side sits Jake Stewart and a duo of sprint lieutenants. After a breakthrough 2021, Stewart's season has been derailed by a stomach illness but he's back and claimed an emotional first pro victory at the recent Tour de l'Ain. A solid sprinter who can survive climbs, a stage win would be a dream scenario for rider and team, and he'll be able to count on the support for Miles Scotson and Fabian Lienhard to get him in position.
Full line-up: Thibaut Pinot, Rudy Molard, Sebastien Reichenbach, Bruno Armirail, Quentin Pacher, Jake Stewart, Fabien Lienhard, Miles Scotson.
Who? British team formerly known as Team Sky and now under the Ineos ownership of Jim Ratcliffe
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Rider to watch: Carlos Rodríguez
This Vuelta line-up is something of a past and present for Ineos Grenadiers, who have in Richard Carapaz a major contender for the overall title, plus luxury domestiques or even back-ups in Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov. However, Grand Tour domination has waned in recent years and they've looked to rejuvenate their squad and freshen up their racing identity, and here they give a chance to four debutants.
Carapaz has finished on the podium of all three Grand Tours in his three seasons with Ineos and is one of the most consistent three-week contenders in the world. He finished runner-up at the Giro earlier in the season after a rare moment of weakness on the final mountain but will be expected to mount a serious challenge for the red jersey in what will be his final Grand Tour for Ineos. Geoghegan Hart is another former Giro winner who gets his first Grand Tour start after a rough season, while Sivakov has been used a domestique in the past couple of years but remains a big talent and is very much in form, winning the recent Vuelta a Burgos.
Paris-Roubaix champion Dylan van Baarle adds road captain experience in a squad with a quartet of Grand Tour newcomers: Ethan Hayter, Luke Plapp, Carlos Rodríguez, and Ben Turner. Plapp, an all-rounder and future GC prospect, and Turner, a cyclo-cross rider who had a breakthrough in the Classics this spring, are first-year pros and will likely be finding their feet. Hayter, meanwhile, appears ready to win on the biggest stage after taking his tally to 15 victories from the past two seasons, with the hillier sprint stages of particular interest to the 23-year-old Briton.
Rodríguez, meanwhile, is also a third-year pro but is only 21 and has had a breakthrough season of his own. The climber will stand out on home soil in the jersey of Spanish champion and while a sustained GC bid is unrealistic, he could well be one of the surprise performers of the race.
Full line-up: Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pavel Sivakov, Dylan van Baarle, Carlos Rodríguez, Ethan Hayter, Luke Plapp, Ben Turner
Who? Belgian team who stepped up to WorldTour level in 2021 and have taken huge strides this season
Leader: Domenico Pozzovivo
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: Louis Meintjes
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert were mocked last year but have had an outstanding 2022 campaign so far, with Biniam Girmay's success just one factor in a widespread upping of the game.
There's no Girmay at the Vuelta, and no Alexander Kristoff either, so it'll be down to Gerben Thijssen to get involved in any sprints, which he did to great effect with a recent stage win at the Tour de Pologne.
The GC wing will be led by Domenico Pozzovivo and Louis Meintjes. The former is nearly 40 but remains a consistent climber and finished eighth at this year's Giro. He has had time to build back up towards the Vuelta so perhaps starts as the likelier leader over Meintjes, who hasn't raced since himself placing eighth at the Tour de France. The South African has got his career back on track this summer and, even if two GC bids in quick succession is likely beyond him, he could continue his upward curve in Spain.
Full line-up: Domenico Pozzovivo, Jan Hirt, Jan Bakelants, Louis Meintjes, Julius Johansen, Rein Taaramäe, Gerben Thijssen, Boy Van Poppel
Who? Israeli team who reached the WorldTour in 2020, but whose top-tier status is now in danger
Leader: Michael Woods
Objectives: GC, stage wins, UCI points
Rider to watch: Chris Froome
Israel-Premier Tech are one of the teams fighting relegation from the WorldTour and the automatic invites that come with it so they are desperate to peel themselves off bottom spot.
That's maybe why Michael Woods has been given a GC brief. He has expressed his preference for stage hunting in the past but in the UCI points system that doesn't carry as much weight as a top-10 result overall. In fairness, this Vuelta route suits Wood's punchy style, with no fewer than nine summit finishes but a route that's relatively light on very long or very high-altitude mountain stages. The Canadian former runner has enjoyed the bulk of his Grand Tour success at the Vuelta, placing seventh overall in 2017 before winning stages in 2018 and 2020. A return to the GC consistency of five years ago is what his team will be after.
Itamar Einhorn will look to get involved in the sprints but the rest of the team is set up for breakaways. Alessandro De Marchi has that in his DNA, while Carl Fredrik Hagen broke through at the Vuelta a couple of years ago but hasn't hit the same heights since. In addition to Woods, the one name that stands out on the start list is that of Chris Froome.
The four-time Tour de France champion has been on the comeback trail ever since his career-threatening 2019 crash and this summer he finally showed signs of life, his third place on Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France a real turning point. Froome's ongoing recovery and insistence he can regain his old powers makes him one to watch wherever he goes but he could truly reignite his career in Spain.
Full line-up: Michael Woods, Chris Froome, Patrick Bevin, Alessandro De Marchi, Itamar Einhorn, Carl Fredrik Hagen, Omen Goldstein, Daryl Impey
Who? Dutch squad formerly known as Rabobank who become one of the world's top teams in the past few years
Leader: Primož Roglič
Rider to watch: Rohan Dennis
In Primož Roglič, Jumbo-Visma have the winner of the past three editions of the Vuelta. Victory would tie him with Roberto Heras on a record four titles and make him the first person to win a Grand Tour four times in a row since Miguel Indurain. While other Grand Tours have treated him harshly, Roglič loves the Vuelta and has thrived on its punchy terrain. His presence on the start list automatically makes him the pre-race favourite.
And yet, there are plenty of doubts. Roglič was only finalised for the race on Monday, after only returning to training at the start of August following his exit from the Tour de France. With a dislocated shoulder and damaged back, Roglič ploughed on in France even as his GC prospects crumbled, helping teammate Jonas Vingegaard towards the title before bowing out after 14 stages.
As preparation goes, it's far from ideal, and while Roglič at the Vuelta conjures images of invincibility and bonus-second sprints, this time he appears far more fallible. But then again, the Vuelta has become Roglič's refuge and scene of redemption after previous setbacks in each of the past three seasons.
With double Giro stage winner Koen Bouwman out injured, the rest of Jumbo-Visma's squad was looking a little light in Roglič's possible absence, but they now have a focal point to rally behind. Sepp Kuss, touted as a potential leader, will now resume his customary mountain support role with Sam Oomen, Robert Gesink and Chris Harper also on hand.
Mike Teunissen gives the team a vague sprint option but it's Rohan Dennis who really catches the eye with his first Grand Tour for Jumbo-Visma and first since he turned the Giro on its head for Geoghegan Hart and Ineos in 2020. The Australian missed out on Tour de France selection but will play a vital role across the terrains and especially on the opening team time trial, where he – plus Edoardo Affini – could propel Roglič to some early gains.
Full line-up: Primož Roglič, Rohan Dennis, Sepp Kuss, Robert Gesink, Chris Harper, Sam Oomen, Edoardo Affini, Mike Teunissen
Who? Spanish team born from the old Lizarte development structure, becoming a second-division ProTeam in 2021
Leader: Hector Carretero
Objectives: Breakaways and stage wins
Rider to watch: Raúl García Pierna
Equipo Kern Pharma is a team of inexperienced youngsters, most of them making their Grand Tour debuts. As such, expectations will be low and they'll be expected to throw themselves into breakaways to see what sticks. Héctor Carretero is a leader insofar as he is the most experienced, with two Grand Tours and five seasons at Movistar to his name.
The squad, however, does contain some more exciting young talents who could light up the race. Roger Adrìa won the shortened stage of the recent Route d'Occitanie, while Raúl García Pierna – son of 1990s pro Félix García Casas – is the Spanish national time trial champion after pulling off an upset in June.
Full line-up: Roger Adrìa, Héctor Carretero, Raúl García Pierna, Vojtech Repa, José Félix Parra, Pau Miquel, Francisco Galván, Urko Berrade
Who? Long-running Belgian team funded by the national lottery
Leader: Thomas De Gendt
Objectives: Stage wins, UCI points
Rider to watch: Jarrad Drizners
This Vuelta a España is not high on the priority list of Lotto Soudal. They are locked in a battle to avoid relegation from the WorldTour and they're strategy has hinged on piling up points in the lower-level one-day races. That's why none of the team's stars are in action at the Vuelta, with Caleb Ewan, Arnaud De Lie, Victor Campenaerts, and Tim Wellens all deployed elsewhere.
The Vuelta team does contain some point-scoring potential though, as well as some tried and tested breakaway potential, plus some interesting youngsters.
The point-scoring potential comes from Steff Cras and Maxim Van Gils, who are all in the magic top-10 of the team's scorers this year – with only 10 eligible to count towards a team's overall total. The breakaway hope is Thomas De Gendt, a true master of the art. He might be getting older and might be past his best but he reminded himself and us that you can't just roll over as he escaped to a memorable solo victory at the Giro earlier in the year.
The young prospects are the Australian duo of Harry Sweeny and Jarrad Drizners. Sweeny is a 24-year-old all-rounder who produced a strong climbing display to finish second on the final stage of the recent Tour de l'Ain. Neo-pro Drizners, meanwhile, could have died earlier this year when he sliced his liver open in a UAE Tour crash, and is hot on the comeback trail. He was hired as a lead-out man but his mountains classification victory at the recent Tour de Pologne shows he's ready to throw himself in wherever.
Full line-up: Cedric Beullens, Thomas De Gendt, Maxim Van Gils, Jarrad Drizners, Harry Sweeny, Nicola Conca, Kamil Małecki, Steff Cras
Who? Spanish team dating back to the 1980s, with a rich history in the sport and at the Vuelta
Leader: Enric Mas
Objectives: GC, stage wins, UCI points
Rider to watch: Alejandro Valverde
The Vuelta is always the biggest race of the year for the home WorldTour team, and it doesn't get any bigger than this year. Success, pride, sponsorship activation and public affection are all on the line but so is their top-tier status. Eusebio Unzué's team are sitting 18th in the World Rankings and are at threat of relegation from the WorldTour.
It has been an alarming slide down the rankings for the Movistar who, despite complaints from their team manager about the UCI's points system, need to start scoring fast if they're not to slip into the bottom two places and possibly lose access to the WorldTour race calendar in 2023.
Enric Mas will be key to their survival. In that respect, not a lot changes at this Vuelta. A podium finish would have been the aim anyway for Mas, and if he pulls it off it would hand Movistar a vital raft of points. The Spaniard is certainly capable. He was runner-up last year, fifth the year before, and both times he'd just finished top-six at the Tour de France. However, there are doubts. Mas had a miserable Tour this year, with crashes, fluctuating form, a loss of confidence, and a COVID-19 infection that took him out and stopped him scoring any points. Quite how he recovered from that ordeal – with his team manager also questioning his leadership ability – remains to be seen.
If Mas falters, Movistar can always look to their old talisman, Alejandro Valverde for inspiration. The Spaniard won this race in 2009 before his doping ban and has finished on the podium a further six times. At 41, he's finally retiring at the end of the season and any farewell atmosphere is tempered by the need to continue providing until the last. Valverde, 11th at this year's Giro, has had a strong final season so far – not the glittering success of old but still able to mix it with the world's best on occasion. A final flourish in Spain would be the send-off he and his team dream of.
Elsewhere, it's an uninspiring line-up for Movistar, with Nelson Oliveira there for the TTT and Carlos Verona – the only other rider in their top 10 points-scoring group – for the mountains. The absence of potential stage winners an Ivan Cortina and Alex Aranburu surely points to the relegation battle and the necessary evil of sending home hopes off to where they might find a bigger collection of points on offer.
Full line-up: Enric Mas, Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Verona, Nelson Oliveira, Mathias Norsgaard, Gregor Mühlberger, Lluís Mas, José Joaquín Rojas
Who? Belgian team led by Patrick Lefevere, a dominant force in the spring Classics and now starting to look to stage racing
Leader: Remco Evenepoel
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: Julian Alaphilippe
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl leader Remco Evenepoel will be one of the biggest stories of the Vuelta, however he fares. The young Belgian has turned heads since he burst onto the scene straight from the juniors in 2019, his outrageous talents sending Belgian expectation to fever pitch. But Evenepoel is still a rider in search of himself.
He can seemingly ride away from world class fields at will in some races – like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the recent Clásica San Sebastián – but he has had many a moment of stage race weakness that reminds us he's not yet the complete package. Will he ever be? That's what we'll be closer to finding out at the Vuelta.
In a team that's traditionally light on climbers, Evenepoel gets a support network that includes Fausto Masnada, Louis Vervaeke, Ilan Van Wilder, and Pieter Serry, plus Remi Cavagna for the flat and the team time trial. And then there's the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman, joined by his trusty domestique Dries Devenyns, should have more of a free role to hunt stage wins as he looks to salvage something from a trying campaign.
Alaphilippe crashed heavily at Liège, raced to get fit for the Tour, missed selection, and had to press reset. He has got some recent racing under his belt but it's clear he's still some way off his best and the Vuelta should see him rise in power and tell us whether he can realistically challenge for a third straight world title in Wollongong.
Full line-up: Remco Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe, Dries Devenyns, Fausto Masnada, Ilan Van Wilder, Louis Vervaeke, Remi Cavagna, Pieter Serry
Who? US-registered WorldTour team with an Italian flavour
Leader: Mads Pedersen
Objectives: Stage wins
Rider to watch: Juan Pedro López
Trek-Segafredo line up with an open formation and a cast of eight opportunists. Mads Pedersen leads the way in terms of stature and experience, the former world champion possibly fancying his chances among a relatively weak sprinting field.
But Pedersen is also a demon breakaway rider, and if his teammates needed any inspiration for this Vuelta they need re-watch his exhibition on the road to Saint-Etienne at the recent Tour de France.
Kenny Elissonde and Julien Bernard will, as ever, throw themselves up the road in the mountains. Juan Pedro López could also be part of that cast but might just be tempted into a GC bid after winding up in the pink jersey at the Giro, keeping it for longer than expected, and finishing the race 10th overall.
Full line-up: Mads Pedersen, Kenny Elissonde, Julien Bernard, Daan Hoole, Alex Kirsch, Dario Cataldo, Antonio Tiberi, Juan Pedro López
UAE Team Emirates
Who? UAE-funded team that rose from the ashes of the old Lampre set-up in 2017
Leaders: João Almeida, Pascal Ackermann
Objectives: GC and stage wins
Rider to watch: Juan Ayuso
Tadej Pogačar had been set to line up at the Vuelta, scene of his Grand Tour breakthrough with three stage wins and third overall back in 2019. Two Tour de France titles later, the Slovenian had intended to double up in Spain this year but his defeat in France caused a re-think.
In his absence, the UAE Team Emirates squad is hardly a damp squib. In fact, it's packed with promise. For starters, they have a bona fide title contender in João Almeida. The Portuguese rider was fourth and sixth in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Giro d'Italia and might have done the same again this year had he not had to leave with COVID-19. At 24, he's not yet the finished article but can climb and time trial with the best, and it's surely only a matter of time before he makes a podium and seriously challenges for a title.
Like Almeida, Brandon McNulty is another 24-year-old all-round talent doubling up on Grand Tours for the first time in his career. The US rider produced a sensational domestique display to tee up Pogačar's victory at Peyragudes at this year's Tour but still lacks consistency.
UAE have decided to go for a two-pronged approach, with Pascal Ackermann targeting stage wins away from the GC bid. The German sprinter crashed at the recent European Championships but won a stage of the recent Tour de Pologne and will fancy his chances in a sprint field lacking in depth. He'll have one lead-out man in Juan Sebastián Molano.
Elsewhere, Marc Soler, Ivo Oliveira and Jan Polanc offer support but it's Juan Ayuso who really catches the eye, and will be catching the imagination of his home fans. The Spaniard is just 19 years of age and only turned professional a year ago, but is considered one of the sport's new generation of 'super talents', and recently signed the longest contract in the WorldTour, through 2028. There has been talk of easing Ayuso into professional life but he was fifth at Catalunya and fourth at Romandie this year, and then grabbed his first pro win at the Circuit Getxo two weeks ago. Like Evenepoel and Pogačar a few years ago, the sense is his time has already come.
Full line-up: João Almeida, Brandon McNulty, Juan Ayuso, Pascal Ackermann, Juan Sebastián Molano, Ivo Oliveira, Jan Polanc, Marc Soler.
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