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Vuelta a España: 5 sprinters to watch

Vuelta 2021 best sprinters
Arnaud Démare, Fabio Jakobsen and Michael Matthews are among the sprinters taking on the Vuelta (Image credit: Luc Claessen/Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

 The Vuelta a España – the final Grand Tour of the 2021 season – is almost upon us, with nine uphill and summit finishes awaiting the peloton across 21 days of racing in Spain.

But away from the tough stages on which the general classification contenders will do battle, there are plenty of days for the sprinters to take their chances, too.

There could be six or seven chances for the fastmen to fight for victory across the three-week race, and with the sprint field not packed with top names, there are opportunities for those who might not usually win the pure sprints to emerge and bolster their palmarès in Spain.

Here, we take a look at five of the men to watch at the Vuelta, along with several more honourable mentions.

Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ)

AUCH FRANCE JUNE 11 Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama FDJ Orluis Aular Sanabria of Venezuela and Team Caja RuralSeguros RGA sprint at arrival during the 45th La Route dOccitanie La Depeche Du Midi 2021 Stage 2 a 1987km stage from VillefranchedeRouergue to Auch 174m RDO2021 RouteOccitanie on June 11 2021 in Auch France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Démare in action at June's La Route d'Occitanie (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Frenchman is the biggest sprinting name on the start list with seven Grand Tour stage wins to his name – his five most recent coming at the 2019 and 2020 Giro d'Italia. 

The 29-year-old – making his Vuelta debut – has eight wins on his palmarès 2021, though none at WorldTour level.

His sub-par performance at the Tour de France, where he took a sole fourth place before missing the time cut on stage 9 in the Alps, was concerning, and he and his team will hope that he is past whatever problems he was having in July. Their goal is to make up for their Tour de France disappointment.  

Démare will be supported by trusted lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri, with riders like Tobias Ludvigsson and Ramon Sinkeldam also able to contribute in the Groupama-FDJ train.

Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange)

Tour de France 2021 108th Edition 6th stage Tours Chateauroux 1604 km 01072021 Michael Matthews AUS Team Bikeexchange photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2021

Matthews is looking for his first win of 2021 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Australian Matthews returns to the Vuelta after six years away as he looks to win stages and build up to the Flanders Worlds next month. 

He has three stage wins to his name across two participations in 2013 and 2014 and will hope to add another this time to show his form ahead of the battle for the rainbow jersey.

This season, his first back at BikeExchange following four years at Team Sunweb, hasn't gone fully to plan so far. Matthews doesn't yet have a win on the board, though nine top-five placings in races ranging from Gent-Wevelgem to Amstel Gold Race to four stages at the Tour de France confirm his consistency.

He'll be joined in Spain by Slovenian sprinter Luka Mezgec, who has a Giro stage win to his name and who can certainly hold his own in the sprints.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)

TURGUTREIS TURKEY APRIL 17 Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the the 56th Presidential Cycling Tour Of Turkey 2021 Stage 7 a 180km stage from Marmaris to Turgutreis TUR2021 tourofturkeyTUR on April 17 2021 in Turgutreis Turkey Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Philipsen twice tasted success at the Tour of Turkey (Image credit: Getty Images)

Philipsen heads to the Vuelta off the back of a frustrating Tour de France debut which saw him finish in the top three some six times without crossing the line first, with three second places coming along the way.

The Belgian has wins at Scheldeprijs and the Tour of Turkey to his name so far in 2021, and took his first Grand Tour stage win at last year's Vuelta, beating Pascal Ackermann to the line in Puebla de Sanabria.

He has the speed to add more this time around, and his team – who aren't focused on any general classification bid – can support him along the way with the likes of Eddy Planckaert, Sacha Modolo and Alexander Krieger.

Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

QUAREGNON BELGIUM JULY 24 Fabio Jakobsen of Netherlands and Team Deceuninck QuickStep celebrates at arrival during the 42nd Tour de Wallonie 2021 Stage 5 a 1831km stage from Dinant to Quaregnon tourdewallonie grandprixdewallonie on July 24 2021 in Quaregnon Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Jakobsen was back to winning ways at the Tour de Wallonie (Image credit: Getty Images)

The 24-year-old returns to the Grand Tour stage for the first time since his horror crash at last year's Tour de Pologne, and a year on looks to be approaching his best once again.

It understandably took time for the Dutchman to get up to speed following his return to the peloton at the Tour of Turkey, but he's already back winning again having taken two victories at the Tour de Wallonie in late July.

He has a good history at the Vuelta, too, having won two stages ahead of Sam Bennett at the 2019 edition, and has every chance of adding to those wins this year. 

He won't have lead-out man extraordinaire Michael Mørkøv by his side, instead being supported by Josef Cerny, Zdenek Stybar and Florian Sénéchal, with the Frenchman able to challenge in the sprints himself, too.

Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates)

ARANDA DE DUERO SPAIN AUGUST 06 Juan Sebastin Molano Benavides of Colombia and UAE Team Emirates celebrates at finish line as stage winner during the 43rd Vuelta a Burgos 2021 Stage 4 a 149km stage from Roa to Aranda de Duero VueltaBurgos BurgosCycling CapitalMundialdelCiclismo on August 06 2021 in Aranda de Duero Spain Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo MorenoGetty Images

Molano is in form after winning twice at the Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Colombian is the last man on our list, and he's in top form having taken two stage wins at the recent Vuelta a Burgos. 

Usually a lead-out man for compatriot Fernando Gaviria, Molano will be able to grasp his own chances over the next three weeks for the first time in a Grand Tour.

At Burgos – the biggest wins of his career to date – the 26-year-old beat several of the riders he'll be lining up against at the Vuelta, including Meeus, Aberasturi and Dainese, though it remains to be seen how he'll fare against the bigger names listed above.

Molano will be joined in Spain by fellow fast man Matteo Trentin, who has four podiums to his name this year but hasn't taken a win since 2019.

Honourable mentions

CIUDADRODRIGO SPAIN NOVEMBER 06 Arrival Dion Smith of New Zealand and Team Mitchelton Scott Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma Red Leader Jersey Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark and Team EF Pro Cycling Celebration during the 75th Tour of Spain 2020 Stage 16 a 162km stage from Salamanca to Ciudad Rodrigo lavuelta LaVuelta20 La Vuelta on November 06 2020 in Ciudad Rodrigo Spain Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images

Magnus Cort won a stage of the 2020 Vuelta (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Jon Aberasturi (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) is in good form after taking a second place at the Vuelta a Burgos. Back in June he won a stage of the Tour of Slovenia, his sole triumph of 2021 to date.

Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) makes his Grand Tour debut alongside Arctic Race of Norway stage winner Martin Laas. It remains to be seen how the German team will dole out sprint chances during the race, though the promising 23-year-old should be the main man.

Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) isn't a pure sprinter but does have three Vuelta stages on his palmarès, including the final sprint stage to Madrid in 2016. The Dane is a versatile rider who can succeed on a wider range of stages then just the flat sprints.

Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) is another Grand Tour debutant and will be aiming for his first win of the season after finishing second behind Molano on stage 2 in Burgos. The Italian's sole pro win so far came at last year's Herald Sun Tour.

Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) has a free role in his team, who are hunting for stage wins in Spain. The Italian picked up three podium spots at the Giro and is often in and around the top 10 on sprint stages though rarely the fastest. His last win came at the 2019 Tour de Wallonie.

Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in 2019 after working as a freelancer around pro cycling media for the previous seven years.