Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén has said he is hoping this year's race will showcase a duel between Tour de France leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and the Giro d'Italia winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers).
Neither rider has been 100 per cent confirmed for cycling's third Grand Tour of 2021, although Bernal said after the Giro d'Italia he wanted to do the Vuelta, and UAE team manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin has said recently the Vuelta is "in Pogačar's plans" assuming he finishes the Tour de France in good shape.
Pogačar took third in the Vuelta in 2019, his first Grand Tour finish, while Bernal has never raced it the Spanish Grand Tour before.
"If they came it would be an amazing duel and one that we in the organisation have high hopes could actually happen," Guillén told Cyclingnews.
"It's always the riders who have to announce if they're coming to a race. But given the magnificent season we're currently enjoying, and as the last Grand Tour of the year, it would be a great finale if they took part."
As for Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and whether the double Vuelta a España winner could be on the race's start line in Burgos on August 14th as well, Guillén says simply, "we're hopeful, that's all I can say.
"But if you asked me if I was optimistic about Roglič coming to the Vuelta, I'd say yes. And if you asked me if I'd put money on whether he was coming, I would place that bet, too."
"In Roglič's case, it also depends on how he finally recovers from his Tour de France injuries [sustained in a crash on stage 5, ed]. If he could come to the Vuelta, though, he'd be able to have the chance to fight for the overall title for a third year running."
Just two riders, Tony Rominger and Roberto Heras, have previously won the Vuelta three years in a row.
"We're in an era of records," Guillen pointed out. "Look at Mark Cavendish taking 34 stage wins in the Tour. So it'd be great if Primož could come here to try to get a third straight title."
Having Roglič face off against Bernal and Pogačar would be a "wonderful battle of the generations". Roglič is 31, while Pogačar and Bernal are seven and nine years younger, respectively.
"These three riders are, I believe, the most important riders in three-week stage racing right now. All of them are very competitive, and it'd be a great opportunity to see who is 'the best of the best'," Guillén says.
With a line-up that could very well be one of the most star-studded in years, Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) is also rumoured to be likely to take part in the Vuelta. However, the Briton told reporters on Saturday in the Tour it was not yet decided if he would return to a race that he, like Roglič, has already won twice.
"I can only be grateful towards Chris for how he's raced the Vuelta and on top of that, for the consideration he's always had for the event," Guillén said when asked about a possible Froome participation.
"He's not in the top spots right now of the GC in any race, but he's always fighting to prove what he can do and is always helping his team.
"I've always felt there's been a mutual appreciation between our race and Chris and I really hope he can come back here again."
As for Spain's chances of taking their first Vuelta win in seven years, although Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) remains a fan favourite and will be riding it again, Guillén argues there are other options too.
"I'd like Movistar to come here with all their top names, and it's a pity that Marc Soler won't be able to make it after his dramatic accident in the Tour."
"So we've got our eyes on Alejandro and Enric Mas and for Colombia, Miguel Ángel Lopez. Plus we're hoping that Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) will have recovered enough from his Giro d'Italia crash and injuries to be on the start line as well."
"With any luck Mikel, Enric and Alejandro will be able to represent Spain in their home race and take on the foreign contenders."
As for the 2021 Vuelta route, Guillén argues that "Other times we've had the toughest mountains in the third weekend of the race's four. But this time it's possibly the hardest third week the race has ever known."
Guillén lists the challenges in the last nine days, starting with the summit finish in Villuercas on stage 14. Then there is a mountainous stage in the sierras of Ávila, summit finishes on the Covadonga and Gamonitieiru, a 'Classic' style stage in Galicia and last but not least, a demanding 30-kilometre time trial in Santiago de Compostela.
"We're simply taking advantage of the wide variety of terrain we have in Spain, and finishing in Galicia because, like in 2014, it's an Año Xacobeo", a 'Jacobean year', when there are special commemorations of the patron Saint of the region, Saint James.
"So it's maybe a bit different to other editions. But we're looking to create as much drama as we can in the race, right to the very end."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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