The 74th edition of the Vuelta a España will roll out of Salinas de Torrevieja on Saturday, starting with a 13.5km team time trial. The 22 teams that will be competing over the following three weeks in Spain were presented to fans in a stunning seaside ceremony on Thursday evening.
All of the 176 riders on the start list were on display and waved to the holiday crowds as they prepared to tackle the final Grand Tour of the 2019 season.
One rider missing in the Movistar line-up was Richard Carapaz. The Ecuadorian was due to be co-leader of the Spanish squad alongside Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde but crashed at the Etten-Leur criterium in the Netherlands on Sunday.
Carapaz, who won the Giro d'Italia earlier in the season, suffered a contusion on his right shoulder, other bruises, and "multiple injuries" as a result of his crash. He travelled to the state of the Vuelta but was reportedly unable to keep up with his teammates in training. The decision was made to pull him from the start list after further assessments were taken on Thursday afternoon. Movistar's first reserve rider, José Joaquín Rojas, was called up to take Carapaz's place.
The loss of Carapaz deepens the 'power vacuum' scenario in this year’s Vuelta a España, with the race wide open and unpredictable on a route packed with short stages and testing finishes. That has previously worked in the Vuelta's favour, in 2015, when that year's Tour de France winner Chris Froome crashed out injured and Vincenzo Nibali was sent home early for taking a tow.
The ensuing ding-dong battle between Fabio Aru and Tom Dumoulin, with occasional cameos from Mikel Landa and Joaquim Rodriguez, went right down to the wire in the sierras of Madrid and was widely viewed as one of the most exciting Vueltas of the last decade. Race organisers will be hoping for a similar narrative this year.
There are no Tour de France winners in this year’s race. Team Ineos are without Tour de France duo Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, and have opted for youth with Tao Geoghegan Hart, while Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) is still gradually returning from surgery on his iliac artery.
Three teams are likely to dominate the overall battle: Jumbo-Visma, Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar.
Movistar have a great chance to win their home Grand Tour but doubts remain about Nairo Quintana’s motivation before his expected move to Arkea-Samsic in 2020 and, while Valverde looks leaner than ever, he is likely to target stage victories. Esteban Chaves leads Mitchelton-Scott in the absence of 2018 winner Simon Yates and his twin brother, Adam.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) has stated categorically that he will be going for the overall victory in the Vuelta a España and has the backing of Jumbo-Visma. That makes him a favourite but he perhaps lacks local knowledge on his Vuelta debut.
"I want to win and I'm going to try to win," Roglic told a small group of reporters at a press conference on Thursday evening. "The podium is a nice place, but I've already done that at the Giro. I want to fight as hard as possible to win."