Five riders to watch at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

It’s the Vuelta tomorrow. After so much excitement, it’ll be good to have some cycling to follow where I don’t have too much vested in the outcome.

Eurosport’s David Harmon says he likes the air of melancholy that pervades the Vuelta. It’s a slightly sad sort of a race, coming after the Tour and marking the period of time where you start to grow aware that bloody autumn’s on its way.

It also tends to feature an odd assortment of entrants – a combination of second-rate stage racers, up-and-coming contenders and riders who’ve been injured or banned and have had to resort to Plan B for the season. Nevertheless, it’s a Grand Tour and you don’t win one of those without being a remarkable human being. Here are five riders I’ll be watching.

1. Alberto Contador

He climbs, he time-trials, he wins Grand Tours and he gets banned for having clenbuterol in his system. He said it was in some beef, they said it was most likely in some vitamin supplements. There was no proof that it was either.

Mostly he climbs though and this being his first Grand Tour since his ban, he’ll be keen to impress. Say what you like about him, but his presence makes this feel like a proper race.

2. Chris ‘Froomedog’ Froome

Second last year, second in the Tour. Froome finally leads Team Sky. This means he has the opportunity to reveal the full extent of his climbing ability. Considering he’s up against Contador, the first mountain stage could be very, very interesting indeed.

Hopefully, he can steer clear of parasites, pneumonia, typhoid and cotton wool.

3. Joaquim Rodriguez

He was second in this year’s Giro, largely because he can’t time trial. There isn’t much time trialling in the Vuelta.

4. Juan José Cobo

You have to watch him, because he won the Vuelta last year. He hasn’t really won anything else though. Ever.

5. Thomas De Gendt

A lot of people won’t know Thomas De Gendt because he’s quite young and hasn’t done anything of significance in the Tour de France. However, in this year’s Giro, he won the penultimate stage with a solo breakaway up the Passo dello Stelvio. The summit finish was the highest point in the race and he actually threatened the overall lead for quite some time, as he was five minutes ahead of the maglia rosa.

He has that priceless quality where he makes other riders go: “Christ! What’s he doing?”