Riders to watch at the 2013 Vuelta

I’ll keep this simple, which isn’t impossible as the Vuelta is a fundamentally simple race.

Can you climb? These guys can.

Vincenzo Nibali

This year’s Giro winner has kind of implied that there’s a chance he might not go for the overall and that he might just go for the odd stage win as he builds towards the World Championships. Don’t listen to him. He’s bullshitting you. Vince Nibbles is unquestionably one of the favourites.

Joaquim Rodriguez

Somehow finished third last year, despite being the strongest rider. With bonus seconds available on uphill finishes, Purito will look to stockpile time ahead of the penultimate stage which will terrify whoever’s leading the race at that point. It finishes atop the Angliru, a 12km climb which averages 10 per cent and rises to 24 per cent towards the end.

Alejandro Valverde

Eighth in this year’s Tour despite one spectacularly disastrous day and second at last year’s Vuelta, but he won’t have Nairo Quintana to help him out as the Colombian is having a bit of a lie down and then riding the Tour of Britain instead. Movistar are a strong team though, so his absence shouldn’t prove too great a handicap to Valverde.

The Team Sky Colombians

Like The Schlecks, you have to talk about Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao as if they’re the same person – at least until next season when Uran will be riding for a different team. They climb. The race involves climbing. They’re in with a shout.

The AG2R inclination

But if you’re REALLY looking for climbers, surely AG2R are the team to watch. They love an incline. Carlos Betancur was decidedly peppy at the Giro and Domenico Pozzovivo – well – he can’t do anything but climb.

Roman Kreuziger

His Tour de France ride has been largely overlooked because he wasn’t team leader, but it’s questionable whether Alberto Contador was actually the stronger rider. Had the roles been reversed, Kreuziger would surely have finished even higher than a still-impressive fifth. The decidedly French Irishman Nicolas Roche will be alongside him and might also be worth watching having lost a few kilograms since the Tour.

Anyone else?

I’ll mention Ivan Basso to cover my back, but quite honestly I don’t expect anything from him. Meanwhile, Andy Schleck isn’t riding the Vuelta, even though I thought he was targeting this race.

Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam of Belkin might be worth watching though. Although they faded badly in the Tour, they still finished sixth and 13th. Don’t watch Ten Dam too closely, however. Sometimes he looks like this.