Introducing the contenders for the 2015 Vuelta a Espana

BMC won the opening team time trial of the 2015 Vuelta and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. The times don’t even count for the overall.

The organisers responded to riders’ concerns about the sandy sections of the route by ruling that only the stage win was up for grabs and this means that Tejay Van Garderen, who bust his guts going for the win as part of the BMC team, is still on the same time as Chris Froome, who dawdled around, admiring the scenery.

But the truth is that the team time trial is as much about introducing the teams as anything else anyway, so let’s just go with that and have a look at a few of the overall contenders.

Team Sky bring Froome and Geraint Thomas. Dave Brailsford thinks that doing the Vuelta gives a rider a good start to their winter training and has concluded that this is the way to win the Tour de France. This may be why so many other teams are copying this year.

Astana have the strongest team of all. Fabio Aru, who came second in this year’s Giro d’Italia, has been preparing as if he’s team leader, but he races alongside last year’s Tour winner, Vincenzo Nibali, and also Mikel Landa, who probably would have beaten Aru at the Giro if he’d been supported from the outset.

Movistar also have pedigree with the familiar twin-pronged attack of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. The former is generally the stronger rider these days, but the latter still finished on the Tour podium. He also has a better track record than most of riding well throughout the year and the Vuelta’s shorter climbs will suit him more than the Tour’s long drags.

That’s also relevant for Tejay Van Garderen at BMC. He’s a steady sort of rider who hangs in there. I’m not sure he’s suited to the more erratic, less prolonged climbing of the Vuelta, but we’ll see.

Katusha bring Joaquim Rodriguez, Dani Moreno and a bunch of faceless Eastern Bloc riders. Rodriguez is getting on a bit now, but is usually strong in this race. Moreno can often be a bit of a Rodriguez-lite, but the roles could reverse.

AG2R have thoughtfully included Domenico Pozzovivo, my favourite rider. With plenty of short, steep stuff his eternal frailties may be less apparent and there are plenty of summit finishes as well, so he won’t even have to do quite so much descending.

Other than that, Jurgen Van Den Broeck’s back for Lotto-Soudal; one of my four or five riders to watch in 2015, Rafal Majka, leads Tinkoff-Saxo; Brummie Irishman Dan Martin’s riding for Cannondale-Garmin along with Andrew Talansky; and almost as if it were 2011 again, Frank Schleck’s making an appearance for Trek Factory Racing.

Stage two

Standard Vuelta fare – an irregular gradient mid-length climb to the finish means many of those mentioned above will – or at least should – be visible straight away. The Vuelta doesn’t dick about with any of this ‘setting the scene’ bollocks. Except for that team time trial, obviously…