Eight pairs to watch in the 2014 Vuelta a Espana
There aren’t enough race previews binding riders together into twos. Let’s be honest, all the best things come in pairs. Also Twixes.
The Chrises – Chris Horner and Chris Froome
Horner won last year. Froome’s one of the big favourites to win this year. What more do you need to know?
Horner’s age, maybe? He’s 42.
The Colombians – Nairo Quintana and Carlos Betancur
Quintana won this year’s Giro d’Italia and is already one of the favourites for next year’s Tour de France. I’m not entirely convinced that he really is only 24, but if he’s anywhere close he’ll be around a long, long time.
It’s perhaps unwise to make bold predictions about Betancur. He seems an unpredictable sort and has spent most of the season falling out with his team. “I don’t know if other Colombians are as complicated as mine,” said Ag2r general manager Vincent Lavenu at one point.
Betancur was looking pretty pudgy at the start of the season, but not long after he managed to win Paris-Nice. He returned to Europe about a fortnight ago and is again looking fat.
The Spanish podium contenders – Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde
Las damas de honor. Assuming Google Translate’s let me down, that’s meant to say ‘the bridesmaids’. This pair tend to finish second, third or fourth in Grand Tours. I couldn’t really give a toss about Valverde, but Rodriguez – or ‘Purito’ as he’s known – really does deserve to win at least one in his career.
The Martins – Dan Martin and Tony Martin
They’re not related, which is pretty obvious if you look at them. Dan Martin has the worst upper body in professional sport and scrambles up hills like an impatient beetle. Tony Martin is 30 per cent mouth, 60 per cent thighs with the remaining 10 per cent used to link them together.
Dan has mostly been falling off his bike this year, but a good Grand Tour performance is increasingly overdue. Tony will hopefully do a repeat of last year’s ludicrous solo break in preparation for the World Championships time trial.
The cobbled kings – Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen
I always feel a bit sorry for the big spring classics riders in Grand Tours because they don’t tend to have many opportunities to shine and everyone wonders what all the fuss is about when they inevitably get dropped on the first mountain stage.
Cancellara’s a big knot of muscle who might have a go on some of the knobbly stages and does at least busy himself with time trials when he’s not on the pavé. Boonen’s Belgium’s favourite son and doesn’t really give a shit about any race that takes place after April. The World Championships road race is the only thing keeping him out of bed. I’ve no idea whether he’ll try and do anything in the Vuelta.
The puncheurs – Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert
Two more with their eyes on the World Championships, but these two are likely to be a lot more visible. As we saw in the Tour, Sagan is capable of finishing second on any non-mountain stage. Gilbert won two stages of the Vuelta in 2012 and one last year and always seems to be keen and in form around now.
John Degenkolb and John Degenkolb’s moustache
These two, combined, form one of my favourite riders. You probably didn’t notice him in the Tour, because he was busying himself doing all the legwork for Marcel Kittel. Not here. Here at the Vuelta, he rides to win. His thing is sprinting on days when not all the sprinters can make it to the finish in the front group and in the 2012 Vuelta, that was enough to net him five stages.
The Brits – Adam Yates and Peter Kennaugh
For clarity, Adam is not Simon. I’m still struggling to distinguish between them. This one’s NOT the young lad from Bury who was in the Tour de France. He IS the young lad from Bury who won this year’s Tour of Turkey.
Peter Kennaugh, however, is the British rider I’m most excited about these days. Sky will sacrifice him in support of Chris Froome so you’ll have to watch him carefully to properly judge how he does. Hopefully he’ll be somewhere near the front on summit finishes.