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Will the Vuelta be the most exciting race of 2015?

By Christopher Ashley

2015 has been a vintage year for cycling fans, and the Vuelta is set to stage an intriguing battle between the world’s grand tour elite. Here’s why we should be excited:

The outsiders are in with a chance in the Vuelta. The Tour de France and Giro d’Italia may have sapped the energy from the big guns, but the days of the Vuelta being an afterthought in the cycling calendar are gone. Horner may have won in 2013, and Cobo in 2011, but five of the last seven victories have gone to Contador, Nibali, or Valverde. Who hasn’t won it yet? Froome.

Photo: Profimedia.cz

Chris Froome looked comfortable leading Le Tour. His decision to concentrate on the Critérium du Dauphiné rather than the Giro clearly paid off, and it looks like Froome is feeling confident enough to have a go at the Vuelta-TdF double. It’ll be a massive psychological boost for Froome to win both, and if he does I’d bet money on him going for the Giro-TdF double in 2016.

Photo: Profimedia.cz

Contador versus Froome is the battle we’re hoping to see. Contador’s victory in the Giro seems to have drained his energy, and his Tour de France suffered. Contador crashed on descents while taking calculated risks to make up time, and he appeared to be coasting towards the end of Le Tour. I’m willing to bet he’s planning his revenge on home turf.

102nd Tour de France / Stage 17
Photo: Profimedia.cz

Quintana and Valverde are crowd favourites, and Movistar must love having them both on their team. They’ve both been given their marching orders by Eusebio Unzue, and they’ll both be competing. Quintana looked like he was enjoying himself on Le Tour He won the Giro in 2014. Maybe it’s the Vuelta in 2015?

Three stages where the race could be won:

The north of Spain will see a lot of action, especially in the Pyrenees. Quintana and Froome thrive on climbing, but Contador is on home turf. Knowing when to pile the pressure on your opponents will be key.

Stage 11

The profile of Stage 11 is enough to bring tears of joy to the eyes of the most jaded cycling fan as it dips below 1,000m three times, and climbs above 1,800m five times before ending with a final climb to above 2,000m. Both Froome and Quintana have the ability to either bury the competition or make up for time lost on flatter stages.

Photo: lavuelta.com

Stage 17

Chris Froome should love this long time-trial stage, but it comes after some savage days in the mountains. There’s no comparing this to the time-trial friendly 2012 Tour de France. Although Froome may have benefited from seeing the master at work, Wiggins had the luxury of the critical TT stages coming before the big mountain stages. Froome should do well for himself, but I wouldn’t bet against an outsider grabbing victory here.

Stage 9

Nothing should happen in Stage 9 when the cyclists pass through Alicante and Benidorm. The stage is mostly flat, although there are a couple of short and steep climbs that race leaders need to watch out for.

Photo: lavuelta.com

That said, Stage 9 is the kind of stage that makes the Vuelta special. An unexpected cross wind on the flats could reward or punish a group break away, and Contador has a knack for taking the bull by the horns and turning a situation to his advantage.

Contador has won the Vuelta for three out of the last seven years. Spain is in his blood, and he could make that count, but he’s up against the quietly rising star of Quintana, and the frightening cold efficiency of Froome and Team Sky. Underestimate Stage 9 at your peril, it could be the stage of the year.