The most intriguing feature of the last, and most mountainous, Grand Tour of 2018, the Vuelta a España, is that the winners of the first two tours, Team Sky’s Chris Froome (Giro d’Italia) and Geraint Thomas (Tour de France), are not participating. This leaves the 3,254.7km race wide open, with at least a half-dozen riders with a chance to break Team Sky’s dominance.

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Perhaps the most obvious favorite is the former Team Sky rider Richie Porte, who was an essential ingredient in the Tour de France victories of Bradley Wiggins, in 2012, and Froome in 2013 and 2015. The 33-year-old Australian now rides for BMC Racing and was tipped as a potential winner in this year’s Tour de France, but he crashed during stage 9, breaking his collarbone.

Alberto Contador (Trek) rides at Angliru Hill during the stage 20 of Vuelta a España. Riosa, Spain. 9th September, 2017. © Profimedia, Alamy

Porte has admitted that, because of the injury and consequent lack of training time, he may not have the form he brought to the Tour and may just use the Vuelta as preparation for the UCI World Championships, to be held in September in Innsbruck, Austria. “At first, I think I will definitely be taking the race day-by-day. The last week is pretty hard so you don’t know what could happen there,” he said in a team statement.

This leaves the quartet of previous Vuelta winners – Fabio Aru, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde – with strong possibilities to wear the Grand Classification winner’s red jersey at the end. However, at age 38, Valverde’s best form is well behind him and he will likely be a super-domestique in service to Quintana, who won the race in 2016. The 28-year-old Colombian had a disappointing Tour de France, where he finished 10th after crashing late in the race. He will therefore be highly motivated, and he has a very strong team in support.

Vincenzo Nibali during the 105th Tour de France 2018, Stage 12, Bourg Saint Maurice Les Arcs – Alpe d’Huez (175 km) © Profimedia, AFP

Italy’s Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010, and also took victories in the Giro d’Italia (twice) and the Tour de France, so he has the pedigree to win a Grand Tour. But he fractured a vertebrae in the Tour de France and has said he would be happy with a stage win or two in the Vuelta. He will likely be working in support of his Bahrain-Merida team leader Ion Izaguirre, a 29-year-old Spaniard, who was won several Grand Tour stages and may be primed to spring a surprise.

Aru has had a disappointing season with his new team, UAE Team Emirates, abandoning the Giro during stage 19. The 2015 Vuelta winner did not race in the Tour de France so he comes into the race relatively fresh. “From the defeats you can learn important lessons,” he was quoted as saying on cyclingnews.com, “and all this gives me great motivation. It will be a tactically open Vuelta; the nine summit finishes will lend themselves to attacks.”

Tom Dumoulin, the winner of Giro d’Italia 2018 Chris Froome and Miguel Angel Lopez in Rome, ITALY © Profimedia, Uppa entertainment

The joker in the peloton may well be the 24-year-old Colombian Miguel Ángel López, who won two stages and the young rider’s classification in last year’s Vuelta and finished third in this year’s Giro and Tour of the Alps. He also did not race in this year’s Tour de France, and his Astana team may well be targeting the Vuelta to be his breakout win.

Other riders with chances to walk off with the red jersey include Rigoberto Urán of Colombia, Britain’s Simon Yates, and the Dutch LottoNL-Jumbo rider Steven Kruijswijk, who finished fifth in this year’s Tour de France.

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