Who will take Chris Froome’s crown? Five things to watch out for at La Vuelta 2018

Final grand tour event of the cycling season up for grabs with defending champion not competing

The 2018 Vuelta a Espana begins this Saturday and it’s all to play for with defending champ Chris Froome and recent Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas sitting out this year’s race.

Riders will cover 3,200 km over 21 stages in one final, grueling push for glory this season.

Spain’s premier cycling event is packed full of punishing climbs and there will be several riders aiming to put the disappointments of this season to bed.

The first stage is a short time trial in Malaga, and here are five things to look out for at the 2018 Vuelta.

1 – Team Sky opt for youth

If there was ever a chance to break Team Sky’s Grand Tour dominance, this is it.

The 2017 Vuelta winner Chris Froome and recently-crowned Tour de France champ Geraint Thomas will both be absent from the start line.

The duo will conserve their energy and take on next month’s Tour of Britain instead.

However, caution is advised to anyone thinking Dave Brailsford’s men will be a pushover.

In David de la Cruz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Michal Kwiatkowski, the British team have three exciting riders capable of causing upsets aplenty.

2 – The hills!

If you can’t climb, you can forget about winning the Vuelta.

Organisers have stacked the race with eight summit finishes, compared to just three in Le Tour.

Keep an eye out on the Stage 15 finish at Laos de Covadonga.

This legendary climb has produced some of the race’s most thrilling (and lung-busting) climaxes.

The steep finish making its Vuelta debut at Stage 17 may also be giving riders sleepless nights.

They will attack a monster 9.7 percent average ascent, which frequently tips upwards to 20 percent. Ouch!

3 – Small window for sprinters to shine

OK, we have established that the Vuelta is climbing-friendly.

But that doesn’t mean the sprinters won’t have an opportunity to shine before the mountains start at Stage 13.

Stages 3 and 6 are out-and-out sprints that will likely feature a breakaway win.

Stage 8 meanwhile will tease the sprinters with its flat surface until it breaks into an uphill finish.

Peter Sagan (more on him later) will hope to challenge Quick-Step Floors’ Elia Viviani on this front, while Matteo Trentin and Nacer Bouhanni can shift with the best.

4 – A chance for redemption

With so many people dropping out of Le Tour early, a strong line up will be champing at the bit to put the wrongs right in Spain.

Two riders heading up that list are Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali.

Both men crashed out of this year’s Le Tour and will hope to get back on track ahead of the World Championships.

Bahrain-Merida team member Nibali, in particular, will feel he has something to prove after being given the honour of wearing the No. 1 start bib.

Vincenzo-Nibali-Vuelta
Vincenzo-Nibali-VueltaVincenzo-Nibali-Vuelta

Another rider to keep an eye on is Simon Yates.

The Brit looked strong in this year’s Giro d’Italia before letting his lead slip away in the final couple of days.

But in this year’s Vuelta, he should receive the boost he needs from twin brother Adam, who will be supporting him at Mitchelton-Scott.

Movistar duo Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana will also be considered hot favourites.

5 - Peter Sagan is back!

The race will be missing one legend due to Alberto Contador’s retirement, but another is making his way back in Peter Sagan.

The Slovak is still recovering from a major crash in the latter stage of the Tour de France.

There are still question marks over Sagan’s form, having pulled out of the European Championships road race this month due to injury.

For the third-consecutive year Sagan is riding as the world champion, and fans can expect a huge effort in what will likely be his final race in the rainbow jersey.

The Vuelta will serve as timely preparation for the climbing test that awaits in the Innsbruck-Tirol World Championships road race in September.

More Vuelta information

Dates: August 25th – September 16th

Website: La Vuelta

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