CYCLING Preview: Wide-open field in 73rd Vuelta a Espana

The third of cycling’s annual Grand Tours starts on Saturday in Malaga, Spain, beginning the 73rd edition of La Vuelta a Espana.

This will be a different race from the two earlier Grand Tours in 2018: neither of the winners – Chris Froome (GBR: Giro d’Italia) or Geraint Thomas (GBR: Tour de France) nor the runner-up, Tom Dumoulin (NED) – are in.

In fact, the last Grand Tour not won by these three was the 2017 La Vuelta, won by Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, who is entered and hopes for a better performance than his 10th-place finish at the Tour de France, although he did win one stage.

The route:

• Stage 1: 25 August Malaga to Malaga (Indiv. Time Trial: 8.0 km)
• Stage 2: 26 August Marbella to Caminito del Rey (163.5 km; flat)
• Stage 3: 27 August Mijas to Alhaurín de la Torre (178.2 km; medium mountains)
• Stage 4: 28 August Velez-Malaga to Alfacar (161.4 km; medium mountains)
• Stage 5: 29 August Granada to Roquetas de Mar (188.7 km; medium mountains)
• Stage 6: 30 August Huercal-Overa to San Javier (155.7 km); flat
• Stage 7: 31 August Puerto Lumbreras to Pozo Alcon (185.7 km’ flat)
• Stage 8: 01 September Linares to Almadén (195.1 km; flat)
• Stage 9: 02 September Talavera de la Reina to La Covatilla (200.8 km; mountains)
03 September Rest day
• Stage 10: 04 September Universidad de Salamanca to Fermoselle (177.0 km; flat)
• Stage 11: 05 September Mombuey to Ribeira Sacra (207.8 km; hilly)
• Stage 12: 06 September Mondoñedo to Faro de Estaca de Bares (181.1 km; hilly)
• Stage 13: 07 September Candas. Carreño to Valle de Sabero (174.8 km; mountains)
• Stage 14: 08 September Cistierna to Les Praeres (171.0 km); mountains
• Stage 15: 09 September Ribera de Arriba to Lagos de Covadonga (178.2 km; mountains)
10 September Rest day
• Stage 16: 11 September Santillana del Mar to Torrelavega (Indiv. Time Trial: 32.0 km)
• Stage 17: 12 September Getxo to Balcon de Bizkaia (157.0 km; hilly)
• Stage 18: 13 September Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida (186.1 km; flat)
• Stage 19: 14 September Lleida to Andorra. Naturlandia (154.4 km; flat)
• Stage 20: 15 September Escaldes-Engordany to Coll de la Gallina (97.3 km; mountains)
• Stage 21: 16 September Alcorcon to Madrid (112.3 km; flat)

The 21 stages include two time trials, five mountain stages, six hilly stages and six which are fairly flat.

There are six returning medalists:

∙ Alejandro Valverde (ESP) ~ Won in 2009, second in 2006 & 2012, third in 2013-2014
∙ Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) ~ Won in 2010, second in 2013 and 2017
∙ Fabrio Aru (ITA) ~ Won in 2015
∙ Nairo Quintana (COL) ~ Won in 2016
∙ Rafal Majka (POL) ~ Third in 2015
∙ Ilnur Zakarian (RUS) ~ Third in 2017

Nibali owns four Grand Tour wins, taking the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, the Tour de France in 2014 and La Vuelta in 2010. Quintana is the other multi-Grand Tour winner, also taking the Giro in 2014.

Unfortunately, Nibali is still recovering from a crash at the Tour de France and may not be in shape to challenge for the overall title.

Beyond these, look for the British brothers Adam and Simon Yates. Simon was second in the Tour de Pologne this year and Adam was the Criterium du Dauphine runner-up in June. Simon led the Giro d’Italia from stages 6-18, then faded to finish 21st overall; he’s finished as high as sixth at La Vuelta, back in 2016.

Some of the oddsmakers like Australia’s Riche Porte, who looked like a contender at the Tour de France, but crashed out in the ninth stage. A case can be made for Miguel Angel Lopez (COL), Thibaut Pinot (FRA), Rigoberto Uran (COL) and Elia Viviani (ITA), among others.

In the sprint stages, Peter Sagan (SVK) won the Tour de France points classification in a rout, but might be looking ahead to the World Road Championships rather than the Points jersey here. There are plenty of other sprinters in the field, notably Italians Matteo Trentin, who has won four stages in this race, and Viviani.

Look for results here.