WATCH all 18 stages of the 2020 Vuelta a España LIVE, FREE and in on SBS VICELAND and live streamed online via SBS On Demand from 12am Wednesday October 21 - Monday November 9.
Is Froome finished?
In 2011, Chris Froome was the last rider selected, in the nine-man Sky team, for the Vuelta a España.
He was a relative unknown who didn’t have a contract for the following season and his career was on the brink of collapse.
The record books show he won the race ahead of his team leader, Bradley Wiggins.
This year Froome enters the race, definitely his last for Ineos (formerly Team Sky), yet again with question marks over his future.
Sure he’s off to Israel Start-Up National next year but what’s left in his enormous tank.
Since returning to racing, following the horrific crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné that left him with a fractured femur, he’s shown no signs of the form that has seen him win the Tour de France four times, the Vuelta a España twice and the Giro d’Italia once.
As the grand tour rider of his generation, there will be a huge focus on Froome at the start of the race. I’m just not sure how long it will last.
Stage 1 is in the heart of the Basque Country, it includes plenty of climbing, and finishes on a Cat 2 climb. I’ll be glued to the SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand for the LIVE coverage to see if Froome will or won’t be a factor in the Vuelta.
Primož Roglič returns as the defending champion, and the Jumbo-Visma line-up to support him is almost as strong as it was at the Tour de France, with Sepp Kuss, George Bennett, Robert Gesink and Tom Dumoulin amongst them.
There can be no doubt about the mental strength of Roglič.
He didn’t crack in the Tour’s individual time trial - his power numbers show that, he was fifth on the stage. He was simply beaten by the better man on the day.
He showed his character by bouncing back at the world championships and then winning Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
The next edition of the Oxford Dictionary should include a picture of Primož in its definition of resilience.
Roglič is the man to beat.
Across at Ineos, Chris Froome isn’t their only option. I believe their best bet is Richard Carapaz.
Significantly, he typifies the new Ineos. He won the Giro last year, with Movistar, by attacking and was constantly on the move at the Tour this year.
Having only ridden the road race at the world championships, since the Tour, he’ll be ready to go physically and mentally.
And then there’s Thibaut Pinot. Anything could happen with Pinot.
At last year’s Tour he rode away from, the eventual winner, Egan Bernal for a brilliant victory on the Col du Tourmalet, on Stage 14.
By Stage 19 he was in tears and out of the race.
In the 2018 Giro, he was third overall at the end of Stage 19, dropping to 16th on Stage 20 and didn’t start Stage 21, the flat 115km final stage.
He finished 29th at this year’s Tour. The worst result of any grand tour he’s finished. And he hasn’t raced since.
So I’m tipping Pinot with some trepidation.
There’s no real rationale - he’s more artist than cyclist. You could say it’s the vibe.
The wildcard is Aleksandr Vlasov, of Astana. The winner of the U23 Giro, in 2018, this year’s Giro was his grand tour debut.
It lasted a day and a half as he abandoned midway through Stage 2 with a stomach bug.
So there is no form guide on how he will cope the 18 stages of racing.
On the upside, he was fifth at Tirreno-Adriatico, third at Il Lombardia and 2020 is proving to be the season of the young revelation. He’s 24-years-old and I'm curious to see what he can do.
So I’m going with a podium of: Primož Roglič in first, Richard Carapaz to take second and Thibaut Pinot finishing in third.
The Course - key stages
The Vuelta was scheduled to start in the Netherland but COVID-19 scuppered those plans and the race has now been reduced to 18 stages, of which only three of them are genuine sprint stages. The course is brutal.
I don’t think the three-day haircut to the race will impact on the final result.
The majority of stages are around the 160km mark, which makes for much more entertaining racing than the 200km plus day, or which there are only two in this year’s race.
In typical Vuelta fashion, the climbing kicks off early. As in Stage 1. Not mountains but enough climbing to eliminate some hopes.
It’s an Alejandro Valverde kind of day with a hilltop finish.
More climbing on Stage 2 and on Stage 3 as the peloton are greeted by their first Cat 1 mountain top finish.
After just the three days, a firm general classification peeking order will be established.
Stage 6 is a must-watch. Just 135.6km, climbing out of Spain via the Alto del Portalet into France where the race will tackle the Col d’Aubisque before finishing on the Col du Tourmalet (snow permitting).
Stage 11 and 12 then come as package deal.
Stage 11, to Alto de la Farrapona, is littered with four Cat 1 climbs across 170km.
The following day to L’Angliru is 109 of the toughest kilometres in this year’s Vuelta.
L’Angliru is so steep motorbikes have stalled and crashed when following the leading group. I’ve seen spectators making their way to the top on horseback.
2017 was the scene of Alberto Contador’s last climbing escapade.
He took the win, 17 seconds clear of the Sky duo of Wout Poels and Chris Froome. The following day he rode into Madrid, his last ever race.
Put Sunday 1 November in your diary - it’s a date with L’Angliru.
It’s then a rest day, followed by Stage 13 and the only individual time trial of the race.
The first 31.5km are flat but, being the Vuelta, the final two kilometres are uphill.
Stage 17, to Alto de la Covatilla, is the final day of decision in the mountains before it all wraps up with Stage 18 in Madrid.
Missing the Vuelta
On a personal note, this will be a strange Vuelta for me, right on par with the rest of 2020. I’ve commentated on the race every year since 2008.
I love Spain and I love working with the Spanish TV crew.
My couch better be comfortable to compensate for missing out on being at the finish line each day calling the action.
You can catch every stage of Vuelta a España LIVE on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.