La Vuelta a España is always guaranteed to bring the fireworks.
Grand Tour riders on a final charge, riders looking to save lost seasons and rookies with great opportunities are a constant on the Spanish circuit in an explosive mix that makes for superb races. And this year’s Vuelta will be no exception.
This summer’s race brings together a field as large as any Tour de France, with Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa all scheduled to take the start. Add to that a difficult journey from the opening stage to the final time trial and that’s the guarantee of three weeks of action.
La Vuelta a España 2021 takes place on Saturday and will be dotted with fascinating threads to follow. Here are the three scenarios we get annoyed about:
A reborn Primož Roglič against Egan Bernal and his treble hunt
Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal are the headliners of a talent pool so large that no one will complain about the absence of Tadej Pogačar, who has decided not to participate in this year’s Vuelta.
Roglič and Bernal both bring their own unique stories to the race. As Roglič looks to clinch three straight Vuelta titles this summer, Bernal is hoping to complete his grand tour after winning the Tour de France 2019 and Giro d’Italia this year.
Read also : Will Roglič succeed three times in a row in the Vuelta?
Who will come out on top in the red jersey race?
Roglič is on the trail of redemption after retiring from the Tour and winning Olympic TT gold just four weeks later.
The Slovenian ace has made a habit of bouncing back from an earlier disappointment. He won his first Vuelta the same season he lost his grip on the 2019 Giro lead, then defended his title just months after being ousted from the 2020 Tour yellow jersey on the very last day of racing.
Roglič has a good chance of making a third red jersey in a row as he leads a strong Jumbo-Visma team that also includes Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk.
But Egan Bernal and Ineos Grenadiers will make it very difficult.
Bernal tore up a slightly disappointing field on his way to the pink jersey this spring and packs the swaggering explosiveness needed to succeed in Spain. The way he matches up with co-captains Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates will make a fascinating watch at this year’s Vuelta.
Carapaz finished second in last year’s race and is in great shape after finishing second in the Tour last month and winning gold in the Tokyo road race. The Ecuadorian is just as strong as Bernal and the fight for superiority within the squad will be tense. Adam Yates will also look for his chances on his first big tour with Ineos Grenadiers and will likely be optimistic in the fight for leadership.
Will it be all behind Bernal or will Ineos go with a trident tactic? Either way, the British team will need to make sure they keep a close eye on their real rival, Roglič.
Can Quinn Simmons and Tom Pidcock score in their debut?
There will be two high-profile rookies at the start line in front of Burgos Cathedral on Saturday.
Former world junior champion Quinn Simmons and Olympic mountain bike gold medalist-turned-classic-star Tom Pidcock will make their debuts on this year’s Vuelta Grand Tour, and both have the potential to set fire to on the run.
Pidcock made his way through his first year in the WorldTour with Ineos Grenadiers. The 22-year-old recorded a streak of best results in classic heavyweight brawls with Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in the spring before securing his first professional victory at Brabantse Pijl. As if that weren’t enough, Pidcock came back from a broken collarbone to win gold in the Olympic mountain bike race last month.
Read also : Pidcock sets the tone for multidisciplinary rivalry with Mathieu van der Poel
It looks like Pidcock can be good at anything. La Vuelta may be his very first three-week race, but after winning the eight-stage ‘Baby Giro’ last year, there’s no reason Pidcock couldn’t go deeper into the Spanish tour. GC won’t be on the cards just yet, but look for Pidcock to clinch stage wins and ride with Captains Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz on his wheel in the mountains.
Simmons is heading to the Vuelta with Trek-Segafredo after regaining his WorldTour legs with an overall victory in the Tour de Wallonie last month. The beefy Coloradan dreams of a stage victory on his grand tour debut – the eye-catching and windy stages of opening week will see Simmons, 20, on the pitch that gives him the platform to transform a dream in reality.
Fabio Jakobsen looks to cap a sensational comeback
Fabio Jakobsen’s return to racing is one of the good news for the 2021 season. A stage victory on his return to Vuelta a España would only make it better.
Jakobsen will be the centerpiece of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step sprint train during this summer’s Vuelta in what will be his first big lap since his horror crash at last year’s Tour of Poland. The Dutch speedster claimed two stage victories in the Tour de Wallonie last month and will look to keep the momentum going in his second Vuelta.
Read also : Jakobsen returns to victory in Wallonia
Can Jakobsen end his comeback with a victory in Spain? It will be a tough test, with Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Démare and Jasper Philipsen all set to start the race on Saturday.
There are about six sprint finishes in this year’s typically mountainous Vuelta, and two of those opportunities drop in the past week. Jakobsen’s conditioning after eight months of rehab and no running may be as much of a limiting factor in his ability to strike as the threat of Ewan and Co.
It will be a victory over adversity that we can all applaud if Jakobsen scores in Spain. And with Deceuninck-Quick-Step losing Sam Bennett at the end of the season and uncertainty lingering over Mark Cavendish’s future, it could put Jakobsen on the Quick-Step sprinter throne for seasons to come.