The Vuelta a Espana, starts on Saturday and completes the Grand Tour season. Coming just 4 weeks after the Tour de France, it has long been considered as the afterthought of the major cycling season. What does that mean for odds on favourite Chris Froome?
Well, only 2 men, greats Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault have won both the French and Spanish tours in the same year, and they were when the Vuelta was positioned earlier in the season as a Tour de France prep race.
That said, Froome has been 2nd on three occasions, and team manager David Brailsford could be right to say if you can come 2nd then you can win, and indeed last year’s winner, Nairo Quintana came from a gruelling Tour de France.
What may be a bigger cause for concern is the distinctly different nature of the Vuelta. The course does not have the monster gruelling alpine climbs which lend themselves to the powerful Sky team tactics and to Froome’s riding style. Instead, the Vuelta features nine official summit finishes, many of which are the short sharp shock style steep climbs which are often every man for himself in nature.
Froome will enjoy both the team time trial and individual time trial and will be certain to gain time on rivals there. But the guerrilla tactics nature of this race is harder to control, the teams have less strength in depth with which to control it, and Froome’s time trial gains will be vulnerable on every steep finish.
The penultimate stage is the already notorious climb to Angliru. This narrow track climbs 12.5km at gradients up to 20% and may well determine the outcome of the race.
If Froome is poor value at odds-on, there has to be value elsewhere. Alberto Contador will be trying in his farewell appearance, but the fresher Vincenzo Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin look more likely to challenge, with the Russian Zakarin looking well suited to the course.
Deeper in the betting, Wout Poels and Domenico Pozzovivo both represent strong teams with major team leaders (Froome, Bardet), but both come here fresh. Poels has the all round skillset to go close if allowed, whilst Pozzovivio, whilst no time trialist, is hugely suited to these short steep summit finishes.
Omar Fraile looks for a 3rd King of the Mountains victory and is appropriately short in that market. That said, the preponderance of summit finishes may just leave ajar the chance for one of the general classification contenders to come out on top. With that in mind, Zakarin looks seriously overpriced.
To win the Vuelta a Espana:
Ilnur Zakarin, 1pt each way, 16/1 Paddy Power
Wout Poels, 1pt each way, 50/1 BetVictor, Boylesports
Domenico Pozzovivio, 0.5pts each way, 66/1 Coral, Boylesports
To win the King of the Mountains:
Ilnur Zakarin, 0.5pts each way, 100/1 Bet365, Betfair
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