LONDON — Veteran Geraint Thomas can have a big say in this year’s Vuelta a Espana although the 37-year-old, like everyone else, will need to find a way to stop the Jumbo Visma train, according to Spanish former winner Alberto Contador.
Thomas, the leader for British team Ineos Grenadiers, came agonisingly close to winning his second Grand Tour when he led the Giro d’Italia on the penultimate stage but was overhauled in the time trial by Primoz Roglic.
The Welshman did not ride the Tour de France and has targeted the red jersey in Spain with the race getting under way in Barcelona on Saturday.
“He has a chance, that’s for sure,” Contador, who won his home race three times, told Eurosport for whom he will be working as an expert during this year’s edition.
“Maybe, as he’s 37 years old, we don’t think of him as 26, with all the possibilities he has, but he’s a very solid rider.
“Last year he finished third in the Tour de France behind two beasts like Vingegaard and Pogacar and, this year, in the only major Vuelta he has participated in, he finished second just a few seconds behind Primoz Roglic in the Giro d’Italia.
“He clearly has something to say in this Vuelta a España.”
Contador picks out reigning champion Remco Evenepoel as one of the big favourites but says Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard and Slovenian Roglic, Jumbo Visma’s joint leaders, present a formidable barrier for the rest of the peloton.
“I think it’s a question of seeing how the race progresses, but the men who are the leaders of Jumbo Visma, with the reliability they have, and for the team they have around them, it’s difficult to find a weak point,” Contador said.
Thomas will have a strong unit around him in only his second Vuelta with fellow former Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, Laurens De Plus, Thymen Arensman and Jonathan Castroviejo all in the line-up, while Italian powerhouse Filippo Ganna will target the time trial.
“I’m going to get stuck into it. We’ve got a great group together for going into it, on and off the bike, and we’ll just see what we can do,” Thomas told GCN.
“I want the best result possible, of course, but I’m not stressing about it. The podium would be nice, but I’d want to get a win. That’s what you do it for, isn’t it?
“Even if it’s getting a stage.”
The Vuelta a Espana peloton rolls out of Barcelona on Saturday with the same question on everyone’s lips — who can stop an unprecedented Jumbo Visma sweep of the year’s Grand Tours?
Rarely has an edition of the three-week Spanish duel featured such a high-calibre line-up with the reigning champions of all three Grand Tours on the start line.
Dutch outfit Jumbo Visma look formidable after naming Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard and Giro d’Italia overall champion Primoz Roglic as joint leaders.
Defending champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) will have something to prove after a COVID-19 positive test eliminated him from this year’s Giro while he was wearing the maglia rosa, while Ineos Grenadiers have the experienced Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal as their GC options.
Mallorcan Enric Mas (Movistar) is one of several Spanish riders looking to make an impact, especially after he was forced to abandon the Tour de France after a crash on stage one.
Spain’s Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) will also be one to watch but the focus for the battle for the maillot rojo will be very much on three-time Vuelta champion Roglic and Vingegaard and just how Jumbo Visma play their cards over the 21 stages and 3,100km to Madrid — a route that includes nine summit finishes.
Should either win overall it would be the first time a single team has won all three Grand Tours in a season.
“I think the battle will be to find Jumbo’s weak point,” Spanish great Alberto Contador, who will be analysing the race for Eurosport GCN, said ahead of the start.
Sprinters will have a few opportunities to make their mark but as has become tradition, La Vuelta a Espana is stacked with brutal days of horribly steep tarmac suited to the best climbers in the business. And the race is brimming with them.
Slovenia’s Roglic is bang in form after winning this month’s Vuelta a Burgos and is looking to be the first rider to claim the Giro-Vuelta double since Contador in 2008.
The biggest threat to that ambition will come from within his own camp with Denmark’s Vingegaard having shown at the Tour de France that he is seemingly unbreakable in the mountains.
Were Vingegaard working in support of Roglic or vice versa, a Jumbo Visma victory would surely seem assured barring accidents, but the fact they will be battling each other will inject some unpredictability and an intriguing sub-plot to the race.
Vingegaard has not raced since clinching his second Tour de France title in Paris so there might be some early doubts that Roglic could try to exploit during a mountainous stage three in Andorra.
“On paper Roglic has the better chance,” Philippe Gilbert, also part of Eurosport GCN’s coverage team, said.
“He has the best preparation and has shown good form at Burgos and was really strong there. Vingegaard went deep at the Tour and it was a hard Tour. I spoke with a lot of riders and they were so deep in their reserves mentally and physically.”
While Belgian dynamo Evenepoel, rated as the most exciting rider in men’s racing by Contador, will have his work cut out to repeat his 2022 triumph, writing him off is foolhardy.