CYCLING fans will have plenty of home-grown talent to watch in the last of the year’s big tours, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
THIS year’s third cycling Grand Tour, Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), is brutal with seven mountain stages and four hilly challenges, eight flat stages for the sprinters and all bookended with today’s short 7km individual time trial and finishing with a 33 km individual time trial in Santiago de Compostela on September 5.
Ten Australians will face the starter in Burgos. Team BikeExchange have five:
*Michael Matthews, 30, from Canberra, will be out to take the sprinters points jersey after finishing second in the sprinter’s competition to the reinvigorated Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France.
*Lucas Hamilton ,25, from Ararat, will be out for revenge after crashing out of the Tour de France in the first week and is an outside chance for a final podium.
*Damian Howson, 28, from Adelaide, will also be chasing overall glory. The 2017 Herald Sun Tour winner showed he is back to top form with his win in the Tour of Hungary and this is his ninth Grand Tour.
*Nick Schulz, 26, from Brisbane, is riding his fifth Vuelta and will be out to snatch a stage in a breakaway.
*Rob Stannard, 22, from Sydney, riding his second Vuelta, will also be on the hunt for stage victories.
*Chris Hamilton, 26, (Team DSM) from Bendigo is riding his fifth Vuelta and will be trying to get into breakaways to snare a victory
*Michael Storer, 22, (team DSM) has also ridden five Grand Tours, and his fine form in the recent Tour de l’Ain, winning overall and the points and KoM jerseys, show he will be a huge chance for a stage victory.
*Jack Haig, 27, (Bahrain Victorious) another Bendigonian. will be chasing a spot on the podium as his form this year has been outstanding and he will be super keen to put a terrible crash in the Tour de France behind him.
*Seb Berwick, 21, (Israel Start-Up Nation), a young lad from Brisbane finished second in last year’s Herald Sun Tour and this is his first Grand Tour.
* Jay Vine, 25, (Alpecin Fenix) from Townsville, is also riding his first Grand Tour and is the fairy tale story of this season. Snapped up by his Belgian team he travelled to Europe, met his teammates on the eve of his first race the Tour of Turkey and went on to finish second overall. We won’t have to wait long for the real action to start as stage 3 on Monday is definitely one for the GC contenders. The 202.8 kilometres race has a 7.8 km summit finish.
Defending champion Primoz Roglic is the race favourite and, like last year he is out for revenge from a disappointing Tour de France. His recent dominating gold medal performance in the Olympic time trial shows he is fully recovered and his Jumbo Visma squad look primed for the task to be the first to ever win three in a row.
Team Ineos Grenadiers look the strongest on paper, but they are going in with a multi-pronged attack for the overall which didn’t go so well for them at the Tour. Giro winner Colombian Egan Bernal looks the strongest but Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz who won the Giro two years ago as well as finishing a solid third in Le Tour this year must be on a super high after his impressive gold medal win in the Olympic road race. He also finished second in the Vuelta last year. Englishman Adam Yates was set for this race earlier in the year and did not race the Giro or the Tour. The also have two other riders capable of climbing onto the podium, Russian Pavel Sivakov and English sensation Tom Pidcock who won the gold medal in the mountain bikes in Tokyo.
Next strongest team is Bahrain Victorious led by Spaniard Mikel Landa who is back in form after crashing out of the Giro. The also have Italian Damiano Caruso who finished second in this year’s Giro and Dutchman Wout Poels, sixth in last year’s Vuelta. Even with riders of this pedigree, Aussie Jack Haig will start as a co-leader and Monday should show who has the best form.
Spanish team Movistar also has three riders capable of getting on the podium. 26 year old Spaniard Enric Mas, 27 year old Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez and 41 year old former Vuelta winner Spaniard Alejandro Valverde
Other challenges for the overall will come from Englishman Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) who was third last year, Russian Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana Premier Tach) and Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team DSM) who has shown glimpses of the form that took him to two podiums in Le Tour .
Michael Matthews won three stages in the Vuelta in 2013 and 2014 but hasn’t raced the Spanish grand tour since. Although his form has been good this year it hasn’t produced any wins and he will be desperate for a result.
The battles for the sprint stages should be entertaining with some very fast men on the start list. Belgian Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix) will be keen to step up after six podiums in the Tour de France. Fabio Jacobsen (Deceuninck Quickstep) whose recent two wins in the Tour de Wallonie show he has fully recovered from the life threatening crash in last year’s Tour of Poland. French Champion Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ) has won five stage at the Giro and le Tour but this is his first Vuelta.
Matthews has bounced back from his disappointment of missing the Olympics and is determined to win a stage.
“One of my main targets this year was to go to my first Olympics and I was really motivated for it. I didn’t get selected and that’s that,” he said. “It was really hard for me to watch it on the TV. Even on a course which didn’t suit me amazingly I think I would’ve done pretty well there. But that’s easy to say when you’re watching it on TV.”I was really excited when I found out I was doing the Vuelta this year, after the Tour. I normally do one-day races or shorter stage races after the Tour, so this year I have the opportunity to race the Vuelta and I am really excited and ready.
“I think from what I’ve seen in the team since we’ve been here in Spain the spirit is really good. You see a lot of teams coming to the Vuelta tired, but everyone here is motivated and has brought their A-game. It’s not the perfect Vuelta for me for sure but it’s the kind of race where I’ll fight for whatever comes at us.”