The main goal of this competition is to amass the most total points by the end of three weeks and claim top honors in your league, but teams can also vie to have the most points in the sprint and mountains classifications as well.
Winning any of these classifications will mean stocking your roster with riders who are expected to do well on any given stage. On flat stages, these will be the sprinters, whose teams are built around delivering them to the line at just the right moment. In the mountains, it might be the climbing specialists who are able to escape from the pack and go for glory.
With that in mind, here’s some general advice on who to watch out for as you draft your team and manage it throughout game play.
This year’s race is most notable for the riders who aren’t competing. Defending champion Simon Yates isn’t here. Tom Dumoulin isn’t here. Vincenzo Nibali isn’t here. Chris Froome is still recovering from injury. Tour standouts Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas are taking a breather. This year’s Giro d’Italia winner, Richard Carapaz, pulled out with an injury just days before the start.
That’s disappointing, of course, but it also means that we could see a very open race, among some of the sport’s most promising young talent.
The hottest prospect is Primoz Roglic, who finished third in the Giro. He’s good in the mountains, he’s great in a time trial, and his team, Jumbo-Visma, is easily the strongest in this year’s race. He looked unbeatable for about two weeks in Italy, amassing a lead in the two individual time trials and hanging in there when the road went uphill. But his weak team, the pressure of leadership, the constant surveillance of Vincenzo Nibali, and one Italian mountain after another eventually got the better of him. He should be in great shape now, though, and a team that includes Tour de France third-place finisher Steven Kruijswijk, one-time overall contender Robert Gesink, and super-domestique George Bennett will be hard to stop. But there’s also less time trialing in the Vuelta, and a whoooole lot more mountains.
Meanwhile, Carapaz’s team will now be led solely by former Vuelta and Giro champion Nairo Quintana, which should simplify team tactics. But Quintana, who’s likely departing for a minor French team next year, hasn’t looked as strong as he used to, and his main lieutenant, Alejandro Valverde, will probably be searching for stage wins in the twilight of his career.
The next tier features a bunch of riders who are sure to finish in the top ten but who could surge to the front if luck and conditions go their way. Roglic teammate Steven Kruijswijk just finished third in the Tour de France and could pick up the slag if Roglic slumps. Mitchelton-Scott will be led by Esteban Chaves, who has finished 3rd and 5th in previous Vueltas, and second at the 2016 Giro, but who is still coming back from chronic illness. Miguel Angel Lopez and Jakob Fuglsang will be co-leading a very strong Astana squad, but it’s unclear who will be in better shape. Likewise, Team EF Education First brought a talented squad, but who knows whether it will be nominal leader Rigoberto Uran taking up the mantle or the youngster Hugh Carthy, who rode brilliantly at the Giro?
The Vuelta is a climber’s race, so you won’t see many of the long, scenic flat stages we saw in France and Italy this year. Consequently, you won’t see many of the top-level sprinters, who tend to sit this one out for lack of opportunity. Indeed, there are only about five stages likely to finish with the kind of flat approach that favors the really fast guys – and even some of those stages could be trickier than their profiles suggest. Still, when the race gets quick, you can bet on Sam Bennett and Fernando Gaviria, who should mop up the points. Gaviria’s is the name on the marquee, but Bennett has been the most successful sprinter in pro cycling this year, and just won three stages of one of the minor races leading up to the Vuelta.
The youngster Fabio Jakobsen is probably at the top of the second tier of sprinters, along with an ascendant Luka Mezgec, while the third tier features Max Walscheid and Phil Bauhaus, both looking for their first professional victory.
The constant lumpy terrain of the Vuelta makes it the most unpredictable of the three Grand Tours, and thus fertile ground for breakaways, but predicting who will be in any given day’s break – and whether that break will stay away to win the stage – is a fool’s errand. That said, there are a couple of usual suspects who might be worth keeping on your roster for a special occasion. Thomas de Gendt is the obvious choice. He may be riding in his third Grand Tour of the year, but he’s bound to end up on a quixotic adventure at some point. Omar Fraile, too, could seek opportunities, although he will also be looking after team leaders. Dylan Teuns took a brilliant breakaway win at this year’s Tour. Tomasz Marczynski won twice at the Vuelta in 2017. And there’s always the wily old fox Philippe Gilbert, who could be targeting the cobbled (double-points) 19th stage specifically.
The Vuelta is almost nothing but climbing, almost right from the start. That’s going to test the mettle of the overall contenders (see above), but it could also provide opportunities for good climbers who aren’t vying for overall victory, as they’ll be allowed to go on up the road while the overall contenders save their energy for later climbs and later stages.The best bets among this class of riders are Fraile (who has twice won the King of the Mountains classification at the Vuelta), Ben King (who had two terrific wins at last year’s edition), Pierre Latour (who looked very strong in the recent Tour of Poland), Team EF’s Dani Martinez, and possibly the young Tadej Pogacar, who at 20 years old is the youngest rider in the race but who absolutely dominated the Tour of California back in May.
There aren’t a lot of real time trial specialists in this year’s Vuelta, despite the 36-kilometer individual time trial in France. The riders from Ineos, EF, and Jumbo-Visma will do well, in general, but Stage 10 will likely be won by Roglic.