The 77th edition of the Vuelta a España begins in Utrecht in the Netherlands on Friday 19 August and concludes in Madrid on 11 September. On the eve of the final Grand Tour of the season, the provisional start list includes a record number of 16 Australian riders, including the 2022 Giro d’Italia champion Jai Hindley.
– By Rob Arnold
For the third time this year, a Grand Tour will start on a Friday in a country far from the host nation of the race. The Giro d’Italia began in Budapest, Hungary (6 May); the Tour de France started in Copenhagen, Denmark (1 July); and the Vuelta a España will begin in Utrecht in the Netherlands on 19 August.
La Vuelta is the final three-week race of the season on the pro cycling calendar and it gets underway with a 23.3km team time trial in Utrecht, the city that played host to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France (2015).
There will be three days of racing in the Netherlands ahead of a rest/travel day on Monday before the Vuelta resumes in Vitoria-Gasteiz in the north of Spain.
There will be 23 teams of eight riders each for a peloton of 184 starters, including a record number of 16 Australians.
Australians on the provisional start list
The 16 Australians expected to be on the start list for the 2022 Vuelta a España (in alphabetical order):
- Rohan Dennis (SA) Jumbo-Visma
- Jarrad Drizners (SA) Lotto Soudal
- Luke Durbridge (WA) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Kaden Groves (QLD) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Lucas Hamilton (VIC) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Chris Harper (SA) Jumbo-Visma
- Michael Hepburn (QLD) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Jai Hindley (WA) Bora-Hansgrohe
- Kelland O’Brien (VIC) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Ben O’Connor (WA) AG2R Citroën Team
- Luke Plapp (SA) Ineos Grenadiers
- Callum Scotson (SA) Team BikeExchange-Jayco
- Miles Scotson (SA) Groupama-FDJ
- Robert Stannard (NSW) Alpecin-Fenix
- Harry Sweeny (QLD) Lotto Soudal
- Jay Vine (ACT) Alpecin Fenix
Rohan Dennis returns to Grand Tour racing
The triple champion of La Vuelta, Primoz Roglic is expected to wear the number-one dossard as he resumes racing again after a considerable hiatus following his retirement from the Tour after 14 stages this July.
The Slovenian is one of the title favourites again even though his form has been untested in racing prior to the TTT in Utrecht. Roglic will have two Australians alongside him on the Jumbo-Visma team, two-time TT world champion Rohan Dennis and Vuelta debutant Chris Harper.
Dennis wore the red leader’s jersey after the opening stage of the Vuelta in 2017 when the race began with a team time trial in Nîmes. And in 2018, when the Vuelta started with an eight-kilometre individual time trial in Málaga, he won again and was the leader of GC for a day.
The 32-year-old also has fond memories of the 2015 TDF start in Utrecht; he won the opening stage with a record average speed for a TT in the Tour (55.446km/h for the 13.8km stage on a city circuit).
Hindley, a co-leader at Bora-Hansgrohe
The 77th Vuelta will feature the champion of this year’s Giro, Jai Hindley, who will start as a co-leader of the Bora-Hansgrohe team along with the Colombian road race champion Sergio Higuita and Wilco Kelderman. The German-registered team had originally nominated another GC rider, Emanuel Buchmann, on its roster but a urinary tract infection sidelined the 29-year-old earlier this week and he’ll be replaced by Matteo Fabbro.
“We’re coming with three good guys for the GC battles and we’ll let the road decide,” said Hindley on Thursday.
“No one in the team has a crazy ego. I know if I lose time in the first week, I’ll do everything I can for the guys still in a position for the GC and I know it will work vice-versa.
“It would be special to take two Grand Tours in one year, hopefully we can do that, but it’s going to be a long three weeks. We’ll see what happens.”
In the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month, Hindley’s first stage race since the Giro in May, he finished seventh on GC but there was no expectation for a good result. Rather, it was a test of the legs after a long pause from racing.
As the Vuelta is a race that traditionally suits the climbing specialists, Hindley will surely be a rider to watch once the race arrives in Spain and, all going well, he’ll follow up his second Grand Tour of the season with a trip to Wollongong for the world championship road race (25 September).
O’Connor looking for redemption
Some seasoned cycling commentators have chimed in early with a prediction for who the winner of La Vuelta 2022 will be and the respected Dutchwoman José Been has faith in Australian GC specialist, Ben O’Connor.
“Ben O’Connor to win the Vuelta,” she tweeted on 12 August, shortly after AG2R Citroën Team announced that the West Australian would be the leader for the race. “You heard it here first.”
O’Connor was optimistic about improving on his fourth place in the 2021 Tour de France when he returned to the race this July but misfortune, crashes and untimely mechanicals saw his bid for another solid GC result scuppered.
His team continues to believe in his abilities and AG2R has him listed as the leader for his second Grand Tour start in 2022.
“We come to the start of the Vuelta 2022 with a group of hyper competitive riders and with high ambitions,” said DS Julien Jurdie. “The AG2R Citroën Team will revolve around Ben O’Connor for the general classification.
“Ben will be our leader for this Vuelta, which he always planned to ride.
“He left the Tour de France disappointed following his abandonment, so we will wait to see how he is feeling during the first stages to decide on a more precise objective. His physical condition is good, he has prepared well. He comes to shine on the Spanish roads and to be among the best riders. Ben has the ability to excel in the general classification.”
An anticipated debut for Plapp
One of the first outfits to confirm its eight-rider selection was Ineos Grenadiers, the British team that boasts another trio of potential GC leaders including two former Grand Tour champions: Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan-Hart, the Giro winners of 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Also on the roster is Vuelta a Burgos winner Pavel Sivakov who is clearly in good form and motivated to improve on his best GC result at a Grand Tour (9th in the Giro of 2019).
The Ineos Grenadiers will boast the young Spanish champion, 21-year-old Carlos Rodríguez, as well as the Australian champion (and another 21-year-old) Luke Plapp.
The 2022 Vuelta will be the Grand Tour debut for both Rodríguez and Plapp.
When he was named on the start list, Plapp expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity in a succinct three-word tweet: “Let’s f—ing gooooo!” He’s excited, motivated and ready for the challenge that awaits.
Six out of eight Aussies at BikeExchange-Jayco
The 2022 Vuelta heralds a return to the race for the 2018 winner, Simon Yates. The 30-year-old won two stages of this year’s Giro but injury saw him abandon that race after 17 stages this May.
Yates and American Lawson Craddock are the only non-Australians on the Australian-registered Team BikeExchange-Jayco, which includes four Vuelta debutants: Luke Durbridge, Kaden Groves, Michael Hepburn and Kelland O’Brien.
“Our goals are pretty straightforward,” said DS Gene Bates when the line-up was announced last week. “We have a double approach in going for stage wins with sprinter Kaden Groves and stage wins and a strong overall showing with Simon Yates.
“It will be Kaden’s first Grand Tour,” continued Yates. “He is fast and, on his day, when he is in top form he is fast enough to win, so we have high expectations for him.
“With Simon, we know what he is capable of, he has won the Vuelta before so we are going in looking for the best overall we can.”
Callum Scotson will line up for this fourth Grand Tour and will be a key rider in the lead-out for Groves. Meanwhile, his older brother Miles – the 2017 Australian road race champion – has also been named as a Vuelta starter, albeit with another team, Groupama-FDJ.
Haig not nominated by Bahrain-Victorious
There is one notable absence from the list of 16 Australians who are expected to start the Vuelta tomorrow. Last year’s third-place finisher Jack Haig isn’t on the roster for his Bahrain-Victorious team. He suffered misfortune in the Tour this July and was forced to abandon the race during stage five.
He hasn’t raced since but Australian sport fans will be hoping that he’s fully recovered by late September as he’ll be an asset for the national team in the home world championships road race at the end of the month.
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In the coming weeks, we’ll see plenty of racing action with every stage of the Vuelta broadcast live on SBS TV, but the national team selectors will have to base some important decisions on only the opening days of the Spanish Grand Tour.
The selections for the Australian team for the upcoming road world championships in Wollongong are due to be announced on 23 August.
There is less than a week between the end of the Vuelta and the start of the worlds in Wollongong, but any riders with hopes of contesting the final Grand Tour of 2022 and the world championship road race will have a little longer to make the journey to Australia and adjust to the different time zone, as the final event of #Wollongong2022 isn’t until 25 September, two weeks after the Vuelta.
– By Rob Arnold