The Vuelta a España (or the Tour of Spain) is the third and final grand tour of the cycling season. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of cycling, a grand tour is a race that takes place over three weeks. There are three in the cycling season; the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta. These races are the hardest of the year due to the length and the tough terrain they tackle.
The route for this year’s Vuelta is strangely based solely in the north of Spain. It features a total of 10 summit finishes and only one individual time trial, which is 39km long. This tilts the race quite heavily in the favour of riders who are pure climbers rather than all-rounders.
There are two riders leading the betting in the overall classification market for this race. They have had very different build ups to the race. Alberto Contador is the favourite at 1.50. He has only just returned from a two-year ban for a doping offence, so it is not easy to predict how his body will cope with three weeks of racing. His price is still so short because he has long been considered the greatest grand tour rider ever and is the only rider in recent history to have won all three grand tours. At his first race back he finished 5th overall over terrain that did not suit him. This year’s Vuelta is a route that is almost tailor made for Contador: in the past, he has been untouchable on summit finishes.
One rider who potentially could challenge Contador on those finishes is Chris Froome. The British rider on Team Sky came second at the Tour de France this year to Bradley Wiggins. You may remember that twice during the race he had to sit up on tough climbs and wait for Wiggins rather than going at his own speed. His stage wins at the Vuelta (last year) the Tour de France (this year) show how strong his final kick is, so he could potentially match Contador on the climbs.
He is priced at 4.10 and there is good reason for this slightly larger price. Froome has had a very busy season riding a lot of races and his preparation for the Vuelta has not been ideal. As he said recently in an interview with TeamSky.com: “I’ve not had the time to tailor my training specifically for the Vuelta. I’ve also had to train for the Olympic road race and time trial, so I’m not going into it the same way as I did the Tour but I’m confident, still very motivated, and eager to lead the team for the first time.”
There is an a general view in cycling that nowadays trying be competitive in the overall in back-to-back grand tours is very hard. Froome himself has acknowledged that he has never done it before and is unsure how his body will cope. That is why he is priced larger than Contador.
These two riders are clearly the strongest climbers in the field. If all goes well for them they should be clearly ahead of the other challengers. Joaquim Rodriguez (9.00) should never be discounted but he often fails to cope in the third week of a grand tour. Last year’s winner Jose Cobo (15.00) will struggle to match his extraordinary form of last year and may not even be the leader of his team with Valverde (35.00) and Quintana (40.00) both having strong seasons. Van den Broeck (40.00) and Gesink (30.00) will both be going to for stage wins rather than the overall title after their exertions in the Tour de France.
Igor Anton is the one rider from the group of second tier favourites who could spring a surprise. In 2010 Anton crashed out of this race on stage 14 while leading the race. Since that disappointment he has a solid 2011, winning a stage in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. He has been building his whole year around being competitive at the Vuelta; the race is huge for his team and he seems to be hitting form at the right time, with good performances at the recent Vuelta a Burgos and Clasica San Sebastian. More daring punters can back him at 14.00 for the win, while the more cautious can opt for him at 3.00 for a 1-3 finish.
As for other bets, there are plenty of markets that offer some value. In the match betting in the overall classification the most intriguing match-up is Monfort vs Menchov. They are both priced at 1.85. A bit of research on the team websites has revealed that Menchov is going to be riding for his team leader Joaquin Rodriguez, while Monfort is being given free rein to ride for himself and try and better his sixth place finish from last year. Monfort is quite clearly the better value bet.
Igor Anton to win the overall classification at 14.00 or place 1-3 at 3.00
Monfort to beat Menchov in best overall finishing position at 1.85