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David L. Stanley

2023 Vuelta a España: A Preview

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L. Stanley


Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

David L. Stanley writes:

For decades, the Vuelta a Espana was a weak third amongst the Grand Tours. Competing for top riders with the Giro in Spring, it usually lost the fight and settled for a handful of handful of top pros and a whole lot of regional and lower tier Spanish professionals. But in 1995, the Vuelta was moved to September. Ever since, the Vuelta has become an incredible battle ground for most of the top riders.

In most years, the Vuelta served as an irreplaceable training ground for the October World Championships. But with this year’s Mega-Worlds in Glasgow, which have just finished, this Vuelta promises to be the greatest Vuelta of all time. (And weren’t the World’s an amazing spectacle? Kudos, Glaswegians.)

It is always the riders that make the race, and a look at this year’s start list shows that every team is coming with their hottest men, save UAE Team Emirates. Not UAE? That’s right, Tadej Pogačar, the world’s finest stage racer-soigneur said, “I’ve been at a high level since February. There is no chance I am riding the Vuelta.” (Note - as this is written on 8/22/23, complete start lists are still being compiled. I could be wrong about some of the other racers. As usual, please, no wagering.)

Tadej Pogačar was second in the 2023 Tour and won the Best Young Rider classification. But he's not planning to ride the Vuelta.

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The parcours.
In addition to the best riders, this year’s Vuelta is a well-balanced parcours for a modern Grand Tour. There are 41 km of time trials. The race opens with a 15 km team trial which runs from the seafront in Barcelona to the base of the famed Montjuic climb. (Giro and TdF organizers, take note – we like the TTT. A lot.) It also features a relatively flat 25.8 individual time trial on stage 10.

Map of the 2023 Vuelta a España

Time trials matter. They level the playing field. No time trials? Then the race becomes a battle amongst the hollow-boned avian climbers who dominate in the mountains. Dramatic days, those Alpine stages, sure, but can we see a wee bit of balance in the other Grand Tours so a rider over 68 kg has a chance to win? Thanks.

This is not a race for the sprinters. There are four, yes, you read that aright, just four stages for the sprinters. Stages 4, 7, 12, and 19 give the few fast men the teams bring to the Vuelta a chance to show their speed. Of course, as they close out the race, stage 21 features 101.5 km of flat racing through the twists and turns of Madrid. If you like the Glasgow Worlds course, and I did, you will love the last stage. Hot tip—if you’re picking a team for fantasy cycling, make sure your sprinter is a guy who can survive the climbs with the pequeño grupo.

This Vuelta is a climber’s race. There are nine uphill finishes this year. Let’s do the math. Twenty real stages on tap. Nineteen, if we toss out the opening TTT. 47% of the stages feature uphill finishes. There are seven high-mountain stages which include summit showdowns on the fearsome Alto de l’Angliru and the Col du Tourmalet.

Climbing the fearsome Angliru in the 2017 Vuelta. Sirotti photo

I spoke harshly about the “hollow-boned avian climbers” earlier but let us lay it out there: Only the finest climbers, supported by the strongest teams, will be on the podium in this race. You podium this year, or perhaps win the climber’s blue on white polka dot jersey, you have a cherished prize for your cycling career. Coupled with the extraordinary heat that much of Spain has experienced so far this summer, this Vuelta will be brutal.


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The riders, the teams, and the tactics.
Jumbo-Visma: Who to watch on J-V? Well, pretty much everyone.

  • van Baarle, Dylan.
  • Gesink, Robert.
  • Kelderman, Wilco.
  • Kuss, Sepp.
  • Roglič, Primož.
  • Tratnik, Jan.
  • Valter, Attila.
  • Vingegaard, Jonas.

Jonas Vingegaard celebrates his second Tour win. Sirotti photo

It is cycling’s version of Murderer’s Row, the unstoppable line-up of the 1927 New York Yankees. Who do you cover? Who do you let go? How can you cover all those great climbers? Gesink and Kelderman go off early. Kuss leads Roglič and Vingo up to the break and you lose. You cover Gesink and Kelderman, you’ve burned all your matches way too early. This is an astounding tactical dilemma. Even worse, J-V has men that can roll at speed over the rolling stuff to keep the peloton under control until the true steeps hit.

I’m looking forward to the Jonas & Primož show. It’s not been since the Hinault/LeMond squads of 1985-6 that so much talent has headed one team. With Kuss playing the role of Andy Hampsten, it’s a big ask to combat these men.

It will be interesting to see how the tactics within the team play out. Primož is flying these last few weeks. Jonas has had one month to recover. Will the road decide? That’s possible. Will Jonas ride for Primož? Perhaps. What I do know about Jonas is that while he looks like a young Macauley Culkin, he has the heart and soul of Michael Corleone...

Or maybe Henry the Fifth:

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

Soudal-QuickStep: All Remco, all of the time. Except for Kasper Asgreen, that is. Asgreen has a fine finish out of a small group in a hilly, not mountainous, stage. He could take the jersey verde.

Remco Evenepoel took home the GC winner's red jersey in 2022. Sirotti photo

But back to the main event. This squad presents a strong challenge. Hirt, Knox, Serry, Vervaeke, Bagioli, and Cattaneo provide exceptional support across all the terrain for one of the most talented young men to ever throw a leg over a top tube.

This is a team of likely counterpunchers. With all the firepower present on Jumbo-Visma in their last GT as a squad, Remco and his lieutenants will play off the J-V attacks until it’s time to Unleash The Remco! Or perhaps, Remco goes early and often? He’s impetuous, and perhaps strong enough to make it work. There will be blood.

INEOS-Grenadiers: Another strong squad. They’ll go well in the TTT and it’s always nice to start a Grand Tour near the front. Thymen Arensman is primed to break out as a strong rider in support of Geraint Thomas. I can also see Egan Bernal gaining a return to near pre-accident form in this race. Ganna is a beast, plain and simple.

Geraint Thomas led the 2023 Giro until stage 20 when Primoz Roglic took the lead. Here is Thomas in his final moments in pink. Sirotti photo

This is a very strong squad for Good Sir G’s (likely) last Vuelta. If the team takes wise advantage of the Jumbo-Visma vs. Ineos vs. Soudal-Quickstep vs UAE Team Emirates jousting, we might see Geraint Thomas on the podium. If Egan or Thymen do step to the fore, we might see Geraint in the role of a wise Obi-wan as he leads the youngsters to the next level. May the Force be with you, indeed.

UAE Team Emirates: This team has more than its share of extraordinary climbers.

  • Almeida, João.
  • Ayuso, Juan.
  • Vine, Jay.
  • Soler, Marc.

You would hate to go one on one with any of those guys on a slope tipping upwards of 12%. The Oliveira Twins are extremely fast rouleurs and cagy racers, from their years of success on the track. Juan Sebastián Molano is having an excellent season; the big question is, will he pop someone in the face or get tagged for a positive for "seemingly unusual physiological results" as a result of being "highly sensitive to altitude changes."1 Even without Tadej, this is very strong squad that should, if they ride with their heads, place a man on the podium.


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Stage Winners and Dark Horses: There are plenty of men who can and should win stages—it’s the Usual Suspects: Irishman Eddie Dunbar (Team Jayco AlUla) is in fine form and looking to confirm his 7th place in this spring’s Giro. Sergio Higuita and Lennard Kamna from Bora-hansgrohe should shine. Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) will win one of the rolling stages. I’d be surprised if Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich) didn’t take a mountain stage. Don’t be surprised to see EF Education-EasyPost shine in the TTT. (This just in—Richard Carapaz will not take part as his doctors say his fractured patella is not ready for top competition.)

Eddie Dunbar at the 2022 Coppi-Bartali, which he won. Is this his year for the Vuelta? Sirotti photo.

This year, 2023, will go down as one of the finest seasons in cycling history. This year’s Vuelta will be equal to the task, that’s a stone cold lock, I promise. Keep the fino sherry and tapas at hand, put the cava on ice, this will be a superb GT.

If you want to chat cycling, on Twitter I am @DStan58. On Spoutible, where we are currently working hard to build a cycling community, I am also @DStan58. Spoutible has a chill vibe, sorta like the Vuelta. You should check it out.

1. Wikipedia footnotes

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

 

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