Key points :

• On the eve of La Vuelta’s 75th edition, defending champion Primoz Roglic spearheads the bunch of 176 riders expected to start from Irun. The Slovenian rider, who has stood on the podium of the last three grand tours he has participated in, shares the leadership of Team Jumbo-Visma with Tom Dumoulin. Amongst the rivals, we reckon names like Richard Carapaz, Chris Froome, Enric Mas, Esteban Chaves or Aleksandr Vlasov.
• Another marquee name in the startlist is Thibaut Pinot, who aims at more modest goals as he wants to enjoy the race and fight for stage wins. Groupama-FDJ’s card for the GC is young Frenchman David Gaudu.
• As for tomorrow’s stage, it will be La Vuelta’s first ever summit finish on an initial race day. Climbers will enjoy the 173 kilometres between Irún and Arrate. Watch out for Alejandro Valverde, the active rider with most stages won on the Spanish grand tour, who already triumphed in this sanctuary back in 2012.

Foto: Gerhard Plomitzer

Since the red jersey was first established as the one to distinguish the leader of the overall classification at La Vuelta, 37 different riders have worn La Roja. This year, the first one to earn the right to use it will probably be the climber who triumphs in the Santuario de Arrate, a four-century old sanctuary nearby Eibar that is reached after a 5,3-kilometre climb, and where the finish of the initial stage of La Vuelta 20 will be placed. It’s the first summit finish ever on the first racing day of any edition of La Vuelta. The last time La Vuelta visited Arrate was in 2012: it was the third stage, and Alejandro Valverde beat Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodríguez right over the finish line. A native from Irun, former cyclist and current DS for EF Education First Juanma Gárate, is an authorised voice to break down the possible outcome we may see on this starting stage of La Vuelta 20. “I think the GC favourites won’t be able to hold any cards close to their chests,” says the winner of the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de France 2009. “I expect a 20-strong group to make it together to the finish line. No one will let the race go this early, so gaps won’t be huge.” On this scenario, Alejandro Valverde’s speed can well deliver him victory – and La Roja! “This is a climb I know quite well,” said the 2018 UCI Road World Champion on his team’s press conference. “I’ll ride thinking of my chances, but also on my teammate’s: we ought to ride for the benefit of the team. If any of us wins in Arrate, it would be amazing!”

Team Jumbo-Visma enters La Vuelta 20 with one of the most powerful line-ups of the race. Last year’s overall winner Primoz Roglic is an obvious contender for the GC, but he is intended to share the leadership of his team with Tom Dumoulin, himself a renowned three-week rider. “It will be the same approach as in the Tour de France,” said Roglic on the team’s press conference. “Tom and I are the designated leaders and we will see who is in better shape as days go by.” Dumoulin already came close to triumphing in the Spanish grand tour back in 2015. “I have some really good memories from La Vuelta,” stated the Dutch cyclist. “I’ve only raced it twice, but on the second one I got two stage wins and I nearly won the GC. I’m happy to be back in Spain.” Build-up hasn’t been ideal for either of the two. “It’s been pretty much non-stop since the season resumed,” said Dumoulin. “After the Tour I went to the Worlds, then to the Ardennaises, so I only could spend two weeks at home to rest and prepare for this race. But it’s been almost the same for everyone.” Roglic delivered a quick analysis of the race route: “The third week is easier than the other two. We will find out from tomorrow, and over the first week, how good we are. The route seems fun as it will be full-on racing all the time, so I hope it will be entertaining to watch us from home.”

INEOS Grenadiers is one of the most successful teams in La Vuelta’s recent history. Under its previous incarnation, Team Sky, the British team won nine stages and two editions of the Spanish Grand Tour, both with Chris Froome. This will be quite a particular race for Kenyan-born rider, though, as he is bidding farewell to the team after 11 seasons. “And I’m looking forward to finish my time in INEOS on a high note,” he said on a press conference. “It is a bag of mixed emotions, really, as it’s strange to think I won’t be in INEOS colours in a few months time. I am going to enjoy this race anyway. This year’s won’t be your typical Vuelta, as with a colder weather it will feel as if we were racing in the Pays Basque for three weeks. For me personally I’m going to take these first few days to see where I am in the peloton.” The designated leader of INEOS Grenadiers for La Vuelta 20 is Richard Carapaz, winner of the Giro d’Italia 2019. “It’s been quite a strange season for all of us,” he stated. “I feel really prepared for this race and my motivation is very high. We have a great team to deliver a very good performance, and I want to race for the win. This first week is going to be decisive, and even the first stage will be quite telling of who is going to be fighting for the overall. We are not going to miss the chance of winning this race. Everyone will do his best for the team. I have a high opinion of Chris Froome and I’m sure his experience will be a great asset for us.”

On his fourth participation in La Vuelta, where he has finished twice inside the Top10 of the GC (7th in 2013, 6th in 2018), Thibaut Pinot is going to play quite a different role. After a far from ideal build-up, his goals are more modest than in previous editions of the Spanish grand tour. “I’m not 100% recovered from the back issues I suffered from during the Tour de France,” said the Frenchman today at Groupama-FDJ’s press conference. “It’s getting better, though. I wanted to enter this race because I didn’t want to end my season with that bitter taste the Tour left in my mouth. I hope La Vuelta will put me back on track for a nice winter season. I want to amuse myself as I haven’t done on a cycling race for a long time.” The leader of the French team for the GC will be David Gaudu, an up-and-coming climber. “There won’t be any easy days on the first week, so I’ll have to be in the mix from the very beginning. We bear very good memories of the Tourmalet, where Thibaut [Pinot] won a stage in last year’s Tour de France. I want to be up there already in Arrate, a climb I find suits my characteristics.”

The sporting goal of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA in La Vuelta 20 is crystal clear: fighting for a stage victory. The Spanish team hopes this edition of the race will be an open one, helping the chances of the breakaways to make it to the finish line. “Our motto during the build-up has been ‘A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores’ [Fishermen make their day in troubled waters],” said DS Xabier Muriel this morning on a press conference. “We’ve put together quite a balanced team, with several pure climbers, men for the hilly stages, and a fast sprinter like Jon Aberasturi,” he outlined. There is a second goal in sight for the Spanish outfit, though: #TuCorazónSuma (‘Your Heart Adds Up’). This charity initiative, set up by the team’s main sponsor, aims to raise 2.000€ on every single stage of La Vuelta 20 and donate the money to a project of the NGO Cáritas. “This team has always been sensible to social issues,” explained the team’s vice-president, Ricardo Goñi. “We’ve always tried to support those who need it the most. And this year it is even more important to do it.”
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