With many top names out, the Spanish Vuelta looks like a good opportunity for lesser known but talented riders like Primoz Roglic to win a Grand Tour.
The 29-year-old Slovenian, who transitioned to cycling from ski jumping in 2012, excels at time trials and has shown he can hold his own in the mountains, something he will need in the Spanish race with its multiple demanding climbs.
Roglic finished fourth overall in the 2018 Tour de France and was third in the Giro d'Italia in June, where he also won two stages. He should be well rested after skipping this year's Tour in July.
"To finish on the podium of a Grand Tour is nice but I've already done it at the Giro so I want to win here," Roglic said. "I'll try everything to win it."
The 21-day race starts on Saturday with a team time trial to Torrevieja on the southeastern coast.
Last year's winner Simon Yates is not defending his title. Ineos, the powerhouse team formerly known as Sky, is bringing a weaker lineup that does not include Tour winner Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas, or two-time former Vuelta champion Chris Froome, who is injured.
Also missing are this year's Giro winner Richard Carapaz, along with Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali, and Mikel Landa.
Roglic has been given the leadership role on his Jumbo-Visma team, where he will be supported by Steven Kruijswjik, who finished third in this year's Tour.
"I'm here to help the team win La Vuelta, but I'd like to do it myself of course," Kruijswjik said. "Primoz is also one of the favorites and we have to see halfway through La Vuelta. We start with the ambition to be up there and we can play some games, being so strong as a team."
Nairo Quintana, the 2016 Vuelta winner, tipped Roglic as the pre-race favorite, especially given the individual time trial on Stage 10, when the race jumps across the border into France for a 36-kilometer (22.3-mile) jaunt from Jurancon to Pau.
"He is a complete rider, better than the rest in the time trial, and with a team that we will have to work hard to stop," Quintana said of Roglic. "The time trial is long, but we will have to do our best."
This will likely be the last major race for Quintana with his Movistar team.
Both he and the outfit have said they are parting ways next year after eight seasons together, which have included Quintana winning the Vuelta, the Giro and twice coming in runner-up at the Tour, among other successes, before his dip in form the last two years.
"I feel good and would like to close an era in the best possible way," Quintana said.
World champion Alejandro Valverde will be a co-leader of Movistar. The 39-year-old Spaniard won the Vuelta a decade ago and cannot be ruled out entirely.
SOUTH AMERICAN SWEEP?
Starting with Quintana, the field features a group of Colombians who should all be considered contenders.
If one of them does ride triumphantly into Madrid on the final stage on Sept. 15, it would complete a South American sweep of this year's three Grand Tours. Carapaz, from Ecuador, won the Giro and Bernal, a Colombian, took the French prize.
The other top Colombians are Miguel Ángel López of Astana, Rigoberto Urán of EF Education First, and Esteban Chaves of Michelton-Scott.
"It would be the greatest pride to win La Vuelta and have a Latin American party," Quintana said.
Carapaz was going to ride the Vuelta for Movistar but had to pull out due to a shoulder injury.
Aside from the time trial, the race, as usual, will be decided in the northern mountains.
After its start on the eastern coast, the race hits the Pyrenees in the enclave country of Andorra on Stage 9. Riders will face five mountain climbs in the short distance of just 94 kilometers (58 miles) that promises to decimate the peloton.
Stages 13, 15 and 16 are also hard mountain hikes that will whittle down the title hopefuls before a final week in the rugged hills of central Spain where the race will be decided.
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