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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Who are the favourites and who should you be backing?

Joe Robinson
20 Aug 2018

A summary of the favourites to take the red jersey at the 2018 Vuelta a Espana

The Vuelta a Espana is the most unpredictable of all three Grand Tours. Since moving to the tail end of the calendar in 1995, it has represented an opportunity for young, aspiring General Classification riders to prove themselves while also producing unexpected victories for loyal domestiques and wily, old riders who have been around the block. 

There are a few ingredients that usually combine in order to make a Vuelta winner.

First and foremost, any winner of the red jersey can climb. Race organisers ASO, and Unipublic before them, have always been less methodical in route planning compared to the Grand Tour siblings, often putting tough climbing stages in the first week of racing before backloading the event with notorious tough climbs such as the Angliru and Covadonga.

Secondly, overall winners at La Vuelta also need a knack of going it alone. By September, most riders will be feeling the fatigue of the season with the very best having already raced the Giro, Tour or even both.

Teams will be weaker than in the previous two Grand Tours making the race much harder to control. This often puts the onus on team leaders to race in an aggressive manner taking the race to their rivals rather than defending a lead.

Lastly, Spain in late August, early September tends to be hot. Riders need to be able to manage the heat well, keeping on top of their food and water intake and not put themselves into the red too early.

The race's most successful rider, Roberto Heras, racing to victory in 2003  

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the race's most successful rider is home rider Roberto Heras with four overall victories between 2000 and 2005.

He leads Tony Rominger and Alberto Contador who both have three victories.

In recent years, no rider has dominated proceedings with the spoils shared between te usual suspects such as Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and surprise winners like Chris Horner and Juan Jose Cobo. 

Last year's Vuelta proved the filling to Froome's Grand Tour sandwich as he snatched what proved to be the second of three consecutive Grand Tours.

Taking red on Stage 3, the Brit comfortably defended the jersey across the following 18 stages to take his first Vuelta in six attempts.

Defending champion Froome will be absent. Can Nibali take his place?

This year's route is classically difficult although with 45,139m of vertical elevation across the three weeks not among the most challenging. In 2016, the race scaled 54,013m of climbing, almost 10,000 more than this year.

Stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga will naturally draw attention. At 11.7km long with an average gradient of 7.2%, the final 3km of the climb experience constantly changing slopes, which makes the climb a struggle for any who climb to a rhythm. 

Riders will also have to negotiate a tricky day in the Basque Country on Stage 17, including the summit finish atop Monte Oiz, and an explosive 105km Stage 20 in Andorra which takes the race across six categorised climbs.

Vuelta a Espana 2018: Who are the favourites and who should you be backing? 

In the absence of defending champion Chris Froome, Richie Porte has surprisingly been made bookies' favourite in what will likely be his last major race in BMC colours. 

With the team morphing into CCC from 2019 and Porte likely to be riding for Trek-Segafredo, this will be the last opportunity to repay the faith the American team has shown him across countless Grand Tours. 

Bad crashes and untimely mechanicals have scuppered many of Porte's Grand Tour attempts including the Tour earlier this season in which the Australian crashed out on Stage 9 before the race had even reached the mountains.

If he can string together an incident-free three weeks Porte undoubtedly has the ability to win a Grand Tour. Although, with odds as low as 5/2 (Boyle Sports) there is no value in backing Porte and is best avoided.

Porte is surely paying for cracking a mirror or walking under a ladder at some point in his life

Second to Porte with bookies is Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). A breakthrough Giro inclusive of three stage wins will have given the climber belief that he can become a Grand Tour champion. 

With twin Adam and loyal domestique Jack Haig by his side, he certainly has the firepower to win but with odds no higher than 3/1 (Ladbrokes) is not worth the investment.

You can still back Mikel Landa (Movistar) at 15/2 (Paddy Power) although this will be pointless considering he will not be racing.

Teammates Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde are 7/1 (Coral) and 9/1 (Ladbrokes) respectively but are not worth the time.

If anything, you are better placed to stick some money on Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz to produce the goods for Eusebio Unzue's team at 50/1 (Betfair).

The first odds of any value sit with Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez. The Astana rider has seldom raced since finish third at the Giro but returned where he had left off with second overall and a stage victory at the recent Vuelta a Burgos.

The only way is up for Superman Lopez and with odds as high as 12/1 (Sky Bet), he's definitely worth backing.

Former Vuelta champion Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates) will be looking to salvage his season and is currently 18/1 (Bet365), while Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) will be trying to manage his issues with hot weather at 35/1 (Bet Stars).

Never doubt the shark

The best value to be found comes with former four-time Grand Tour and three-time Monument winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).

A disastrous crash on Alpe d'Huez left 'the shark' with a broken back but he is now back fit and ready to challenge at the Vuelta and UCI World Championships in late September.

Nibali can currently be found at 33/1 (Unibet), and with 10 Grand Tour podiums in his last 13 finishes, not to flutter on the Italian would be foolish.

Cyclist takes no responsibility for bets placed or resulting losses. Always remember to gamble responsibly. When the fun stops, stop.