GCN Stat Attack: Cillian Kelly says this is the strongest Vuelta a España lineup in history

A record-setting startlist featuring Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič and Remco Evenepoel will vy for the red jersey

Clock08:00, Saturday 26th August 2023
Remco Evenepoel will have his work cut out for him defending his Vuelta a España title

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Remco Evenepoel will have his work cut out for him defending his Vuelta a España title

The Vuelta a España gets underway in Barcelona today and for the first time since Chris Froome in 2017, the reigning Tour de France champion will be lining up to attempt the Tour/Vuelta double - with Jonas Vingegaard on the startlist for Jumbo-Visma. Despite being billed as a co-leader alongside Primož Roglič, Vingegaard’s focus will be firmly on repeating Froome’s feat of winning both Grand Tours in the same season.

Should he do so, he will become only the second man - after Froome - to have achieved the Tour/Vuelta double since Bernard Hinault in 1978. Legendary Frenchman Jacques Anquetil had previously pulled off the pair in 1963, but it is worth remembering that the composition of the double actually changed in 1995, when the Vuelta moved from an April/May slot to an autumn berth in the calendar.

As such, it is only Froome who can truly put claim to having achieved the Tour/Vuelta double, rather than the Vuelta/Tour double. Indeed, this stat should not be all that surprising because it is generally rare for the Tour de France champion to show up at all in Spain.

Often preoccupied with lapping up the post-Tour de France acclaim or busy shying away from the limelight - depending on their social disposition - the recently-crowned Tour champions have tended to avoid the Vuelta since its calendar shift in 1995.

Froome, for his part, made a fixture of it, doing so after three of his Tour wins. But prior to Vingegaard, only three other Tour winners have appeared at the Vuelta in the same season over the last 28 years, and due to one of cycling’s more damning quirks, only Carlos Sastre in 2006 has done so with intent. Whilst Oscar Pereiro (2006) and Andy Schleck (2010) both raced the Vuelta after winning the Tour, neither rider had yet been declared the winner, due to doping irregularities concerning the wearer of the yellow jersey in Paris.

Of course, neither Sastre nor Pereiro would find success in Spain, but their ambitions did not become as derailed as Schleck, who would be thrown out of the Vuelta for getting drunk with Stuart O’Grady - true story. Any tipple for Vingegaard will surely have to wait until after the Vuelta, with strong competition for the red jersey coming from reigning champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step).

Read more: The Vuelta a España's top 10 contenders

The Belgian himself is bucking the trend because it is not only reigning Tour de France champions who veer away from the final Grand Tour of the season, but also reigning Vuelta a España champions. Should we take Roglič out of the equation - who made a habit of defending his crown - only three other winners of the Vuelta since 2000 have returned the following year.

To little surprise, one of these men is Froome, who did so in 2012 despite being another of those riders who was yet to be declared a reigning champion. Juan José Cobo was eventually stripped of his 2011 Vuelta title eight years later, but the 2011 edition was also notable for seeing Vincenzo Nibali return to defend his crown, whilst Roglič’s fellow three-in-a-row winner Roberto Heras made a habit of returning to Spain.

Read more: 'If you want to win the Vuelta a España, you take Sepp Kuss' - Primož Roglič

The presence of Roglič once more this time around presents us a particular treat of having the last two winners of the Vuelta on the start line. This year’s dynamic duo of the Slovenian and Evenepoel will make the 2023 Vuelta the first edition in 20 years to have had the previous two winners on the start line. In 2003 it was the turn of rather more forgettable winners - it must be said - Ángel Casero​​ and Aitor González.

Following Roglič’s hat trick, should Evenepoel retain his title, it would mark the first time in the Vuelta’s 88-year history that we would have back-to-back Vuelta winners, back-to-back. It truly does feel as though the quality of this year’s startlist is as strong as it has ever been, with the likes of Roglič, Evenepoel and Vingegaard joined by 2018 Tour de France champion, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).

We must remember that in the days of Casero and González, the Vuelta was a more parochial affair. The ProTour was not even created until the following year and it is little surprise to note that 23 of the top 25 on GC in 2003 were all Spanish. Throw forward to this year and only 28 of the 176 starters hail from the home nation.

The Spanish GC challenge will surely be spearheaded by Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Enric Mas (Movistar), but they will have their work cut out with the participation of Thomas, Vingegaard and to a lesser extent, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). Matching the occurrence in 2014 and 2017, having three former Tour de France winners on the startlist is a Vuelta record.

Read more: Analysing Ineos Grenadiers' Vuelta a España squad, the first in race history to feature two Tour de France winners

Bring all of these stats together in a little under 800 words and we are left with one conclusion: this year’s Vuelta a España has the strongest startlist in race history. We have the two previous winners and the reigning Tour de France champion on the start line in Barcelona, which is the first time that has ever happened. Throw the likes of Thomas, Mas and Ayuso into the mix and the year’s final Grand Tour proves irresistible.

Only one question is left to ponder: who is going to win?

We’ll be showing live and on-demand coverage of all 21 stages of this year’s Vuelta a España from Saturday, August 26 to Sunday, September 17, plus daily expert analysis on The Breakaway. Head over to GCN+ now to check the start times of each broadcast so that you don’t miss out on a moment of the action! As always, territory restrictions will apply.

If you head to our Vuelta a España landing page, you will find everything you need to know ahead of the race, including our race preview, the route, start list and individual stage previews. Check it out for all that and more.

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