Race favourites Roglic and Angel Lopez are poor value, writes Jack Houghton, who is looking to some old hands to cause an upset
"Whilst Roglic and Angel Lopez might appeal because their chances look more obvious, the value call is to look elsewhere..."
What's the route like?
As is usually the case with the last grand tour of the season, Vuelta organisers have chosen to make their race the most brutal, with nine high mountain stages and four hilly stages, including eight summit finishes. The customary super-steep climbs are on show, with several ascents having sections where the gradient is steeper than 20%.
Even the six flat stages look tough, meaning there will be little respite for those with general classification ambitions. Ignore, then, those riders that have doubts surrounding their ability to sustain an effort over three weeks. We saw in this year's Tour de France that grand tours are increasingly about riders managing their energy and form so that they are at their best in the final week, so it's worth also being cautious of betting on any rider who is making headlines on the opening days: there's every chance they won't last until Madrid.
Aside from the headline hilliness of this year's route, the most significant aspect of the race may be the time trials: an opening team effort over 13.4km and a 36.2km individual ride on Stage 10. Although the route favours out-and-out climbers, the race could be decided by who does best - or least worst - on those two days.
Who are the favourites?
With Richard Carapaz now out of the Vuelta after a crash in training, the clear race favourite is Primoz Roglic at around [2.70]. The Slovenian has previously finished fourth in the Tour de France and was leading the Giro earlier in the year, before illness and crashes saw him slip to third. Assuming teammate Steven Kruijswijk ([25.00]), who was third at the Tour de France last month, will ride in Spain in a support role for him, Roglic has strong chances, especially as he is likely to pick up significant time on his rivals in the time trials.
There remains a doubt, though, whether Roglic has the capacity to sustain the required form over three weeks, especially over a route as brutal as this year's Vuelta. Those odds, therefore, looks on the skinny side.
As do the odds available on Miguel Angel Lopez, second-favourite at around [3.70]. Although supported by a formidable team and boasting two podium finishes at grand tours, it is likely that Lopez will have a difficult day at some point in the high mountains, ending his race ambitions.
Who are the best outsiders?
Having partly discounted the race favourites, the race looks primed to provide a big-priced winner. The problem is working out which rider to support.
Nairo Quintana ([17.00]) and Alejandro Valverde ([20.00]) have obvious credentials, and both are riding well this year (although Quintana's form has been infuriatingly sporadic); however, Movistar seem to be a fractured team, and with Quintana leaving at the end of the season, it's hard to know whether he will have the support of his colleagues. Either rider could win the race, but it's hard to back them before we see how team dynamics play out on the road.
Rafal Majka ([33.00]) and Wilco Kelderman ([66.00]) have claims, although it feels we have seen the best of both, and what we have seen is not enough to win a grand tour. They may finish prominently in the overall standings, but are contenders for individual stages rather than the overall race.
Which leaves us with a hotchpotch of recovering has-beens and emerging talents.
Fabio Aru has never delivered on the promise of his early career, but surgery earlier in the year to address a constricted artery is hoped to have resolved his struggles. There are lots of doubts, but odds of around [60.00] look generous for a talented rider who seemed to be quietly riding himself into form at the Tour de France.
Aru's teammate, Tadej Pogacar ([30.00]) is at the other end of his career. Only 20 years old, he's been picking up some minor stage-race wins in the last couple of seasons, and as the 2018 Tour de l'Avenir (an amateur Tour de France) winner, is seen as a likely future grand tour winner. Those odds look short for a rider who has yet to demonstrate his ability to sustain an effort over three weeks in the best company, though.
Another young talent is Team Ineos' Tao Geoghegan Hart ([40.00]). Second at the Tour of the Alps earlier in the year, he's certainly a name to be aware of in the future, but it's unclear who will be the team leader for Ineos at the Vuelta, and much like Pogacar, it's hard to justify a bet on a rider who is yet to demonstrate their credentials as a grand tour contender.
Which leaves Estevan Chavez and Rigoberto Uran. Chavez ([33.00]) has been unlucky in his career and will be desperate to claim a grand tour win in Spain. However, although he is talented and will likely be prominent on a number of the mountain stages, he has always seemed vulnerable to having a bad day and can't be supported here.
Uran ([40.00]), though, has more to recommend him. He heads a strong team and the route will suit him, but he was underwhelming at the Tour de France and will need to be more aggressive on the key stages here.
Who's the pick?
It's a slightly mystifying line-up, and whilst Roglic and Angel Lopez might appeal because their chances look more obvious, the value call is to look elsewhere.
Stakes should be kept small until the initial stages resolve some of the questions around team leadership and the like, but in an open race, small-stake bets on Fabio Aru and Rigoberto Uran are recommended. It's easy to get swept up in the promise of young, talented riders, but I can't help thinking that the market here is overreacting to Egan Bernal's Tour win: not every grand tour will be won by a whippersnapper; it's likely Bernal will prove the exception, not the rule.
Back Fabio Aru @ [60.00]
Back Rigoberto Uran @ [40.00]