For each stage of La Vuelta, the Rouleur panel of ‘experts’ will give their picks for the following day’s race. Top tipster Cycling Mole, meanwhile, will dismantle our choices and give his own prediction for the likely winner. In a change to last year’s rules, selection’s don’t have to be unique. Who’s going to take risks? Who will play it safe? Most importantly of all, who will come out on top?
Stage 2: 199.6km, Benidorm-Calpe
Ian Cleverly: Alejandro Valverde
There’s a second category climb with less than 10k remaining. It’s not big, but looks steep. Will it be enough to act as a springboard for a solo attack? If so, then Valverde is my man.
Andy McGrath: Sam Bennett
In flying form, fitness and confidence, Bennett to get over the lumps and bumps to open his Vuelta account.
Nick Christian: Thomas De Gendt
Too early in the race to for TDG? He normally prefers to keep his head down in the first week. Still, with the stage going upwards almost from the gun, even if it levels out later, this one has breakaway written all over it. Who else?
Miles Baker Clarke: Lawson Craddock
With a good few lumps and bumps to tackle today, I’m hoping it will be one for the breakaway. I wonder if Lawson Craddock might be running on a high and will try his luck on the big stage. More likely he’ll be chased down and dreams flattened, but who knows?
Ben Ward: Tao Geoghegan Hart
When they haven’t had their A-list leaders involved, Team Ineos (and the peloton) seem to be giving a bit more freedom to their riders this year, and Geoghegan Hart has benefitted – like his Tour of the Alps wins, the punchy climb at the end looks about the right distance from the finish line for him.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Luka Mezgec
Most riders in the bunch will know these roads as well as their own at home. There’s a difficult climb towards the end which might make it difficult for a few of the heavier sprinters. If there isn’t too much of a battle, however, I reckon Luka Mezgec could hang on.
Well, that didn’t start very well. It seems that we managed to put a curse on Jumbo-Visma, either that or Astana paid someone to turn on a garden hose! Nobody picked Astana, no bloody wonder, but they delivered the biggest shock of the year. We roll onto stage 2, let’s see if anyone can pick a winner today.
Stage 2 of a grand tour is usually a sprint stage, but this is the Vuelta. This is a stage with 3300m of climbing, and features a brutal cat 2 climb cresting with just 26.5km remaining. This climb is 3km at 10%, welcome to Spain! Most teams have been here for a few days, you can bet they’ve been out to recon the climb. My good friend, Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo, told me the climb is much harder than he thought it would be. This is not a day for the sprinters, which will interest the breakaway riders, but many teams have a chance of taking the red jersey, which should see enough teams contribute to the chase.
Nick has gone for the breakaway expert, Thomas De Gendt, which is a wise pick. If the Belgian makes the morning move, it stands a great chance of success. Ian’s gone with the world champion, which is always a sensible move in the Vuelta. If we get a small sprint, he has a great chance. For me, these are the only two sensible picks made for this stage. Rob’s gone with Mezgec, but the climb is just too hard for him.
Andy’s gone for Sam Bennett, which is a crazy move, there is no chance he survives 3km at 10%. I’m not sure why Ben’s gone with Geoghegan Hart, there are too many riders with a faster sprint that him. Miles has decided to chase the break with Lawson Craddock, this will not happen, not in a month of Sundays.
Verdict – I think we’ll see the break controlled by Astana, QuickStep and Movistar. The final climb will be way too difficult for any of the quick men, and we’ll get a sprint from around 50 riders. This is perfect for Alejandro Valverde, but there’s a new kid on the block who has a faster sprint than him. I’m looking forward to Sergio Higuita stepping up and delivering on the biggest stage.
Rob Hatch will be commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International