The Vuelta a España is the final Grand Tour of the season, and the last chance for many riders to leave their mark on the 2021 cycling season.
Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and two-time defending champion Primož Roglič are some of the stars set to start in Spain. However, there are plenty of riders that aren’t household names, yet could have a substantial impact on the race.
So here's a close look at some of the under the radar riders to look out for at the 2021 Vuelta a España.
Michael Storer at the 2021 Tour de l’Ain, where he won his first pro race (Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Michael Storer was one of Romain Bardet’s key allies at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, leading the Frenchman onto the attack between the Passo San Bernardino and the Splügenpass on stage 20 — a move which was crucial in moving Bardet into the top five overall. Storer was a top performer on other key mountain stages too, finishing 16th and ahead of numerous GC leaders on the brutally steep Sega di Ala, for example.
After a break over the summer months, Storer returned to action with a bang at the Tour de l’Ain. The Australian won the queen stage solo, 43 seconds clear of any other rider. Storer’s first pro win also provided him with victory in the overall classification.
Set to start the Vuelta a España for the fourth season in a row, Storer’s stock is rising. In a team which starts with Romain Bardet in their ranks again, he is unlikely to be Team DSM's first GC option. However, he has the ability to back-up Bardet in the GC or aggressively hunt stage victories from the breakaway.
Gonzalo Serrano celebrates winning at the Vuelta a Andalucia for the second year in a row (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Although he lacks great WorldTour experience, Gonzalo Serrano is a consistent rider known for his punchy climbing ability. Both of his pro victories have arrived on Spanish soil — he won a stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia in both 2020 and 2021. In his 2020 stage 2 victory, Serrano attacked with 1km left on a technical, punchy finish, allowing him to open up an unassailable lead. It is on similar short, steep finishes where Serrano is most dangerous.
At times, he may be forced to work for the likes of Enric Mas, Miguel Ángel López or even Alejandro Valverde’s general classification chances. However, if he’s let loose to chase stage victories from the breakaway, he could record his first Grand Tour stage victory.
Mark Padun wins at the Criterium du Dauphine (Image credit: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)
Mark Padun set the cycling world alight when he won two mountain stages of the Criterium du Dauphine in June. Fans wondered what he could achieve at the following Tour de France, before Bahrain-Victorious announced their Tour team, where Padun's name wasn't mentioned.
After missing out on the Tour de France, Padun headed to the Clasica San Sebastián for his first WorldTour outing since the Dauphine, where he performed well finishing just outside the top ten. With the Vuelta a España on the Ukrainian’s schedule, we will finally get the chance to see what he can do at a Grand Tour in 2021. He is unlikely to lead with Mikel Landa and Wout Poels also set to start for Bahrain - Victorious, but based on his form this season, he could win a mountain stage.
Maxime Van Gils
Maxime Van Gils before his WorldTour debut at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (Image credit: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Just 21-years-old, Maxime Van Gils is in his neo-pro season with Lotto Soudal. The Belgian spent time developing with the Lotto Soudal U23 outfit before moving to the WorldTour squad. Van Gils was thrown straight into the deep end at the Volta a Catalunya, where he sprinted to a respectable 10th on stage 6.
The youngster has grown into the season as it has progressed with more strong results, including a top 10 overall at the Tour de Wallonie, before finishing just outside the top 10 but with the favourites at the Clásica San Sebastián.
Based on his results, we can conclude that Van Gils is a good puncher who can also sprint capably from a reduced group. La Vuelta a España is the perfect stage for Maxime Van Gils to display his quickly evolving skill set.
Tom Pidcock at the 2021 Tour of Flanders (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Tom Pidcock? Under the radar?
Well, the Olympic mountain bike champion is entering his first Grand Tour. We are still learning the limits of Pidcock’s abilities, and seemingly there are very few. Since joining the WorldTour with the Ineos Grenadiers, Pidcock has one victory to his name — he outsprinted Wout Van Aert in impressive fashion at Brabantse Pijl in April.
Tom Pidcock is unlikely to challenge for the general classification at this stage of his career, particularly with Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz also in the Ineos Grenadiers' lineup. Instead, we can expect Pidcock to mix it up in the breakaways and challenge for stage victories throughout.