Every team and every rider will have their goals for a Grand Tour. All of them are looking for their own respective success, whether in the general classification, stage wins, the points jersey, the mountains jersey, or simply getting through unscathed. But the beauty of a Grand Tour, with all its ups and downs, is we never know what will happen from one day to the next, and this year's Vuelta a España certainly brought with it some surprises.
With this year's Vuelta being dominated heavily by one team and its three superior riders, as well as one young Belgian who went on a stage-winning rampage after falling out of GC contention, many of the other teams and riders in this year's Vuelta went under the radar as they battled it out for in breakaways for stage wins and spots in the general classification. Despite not hitting the headlines like Jumbo-Visma have with their historic Grand Tour clean sweep, many teams will be leaving the final Grand Tour of the 2023 season with a smile. However, others will be leaving empty-handed, rounding off the Grand Tour season with lots to reflect upon. With this in mind, we rate the performances of each team across the three weeks of racing around Spain.
AG2R Citroën Team - 2/10
Andrea Vendrame was one of several less heralded sprinters in the race hoping to make the most of the lack of A-list names, as demonstrated by his sprint for third on stage two, a result that saw him wear the green jersey for a day. But that was to be his only top-10 finish while the rest of the line-up struggled to make an impression.
Alpecin-Deceuninck - 9/10
Reinforcing their new status as the peloton’s undisputed kings of sprinting, Alpecin-Deceuninck proved that they don’t need to have Jasper Philipsen at the end of their lead-out train to dominate the bunch finishes. Kaden Groves was the star sprinter of the race, winning three stages and coming close to winning two more, as well as sealing the points classification with victory in the chaotic finale in Madrid, despite the lack of pure sprint stages on offer.
Team Arkéa Samsic - 2/10
While other young riders made an immediate impression, Arkéa’s own talented Grand Tour debutant, Kévin Vauquelin, had a quieter race, and their sprinter Hugo Hofstetter was unable to get into the mix in the bunch finishes. Cristián Rodríguez was their top performer, registering a couple of top-10 finishes from breakaways.
Astana Qazaqstan - 2/10
After starting the race targeting long-shot breakaways, Astana seemed to find a clear purpose when David de la Cruz worked his way up to 11th on GC. But that came to an abrupt end when the Spaniard abandoned at the end of the second week, and the team came home from the race with nothing to show for their efforts.
Bahrain-Victorious - 7/10
This was the kind of Grand Tour we’ve grown to expect from Bahrain-Victorious: plenty of representation in the high mountains and a high fifth-place finish for their leader, Mikel Landa. It would have been a solid race even without Wout Poels' stage win in Guadarrama on the penultimate day, but that result elevated it to a very successful one.
Bora-Hansgrohe - 6/10
Managing to strike a balance between GC ambitions and stage-hunting, Aleksandr Vlasov and young breakthrough Cian Uijtdebroeks placed seventh and eighth overall, respectively, while a typically aggressive Lennard Kämna made the most of his free role to win at Collado de la Cruz de Caravaca and place second behind Rui Costa on stage 15.
Burgos-BH - 5/10
Burgos-BH fulfilled the role of the aggressive local wildcard team, with five of their nine-man roster winning the combativity award at some point. The last of these, Pelayo Sánchez, was especially impressive, pushing Wout Poels and Remco Evenepoel close for victory in Guadarrama on stage 20.
Caja Rural-Seguros RGA - 5/10
As well as frequenting many breakaways, Caja Rural also had the distinction of having a bunch sprint contender in the ranks in Orluis Aular, who came very close to winning on stage seven when he was edged out of it by Geoffrey Soupe. The team was unfortunate to see him abandon during the second week.
Cofidis - 7/10
Riding the wave of a triumphant Tour de France that at last saw them end a fifteen-year drought with two stage wins, Jesús Herrada delivered the team to yet another Grand Tour stage win when he proved the best from a large breakaway atop La Laguna Negra on stage 11. That result alone ensured their race was a success despite Bryan Coquard’s early abandonment.
Team DSM-Firmenich - 8/10
Jumbo-Visma might have swept all before them this Vuelta, but one thing they didn’t manage to win was the opening day team time trial, which instead went to Team DSM-Firmenich. Rather than rest on their laurels following that welcome surprise, the team actively pursued more success, with Romain Bardet, Max Poole and Chris Hamilton all coming close from breakaways, and a second stage win came at last in the penultimate bunch sprint of the race from Alberto Dainese.
EF Education-EasyPost - 3/10
Third in the opening team time trial seemed like a very good omen, especially after young Andrea Piccolo took the red jersey for a day in the following stage. But after that bright start, their race fizzled out. Hugh Carthy didn’t have the legs for GC, and while much faith was shown in Marijn van den Berg, for whom the team formed a lead-out for in the bunch sprints, the best of his five top-10 finishes was third in Íscar.
Groupama-FDJ - 5/10
Grand Tour debutant Lenny Martinez was unable to remain in GC contention, but his brief stint in the red jersey still suggests the 20-year-old has a bright future ahead of him, as well as giving an inexperienced Groupama-FDJ line-up something to celebrate. Aside from that, fellow 20-year-old Romain Grégoire narrowly missed out on a stage win atop La Laguna Negra, while an attacking Michael Storer was third in the King of the Mountains classification.
Ineos Grenadiers - 4/10
Luck wasn’t on Ineos’ side this race from the very first day when Laurens De Plus crashed out, and their GC hopes rapidly unravelled when Geraint Thomas haemorrhaged time and Thymen Arensman also abandoned. Filippo Ganna did his all to rescue their race, surprisingly competing in the bunch sprints and, much less surprisingly, winning the time trial. But another near-miss on the final stage (his third runner-up finish in the race) summed up how things weren’t quite going their way.
Intermarché-Circus-Wanty - 6/10
Rui Costa rolled back the years to win from a breakaway on stage 15 with typically crafty tactics and got the teams back to winning ways at Grand Tours, having not previously reached the heights of last year. Much of their focus was reserved for the sprints, where Hugo Page delivered a number of top-10s, and Boy van Poppel made the most of his opportunity to sprint in Zaragoza with a third place.
Jayco-Alula - 2/10
Things got off to a bad start for Jayco-Alula when GC man Eddie Dunbar and stage win hopeful Filippo Zana both abandoned after stage five due to a crash and illness, respectively. Then it got worse as they finished the race with only three riders left. One of those, Matteo Sobrero, nearly salvaged their race from a breakaway in stage nine but was beaten into second by Lennard Kämna.
Jumbo-Visma - 10/10
Top marks again for Jumbo-Visma, but that barely tells a fraction of the journey they went on at this Vuelta. On one hand, it was a race of stunning, unprecedented feats, not only becoming the first men’s team to win all three Grand Tours in the same season but doing so by occupying all three spots on the podium, taking five stage wins on the way. On the other hand, it was a tense, acrimonious affair, where internal conflict between three riders, apparently all wanting the glory for themselves, threatened to spoil the celebration.
Ultimately tensions cooled, and Vingegaard and Roglič eventually sacrificed their own ambitions to help Sepp Kuss seal overall victory. For all the drama of the final week and the unedifying sight of teammates riding against each other, everything worked out in the end with the popular fairytale ending of the selfless helper having his turn for glory. If even the team’s third-choice option can win a Grand Tour, every other team has a huge amount of catching up to do.
Lidl-Trek - 3/10
The team’s last Grand Tour before their roster is refreshed next year exposed the need for an army of new recruits on the way. They missed Mads Pedersen, the star and stage-winner from the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and in his absence, the best anyone could manage was a couple of third-place finishes in the sprints from Ed Theuns.
Lotto Dstny - 7/10
Considering their lack of star names, few teams had a better Vuelta than Lotto Dstny. Eduardo Sepúlveda enjoyed a stint in the King of the Mountains jersey while Lennert Van Eetvelt placed third and fourth on two of his multiple breakaway attempts. But the real star was Andreas Kron, who won in Barcelona on stage two and continued to race so aggressively and feature in so many successful breakaways that he ended up finishing third in the points classification.
Movistar - 5/10
There was a welcome return to form for Enric Mas, who bounced back from his opening day Tour de France abandonment with sixth place overall. But aside from second place in the team time trial, Movistar never really got close to taking a stage win, which, for the home team carrying the hopes of a nation, was a necessity for a successful race.
Soudal–Quick-Step - 8/10
Questions as to whether the team were strong enough to support Remco Evenepoel’s title defence proved to be moot after the stage on the Tourmalet when the Belgian was found wanting and out of GC contention. Their race could have unravelled, but Evenepoel was hungry for redemption, and his appetite proved insatiable in the stages that followed, attacking almost every day to add two more wins to the one he’d already earned in Arinsal, the King of the Mountains title, and the super-combativity award.
TotalEnergies - 8/10
As a wildcard invitation, the Vuelta could hardly have gone any better for TotalEnergies. Things were already going well in the bunch sprints through a couple of top-five finishes for Dries Van Gestel before his lead-out man Geoffrey Soupe stunned everyone with a sprint win nobody saw coming in Oliva on stage seven. And to finish it off, Steff Cras almost made the top-10 on GC, finishing 11th.
UAE Team Emirates - 7/10
Halfway into the race, UAE Team Emirates had three riders in the top eight of the GC, even impressively matching Jumbo-Visma for numbers. From such a strong start, you can’t help but think they squandered such a position, as Marc Soler and João Almeida slipped out of contention and didn’t work cohesively together to either raise Juan Ayuso from fourth overall to the podium or win a stage — though one did arrive in a bunch sprint courtesy of Juan Sebastián Molano.