Cycling’s final 21-day race of the season, La Vuelta a Espana, gets under way in Burgos on Saturday with three Olympic champions taking on the mountainous route bookended by individual time-trials. The race starts in a heatwave with the mercury set to tip 100F on the first of 21 stages.

Slovenia’s two-time defending champion Primoz Roglic of Jumbo Visma won the Olympic time-trial gold in Tokyo two weeks ago, while last year’s Vuelta runner-up Richard Carapaz of Ineos claimed the Olympic road race. Tom Pidcock is also on the Ineos team for his first ever Grand Tour after winning mountain bike gold in Japan having earlier this season earned himself a reputation as one of the best road racers in the sport.

Ineos honor Vuelta

“I’ve enjoyed every minute since the Olympic Games and I kept enough fitness to race three weeks,” said Pidcock, who looks capable of winning stages here.

Pidcock and Carapaz start the 2123 mile tour in the service of Colombian climber Egan Bernal, aiming to become the youngest man ever to win all thee Grand Tour after his 2019 Tour de France and 2021 Giro d’Italia in May.

Egan Bernal (COL – Ineos Grenadiers)

“It is a great honor for us, the organizers, that Team Ineos has fielded such a selection of champions”, said Vuelta general manager Javier Guillen.

“Carapaz is now an icon with his Olympic title. The mastery with which he won the road race has thrilled aficionados all over the world,” Guillen said of Carapaz, who was second to Roglic by just 24 seconds in 2020.

Bernal is racing the Vuelta for the first time, as he was in the Giro in May, which he won with style.

“To win the three Grand Tours would be a dream,” Bernal admitted.

“I’m feeling good. For sure I will try to win.”

Back in May Ineos named Briton Adam Yates as their Vuelta leader, and he could well emulate his brother Simon who won in 2018.

“We have different cards to play and the road will put everyone in his place,” Yates said.

Mikel Landa (ESP – Bahrain Victorious))

Landa at last

Spain have a good chance of honours too, as Mikel Landa of the Bahrain team looks to confirm long held hopes following his win at the Tour of Burgos. Other contenders over a race featuring nine summit finishes on the 76th edition are Britain’s Hugh Carthy of EF and French climber Romain Bardet of DSM.

Course designers have made the Vuelta possibly the toughest race of the year with the key detail being the final day time-trial over 20 miles to Santiago de Compostela.

The finale puts pressure on the two favorites — Roglic because of his late meltdown to lose the 2020 Tour de France, and Bernal because he is regarded as too light to do well in that kind of exercise. The pair look equally matched in the mountains, though Bernal would be more accomplished technically for descents or avoiding falls.

Organizers have also added sprint point bonuses in ten of the stages plus time bonuses for the top three in every single stage other than the time-trials.

“We want to make it as exciting as we can,” organizers said.

The strict Covid protocols that were applied in 2020 will again be in operation with the race boasting its own mobile testing center.

RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini

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