Javier Guillén's eyes light up when he looks at the select list of favorites of the Vuelta a España. The round that starts this Saturday in Barcelona presents a four-way challenge between the last winners of the three big rounds and the most captivating Spanish cyclist. The Belgian Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) defends scepter against the offensive of the Danish Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo), double winner of the Tour de France, the Slovenian Primoz Roglic (Jumbo), winner of the Giro d'Italia last spring, and Juan Ayuso (UAE), who intends to continue breaking records and improve the third place of the previous edition.

An unbeatable poker of aces. Only the challenge of Tadej Pogacar is missing. The Slovenian, after his participation in the World Championship decided to dispense with the race in which he began to adorn his rich track record. "There is no chance of going to the Vuelta. We have a great team to fight for the title and I respect Almeida and Ayuso a lot. They have been together for a long time and understand each other very well. I will encourage them from the sofa, "said the second classified in the last Tour de France after attending the World Championship in Glasgow.

In Barcelona, with the premiere of a group time trial of 14 kilometers, starts a round full of incentives. To the valuable list of contenders for the podium in Madrid is added a long list of notable riders: Enric Mas (Movistar), Geraint Thomas (Ineos), Joao Almeida (UAE), Oier Lazkano (Movistar) and Richard Carapaz (EF).

A special edition for Roglic, who will fight to equal the record of four wins of Roberto Heras. The Slovenian arrives plethoric, with 12 victories in the season, only one less than his teammate Vingeggard. This year he has not been off the podium, with exhibitions in Giro d'Italia, Tirreno-Adriárico and Volta a Catalunya. The Jumbo appears as the group to beat. The course of the race will dictate whether the command chevrons will be worn by Roglic or Vingegaard. "We will both go as leaders. Let's see if we can do full," says the Dane.

The Jumbo pair will harass Evenepoel, who is comfortable with the backing of his group. "If you look at the route and the starting list, you know it will be a tough Vuelta, but I had a good preparation and I can have a strong team," said the Belgian, who concentrated on Andorra after winning the World Time Trial, and who has scored the red time trial of 25.8 kilometers of Valladolid (stage 10th).

Juan Ayuso, after a hostile start to the season due to injuries, points out that returning to the podium is not a chimera. "It will be a tough Vuelta, with some great rivals, but I think we are up to the challenge. We have been working hard in recent months," confessed the versatile UAE rider.

A participation of superior rank for a route without respite, with seven stages of high mountain, six of medium mountain, two flats with high finish, four flats, a time trial by teams and an individual time trial. A round with a mountainous profile. The summits already appear in the third stage, with climbs to Ordino and final in Arinsal, in Andorra. In the sixth, the Observatory is visited to Javalambre. The eighth ends in the Xorret de Catí. The queen stage is a martyrdom for cyclists and a delight for spectators: final in the Tourmalet (for the first time the Vuelta visits the Pyrenean summit) and previous ascents to Portalet, Aubisque and Spandelles. The next appointment is also full of obstacles, ending in the port of Larra Belagua. On the 17th day, audience records will be broken with the return of El Angliru. The culmination of the last week, in the mountains of Madrid, is tremendous with a stage similar to a Belgian classic, with 10 ascents to third category levels in an endless route of 208 kilometers, the marathon stage, before the triumphal walk through Madrid.

  • Jonas Vingegaard