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La Vuelta ’09: PEZ Looks At The Contenders
Next up on the Vuelta Preview Train: a look at the possible contenders for the overall next month in Spain. It wouldn’t be a Grand Tour run-in without a look at the favorites, the possibilities, the hopeless, and the hopes. Get your guessing hat on, it’s time to pick the podium!

‘Names’ mean nothing, the politics of ProTour racing mean that there will be ‘big’ riders in the race only because they’ve been pressured by management, they’ll be jaded and thinking only about their winter break. This will become apparent as the race progresses; better to look for riders who are desperate to do well in their home tour or to salvage a season that they know could have been better.

If you’ve even glanced at the race profile then you’ll know that only an excellent climber can win this race.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel)
The Olympic Champion has had a quiet year by his own standards, he’ll be fresh, but has he got the core strength that this race will take to win? – personally I don’t think so, although he will win stages.

Sammy Sanchez has had a fairly quiet 2009. It seems pretty fair to expect a big ride in September from the Olympic Champ.

That Kazakh Guy
OK; Vino, he can’t win or get on the podium, period. He hasn’t had the racing that you need to win a race like this; but he could win a stage – it would be good to get our hands on the newspapers from Astana (the place) if that happens.

Don’t expect any overall glory from Vino at La Vuelta, but don’t be surprised to see him back to his aggressive ways. A stage win could be in the cards for Vinokourov.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse)
He can win on paper, but what about his bad days? – he always has them, the wrong bad day in this race and he’ll be back to chasing stage wins.

This could be one of Valverde’s final chances at a Grand Tour for a long while if his sanction ruling doesn’t go his way. That could be the little bit of extra motivation that the uber-talent needs.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas)
He ‘did a Lance’ in the Giro and that experience will have been invaluable, he’s been quiet since, getting the legs and the head into shape – it’s possible he can win. Liquigas have another card to play too, in the shape of Roman Kreuziger – if he’s recovered from the Tour.

Basso’s return to the sport has been human, far from the ‘extra-terrestrial’ of years past. Is the new Basso good enough to win a Grand Tour?

Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
If Robert Gesink’s mind is right he’ll realize that the race was made for him – the first day in the mountains, we’ll know. I think that Gesink is a name that will figure, given the number of kilometers up to where the air gets thinner.

Robert Gesink is a huge talent. The tall, lanky Dutchman was forced to exit Le Tour early – expect the Vuelta to go better.

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) the Tour was a disaster for him, nothing less, the negative comments coming from the Australian, regarding the state of his relationships with his Silence-Lotto mean that for me, he can’t win.

There’s absolutely no telling which Cadel Evans will show up for the Vuelta. He could be a contender for the overall or invisible. Time will tell.

The Schleck Brothers (SaxoBank)
They have the mighty and wily Saxo Bank team behind them, they have two aces to play, there’s no Lance, no Bert and it looks like it’s theirs to lose. But do they want to be here? Did all the adrenalin get used in the Tour? can they cope with the pressure of being favorites? – maybe.

Andy Schleck rode an amazing Tour de France – do Andy and Frank still have something left in the tank?

Men like Ezequiel Mosquera are one of the reasons that the sport is special; his Galicia team doesn’t have a huge budget, there are no mega stars, but last year the quiet man from La Coruna battled with the combined might of Astana and CSC; just narrowly missing the podium.

How can you not root for Mosquera?

The PEZ Picks
There is no obvious favourite for this race, a poll of the PEZ team reads like this:

The Boss: The Schlecks.

Matt Conn: Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck (if they are both riding), and Cadel Evans. Put ‘em in a shaker and the top three will fall out in correct order. This will be a big chance for Cadel to show he is still a top GT contender. If he fails to deliver here, he will need to share the leadership role at Silence Lotto at the TdF next year.

Jered: My first instinct is to go with the big names: Evans, Basso, Valverde, Schlecks, Sanchez. Ed is right, Cadel looks shaky in the head and the Schlecks don’t need the Vuelta. Valverde, Basso, and Sanchez do – all three will be gunning hard. I’d like to see a first Grand Tour victory from Cadel, but I’m hesitant to make the call. I’m going to go with another sentimental favorite trying to make good on his second chance: Ivan Basso.

Jered: I can’t help it, I think Chris Horner has a huge ride waiting to happen.

He’ll be followed by Alejandro Valverde and Sammy Sanchez. Just off the podium? Chris Horner. I think if he keeps it upright and avoids the nasty luck that has pursued him all year, he’ll finally have the chance to show everyone his true capabilities. Is it silly of me to mention Tom Danielson as well? I swear, one day, the guy is going to come through. Maybe I’m just one of those ever hopeful Americans.

Al Hamilton: For the win it’s between Basso, Valverde or Cunego, can’t decide which; Vino will be 3rd if not disqualified!!

Martin: Gillian thinks Andy Schleck for the win. I reckon Ezequiel Mosquera will be prominent again, as will Albasini. I can’t see Tom Danielson doing anything at all; Moinard came out the Tour in pretty good shape I think. Vino is listed as a reserve for Astana but that’s to stay under the radar – I think we’ll see him on the start line. I’m gonna stick my neck out and say either Sammy Sanchez or Valverde for the win.

Brian Smith (Eurosport commentator): Basso.

The Podium?
In my opinion: Basso to win from a Schleck with Mosquera third.

The Odds
Don’t take our word for it though, let’s take a look at the odds. This time, we’ll use the oddsmakers over at William Hill. I figure since they’re sponsoring the points jersey at La Vuelta, the least we can do is consult their odds, right?

Valverde 3.75
Sanchez 4.50
Basso 5.50
Schleck A. 8.00
Gesink 11.00
Mosquera 12.00
Evans 13.00
Schleck F. 17.00
Anton 21.00
Rodriguez 21.00
Fuglsang 21.00
Vino 21.00
Marchante 29.00
Horner 34.00
Kirchen 34.00
Cunego 41.00
Danielson 51.00
Martin 67.00
Deignan 501.00


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