After winning the Tour de France for a fourth time, Chris Froome will try to break his run of second-place finishes at the Vuelta.
With Quintana opting not to defend his title, Froome is an even greater favorite to finally ride triumphantly into Madrid on Sept. 10. The Spanish race starts Saturday with a team time trial in the French city of Nimes.
Alberto Contador will retire after the Vuelta. The 34-year-old announced on Aug. 7 that he would put an end to his successful career after riding his home race for a final time.
The organizers decided to honor Contador, a three-time Vuelta winner, by giving him the No. 1 jersey.
Contador won the Vuelta in 2008, 2012 and 2014, in addition to twice winning both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. Only five other riders have ever won the three races. But his reputation was severely tarnished when he was stripped of a third Tour title from 2010 for doping.
Riding for Trek-Segafredo this season, he finished the Tour in ninth place. Known for making surprise attacks at any stage of a race, Contador will be motivated to give his Spanish fans one last show.
Beside Contador, Froome’s main rivals are a mix of former winners and younger riders poised to pounce if he slips up.
Vincenzo Nibali won the 2010 Vuelta and finished the 2013 edition in second. He has also won one Tour and the Giro twice. The Italian did not ride this year’s Tour after finishing the Giro in third place.
The Orica-Scott team will bring three riders to keep an eye on. Esteban Chaves was third in last year’s Vuelta, while brothers Simon and Adam Yates are strong riders.
Otherwise, the field is missing some potential challengers, including Quintana, his injured Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde, and 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin.
Former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez was going to ride in the Vuelta for BMC until he was provisionally suspended after failing an out-of-competition doping test.