This year’s Vuelta is ripe with young talent – some getting a shot at Grand Tour success, and others being put in in the hopes that they’ll gain a bit of experience that will aid their racing come 2012. Let’s take a look at some of the youths we’ve got our eye on:
Dan Martin: This Garmin-Cervélo rider is coming off of an impressive Tour of Poland, in which he finished 2nd in the GC with an impressive stage win during which he cracked Peter Sagan but failed to gain enough time to take over the leader’s jersey for good. This isn’t his first Grand Tour – he’s ridden a Giro and a Vuelta before – but this year, he comes in as Garmin-Cervelo’s protected rider, tipped for a top-ten placing.
Andrew Talansky: Also from the Garmin-Cervélo developmental files is Andrew Talansky, getting his first shot at a Grand Tour. He’s been steadily developing this year, having won the Young Rider’s Competition at Romandie, 4th overall at Tour Mediterranean, and taking respectable results on stages of Paris-Nice and Criterium International. The Vuelta is the next step of his development, but it’s more likely that it will bear fruit in 2012 than during the Vuelta itself. If Vaughters is on the hot seat for leaving Hushovd at home in favor of a younger Vuelta squad, then it’s Talansky who may benefit from the inclusion. Keep your eyes on him even if he’s quiet during the Vuelta.
John Degenkolb: As HTC folds, riders like Degenkolb – a capable sprinter with two Dauphine stage wins to his name this year – will get an opportunity to pursue success elsewhere (he’s signed with Skil-Shimano for 2012 onward). On a sprinter-packed HTC squad this Vuelta, he may not get the opportunity for a sprint win, but you’ll see him at the front in the final kilometer.
Marcel Kittel: Next year’s Skil-Shimano team is growing increasingly exciting; Degenkolb will join Marcel Kittel, who has made a name for himself this year winning four stages each at Four Days of Dunkirk and, more recently, the Tour of Poland. There, he beat riders like Peter Sagan and Heinrich Haussler. Even with Cavendish racing the Vuelta, I wouldn’t rule out Kittel for a stage win or two.
Janez Brajkovic: Like many other riders who crashed out of the Tour, RadioShack’s Brajkovic gets to test his legs in Spain. In doing so, he’ll also test RadioShack’s future. With an aging cohort of GC-maybe’s in Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer, and Chris Horner, RadioShack needs to build their young blood – Brajkovic ought to be the lynchpin of their future. This Vuelta should be his time to shine.
Taylor Phinney: There’s an adage: the first step to becoming a successful bike racer is to pick good parents. If that holds true, then you could surely do worse than picking Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney to offer their genetic material. Taylor comes off of a strong ENECO Tour and has a renewed sense of purpose to his first year as a Pro – I wouldn’t count him out for some top 5 placings in sprint stages, and he’ll be an asset to BMC in the Team Time Trial on Saturday.
Sep Vanmarcke: Readers will have to pardon us for an up-and-comers list that includes one more Garmin-Cervélo rider, but considering Vaughters’ approach to this race, we think it’s excusable. The jury is still out on Vanmarcke’s inclusion in Garmin-Cervélo’s roster, but Jonathan Vaughters’ twitter suggested that he may yet be going to Spain. Vanmarcke shone in the spring, going up the road during Paris-Roubaix in a savvy move to support the eventual bridge by Hushovd and Cancellara. Vanmarcke is young, strong, and developing nicely – like Talansky, his participation in the Vuelta will pay off in 2012.
Who are the young riders you’ll be watching during the Vuelta?