With two Slovenians having won four of the last six Grand Tours and just the one Briton (Tao Geoghegan Hart) triumphing in the last eight, there has been a gradual shift of power at cycling’s top table since Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates pulled off the British grand slam in 2018.
None of those four previous British winners will feature in the 76th edition of La Vuelta, which gets under way on Saturday 14th August with a 7.1km time trial around the cathedral city of Burgos in northern Spain.
British hopes instead fall on the shoulders of seven riders, including one Grand Tour debutant fresh from winning a gold medal in Toyko, the twin brother of the 2018 winner, and a rider who came of age last November with victory on the mighty Angliru on his way to securing a place on the final podium.
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Let’s take a closer look at the seven riders flying the flag for Britain over the next few weeks in Spain.

Tom Pidcock, oro en la modalidad de Mountain Bike en los Juegos Olímpicos de Tokio 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Age: 22
Grand Tours: 0
Specialism: Everything
Most likely favourite fruit: Pomegranate
Chances of a stage win: Moderate to good
Predicted GC finish: 15 (if he finishes)
A successful return from a broken collarbone in June saw Pidcock pick up an Olympic MTB gold medal in Tokyo to add to his junior World Cyclo-cross Championships and World Time Trial Championships titles; not bad considering he’d only recently taken up mountain biking, and further proof that the multi-disciplinarian Yorkshireman (who earlier this year allegedly ran a 5k in a staggering 13’25”) could excel at pretty much everything he threw himself at.
Once described as a “mini-Sagan” by the Belgian press, Pidcock’s already showed that he is far more versatile than the Slovakian showman – winning De Brabantse Pijl and missing out (by a hair’s breadth) on the Amstel Gold Race in his first year as a pro, following a podium in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and a top five at Strade Bianche.
Pidcock now makes the most eagerly anticipated Grand Tour debut since Remco Evenepoel took a bow in the Giro – and there are certainly parallels between the British tyro and his superstar Belgian counterpart. It will be interesting to see how Pidcock fares in such a stacked Ineos Grenadiers team: will he get his own chance to shine or will the pressure be taken off by his role supporting Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates?
Like Evenepoel prior to the Giro, Pidcock has never attempted a stage race exceeding eight days, and so it remains to be seen if he can make it all the way Santiago de Compostela, or if he will retire before the high mountains of the final week. He has the skills to win a stage provided his team leaders let him off the leash, which is not a given. It will be thrilling watching how La Vuelta pans out for such a huge talent.

Adam Yates of United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers celebrates at the 100th Volta a Catalunya 2021

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Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers)

Age: 29
Grand Tours: 9
Specialism: Tenacity
Most likely favourite fruit: Apple
Chances of a stage win: Average
Predicted GC finish: 20
Riding his first Grand Tour for Ineos since leaving brother Simon and Team BikeExchange, Yates has never finished higher than 34th place – and never gone better than third place in a stage – in three career appearances at the Vuelta to date. He’ll be hoping that changes this September – although such is the strength of the squad, it looks like he’ll have to do that by grabbing his chances when/if they come and not going too deep for his leaders, Bernal and Carapaz.
A promising start for Yates chez Ineos saw the man from Bury finish runner-up in the UAE Tour before leading home a team one-two-three in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, followed by fourth in Itzulia Basque Country. Things have been a little frustrating since then with Yates being overlooked for both the Giro and Tour. He could only take ninth in the Olympic road race and earlier this month finished well down on the Vuelta a Burgos, almost 28 minutes behind the winner Mikel Landa.
It looks like Yates will be on domestique duty in Spain, with an eye on a potential stage win should the opportunity arise.

'The first few stages will be nervous' - Hugh Carthy speaks ahead of Vuelta a España

Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo)

Age: 27
Grand Tours: 8
Specialism: Grimacing up gradients
Most likely favourite fruit: Banana
Chances of a stage win: Good
Predicted GC finish: 5
A man whose facial expressions will probably tell you more than the few words he utters to the media, Carthy will hope to build on his breakthrough Vuelta last autumn, where he not only won on the mythical Angliru but ended up occupying the lowest rung on the podium alongside Primoz Roglic and Richard Carapaz.
The rangy rider from Preston was on course for a top five finish in the Giro this May before hitting the wall on the penultimate day on Alpe Motta, where he dropped to eighth. His 2021 had been winless until Carthy rode clear of a select group that included the likes of Bernal, Landa and Yates on the final climb of the final stage of the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month.
EF Education-Nippo have not sent the strongest team in support of Carthy, so he’ll have a lot to do himself – especially in the mountains. But he always gives the impression of being something of a loner on two wheels, so that may suit Carthy to a tee. He’ll certainly be one of the strongest climbers in the race.

Simon Carr of United Kingdom and Team EF Education - Nippo in the Breakaway during the 41st Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa 2021 a 223,5km race from Donostia-San Sebastian to Donostia-San Sebastian

Image credit: Getty Images

Simon Carr (EF Education-Nippo)

Age: 22
Grand Tours: 1
Specialism: Climbing
Most likely favourite fruit: Lychee
Chances of a stage win: Low
Predicted GC finish: 59
The most French of the British contingent, bilingual Carr has dual citizenship having lived over the pond most of his life. Born in Hereford but raised in the foothills of the Pyrenees not far from the walled city of Carcassonne where Cavendish won his fourth stage in this year’s Tour, Carr is a classy continental climber who came through his debut Giro unscathed earlier this spring.
Carr started as a mountain biker, came up through the French amateur system, then joined Delko, the second-tier pro continental team based in Marseille, despite being hampered by seasonal allergies early in his career. When sponsor Nippo shifted from Delko to EF, Carr was one of the riders they took along for the ride off the back of a promising ride in the Arctic Race of Norway in 2019 and his only pro win, in the one-day Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika.
Along with the American Lawson Craddock, Carr will have an important role to play in protecting team leader Carthy in the mountains.

SESTAO, SPAIN - APRIL 06: Arrival / James Knox of United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step during the 60th Itzulia-Vuelta Ciclista Pais Vasco 2021, Stage 2

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James Knox (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Age: 25
Grand Tours: 4
Specialism: Hanging in on the climbs
Most likely favourite fruit: Kiwi
Chances of a stage win: Not bad
Predicted GC finish: 12
Hailing from a small town in Cumbria, there must have been a joke about Knox swapping Levens for Leuven when he joined the Belgian Quick-Step team in 2018 after two years learning the ropes at Team Wiggins. Knox has since ridden three Giri and one Vuelta, where he posted his highest GC finish of 11th in 2019. In fact, Knox was on course for a top 10 finish in that race until he lost 11 minutes on the penultimate stage following a crash the day before.
The rapid rise of Joao Almeida and Remco Evenepoel at Deceuninck has limited Knox’s options a little these past two years, but he now has a chance to ride for himself in a Grand Tour – albeit without much support for when the road heads up. But as a junior he won the National Hill Climb Championship and so the high mountains won’t faze Knox too much.
While a tilt at the top five may be unlikely, Knox will have high hopes of picking up a maiden win as a professional – although he hasn’t once broken into the top five this season from 41 race days...

Matthew Holmes of United Kingdom and Team Lotto Soudal during the 42nd Tour de Wallonie 2021

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Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal)

Age: 27
Grand Tours: 1
Specialism: Breakaways
Most likely favourite fruit: Tomato
Chances of a stage win: Good
Predicted GC finish: 88
After eight years plugging away on the domestic continental circuit with Raleigh and Madison Genesis, Holmes was ready to pack in his dream of riding in the WorldTour before Lotto Soudal came calling in 2020. And way back before the likes of Geoghegan Hart and Carthy tasted glory last year, before the pesky pandemic had even began, it was Holmes who secured Britain’s first win of the season after denying Richie Porte his usual victory on Willunga Hill in January.
Since that breakthrough win, Holmes made his Grand Tour debut at last year’s Giro, where his 81st place disguised his regular presence in breakaways. Indeed, Holmes was probably the strongest man in the move in Stage 8 to Vieste, the day fellow Briton Alex Dowsett played his cards right to take an emotional victory. Holmes took third place after being pipped in the sprint for second – but he will have learned a lot from the disappointment.
A troubled second season at Lotto Soudal has seen the Wigan rider (who lives half an hour down the road from compatriot Carthy) record more DNFs for his liking (six in total, plus one OTL) and he’s yet to finish higher than 28th from 32 race days. But in a team of inexperienced newcomers, Holmes will almost be an old hand for Lotto in Spain – and he’ll hope to get in enough breakaways to have a shot at taking a stage win.

Scott Thwaites of The United Kingdom and Team Alpecin-Fenix / during the 84th Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France 2020

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Scott Thwaites (Alpecin-Fenix)

Age: 31
Grand Tours: 2
Specialism: Sprinting & domestique duties
Most likely favourite fruit: Pear
Chances of a stage win: Low
Predicted GC finish: 127
The eldest of the British contingent, Thwaites rides his first Grand Tour in four years to cap an astonishing comeback from the abyss to the top echelons of the sport. An injury-ravaged 2018 saw him consider early retirement, but the Yorkshireman found a way back to join Vitus Pro Cycling after recovering from surgery on a fractured vertebrae.
A bronze medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games road race, Thwaites started up at NetApp-Endura, which had morphed into Bora-Argon 18 by the time he made his Vuelta debut in 2016. He then moved Dimension-Data for whom he rode the Tour in 2017 before things went south.
Now at Alpecin-Fenix, where he will be part of Jasper Philipsen’s leadout train, Thwaites is a previous podium finisher of Le Samyn (2016) and made the top 10 of Strade Bianche in 2017. His best result on the Vuelta was seventh in Stage 8 in 2016 after the Russian Sergey Lagutin took the spoils once the break broke up.
Perhaps the least likely Briton to pull off a win in this year’s Vuelta, Thwaites will simply be happy to be riding at this level once again and to have a role to play after coming so close to packing it all in three years ago.
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