By Mark Rawlinson
Saturday sees the start of the third and final Grand Tour cycling race get underway with the commencement of the three-week long Vuelta a Espana.
Vincenzo Nibali scooped the first major of the season, the Giro d’Italia back in May before Chris Froome scooped the prestigious Tour de France title a few weeks ago on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
And Italian Nibali is the early favourite to secure a second big title of the season when the Vuelta concludes in Madrid on September 15th.
Favourite – Vincenzo Nibali
With the riders finishing first and second in the Tour de France, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana, absent from this race, Nibali has been backed as the pre-race favourite to win his second Vuelta.
Froome, along with a number of other riders, is currently competing in the USA Pro Challenge Tour which finishes this Sunday, meaning Nibali has a strong chance of taking the title he first won back in 2010.
However, the Astana rider is officially down to ride in this event as part of his preparations for the World Road Race Championships in Florence next week, so may well not decide to challenge for the title.
But the race conditions suit his riding style and he is in the form of his life this season, which is why most bookies are offering short odds of him winning the rice, the best prices coming from Paddy Power at 9/4.
Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez is another rider who will fancy his chances in the Vuelta this year after finishing third in the race last year.
The Katusha rider also finished third in this year’s Tour de France and is very adept in taking on the challenging mountain climbs the race fires at the riders. He is available at 3/1 with Ladbrokes in winning the yellow jersey in Madrid in three weeks’ time.
Another native rider, Alejandro Valverde, is also expected to be a main challenger for the title this year, after finishing second in the General Classification in 2012.
Valverde won the race in 2009 although his Movistar team have elected not to nominate some of his high profile team-mates such as Quintana and Rui Costa which could affect his chances of success. Stan James offer the best value on a Valverde win in the Vuelta this year at 9/2.
Other names to look out for further down the betting lists include Team Sky’s Sergio Henao, who has been given the role of team leader, who is priced at 12/1 with a number of outlets including Coral.
Ag2r-La Mondiale rider Carlos Betancur is available at 16/1 with a number of bookies including William Hill whilst odds of 50/1 from Paddy Power represent good value on Roman Kreuziger, who will be leading Team Saxo-Tinkoff.
The Vuelta begins on Saturday evening with the team time trial between Vilanova de Arousa and Sanxenxo, with live coverage available on British Europsort from 5:45pm.
You can also claim free bets with Coral by clicking HERE.