Vuelta a España Favorites: Who Will Win the Red Jersey in 2023?

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reviewed by Jack Gazeley
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With the Vuelta a España 2023 just weeks away, attention is inevitably turning to the red-hot favorites for the maillot rojo (red jersey).

The Vuelta may be considered the least prestigious of the cycling calendar’s three Grand Tours, but there’s a whispered sense among cycling insiders that it’s set to shrug off that position to be the most thrilling General Classification battle of the season.

Where the Tour de France looked set to be a two-horse race from the off, the GC field at the Vuelta appears wide open.

Three-time victor Primož Roglič will attempt to wrestle back the maillot rojo he lost to defending champion Remco Evenepoel last summer, while Danish superstar Jonas Vingegaard is chasing historic back-to-back Grand Tour victories after his devastating Tour de France win.

Former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas underlined his return by finishing runner-up to Roglič at this year’s Giro d’Italia, while 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz means the Vuelta will feature no less than five Grand Tour winners battling it out for victory.

However, if we know anything about trying to predict Vuelta a España favorites, it’s that we don’t know anything.

All it takes is one misjudged corner on a descent or disastrously-timed bout of illness to derail a cyclist’s campaign – and there are a whole host of riders looking to disrupt the established order and pick up the pieces if that happens.

So, join us as we assess the prospects of the Vuelta’s major players, alongside the talented young guns coming through in the hopes of a maiden Grand Tour victory.

Let’s dive in!

Vuelta a España Favorites
2023: Title Image
© Unipublic/Charly López. Edited from the original.

#1. Jonas Vingegaard

Vingegaard taking victory in Stage 5 of the Tour de France 2022 in his Jumbo-Visma jersey.
© A.S.O./Billy Ceusters
  • Age: 25
  • Team: Jumbo-Visma
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: 46th (2020)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 13/10

Given the dominance of Vingegaard’s seven-minute victory over Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France just a month ago, it may seem like madness to predict anything other than the Dane bulldozing his way to a maiden Vuelta title.

The stranglehold over bike racing Vingegaard has shared with Pogačar over the past three seasons, combined with the Slovenian’s absence from the start list in Spain, further suggest that Vingegaard is the runaway Vuelta a España 2023 favorite.

Dig a little deeper, though, and Vingegaard’s path to victory isn’t quite so straightforward.

First and foremost, winning consecutive Grand Tours is notoriously difficult, due to the amount of preparation and conditioning required to mount a serious GC bid, combined with the lack of proper recovery time following the extreme exertion of winning the previous three-week race.

Only three riders in history have achieved the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season: Jacques Anquetil in 1963, Bernard Hinault in 1978, and Chris Froome in 2017. Roglič, Evenepoel, and Thomas all skipped this year’s Tour for a reason.

Vingegaard also faces arguably a stronger field in the GC battle than he did at the Tour de France. Though his great rival Tadej Pogačar is absent, there is far more strength in depth among the other challengers.

The Dane provided a strategic masterclass in marking, outlasting, and ultimately blowing Pogačar away in a two-horse race at Le Tour, but the variety and depth of the threats he faces at the Vuelta will undoubtedly provide a different challenge.

#2. Primož Roglič

Primož Roglič smiling before a stage at the 2022 Tour de France in his Jumbo-Visma jersey.
© A.S.O./Aurelien Valiatte
  • Age: 33
  • Team: Jumbo-Visma
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: Champion (2019, 2020, 2021)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 3/1

To have the champions of the year’s first two Grand Tours facing off at the third is a rare prospect – and one that has cycling fans’ mouths watering.

That the two are teammates only serves to heighten the drama further. Jumbo-Visma have the opportunity to secure history by winning all three Grand Tours in a single season, an unprecedented feat.

Roglič’s record at the Vuelta a España speaks for itself. The three-time champion was well in contention last summer too, sitting second in the general classification, before a crash ended his hopes.

The Slovenian’s last-gasp win at the Giro – snatching the maglia rosa from Geraint Thomas on the penultimate day time-trial – underlines his persistent threat, and his ominous form this season.

His role as “co-leader” with Vingegaard adds uncertainty to his challenge, however. The only previous time the pair started a Grand Tour with both favored equally – the 2022 Tour de France – it was Vingegaard who emerged on top.

The Vuelta, however, has long been Roglič’s hunting ground. The Slovenian will be hoping his experience at the race and his teammate’s exertions at the Tour can be brought to bear.

One thing is for sure; whoever of Vingegaard and Roglič can muscle their way on top will gain an extremely powerful deputy in their race for the red jersey.

#3. Remco Evenepoel

Remco Evenepoel celebrates becoming a Vuelta a España winner in 2022.
© Unipublic/Charly López
  • Age: 23
  • Team: Soudal-QuickStep
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: Champion (2022)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 4/1

The 2023 Vuelta threatens to be a critical moment in the career of Remco Evenepoel.

With a Grand Tour win and Road Race World Championship already under his belt, it may sound far-fetched to describe the 2023 Vuelta as a potential coming-of-age moment for the young Belgian.

However, as the man long-touted to break the hegemony of Vingegaard and Pogačar, the Vuelta presents a key opportunity for Evevenepoel to fulfill that prophecy, facing the Dane on equal terms and as a major favorite in his own right.

Remco Evenepoel certainly looks the real deal.Though his Vuelta win in 2022 was eased by Roglič’s withdrawal, Evenepoel already led the Slovenian by over a minute.

The roles were reversed at this summer’s Giro, with the Belgian forced out by a positive COVID test after Stage 9. Once again, it was Evenepoel who held the race lead, and his withdrawal opened the door for Roglič and Geraint Thomas to fight between themselves.

The Jumbo-Visma juggernaut will be incredibly difficult to stop – but if any man is capable of it, it’s Remco Evenepoel.

#4. Juan Ayuso

  • Age: 20
  • Team: UAE Team Emirates
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: 3rd Place (2022)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 8/1

Juan Ayuso is the unknown quantity of the 2023 Vuelta a España favorites.

The Spaniard was a sensation at the 2022 edition, finishing third overall to be the youngest Vuelta podium-sitter in the race’s history.

However, Ayuso endured a challenging start to the 2023 season. Tendonitis severely disrupted his racing – after the Vuelta, he wouldn’t ride again competitively for over 200 days.

Since his return to action, however, Ayuso has shown glimpses of sparkling form. Time trial wins at both the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse restored confidence.

The Tour de Suisse also saw Ayuso complete a brilliant solo win in the mountains, beating Evenepoel to second place in the overall standings in the process.

With Pogačar skipping the Vuelta, the Spaniard appears likely to lead a strong UAE Emirates team including the likes of João Almeida, Jay Vine, and Marc Soler.

Backed by that kind of firepower, Ayuso looks set to disrupt the big boys at the 2023 Vuelta, and strong performances in the early stages could see him announce himself as a dark horse for the maillot rojo in Madrid.

#5. Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas rides at the 2020 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./ Fabien Boukla
  • Age: 37
  • Team: Ineos Grenadiers
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: 69th (2015)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 18/1

In a field dominated by youth, Geraint Thomas will be hoping experience proves decisive in the tactical scramble of such an open GC battle.

The veteran Welshman has only raced the Vuelta once before, finishing a lowly 69th in 2015 as a domestique to Chris Froome. With a Tour de France win and two more podium finishes under his belt, Thomas certainly isn’t short on Grand Tour pedigree, however.

More relevant, however, is his excellent showing at the Giro d’Italia in May. Thomas led the majority of the race, only losing the maglia rosa to Roglič at the final hurdle.

While the end result was bitterly disappointing, the performance underlined Thomas’ enduring relevance in the peloton as a threat for major victories.

With so many years in his legs, Thomas realistically no longer has the ability to blow his rivals away on an explosive mountain stage – but if the young guns around him begin to crack, he might well be capable of delivering the consistency required to cash in.

#6. Richard Carapaz

Carapaz celebrating a stage win in a blue polka-dot jersey.
© Unipublic/Sprint Cycling Agency
  • Age: 30
  • Team: EF Education-EasyPost
  • Best Vuelta a España Result: Runner-up (2020)
  • Bookmaker’s Odds: 40/1

Richard Carapaz has had a quiet start to life at EF Education-EasyPost after his transfer from Ineos Grenadiers, but he finally made a statement of intent with victory at the Classic Alpes-Maritimes in May.

The Ecuadorian’s Tour de France ended almost before it began as he was forced to withdraw following a Stage 1 crash with Enric Mas.

That misfortune opened the door to a Vuelta appearance, however, and Carapaz will be looking to bring his season to a close with a bang.

His form may not be as impressive as some on this list, but Carapaz has Grand Tour-winning pedigree with his 2019 Giro d’Italia victory, in addition to finishing runner-up at the 2020 Vuelta. He also boasts an Olympic Road Race title among his impressive credentials.

That experience may prove invaluable in the mayhem of the Vuelta, especially if injury or illness decimates the field as it did at this year’s Giro.

Disagree with our picks, or think we’ve harshly overlooked someone? Let us know your Vuelta a España favorites in the comments below!

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As a UESCA-certified cycling coach, Rory loves cycling in all its forms, but is a road cyclist at heart. He clocked early on that he had much more of a talent for coaching and writing about bikes than he ever did racing them. In recent years, the focus of Rory's love affair with cycling has shifted to bikepacking - a discipline he found well-suited to his "enthusiasm-over-talent" approach.

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