According to all the preview stories and BMC press releases, American Tejay van Gardener will be a co-captain in the Vuelta with Spaniard Sammy Sanchez.
For the second year in a row, Van Garderen had a disappointing Tour de France and will play the traditional Redemption song in Spain. Maybe he’s solved his mysterious power outage in Le Grand Shindig or maybe he hasn’t.
It’s the old take it day-by-day script and so he’ll share some spotlight but turn most of the stress over to Sanchez, who is amazingly consistent for a guy who is now 38 years old. He’s the Spanish Chris Horner and shows few signs of slowing down.
For the last two years he’s been the super deluxe climbing domestique for whoever BMC thinks can win a grand tour but in Spain, he’s got the green light to ride for himself. (That’s unless Van Garderen suddenly drops everyone on the first big mountain.)
Question being, how far up the steep GC gradient can the old man from Euskatel-Euskadi really climb? Since 201o he’s been 2nd, 5th and 12th in the Tour de France. In that same timeframe, he’s managed 6th and 8th in the Vuelta a España. The man knows how to ride a three week grand tour and dose his efforts to perfection.
Just this year, Sanchez is still showing flashes that he can deliver the goods — 4th in Liège–Bastogne–Liège, 6th overall in the Tour of the Basque Country, 6th at La Flèche Wallonne and 6th overall at the Tour of California.
Just by way of comparison, his 2016 results are as good if not better than the Vuelta captain of Cannondale-Drapac, Andrew Talansky. The American, who is eleven years younger than Sanchez, posted a 3rd overall at the Tour of Utah, 4th overall at the Tour of California and 5th on GC at the Tour de Suisse.
Talansky wants to improve on his best best performance in the Vuelta (7th) so that perhaps gives us a bit of a framework of expectations for Sanchez. While it’s the usual mountain stage overload in Spain, there is a time trial that plays to Talansky’s talent. The same can’t be said for Sanchez against the clock.
In the end, finishing better than 7th in the Vuelta against such a deep, stacked field is a big ask. Slot in Froome, Contador, Quintana, Valverde, Van Garderen, Esteban Chavez, Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk and two or three dark horses that surprise and even cracking the top ten is an achievement. Then again, you can always knock a few out for crashes and illness.
That’s the Helta Skelta Vuelta. Unpredictable, volatile and loco. Go, Sammy, go.