That dull thud you can hear coming from south-west Spain is the sound of the Vuelta organisers ASO’s heads banging against the nearest wall.
The 2014 Vuelta, which starts in Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia on Saturday, will be without its defending champion after the American Chris Horner was pulled out by his team on medical grounds.
Horner has been receiving a cortisone-based treatment for bronchitis. He has a therapeutic use exemption from the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body.
However, the 42-year-old’s team Lampre-Merida have a policy of preventing any rider with cortisol levels under a certain level from racing. Cortisone use has the effect of artificially lowering the level of blood cortisol – the stress hormone. Before Horner’s omission, the build-up to this year’s Vuelta had been remarkable for its smoothness.
The race usually suffers because of its position at the tail-end of the season, but this year’s edition looks set to benefit from the various misfortunes suffered by the world’s top riders, many of whom have made the Vuelta their revised season target.
Alberto Contador and Chris Froome will reconvene for the battle royale that should have happened in July before both crashed out of the Tour de France with broken bones.
However, Nairo Quintana will make sure it is no straight shootout between the two present. The diminutive Colombian climber has his eye on a second Grand Tour of the year, having already claimed the Giro d’Italia in May.
But this Vuelta looks tailor-made for the perennially luckless home favourite Joaquim Rodriguez, for whom this is perhaps the final chance to win a Grand Tour.
Rodriguez finished third at the Vuelta in 2010 and 2012, and the Team Katusha climber’s punchy style should be suited to a 2014 route.