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Cycling Vuelta a Espana to offer a genuine general classification contest

Cycling fans will be hoping the Vuelta a Espana can succeed where the previous two Grand Tours of 2015 failed and provide a tight contest in the general classification (GC).

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Cycling fans will be hoping the Vuelta a Espana can succeed where the previous two Grand Tours of 2015 failed and provide a tight contest in the general classification (GC).

As the world's premier cyclists head into the closing stages of a long season, the Vuelta's classic unpredictability due to tired legs should keep everyone guessing.

And with the top four from the Tour de France taking part in the Vuelta, there is plenty of quality aiming to win the red jersey.

Defending champion Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is the only rider who finished in the top five at the Tour that will not race in Spain, with the 32-year-old having already raced two Grand Tours in 2015.

At the Giro, Contador won by one minute, 53 seconds from Fabio Aru (Astana), who did not seem to have the experience to truly challenge the Spaniard, while pre-race contenders Rigoberto Uran and Richie Porte were undone by illness and crashes, respectively.

In France, Team Sky's Chris Froome dominated the three weeks almost from day one, eventually winning by 1:12 from Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who was left with too much work to do in the Alps.

Froome will aim to become just the third rider to win the Tour-Vuelta double in the same year when he lines up in Puerto Banus for the first stage on Saturday.

The only other riders to win France and Spain's Grand Tours in the same year were Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978.

To give Froome as much chance as possible in Spain, Sky manager Dave Brailsford has chosen just two other riders in his squad of nine who also rode the Tour - Geraint Thomas and Nicolas Roche.

While Brailsford has clearly tried to freshen Sky up, Froome's main challengers will still be hoping the Kenya-born cyclist is fatigued after claiming his second yellow jersey in July.

Astana are going with a three-pronged attack in the GC standings, with Vincenzo Nibali to race alongside Aru and Mikel Landa, while Movistar's two leading men - Quintana and Alejandro Valverde - will attack Froome again.

Nibali struggled in his Tour defence last month but turned the corner in the last week, winning stage 19 in impressive fashion.

Quintana and Valverde finished second and third overall and generally looked the most likely to break away from Froome in the Alps.

Other GC candidates could include Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez and Tejay van Garderen of BMC.

With the UCI World Championships to be held from September 19-27 in the United States, the Vuelta will also be key preparation for potential rainbow-jersey contenders such as Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE).

The first rest day of the Vuelta will be held on September 1 after 10 days of racing, while the second will come on September 8 after three straight mountainous stages.

A brutal ride to Cercedilla on the penultimate stage, including four category one climbs, will provide the perfect backdrop for a widespread battle for GC honours, before the Vuelta finishes in Madrid on September 13.

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