With the third and final Grand Tour of the season just a week away, our cycling blogger Blazin' Saddles comes up with a list of reasons as to why the Vuelta a Espana - as was the case last year - could be the most exciting race of the season.
There's no favourite
With last year's winner Alberto Contador sitting it out, and the other two podium finishers - Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez - knackered from the Tour, this could be a very open race. There's no Chris Froome either, while the 2010 champion, Vincenzo Nibali, has struggled for form since his victory in the Giro, and this week claimed that he had "not got a Superman cape with an S on it".
All in all, this could be the most unpredictable race since Ryder Hesjedal won last year's Giro, with the podium bound to be include at least one plucky outsider.
More than half the stages finish uphill
How do you beat last year's 10 summit finishes for interest? Well, it's quite simple: add another. 11 uphill finishes in a 21-day race means the Vuelta is going to be extremely explosive. Attacking riding is encouraged by the outset: the opening team time trial next Saturday is followed by the first two summit finishes of the race in Galicia. In your face, Corsica!
Mountain stages include a rare foray into France at Peyragudes, the fearsome Pena Carbarga (where Froome blew up last year) and a penultimate stage up the unforgiving Angliru (where 2011 winner Juan Jose Cobo finally got the better of Froome the year before). It's no surprise that...
None of the big sprinters are coming
Yes, the likes of Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel have decided this is not one for them. You have to feel for the fast-men - with the Worlds in Tuscany also being run over an undulating course, they might as well have packed up for the season in Paris.
But their absence could mean a bonanza for some of the new kids on the block. Last year, John Degenkolb picked up five wins for Argos-Shimano in what was meant to be a climber-friendly race. This year, while Degenkolb and team-mate Marcel Kittel were celebrating the former's wedding, another young German was doing the business for Argos in the Arctic Race of Norway.
Nikias Arndt is one of three sprinter debutants in Argos's roster for the Vuelta, and the 21-year-old will be hunting out opportunities alongside South African Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg and Dutchman Ramon Sinkeldam.
Fresh from his two victories in Utah, Australian Michael 'Bling' Matthews will make his Grand Tour debut for Orica-GreenEdge alongside fellow sprinter Leigh Howard. Another in-form Australian, Mark Renshaw, will (if selected) look to finally notch a Grand Tour stage win for Belkin before making the switch to Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Barry Markus, another rider who sounds Australian, but isn't (he's Dutch), could be Vacansoleil-DCM's designated sprinter in his first Vuelta appearance too.
None of these guys should get too excited, however: the green points jersey is bound to be won by a GC rider, as is the custom in Spain...
The Colombians are back
Tour de France sensation Nairo Quintana may be having a rest, but a whole host of Colombians who animated the Giro earlier in the year are making a welcome return. Sky's Rigoberto Uran, who won a stage in Italy en route to finishing runner-up, will ride his last major race before switching to OPQS but will do so without having to work for Bradley Wiggins. Joining Uran is livewire Sergio Henao in an appealing Colombian tag team.
The Raymond Poulidor of the Giro, Ag2R-La Mondiale's Carlos Betancur, will look to finally get a major stage win after a string of second-place finishes in Italy. Cannondale climber Cayetano Sarmiento should have a free role, plus don't forget Lampre's Winner Anacona, whose name sounds like some kind of victorious deadly serpent.
It starts on a boat
Yes, the race's opening team time trial actually starts on a large floating wooden platform used for shellfish farming on a sea inlet in Galicia. As long as the Orica-GreenEdge bus keeps clear this should go down well - although there must be some odds available for someone falling in the water (perhaps the sinking ship that is Euskaltel).
Sky won't dominate
Sky's control on the Tour was not as stifling as the previous year but such were Froome's individual performances - for the most part aided and abetted by Richie Porte - Sky were a dominant factor in the Grande Boucle. Less so months earlier, when Wiggo's Giro campaign was derailed by poor form, illness and bad weather. In fact, last year's Vuelta saw Froome having to fend for himself en route to finishing fourth - and it's much more likely that a team like Movistar control the race this time around.
Return of some familiar faces
RadioShack's Fabian Cancellara will make his first Grand Tour appearance of the season after sitting out both the Giro and Tour following his imperious classics campaign. The same can be said about Cannondale's Ivan Basso (minus the 'imperious classics' bit) with the veteran Italian putting in his first shift of a season blighted by an unusually large saddle sore.
Fallen rainbow champion Thor Hushovd of BMC looks set to make his major race return after almost two years out in the cold. The Norwegian sprinter has not completed a Grand Tour since the 2011 Grande Boucle, withdrawing from last year's Giro and being sidelined ever since through injury, illness and poor form.
Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez makes his own first Grand Tour appearance of the season too having ironed out his Fuentes-shaped creases with Belkin. Throw in the returns of Italians Dominico Pozzovivo, Eros Capecchi and Nibali - all back after sitting out the Tour - and the roster is an exciting one.
And finally, 56-year-old American Chris Horner makes his first major appearance since the 2012 Tour and could well be looking to go out with a bang. The form's clearly there: Horner bagged a stage in the Tour of Utah last week.
Loads of interesting debutants
It's made even more exciting with the prospect of seeing some intriguing names making their Grand Tour debuts. Already mentioned, Michael Matthews, Nikias Arndt and Barry Markus will look to have their say in the few sprint opportunities thrown their way.
Mark Cavendish may be absent, but his team-mate Andrew Fenn could well be flying the flag for Britain. The tall 23-year-old Scot is a fast finisher and won the 2008 junior Paris-Roubaix title, so is clearly a bit of a hard man.
Argos are also throwing 2012 Tour de l'Avenir winner Warren Barguil of France and Austria's Georg Preidler into the arena as the team's main climbers and GC hopes. Their combined age? Almost less than Chris Horner's...
Hansen's double triple
Australian crocodile shoe domestique Adam Hansen will ride his seventh Grand Tour in succession - a record that is unlikely to be beaten for a long while (especially should he build on it next season). Having become only the second Australian to ride all three Grand Tours in a year in 2012, Hansen will become the first to repeat the feat for a successive year. Can the 32-year-old pick up a stage like he did in the Giro?
Last chance saloon
As is so often the custom, the Vuelta presents a chance for certain riders to save their seasons after earlier setbacks - or to at least finish on a flourish. Having worked so hard for Alberto Contador, Saxo-Tinkoff pair Roman Kreuziger and Nicolas Roche will have a chance to ride for themselves - but will they be too shanked with exhaustion?
The same can be said of Valverde and Rodriguez, who would normally be amongst the favourites although post-Tour fatigue will have to be taken into consideration.
Edvald Boasson-Hagen, who fractured his shoulder in the Tour, is back for Sky and is in need of a win - especially after Paul Kimmage's recent comments about him stagnating over the last few years.
Belgian Jelle Vanendert missed the Tour for Lotto due to an intestinal parasite and will look to save his season. With time catching up, this could be the last chance for Lampre's Michele Scarponi to make the podium of a Grand Tour, while French youngster Thibaut Pinot will have the chance to put things right for FDJ after his Tour horror show.
Dan Martin will have a free role for Garmin after fading fast in the third week of the Tour, while Belkin pair Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam have been given the nod. So impressive in the first fortnight of the Tour, the Dutch pair sunk fast in the Alps - slipping out of the top five to sixth and 13th respectively. Have they had enough time to recover?
With the future of the team very much unresolved, it looks like this could well be the last time we see the familiar orange jerseys of Euskaltel-Euskadi in the peloton. While the feed zone of any race will indubitably be a safer place in their absence, the peloton will look rather bare without multiple Basque attacks in the Pyrenees.
Expect their nine riders to be heavily active from the outset, with the three days in the Pyrenees key ahead of the second rest day. Like the nine selected for Vacansoleil-DCM, every day could well be a job interview in the saddle - with the riders either looking to win a contract elsewhere or do enough to attract 11th-hour sponsors to save their current teams. Expect fireworks - especially if Johnny Hoogerland is involved.