The season's last Grand Tour is fast-approaching. A provisional start list is available. Here are my thoughts.
General classification - A cursory look over the start list reveals some pretty obvious favorites. The foremost of them would have to be Alejandro Valverde. Thanks to his trouble with CONI, this is his only Grand Tour of the season, and it just might be his last Grand Tour for, oh, I don't know, two years. He's gonna want to go out with something special, and the tours of Spain and Italy seem to favor 'home' riders more than France. The second most obvious favorite is Andy Schleck, largely because of the star-studded roster Team Saxo Bank appears to be bringing. One through nine, they can all hurt you setting a pace up a mountain. I'd still tab Valverde as the big favorite, but Schleck can't be far behind. The other huge name in the field is Ivan Basso. He has up and coming super-domestique Sylwester Szmyd at his side, and, provided Szmyd knows these courses as well as he did in his tremendous Giro earlier this season, he can be a major asset.
Unless someone pulls out for worlds (or, obviously, gets hurt), I'll be a little surprised if some combination of Valverde, Schleck, and Basso isn't the podium in Madrid. Remember, no one from last year's podium (Contador-Leipheimer-Sastre) is in the race this year. Darkhorses, and those likely to round out the top ten, include Sammy Sanchez, Kim Kirchen, Christian Vandevelde, Ezequiel Mosquera, Cadel Evans looking to rebound, several riders from a surprisingly strong squad being sent by Ag2r-La Mondiale, and for a wildcard, I'm gonna be interested to see how Milram's Linus Gerdemann does.
Mountains classification - Last year's winner David Moncoutie (any chance we can get this thing to be able to type diacritics?) is in the field, but he looked awfully unimpressive in the Tour de France after saying he would aim for the polka dot jersey. He didn't even have the most mountains points on his own team. I doubt his form will have rebounded by now. The mountains classification winner has to be a good enough climber to win the prize, but not so good that the peloton won't let him out on breakaways, for fear of gaining time on GC - sounds like Egoi Martinez (who won the Vuelta KOM in, I think, 2005) and David de la Fuente, whose team is gonna want to show that their spot in the race is deserved, after wrangling with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get it.
Points classification - This is undoubtedly the hardest to call, since many riders and especially sprinters pull out of the Vuelta to prepare for the world championships. If withdrawals last year were restricted to injuries and disqualifications, I'm certain Greg Van Avermaet (who isn't even in the field this year) wouldn't have won the blue jersey. The best sprinters in the field who don't seem likely to leave early and who have clean noses (Boonen's on the provisional start list, but I'm not expecting much of anything from him after his downright awful Tour) seem to be Leonardo Duque and Tyler Farrar. Farrar, though, might be emboldened after his win at Vattenfall.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Vuelta's points classification, like the Giro's and unlike the Tour's, is not weighted toward the sprinters. A stage win affords 25 points - any stage, whether on the flats of the Netherlands or the Alto de Aitana, or the time trials. Same intermediate sprints in each mass-start stage, too. So Valverde could easily be a favorite here, too.
Combination classification - Obviously, Valverde again seems a favorite. This inevitably seems to go the the GC winner.
Teams classification - If most or all of the squad indicated by Team Saxo Bank appears in the Netherlands on the 30th, this is their award to lose. Ag2r also looks to be bringing a well-rounded team, and maybe Liquigas, but Saxo's the definite favorite.