Primoz Roglic won the last two Vuelta a Espana titles after crushing disappointments in other grand tours and he is on the hunt for a third successive victory to make amends for his painful withdrawal from this year's Tour de France.
The Slovenian won his first Vuelta in 2019 after losing out on the Giro d'Italia to Richard Carapaz and again triumphed in 2020, just weeks after surrendering the Tour de France to compatriot Tadej Pogacar after a dramatic time trial on the penultimate stage.
His bid to make amends in this year's Tour was rocked with a crash on stage three which led to him pulling out of the race several days later, and the Vuelta, the final grand tour of the year, offers the 31-year-old yet another shot at redemption.
The Vuelta is shorn of Irish competitors this year, with 2020 Tour de France green jersey winner Sam Bennett undergoing surgery, Dan Martin resting after a busy season, and Eddie Dunbar absent after a recent positive Covid-19 test.
Ryan Mullen and Nicolas Roche are both competing in the Tour of Poland. The last - and only - overall Irish winner of the Vuelta was Sean Kelly in 1988, the Waterford rider winning the points classification title four times, in 1980, 85, 86 and 88.
Roglic heads into the Vuelta in high spirits and in fine form after winning the Olympic gold medal in the men's time trial in Tokyo, finishing more than a minute ahead of silver medallist Tom Dumoulin.
So he is well placed to make a statement in Saturday's opening stage, a 7km individual time trial in the northern Spanish city of Burgos, and in the decisive final stage, a 33km individual time trial ending in Santiago de Compostela.
Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team have selected top-level climbers such as Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk to support his bid to become only the third man to win three consecutive Vueltas after Roberto Heras and Tony Rominger, picking no sprinters.
The Slovenian's biggest challenger is set to be Colombian Egan Bernal, the 2019 Tour champion who returned to form by winning this year's Giro after missing most of the previous season due to a back injury.
Bernal joins an elite cast of Ineos Grenadiers riders also containing Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz, Volta a Catalunya winner Adam Yates plus Tom Pidcock, the Olympic mountain bike champion who is making his grand tour debut.
Spain's best hopes of a first national winner since Alberto Contador in 2014 rest on Mikel Landa, who leads a formidable Bahrain Victorious team along with Giro runner-up Damiano Caruso, Jack Haig and Wout Poels.
Landa's former team Movistar as usual have gone for a triple-pronged attack with no clear leader, with Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, veteran Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas, who came sixth in this year's Tour, sharing leadership duties.
The Vuelta returns to its usual 21-stage format after being shortened to 18 last year due to the coronavirus pandemic but in a break with tradition it is not passing through the Spanish capital of Madrid for only the second time this century.