Friday, August 19, 2011

Are you ready for some Vuelta?

Pre-season football is irrelevant, the pennant run is yet to become do-or-die (and it is over for the Dodgers, anyway), but the season's final Grand Tour is set to entertain, and marvel us for the next three weeks. Last years Vuelta a Espana was among the most exciting in years, and there is no reason to suspect that this years race will be any different. The organizers have thrown together a good mix of mountainous (including six summit finishes) and flat stages, as well as both a team and an individual time trial. True, many of the animators of this year's Tour de France are racing, or training, elsewhere, but familiar names have never been a requisite for an exciting race. 

There will be plenty of racers looking to leave their mark. Vincenzo Nibali and his Liquigas-Cannondale team will be there to defend, Nicolas Roche and AG2R La Mondiale,  Taylor Phinney with BMC, David Moncoutie with Cofidis, Igor Anton with Euskaltel-Euskadi, Denis Menchov of Geox-TMC, HTC-Highroad in their final big Tour, Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD, a well-rounded Leopard-Trek squad, Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta of Movistar, Daniel Martin and Tyler Farrar at Garmin-Cervelo, Andreas Kloden at Radioshack, Bradley Wiggins of Sky, Marcel Kittell looking to continue his string of victories begun at the recent Tour of Poland (and test himself against the world's best), another well-rounded and dangerous Quick Step team, as well as Rabobank, Saxo Bank, and finally Vacansoleil-DCM, each with riders who could contest on any number of stage finishes. I am expecting another round of thrilling daily races, a battle for the general classification, the mountains and sprints prizes, as well as other special awards. The race's official website is here, but I will be following on Universal Sports.

Only two riders have won the Vuelta three times, Tony Rominger (shown below), and Roberto Heras. Rominger's victories were consequtive (1992, 1993, 1994). Heras, briefly won a forth title in 2005, before the crown was stripped from his head for doping. Of the current crop of contenders, only Denis Menchov is racing to equal that three-time mark. His 2007 win, when he crashed during the final stage time trial, but was able to hang on for a dramatic win, caused everyone's heart to skip a beat. This year will likely be his last best shot at victory, and I suspect he will be riding with great enthusiasm. This year's edition seems well suited to his abilities. However it goes it will be fun to watch.

Tony Rominger (center) with Alex Zulle (a two-time winner himself)

Laurent Jalabert won all three classifications at the 1995 Vuelta, the only rider to ever do so

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