My blog buddy Tim Hayes (aka Super Rookie) in Chicago made me feel kind of sad today for implying that I am ignoring the Vuelta a Espana in my discussion of the Grand Tours.
First, I love the Vuelta. I feel it has always been unber valued and was really bummed when it got the shove to so late in the season. Too many pros get there too cooked to compete well after a long season and others now just use it as a way to get ready for the road World Championships. Still, there are always plenty of feisty Spanish riders willing to make the race exciting, even if it is late in the season.
Second, I'd forgotten the race route had been announced already and thought I was waiting for the route announcement... but they anounced it just over a month ago. This just proves how out of it I am these days with all that is going on in the office lately. (Sometimes it actually is work to run a bike brand.)
Anyway, I want to give equal column space to the Vuelta, since it is only fair...
From what I've read, the Vuelta is once again one of the best looking races on the calendar. Unipublic, the folks who put on the Vuelta, have once again come up with a great race route and an exciting format. For the past few years, the Vuelta has gone from longer stages to shorter and more exciting ones. The racing hasn't suffered at all. If anything, it just keeps getting better. Even if Roberto Heras did actually dope during or before the event this year, the racing was incredibly exciting and the best rider won again. Remember a couple of years ago when Aitor Gonzalez won on the final stage time trial and overtook Heras for the win? That was a compelling and intruiging race!
This year's event is starting with a team time trial! Whoa... that'll be interesting. There is a total of five mountaintop finishes and there is a stretch of four stages in the second week where the sprinters will get to shine again before hitting more steep mountains and a final crucial time trial on the next-to-last day.
At a glance, this race looks to be the most even handed of all of the GT's in 2006. Sure, the climbers will love the mountain stages, but they always do in this race- remember that Spanish riders are known for their climbing skills. However, only two stages go over 200Km, so the allrounders have a good chance.
Personally, depending on what happens at le Tour, I think Alejandro Valverde is the best rider for this event. If Iban Mayo gets out of his temperamental funk, he has a darned good chance too. Carlos Sastre will be looking to do well and that Denis Menchov guy would love to stand on the top podium without the cloud of Heras' drug scandal taking the shine off of his win.
So, Super Rookie, feel better now? I love the Vuelta. I'd rather eat paella than escargot, but I love pasta too... so hopefully this clears things up a bit.