Friday, August 18, 2006

How Do I Love the Vuelta? Let Me Count the Ways...

Before I go into everything that's ticking me off about the UCI today, I thought I'd reflect, for those unfamiliar with the upcoming Spanish Tour perhaps in part because OLN completely freakin' ignores it in favor of the latest in rodeo clowns, on the glory that is the Vuelta. Why do I love it?

1. It's not half the circus that is the Tour de France--it's all about the racing, baby.

2. Almost everyone who ought to be in it this year, is in it this year (again, unlike the Tour, and more on the 'almosts' later). Valverde. Mayo. Sastre. Zubeldia. Pereiro. Freire. What more could one want (except perhaps that the boys from Comunidad Valenciana find new homes soon and aren't be too horridly heartbroken watching the race this year from their living rooms)? And to have pulled this off this year in the ignominious glare of Operacion Puerto is simply fantastic.

3. The mountains. Forget the hype at the top of Alpe d'Huez. Is anything more beautiful than the jagged isolation of a Basque mountain stage?

4. Euskaltel-Euskadi's merry orange-clad band of clamoring fanatics. They will show up anytime, anywhere, in any race, in any country, in any weather, at total critical mass. But to see them out in force in their own and their own team's home stomping grounds is to see the love of sport at its purest and most insane.

5. Roberto Heras. I know he's not in it this year, and I know he probably shouldn't be. But I don't give a rat's a#$ about last year's sudden inexplicable improvement in the time trial or whether he took enough to EPO to leave Menchov crying in the dust like a toddler who's dropped his ice cream cone or last year's miraculous speed. I'm talking about his form in the climbs, even if it can only now be seen in reruns. He's Dave Zabriskie on a time trial bike. He's Paolo Savoldelli on a descent. He's Tom Boonen in a sprint. Perfect.

7. Euskaltel and Iles Balears finally get the annual spotlight they deserve after the Italian, French and German teams have hogged the headlines all season. Oh right, and the Americans, if not the way we'd like to lately. But it's the Vuelta, and it's the fabulous Spaniards' turn, so who cares?

6. It's in Spain, for God's sake. The food, the art, the terrain, the language. What more could one want?

Well, I was going to blather on about the things that are aggravating me today, but I won't taint this post about this race and spoil it. !Viva la Vuelta!

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