Except Maybe the Angliru, Babe: yes, as the Tour takes its mountains down a notch, and even the beautiful Giro limits its serious mountain stages to three, the smashing, forever-underrated Vuelta strikes back against the huge honkin' sprinter oxen with 5, count 'em, 5 leg-crushing mountaintop finishes for the wee little mountain goats to delight and suffer in (including a stop by the Pla de Beret and a vicious inching climb to Andorra), and leaving it to brilliant underfunded Euskaltel to shame its cash-cow rivals into the dust and take the thing for Samuel Sanchez unless they let Haimar Zubeldia blow his legs out in the Tour too much to get him there. Carlos Sastre, too, of course, is thrilled at the lack of time-trial ground cover (a mere 40 km total), and if Valverde can get his act together for once for the long haul and live up to his hype, I think we've got ourselves a podium, folks! Yap, yap, Menchov--first, I'm still pissed he was given Roberto Heras' Vuelta so I'm wholly tainted by bitter irrationality, second, as well as he held on and even attacked in the mountains this year, he's not on Sanchez' level in the heights, and he alone among the contenders needs the time trials as a buffer zone. Dark horse for the top ten? Iban Mayo, of course, if those desperate results-whoring pigs at UCI'll call a negative a negative and admit they're beat, and Saunier Duval hasn't already blown his salary on a bitchin' new stereo for the team bus. Free Iban goddammit, and viva la Vuelta, baby!
Part of the Problem: okay, I'll cop to it--doping bad, and I'm responsible. My heart thrills to each grueling mountain stage and each aching crank of the pedals to the finish (in no small part, I'm sure, because as a lazy armchair tifosa I needn't actually personally climb the things.) And while I'm not such a great fan of the big-bruiser sprints or their practitioners with the exception of we love Thor Hushovd of course, there's no denying that we want a last kilometer of full-on action over the dull tactical breakaway dithering that so frequently leads to victory-by-well-planned-crawl. So ought we all concede, as the teams and their sponsor-enablers would have us believe, that our desire for body-pulverizing three-week treks through hell is the sole problem forcing the innocent riders to dope up for our pleasure, and suck up the removal of all but one queen stage, one decent mountain day, to encourage and ensure the purity of the pack? Hell no! First, go slow as you like, boys--unlike the twitchy TV stations eager to move on to other things, I don't care how long it takes you to drag yourselves up the Pyrenees, I'm just happy--and patient enough--to watch you make it. And frankly, for the euros some of these riders earn, they oughta be happy to schlep up freakin' Everest in shorts and flip-flops. Don't let the organizers dumb down the races in a fruitless effort to stop the cheats, UCI, unless you're first gonna make the teams face their own demons--and right on Vuelta!