Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, Baby!

Yes, cycling fans, the obscene circus that is the Tour de France is past, the lucrative post-Tour crits are history, UCI's Pat "Dick" McQuaid, having abandoned anti-doping efforts for the year, is blissfully in heavily-hallucinating rainbows-and-unicorns territory declaring the sport finally clean, and it's time for the fabulous Vuelta a Espana, baby! So here's what you need to know:

The Course: 3 solid weeks of high-altitude pain, pain, pain, and more pain, as pansy French climbs like Alpe d'Huez are abandoned in favor of excruciating heat, ferocious impending misery, and some seriously daunting!@#$ in the mountains. Oh, right, and Oscar Freire gets a couple of not-really-flats to make the rest o' the sprinters whimper like the pampered simpering babies they are. Climb or go home, suckers!

The GC Contenders:
--Igor Anton. But for his craptastic bone-buckling crash-out last year, the generous Samuel Sanchez's wiry acolyte would've been standing atop on the final podium with (the worthy, but still) Vincenzo Nibali gasping for fresh air in his armpit. And that's *exactly*, with the help of his twee mountain-goat teammates and a merciful lack of time-trialing kilometers, where he's gonna be this year. Aupa Euskalteeeeeeeeel!
--Vincenzo Nibali. Let's be honest, Ivan Basso wouldn't be hedging his bets (and continuing Liquigas captaincy) calling himself and this kid "Italy's Schleck Brothers" unless he had a reason to worry, and Nibali's near-winning performance in the 2011 Giro, and 2010 defending jersey in this race, tells you why. Good luck Vincenzo--but Igor's still gonna stomp your !@#!
--Michele Scarponi. Dang, this guy is better now than when he was d--uh, a debutante. No, he won't win--he'll just grimace his way along quietly and sneak ever-up on GC--but a podium spot could be in sight. But heck, it's not like Lampre's girly-dress-up team kit is hard to miss--so keep an eye on 'im, boys!
--Joaquim Rodriguez. Katusha may blow, but they ain't stupid. He's fresh, he's canny, and he's eager to take his home Grand Tour. And thank heavens he won't have to time trial too much!
--Denis Menchov. Oh, don't even *go* there with me, honey--where the hell has he *been* this season, anyway? But good luck dear little Sastre with your stage win!

The Climbers: they're busy. Look for anyone who busts his...chainring for his captain and deserves a reward, and anyone who can't keep up with the GC in this race but gets too press-hyped to concede defeat, to grab a solo stage win here and there. This means you Euskaltel, and--aw, you know who you are, I'm not gonna make it even worse!

The Sprinters: hah! Like they're any use in *this* race. No, there are some. Let's see...there's Petacchi,, there', well...oh, just take my damn word for it, already!

The Missing: 1st, Thor Hushovd, who as you surely know by now wanted to ride the Vuelta to prepare to defend the prestigious World Champion stripes that in between acting as a freakin' domestique for !@#$'s sake he's been CONSPICUOUSLY PIMPING ON JONATHAN VAUGHTERS' !@#$IN' JERSEY ALL SEASON--you *suck*, Garmin! Also, all the Tour de France GC contenders. Never fear though, cycling fans--*after* you watch the far more important Vuelta coverage in full every day, you can watch Cadel, Ivan, and the Schlecks go head-to-head at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Better, catch Thor at the Tour of Britain instead. C'mon Thor, show Vaughters he can shove yer wilted Tour de France mountain-win bouquets right--gosh, right in his glove compartment!

And Finally, Why This Particular Vuelta's So Bitchin': yes, at this Grand Tour there *is* a distinct lack of publicity-slut nimrods bouncing their pasty hairy beer-guts over their underwear running way too close to the riders (and cameras) for comfort, but even better, the Vuelta is takin' a nice hike through the brutal, beautiful Basque Country itself, which means thousands upon thousands of orange-army fanatics packing the roads to deafen even their Euskaltel heroes with screaming. These guys, in sum, are (aside from my dear reader(s) of course), the very bestest fans in the business. Igoooooooooooooooooooor!

Well, them's yer intro, I'll go into far more'n you ever wanted to hear as we go along. Now repeat after me--Anton rules, Nibali drools, Anton rules, Nibali drools, Anton r...! Look, here's why:

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