Yep, the glorious Vuelta is really nigh--woo-hoo! So now that we know all about the course--which, basically, is "!@#$ I hate team trials I already have to make up 59 seconds," "up," "more up," "seriously up," "Jesus can we get a !@#$in' rest day already?" and "ow, !@#$!"--who's our contenders for the coveted golden jersey of General Classification champ in Madrid? These 'uns:
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel): shut up! will too! bite me! Fresh from skipping the Tour, and with the major pressure of both team leader and Carrying His Squad Off Into History (aaaiaaiiiiiigggghhhhh!) With a Noble Unforgettable Bang, Samu' is rested from skipping the Tour, kindly escorted dark horse rival/good bud Ivan Basso up the decisive climb barely a week past, and is trying hard to put the team's troubles aside to focus on his beloved home race. Plus, his squad is desperate to put on a serious farewell show for their screaming heartbroken local orange-army fans. Podium, dammit!
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): screwed at the Tour by a crosswind and the Worst Timed Mechanical in All Human History, but still scrappy enough (and up against a depleted Contador enough) to handsomely come back, everyone's favorite blood ba--uh, catastrophically erratic powerhouse is interested in revenge, and to reclaim the Grand Tour that should've been his. Who's not here and who he doesn't have to nursemaid (to be fair, like the kid even needs it): mountain freak-o'-nature Nairo Quintana, so he's got the whole team at his disposal no matter what happens, like he forgets to eat and bonks spectacularly, he's really unhappy with the way "American Idol" is going, he develops an exceedingly distracting hangnail, or his bike spontaneously explodes when some hapless caring fan tosses water over Alejandro to cool 'im on a climb and it reacts badly with the rocket fuel leaking from a hidden canister in his top tube. Good luck, Alejandro--though let's be honest, it squicks out an awful lotta people when you win stuff!
Vincenzo Nibali: heralded as the likely winner as he rested up and sat out July, and also really, really wants Paolo Bettini to back him for the Worlds, but here's his prob: he put on a bucket o' lead weight on his !@# and didn't (and sorta couldn't) train during his obligatory post-Giro victory tours of Italy and Kazakhstan, had a sludgy Tour o' Poland, and has been psyched out being publicly lectured by his team management ever since. Major Plus: Alexandre Vinokourov will personally and with the bonus assistance of large hired goons break his !@#$in' legs into a million tiny toothpicks if he doesn't win anyway. There is nothing to fear but fear itself, Vincenzo--and Vino, so hunker down and ride like you mean it, or else!
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha): honest, what can't Purito do? Yes, he's tired like everyone else from the Tour, but he is consistent, he is tranquillo, he is wily, and even out of his mind with exhaustion he's still capable of a surprise punch. More, he is expert at gauging the relative weaknesses of his rivals and conserving or blowing his own resources accordingly. We love you Purito--but we still hope Samu' kicks your !@#!
Who the Hell Knowses: yep, there's Ivan all right, jacked out of his darling and reliable Giro and still the Tour with a disgusting golf-ball-sized cyst of the nether regions. Still, even as he ages like a fine preservative-stuffed cheese, our formerly amazingly arrogant Next Lance can sneak in under the radar with modest expectations, his slow-n'-steady rather'n showily (ex)Contadorian style, and some bizarrely !@#$ luck for the other GC guys. In bocca al lupo, Ivan--you're gonna need it! Other folks to watch: Sky's 2012 superdomestique climber Sergio Henao, Tour de France absolute Contador savior Roman Kreuziger, and even, it's rumored (hyped, whatever), Garmin and we love Ireland's Dan Martin. Chris Horner sez so too, but holy moly--have you *seen* who he's up against for heck's sake?
Who Ain't Here: the aforementioned Quintana, the broken dispirited totally-whipped utterly-in-hiding Contador, and Tour champ Chris Froome. What is he, an idiot he'd take the PR chance of chokin' on this gig after his fantabulous July?
Fun Stuff to Watch: can Philippe Gilbert finally break the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey and get a !@#damn stage already, or will it be left up to perpetual BMC cleanup-crew Marco Pinotti to take it home? Can Tyler Farrar get a win here before the mountains slaughter 'im or what? Have Bauke Mollema and Theo Bos recovered enough from July to inspire continued confidence that they can live up to their breathless bodice-ripper press-hype? Why the !@#$ is Cofidis even here besides the fact they have to be? And, keep yer eye on' Giro d'Italia Holy Crap I Can't Believe They Gave Contador's Victory to This Clown winner Michele Scarponi of all people, gettin' older, pissing off Lampre with his involvement in yet another systemic team doping scandal so why are they all mad at him those ludicrous hypocrites if they egged him on to do it, and dearly hoping for continued employment. Yep, as usual, all the real fun'll be in the sideshow--so let's keep our eyes on the main stage, but enjoy the freak show outside!
All right, dear reader: it's time for the along-with-the-Giro the bitchinest race of the year, and darling Euskaltel, time for the team TT of your lives!