Sunday, August 17, 2014

Five Days to Go: It's Your Vuelta a Espana in Preview, Part Uno: The Course, and the GC Contenders!

Let's face it: the guys in GC contention for the Vuelta are either guys who really wanted to do the Tour, but weren't allowed to; who crashed out of the Tour, and are trying to make up for it; and Purito Rodriguez. And oh, right, last year's vaunted "OH MY GOD HE'S THE MOST ANCIENT FOSSIL TO WIN A GRAND TOUR EVER" winner probably wants it pretty bad too. That said, it is one bangin' field, so let's take a quick preview of the course and get straight to our main contenders:

The Course: Pain. Sun-sweltering, near-vertical, leg-cramping steeps o' pain. Thirteen--that's right, thirteen!--hilly and outright freakin' mountain stages with a total of 40 mountains, 5 flat stages to satisfy the two sprinters and whatever halfway-decent sprint-friendly carcasses are left after the mountains kick in, two individual time trials to screw Purito, and an opening 12.6k team time trial to put someone in the red jersey and find out which already-jacked GC team captain's gonna be beating his teammates over the head with a wrench that night. Don't !@#$ this up, Katusha!

The General Classification Contenders: injury-plagued or not, this is a pretty deep field, kids. Who's who:

Purito Rodriguez (Katusha): he crashed out of the Giro, rode the Tour to make up some miles, and now has his eye on his other big goal, his home Grand Tour. Strengths: he can stick in the climbs, even when he can't attack. Weaknesses: he ain't getting any younger, and one bad crosswind and he's chum at a shark festival. Root for Purito or bite it for all eternity, you faithless unbeliever!

Nairo Quintana (Movistar): Movistar was probably right to hold him back from the Tour one more year to gain experience, and he rewarded 'em, despite his disappointment, with a winning Giro d'Italia. Strengths: at a drenched-wet weight of approximately 13 ounces, he is an incredible attacker, and--if you believe he wasn't being an opportunistic punk-!@# during his controversy-plagued downhill surge at the Giro--a damn good descender as well. A bit disconcertingly, he also can pull off a decent time trial. Weaknesses: he's still got a lot to learn--though for a newbie he's done all right I guess!

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): oh, yeah, he's still pissed about missing the podium at the Tour, so he's got something to prove--but has promised to be a good little helper to Nairo. Strengths: the man may creep us all out by this, but he's had an amazing season, and he is one canny s.o.b. Weaknesses: if there's ever been a Grand-Tour-screwing catastrophe in the vicinity, Valverde will manage to find it. And don't start getting any ideas about the top of the podium unless and until Nairo's blown it!

Chris Froome (Sky): his Tour was a cold, rainy, crash-marred disaster, but he didn't destroy anything that kept him from training again for too long, and he'd love to prove he was right about how he'd've pounded Nibali if he'd stayed upright. Strengths: for someone who flaps around on the bike like a drunk-!@# pelican, he is one hell of a climber. Weaknesses: Sky this season is a miserable, disjointed trainwreck. Hey, at least Wiggo's not pretending he wants to be there to help you!

Alberto Contador (Tinkov): oh, please. Even he's got his physical limits, and it did take him a couple seasons there to get back into his post-ban groove. But quiet as he is, he is one of the most competitive riders that's ever been. Strengths: this ain't his first ride on this pony--he knows what it takes to win his Vuelta. Plus, he's got a strong team to back him, and even better, Oleg'll kick his butt to the back of the line behind Sagan if he doesn't at least salvage something in the race's final week. Weaknesses: well, he *did* just break his leg. Even for Contador, that's gotta take *some* kinda toll!

Cadel Evans (BMC): ah, the Old Man of the Mountains. He had a pretty dispiriting Giro, and wasn't allowed to ride his dear Tour. Plus, he's riding with BMC, which this year has been the Graveyard of Champions. Weaknesses: you read 'em. Strengths: one day of crappy weather, and he'll gain multiple minutes on his cringing rivals. Go get 'em Cadel you hardman!

Samuel Sanchez (BMC): Shut up! Can so either! Especially since we still haven't heard if he's signed a contract for next year. Woo-hoo, Samu--a stage win at least should be yours!

Chris Horner (Lampre): quit laughing--he may be older'n Moses, but he did win this race last year, and no matter what the field or vagaries of luck he was up against, that just don't happen if you suck. Strengths: he is just so *dogged*, man. Weaknesses: I love 'em, but Lampre? Up against these other squads? I don't know pal...

Well, I'm sure I'm missing someone you're pulling for, and of course, everyone from Euskaltel (oh Euskaltel!) is on *fire* this season. Next up: the climbers. Yes, there are other ones besides the GC guys! 'Til then, it's the Vuelta's Official Promo to get you into the groove:

No comments: