Woo-hoo, the beautiful Vuelta's finally upon us, and now that we've covered the Course and the General Classification Contenders, it's time for--and yes, it's still both bitchin' and handy to know--the 'Nother Stuff! The score:
The Climbers: if they can't climb, they ain't GC. And if they can't climb, and still ain't GC, they're working for the man who is. But if they bust hard, do well, and sufficiently exhaust the overall competition setting a barf-inducing page in the mountains--or if their team leader irredeemably tanks, or if there really isn't one--they may be rewarded with the go-ahead for a stage win. Natch, they're mostly on Sky, Movistar, or Astana, and we love ex-Euskaltel to boot. Too many to count, including the free-rangers without a GC hope, but Mikel Landa for Nibali and Aru--who's been thoroughly warned, as he was at the Giro, not to !@#$ with the designated leader(s). Mikel Nieve for that spidery freak Froome. Newly-rejoining-the-World-Tour-for-2016 Amets Txurruka for Caja Rural. We love Samuel Sanchez and Darwin Atapuma for whatever's left of Tejay after his valiant fight at the Tour de France. Fran Ventoso for Alejandro, uh, Nairo over at Movistar. Dani Moreno for he can so either win it you haters Purito. And geez, pretty much everyone on Team Colombia, when you look at it. Either way, they're all firecrackers to watch, and most of 'em have hometown pride to fill. Goooooooooooo ex-Carrots!
The Sprinters: let's be honest, the steep'n'gory Vuelta's no place for pampered princes like Cav, Kittel, or for that matter, the hulking Greipel. But I'll also be fair (for once)--there's a few, and any of 'em what can make it outta the first week alive has more'n earned his keep for the team. On tap: Nacer Bouhanni; Angel Vicioso; JJ Rojas from Movistar; Gerro and Ewan at Greenedge with trusty Docker to show the way; Bennati. Good luck, you sprinters'll need it to survive those pesky mountains in between!
The 'Nother Guys: yes, yes, the Saganator, who better come up with a pile o' stage wins if he knows what's good for him, and he doesn't think "good" is Oleg Tinkov kicking his !@#$. But other gents in the race: LL Cool Sanchez (yeah, yeah, checkered past, throw half the field out then!), Sylvain Chavanel, Talansky, John Degenkolb, and--no, don't worry, Fabs fans, I didn't forget him--our tough-as-nails Spartacus, with Frank Schleck no less. And holy crap, what is the entire Classics planet o' Belgium doing here?
And Last But Not Least, the Controversy: well, apparently the entire field--much less their terrified leadership--is enraged that there's some dirt roads to enjoy, slow down, crash out, and puncture our GC faves in the team time trial. Oh, what's a little stretch of "that totally !@#$ed me off the podium!" between friends? Meantime, still irked by the Simoni-Cunego or Wiggo-Froome disasters (hell, I don't give about the Wiggo situation, but man, that Cunego still gets on my last nerve!)? Well, pass the popcorn for the disdainful Vinokourov's raw survival-of-the-fittest Nibali-Aru deathmatch and the subtler Valverde-Quintana stealth-mode backstab! Me, I'm a sucker for underdogs, so I guess it's Nibs and brilliant-but-sort-of-defenseless Quintana for me. But only after Purito has *stomped* them!
Okay, time to get out my Once-Eroski and Euskaltel caps and start screamin for Samu and Purito. Oh, and Happy 80th Birthday to this phenomenal race--Vive la Vueltaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!