Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Hell With the Olympics, It's Yer Vuelta a Espana in Preview, Part Uno: the Course!

Okay, I've been lax, but besides the fact that both my dear readers have certainly got better stuff to do, I've also got an epic excuse: I was flattened for weeks by a completely ignominious yet totally incapacitating injury taking out the gar--uh, being chased off a high and excessively rocky nearby mountain pass by a distinctly irritated and giant-clawed Fiat-sized brown bear. Anyhoo, damn straight, cycling fans, new and old: it's time to block out the attention-whoring freak show that is the Tour de France, and go on the smashing, ever-underrated Vuelta a Espana! And sprinters, while there's a few bones thrown here for you, this ain't no place for Champs-Elysees glory-hunters: the Vuelta is a steep, leg-crunching climber's playground, and the rest of you, merely pack fodder. So what can we expect over the next three weeks? This!

The Sprint Stages: right, I'm forced to mention them in the interest of not being a total dismissive tool, so let's get it over with: Stage 2 tucks in a wee Cat-3 lump ahead of one of the few days o' mercy for the flat-land freaks; the 173k Stage 5 mocks you with another Cat 3 and a circuit finale; and holy crap, our Stage 12 intro to the the glorious Basque country at last, home of Euskaltel-Euskadi and, allegedly, a slight chance for fast men despite a Cat 1, Cat 3, then 2 Cat 2s on the way to Bilbao. Are you ready to get your orange on--I am! Stage 16: yeah, like any of you are still here anyway--but if you are, this Bud's for you! Ditto with Stage 18, and the lively last-day circuit of Stage 21. But spare a little TV time for the GC winner, if you please! So sprinters: the upshot is, I dare ya!

The Time Trials: Don't worry twee dear Nairo, there's only two: a flat 30k opening-day team trial to get someone into the gold (sorry, red!) jersey and terrify the GC time-losers on the day, and, on Stage 19 an individual bumpy 37k for the two time trial specialists (or reasonably competent roleurs) stupid enough to take on this race. Fabian, you sure you don't wanna have one last go after your spankin'-new gold medal from Rio?

The Breakaway Stages: sadistically categorized as "medium mountains," these are nonetheless a cavalcade o' cramping, not likely decisive enough for the GC to flip out but decisive enough to screw the complacent. Stage 3 warm up the legs with a Cat 3, a Cat 2, then a modest-sounding but biting 13.8 % hike up the finishing Cat 3 Mirador. Stage 4: another lumper, with 3 modest peaks at under 5% gradient, but a high-altitude, 11k final climb. And welcome to Stage 6, with some nippy little climbs and descents, and, an extra bonus, a "narrow" road at the end for some argy-bargy if the gruppo is fairly tight! Stage 7: 3 Cat 3s and a flat chance at the finish if the sprinters can schlep over the hills. Yeah, 'cause they're great at that! Stage 9: welcome to Oviedo, home of the incredible Samuel Sanchez, as the race pushes through a Cat 2-Cat 3-Cat 3-Cat 3-Cat 2 triple-decker sandwich--GC, sounds workable, but relax at your peril! Stage 13: welcome to the longest day of the Vuelta, 213k of you-better-not-!@#damn-forget-to-eat ahead of the next day's indescribable agony. Stage 15: you get what counts for mellow in the Vuelta--a 118k countdown from Cat 3, to Cat 2, to the Cat 1 finale of Los Sarrios. If you blew your GC on yesterday's queen stage, you might as well have a go!

The Mountains: *here's* what makes this race so agonizing, so excruciating, and so marvelously beautiful, particularly to those of us with access to primo air-conditioning: gradients so steep you might as well be riding upside down, terrain so summer-burnt and spare it's like a moonscape, and, of course, heat so brutal even the most flame-retardant sun-lover will be begging for a miserable Belgian early-March sleetfest or pelting Giro snowstorm. We first hit the serious mountains on the confounding Stage 8, which is mostly false-flat the entire way until at about 170k you smack right into the Cat 1 Alto de la Camperona endgame, with a max slope of 25%. What sicko dreams up this !@#$? Stage 10: yep, party's over, slackers: it's the legendary hors-category climb of the Lagos de Cavodonga, after you've already relaxed with a Cat-1 leg-squincher up Alto del Mirador del Fito. Enjoy tomorrow's rest day--you're certainly gonna need it! Stage 11: another 168k lumper, 'til the poor bastards hit the fearsome Cat-1 Pena Cabarga, with a slightly unwelcoming 18% pitch, a coupla short 6% sections, and a final-k punch of 11%. Ow, *dammit*! This gives you a few days to chill, until the Queen Stage 14: almost 200k of "holy crap!" with the gently-rolling Cat 1s the narrow Col Inharpu, the beloved (or behated) Col de Soudet, then the Col du Maria Blanque, and last but not least, everyone's HC fave--or, likely for someone on GC, mortal enemy--the notorious Col d'Aubisque. Medic--and masseuse! Stage 17: fresh off another nap day, it's the exciting new climb of the Mas de la Costa, generally a lax 13% for the weaklings but gearing up to 22% of sheer pain-o-rama. God, is this thing *over* yet--me, at least *I* hope not! Stage 20: if the race ain't already won or lost, honey, this is *it*--a fierce descent for the unafraid and completely coordinated: 4 Cat 2s and a GC bucket-list Hors Category Alto de Aitana, mostly under 10% but a looooooong--and draining--21k. Please, please someone drop Alejandro Valverde fer Chrissakes!

Okay, that's yer brief Vuelta a Espana Course in Preview: next up, the Players, and yes, I'm still hoping Purito comes to his senses!

1 comment:

Rockin'Ryoko said...

Great preview. Can't wait.