Friday, August 24, 2018

It's Yer Vuelta a Espana in Preview, Part Dos: the General Classification Contenders!

Yes, for the fifth Grand Tour in a row, last year's dope-popped defending champion, and everybody's favorite rider, Chris Froome, will be--naaaaaah, just kidding! Mercifully, he's keeping his flailing tainted-!@# carcass at home, so basically, we got ourselves a race, y'all! Less mercifully, however, through either injury or attrition--at least until our fledgling baby Carrots take wing in a season or two--there's rather a dearth o' Spanish or Basque contenders this year, but still and all, a fine field and a lively race to come. So who do we got? Read on--and if I'm wrong as usual, have at!

1. Mikel Nie--!@#DAMMIT MOVISTAR YOU SUCK AND THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT! If you'd had Mikel ride the Giro and not the crappy Tour de France like I told you to, he'd be rested'n'rosy for the Vuelta, but instead, a series of bone-crushing crashes have him out of the darling Vuelta (*and* the Worlds, *double* suck!). Did I mention this is all your fault Movistar? Fer crissakes if you don't lose him to Vinokourov like you completely deserve, set him right to win *one* of the two superior Grand Tours next year, willya?

2. Vincenzo Nibali--oh wait, *he's* still !@#$ed by some numbnut with an airborne camera strap and is hoping to merely be in *less* excruciating pain for the final week. Which brings us to...

3. Ion and Gorka Izagirre: look, we know they're good for at least a stage win (or two), if Nibs'll let 'em out to play--and who deserves it more than these wee whiz-kid ex-and-always Euskaltel boys? Better, there's not *so* many stupid flat time trials and echelon-smarting windy tundras as in the Tour show. And, at 29 and 30, they're in primo GC-snagging years. Aupaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa--and stuff it, doubters, you can eat the confetti blasted off the podium ceremony!

4. Nairo Quintana: alright Nairo: you gotta get by just *one* "co-captain" now, but it *is* Alejandro Valverde, who'd bushwhack the Tooth Fairy to recapture the baby tooth from under his pillow and, though generous and helpful to others, might be lured to change his mind in your case for a podium--or top--spot of his own. Luckily, he, like you, tends to completely choke on at least one vital day. Which naturally segues into...

5. Alejandro Valverde: Deficits: he's got a "co-captain," and is the approximate age of "older'n Moses." Pluses: because he's been cryogenically preserved between race days and for the entirety of all his off-seasons, he's biologically only 16 years old, but with the tactical mind of a Cold War stealth submarine commander. Sure, he tends to crack--but this guy can smell others' suffering like shark on wounded tuna, so ignore him at your peril!

6. Michal Kwiatkowski: geez, even Sky's running low on guys who can win every Grand Tour they ever enter. But with Froomey still smarting from playing bridesmaid to his own superdomestique, and surely-impending-Sir Thomas understandably figuring what the hell more can he do this year more'n the Tour de France and a seat with the Knights of the Round Table, they've still got Kwiato, who's had a pretty bangin' season, for a high GC placing. The benefit, of course, of Sky not clearly contending for, and inevitably getting, the win, is that the other squads won't be so preemptively cowed into total !@#-covering cowardice that they hopefully won't be afraid to actually attack, as opposed to meekly accepting their usual fate and instead painstakingly crawling to their real objective of second place. *Please* light it up out there, guys--especially you Izagirres!

7. Rigoberto Uran--oh, Rigo. We know you can do it. *You* know you can do it. But somehow, someways, through twists of bad luck and form, you just haven't done it quite yet. Particularly since EF has given you another super-strong support squad, I refuse to give up on you. Go Rigo--as you're truly capable of doing!

8. Thibaut Pinot: he's found his true and forever home at FDJ, where he just re-signed. And he had an *incredible* Giro until one fateful virus absolutely gobsmacked him on the way to the Falzarego. So he's clearly got talent enough for even the Vuelta's brutal passes, *and* the fire for redemption--and hopefully nothing more this time--in his guts. Go go Pinot!

9. Fabio Aru: oh, Fabio. Whatever's been going on with you physically, I have to surmise that all the pressure on you to be the next Ivan Basso just made you crack like a noce. But you seem pretty optimistic, so we'll aim you for a stage and a final podium. You can do mountains, kiddo--remember?

10. Richie Porte: he's just announced he's heading for Trek next season, so he's got *one* more Grand Tour shot with the formidable BMC machine, and I figure that, in his quiet way, he'll try his damndest to make the most of it. Problem: he *just* missed the shiny pre-race press schmoozer due to "gastrointestinal problems," and announced today that he's not nearly at the form he was in the Tour. Dag nabit Richie, don't you realize no-one actually *has* "gastrointestinal issues," they're just something riders drop out for mid-race when they're about to get popped for dope? And, with Froome out of the race, he's got no-one to domestique for but himself. Now get well soon, and if *anyone* with *any* illness gets within 20 yards o' you the next three weeks, I want you to spray 'em with enough Lysol to empty a fire extinguisher!

11. Last but not least, Simon Yates: my, we've got a wide-open field this year--anyone thinking this Vuelta's gonna be superlative fun? Anyway, with poor Porte apparently, well, indisposed, and a really incredible Giro stage-win hat-trick behind him, lotsa money's riding on this kid, especially with his brother to back him. Me, of course I'm putting my money on more sentimental, if inevitably stage-winning-but-GC-losing, causes. Enjoy raking in the big bucks, the rest of you!

Well, that's mine, and yes, I'm sure I missed your faves like a colossal blockhead. But I'm busy rooting for the new baby Basques who are sure to fight incredibly hard, so you can just bow to the real champs o' the race while they pass by!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

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

This ain't no stinkin' time-trial snoozefest or GC-busting endless echelon wind-tunnel fest--it's the fabulous Vuelta a Espana, honey, and that means *mountains*! So what do we--but not necessarily the poor bastards who have to ride the entire excruciating thing--have to look forward to, or fear in quivering terror? This!

The Individual Time Trials: yeah, there's two of 'em: one a flat-with-a-wee-lump-around-6k 8km prologue shortie to get some lucky s.o.b. into the leader's jersey--and short enough that, barring some catastrophic tumble or mechanical, it oughtn't to make any longstanding difference on GC--and the other a 32k, stage 16, right-after-the-rest-day-so-you-better-not-be-the-kind-of-rider-who-always-sucks-then, mostly-flat, *could* screw over the lesser time trialists on GC tailor-made Nairo Quintana nightmare. Hold your !@#$ together Valverde--this could really help you against your 'co-captain' here!

The Flats: right, like anyone gives a crap, but there's 6 flat stages to show the sprinters some desperately-needed mercy, though looking at the profiles, the Vuelta a Espana's definition of a "flat stage" is somewhere between a snarky schoolyard bully's "just kidding!"" to an outright raging-Vinokourov "!@#$ you!" Stages 2, 6 through 8, 10, 18, 19 which finishes flat but at altitude after a climb up the Coll de la Rabassa, and of course 21. Umm...are there really gonna *be* any sprinters left by the top of Stage 19? Anyway, good luck to you saps, whoever you are!

The Rollers: Need a warm-up, mountain goats? Keeping in mind this race's sadistic definition of what constitutes "flat", here's enough for the vultures to scope out any obvious imminent vulnerabilities on GC, while still saving their own strength for the decisive high passes. Misery, thy name is "medium mountains"! Stages 3 (sticking a Cat 1 nipper starting around 25k), 4 (two measly Cat 1s), 5 (Cat 2 before a dizzying drop to a flat finale)(the "medium mountains"), and 11 (207.8k of roller-coaster Cat 3s, the longest of this Vuelta), 12 (two Cat 3s, a buncha flats, and a bumpy end), and 17 (18% gradients on the final climb)(the "merely hilly"). You like breakaways, Wolfpack? Well don't say they didn't warn you!

Last But Not Least, the High Mountains: yes, *this* is why we're all here in this relentless landscape for this hideous sufferfest, and *this* is what sends even the mighty Saganator into spasms of gut-busting grief. Take heart Peter, and don't get too cocky Nairo--there's "only" 5 of 'em, holding you in suspense all the way to Stage 9, which starts with the Cat 1 Puerto del Pico, then finishes up the Cat "Holy Crap!" Alto de la Covatilla. No worries--there's a rest day tomorrow, if you make it there! Next up, an extended period of chill til the pain kicks in again on Stage 13 (Cat 1 Puerto de Tarna at 89k, Cat 1 Alto de la Camperona to finish), only to continue on Stage 14 to Nava (just go the hell home already, you're cooked), only to kick you flat in the nuts for a third consecutive day on Stage 15 by finishing on the fearsome, and iconic, Covadonga. Feelin' the burn yet? Well quit complainin', you big baby, 'cause you still got the race-deciding Stage 20 to get through! Less than 100k but packed with pain, you get *two* trips up the Cat 1 Coll de Beixalis, the roughly-midpoint Cat 1 Coll de Ordino, and, to crown your Vuelta with molten tears o' joy, or defeat, the HC Coll de la Gallina (in English, the "Col de What the !@#$ Was I Even Thinking?!"). *Jeez*, I love this race!

Well folks, that's yer Vuelta Route 101--now go home and study the official roadbook, if you dare!