Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's Yer Incredibly Prestigious 2018 Vuelta a Espana Racejunkie Awards!

Wearing every red shirt you own in mourning for a Grand Tour just past? Still missing the cries of "Aupa!" and frantically waving Basque flags by the mountainside? Waking up from troubled sleep wondering what the !@!% is all the fuss about Porte? Yes, you've got Vuelta a Espana Withdrawal Syndrome, honey, and we've got the cure: it's yer incredibly prestigious 2018 Vuelta a Espana racejunkie awards! Prizes--I swear, for any desperate recipient who claims 'em--a custom-embroidered racejunkie cycling cap to decorate yer head; a whole wunk of dashing racejunkie stickers to deface yer stuff; and a random hideous trophy tchtochke to proclaim yer shame on yer mantelpiece. So with that promise, let's get to it--and hope none of these schmucks earn these same embarrassing awards next year!

1. Attack o' the Race: Nairo Quin...nah, just kidding! 23-year-old baby Carrot Oscar Rodriguez--out of contract, tho' presumably no more--of smashing startup Basque squad Euskadi-Murias, grabbing stage 13 in a daring--and almost certainly doomed--dash from a breakaway with such formidable competition as Rafal Majka and Dylan Teuns. Icing on the cake: Euskadi announced its continuation--and its inevitable invite--for 2019. Get used to it, peloton--you're gonna be seeing a whole lot more of these guys on top of the podium next year!

2. The Sky is Falling Prize: what? No blank-eyed drones drilling up every climb in a relentless annihilation of every hint of competition? No swept-under-the-rug bull!@#$ about totally accidental testosterone deliveries or surreptitious snarfs from a heretofore-unnecessary asthma inhaler? Yep, to the relief of cycling fans everywhere, the mighty Team Sky army had virtually nothing to say this Grand Tour--and I'll *double* their damn prize if they promise to sit out the next one!

3. Crash o' the Race (Fan !@#$wit Edition): Wait a minute...where's the !@#holes in neon banana-hammocks staggering into the climber's lines? where are the blinding smoky flares causing vertebrae-breaking season-destroying pileups? C'mon, not even some asshat with a wind-whipped camera strap aimed directly at a GC contender's handlebars? Ohhhhhhh, it's the *Vuelta*--and let's *keep* those race-wrecking camera whores at the Tour!

4. Crash o' the Race (Race Personnel !@#$wit Edition): okay, maybe not *everyone's* got the memo. The clueless doofus who thought an oncoming sprint finish was the perfect place to take his morning constitutional for no apparent race-related reason whatsoever. What the !@#$?!

5. Crash o' the Race (oh !@#$ oh !@#$ oh !@#$! Edition): Between the flyer just shy of a rock wall and right over a cliff, to the truly scary look of slight confusion on the man's face as he climbed out of the ravine--DiData's Louis Meintjes' stage 15 high-speed descending wipeout was absolutely terrifying. Luckily--aside from the typical cyclist bloodiness--he came out okay. Whew--let's hope nothing like that ever happens again!

6. Crash o' the Race (What the !@#$ing !@#$? Edition): Look, I love helicopter footage as much as the next fan, particularly as it applies to bucolic herds of cows or dynamic moving-tractor field art. But what we *don't* need is a low-flying helicopter crew pulling some ill-timed movie-chase stunt and spilling a pile of flyweight cyclists like dominoes across the tarmac. Damn, do you know how *fragile* those little things are? Not to mention all those expensive bikes, you eejits!

7. Exercise in Total Futility Award: Eventual winner Simon Yates, impatiently gesturing on the crucial stage 15 for perpetual leeching remora Nairo Quintana to unhitch from his damn back wheel and help. Are you *nuts*? It's *your* damn red jersey to defend--and even if it were Nairo's he *still* wouldn't budge off your wheel?

8. *I'm* Not Crying, *You're* Crying Moment o' the Vuelta: Let's leave aside that it was an incredible win by an incredibly unsung rider on an incredibly talent-packed breakaway. But EF's Michael Woods tearful post-stage interview describing his thoughts on the final approach and dedicating his victory to his stillborn son was just more than anyone on the same entire planet could take. Congratulations and condolences to this lovely rider and his family--now give me the damn Kleenex, *again*!

9. Redemption Song Prize: seriously, *Cofidis*? Like, they're still a *team*? First a stage win with A-list pugilist Nacer Bouhanni, then Jesus Herrada bags the leader's jersey? Where have these voracious Grand Tour conquerors *been* all these years? Aw, who *doesn't* love a comeback--or hell, even a come-from-nowhere-since-forever!

10. Smack Talk o' the Race (Pot Calling the Kettle Black Edition): Movistar bitching out Michelton-Scott for wheelsucking. Has Nairo been missing his last two years' worth of race replays or something?

11. Smack Talk o' the Race (On Yer Knees! Mechanical Edition): y'know, one can hardly blame poor, butt-nekkid Fabio Aru for swearing after his kit- and skin!-shredding crash on Stage 17. But when he vulgarly insulted his Colnago *bike*, man--whether his chain choked up or not--*that* was just a bridge too far. Yep, even worse than the bruising he took from the nasty fall was the groveling apologetic phone call Aru had to make to the venerable bicycle maker Ernesto Colnago in penance for his unforgivable verbal assault on Italian design. Some wounds heal faster'n others I guess!

12. Breakin' II: Electric Boogaloo Prize: entertaining as at least one of the other Grand Tours is, the Vuelta is really the only race where the breakaways are more'n a shameless opportunity for a 100-kilometer display of the sponsor logo on one's !@# before the perfectly-timed reel-in by the joyless chasing peloton--here, *every* break was a genuine, and more often than not actually successful, threat. Me, I think it's the crazy-!@# terrain and sheer befoozlement of sussing out the lumpy intricacies of even a flat stage at this Vuelta. Whyever--still made for rip-roaring suspense 'n' fun!

13. Don't Curse Him Don't Curse Him Don't Curse Him! Award: look, we all know that anytime you label anyone--particularly a wee climber with a vicious kick--the Next Lance/Basso/Alberto, they flame out like a gallon o' gas on a Kleenex. So here we've got jailbait revelation/2nd on the overall Enric Mas, in only his second Grand Tour ever, and now, even Contador is piling on the praise. Yeah, I know, I think so too--but can we all keep our yaps shut til we make sure the kid's not gonna flip out?

14. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them Prize: hey, the whole reason we *love* the Vuelta is because it's a playground for climbers, not some simpy sprint-fest. But for the poor speedsters who neglected to read the road book before committing to this madness, the average profile of a "sprint" stage--which contained only slightly fewer climbing kilometers than the entire Himalayas--must've seemed like a cruel joke. We love you race organizers--flats specialists, probably not so much!

15. Lookit Our Little Izagirres Award!: Didja see? Well didja? Right on Ion gamely taking up the reins of unexpected leadership to an impressive result--and bro Gorka for helping to bring him there!

16. Domestique o' the Race: He entered and exited in excruciating pain, shocked everyone nudging into a breakaway, and, even more unusual for a Grand-Tour-winning team captain, gave his all unreservedly for his own domestique Ion when it became clear his multiple fractures actually did impact his shot at the win. Vincenzo Nibali--you are fuoriclasse!

17. Punk-!@# Move of the Race/Best Performance in a Team Drama Statuette: sure, he hogged everyone's energy and services long past the time it became painfully obvious that the only way he was gonna see the GC podium was to fly over on it on his airplane home, but ya gotta give it to Quintana--he *did* grudgingly concede, after Bala spent half the race herding him up the mountains and the other half bagging stage victories, that he'd help Valverde if he had to. Of course, that was approximately 38 seconds before Alejandro had his Annual Grand Tour Total Spectacular Freakin' Meltdown while (literally) within spitting distance of preserving third place, and having totally squandered any shot at the top of the podium that picking him as team leader in the first place and dedicating the team's energy's to that cause might've given him. Then, of course, the team announces it will still, inexplicably, back Nairo again for next year. !@#dammit Movistar, what does it take to prove to you that this !@#$ strategy doesn't work?!

18. Last But Not Least, the STF *Up* Already Award: we *get* it. A British rider has now won every single Grand Tour this year. And one of 'em was suspended for PEDs, the other was popped for a salbutamol level more commonly seen in asthmatic elephants, and another one had a wee bio-passport suspicion-index issue back in the day. But we concede, you won 'em all, fair and square. Now *please* shut the hell up til Mikel takes the Giro next year!

Well folks, it was a beautiful Vuelta. Now *please* Movistar, give this one to Mikel Landa next year!

Monday, September 10, 2018

It's Yer Vuelta a Espana Rest Day Dos Roundup!

Holy crap, I can't believe I even let rest day uno get by me, and now it's rest day dos already! So what's going on, and what's gonna happen to light up the next week? For my money, this!

1. Holy double crap who cares about GC a baby Euskadi rider won a mountain stage! Aupaaaaaaaaaaaa Oscar Rodriguez--and watch out Colombians, the newly-reconfirmed pro-conti Basque climbers are coming at you again next year!

2. Vuelta, Schmelta--!@#dammit Mikel's really gonna stay with Movistar next year?! Nairo is never, *ever* gonna concede team leadership to you Mikel--the hell with honorably honoring your contract, get the heck outta there I tell you!

3. Yates, man. Nairo was never, ever gonna help you yesterday. It's your damn red jersey, isn't it? Plus he's a wheelsucker anyway!

4. Nacer Bouhanni did *not* get into a shouting match with his DS and sucker-punch his team bus. He got into a shouting match with his team bus and sucker-punched his DS. Keep it straight, people!

5. So Nairo promises if he's "got to" work for Alejandro Valverde, he will. Getting a little annoyed with Piti's eye-rolling whenever he has to let off the gas to help you out, are we?

6. Isn't it *so* much less boring not having Team Sky DiscoveryPostal's drones ticking away at the front like a pack of amphetamine-stoked lemmings?

7. Nibali working for Ion Izagirre. Class.

8. Dropping the helicopter so low at the end of stage 6 that it blew a helpless AG2R toothpick flat on his !@# at the finish line? Geez, race organizers, aren't you already on considerable notice that these scrawny guys have been known to be knocked off the mountainside by the passing flutter of a butterfly wing, much less some huge honkin' aircraft?

9. Thibaut Pinot. After watching him barely able to stumble across the line after his desperate crack at the Giro, that was a *great* freakin' redemption ride!

10. Walking directly into the path of a sprint finale going full gas is the height of irresponsible stupidity. What a !@#$ way to ruin--and bloody--poor Alexandre Geniez's victory!

11. Vuelta fans are disproportionately less obnoxiously camera-whoring than their Tour de France counterparts. That said, feel free to give it up for Euskadiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

12. Uran probably can't podium, but boy is he hanging on gamely til the last kilometer every day. And lookit our wee Izagirre!

13. Yeah, *everybody* misses Contador. Cripes are we getting lonely for panache!

14. Speaking of which, Miguel Angel Lopez. Watch out next year!

15. OMG DID YOU SEE THE WHOLE SERENA THING AT THE US OP--yes. It's not cycling. When Marianne Vos deliberately whacks over a race official with her cross bike, we'll talk.

16. Where the !@#$ is the women's Vuelta a Espana!

17. Ben King, man. *Tell* me you didn't ink that contract extension (in particularly, the 'salary' part) til after your smashing double stage wins!

18. There is no other race right now but the Vuelta. Except the ones Andre Greipel is winning after Lotto !@#$ed him out of a contract next year, woot!

19. This talk of Valverde bailing out of the Vuelta to prepare for the Worlds is crazy. This ageless android races nuts-to-the-floor 366 days a year without any apparent impact on his performance. And we'll be saying the same damn thing 20 years from now!

20. Louis Meintjes. Geez he looked woozy. Glad he didn't suffer a head injury--and why the hell wasn't he pulled from the stage just in case anyway?

All righty folks, we've still got a spiky time trial for Nairo to choke on, and a race-deciding mountain stage to come on stage 20. Aupa Land--oh, !@#$ you, Movistar, this is all your fault!