If there's anything to be said about the current crop of Vuelta contenders, it's that they all have a very tenuous relationship with yellow, gold and pink jerseys. Sure, Valverde seems like a favorite at this point, but only marginally, so let's rate them in accordance with their tales of grand tour woe.
1. Cadel Evans
Tales of woe? Twice a bridesmaid at the Tour de France, each time at the hands of a Spaniard with an extra gear in the hills and a hell of a lot more teammates. Oddsmakers got a little burned both times. Oh, and in his first grand tour he wore the maglia rosa for a day, which coincided with (or caused) his undoing.
Self-inflicted? If you can call signing with a team that has found a unique way to fail to support him year after year self-inflicted, then sure. Not terribly though.
Fatal? His Tour career is on deathwatch after slipping to 30th this year. This Vuelta may be Cuddles' last chance to staunch the bleeding.
Rating: five tears
2. Alejandro Valverde
Tales of woe? Just one: the 2006 Vuelta. His Tours have never gone well, but such failures are hardly noteworthy by comparison. At the '06 Vuelta, Valverde sought redemption from a broken collarbone in France by taking a slim lead in gold, stalked by Kashechkin, Sastre and Vinokourov. It all came apart on stage 17 when Vino escaped with Tom Danielson, and while Valverde monitored second-placed Kashechkin, Vino made the escape pay off by taking the overall lead by 9". The next day things got much worse, as both Kazakhs got away for a Mapei-style win, while Valverde lost another 40". The penultimate time trial just twisted the knife one more time.
Self-inflicted? Nope. Put simply, he got played. How much you want to attribute to doping is always a murky question, but even setting that aside, Valverde got the old one-two treatment.
Fatal? Nope. He's got bigger problems than one race gone a-cropper.
Rating: 3.5 tears
3. Ivan Basso
Tales of woe? Checking your cynicism at the door, I guess Basso's curses, while minor, would consist of having to bang his head against the Lance Wall for a couple Tours, then finally break through with a signature win at the Giro, only to be called an extraterrestrial. Oh, and he got kicked out of the sport for two years for thinking about cheating. Surely he shakes his head every time he sees Valverde on the loose, dressed in gold. [h/t Majope]
Self-inflicted? Yes and no. The doping part is: don't think about the crime if you can't do the time. The Lance part... or more accurately, Basso's general meh-ness against the watch, is either genetic or at least something of a national ailment in Italy. When you are raised to constantly celebrate the beauty of life, it's hard to concentrate on your cadence.
Fatal? Definitely not. Did he look defeated on the bike Monday? Nope. This year has been a struggle to return to form, but he has time to make it all happen. That is, assuming he can convince his team that he's still their top GC guy.
Rating: 2.5 tears
4. Tom Danielson
Tales of woe? Oh, I've said enough in the past about how Danielson's "disappointing career" could easily be viewed as a hit-and-miss progression not uncommon or unnatural in the sport. His worst moment has to be his crash in stage 1 of the 2007 Vuelta. First, he can't seem to get squared away at the Giro or the Tour the way he does at the Vuelta. Secondly, he was coming off two years of sixth- and seventh-place finishes, and facing a somewhat slimmed down field, so the podium was there for the stepping.
Self-inflicted? Well, he's reputed to be a pretty bad bike-handler, so maybe.
Fatal? Broken collarbone? Not to make light of it -- I would probably put all my bikes on Craigslist if I ever did my clavicle -- but in the cycling world, 'tis but a scratch. Also, Danielson is back in his comfort zone, critics notwithstanding, on a team that specializes in second chances.
Rating: 1.5 tears
5. Damiano Cunego
Tales of woe? First, he's not a coulda woulda shoulda so much as a DID! Still, it's been all downhill since. So his tale of woe? Not washing his hands on the day he contracted Epstein Barr Virus in 2005. Or maybe it was a dirty drinking glass. In any event, he couldn't offer a very spirited defense of his Giro title and hasn't seen the podium of a grand tour since.
Self-inflicted? See Basso and the national anti-time trialling affliction. He loves life. Is that so wrong?
Fatal? Probably. I guess he'll have to console himself with double-figure wins at Lombardia, maybe a rainbow jersey, and Gavia's undying admiration.
Rating: one tear
6. Sammy Sanchez
Tales of woe? One look at him will tell you... this is not a guy with a lot of tales of woe. I suppose he may have had some regrets after the 2007 Vuelta, when three stage wins in the final week suggested that maybe he should've opened that can of whoop-ass a tad earlier. But that third place is his best grand tour finish, so I would guess he's not exactly devastated.
Self-inflicted? Ah, who knows. He is what he is: an occasional grand tour threat but not a natural three-week guy. Fine by me, as long as I get to watch him in at least one serious mountain stage a year with a nasty, twisting, nosedive descent to the line.
Fatal? Not even close.
Rating: 0.1 tears
Not rated: Robert Gesink [he has no woes]. It could well turn out that all these burdens weigh too heavy on their bearers, and the kid with the generally spotless start to his career passes these guys and all their broken dreams on his way to the top. Two Rabobank grand tour wins in a single year? Dit is een drama.