Notes from the Spain Desk

Susie Hartigan

This is where all the action is.

One of the changes being made at the Cafe this year is the reconfiguring of various editorial responsibilities, the upshot of which is that I've traded in the BeNeLux beat for the Spain Desk. You can only trip over yourself trying to describe the Koppenberg so many times, and my cultish obsession with love of the classics was causing a sort of myopia to set in. Also, for the sake of authenticity, it's only right for the Cycling in My Mind to kick off its spring in Spain, since everyone else is there in body already. I will try to keep my mind clear of dangerous drivers.

The headlines of every Spanish sporting press nowadays is the Operacion Puerto trial. Every day in Madrid, some character from the long-ago drama that lit the sport on fire is trotted out before the judge, usually to repeat what we already knew, and in the case of the bad guys (the old Kelme medical staff of Vicente Belda, Eufemiano Fuentes and Ignacio Labarta), to not really give us anything more. You've probably been exposed to this proceeding already, including more doping-thought by Ivan Basso and more maddening denials surrounding who's name (and blood bag) is whose. So for today, all I can add is this:

  • Jesus Manzano is on the docket, detailing the doping regime at Kelme.
  • The judge's name, Julia Patricia Santamaria, is awesome.
  • Alberto Contador has been called to testify on February 22, and video testimony has been shot down. Presumably he will now show up in court.
  • Until further notice, nothing will happen.

Bigger headlines are being reserved for Joaquim "Purito" Rodriguez (and wouldn't a few hundred Spanish riders from years past like to appropriate that nickname?), who won the queen stage of the Tour of Oman, outclassing Chris Froome, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador on Green Mountain for his first victory of the year. J-Rod wasn't counted among the favorites, as his form is slowly coming up, but "surprised" (and also something about tasting space, according to the gnomes) with a solo victory, a day after he lost 58 seconds to Sagan, Contador and others.

The victory is extra sweet, coming a day ahead of the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) decision concerning Purito's Katusha team's challenge to the UCI denial of a world tour license. Not that the win will affect the decision, which is undoubtedly written by now, but it will make the Russian team's week that much better, or less awful. Rodriguez has fueled speculation that he might decide not to opt out of his team even if they lose, describing himself as at peace with his team. Most of the offseason, however, the World #1 in 2012 has stated that he would not miss out on his dream to take another shot at the Tour de France this season, even if he had to jump to another squad. The two big Spanish outfits, Movistar and Euskaltel, were considered unlikely destinations for Purito, thanks to their own leadership situations. Lampre has been speculated as a more likely buyer.

[Update: CN is reporting that, earlier misdirection aside, Purito will in fact change teams if Katusha loses tomorrow. But he will take a few days before he names names.]

On the streets, the Volta ao Algarve kicked off today in southern Portugal (should I call this the Iberian Desk?) with a modest stage, won by Blanco's Paul Martens in an odd sprint (false flat I think), ahead of Tiago Machado, Rui Costa and the regular sprinters. Blanco are wearing their very un-Dutch moniker well, gaining their fourth victory of the winter, though they'll be hard-pressed to hold on. The race will likely be decided by Saturday's third stage, which ends with a second lap up the Alto do Malhão, a 2.5km ascent averaging 9%.

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Sunday is the final stage, a long-ish 34.8km time trial from Castro Marim to Tavira. Tony Martin is among the favorites given the last stage, as is Movistar's Jonathan Castroviejo, Lieuwe Westra and any of the multitude of time trialling Radio Shackers. But Rui Costa is emerging as the real star of Portuguese cycling, so I would probably bet on him to win.

Sunday also starts the Vuelta a Andalucia, a/k/a the Ruta del Sol, in San Fernando, paragliding distance from the Straits of Gibraltar. We will have a proper preview before then, so hold your questions for the time being. And don't be too jealous, the Ruta del Sol will look like the Ruta de lluvia for much of the time, if the forecasts are right.

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