The Vuelta is coming. You can feel it. All those SSRs? All that dead air on your cycling channels? All that warm sunshine reflecting on your hemisphere? [Well, some of your hemispheres.] That's late summer, which means shit is about to get real, grand tour real, one last time.
And it's time to start talking about it. That's what the Vuelta a Burgos is supposed to help us do, albeit in ways that don't at all resemble the Tour de Romandie (Giro prep) or the Dauphine-Suisse Tour warm-up acts. In fact, if so many of the Vuelta's combatants weren't Spanish or otherwise didn't already live in Spain, maybe Burgos doesn't get much notice. Then again, Utah is seven time zones away, and Norway is (improbably) too flat. So yeah, Burgos. Of course, the problem with Burgos is that the show was stolen, hidden away, and dissolved into nothingness forevermore by Nairo Quintana, who will not be on the startline at the steel ramp hovering just slightly off the coast of Spain, where the Vuelta begins. But pretty much the rest of the main GC guys will be, and if that's any indication, I look forward to the Giro 2010 Rematch between David Arroyo and Ivan Basso, with superdomestique Vincenzo Niba... wait a minute.
Anyway, let's not dive in too deeply. The race doesn't start for another eleven days. Let's just take the PowerPoll-inator out for a little test drive.
1. Alto de Angliru
I don't want to kill the suspense, but let's just say it's going to take some work to knock the Angliru out of this spot. It doesn't appear in the Vuelta until the penultimate stage, which means its shadow will hang over the race for three full weeks, where the word "Angliru" and the number "23%" will continually be on the lips of fans and media types, concepts which can drive a cycling fan or cyclotourist mad if left alone with them too long. You're frightened right now, aren't you? I am.
On the flip side, when mountains turn literally straight up to the heavens, they tend to work to the disadvantage of everyone... except the fans, and then only when the bike-tossing and shouts of "Assassins!" kick in. There are plenty of potential dramas to hope for, but a reversal of the general classification might not be among them.
Did I mention that Nairo won't be there? Too bad, because he would probably bring the entire continent of South America to a standstill, as opposed to just Bogota, which he's parading through today. No matter though. Sky are sending Uran and Henao, and if they can fall just short of victory, they will complete the incredible triple grand-tour-second-step, the first time a non-European nation will have pulled this off. Easily the story of the year.
3. Alejandro Valverde
The Green Bullet comes to the Vuelta as the head man for the most powerful home team. That's good enough, right? No, you say, he got punk'd by his teammate and had a forgettable Tour. Sure, but none of that happens if he doesn't have a major mechanical problem. Valverde finished 15 minutes down on GC, including a 12 minute penalty for having a lousy derailleur one day. Game over.
But is he done? Not even close. I'd rate Nibali the favorite, but nobody has ever gotten rich picking Italians to win in Spain (or anywhere outside Italy). Uran could be excellent, if he's up for a second major push, or not. Plenty of other guys who can surprise. We will get to that later. But I say let's place the bull's eye squarely on the back of Valverde. He was second last year, the race has been tilted in his favor a bit, and he'll garner the lion's share of the Madrid media. It may not be his race to lose but let's just start calling it that.
4. Week One
- Stage 1: TTT.
- Stage 2: Flat ride with Giro-style uphill finish.
- Stage 3: Maybe a sprint, slightly uphill.
- Stage 4: Ditto
- Stage 5: Middle Mountains
- Stage 6: Sprint
- Stage 7: Sprint
- Stage 8: MTF
- Stage 9: Middle Mountains
Something for everyone, including you. This is what happens when the Tour learns from the Giro (and buys the Vuelta).
5. Vilanova de Arousa
If you can't get excited by the name alone... there's always the offshore ramp where the TTT will start from.