My computer tells me this is an auspicious day for old guys. What? No, this has nothing to do with Retirement Shack. It's Jens' birthday! This is an important reminder: when he starts complaining about something, it's not because he has published his 937th live thread this year. It's not because Thomas Lofkvist has taken eighth in a continental race that was perfect for him. It's because, well, get off his lawn.
in honor of Jens' birthday, here's a little musical accompaniment for today's Rest Day #1 Power Poll.
1. Vincenzo Nibali, Astana
Standing: 2nd, at 0.43
The big question is whether he can do the double. I don't see why not; when he won the Vuelta, it was four months after helping Ivan Basso win the Giro, where Nibali himself took third. This is in his wheelhouse.
Lost in all the discussion of whether old guys do, in fact, rule was the dominant display by Nibali, a guy who looks like he might cruise to victory here if his rivals don't make a major response, and fast. Next up is the only significant time trial, which is good for the organizers and anyone else interested in keeping things close, because while Nibali may be a cut below the Froomes and Martins of the world against the watch, he's a big step ahead of the Crono-flotsam making up most of the top ten at this Vuelta. The fact that he accelerated away from the pack on yesterday's horrible gradients suggests he's up for the signature stages waiting in week three.
Vueltabecco Says: Is this a good place to mention that Chris spent the last ten days without internet? I think it probably puts this column in its proper context.
2. Chris Horner, Radioshack-Trek
Previous: Honorable Mention. In a top ten poll. Swish!
Standing: In Red
Ursula did a nice job in comments yesterday putting Horner's fresh-legged effort into context, at least for those who don't want to see anything sinister about it. Me, I see it this way: so far he's killed a one-week stage race, something he's done a lot of lately and throughout his career. Second in Utah. Second in the Pais Vasco in 2011, shortly before winning the Tour of Levi, I mean Cali. The difference between those performances and where he is now is that in those other races, guys were trying to stop him by the end of week one. If you want to believe the best, believe this: that he came out flying, and that he's good at flying through tougher week-long stretches than this one.
Three weeks? We'll see about that.
Vueltabecco Says: My cousin Malmobecco says there is no reason a guy over 40 can't do all sorts of things, like get out of bed in the morning and ride to a coffee shop or something.
3. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar
Standing: 4th, at 1.02
But much of the course is good for him, including the first two weeks, and if the Angliru succeeds in trashing everyone, Valverde may be left standing in the end.
Since I don't feel like trying to sort out the Valverdes from the Puritos and Morenos, I'll just use the Green Bullet as the stand-in for the Spanish climber dudes. Granted, they're one-up on the Colombian climber dudes who've tortured them for much of the season. I don't think anyone is sitting in their hotel room today worrying about Ivan Basso on the podium in Madrid. No, not when there's a time trial ahead and a week of pretty convincing mediocrity behind.
All these guys are in fine shape, though, and it's a three week race. Probably a good time to remember all the winners of grand tours who dropped ten minutes early on.
Vueltabecco Says: It's also not a bad time to remember all the guys who shipped a couple minutes to the strongest guy in the race in week one. How'd that work out for them?
4. Nicholas Roche, Saxo-Tinkoff
Previous: Unranked, unmentioned
Standing: 3rd, at 0.53
Hey, it's week one.
Vueltabecco Says: I think Chris needs a moment.
[Update!] Chris Says: OK, I get it. Roche is a younger Horner. Check back in week three. But he's been terrific so far and is likely to do fine tomorrow.
Vueltabecco Says: It took you two hours to come up with that?
5. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi
Previous: Honorably Honored
Standing: 17th, at 6.33
Can we take a moment and marvel at Euskaltel's ninth life? Granted, the purchase of the team by F1 racer Fernando Alonso is a total vanity project, but hey, vanity projects get a lot worse than young athletes who actually ride their bike a lot. Whether La Marca's claim that he can knock out 180km in a day (pfft) means he also thinks he can call races from the team car is another question, and it's still sort of the death of the Basque label at the World Tour. And he might decide to build the team around Contador instead. But right now, nobody is having a better 48 hours than Samu.
As for Basque cycling, moving the team to the Asturias region is OK consolation, if that's possible. It's nearby, home to the country's most terrifying slopes and majestic peaks, the Picas de Europa. I don't think that's a substitute for the Basque flag, but until that region produces riders who can keep up with the Colombians, or generates some rich sponsors, it's hard to see why they must have a World Tour team, as opposed to having a nearby, Basque-friendly World Tour team with plenty of money and some other Spanish stars.
Vueltabecco Says: I should have never said those terrible things to my cousin, Michael Schumacherbecco.