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Do We Care About the White Jersey?

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First, a caveat: the mainstream media is overloaded with articles about how "the public thinks X" or "the electorate doesn't care about Y" when it's really just the author who feels that way and doesn't have an editor to stop him/her from projecting their ego across the landscape.

That said, there is very little attention paid to the fact that Alejandro Valverde wrapped up the season title last week, sitting on his keister back home while his closest rivals missed their final chance to make up ground at Zueri Metzgete. By simple measure, this is the greatest achievement of a rider, encompassing victory across a six-month season... but does it even begin to compare with the Yellow Jersey? La maglia rosa? The Rainbow Jersey?

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The UCI Pro Tour recently released a review of the Pro Tour's impact on Cycling, which includes simplistic stats like "a 45% increase in UCI Asia events" to bolster its case that the UCI is saving Cycling.

Has the new format benefited the sport? IMHO, yes, by forcing the top teams to ride every event, and by adding a few events which broaden the sport's boundaries, I suppose you could argue that competition and interest have increased. Continental teams could argue that the structure took away most of their wild card entries and forced, say, Lampre to contest the Eneco Tour instead of a more motivated local team, but then the UCI Continental Tour gave back with the right hand what the left hand took away.

Mostly, by having the same 20 teams at every race, it made Cycling more like a league of teams in constant struggle with each other. At least for the fans, that familiarity lifts the lesser events up near (if not on par with) the monuments. I'd guess that on the Continental level, this same constant battle gives the season that unified dimension of competition it perhaps lacked.

From the UCI report: 14 teams have sponsors til at least 2008, lending greater stability. Viewership is up 17%. And so forth.

But has all of this progress lent the White Jersey the credibility the UCI envisioned? I would have thought so, but in the end, giving large chunks of points from the Grand Tours seems to dilute it a bit. It's as if there are too many events factored in for me to really envision the significance of being in the lead. Last year Danilo DiLuca won with a brief spate of April wins and a fourth in the Giro, plus a handful of lesser placings. Valverde's win was about the same... Two April wins, second in the Vuelta, podium at San Sebastian, and that's all she wrote.

I'm almost certainly contradicting something I said in print before, but if the scoring only included one-day races, I might be able to picture what it said about a rider more clearly. To me, Valverde's win says he accomplished his goals, and his abilities are a bit more spread out than the pure Classics or Tour guys. It's like choosing the best of a pool of both apples and oranges -- the winner looks fine, but is it really natural to divide the spoils this way?