We've certainly had ourselves a Grand Tour up to this point, making this one of the most exciting years of bike racing I can recall, start to finish -- if you just look at the action on the road. Of all the major races this year, I can only think of a handful (Flanders, the Giro) that were pure textbook wins. Everything else has been wild and wonderful. On the road, at least. Ahem...
First star today goes to the Astana boys. Obviously. Two Free Men get their revenge in the country where their troubles all started, and at the expense of a couple national heroes to boot. Ultimately, this is more about Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin being stronger and fresher than the competition, straight through the final week of the Vuelta, rather than the drama of the Operacion Puerco and Vino's perilous journey from T-Mob to Saiz-world to oblivion and back. But it's probably OK to think about the drama as background, right?
Second star to Alejandro Valverde. When you consider his season next to Vino's, it's entirely logical that he'd lose steam a bit too soon. Sure, both riders had planned their peaks for July, but Valverde was actually in the process of exercising his when he got knocked over. Worse than not racing (like Vino), he was off the bike and his season in turmoil, only to get back on and try to form a new peak. Valverde also seemed strong at the Clasica San Sebastian, where Vino was less of a factor, seemingly in cruise control. Two weeks before the Vuelta started. Five weeks is a long time to be peaking, for a guy so young, with a season so scrambled. Valverde will be disappointed for sure, having held the Maillot Oro so close to Madrid, but he shouldn't be.
Third star to the best plugger on the road, Carlos Sastre. In the third week of his third grand tour, he's been cracking and recovering for days. He too might be bitter about the results -- the strangeness of the season bit his team harder than almost anyone, making it difficult for him and Riis to concoct a more sensible plan. 4th in France, 4th in Spain. For sheer determination, Jens Voigt has company in his teammate.