This morning's 2008 Vuelta parcours announcement was met with more of the same timid suggestions that maybe, just maybe, next year's route will benefit the climbers. This is sort of the same reaction that we got from the Giro announcement last weekend, and the Tour announcement last month.
When the Tour route was announced, the first reactions spent as much time on the lack of transfers as the presence of The Alpe. With the Giro, CN immediately harped on the time trials. Finally today CN at least managed to not bury the lead. Still, here's how I would write the headlines:
"Alpe d'Huez Defines '08 Tour"
"Il Giro: Get Ready to Climb Your Asses Off!"
"Vuelta '08: Non-Climbers Totally Farked!!"
What's stunning is the message, taken together, that 2008 will absolutely be the year of the Mountain Goat. Given that the Grand Tours are in cahoots with each other, it's hard not to see this as a movement. But why? What's the lesson learned from last year's muted races? That the lack of mountaintop finishes didn't have any effect on whether or not people doped? That by the Vuelta they knew we fans couldn't sustain any more enthusiasm for watery broth parcourses? That even though the riders make the race, the courses themselves can generate headlines? Let's look at the differences a year makes.
This past year Le Tour made hay about the number of climbs but the Tour's two toughest days ended on the downslope. Say all you want about the number of climbs making the race harder, but it's the mountaintop finishes that make the climbs decisive. There's a difference. In 2008 the Tour route still doesn't take your breath away, but Stage 17 is a classic mountain event: the Galibier, Croix-de-Fer and finish on Alpe d'Huez. 210km with at least 65km spent climbing on three long, high brutes. Stage 10 won't be dull either, going over the Tourmalet before the Hautacam finish.
Nice, but this is bubkis compared to the Giro. I did an entire post about the Giro climbs Monday which I won't revisit. But remember: this past spring the Giro was won by a Classics stud who hung on in the climbs, in part because only two stages finished with classic ascents: the Tre Cime and Zoncolan stages. The Vuelta was positively boring and finished with serious climbs at the end of week 1. This year, the Andorra and Pla de Beret stages will be long, hard classics. And finally, the freaking Angliru.
It's not just that the races are harder... look at the names:
- Alpe d'Huez
- Plan de Corones
- Pla de Beret
- Alto l'Angliru
Good god... there's no Year of the Goat in the Chinese Zodiac, and I can't think of how the Year of the Rat fits here. Maybe it needs no elaboration. The onion in the ointment is, where exactly are the classic climbing studs? There's Sastre and Simoni, perfect fits for these courses if only it were, say, 2002. There's Alberto Contador, the undisputed climbing champion of 2007, who could run the table if it were humanly possible to make it through nine weeks of stage races in anything resembling good shape. There are the young colts like Mauricio Soler, who may or may not fit the bill. There are any number of big names with solid climbing credentials, but it's anybody's guess who will emerge from the peloton of Schlecks, Riccos, Danielsons, Cunegos, and on and on. All I can say is, if somehow the sport can stay out of the scandal sheets, 2008 is going to be one unfuckingbelievable year for Cycling.