Has it really been seven whole days? I don’t know how this is possible. I think the calender is cheating, actually. I know all about those calenders, using the banned substances, making the days go faster. I know a cheat when I see one. Get CONI on it right way. On second thought, forget CONI. They will only ban the stupid thing in Italy, which certainly won’t do me any good at all in California. It seems then that I must endure this injustice of the days passing far too rapidly.
The days are meanwhile passing in Spain, where the Vuelta a España spent the weekend slogging through the mountains. It’s been a Vuelta for breakaways as Ryder Hesjdahl, David Moncoutié, and Damiano Cunego have all won from a distance in the mountains. For the nit-pickers, Cunego did win his first stage by attacking from the favorites group, but surely only the Cunego tifosi are worried about such things. Cunego has happily won his first two grand tour stages since 2004, while Ryder Hesjdahl won his first ever grand tour stage, after riding many many many kilometers in breakaways since joining Garmin-Slipstream. Moncoutié, meanwhile, has a nearly impregnable lead in the Mountains classification and smiles shyly from the podium daily.
Considerably less enthusiastic about his sojourn in Spain is Cadel Evans. The Australian dropped a minute and several places in the overall standings when he flatted on the road to the Sierra Nevada. The neutral mechanics suddenly forgot how a bicycle wheel fit into a bicycle frame, while Evans seethed roadside. Then to add to the fiasco, his Silence-Lotto team known world wide for their directorial savoir-faire insisted on swapping his bike. More delays. They say that winners make their own luck, but it might be more accurate to say that winners don’t lose their shit when Lady Luck indulges in fuckery at their expense. Evans, he has bad luck. And then, he loses his shit.
After the fuckery from Lady Luck, the Australian killed himself trying to chase back to the lead group of general classification riders, while Paolo Tiralongo and later Samuel Sánchez sat on his wheel. I can’t think of another major grand tour rider who would allow a pair of barnacles like these two to hang on so tight for so long, but allow he did. Sánchez enjoyed the ride, and then left Evans for dead on the road. Well-played by Sánchez. By Evans, not so much. This is the great weakness of Cadel Evans as a stage racer. He has all the physical tools to win the big races, but he plays badly with others. To win the big races, it is necessary to bend others to your will, not just with the legs, but also with the head. You need them to fall into your plans and follow your lead. Evans, he can’t do this. That, and he loses his shit.
Evans’ bad luck notwithstanding, the general classification looked enticingly close heading into the final two mountain stages and crono this weekend. Until, that is, a routine flat stage smashed up two of the main rivals to Alejandro Valverde’s Golden Shirt. Did I mention that Alejandro Valverde is leading this Vuelta? I think I forgot, or maybe I’m banned from remembering, except that I’m not in Italy. Anyway, Valverde has done the ride of his life at this Vuelta, and ridden a calm, collected grand tour with a strong team surrounding him from start to finish. Valverde, he doesn’t lose his shit. On the Sierra de la Pandera, his rivals hit him hard, and while Valverde lost ground in the short run, he never panicked and steadily rode himself back through to the front of the bike race. In a now-familiar pattern, Ivan Basso’s Liquigas-Doimo team slayed themselves for the 2006 Giro winner, but the Italian lacked the engine to distance his rivals. The new Basso, not quite as fast as the old Basso. All the same, perhaps Basso could teach Evans a thing or two about making friends and influencing people. He certainly has the team loyalty thing down, as day after day Liquigas-Doimo have ridden their legs off in this race in a beautiful, if doomed, effort. They’re Italians, beautiful is what they do.
Anyway, all was going swimmingly after the mountains stages, as the general classification riders huddled together like frightened sheep all within a minute or so of one another. I do so like a tight general classification. The loose ones fall down, which is very inconvenient. Falling down proved today’s theme, as both Robert Gesink (2nd at :31) and Ezequiel Mosquera (6th at 1:54 ) smacked planet. Gesink suffered a deep gash on his knee which required 8 stitches. If you like blood and gore, head over to Gesink’s Twit page, @RGUpdate, and have a look at the photo. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Gesink reported later this same night - his time, not mine - that the swelling had gone down, and that he would decide tomorrow whether to start the stage. Mosquera, meanwhile, bashed his noggin hard enough to require a replacement helmet, but will likely start tomorrow. So much for a routine flat stage, anyway. My favorite part? The 22 year old winner, Anthony Roux, giving flowers to the podium girls. Little flirt. Plainly, Roux knows how to make friends and influence people, or at least, is eager to learn through experience.
Looking ahead, the Vuelta races through two consecutive mountain stages over the next two days. Tomorrow should not prove especially decisive, though a bad day could end someone’s chances. Friday’s stage is a doozy with three category 1 ascents and a fast descending finish. Paging Samuel Sánchez, this one’s for you. Saturday’s crono is Toledo is relatively short, so anyone who wants to wrest the Gold Shirt away from Valverde had best get busy in the next two days.
Twice a stage winner, Damiano Cunego meanwhile has headed home with team-mate Alessandro Ballan to prepare for the Worlds in Mendrisio. Back into the pressure cooker Cunego goes, as he carries the hopes of the Azurri to the start of the World Championship road race. No doubt he will be hoping that what happened in Spain won’t stay in Spain, and that he will have the legs to dance away on the climbs of Mendrisio in the same way he did on the Sierra de la Pandera. Otherwise, there will be tears. And nobody likes that.
If the pressure proves too much for him, Cunego might investigate becoming a citizen of the United States, where no one seems to care much about Worlds. The current National road race champion clearly doesn’t. The National time trial champion can’t be bothered. None of which is to say that the American team is not a very nice collection of riders. I like those guys. But they will likely be hard-pressed to find the front of the bike race at Worlds on such a selective course, and when so many of the national teams have put a significant priority on winning these races. Perhaps the habit of skipping Worlds which prevails among America’s top road racers will end with the coming of the next generation of riders. Certainly, the American U23 team is built to cause trouble with Peter Stetina (former U.S. National road race champion), Tejay Vangarderen (2nd overall at Tour de l’Avenir this month), and Alex Howes (current U.S. U23 road race and crono champion) all in the house. Look for the women with Mara Abbott, Kristin Armstrong (in her last pro race), Mara Abbott, and talented noob Evelyn Stevens also to go big on this course also. As for the men, well, it would likely help if the annual bike industry schmooze-fest did not conflict with Worlds. No doubt a number of the American riders will be hangin’ in Vegas, rather than preparing for a lengthy and difficult bike race. Just remember, kids, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
In totally un-related news, Lance Armstrong has removed his blood values from his website, after analysis by a Danish scientist provoked a round of public debate over possible un-natural changes in the posted values. Armstrong dismissed the debate via Twit, commenting SSDD. I leave it to my always-astute readers to work out that acronym, which appears to be a mash-up of Single Speed and Dungeons and Dragons. But it’s not. Anyway, Armstrong has removed the values. I leave it to you, my always-astute readers, to consider the reasons for that decision in your free time.
Because it’s getting late now, and I really must be going. That’s all for this week’s edition of the Wednesday Session. I’ll be back next week, or I should say, I’ll be back whenever the calender claims it’s Wednesday. I swear it’s cheating, that scoundrel. Now, if I could just figure out how.