You've seen the results. You've pined for the Fjords. You might have even paused briefly to count Nairo Quintana's future millions. But... so what?
Tour of Utah: Magic Mountains
It's a wonder to behold two long-time combatants, dueling over multiple days on ridiculously steep, long climbs, separated by no time at all until they, at long last, were. I didn't see too much of the Tour of Utah, but if you did, you're probably glad you took the time.
Tom Danielson, the overall winner on the final day at age 35, has become a consistent contributor for Garmin-Sharp, a guy who always comes up with some points over the course of a season, even if it never seems to be at the same race twice. Over his slightly late-career peak, starting in 2011, Danielson has averaged in the high 400's by CQ points. His ever-valuable UCI World Tour points read 81, 30, and 64. He doesn't win much, and then mostly on American soil, but for a guy who can help in the team time trials and the mountain stages, at whatever he costs (probably not too terribly much), Danielson is another of Garmin's glue-riders, guys who help the team function -- at least on the surface. I don't hang around the team bus to say much more.
So on Saturday, when Lachlan Morton finally blew a gasket and dropped from the lead to nearly five minutes behind, Danielson was there to clean up the team's spilled ambitions on aisle four. Chris Horner got the better of him at the line, but Danielson and Garmin were hardly done. They very professionally dispatched overnight leader Horner yesterday and wrapped up the overall win in Park City. For Danielson, it was his biggest triumph in a while and a nice rewrite to the lede on his career story.
Danielson, of course, was one of the cadre of turn-of-the-millenium American riders who confessed (or maybe got outed into confessing) to doping during the Lance Armstrong years. For ages he's been derided as "Bubble Boy" and his own DS wrote in cyclingnews that he isn't mentally strong and succumbs to pressure. He was a stealthy 8th overall at the 2011 Tour de France, which probably represents his peak, assuming that was after his doping days ended. That he won this weekend might have had a little to do with the fact that Lachlan came in as the leader and Danielson was initially tasked with helping out. I dunno. I just know it worked.
His foil is another interesting American tale, one that shares some vague similarities, though on a more personal level Chris Horner, supremely confident and outspoken, could not be more different than Danielson. Of the two, only one is drop-dead certain to become the next great cycling TV analyst. Only one is given to notable statements and actions, like the time Horner gave a kid a ride on his bike after the former had broken his bike during a race in Oregon. If Danielson fails to make an impression on fans (and gets shit for that), Horner is pretty much unforgettable.
On the surface, the two aren't entirely dissimilar. Both are natural climbers par excellence, with some pretty decent ability against the watch too. Horner's Tour best is 9th overall, at a remarkable age of 38. Both have refused to go quietly into that good night, either because or in spite of their competitive nature. Horner officially ranks as America's best stage racer since Greg LeMond (or Andy Hampsten, depending on what "since" means), now that his contemporaries have largely been wiped from the books. And even with them still recognized, Horner has had a terrific run.
But Horner's is running out. Probably the most significant thing to come from this weekend is what it means to Horner's next season. Trek's new(ish) squad could use a smart ol vet who can climb like the dickens. Maybe his knees aren't completely shot. Maybe that body has another season of top-flite cycling left in it. Horner has given them plenty to consider.
Arctic Race of Norway:
Just another gorgeous week of cycling, and I'm not so sure Utah stole the show. Billing itself as the world's most beautiful bike race, it just may well be. It's almost certainly the most remote one in Europe, starting in Bodø 750 miles north of Oslo. The Arctic Race's inaugural event was low on climbs, with sprints deciding all the stages and Thor Hushovd the local hero pulling it out at the end.
The winner in this case was the sport of cycling. I suppose we won't know much until the returns come in, or the Figurehead gets us the skinny from Norway, but with Tour de France owners ASO pulling the strings, there's a chance that the ARN represents a new source of support for cycling. Norway is that rarest of creatures -- a European cycling nation flush with cash. The lesson is, as always, that oil is
gonna get us all killed totally awesome. The ARN is only the latest Norwegian race of note, with the Tour of Norway running in June, albeit with less power than any ASO-backed race can muster.
At any rate, whether Norway has any potential major, World Tour-level sponsors in the offing is not something I know, but it would make sense if the answer was yes. Cycling is a pretty good marketing bargain, and Norwegian cycling is an intriguing vehicle. Lacking in depth, Norway has a disproportionate impact at the top level, with Hushovd a thoroughly decorated veteran, Lars Petter Nordhaug an established veteran climber, and two dynamic 26-year-olds in Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen. [Yes, I complain about Eddy, but let's face it, the only thing he's failed at is meeting my ridiculous, "he's going to win everything" expectations for him.]
Maybe the Norwegian presence starts expanding. Maybe the UCI decides it needs a more northerly race to complete its mondialisation project. You could do a lot worse than an event up here in Greater Bodø. It is indeed gorgeous, there are plenty of mountains (surely one or two have a road to offer) and as I said Norway is relevant to the conversation. More than Beijing, for example. Certainly on par with Russia, whose Tour of Sochi is being discussed as an expanded event or maybe a Tour of Russia. People will discuss things... apparently including the idea that a race should be given extra credit because of its association with the Winter Olympics. Wait, what?
Vuelta a Burgos: All Hail KingTana
I'm practically out of words at this point. Nairo Quintana took about as easy a stage race victory as you'll ever see, showing great patience in waiting for the final day of the moderately hilly Vuelta a Burgos, timing his attack on the final climb to perfection as well, launching a victorious solo effort inside the last km, leaving David Arroyo, Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali in a lurch. The win, by 23 seconds, gave Quintana the overall Burgos title, his fourth stage win of 2013 and his second major stage race, after the Pais Vasco in April.
Along with his second in the Tour de France, Quintana ranks fifth overall in the Podium Cafe World Rankings (8th at CQ) and stands poised to take over the cycling world in 2014. Well, assuming he's smart and dedicated, and puts in the work. He remains committed to Movistar, a move that was rewarded with captaincy at Burgos, and probably comes with a few other captaincies in 2014. Next time his contract is up, Quintana is looking at becoming a wealthy lad. He's still only 23.
Most strikingly however is the way he seemed to win with relative ease. Not true "ease" and I'm certainly not trying to be sly. It's simply in Quintana's nature to stay under control on the bike, betraying little to no signs of the effort and strain that he undoubtedly feels. The kid is something to watch.