Decompressing after a grand tour is always hard, but it's a bit more fun (if time-challenged) after the Vuelta. Almost every Vuelta I can remember included a week when I was on vacation anyway, as opposed to the Giro when that's never the case, and the Tour, when it's maybe the case but exhausting anyway. So it's with a couple days off and a measure of delight that I come back to the Vuelta to say... there's not much more to say.
Obviously the top-line stories are about the winner, Nairo Quintana, and his rival Chris Froome, and all of those have been wrung completely dry of insight and meaning. A Nairo fanboy like me can probably only make that worse. We did see the arrival (in our collective consciousness) of a few names of note.
Magnus Cort Nielsen is possibly the next big thing in Danish cycling, which has been a bit short of big things lately (I still wish I knew what Matti Breschel did to piss off the Cycling Gods). Cort Nielsen is a year younger, and a generally different rider, than Michael Valgren, who is also challenging for the next big Danish thing title. And they're both older than Soren Kragh Andersen, who just joined his compatriots on the World Tour circuit this season and is still finding his way around. It may take a while to determine who the next big thing is or was. But in the meantime it's worth celebrating MCN's arrival at his first grand tour, which saw him win two sprint stages when not running bottles for one of Orica's two main climbers or hammering out a tempo on the front of the peloton. Nobody will confuse the Vuelta with the Tour when it comes to the value of sprint stage wins, but we definitely have on our hands a young talent who will be fun to watch in the spring classics as well.
The other notable performance by a 23-year-old would have to be Cannondale - Drapac's Davide Formolo, who made his third grand tour start a solid one by climbing into ninth overall, albeit with little fanfare. His team was likely more focused on Andrew Talansky's better result (fifth overall) but there is no question they know they have something in the young Italian. What, exactly, is very much TBD, as Formolo is hardly tearing up stages, and clearly has a way to go before his time trialling can make him a legitimate stage race winner. But along with Dylan van Baarle, fifth in the Tour of Britain, Cannondale have a much-needed injection of young talent that can keep them relevant against their bigger-budget neighbors at BMC. AG2R's Pierre Latour is probably next on the list of young revelations. And I could go on... but I have to start in on
The Italian Fall Classic Season.
Things keep evolving in Italy as the calendar got yet another shakeup in the order of things as riders hone in on the final Monument, il Lombardia, as well as the World Championships. The list of races to care about are:
- Coppa Bernocchi
- Coppa Agostini
- Coppa Sabatini
- Giro dell'Emilia
- GP Beghelli
- Tre Valle Varesine
- Giro del Piemonte
That's quite a list, and this year they all fall before Lombardia. The last two years Coppa Sab, Emilia and GP Beghelli all came after Lombardia. And it's been since 2011 that either Coppa Sab or Emilia came before Lombardia. Why this matters is that Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell'Emilia are both climbers' events, and historically served as exciting tuneups for the Falling Leaves, but as of 2012 got completely frozen out of relevance by taking a post-Lombardia slot. Not that the races have been starved of competition as a result, but we viewers have suffered by some reduced access to video.
And anyway, I always thought the tension building effects of having a nice slate of warmup races was fun. Remember when Philippe Gilbert won Coppa Sab in 2009, with some nice assistance from Cadel Evans IIRC... then went on an unholy tear through Paris-Tours and Lombardia (plus Piemonte) in one of the greatest achievements in fall classics history? I certainly do. His four-peat was topped only by ... his other four-peat, in spring of 2011, which was only superior because it relieved us of the need to mention Davide Rebellin any more than necessary. If I had to take one, I'd go with 2009 and its mix of sprinting and climbing over the repetitive Ardennes successes.
Anyway, let's take a quick run through the events themselves. And by the way, I've left out the flat/boring Milano-Torino sprintfest as well as the Giro della Toscana, which took last year off and returned this year as a two-day event. Maybe it fits in this lineup someplace but for now I'll take the skeptical route.
Date: September 14
Category: 1.1 (Europe Tour)
Description: A nice warmup with a climby circuit run six times before a flat run-in to the line in Legnano, in Lombardia. The race is in its 98th year (96 editions), making it as historic as anything below the Monument level. It often comes back together for a sprint, with Danilo Napolitano among its two treble winners, but the climbers sometimes blow it up for good on the circuits.
Recent Winners: Vincenzo Nibali, Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo.
Date: September 15
Category: 1.1 (Europe Tour)
Description: This is one of the all-time great moments in exaggerated course profiles:
Still, it's a lot of climbing, and it usually spells doom for the sprinters... but not always. It dates back to 1946 but has seen its share of the greats over the years, including two different Moser brothers.
Recent Winners: Rebelling (groan), Niccolo Bonifazio, Filippo Pozzato, Emanuele Sella
Date: September 22
Website: Here. Hm... it seems to be paired up with the Giro della Toscana. So maybe I need to take that more seriously.
Description: Day three of the Toscana events, and probably one of the better bets to be won by a climber, since it ends with a 10% gradient over the last km and the sprinters have pretty much never won it. BTW the two Giro della Toscana stages end with climbs as well, and the race has some sort of three-day points thing for people who are trying to win prizes.
Recent Winners: Eduard Prades, Sonny Colbrelli, Diego Ulissi
Date: September 24
Description: A beautiful race defined by its finishing climb of the Portico of the Madonna di San Luca, a 12th Century landmark that looms over Bologna. The climb itself hits 18 percent and generally makes for a beastly finish, won only by the strongest riders. Sprinters tend not to show up to begin with. And the final ascent is done five times, all two kilometers averaging just under 10% as the race passes the arched pathway to the sanctuary. The race dates back to 1909, with 95 editions raced.
Recent Winners: Jan Bakelands, Diego Ulissi, Nairo Quintana
Date: September 25
Category: 1.1 (Europe)
Description: More climbing madness, this time including ten circuits over a 7% climb in Zappolino, a full 200 meters in height. It's a companion with Emilia, and by the time the race is done riders should be pretty well tuned up and/or ready to get the hell out of Emilia. But! It's an oddball in that it's relatively new (20 editions), and that, despite the climbs, it's one for the sprinters. The final climb ends with 7km to go, and the run-in to the line is definitely flat. Cipo and Petacchi are former winners.
Recent Winners: Leonardo Duque, Sonny Colbrelli
Tre Valli Varesine
Date: September 27
Description: Third of the Trittico Lombardo with Bernocchi and Agostini, and also dating back to 1919, this is another climbers' affair, although I'm not seeing much in the way of salita info. Still, it's got the most prestigious honor roll of everything on this list, with Coppi, Bartali, Moser, Magni, Saronni, Bugno and Nibali among its winners.
Recent Winners: Nibali, Michael Albasini, Kristian Durasek
Giro del Piemonte
Date: September 29
Description: The race heads north from Turin, skirting along the Alp foothills, making it the highest-elevation race on this list. The climbs themselves don't come as thick and fast as they do elsewhere, but when you are topping out at 600 meters (a few times) you don't need gimmicks.
Recent Winners: Bakelands, Rigoberto Uran, Gilbert
The Giro di Lombardia happens October 1, three days later. This isn't at all an unusual place on the calendar for Lombardia, but usually the World Championships happen beforehand and the winner is often on hand in Milan to show off his new stripes for the first time. Qatar's hostility to human occupation means that the worlds are late, and the pre-Lombardia calendar is wide open to climbers who want to kill three weeks doing hard races in northern Italy. And frankly, who wouldn't be up for such a plan? Besides sprinters, of course.