And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
Sunday sees the twenty-first and final stage of the 2017 Vuelta, a flat (if circuitous) run into Madrid from the Southern suburbs.
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
We’re not going to see a breakaway today, we’re going to see a processional stage with a sprint at the end of it. Madrid is lovely and everyone involved deserves the chance to take a lap of honour. In that spirit, the final preview will blast through the usual format, using most of this space instead for some thoughts and pictures, accompanied by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
What’s it all about?
Celebration. Justified relief and celebration. Enough points will be available to keep some intrigue around the “sprinters’” jersey, but this is mostly about Froome, Contador, and all the other warriors who’ve made it to the finish of the third GT of the year.
Did you know?
That this is the last of these I’ll produce this year? In the spirit of my usual irrelevance, and today’s Sinatra-themed preview/review, you might not know his connections with Spain. I didn’t, but this is a pretty fascinating article. It turns out celebrity culture in the 1950s was in many ways as mad as it is today. It was the beautiful Ava Gardner who dragged the Chairman of the Board over to Spain, and the story brings in matadors, tempestuous affairs, jewels gained and lost and jealousy galore.
Who’s going to win?
Well, Trentin has the most motivation with a points jersey potentially up for grabs (apologies, this is written before stage 20, so I am guessing as to whether Froome will put it out of reach before the stage begins) but Sacha Modolo has been dragging himself through utterly unsuitable terrain for weeks now, and this is his chance to win a first GT stage since the 2015 Giro. I think he takes it.
Time to look back over the last three weeks in the company of the Sultan of Swoon.
I've lived a life that's full
I've traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way
Who does that make you think of, if not Contador? As he heads into retirement (and this time I believe him) it is farewell to a career that is not without controversy, but was at times truly spectacular.
Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Hasn’t it been a lovely race? Every year we get to this stage of the season and have to gee ourselves up for the Vuelta after the fireworks of the Giro and the sheer scale of the Tour. Every year we get drawn in by the mountains, the toughness of the race, the emergence of new names. This year has been no exception. The Vuelta brings us new names. Not too long ago it was Froome, this year it was Miguel Angel Lopez. No regrets there.
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way
I want to take this chance to tip my metaphorical cap to Rafal Majka, who must have been feeling snake-bitten this season, having crashed out of the Tour early. On his return he fell sick early in the Vuelta, losing his chance at overall contention as early as stage three. His ride last Saturday to win from the break, holding of all the rampaging GC contenders on the slopes of La Pandera was brave and brilliant, and he deserves to stand tall.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say - not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way
This is the bit of the song that doesn’t really work for my purposes - I’m trying to celebrate here, not to comment on riders who’ve endured a disappointing Vuelta. Instead, I’ll turn fondly to JJ Rojas, who must feel he’s had his share of losing. This race added three podiums and two other top tens to a bulging list of almost-wins on his GT palmares. Aged 32, you fear his chances to win are running out, but he’s lit up the 2017 race and he’s the sort of guy Frank was singing about.
For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
If we needed further proof that Sinatra wasn’t singing about professional cycling, here we have it. What has he got if not himself? The fortunate team leader has strong men who will bring him water, shield him from the wind, keep him in the right bit of the peloton and pace him on the mountains. Froome had all that for the second consecutive grand tour, and two men above all stand out. We’d expect to be praising Wout Poels here, and we are, but plaudits belong to Gianni Moscon, too. Aged 23 and in his first GT, this classics specialist has been a valued mountain domestique. Both men willingly pushed themselves until they were on their knees and were a big part of Froome’s win.
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way
Congratulations to all the riders, to all the jersey winners, to all the men on the podium. Congratulations to the winner, and dual GT champion for 2017, Chris Froome.