Stage 1: Málaga — Málaga, 8km
The 73rd Vuelta a España kicks off Saturday in Málaga, Spain, and when the stage is over, about all you’ll need to know is that the 73rd Vuelta a España kicked off earlier in the day in Málaga, Spain.
Yes, it’s the dreaded prologue. Whatever happened to that word? The Vuelta won’t use it anymore, for fear of delegitimizing its glorious 15-minute opening stage. I’ve always hated prologues, except the one in London when Cancellara almost ran over the camera moto because they couldn’t generate enough speed from their motor to stay ahead of him. [Trust me, there was a time where that sounded cool.]
Anyway, off we go.
What’s It About?
It’s a prologue. Stop me if I’m repeating myself. In case you haven’t heard, the Vuelta has fewer time trial KM than any grand tour anyone can remember, a total of 40. This is the No-Englishmen approach to course construction, one that is drawing rave reviews around the world, from just west of England to just east of England, and south of England as well. Included in those scant 40km are eight of them wasted in a show race around Málaga. Come on by, English fans. Drop off your Pounds, stay for 20 minutes, and then bugger off. That’s pretty much the motto of every Mediterranean city, right?
Exciting stuff. Here’s the map:
Seizing on the popular hit show Stranger Things, this stage is dedicated to the giant alien in Season 2, who looked (or looks!) a lot like this course map. Will riders avoid the Upside Down? Will the winner be the rider carrying dossard #11? Will anyone remember Barb? Probably not, it’s strictly an individual event and thinking of others isn’t really part of it. As for the profile:
OMIGOD! I can’t wait for the course to be lined with fans along this epic climb, exhorting the riders to somehow make it to the summit.
Did You Know?
Málaga is one of the oldest and awesomest cities in all of Europe, #2 in Spain after Cadiz, which is Phoenician for “Europe’s Oldest City” even though it’s not Europe’s oldest city. If you carve Greece and Cyprus out of “Europe,” then you get close with Cadiz, but there’s still a city in Bulgaria that’s older and supposedly Lisbon goes back to Neolithic times. Maybe it’s our appreciation of Phoenician that’s lacking, and “Gadis” actually translates into “oldest city in Europe that I can think of.” Anyway, Málaga is less old, dating back to its founding by those same Phoenicians in 800 BCE. Pretty old. If you saw any photos, you know it has a big Rome connection, and like the rest of southern Spain a big Muslim one too. We will cover that more, but no less a travel writer than Ibn Battuta called Malaga “one of the largest and most beautiful towns,” citing its combined majesty of land and sea, as well as its abundant and varied fresh foods.
Ibn Battuta might be the first and greatest travel writer in history. He was a Moroccan scholar who lived in the 14th century, and who spent much of his life traveling in ways that seem arduous enough now, let alone in his time, some 650 years before the invention of the ATM. His goal was to visit the world of Islam, at a time when that world stretched far and wide. He traveled from Morocco to all corners of the present-day Muslim heartland of eastern Asia and northern Africa. He made it further south to Tanzania. He made it a lot further east to eastern China (western China has a lot of Muslim communities, but I guess he pushed past them). And in Europe, he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, made it to Malaga, and turned back.
Ibn Battuta’s writings are called “Rihla” or “The Travels”, and Muslims of that time were generally known to travel the Islamic world the way young Dutch kids travel around southeast Asia nowadays, in their own quest for what they call spiritual purity (but unlike 14th century Islam is really just a dance party). Battuta’s writings lack what you would want from good travel writing: updated information on bargains, restaurant choices, hidden treasures and best time of year to visit. By the time people followed Battuta’s advice about a certain place to eat, the restaurants he mentioned had often closed 100 years earlier, or changed chefs anyway. But collectively Battuta did a commendable job of comprehensively portraying the world of Asia and North Africa, plus a few stops in Europe. How he was able to keep calling his parents to send him money, nobody knows. But Ibn Battuta’s rich existence made itself to Málaga, where apparently he’d seen enough and started walking back to Gibraltar. One of the working theories is that he knew it couldn’t get any better than this. Another is that he heard Almeria was overrun by English tourists aready, so there was no point in continuing on.
Persons of Interest
This will be short. Rohan Dennis is here among a field of riders who definitely weren’t chosen to emphasize time trialling, given its near-nonexistence in the race. So Dennis comes in as a big favorite for the stage, along with Nelson Oliveira and Wilco Kelderman. Except it’s a prologue, so I’m not sure how much it will resemble a true ITT. There will be more to say on Stage 16, when whoever remains among the cronomen will get a chance to warm up for Worlds, but for now it’s all still just a show.
Pick to Win
Sticking with Rohan.