So I’ve been sitting here reflecting on this final weekend of the Vuelta a España and stalling on getting down my thoughts. Maybe it is that I was camping during the final weekend of both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France and had some forced time to reflect on the race – rather than busting through a hectic work schedule that left me nearly as difficult to keep up with the action as it would have been out in the middle of nowhere. But from what I’ve been able to see, the last two stages of this race proved to be duds compared to the intrigue and drama of the past three weeks which preceded them.
It wasn’t enough to tarnish the most competitive Vuelta in ages; each of the three grand tours have been battles to the bitter end this season. We are really entering a golden age for stage racing, one true legacy of the ProTour (even if all three grand tours are no longer part of that UCI creation). With increased worldwide exposure via telecast and the internet, no longer do the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta play second fiddle to Le Tour. All three attract strong rosters from all of their teams, and they attract the cream of the crop of the world’s squads. That was evident in the final standings, where an Italian won the overall for the first time in two decades, a British rider survived the late surge of an American to capture the points jersey and a Frenchman was the King of the Mountains. Spaniards were definitely in the mix, from tragic hero Igor Anton, who crashed in the second week while leading the race, to runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera, early leader Joaquin Rodriguez and mountain challenger Serafin Martinez. We were treated to the introduction of a brand-new climb and a great finishing sprint, but it was largely ceremony in the end….
In Saturday’s stage, fourteen riders got off the front in an early breakaway but never really had the chance to gain appreciable time. Amongst the group — containing Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Vincent Jerome (BBOX), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Iñigo Cuesta (Cervelo), Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Johann Tschopp (BBOX), Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha), David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne), Jose Toribio (Andalucia-Cajasur), Cheula Giampaolo (Footon-Servetto), Kanstantin Siutsou (HTC-Columbia), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jose Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Ruben Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) – it was the presence of Plaza and Arroyo that had the peloton on edge. Plaza won the penultimate stage of the 2005 Vuelta at Alcalá de Henares en route to his 5th place finish, while Arroyo was the runner-up behind Ivan Basso in this year’s Giro d’Italia.
They were never allowed more than four minutes on the road, though, and so everything was together for the final climb of the day up the Bola del Mundo. Mosquera tried to put in his own attacks on the steepest sections toward the top, but Nibali was able to mark his move and finish just off the Spaniard’s wheel by the line. The KOM contenders, Moncoutie and Martinez, were nowhere inside the first minute after Mosquera started the elapsed clock with his win. The stage was a confirmation rather than a revelation.
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The same could be said about the final stage. Technically Mark Cavendish could still lose the green jersey, but it wasn’t bound to happen. In the end Farrar got the stage win, but there was Cavendish right behind him in second to make sure there was no glimmer of hope. Just seven points would separate the two men, one fewer than Moncoutie’s gap in the mountains and as close in translation as the mere 43 seconds which separated first from second in the GC in the end.
So now our attention turns toward the world championships in less than two weeks and the last month of fall classics beyond that. hope you’ve enjoyed all the daily coverage, and be sure to keep up with all the non-traditional sports you can handle in my weekly column as well as via my Facebook and Twitter feeds!
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