Was the Vuelta real road racing?
Alberto Contador wins Vuelta Stage 17 (Image: AAP)
Did you enjoy the Vuelta? I did, the wild locations of the extreme climbs were beautiful.
I like climbers too. The balletic grace of a true climber dancing off into the clouds is a joy to see.
But what about the snarling mayhem of a bunch sprint finish? The clockwork perfection of a supreme time triallist in action? The calculated effort of a breakaway group? The thrill of the chase? The thrust and parry of attack and counter attack across open countryside?
We had some of those delights in the 2012 Vuelta, but not many. And, taking off my rose coloured glasses for a minute, behind the supreme climbing talent of Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez and Froome, almost every one of the ten uphill finishes was a grim battle for survival, run off in slow motion.
I’ve got another slight niggle too. What sort of physical toll did the 2012 Vuelta exact on its riders?
It’s only a sub-plot in the battle against doping in cycling, but a few years ago there were doctors in Europe who said that Grand Tours were too hard without some support from drugs like testosterone and growth hormone.
The UCI and race organisers reacted to this by cutting stage distances and reducing the number of big climbs per stage but, while it was within the rules and guidelines, the Vuelta looked hard.
I’m not talking about particular stages, there should always be hard stages and the sort of climbs we saw in the Vuelta, but maybe this Vuelta was a bit excessive.
It will be interesting to see how the top Spanish riders fare in the world road race in The Netherlands. The circuit suits Valverde, and Rodriguez to a certain extent. If they do okay, then the 2012 Vuelta wasn’t too hard and I’m wrong, but it still might be a retrograde step if other Grand Tours to follow its lead.
The Vuelta was a bit one dimensional. As much as I enjoyed the mountains, as much as I admire climbers, for broader appeal Grand Tours need other elements.
I think it also threw the focus on the end of each stage. Riders had to save their strength for the steep final ramps. The last climbs were spectacular, but truly virtuoso climbing performances come from much earlier attacks.
But while we are on this subject, I reckon the Tour de France went the other way this year. It flattered to deceive with tough climbs placed too far from the finish for them to have any real teeth. There were too few stages with big, famous-name mountains too.
Next year’s Tour promises to be much tougher. No prologue and the first three stages in Corsica mean a hard start. The details of those stages are out now and they are tough, with the first day flat, then three mountains on stage two and four on stage three.
It should stay hard too because Mont Ventoux is rumoured to be in, and since it’s not far from where the boat from Corsica lands in mainland France, the Ventoux could be during the first week.
The 2013 Tour de France is the 100th edition of the King of Grand Tours. The organisers have said it will be quite a traditional Tour, so it will be interesting to see how it compares with the 2012 Vuelta as a spectacle.
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