The final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins tonight with the 2020 edition of the Vuelta España.
I’m going to guess that the answer to that question is a ‘no’. Quite a firm one, too. Now ask the same question about the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, and the shouts of ‘heck yes!’ will come flooding back.
The case for the Tour is impeccable. It’s the oldest of the three Grand Tours and the maddest, an insane asylum on wheels. Thrills, pills and bellyaches indeed.
The Giro? Who could resist the latin loving that sprightly old dame brings each May, just as romance is in the air and the flowers a-bloom? You’d have a hard time turning down the Giro’s advances, that’s for sure.
And even if you did, there’d still be one long, lingering look over your shoulder as you walked away, left to wonder, forevermore, what might have been.
And then we have the Vuelta a Espana.
A bit like the third wheel, useful in an emergency but more or less, has to be said, rather redundant.
First held in 1935 it has history on its side no doubt and has been won by some of the biggest names in the sport – and it is, after all, one of the Grand Tours.
I’m reminded here of a routine by the comedian Louis CK, in which he begins by saying that in his head, when faced with an issue, he regularly has two thoughts in his head: ‘Of course…’ and then, ‘But maybe…’
“Of course,” he says, “if someone is allergic to nuts then we must have warning signs on packaging and must warn people of the dangers of eating nuts in case they are indeed allergic, of course… but maybe…. well, if a peanut can kill you, then maybe you’re supposed to be dead?”
I apologise to all nut allergists out there for any offence caused, but it’s a useful segue to link my argument back to the Vuelta.
Of course, the Vuelta is a grand old race and has been around for years and is beloved by some Spanish people and some other people who, for whatever reason, think it is a classic event up there with the Tour and the Giro.
But maybe… well, maybe the fact that TV viewing figures have been dropping over the past 15 years for the Vuelta and maybe because it fails on just about every level to excite anyone except the people who are in it or those standing by watching it pass means that it is time for it to go.
There. I said it. I want the Vuelta gone.
Instead, bring in some proper racing in Asia and even Africa. Establish hard, annual one day races in places like Taiwan, the Philippines, China and never change the routes, creating an Asian Classic Series or some such, instead of these laborious tours like Beijing and China where no one wants to be there.
Except Pat McQuaid of course, who likes to hear the cash register ringing.
It’s time for a change, time to award the nations with growing cycling fans with really awesome races.
You could also add a woman’s Tour in September too, a real one, or move the Tour of California over to fill the hole the Vuelta would leave. Make that two weeks to start but aim for three, get in all the top guys and watch the sponsor money flood in.
Show the Americans a real race, not just one with a handful of top teams filled mostly with second-tier talent.
In Spain you could have a couple of ‘new classics’, races that could rank in points, in a new ‘Classic Series’, with Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.
Cycling is built on tradition but this sport is very slow to change, and when it does, it is not always for the right reasons.
The Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman, for instance, serve as great opportunities for the one day guys to get ready for the Classics, but the only reason the UCI goes there is for the cash.
I’ve ridden in both races and there is virtually no one watching by the road, and the interest from fans abroad is slim.
Better to get the peloton down to Australia for a month, do the Tour Down Under and then do a couple of classic-type courses in other places, so that the rest of Oz can see the best pros race.
We need tradition but we also need vitality. The Vuelta does not bring that, and I feel that a race has to be judged by its necessity, otherwise, it’s time to step aside.