The Vuelta Espana is one of the three Grand Tours – the jewels in the crown of world cycling – but it has always been seen as the third most prestigious of the three. Why is that? Does anyone really love it?
Just for the record I think the Vuelta’s great. We get the chance to see some different riders – guy’s like Nico Roche, domestique for Contador in the Tour de France – ride for themselves; the endless supply of 25% gradient climbs are entertaining (if a little cruel); and the racing in general is entertaining and exciting.
Having said all that, I’ve spotted some inherent problems. Here’s my handy (tongue in cheek) guide to what’s wrong with the Vuelta:
1. It’s too Spanish
For many years the Vuelta was a race for Spanish teams only, and even now the list of overall winners is dominated by Spaniards – 10 out of the last 15 races have produced a home winner. One or two of these winners have been…surprising…to say the least. It sometimes has the feel that us non-Spaniards are intruding on their little domestic battles.
2. It’s too hot
To a UK cyclist the weather is very relevant, and we want to watch the pro’s cope with it too. The Giro has wind, snow, rain, hail, fog and sun – sometimes on the same day. The Tour has sun, wind and rain, but usually avoids the very worst of the elements. The Vuelta is hot and sunny. Day after day. Hotter and hotter. You can feel it through the TV.
The Vuelta needs some weather.
*****STOP PRESS – as of 07/09/13 the Vuelta Espana 2013 officially has some seriously interesting weather (I stand corrected).*****
3. It comes too soon after the Tour de France
The obvious problem is that many of the really big beasts will not take part while they still have a Tour de France in their legs, and if they do it’s unlikely they’ll have enough left in the tank to challenge for the win. And actually, by September us cycling fans might just have had our fill of Grand Tour racing for the year too.
The Giro in May is exciting because we’ve gone 7 months without a 3 week stage race and can’t wait to get back into it. The Tour is the Tour; fantastic, exciting and epic – but by the end we feel like we’ve witnessed just about every permutation the sport has to offer.
In August the Vuelta comes along and, apart from anything else, some of us will have difficulty justifying another 3 week marathon in front of the TV to the wife and kids.
4. It’s a warm up for the Worlds
The world championships come in October and many riders see the Vuelta as the perfect warm up event for this. Any race that becomes a warm up for another is diminished.
5. It has an image problem
See 1-4 above.