Don’t look now, but the Vuelta is going to be the best Grand Tour of the season. And you’re probably missing it.
There’s only been four stages so far, and the GC contenders are already massing at the head of the standings. There’s only been four stages, and we’ve seen two fascinating summit finishes. There’s only been four stages, and we’ve seen Alberto Contador attack almost 18 times.
You get the gist. There’s been a lot of action packed into the first few days of the final Grand Tour of 2012, enough to fuel enough enthusiasm to last well past the end of the season and into 2013. The Vuelta was always going to be a rather big deal, if only for the return of Alberto Contador. The best stage racer of a generation, Contador’s name will forever be marred by the Case of the Tainted Spanish Beef, but he’s coming back with a generous dash of flair. On the climb to the line on stage 3, Bertie put in seven attacks in the final five kilometers, bouncing along at the end of the race and isolating the other GC men like Froome, Rodriguez and Valverde. Juxtapose that with the amount of times Bradley Wiggins attacked in the entire Tour de France (three or so, and that’s be somewhat generous), and we’ve seen a rather fair amount of fireworks.
The overall standings already look like what we should expect in two weeks as the race heads to its conclusion in Madrid. Giro d’Italia runner-up Joaquim Rodriguez is a whopping 1 second ahead of Chris Froome with Alberto Contador a further 4 seconds down. There are still 17 riders within 1 minute of the lead as the race hits the plains (where the rain in Spain mostly falls, according to legend) for a few rolling sprint stages before returning for a few more summit finishes this weekend.
This is an absolutely unmissable race that has survived economic turmoil in Spain, thanks in large part to the investment of ASO, the same group that owns the Tour and many of the Classics. With numerous events being cancelled on the Iberian Peninsula (that’s Spain and Portugal, plus the tiny country of Andorra), it’s a testament to the quality of the race that the Vuelta is still thriving and drawing in more sponsors, bigger names and the full attention of riders like Contador, Froome, Rodriquez and Robert Gesink.
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