In part one of our post-Vuelta round-table we took a long, hard look at the race itself and the riders who animated it. In the second half of our discussion, our thoughts turned to a range of broader talking points surrounding the events of the last three weeks. Here’s what we said …
Was this the best Grand Tour ever? And if not, what would have had to happen to make it the best ever?
Kitty: One of the best I’ve seen. I thought the Giro was great this year but it’s got nothing on this. The parcours was brilliant – imaginative with a possible twist in every stage – and it just seemed like every rider was doing everything to get the most out of every kilometre. And the Fantastic Four duking it out for the podium – they made the race. Brilliant. Can’t wait for the DVD to relive it.
Tim: I hesitate to say the best ever, but I’d say this was the best Grand Tour for maybe 20 years. Before the race I was concerned that one rider might dominate and turn it into a procession, à la Contador at the 2011 Giro. But although it was the same few faces slugging it out on every summit finish, they were so evenly matched and the racing was so aggressive that it didn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, I still think this was a terrific parcours, but for me it could have done with a little more variety and it was the riders themselves who turned a very, very good route into a truly outstanding race.
Panache: This was the best Grand Tour this year, for sure. Best ever? I don’t think so. Like Tim, I think that variety is the spice of life. This Vuelta needed more balance. Riders like Boonen, Cancelllara and Sagan would have been boring to watch in this race, unless you like watching the gruppetto. The greatest Grand Tour ever would feature the talents of all rider types.
Tim: Yep, absolutely. Not that I’m in any way complaining because of the quality and drama of the racing, but the very best race shouldn’t always have the same top three riders on as many stages as this one did.
Sheree: I’m not in a position to say as I’ve only been watching Grand Tours since 2004. That said this Grand Tour’s participants made it into an exciting race. There was plenty of drama, particularly among the Spanish trio, with Froome rapidly relegated to a sub-plot. I also think we’re beginning to see ASO assert itself on the race’s organisation and filming. This year’s Vuelta has enjoyed the splendid backdrop and support of Northern Spain and I now have a list of must-see and ride places to visit.
Jack: I’m not able to comment, having been born a few years post-1903 [Oi! The rest of us are old but we’re not that old! – Ed], but it’s surely up there. It was a battle of epic proportions and Contador versus Rodriguez will go down in history with the likes of Coppi vs Bartali, Lemond vs Fignon and Armstrong vs Ullrich as one of the greatest cycling contests.
Sheree: What made this even better though was that it was Contador versus Rodriguez versus Valverde. It was a three-way – not two-way – tussle of magnificent proportions.
Which were our favourite stages/moments, and why?
Jack: Any amateur cyclist would have been in agony watching the Cuitu Negru climb – it was one of the hardest I’ve ever seen, and undoubtedly comparable to the likes of the Angliru and Zoncolan. The racing which took place on it was equally incredible. For sheer craziness the stage on which Contador took the lead (stage 17) must also rank highly. Brilliant.
Kitty: Cuitu Negru and Bola del Mundo. I love big climbs and these were unbelievable – both the courses and how the riders rode them. I loved Bola del Mundo because Rodriguez was not satisfied with his third and he left everything on the mountain to try to claw back a second step on the podium from Valverde. Everyone on those stages rode with heart and soul and rode aggressively and to win, not to just keep the status quo.
Panache: The attacking, tactics and emotion of Contador, the crazy summit finishes, the heat … I loved every moment but the one that hit me in the heart the most though was Antonio Piedra’s victory (on the Covadonga on stage 15). I love it when the underdog gets his bone.
Tim: Never has road racing looked so hard – and never have the riders looked so heroic – as on Cuitu Negru. Everyone was in the red by the end of it. Roz Jones’ photo of a hollow-eyed Rinaldo Nocentini after the finish summed it all up. It hurt, and it was a privilege to watch every single member of the peloton cross the line. There were so many moments to choose from but the three which really made me punch the air with delight were Piedra, Steve Cummings‘ bold solo attack to win in the closing kilometres of stage 13 and Philippe Gilbert finally breaking his 2012 duck in Barcelona on stage nine: a great individual ride set up by a solid team plan.
No one was thrown out for doping during the race. A good sign? Or should we still be suspicious?
Panache: I’m currently reading Tyler Hamilton’s book and re-reading David Millar’s book simultaneously – eye-opening and depressing. I say appreciate the race but be suspicious and help fight the omerta! I also think that Grand Tour organisers should consider choosing parcours that don’t encourage doping. I could write three pages on what I mean by that. [Consider that a commission – Ed.]
Jack: I agree with Panache. The one concern I have about races that are made this difficult is that they encourage riders to dope. Am I suspicious about what I’ve seen? I, like every seasoned cycling fan question what I’ve seen, but trying to predict or guess is a futile exercise. Until I’m told otherwise, I just enjoy the astonishing feat of human endurance on show.
Tim: I’m optimistic that on the whole the balance has shifted in favour of the testers over the past couple of years. Of course, all it takes is for a new undetectable drug to come into play and that all changes, so the authorities need to remain ever vigilant. My one reservation is the incredible level of performance we saw day in, day out in the mountains. Like Jack, I want to believe and won’t allow my doubts to diminish my enjoyment of races, but bitter experience means the suspicion will always be there.
Sheree: Let’s just put our reservations aside and enjoy the race. Recent revelations have meant that no one testing positive in a race is akin to spotting and having a conversation with the tooth fairy.
Kitty: I take some comfort in the fact that they all looked spent at the end of those stages and the guys performed their best on the stages that were most suited to their styles – i.e. Rodriguez was great on the steep slopes because he loves those but crap at long drawn-out climbs et cetera. And no one ran away with it. And until there is a positive, I’m going to love this race and the guys who rode it.
Philippe Gilbert looked good in racking up his first two wins of 2012. Would you bet on him to succeed Mark Cavendish as road race world champion?
Jack: Yes. I sure do hope so. It’d certainly go some way for making up for his disappointing Classics campaign, and he suits the parcours perfectly.
Kitty: Phil’s my favourite for the rainbow jersey. I think he’d be a worthy champion and do the jersey proud in 2013. That said, so would Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan. I reckon it’ll be all-out between those three. I wouldn’t be disappointed with any of them but want PhilGil to take it.
Panache: Boonen for president of the Rainbow Jersey Club! Does that even make sense?
Sheree: Perfect sense. I’ve always wanted to see how Tom would fare in Amstel Gold but he’s usually tuckered out after cobbles. Stiff internal competition though with PhilGil. Still, he could be Belgium’s Plan B. As for Phil’s chances, I’m not a betting gal but I would say that it’s great he’s finally coming back into form and should be a player in Valkenburg – but then so will the mighty Spanish Armada.
Tim: And what a line-up that is: Contador and Freire leading, with Rodriguez, Valverde, Moreno, Sanchez, Flecha Lastras and Castroviejo. That’s some serious firepower! But Gilbert is hitting form at just the right time. And just as importantly, the form of some of his likely rivals in the GPs in Quebec and Montreal did not appear to be quite what they would like. After a miserable first eight months of 2012, wouldn’t it be great if he pulled on the rainbow jersey? And we know he’ll be right at home on the course, having won Amstel Gold on the Cauberg in 2010 and 2011. It’s going to be one hell of a race.
Finally, sum up your thoughts on the Vuelta in three words.
Panache: Feed Chris Froome!
Kitty: Oh my God!
Tim: The Three Amigos.
Jack: 30 percent mountains?!?
Sheree: The Three Musketeers.