OK, let’s take the last part first. I’m a little angry that you even asked. In fact, step right back and get out. Overlooked, barely on TV, only vaguely on the internet, this is the grand tour that’s always third in the pecking order to the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. The English-speaking world is slow to tune in, and for no good reason. But this year it is set up to be the GREATEST cycling stage race of all time. And so should it be. In the modern cycling calendar all the pro tour teams want a piece of it. It has the same set of illustrious winners – Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, etc. – and there’s no gap where Lance Armstrong won it, because the best he could do was fourth (subsequently voided). And for those who watched the Giro outperform the Tour this year in terms of competition at the top and a changing leaderboard right at the death, you can expect even more from the ‘Tour of Spain’.
Arguably the best three riders in the world at the moment are all racing: Britain’s-slash-Kenya’s-slash-South Africa’s Chris Froome, Colombian Nairo Quintana and two-times previous winner Alberto Contador of Spain. Of recent grand tour winners only this year’s Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing. See the other favourites at the bottom …
So because it is likely to be the stage race of the year we have a competition going with a massive prize: the four Bloomsbury cycling books shown in the thumbnails below.
How to enter
All you have to do is enter a fantasy team at the road.cc Fantasy Cycling competition online and then enter our mini league called ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You have to sign up to road.cc first and come up with a password, but you don’t have to pay any money.
Having signed up and named your team, you go to the ‘Pick team’ tab and choose nine riders for the first stage with a fixed budget of 160 points and riders of various point-costs. Every day before the next stage begins you can change two riders. However if you leave your team as is, you carry over these two unused transfers to the next day, so you would have four to transfer after one day, or six after three days unused, etc.
To enter our league click on the ‘Leagues’ tab and you’ll see ‘A Bloomsbury Cycling Whitewash’ near the top. Enter a bunch of other leagues too, why not. Ours will be the simplest to win though, as you are probably the only person reading this.
How to choose your riders
You can score a lot of points in a lot of ways: placings in general classification, points classification, young rider, king of the mountains, the top 20 home in any stage, the intermediate sprints, the mountain points, etcetera. But you’ll not win anything with kids, or, that is, the majority of the domestiques who will be riding purely to get their team leaders into the top places, then dropping back into obscurity, scoring you nothing.
In light of which it makes sense to put two of the very cheapest riders in your team, so that you can afford seven winning riders.
Which riders are best for which stages?
It’s important to distinguish between the various types of race. The flat stages will be won by the sprinters (designated by green ‘PC’ symbols next to them), the mountain stages by the best all-rounders or climbers, the medium mountain stages can be won by anyone, especially towards the end of the competition, and the time trials will be won by Tony Martin. The first stage is a short team time trial. I have no idea who will win this, but Astana, Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Sky look … as good as any.
There are a few good websites to go to work out who those in the know think will win each day. The website oddschecker compiles all the betting odds and the website c-cycling.com has brilliant previews every morning before the race (which seem to then massively influence the oddschecker odds).
How to follow the Vuelta online
Because of the British riders, there will be good articles in the usual online newspapers: Telegraph, Guardian, etc. The Guardian had no minute-by-minute last year for the Vuelta, but might this year.
Steephill.tv is the best for complete coverage of all kinds, and it links to the c-cycling preview every morning when this is up.
Road Cycling UK‘s site I have to plug too as they’ve just finished making the brilliant Infographic Guide to Cycling with us. But yes, very good Vuelta content up already with an article on who will win king of the mountains.
The official Vuelta a España website was a bit crap last year if I’m honest, but part of that is because the Tour de France coverage is so good on the internet that anything else seems a come down.
Chris Froome Sky’s big hope. He was disappointed to drop out early of this year’s Tour de France having won it last year. And he’ll be keen to show he is no grand tour one-shot. Having won the Critérium du Dauphiné (points competition) before the Tour, and having had time to recover from the falls that knocked him out of the Tour, he should be in good form. Notably he was second in the 2011 Vuelta.
Nairo Quintana This year’s winner of the Giro d’Italia and in a very strong Movistar team along with past Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain. He is only 24 but looks impossible to beat in the mountains when on form.
Alejandro Valverde As mentioned above he’s won this thing before (2009) and been on the final podium on four other occasions, last year coming third, only 1 minute and 36 seconds from the red jersey. He was fourth in the Tour this year too, so at 34 years old, and on home soil, Valverde is still very much a contender.
Alberto Contador The other big-name Spaniard is considered by many to still be the best cyclist out there. Despite having two grand tours stripped from him, he has legitimately won all three big grand tours, and five in total not counting the two that were nixed. The doping conviction (an ‘accidental ingestion of the banned doping product Clenbuterol’ in very small amounts) may not make him a popular figure with everyone, but his combative style and constant mountain attacks make him, at worst, an exciting villain.
Chris Horner Let’s not forget the American who won the Vuelta last year. Can he do it again? No way, he’s 42. Send him out to pasture. (Still, let’s hope he does.)
Cadel Evans The Aussie battler – sorry, love that cliché – is also on the northern side of 35, but the former Tour and Giro winner has maintained some decent form. He hasn’t won anything too major recently but was third in the Giro d’Italia last year and beat a decent field to win the Giro del Trentino in April.
Joaquim Rodríguez The Spaniard they call ‘Purito’ – for the dubious honour of being one of few riders not to dope – is in the prime of his career, but risks never achieving any major honours. This has to be his Vuelta if he’s to push himself above Contador and Valverde in Spanish hearts. Highly rated, he’s been on the final podium in all three grand tours without ever being more than a bridesmaid. Coming second in last year’s World Championship is the icing that didn’t quite make it onto the cake.
Fabio Aru Perhaps more an outside bet, the Astana rider is second fiddle to his team-mate Nibali and didn’t ride in the Tour de France this year, but he did finish third in this year’s Giro when free from the shackles. The Italian climber seems indefatigable in every stage. His team-mate Tanel Kangert will help Astana have a good shot at Stage 1, the team time trial (which they won at this year’s Giro).
Rigoberto Uran My personal favourite, the Colombian who left Sky last year for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, has come second in the Giro for two years running, and was unlucky not to win it this year. Another young gun like Aru and Quintana who will likely be a big name for some years to come.
Tony Martin OK, he won’t win the Vuelta, but he is so dominate in time trials he deserves a mention. The German is a shoo-in for Stage 10.
Peter Sagan He cruised to the green jersey of points victory in the Tour this year, without winning a single stage, and is likely to do the same here. He can sprint, he can handle a mountain or two, and he’s a smart cookie, always managing to get himself in the right place for the finish. The sprinters: Bouhanni, Ferrari, Degenkolb, Boonen, etc. may run Sagan close, or a top GC rider may win the points competition with so many to compete against, but my idiotic money is on Sagan.
Moving on from the USA …
Just typing that made the blood run cold at my fingertips. As a kiwi I loathe people conflating New Zealand and Australia. That little country to our north-west is as far away from NZ as Turkey is to Britain. So not that far in fact, actually. But I conflate them here for two reasons: (1) I’m allowed; and (2) it’s just easier, isn’t it;
and all the good riders are Australian. But it turns out if you are an Australander of Newstralia, there are plenty of top-of-the-pops riders to wave your very similar flags at. (I also include South Africa, because there’s only one rider and it’s fun to throw them in desultorily within an aside.) So who can the … eastern southern hemisphere be overzealously proud of?
While the best Australian is Cadel Evans, and, bear-with, we’ll get to him, there is a whole gaggle of Aussies in one corker of a team.
Matt Goss (Aus, aged 26), Orica’s number one, is one of the best at the Tour, rated by all sources in at least the top 20 riders, even though he hasn’t quite been scooping up the palmares with both arms of late. A one-day road race specialist, he is more green jersey than yellow, i.e. a sprinter looking for stage and sprint wins to get points, as opposed to consistently loitering at the front of the peloton come slope, flat, switchback or sawtooth like those lazy GC types. He’s been the bridesmaid to Mark Cavendish, coming second to him for instance in the 2011 World Championship road race (the same year he won the Milan–San Remo), but he’s still young and much is still expected. Contrary to the rumours I have started, he is not the singer from Bros.
Simon Gerrans (Aus, aged 32) is currently sitting third in the general classification of the Tour after yesterday’s stage win. Of the six Aussies still hovering in contention he is clearly doing the best, and hopefully ruffling Evans’s feathers in the process. This should be no surprise as the man is in some form. He’s won other stages this year and last year won the Milan–San Remo, the Tour Down Under and the Australian National Road Race Championship. Will he stay high in the mix? That was supposed to be a rhetorical question. I don’t know.
Cameron Meyer (Aus, aged 24) has twice won the Australian National Time Trial Championships (2010 and 2011) and has won some minor races this year, and a stage at the Tour de Suisse. He’ll help the team in today’s time trial, but he’s languishing well out of GC contention already.
Daryl Impey (RSA, aged 28) is the lone South African, but clearly worth elbowing out some other Australian for his place as he’s currently well in the mix in 6th place on GC. He’s had a few stage wins recently (two years running in the Tour of the Basque Country) and was the time trial champion in his home country last year. How high can Orica climb in today’s team time trial one wonders. This will already be revealed by the time I upload.
Simon Clarke (Aus, aged 26) stole all of the king of the mountains points yesterday, that being his wont, pushing him into second for the polka dot jersey. Pierre Roland might have thought he had it stitched to his back, but clearly Clarke will give him a good run. Not surprising as he won the dotty mountain shirt in the other of the three grand tours 2012’s Vuelta a España. If your looking for an Aussie to actually win something, Simon Clarke may be the basket to stick all of your eggs into.
The two remaining Aussies in the team are out of big honour contention and will shoulder some serious domestiquage (I’m still hunting for the perfect ‘pertaining to domestiques’ noun). Brett Lancaster (aged 33), like Goss, is more of a green jersey, winning such a thing in the Tour of Slovenia this year. Clearly no slouch. Stuart O’Grady (aged 39) like most Australians has an Olympic gold medal, and as recently as 2011 was part of the Orica team who had a stage win in the team time trial at the Vuelta. Orica have to fancy a high finish in today’s race.
for BMC Racing (USA)
Cadel Evans (Aus, aged 36), currently in 9th place in the Tour is nicely poised. He is the number one of his team (providing he continues to better Tejay van Garderen) and will be lead to the front to do what he does best by a strong team. It is two years since he won the Tour de France, and has to be considered one of the favourites, if slightly darker of horse than some. He placed third in the Giro this year, and is consistently in the top bunch of any race he takes on. If you prefer to back the obvious, this is your Australian.
for Team Sky (UK)
Richie Porte (Aus, aged 27) is well in the mix in 24th place and only a second off the yellow vest. He’s in one of the best time trialling teams and is a bonza time-triallist, so expect him to scoot up the grid later today. His 2013 has been glittering in (mostly second) prizes: winning Paris-Nice; the green jersey in Critérium International, in which he came second overall; second in the Critérium du Dauphiné too; and second in the Tour of the Basque Country. I predict he will be second at least once in something or other in the Tour. You unfortunately heard it here first.
for Lotto-Belisol (Belgium)
Adam Hansen (Aus, aged 32) is the second-last of our Aussie contenders. He’s sitting in 23rd and after an impressive Giro this year, winning a stage rather gloriously and always revving for a breakaway, he’s one to keep an eye or two on. Also a mean time triallist, Hansen will be hoping to drag Lotto up the leaderboard today.
Greg Henderon (NZ, aged 36) at what in other sports might seem a cumbersome age is still a fine sprinter, as seen by his 7th place finish in flat old Stage 1. If there’s one New Zealander you want to paint your face up and yell at the TV over, it’s cuzzie Henderson. Go you good thinglet!
Team Saxo-Tinkoff (Denmark)
Michael Rogers (Aus, aged 33) our last Aussie contender is a time-trial legend, having won the worlds three times. Granted, the last time was 2005, but he hasn’t been dawdling in the meantime, eating up palmares like gluten-free hot dinners. This year he was second in the Tour de California and last year was second in the pre-Tour Dauphiné to Bradley Wiggins, notably beating Cadel Evans. He’s currently in 48th but still part of the one-second-behind group.
for Garmin Sharp (USA)
They’re good riders with much to crow about, but it must be said that Jack Bauer (NZ, aged 28) and Rohan Dennis (Aus, aged 23) are mostly in Garmin to be solid and domestiquy. Both are mean machines in the time trial, however, and should help Garmin to get a decent pozzy in today’s team time trial. Both are so whoa-nelly out of contention in the GC.
Next up Canadarrrr!
Italy’s great cycling stage-race is well under way. Where have you been? Well, if you want to be a flag-draped rose-nosed idiot-patriot, like me,* during the running of this year’s Giro d’Italia, allez-ing Wiggo and his confrères, drunkenly singing barmy-vindaloo-army songs at your television (or minute-by-minute commentary), who exactly should you be cheering? That I will tell you.
<Shuffles through printouts like truffle pig> Hmm. It turns out there are only six British riders, and of course a British team in Sky Procycling. You know these guys, and if you don’t (1) for shame; and (2) me too! So here’s a little recap on the who and how many palmares they are draped in like little caesars on push bikes.
- Bradley Wiggins of Sky Procycling. Yawn. We all know this 33-year-old superb (Belgian-born) Briton. He won the Tour of France last year, and didn’t he win the entire Olympics as well? That he did. As I type he is sitting 6th in the GC of the Giro. Moving swiftly on.
- Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Yeah yeah, the Manx Merckx. Cav hasn’t had quite the recent glory of Wig, but the 27-year-old’s achievements are impressive. No one has won as many mass-start stages in the history of the Tour de France. He won the Milan–San Remo in 2009. And in 2010 he took the green jersey (points classification) in the other of the three Grand Tours (along with the Giro and the TdF), the Vuelta a España – a feat he repeated at the Tour de France in 2011. Having won the Tour of Qatar earlier in the year, he barnstormed the first race in the current Giro, winning it, but has been flagging since [doubtless this will be incorrect at the point I hit UPLOAD … aarrgh he just won stage 6, blogfail]. He’ll be looking to prove his place as his sprint-specialising team’s number one. Andiamo Cavo!
- Alex Dowsett of Movistar Team. Like Cav, Dowsett has recently defected from Sky to be a bigger fish in a … differently shaped? … pond. The 24-year-old haemophiliac is currently the British time-trial champion (and has been for two years). He missed the classics last year with a spifflicated elbow, but is now back and burning serious rubber. Like Cav he’s had one good run so far in the Giro, the stage 2 team time trial, when, with still-high-flying team-mates Benat Intxuasti and Giovanni Visconti, Movistar rolled in 9 seconds behind stage winners Sky. His role is more as a team player for Movistar, and is not in contention for honours.
- Adam Blythe of BMC Racing. At 23 years old, Blythe is looking to really move beyond promising youngster, and seems to be managing it. In 2010 he won the 2.1 event (i.e. the equivalent in UCI’s ranking as the Tour of Britain) the Circuit Franco-Belge, and was fourth this year in the Tour of Qatar (which Cav won). So far in the Giro, he’s had the one great race, coming 7th in stage 1, the one Cav won. Significantly he beat BMC’s big gun Cadel Evans. Now however he is near the very back of the pack, almost 50 minutes behind off leader Luca Paolini. Presumably because his role is, like Dowsett, as a domestique for his team. But what do I know.
- Steve Cummings of BMC Racing. Team-mates with Blythe and the mighty Cadel Evans, Cummings is an older hand at 33 years old. Like Dowsett he is reappearing in 2013 after much skeletal mangling: his pelvis and wrist from the Tours of the Algarve and the Basque Country respectively. He has come 2nd in the Tour of Britain twice (2008 and 2011) and his greatest achievements are probably his tricolor of non-road race medals: the bronze in the individual pursuit at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the gold in the team pursuit at the same games, and the silver at the 2004 Olympics for team pursuit. Again, he’s at the rear of the field and presumably working as a slipstream-sweeper for Evans.
- David Millar of Garmin Sharp. The even older hand at 36 years old, Millar has done it all, been banned for it, and come back again. He’s the only British rider to have worn the leader jersey in all three Grand Tours, including of course the fabled pink number of the Giro. He is the most interesting of the six as evidenced by his (non-Bloomsbury!) autobiography Racing through the Dark, and by the fact I missed him out on the first version of this blog (pointed out on the Guardian minute-by-minute commentary to my colossal shame). Millar also broke a bone last year (collarbone) and is also currently malingering at the very back end of the GC.
Interestingly there is (and perhaps can be?) only one Brit in the Sky team, namely Wiggins. And in fact if you really want to be a daft patriot, there are few very fine Johnny Foreigners in the Sky team you can squeak under your nationalistic-fervour blanket. The two I would suggest you jump toot sweet on the bandwagon of are the Colombians: Sergio Henao (age 25) and Rigoberto Urán (26). After stage 5, Urán was sitting in 2nd place and Henao in 8th. They are both hot dogs on the climbs and the mountains await us in today’s stage 7.
The Colombian equivalent of vindaloo? The ajiaco. Thank you Siri.
*I am, like Wiggo, a plastic Briton, and will take my jingoism from country to country as I please, just you try and stop me.
Triumph and tragedy? Surely I’m not prophesising the results of the Giro d’Italia already? Nah, if I was, I wouldn’t be so worried about my Fantasy Cycling team*.
As much as I’d love to tell the future and know if Wiggo will beat Nabali to win the pink jersey or whether the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, will come home in the red, I think I’m just going to have to sit back and watch the drama unravel on TV like the rest of you other cyclist enthusiasts.
However, I just thought I’d give you tifosi out there the heads-up about the smashing new edition of Maglia Rosa, by Herbie Sykes and published in partnership with Rouleur. A stunning photographic book offering a definitive history of the Italy’s Grand Tour, it takes you all the way from its beginnings in 1909 right up to the present day. And if you fancy checking out some of the gorgeous images, just click on the cover below…
Fausto Coppi remains the most iconic cyclist in the history of the sport. For twenty years either side of the war his extravagant talent, combined with a unique charisma and human frailty, captivated fans across Europe. Moreover, he revolutionised the sport of bike racing itself, laying the foundations for the generations who would follow.
Coppi was Il Campionissimo; his greatness so unequivocal that his celebrity transcended mere sport. As such, both his professional and private lives were endlessly pawed over by his country’s insatiable post-war media. In deserting his wife and daughter for a divorcée in 1954, he traumatised Catholic Italy. Thereafter his life became a soap opera from which he was unable to escape until his dramatic death in 1960.
Herbie Sykes’s new book Coppi is a beautiful and unique depiction of this legendary cyclist, built around an extraordinary collection of hand-picked, rarely seen images and testimonies from those who knew him intimately. These images, some genuine masterpieces, were unearthed through hours of painstaking research. Allied to the personal truths of those closest to him, they reveal the man behind the Fausto Coppi myth.
This book strips away many of the half-truths and downright lies which have been grafted onto his legend over the decades, making it a very different kind of sports biography, and a must-have for all genuine cycling fans.