Blazin' Saddles

  • Back to Basque

    It's hard to imagine just how stage 19 of the Vuelta could
    have gone any better for the Basque Country on its return to the race after a
    33-year exile.

    Save Miguel Indurain coming out of retirement to take
    second-place in front of a traditional txistu ensemble fronted by Iban Mayo,
    Joseba Beloki and David Etxeberria, while Vuelta director Abraham Olano
    performed a dance wearing nothing but a black Basque-style beret on hearing
    news of the quashing of all on-going cases against Igor Astarloa - save all that,
    it's hard to see how things could have panned out more favourably.

    In fact, the whole

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  • Friggins back on top

    Cruelly separated on Friday by Vincenzo Nibali's crafty bonus-second sprint, British combo Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome restored their historic one-two at the top of the Vuelta standings on Saturday.

    As the Team Sky website so aptly put it - for once wholly justified in their hyperbole - the Wiggins-Froome double act put on "a stunning display of climbing that left a trail of destruction in their wake".

    That destruction included dealing out a hefty lesson to defending champion Nibali, who had been taking back cheeky seconds here and there since the ITT, but who saw it all thrown back in

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  • Blazin’ Saddles: Matteo Montagutted

    Whatever he did on Thursday stage 18, Italian Matteo Montaguti found himself thwarted and chastised by his fellow escapees.

    His primary target for the day was quite simple: pick up as many points over the summits as possible to keep Frenchman David Moncoutie under pressure in the KOM competition.

    But somehow he ended up being the poor boy bullied by everyone in the playground.
    Not only did Montaguti have to cope with the physical battering he took at the hands of Moncoutie's expert Cofidis team-mate Nico Sijmans, he also found himself the butt of an assorted barrage of feisty admonitions from

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  • Wiggins on the rise

    After an
    understandably timid first week in sweltering Spain, Britain's Bradley Wiggins
    came alive in a thrilling finale to Sunday's stage nine to the ski resort of La
    Covatilla.

    Wiggins, a
    renowned MOD and music lover, must have dropped his iPod in the sea at Benidorm
    nine days ago because he's been clearly warming up to the wrong tunes. 

    Instead of
    being driven by Paul Weller's 'Peacock Suit' or 'The Guns of Brixton' by The
    Clash, Wiggin's form since the opening TTT looked to have been affected by
    having Bjork's 'It's Oh So Quiet' on a constant loop.

    But on
    Sunday's final climb, a

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  • Froome’s Special K

    Despite apparent death threats from the Nutty Clusters of Spanish fans, Chris Froome got it Just Right in the final kilometre of stage 17.

    On a day that Froomey moved within 13 seconds of the summit, it was a question of Cobo Pops and Brad Flakes in Calabria.

    With the Kenyan-born, South African-raised Briton filling his bowl with a masterful attack up the Alpen-like climb, it was Cheerios to his main rivals, many of whom were left Shredded, Beat and broken.

    They may have been shouting "You win and we kill you" to Froome, but in the end those rather insalubrious fans could well have proved

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  • Pay day for JJs

    It was a tale of two Juan Josés in the Vuelta on Tuesday as JJ Haedo broke his Grand Tour duck while JJ Cobo increased his lead at the top of the GC.

    If anyone had told Saddles a few weeks ago that, five legs from Madrid, Cobo would be in red the day Haedo actually won a major stage, he would have spluttered 'you must be j-joking'.

    Saxo Bank's Haedo is a speedster so sluggish he has earned the moniker "The Slowmotion Sprinter" from the famous Danish sports commentator Joergen Leth.

    Aged 30, Haedo's biggest win prior to Tuesday's Vuelta scalp was in the 2010 Mumbai Cyclothon - although his two

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  • Blazin’ Saddles: Boonen’s bravery

    Stage 12 of the Vuelta was no ickle test for Tom Boonen, who picked up a ballsy sixth place despite a gaping hole in his nether regions that wasn't - erm, how to put this? - his anus.

    After Wednesday's throbbing ride through the Galician mountains, the Belgian powerhouse explained to one of his national newspapers - in great detail - just why he had been struggling for form in this year's race.

    It didn't make for pleasant reading. For those of you with a queasy disposition, please avert your eyes; for those who like a bit of Triple XXX gore, keep on reading.

    "Because of the friction of the

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  • Vincenzo nibbles away

    In a race where the top four riders
    are separated by just nine seconds, it's probably fair to say that every second
    counts in this year's Vuelta.

    Which is precisely why defending
    champion Vincenzo Nibali used his trademark swift descending skills to nick the
    first intermediate sprint and, rather cheekily, the six bonus seconds that went
    with it at the start of a frantic stage 13.

    Nobody expected such audacity from a
    rider who, before the stage, claimed: "I'm not going to attack today. I
    won't attack in the other mountain stages either. I'd rather wait and see what
    the best course of action is.

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  • The postman delivers

    Nice guy, David Moncoutie. That's what everyone says. But
    you wouldn't want him at a dinner party - he'd probably bring his own food and
    eat it in a separate room.

    Still, the Frenchman's love affair with the Vuelta
    continues: the veteran climber has now won a stage in every race since 2008,
    plus he's on course for a fourth successive King of the Mountains title too.

    It would be cause for celebration, but Moncoutie doesn't
    look like the kind of guy who does celebrations. A glass of apple juice and a
    vegan quiche instead, perhaps?

    It's not hard to see why Moncoutie targeted stage 11 - the

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  • Froome at the top

    So, the ITT in Salamanca went pretty much as expected, right? Tony Martin taking the win and Team Sky moving into the red jersey. Yawn.

    That's what the script said - although no one probably thought that the man in red would be Chris Froome and not Bradley Wiggins.

    Indeed, after 13km - and with Wiggo leading at the first check - such a notion would have been laughed down as much as the time when, in June 2008, some journeyman reporter said he had a hunch Carlos Sastre might do something special on the Tour de France...

    It started ominously for Team Sky. With rules stating that team-mates

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