If you were to order a "Vuelta wrap" from
your local sandwich shop you'd probably expect something with a rather tired
and dry filling.
It would be made with the remnants of the kitchen
cupboard, throwing in bits from the back of the fridge together with some
ingredients which had clearly seen better days, alongside others that were
undeniably tasty - but unproven in the sandwich wrap stakes.
The whole thing would be a totally maverick operation
- the chef would be making things up as he went along, while the waitering
staff would often change orders at the last minute depending on who was on the
front of the queue (yup, the guy who ordered 19 seconds after you might well
even get his prize meal before you).
But despite all that, there would be something in the
enterprise - something even in the peculiar culinary concoction of that wrap -
which would have you coming back again for more.
At the end of another incident-filled Vuelta a Espana,
many critics have been musing over how the race can be saved.
Should it be
shortened? Should the world championships be brought forward before it? Should
teams be obliged to bring at least one rider we've all heard of before? Perhaps
a shallower starting ramp for the TTT - or at least go all out and make it a
full obstacle course?
But you know what, Saddles thinks the Vuelta is just
fine as it is. While it's a chance for many individuals and teams to save their
season, it is also - for a large number of Spanish riders and up-and-coming
stars - the biggest race of the year.
This year's route was pretty fun, all things considered;
there were hardly any of those typically flat and boring stages usually
associated with the Vuelta - in fact, we didn't get a proper bunch sprint until
stage seven - and, like the Tour, we had both a GC and green jersey competition
that went right down to the wire.
Let's take this chance to reflect over the past three
or so weeks in Spain with the annual Vuelta Awards...
Froome with a view award: Both Bradley Wiggins and then Juan Jose Cobo spent
most of the race staring into the Kenyan-born, British-belonging backside of
Can't finish his greens award: Joaquim Rodriguez, who wore green on the back of his
double stage win before losing it on the final day in Madrid.
You don't need your eyes tested
award: Yes, JJ Haedo really did win a stage on a Grand Tour.
Although he did need a roundabout gaffe to help him.
Best nickname award: Well, it was Friggins but then it became Woome by the
Hoogerland award for nastiest
injury: Tom Boonen, who made going for a number two almost
impossible by first tearing a gash in his perineum and then, a few days later,
breaking two bones in his wrist.
award: Vincenzo Nibali, who tried to emulate last year's
success of winning the Vuelta without taking a stage, but instead came back
empty handed (although he did pick up six bonus seconds on one intermediate
sprint in week two...)
Best team: Saddles was all over Katusha and their whole
Hispano-Russian thing, but after their three wins, the Rocket boys disappeared
somewhat. Leopard-Trek did well in their final Grand Tour, taking the ITT and
guiding Daniele Bennati to the line. Sky had their most successful Grand Tour,
ending up with two stage wins and two British men on the podium - all from what
was seemingly a three-man team. It would be wrong to applaud Liquigas for their
three stage wins because all of them came from one man - but they did do
amazingly to somehow turn stage six into a second TTT. Cofidis were the
Vuelta's FDJ, attacking at every opportunity but actually winning something -
two stages and a polka dot jersey for Moncoutie. As a team, however, the prize
has to go to Geox, whose veterans Menchov, Sastre and De La Fuente ably
supported red jersey Cobo.
Sack the chef award: He may have not served up contaminated Basque beef
from an Irun butcher, but the chap responsible for menus at Movistar have felt
rather queasy himself after seeing five of the team retire with apparent food
poisoning. Scallops from Salamanca, anyone?
King of the hill but no man of
the mountain: Rodriguez, who proved unbeatable
on the short and punchy ramped finishes, but tapered off somewhat once the real
Watch out fo- oh no, they're
already here: Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan,
who both opened up their Grand Tour accounts on their debut major races.
Despite the German's class, the Slovakian sensation is clearly streets ahead:
youngest rider on the Vuelta, yet he finished with more wins than anyone else.
Who knows, his Spanish hat-trick could even be followed up by a rainbow dash in
Copenhagen later this month?
Strength in depth award: Despite losing trump card Mark Cavendish,
HTC-Highroad managed to turn things round in their final ever Grand Tour. Wins
from Tony Martin (expected) and Michael Albasini (deserved) meant the
soon-to-be-folding team kept up their 100% record in Grand Tours.
Still life in the old dog yet: Mr Consistency David Moncoutie once again managed to
find peak form in time to secure a fourth successive polka dot title. The
Postman always delivers - and he's promised to return next year to make it a
record-breaking five in a row. A first-class stamp on that package, for sure.
Best stage finish: Last year we had 2nd place Ezequiel
Mosquera pipping red jersey Vincenzo Nibali by one second on the climb to Bolo
del Mundo - and this year history virtually repeated itself with 2nd
place Chris Froome pipping red jersey Juanjo Cobo by one second on the climb to
Pena Cabarga. This thrilling moment was the closest Britain has ever come to
winning a Grand Tour.
The Bjarne Riis, stand aside
award: In 1997, Riis started the Tour as Telecom's No.1
before having to give away to hot-shot newcomer Jan Ullrich. Bradley Wiggins
had his Riis moment in the Vuelta when it became clear his Sky understudy
Froome was ready to take centre stage. Thankfully, there were no tantrums from
Wiggo - but it's hard to see where things go now for the 31-year-old.
Cute story of the race: Igor Anton winning in front of his home supporters in
Bilbao on the race's first return to the Basque Country since 1978. Only a
handful of riders were alive when the Vuelta last entered the autonomous
community in northern Spain - and it was a dream come true that Anton should
take the plaudits to save both his and his Euskaltel team's race.
Thank god for the transfer
window: A month or so after winning the Tour de France with
Cadel Evans, BMC were decidedly underwhelming in Spain. Yes, Mathias Frank
Martin Kohler may have put in a few attacks, but the arrivals of Gilbert and
Hushovd can't come too soon.
Don't forget the sunscreen
award: Cavendish retired with exhaustion, but most of us had
a suspicion he had simply overheated. The 40-degree temperatures and fierce sun
were simply too much for the Manx engine and pasty white complexion of a man
who, now back in rainy Britain, has returned to winning ways in the Milk Race.
A sprint too far award: Besides Cavendish, Garmin's Tyler Farrar looked like
he could well have done with putting his feet up for a bit longer after the
Tour. His race-ending crash in the first week was the result of fatigue and a
lapse of concentration. It's been a tough season for Tyler - and you don't need
Transitions lenses to see that.
Red raspberry award for
Petacchi-esque disappointment: Petacchi is
clearly the favourite here after failing to pick up a win in a second
successive Grand Tour. But his team-mate Michele Scarponi didn't fare much
better, limping out of the race at the half-way mark after losing time in the
opening mountain stages. Andreas Kloden was pretty poor, but at least the
German provided some comedy value. After crashing out of the Tour so cruelly,
there had been high hopes for Jurgen Van den Broeck and Janez Brajkovic. Both
couldn't live up to expectations, however.
Cosmopolitan award for equality:
Riders from 12 nations won stages on the 2011 Vuelta,
which also boasted an unprecedented series of 10 wins from 10 different
countries - a record for Grand Tours.
Quote of the race: "There is a hole." Poor Tom Boonen
describes the status of the sensitive part of his undercarriage between his
scrotum and anus.