What’s The Point of The Vuelta?

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

This question was raised three years ago as the tour of Spain seemed aloof on the calendar, an uncertain event. With hindsight the race was at a turning point but as ever it is good, even healthy, to question established practices so let us review this race once more, an event that doesn’t have the history of its French and Italian cousins and in recent times its future has been in doubt but now the race seems to have found its niche.

Obviously the race is here to lap Spain. But the perpetual problem has been that the Vuelta has been the third grand tour and in more than one way. First the modern calendar slot with a start in August since 1995 it means it’s the third grand tour of the year and by now season fatigue for riders and fans alike can set in meaning energy and interest can be harder to come by.

It’s the third grand tour in terms of history too with its inaugural edition in only 1935. Spain’s Franco era didn’t seem to hit the race, the country may haven been isolated politically but the Vuelta has long been an international race open to the likes of Anquetil, Poulidor, Gimondi, Janssen and of course Merckx. If anything the race became more Spanish in recent times when viewed by the list of winners. But even if it’s been going for ages it’s not entered cycling’s collective conciousness in the same way the Tour and Giro have. The Vuelta lacks the mythology associated with other races. Can you name a famous climb from the Vuelta? The likes of the Angliru and Covadongas come to mind but can you name five or ten? Probably not but many readers could probably name ten or twenty climbs from the Tour and Giro. If the Giro has the Cima Coppi, the Vuelta has… the Cima Alberto Fernández, a rider you’ve probably not heard of. Similarly can you name an anecdote from the past about the Vuelta? Perhaps one or two come to mind but the race doesn’t have the same cultural mythology and shared stories that is so important to anchoring the Tour and Giro as socio-cultural events above and beyond a mere bike race. Similarly there are very few books about the Vuelta outside of Spain, only “Viva La Vuelta” by Farron and Bell comes to mind.

One recent feature of the Vuelta has been a training race where those aiming for the world championships would take part for, say, two weeks before leaving after accumulating plenty of racing hours and perhaps a few test efforts. This was never a great advert, a grand tour as a glorified training camp, a means to and end. It seems no longer the case or it least it is greatly reduced but this can have as much to do with the Worlds route namely the relatively flat course in Doha last year and Bergen this year mean a mountainous stage race is no use, we’ll might see things differently ahead of the hard Innsbruck course next year.

Many are at the Vuelta to win but can you find a rider who starts in the season in January or February talking about their prime goal being a Vuelta win? It’s very rare, if not unheard of and if Froome “favorites” on Twitter the Vuelta route the moment it comes out for many contenders the Vuelta is a bookend to the season, a last minute decision for Contador, an entry that is confirmed relatively late by Bardet or the consequence of riding the Giro for the likes of Nibali. Similarly many riders recon Giro and Tour stages but how often do you see riders share images of Vuelta recons on social media? It’s rare, signalling a more relaxed approach.

This leads us to one of the most fascinating aspects of the Vuelta, a grand tour to save the season for some. In his autobiography Charly Wegelius likens the Vuelta to “the crew of a pirate ship”, full of weary and unmotivated riders looking to redeem a season, “either riders didn’t want to be there or they were desperate to perform.” This still holds and if it’s not as noble a motivation it can make for more interesting stories.

One purpose in recent years is to create a TV spectacle with the repeated summit finishes there are as many in the Vuelta as there are in the Giro and Tour combined. This is a race made for TV with regular contests between the main contenders and all often on short stages, there are only three stages over 200km and just with the longest day being 207km. There’s a problem sometimes with the production but the coverage is almost exclusively about the race, there are few lingering shots of castles although that’s in part because of Spain’s geography, history and landscapes.

Conclusion
This all points to a race with a future. It might not have the historical resonance but it means there’s less baggage and expectations, a blank canvas to paint and a race to enjoy in the moment, a race of immediate action.

The Vuelta can’t change its calendar slot and so will suffer as “the third race” where those who start with other goals in the Giro or Tour or even elsewhere come for their own reasons Spain. But the variety of their motivations can only make the race more interesting, a lucky dip with stories of revenge, redemption and failure. The recent tend of many star riders to compete has boosted the race and if Chris Froome wins this year it’ll only heighten interest in the race and convince more in the peloton, especially those who ride the Tour, to double up at the Vuelta.

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Pete Linsley August 23, 2017 at 9:40 pm

Fair question.

Its a good point that their are few English language books about the Vuelta; it’s hard to create the Vuelta myth without the writers who are mythologizing it.

What is it for? A ‘development’ Grand Tour perhaps?

Part of the story of this years race is the huge number of young riders in the peloton. Ironically, no young rider jersey to race for, but a great opportunity to gain experience for many.

All be it in a baptism-of-fire kind of way!

AH August 23, 2017 at 11:30 pm

Not really sure whether the Spanish reading this will be insulted or downright angry over this piece inrng.

Yes it’s the third grand tour of the season. So what? It’s a grand tour. Its there to be won. So stop whinging about fatigue and end of the season nonsense and go and win it. The season finishes when it finishes and within those two start and finish points, the races therein are there to be ridden hard. If you cannot keep up with the pace go and find another profession.

Yes it’s the youngest and it’s only been going since 1935. That’s a pretty good lifespan in my book. Perhaps it doesn’t have the mythology, but according to who? English speaking rapha clad London types whose idea of Spain begins and ends with Ibiza and Mallorca who struggle to mention a grand tour winner before Bradley Wiggins? The sort who never learnt a second language and are physically unable to go for a bike ride without an espresso to feed their cycling fire? Come on inrng! Spain is a magnificent country and has been for a good few centuries at least!

If Froome wins it will heighten interest?? What only Chris Froome? Not Esteban, not Vincenzo, not Fabio, not Alberto? Not Simon or Adam? What of Heras (4) Contador (3) Rominger (3) Delgado (2) Zulle (2) Hinault (2)? Did they fail to inspire? Fail to enter popular mythology? Fail as athletes?

Sure it doesn’t have the English speaking worlds dinner table chat iconic climbs… but it shares a mountain range with France and has a fair few more mountains worthy of exploration as well. it’s not the race’s fault that so called fans don’t know the country’s geography. It’s the fans themselves.

So their is every point in this third grand tour. It’s there to test true determined professional riders, it’s there to surprise with new routes, new mountains, teach us about a big country with a proud history. And it’s there to follow in the footsteps of legends.

If it was good enough for Contador, Heras, Hinault, Zulle, Delgado et al I think it’s good enough for the armchair weekend raphafile.

Vitus August 24, 2017 at 2:32 am

Nice rant. And every word is true.

Eskerrik Asko August 24, 2017 at 6:13 am

I, too, appreciate a good rant where every point rings true!

Yet, among the first things that the Vuelta brings to mind is an absurdly wide (for a cycling race) multi-lane highway going straight across an arid open landscape, a climb and a mountain top finish that look promising in the preview but turn out to be a dull procession and a list of recent winners including far too many names who elicit a spontaneous “Who?”, “Really?”, “Oh, that guy.”

But, indeed, we should be able to view the race through the same enchanted spectacles and to sieve the best and the most memorable things through the same magic sieve as we can in the other Grand Tours.

Chris August 24, 2017 at 5:28 am

You go, girl!

Anonymous August 25, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Do you know AH’s gender and are enthusiastically agreeing or is this just moronic sexism? Genuine question.

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 7:39 am

It’s a great race but simply different. My point above is that the race doesn’t have the baggage of hallowed climbs, it’s more of a blank canvas and to watch it is not to get endless chateaux nor exaggerated tales of Eugène Christophe’s broke forks on the Tourmalet or unquestioning Marco Pantani tribute stages. Instead we just get solid racing.

Also the point on Froome is that he’ll do the Tour-Vuelta double which nobody has done in this current calendar slot, it’ll embed the race as an even more viable plan for many Tour contenders. The Vuelta gets many star riders, something that didn’t happen a decade ago and like it or not this helps export interest in the race and bring in the general public and bigger audiences, eg Italians will be watching for Nibali and Aru, Brits for Froome/Sky, French audiences for Bardet.

irungo txuletak August 24, 2017 at 11:43 am

I agree on that. It is a GT that is quite different from the 2 others, but it is more and more building its own trademark. And in most of the case, we have interesting races too.
Roads and landscapes are not too scenic, that is maybe the weak point. A countermeasure of that being riding in Andalucia and/or in Galice instead of doing endless flat stages in Spain central plateau.

RonDe August 24, 2017 at 10:51 am

+1.

Nick August 24, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Apart from Heras, did any of those winners you mention make their reputations because of their efforts at the Vuelta, or elsewhere?

Joe Saroni August 24, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I’m a Rapha loving rider, who has been following the sport, or as my family would say, obsessed with since my childhood. I also raced in Italy during the 80’s. I do have a little time perspective. Inring’s post is on the money. The Vuelta has always had an identity crisis in the larger cycling world, even if Rapha and BW never came into existence. If the Vuelta seems a tad irrelevant now, back when it was run in late April it was a mere afterthought.
Spain is a wonderful country, great people, history, culture, but that does not have anything to do with the fact that Inring’s post rings true. The Vuelta lacks mythology, cycling lore. In fact, Span has not produced the same amount of cycling gods as Belgium, Italy, France, Holland. Sure, there are a few, but they are more recent additions, I’m sorry to say that your rant is a little misguided. It’s more like an ill fitting, poorly matching cycling kit, shunned by many Rapha enthusiasts.

Christopher Kelly August 26, 2017 at 9:22 am

This is true .. I remember even into the 80’s the Spanish mafia gaming up on foreign riders , Robert Millar anyone ?? It has long been a rant for many the galactically boring transitions stages .. I think the Vuelya could shine by cutting a few days and not having any stage longer than 180 kms .. let’s see what a GT can be without the boring bits !

Cat 6 August 24, 2017 at 8:59 pm

+2
Great rant. My fondness for this race is increasing every year. The wide range of rider experience and tiredness, as well as stage configurations, makes this an ever more interesting race.

Ferdi August 24, 2017 at 10:00 pm

It was good to place a link for people to know who Alberto Fernandez was (albeit in Spanish). But even anyone nowing the Tour and the Giro shoukd have an idea of the guy. TH mention in the textwasn’t very respectful. Watch this 1984 Vuelta video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cht5s86RRcY . Fernandez plays the main role but bonks in the end. Compulsory watching.

Jorgelito August 28, 2017 at 1:11 pm

+++

Skiddley August 24, 2017 at 12:11 am

Also, Of the current crop of top GC riders I might suggest that Froome, Nibali, Barguil and Chaves all got their first big breaks in the Vuelta. So it’s surely growing in importance in that respect.

locke August 24, 2017 at 1:32 am

Not to mention Dumoulin, he had his breakthrough as GC rider in Vuelta 2015

stevhanti August 24, 2017 at 7:14 am

That was exactly one of the redeeming qualities of La Vuelta inrng touched at I think.

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 7:41 am

I didn’t mention it above but was thinking it is used to give many riders their first grand tour experience. But it’s a hard event to target for development purposes given the searing climbs and the increasingly dense list of stars, Dumoulin managed it and Rohan Dennis is trying it.

CA August 24, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Ahem lance also had his breakout GT performance at la vuelta

Corporate Accounts Nena August 24, 2017 at 12:52 am

Since it’s open season on ‘established practices’, I’d like to go the whole hog and suggest making all 3 Grand Tours 2 week events. This can allow La Vuelta to attain equal status by attracting fresher riders who won’t have the (IMHO overrated) World Championships as a convenient excuse, and also the best riders will be able to face off more frequently throughout the season. Also, if Le Tour de France lost its superior status it’d have more risk-taking and would actually become more like the celebration of the sport that it wants to be.
Overturning supposedly sacred traditions might offer the required symbolism of a clean break from a dirty past.

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 7:43 am

There was quiet pressure to shrink the Vuelta but this has been seen off for now. If the sport was created today it would never have three week stage races but their presence signals how important they are. It’s hard to see this being ended.

frood August 24, 2017 at 11:58 am

are there any 2 week races? i vaguely recall reading that the Tour of Germany could be a 2 week race, but i can’t see where it would fit in the calendar.

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 11:59 am

There’s been the Volta a Portugal recently. The Vuelta hasn’t been fixed at three weeks either it’s been shorter by a few days… and longer too.

ZigaK August 24, 2017 at 10:56 am

Let’s make all 3 tours 4 week events.

ZigaK August 24, 2017 at 10:59 am

Make time bonuses x20, e.g. winning a stage = 3:20 bonus, 3rd in an intermediate sprint = 20s

Richard S August 24, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Over rated World Championships? Best race of the year (on the right course) in my opinion.

CA August 24, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Corporate Accounts Nena – haha, a bunch of things to tackle in your post, but I will stick to my favourite

Overrated World Champs?? What? How?!? The World Championships has been one of the best races of the year for the past decade or so.

Completely worthy winners, showing that it pays to be on the best form throughout the year (and not just for either the Tour or for the Spring Classics). Some epic performances too, and usage of very different courses to highlight the dominance of completely different rider types. IMHO we’ve had very deserving world champs such as Cavendish, Boonen, Gilbert, Evans, Sagan, Kwiat, God of Thunder Hushovd, etc. which shows that this event will provide an opportunity for the truly legends of our sport to get to honour the rainbow jersey. This even includes Rui Costa, a seemingly no-name rider who was on unreal form when he won.

I love that this race is in the fall, which ensures that the later events in August and September are important and must-follow races. It’s meant that the Canadian one-day races in Montreal and Quebec are truly important on the calendar and gives Lombardia extra importance as the newly-minted world champ can show off the jersey.

Annndd… rant is done. Thanks

Anonymous August 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm

They’re 3 weeks for a reason – to build up the fatigue. Make them shorter and you ruin them. And you destroy all the history involved because no longer will winning a grand tour be comparable with previously winning one.

Adam August 24, 2017 at 4:08 am

Let’s be honest, the Vuelta has probably been the most entertaining GT for the past half decade now, although the Giro has run it close some years. The Vuelta has also had the best lineup of GC contenders every year since 2012. Great race!

TourDeUtah August 24, 2017 at 4:14 am

This race has started to create its’ mythology.

Fuente De in 2014.

Angliru itself and the 2012 battle between Cobo, Froome and Wiggo.

How about 2013 and the 200k plus ride through the French Pyrnees where half the peloton bonked from the cold, hunger and fatigue ?

The short but climby trek through Andorra in 2015 ?

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 7:48 am

That’s my point, there is great racing of late, it is freed from comparisons to Merckx and the others.

baad-booboo August 24, 2017 at 9:54 am

That was the 2011 race won by Cobo who disappeared after.

irungo txuletak August 24, 2017 at 11:34 am

And what about Perico Delgado first win? When he took back minutes on Robert Millar in the mountains near Madrid on the penultimate stage. For me more legendary than Angliru 2012.

Other legendary moment: VdB in Avila in 1999. And very scenic with the city walls.

TourDeUtah August 24, 2017 at 4:16 am

As to the the WC question, move them balk a week so as not to interfere with the Vuelta

SArover August 24, 2017 at 4:36 am

When you’re a Sky fanboy, everything is better only when Froome wins.

Any cycling fan watching the Vuelta for the last decade knows that while it may rank 3rd in prestige to the other GT’s, it’s far and away the most exciting GT.

But a Froome win will give it more prestige?? Wow.. colours shown

The Inner Ring August 24, 2017 at 7:46 am

It’s not Froome giving it more prestige, more that Froome will prove the Tour-Vuelta double can be done. We’re already seeing more riders doing it, should Froome succeed the idea is that it’ll weigh more on the peloton’s psychology as a done thing, that riders will start the season thinking of the Tour-and-Vuelta rather than the Tour-and-see-what-happens.

RonDe August 24, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Froome will (may) prove that if you’re Froome it can be done. If he does it he will be the first to do so post the 1995 calendar switch for the Vuelta. Both he and Quintana have already proved you can podium in both. But as the race is unfolding so far this year the likes of Bardet are not making a good advert for the double which, I think, will still remain the highly specialized reserve of only the very best of riders.

BenW August 24, 2017 at 5:29 pm

It doesn’t look to me like Bardet attempted to peak in the same way as Froome at all – as such, Bardet could prove a lesson in how _not_ to do it, whereas Froome could end up a lesson in how TO do it, should he emerge victorious.

As an aside, if that does prove to be the case – it must be pretty dispiriting to be a GC rider if what ends up being a half-cooked Froome could still beat you in July.

Call Me Jane August 24, 2017 at 6:54 am

I’m a Inring fanboy.

DaveS August 24, 2017 at 8:19 am

For me, purely as a spectator, it feels so far like the TDF was this year’s third tour. Both the Giro, and so far, the Vuelta, have provided me with much more exciting racing than the TDF. Said TDF needs to keep up.

Red Hare August 24, 2017 at 10:23 am

Famous Vuelta climbs? I’ll have a go. In no particular order

Angliru
Lagos de Covadongas
La Farrapona
Formigal (famous since last year!)
Cumbre del Sol
Bola del Mundo
Arcalis
Cortals d’Encamp

That’s eight. Tried for 10 without pondering but failed.

irungo txuletak August 24, 2017 at 11:38 am

Sierra Nevada
Pajares
Morcuera
La Covatilla
Aitana
Calar Alto
Xorret de Cati
La Pandera

And that only on the top of mind…

Red Hare August 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Ha! Thank you. When I read these, I remembered the races on them, and of course, wondered how I forgot them in the first place…

Ecky Thump August 24, 2017 at 3:06 pm

I still think that the Vuelta would benefit from an annual visit to its islands.
That would undoubtedly give it more of its own flavour.

irungo txuletak August 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm

There are mosntruous climbs in canary island, and I know the vuelta has already looked at the possibility of doing some stages there, but I think it is logistically complicated (due to distance among other).

Matthew August 24, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Good effort, even if the Arcalis is in Andorra (also been used in the TdF recently – 2016)

Here’s another – Peña Cabarga

Ferdi August 24, 2017 at 9:46 pm

Navacerrada
Naranco
Cobertoria
Abantos
Cerler
Bonaigua
La Demanda
Orduña
Serranillos
Peña Negra

…all of them with rich Vuelta stories that are only there to be learnt and not pooh-poohed.

StevhanTI August 25, 2017 at 11:35 am

If nobody cares to tell the stories then it’s going to be hard to learn them. Around here (Belgium) the most famous Vuelta story is about how Frank VDB met his Italian second wife (while still being married nonetheless)

Ferdi August 25, 2017 at 12:56 pm

They should remember Merckx’ duel with Ocaña over Orduña to begin with. And Freddy Maertens’ number in 1977 (it included defending his lead atop Formigal). And they should for sure know Gustaf Deloor’s name. And if they want to dig deepeer, they might like to know how the Groene Leeuw team ripped the race in 1960. And of course it shouldn’t be parochial, only about compatriots. Maybe next year I’ll find the time to write somewhere some stories. 🙂

BenW August 24, 2017 at 10:25 am

“Farron and Bell” sounds to me like a supermarket own-brand of paint.

jc August 24, 2017 at 10:35 am

It is not just a London centric brit view that the Vuelta is the least important GT. Here in Munich, where there are many many more people cycling than in London, professional cycling is not that popular (the why is a different topic). The Tour, especially this year, and to to some extent the Giro get coverage in the sports pages of the local papers (there is a broadsheet and two tabloids plus various national papers). Other racing, little to no coverage outside of specialist magazines and websites. The German version of Eurosport shows less cycling than the British one.

To me the Veulta never feels to have the same level of interest or competition of either the Tour or Giro. That is partly personal as I find the landscapes of France and Italy more interesting than that of Spain. It is also down to the course design. Today is a perfect example. Rather than have a couple of small climbs and a possibility of a sprint finish, there are a number of reasonable climbs, too much for any sprinters but the finish does not provide any real opportunities for the GC. This often leads to very dull racing, 4 or 5 in a break with the peloton cruising along behind (there was a particularly “bad” example of this last year, I think the stage before Froomigal). The race really does need to attract more top class riders like GVA and Peter Sagan and more sprinters, not just those hoping to rescue a season or getting GT experience.

The steep goat track finishes are certainly unique and interesting but they need to be balanced with stages for sprinters and puncheurs.

I think Inrng’s point about a potential Tour-Veulta double raising the profile of the race is correct (nothing to do with Sky flag waving) but the race organisers need to help too, perhaps better TV production / camera work would help too (it was poor at the end of yesterday’s stage, this was not the first time)

Allan Almeida August 24, 2017 at 9:40 pm

Sprinters/Puncheurs stages? Man, these are the most boring stages of all. Just look at 2017’s Tour: boring as hell.

For sprinters and puncheurs there are the classics and world championships. GTs are for GCs.

Ferdi August 24, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Who cares for sprinters in stage races? That’s a big plus for the Vuelta!

RonDe August 24, 2017 at 11:09 am

The Vuelta, I suggest, has often been the easiest grand tour to win in recent years, both because of its place in the season and because people have chosen to skip it entirely. Nibali, for example, won in 2010, 3 years before he would be able to win a Giro and 4 before he won a Tour. Valverde won in 2009, his only grand tour win. Then there are (no giggling at the back) the likes of Cobo and Horner in recent years as well as emerging talents Aru and Dumoulin fighting for the 2015 title. It remains the grand tour most likely to give us a surprise winner. For my money that reason alone is enough to praise the race highly.

But its a also a race of a totally different kind to the Giro and the Tour and that variety is also good. Its boiling hot and the climbs are generally shorter and more precipitous. The spectre of days of mountain finishes that look like slow motion sprints where to simply hang on is all you can hope for give nice variety when contrasted with the longer, more regular climbs France and Italy often serve up. THis is a race very much about digging in and committing to the cause because no rider can be sure that the next 20% wall won’t be the one that breaks him and sends him tumbling down the GC. This race is often when by seconds and this is why. Its unpredictable.

Perception of the grand tours as a whole is changing, I feel. Amongst cycling fans the Tour has fallen into disrepute, a casualty of one team and rider finding a formula to repeat win the event. The Giro, in recent years, struggled for a lack of decent contenders and suffered from sprinters who only stayed 10 days because it was seen as a race that would kill your Tour hopes. Nibali, Contador and Quintana have all shown that the Giro-Tour double is Tour suicide and this affects the Giro’s ability to attract people who see the Tour as the big prize. Dumoulin, for example, is not expected to defend his title. The Vuelta is a race on the rise, a chance to keep the cycling buzz going post-Tour. I, for one, am glad its there.

Richard S August 24, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Re the Giro/Tour double being suicide. You have suggested that you think that Froome rode the Tour sub peak instead aiming to peak at the Vuelta (if I have read your comments correctly). I have said that I think the Giro/Tour double is still doable by the top GC man of a generation (along the lines of Indurian’s level of superiority) who is capable of winning the Giro whilst below their peak and then ride the Tour at their peak. Do you not think therefore that Froome is capable of the Giro/Tour double, bearing in mind how he has gone this year and also how close he has been at the Vuelta in the past? I suspect he is. The question marks being if the change in training schedules might cause an unforeseen side effect, or that he isn’t great in the cold/wet. I also suspect that Dumoulin would potentially be capable of it in the future if there was enough TT km’s in each, certainly more in the Tour than there has been in recent years.

william nesbitt August 24, 2017 at 11:54 am

why should cycling pack up its bags ago home after the tour de france the vuelta still holds the interest of all true cycling fans it is a great tour and should be supported by all the top riders surely they can show piece their climbing ability and catch the eye of other team managers go for it and win viva the vuelta and may it improve and defy all its critics.

Big Ringer August 24, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Who are the people that criticise the Vuelta? As RonDe says, it does seem to be the TdF that gets it in the neck, with the Vuelta and the Giro generally being seen as more interesting.

I’d be interested to learn what exactly is it that makes the TdF the most prestigious – is it the riders, the prize money, the history? Why do the best stage racers seem to want to win that more than the others, and is that desire sufficient to make the tour the king of GTs?

Allan Almeida August 24, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Tour de France is a museum-race. Living of it’s past. There are no big battles, no great stages. Only the same boring team leading the race with the best domestiques their money could buy.

Steven Down August 24, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Would moving the transfer window away from the post Tour period to the post Vuelta change the race?

Blake August 24, 2017 at 3:19 pm

I would like to see Froome win this year’s Vuelta. Then, the Tour-Vuelta double becomes a goal that will be shot for in the future.

Allan Almeida August 24, 2017 at 9:32 pm

If Froome wins it or not, doesn’t make anything different.
His style of cycling is the worst thing that could happen to La Vuelta.
Boring tactics, no panache, no racing, just touring.
The best thing that could happen would be Contador or Chaves attacking and breaking Froome.
This attacking-based style is what the pro peloton needs.

StevhanTI August 25, 2017 at 11:32 am

You’re wrong. It’s what (a big chunk of) the spectators crave. What the pro-peloton needs is safe roads and a fair chance to every member of it to display and exploit their talents in a profitable way. Those two views are sometimes difficult to match but you ought to avoid projecting one on the other.

noel August 25, 2017 at 1:19 pm

exactly how many times does Froome have to attack – uphill, downhill, on the flat, in crosswinds and everywhere else before folks stop calling him dull?
You can have a problem with Sky buying up the talent and running the mountain train, waving the ‘clean’ flag etc etc, but Froome himself always seemed like a pretty aggressive bike racer to me, right back to the days when he used to attack Wiggo. Okay he sticks his elbows out a bit…

Grahamg August 24, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Vuelta lovers here. Funnily enough in light of comments/rants, my wife and I are relative ‘newbies’ to following pro-cycling vs. most dedicated fans of this blog, myself from 2008 and my wife only in 2010 after taking a few months to cycle tour around Europe to take in parts that could feature in all three GT’s. (Probably as much the ‘Cav effect’ for us but nobody seems to make that reference with the same kind of disdain as the Wiggo effect perhaps because of the latter building on the back of one of the most boring grand tour wins of recent years.)

The Vuelta has been our favourite for a good few years now, for me it’s been about the youngsters and emerging talent that seem to reliably emerge at the Vuelta before breaking into public consciousness at the higher profile races, like the undiscovered gem on the starter menu. My wife simply hates the density of crowds and crazy behaviour of fans at the Tour and the seemingly endless string of doping scandals in recent times at the Giro as well as the way the route always throws up some hidden gems geographically to explore in Spain on roads less travelled.

From my limited time following pro-cycling it’s become clear that all races seem to go in and out of favour with the core of dedicated fans, all over sometimes quite lengthy time periods, whilst still retaining their profile more widely in the sporting and cultural sense. I’m guessing that part of the challenge for the organisers is to recognise where abouts their fortunes lie with each segment of the fan base, from the hardcore follower to the bored channel surfer, and work out how to develop their race to succeed in the broadest terms – something that must be extremely challenging when the commercial terms must trump all else.

Just forget about the quality of participants, how it stands vs. Giro/Tour, who is and isn’t participating and their motivations. Take a pew with your brew of choice to enjoy a race that is evidently mining a seam of success in the broadest terms – when it’s like this, it’s unusual for it not to be very entertaining.

Russ August 24, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Here in Canada we can’t even watch the Vuelta on TV. A few years ago we had all 3 Grand tours and the Spring classics available for viewing on tv. Even though the popularity of cycling is up we are now limited to the spring classics and Le tour, no Giro, No Vuelta.
The media is slowly killing off any love that people had for anything other than Le tour by neglect.

Big Ringer August 24, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Hi Russ – I realise its off your point slightly – but can you not watch it online as catch-up via the ITV Hub? I know it is a british broadcast, but I assume accessible anywhere in the world at https://www.itv.com/hub/itv

CA August 24, 2017 at 5:33 pm

I too am from Canada and I think we can thank the Blue Jays for killing Sportsnet’s TV coverage of cycling. Unfortunately the Jays suck and still Sportsnet would rather play an endless loop of Blue Jays in 30 or MLB bloopers than put the daily Vuelta stage on.

It’s a huge shame too, especially with Michael Woods having a seemingly breakout performance. I’d much rather watch Michael Woods than an endless loop of brutal starting pitchers and Kevin Pillar/Kendrys Morales strike-outs right now.

Ok, sorry for the dive into baseball and the woes of being a Toronto Blue Jay fan (does Inrng even know who the Blue Jays are I wonder?)!

Inrng – thanks for your continued coverage of this sport, and here’s a request to provide a blog entry as to how a runner from the great white north can become the next big challenger for the Froome.

Anonymous August 25, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Get a VPN and watch online.

STS August 24, 2017 at 5:06 pm

The fact alone that so little sprinters show up at the Vuelta makes it the best of the Grand Tours for me. Nearly all stages have the potential for interesting GC-Racing. If you win the Red Jersey in Madrid you have surely earned it over the course of three weeks and not only in a handful of stages as in most editions of the TdF.
And many knowledgeable cycling fans I talk to like the fact that it’s the racers Grand Tour unaffected by most of the TdF’s surrounding shit intended to attract the general public whose understanding of and interest in the actual racing is oh so small.

maximflyer August 24, 2017 at 10:27 pm

While I like La Vuelta, I think a GT is for all cyclists not just GC, it should attract the best from every discipline. Sprinters should be given a chance to shine for example. As it was mentioned above WC complicates everything and this might be the reason that many rouleurs are missing this year.

Allan Almeida August 24, 2017 at 11:27 pm

But the fact that the best sprinters are absent open doors to breakaways’ stars.
It makes the flat stages unpredictable. The most anoying thing is the Tours daily tv-breakaway. You knew those guys would be chased down easily, no one tried any bold move.

STS August 25, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Agreed. I don’t see the point of flat stages that will 99% of the time end in a bunch sprint which is then contested by the same guys who would have also done it if the stage was only 20 km long. Not from a sporting point of view and surely not when looking at the entertainment flat stages designed to come down to a bunch sprint provide.
And I dare to ask what’s the “value” of guys like Kittel, Bouhanni, et al. in races that are meant to show cycling at the highest level if they are only able to win races like those whereas even some heavy hitter like Kristoff has proven that he can also win classics.
IMHO Guys like Trentin, Matthews, Gilbert, and many others who are really fast but also able to win hillier or even mountainous stages represent much better what a great road racer should look like. So if you’re watching a GT and looking for some action apart of the GC battle those guys usually provide it with a much higher probability than the pure sprinters.

Allan Almeida August 24, 2017 at 9:26 pm

This can only be a joke. Vuelta is way better than the Tour.
TDF only lives of it’s past. La Vuelta is making history every year.
Can you remember a GT stage since 2010 that was so incredible like Froomigal last year?

Even the Giro had sleepy stages on it’s first week, Vuelta a España is on fire since stage 2.
doesn’t matter if brits or americans didn’t win it. There are a lot of cycling legends who has victories on this race to make it mythical.

Richard S August 24, 2017 at 10:13 pm

Brits haven’t won the Giro either.

Ferdi August 24, 2017 at 10:05 pm

@inrng: it’s not the first time you write things like this about the Vuelta… Honestly, are you not afraid appearing less knowledgeable than the Vuelta being “less than illustrious”? It’s really not the first time when you seem to know worse the story of cycling in Spain than in the other main cycling countries.

The Inner Ring August 25, 2017 at 10:52 am

Where did the “less than illustrious” quote come from, it’s not mine. My point is not about factual knowledge, more that the Vuelta hasn’t exported its mythology in the same way the Giro and Tour have and that the famous climbs you cite in another comment are not so famous to those beyond the Pyrenees… but this is changing with an international audience. “New” climbs like the Angliru and this weekend’s stage finish Xorret del Catí are making a name for themselves but these roads date, in the Vuelta at least, only from the 1990s.

Ferdi August 25, 2017 at 12:42 pm

I put “less than illustrious” between inverted commas because I wanted to distance myself from that point of view, and I chose that wording because I thought it summarised the vision I wanted to contest. The point is that if someone doesn’t know Orduña, Alberto Fernández, Naranco, Rudi Altig, or Fignon/Hinault’s number over Serranillos, it’s not the Vuelta’s problem, it’s the problem of the person who doesn’t know it. It’s all online now (if you speak a few languages), it’s not like you have to have been following it for 40 years when there was sometimes very little information. And given the choice of researching and disclosing the less well-known parts of the history of the Vuelta, or declaring it fundamentally “less than illustrious” or whatever one wants to call it… I’d do the former. The Vuelta has for a very long time been fighting against a headwind, and I feel we should do our best to preserve cycling’s (rich but endangered) heritage. Especially when there are forces trying to move cycling away from its historic homelands, and identifying Spain as a weak link. But this is only my humble opinion, of course. It’s maybe useful to remember John Ford’s dictum about creating greatness: “when the truth becomes legend, print the legend”.

As for the climbs, I think it’s the Spanish public demanding that the climbs change every year, to prevent routine and boredom (they used to complain about having Covadonga, Navacerrada and Cerler every year). And it must also be explained that for three decades, the Vuelta was Basque-run, finishing in Bilbao and San Sebastian, and the best climbs were in the last week in the Basque country (hence my mention of Orduña). Then the Vuelta didn’t visit the Basque country for another three decades, so the “mountain heritage” changed.

Richard S August 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm

I have two beefs with the Vuelta. They’ve never settled on jersey colours and pretty often in recent years at least it has only visited the far north of the country. The Giro and Tour are genuine ‘tours’ of their respective countries. It’s enjoyable in its own way but definitely lacks the mystique of the other two. With the Giro and Tour you get the sense that they are part of every day life for the whole country while they are on, a bit of a national party. I’m not sure if it’s the case with the Vuelta?

STS August 24, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Well, as INRNG wrote: It’s the racer’s Grand Tour. It’s not the national party. It seems as if creating the most interesting race route is the biggest interest of those guys. And let’s not forget that big parts of Spain are very sparsely populated.

JT August 25, 2017 at 12:26 am

I have read through the comments and feel that some people are misunderstanding the point of this brilliant post.
The Vuelta is very entertaining and I prefer to watch it than to watch the tour but INRNG is right in saying that no rider actually targets the Vuelta at the beginning of the season. Here, in France, there is definitely a significant decrease in coverage compared to the Giro (I wouldn’t dare compare to the coverage the tour gets). I feel this is a shame but it is a fact but I am sure this is partly due to the lack of riders really aiming for it.
If no rider is really aiming for it, then what is the point of the race, is a valid question. I think it has its place in the calendar and it is defining an identity as the race where everyone is present but none at their best. It is leading to exciting racing and a chance for young riders to showcase their talent.
Don’t be mean towards the Vuelta for being different and don’t be mean towards our host who is asking a valid question to explain how this differences is good.

Marty McCann August 25, 2017 at 1:42 am

In response to the point in the article about riders declaring early in the year that the Vuelta is a target, the one name that comes to mind is Nico Roche. Over the past few years it has turned out to be his best GT and he has said often that this is the time of year that really seems to suit him best and the one he likes to target.

The Inner Ring August 25, 2017 at 10:54 am

Good pick. He was also encouraged by his old Ag2r team because they needed the UCI points and he could crack the top-10 so it worked for everyone. He’s built up a bond with the race and his wife is Spanish, I could be wrong but I think they met at the race.

Cd August 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Isn’t the Vuelta the only GT completely ignoring women’s racing? It could be an area where they could have carved a unique identity by putting women on closer to equal footing but they instead to be behind in this too.

The Inner Ring August 25, 2017 at 6:07 pm

There is the women’s criterium in Madrid, which isn’t very much yet more than the Giro (although we should note RCS runs the Strade Bianche for the women)

Jorgelito August 28, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Inrng has a good point. In my books, I rather view La Vuelta end to end than any of the other GTs. There’s more suspense, more breakaways, tougher climbs (rather short compared to Le Tour but fun nonetheless) and more suspense. The Giro is second. Le Tour is only for the famous climbs, there were 6 stages this years that look more like “Visit France” than a bicycle race. The organizers have done a good job painting the canvas, there will be more lore in the future for sure!

P.S. Sierra Nevada, that’s one of the longest and hardest climbs in Europe, no?

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