Summer may be drawing to a close already, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more road racing to watch before the end of the year. The final Grand Tour of the year, the 75th Vuelta a Espana, kicks off this Saturday, August 28, in Seville, Spain. Even though we’ve already seen the chaos of the Giro d’Italia, where Ivan Basso capped his suspension comeback with a hard-fought victory, and the pageantry of the Tour de France, where Alberto Contador defended his crown (somewhat controversially) in a battle with Andy Schleck, this year’s Vuelta promises more cycling excitement. And in great news for racing fans, this year’s edition will again be covered, wire-to-wire, by Universal Sports (which is available over-the-air or on cable in many places, plus Vuelta coverage can be purchased for online access anywhere).
With last year’s winner suspended, this year’s race is wide open and the field is strong. Many riders will be racing the Vuelta in preparation for the upcoming World Championships in Australia, but there are still plenty of contenders vying for this prestigious Grand Tour crown (but sadly not anyone from the top overall team at the Tour de France, Team Radio Shack, who were left out of the field). Carlos Sastre will be riding his 3rd Grand Tour of the year, reports say that Andy Schleck will be there in support of his brother Frank (although it would be a nice consolation to see Andy win his first Grand Tour), Denis Menchov will be vying for his third Vuelta title, Nicolas Roche may surprise some folks with a strong performance, and Roman Kreuzinger and Vincenzo Nibali will lead a strong Liquigas contingent. And that’s not even mentioning the possible sprint battles between American Tyler Farrar (who just moved up to 8th place in the world rankings) and the “Manx Missle” Mark Cavendish.
In terms of the course itself, there will be 21 stages covering 3,352 km. While the mountains may not be as famous as those of the Tour de France, or as fearsome as the Giro d’Italia, there will still be plenty of hard racing ahead for the Vuelta riders. If the race is still close near the very end look for fireworks on the next-to-last stage, which features a dramatic mountaintop finish on la Bola del Mundo (where the last 3km are on a rough concrete road with an average grade of 12.5 percent, so steep and narrow that team mechanics will be forced to ride on motorcycles with spare wheels and bikes like the Plan des Corones climb in the Giro!) And if all of that is not enough, the Vuelta leader’s jersey will also be brand new this year… well, actually the new jersey looks kind of odd, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
At any rate, we should be in for a good show, so will you be watching?