Archive for the ‘Vuelta a Espana 2009’ Category
Andre Griepel (Columbia-HTC) won the final sprint stage of the Vuelta in Madrid on Sunday. It’s his fourth victory in this years’ Tour of Spain for the man they call Andre the Giant.
This is not to be confused with the other Andre the Giant, the famous wrestler who was 7’4″ and 540 pounds. Imagine the bike frame for a guy like that. The carbon fiber would splinter like matchsticks.
Although Greipel has taken on Tom Boonen, Tyler Farrar and Gerald Ciolek, he has never faced Hulk Hogan, Jake “the Snake” Roberts or Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He’s ridden some big races but the Columbia rider has never taken part in WrestleMania. We doubt he knows how to execute a Gorilla press slam or a Belly Piledriver.
We’re also sure that the German Andre is not called “The Greatest Drunk on Earth,” a title Andre the wrestler won by downing 119 12-ounce beers in six hours. You know, a sip or two of champagne to celebrate a stage win is fine but over a hundred beers? Not a wise idea.
And finally, what is the likelihood that Andre Greipel has a street art graffiti campaign like the other giant? Or a documentary film to explain this crazy phenomenon. Nevertheless, four wins in the Veulta is impressive, a Mark Cavendish-size haul. Not giant, but undeniably big.
Regular reader Henkio asked that I stop bashing Alejandro Valverde so I’m taking a break on that. I’ll leave that to the folks at cyclingnews. in their wrap-up of the Vuelta. Thanks to everyone who has been reading my Vuelta posts. I’ll continue to cover all the bigger races. See you at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Someone will soon have a huge win, giant sized. Maybe, just maybe, should the win approach heroic proportion, they’ll even have a posse.
There were two winners in stage 20, the final time trial of the 2009 Vuelta a Espana. One inspiring, one dispiriting; one a victory for clean cycling and the other a defiant and embarrassing reminder that the battle against doping goes on.
David Millar’s tremendous ride in Toledo was yet more proof that grand tour stage wins are possible without resorting to doping. Garmin Slipstream won three stages in the Vuelta — a sprint, a breakaway mountaintop finish and a time trial. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters’ strong anti-drug stance is a model for the peloton.
Since his own suspension for EPO three years ago, Millar has done what almost no other suspended rider has done. He came clean, admitted his mistakes, spoke openly and honestly and put himself at the forefront of the fight for clean cycling. It’s been a long, hard road back to the top. He now stands as a rider of integrity and a true spokesman for the sport.
The second winner in Toledo was Spaniard, Alejandro Valverde, who effectively sealed his first overall win in a grand tour. Spain rejoices but the rest of the cycling world shakes its head and holds its breath, waiting for the legal verdicts of his doping cases. Implicated in Operacion Puerto, Valverde was finally handed a two year ban by the Italian Olympic Committee. He is barred for riding in Italy and was forced off the Tour de France roster.
Yet Valverde rides on, defiant, his lawyers fighting the UCI and WADA and arguing with the Court for Arbitration in Sport. He cries conspiracy, haggles over testing protocol and disputes jurisdictions. With a decision pending at the end of the season, Valverde faces the real possibility of being stripped of his Vuelta title.
It was a pleasure to watch Millar win today and a disappointment to watch Valverde win. It’s a fair question to ask, in a sport that has suffered so much, who the real champion is. David Millar or Alejandro Valverde?
Not speaking a world of Spanish other than cerveza and bano, deciphering stage 19 winner Juan Jose Cobo’s post race comments was tough. Twisted Spoke did catch the word “duro” which means hard or difficult. That word and the happy, lap dog tongue he stuck out as he crossed the finish line pretty much tells the story. Difficult but joyous.
Cobo won from a select group of all the favorites except Robert Gesink, who slid off the podium due to the after effects of his crash several days ago. Valverde, Evans, Mosquera, Basso and Sanchez formed an elite group heading into La Granja, Real Fábrica de Cristales — which is Spanish for “town-with-the-crazy-long name. Mr. Cobo crashed their party. When he attacked in the final kilometer, no one answered. Valverde and Evans followed Cobo home for second and third, bonus seconds that put Valverde even further ahead of Sanchez and Basso for the overall classification.
Is the Vuelta over? Will soon-to-be-disgraced doper Alejandro Valverde be crowned the champion? Yes, si, adios amigos. What is the Spanish word for scandal?
(More to come after I pick up my sick kid from school.)
Part of an early and large 16 rider breakaway, the two men escaped and worked well together until they reached the long medieval fortress walls of the city.
The more experienced Kreuzinger (Liquigas) appeared to have the upper-hand. Snaking through Avila on wet roads, the Czech kept the skinny Deignan (Cervelo) up front. If you compared their number of wins, all bets would be on the Liquigas rider.
The little Irishman looked like the typical rookie forced to lead out. Then unaccountably, Kreuzinger attacked early and it was the mouse that pounced, easily coming round to take the biggest victory of his career.
“I got on the wheel good, when I went I still had some power left,” said a smiling Deignan. “Winning a stage is more than I ever expected.”
Somewhere Seamus Elliot and Sean Kelly are raising a pint of Guinness. (That would be the pub in Heavan for Mr. Elliot.) Young Deignan joins that illustrious group as the third Irishman to win a stage of the Vuelta.
For the overall GC contenders, it was watch and be watched. Like the TV cop that shouts “nobody move, ” Alejandro Valverde kept his rivals from doing a thing. Suffering from his injuries in yesterday’s crash, Robert Gesink was happy to finish without another ambulance ride to the hospital. Samual Sanchez and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) hung out in the peloton wishing Valverde would hit a pothole or take a wrong turn.
Tom Danielson, runner-up to Cadel Evans in this year’s Veulta Bad Luck competition, abandoned due to sickness and injury. The war of attrition reinforced the Valverde’s grip on the gold jersey. Only the Court of Arbitration in Sport could stop the Spanish rider–and they won’t render a decision on his alleged doping until the season ends.
For Philip Deignan, it was a grand day out, with rain reminiscent of his Irish homeland. Three cheers for the mouse who roared. Gather the Cervelo lads, it’s time to hit the pubs in Avila.
Yo, Tony R, in da House! But we’ll get to that shortly.
Wisdom and experience won today. The surprise was that the wisdom came from the youngest rider in the day-long breakaway, 22 year old Frenchman Anothony Roux of Francaise des Jeux.
With the peloton rapidly cutting the time gap, it was Roux keeping the escapados working together. He organized, cajoled, waving his hands, urging them on. As the British TV commentator noted, “they can’t afford to muck about.” Roux tried to keep them from attacking each other, knowing their best chance for success was high speed unity.
It was the kind of smart, tactical riding you’d expect from a veteran with many races and a few big wins to his credit. Two years ago Roux was a lowly trainee on the French squad. He’s come a long way. His wiki page is already updated: 1st, stage 17, Vuelta a Espana. “Chapeau,” as the French say — hats off.
The maturity Roux showed on the road to Talavera de la Reina, reminded Twisted Spoke of Gang Starr, the east coast rap duo. “I’m the veter-ran, runnin’ my plan, I’m the better man,” said MC Guru and DJ Premier. A shout out to the old guys still bringing the noize. Roux was the wise man in the break.
That’s how the stage went down, bruthas. For the historical record, Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil), Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Francisco José Martínez (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Slipstream) were the breakaway boys. Maaskant launched several attacks in the final kilometers but to no avail. That’s when Roux made his decisive attack, saying “I saw the opportunity to get across to Maaskant. I rested behind him for a moment and then, with 500m to go, I gave it everything I could. I am very happy.”
Okay, we’ll assume the matter-of-fact blandness of Roux’s statement is due to exhaustion and a bad translation. What he meant to say is what Gang Starr said so eloquently in the lyrics to Full Clip: “So that’s all for you, I’m wiping out your whole team. I’ll splatter your dreams with lyrics and shatter your schemes.”
Postscript: Yes, Roux is da man. No champagne snafus for him on the podium. Cork off, a vigorous shake and geysers everywhere, soaking the hair and black mini-skirt of one podium girl. The sure sign of a 22 year old experienced professional.
Andre the Giant and Don Quixote. One stage, two stories — we’ll start with the famous novel and save the short story for bedtime.
First, our Don Quixote, Jesus Rosendo Prado of the Spanish Andalucía-Cajasur team. He set off alone on his 170k quest for victory on the roads of La Mancha, the region famed as the setting for Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Smart of Prado to ride a racing bike instead of a donkey. (He must have read the classic in grade school.)
Talk about illusions and fantasy– the race from Cordoba to Puertollano is generally a flat stage made for sprinters. Which was why nobody else even bothered to try an escape. The definition of quixotic is “behavior that is noble in an absurd way.” This is a man we can respect.
He plugged away until his lead stretched to over 12 minutes. He dreamed his dream and grandiose ideas played in his head: unseating Alejandro Valverde, stealing the gold jersey, sweeping Penelope Cruz off her feet. Taking her away to some island and plying her with rioja and fabulous hunks of manchego cheese, a speciality of the Spanish region. If only Pancho Sanchez were with him on this long road to bring cold water and energy bars.
Perhaps, in a revelry, he saw himself with a starring role in Terry Gilliam’s upcoming movie, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote which is due for release in 2011. With Johnny Depp rumored to be out of the picture, there was room for a new star.
Sadly, the sprinter teams aren’t big fans of Cervantes or Don Quixote or long breakaways. They shut poor Jesus Rosendo Prado down, catching him twenty kilometers from the finish. He spent his last moments of glory accepting the waves and venga-vengas of the spectators. A man shouted “Opa Hombre,” and just like that, the magic ride was over.
Now, a short story with the happy ending, at least for Andre Greipel of Columbia-HTC. The typical high speed ramp up 10k out of town, with Liquigas, Quick Step and Milram hoping for a miracle. The train rolls, Andre the Giant sitting back in the lounge chair, warming up the legs. No drama here, no long shots, this isn’t Mission Impossible.
Other than Gerald Ciolek of Milram, it was Andre the Giant against the B-team. Fast men Tyler Farrar, Tom Boonen and Oscar Friere left days ago — nobody but lead-out men to swat. Andre to the front, Andre sprints, Andre the Giant wins. Not as riveting, philosophical or comedic as Don Quixote but a great finish if you’re Bob Stapleton, the Columbia HTC owner.
His illusions shattered, Cervantes’ hero died sane and broken. Twisted Spoke hopes Jesus Rosendo Prado continues to dream. At least as long as he has a contract.
Burning cycling question: is recent Vuelta stage winner, Dutchman Lars Boom of Rabobank somehow genetically related to Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov?
The resemblance is uncanny. Perhaps Boom is from the Kazak part of hometown Vlijem, Netherlands or Vinokourov hails from the Dutch part of Petropavl, Kazakstan. These things happen.
“Are you experienced?”
Lars Boom, the 23 year old rider on Rabobank, answered the Jimi Hendrix question with a brilliant solo victory in today’s 167km stage from Jaen to Cordoba. Yes, he is experienced.
The young dutch rider powered away from his breakaway escapados with 22 kilometers to go and went into full time trial mode. His cadence was high and smooth and whenever the road dipped, his chin was on the handlebar. He probably was humming Hendrix’ song Spanish Castle Magic or jamming to Crosstown Traffic. Then again, maybe he prefers the sassy Belgian dance pop of Jesse de Smet.
A U23 time trial champion two years ago, Boom increased his lead of over chaser David Herrero (Xacobeo Galicia) with every time check. Winning a grand tour stage isn’t easy, winning solo even harder, and taking the victory this young, well, let’s just say team Rabobank is popping corks on the cava tonight.
Heading to the finish in Cordoba, the Dutch rider was so far ahead he not only zipped up the jersey, but got it dry-cleaned and pressed. Three shakes of his fist and the winner of the Tour of Belgium had a much bigger win for his wiki bio.
Two days later, the main peloton wandered in with all the favorites. Sorry, it was actually 25 minutes. Hard to call it a rest day on two wheels; hard to call it a race day.
Drug felon Alejandro Valverde still has the golden jersey on his back instead of prison stripes. (What a great idea for riders returning from suspensions.) Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) decided to burn some energy he’ll need later by attacking off the front. A senseless move that was brought back by every team with a rider in the top 10. Question for Samuel’s DS: what was the point? You really have to wonder what’s going on in that team car.
Sure sign that teams don’t teach handling the bubbly: yes, Boom got the cork out but his spray technique left something to be desired. This is a photo op for the sponsors! Learn the proper spray skills so you can shoot geysers on the fans. He’s only 23, there’s time, it’s not essential. But buy a case of champagne and practice this winter.
Look cycling fans: the Alejandro Valverde punching bag.
A half dozen riders took vicious shots at Valverde on the 157k stage from Granada to La Pandera. In the end, nothing worked: no knockouts, no time gains. Ivan Basso (Liquigas) was the first to hit the Spaniard, then Cadel Evans (SIlence-Lotto) went to the front and took a swing. Neither had the power or acceleration to force a big gap but the furious pace put Valverde in trouble.
When the gap opened, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) was the next to deliver a punch. Valverde hasn’t been hit this hard since the Italian Olympic Committee smacked him with the two year ban that forced him out of the Tour de France. The Golden Jersey wearer was isolated, the climbing grade reached 13% and for a kilometer the Vuelta looked up for grabs. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) saw his chance to jump onto the podium and he went hard. For the first time, Samuel Sanchez thought the golden jersey was possible and he accelerated up the road. The punches were coming fast and furious. It was “Let’s Beat Up Alejandro Day.”
Whatever your opinion of Valverde’s doping allegations, there is not questioning his talent and his mental toughness. He knew this La Pandera climb; he’d won it before and slowly but surely he pulled himself back to Basso and Evans. Vuelta done for them. Then the Caisse d’Epargne rider shower his immense strength, closing on Gesink and passing the young Rabobank rider. Sanchez and Mosquera were still ahead but Valverde found his rhythm and craved up their advantage. By the finish line, it was cycling-pugilist Valverde who’d out-punched all his rivals. It wasn’t Mohammad Ali’s Thrilla in Manilla but it was the Pandera Punch-out.
Ohh, we forgot about the Little Prince. Well, he was in on his little bike on a big, big mountain. The wolf was chasing the little prince. “Go away wolf, get away from my $5000 bike.” The winner of stage eight bolted up the mountain from his breakaway group. Nobody even bothered to try catching him. Cunego showed a high end acceleration that reminded Twisted Spoke of Ricarrdo Ricco. Not that we’re making any assumptions but nobody else has that burst in the Vuelta. (Certainly not the post-Operacion Puerto Ivan Basso.)
Sadly, it was another rough day for Tom Danielson who lost six minutes yesterday due to illness. The Garmin-Slipstream rider fought hard on the Pandera and managed to keep his 9th place in the overall competition. Danielson has shown a tenacity that will serve him well as the Vuelta continues.
Alejandro Valverde said whoever wore the Golden Jersey at the summit of La Pandera would win the Vuelta. He must feel pretty confident but we offer a cautionary tale. Fellow Spaniard Roberto Heras won the Pandera stage and the Vuelta in 2005 only be be stripped of the title for doping. With Valverde’s own case awaiting the Court of Arbitration decision, history may well repeat itself.
First his rear tire blew, then Evans blew.
“I don’t deserve this. I do everything right in the fucking sport and I don’t deserve this shit,” said Evans at the finish of stage 13 on the Sierra Nevada summit. That was the R rated Cadel Evans, not the PG-13.
Evan’s is clearly one of the unluckiest riders around. But unluckiest guy in the world? Not by a long shot. That title goes to Croatian music teacher Frane Salek. A hilarious number of near death experiences and tragic events have befallen him. Things way worse than a lousy tube puncture in Spain or riding for the always weak Silence-Lotto squad.
Just for example, his car blew up in a ball of fire — with him inside. A plane door blew off in flight and he crashed into a haystack. A train he was riding in tumbled into an icy river, killing scores of people. He is both the unluckiest and luckiest man alive because, amazingly enough, he is still alive.
So Mr. Evan, bummer that the Cycling Gods dislike you but when was the last time you were hit by a bus like Frane Salek? On the flip side, Salek also won $1,000,000 in the Croatian Lottery. All true.
Buck up, Cadel. Your luck could always turn.