Last month, Bradley Wiggins indicated that he would ride the Vuelta a Espana as preparation for the World Championships. It’s hard not to think that he would also be riding it as a bit of season-salvage following a disappointing Tour de France, in which he crashed out with a broken collarbone on Stage 7.
A vengeange-fueled Vuelta might be exactly what Wiggins needs in order to bounce back from another Tour de Disappointment. The Gran Boucle can be a high-pressure proving ground, and teams can overwhelm and exhaust potential stars by declaring that they’re the next big GC thing and thrusting them into July with inadequate preparation – physical, mental, or other. Other? See Andy Schleck, who still doesn’t know how to win a Grand Tour.
Thus, after a crash-filled Tour that saw great attrition among General Classification contenders, we at Pavé look to the Vuelta to be an exciting Grand Tour as riders return to swing for the fences at the final Grand Tour of the season.
In addition to Wiggins, Jurgen Van den Broeck has confirmed that he will lead Omega Pharma Lotto at the Vuelta. With the Quick Step/Omega Pharma union announced, and Lotto venturing afield, it’s unlikely that a rider of Van den Broeck’s caliber and potential will have a hard time finding a team for 2012. However, a strong Vuelta performance could go great lengths in determining what type of support he could have to rely on throughout 2012 at his new home.
All of RadioShack should be looking for a good showing, considering the disappointment from their Tour de France, in which they saw their squad whittled down again and again with withdrawals from their GC riders Jani Brajkovic, Chris Horner, and Andreas Kloden, with poor luck (or ability) hampering, erm, their remaining GC riders Levi Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovych. To the Vuelta, they’re bringing Tiago Machado to ride his second Grand Tour; while he might be more adept at shorter stage races, the experience will no doubt be valuable – and furthermore, RadioShack’s future is much more in his hands, and those of Janez Brajkovic, than in those of their geriatric GC hopefuls. Brajkovic intends to ride the Vuelta, and used the Tour of Utah as preparation. Could RadioShack’s younger contingent accomplish what their older crew couldn’t?
We took our jabs at Katusha more than once during the Tour – not undeserved, we feel, after their all-Russian squad swiftly and capably took to the tarmac to make everybody forget that there were even any Russians riding the race. They’re seeing the light and bringing Joaquim Rodriguez to the Vuelta – he’s on nice form with stage wins in the Vuelta a Burgos and would presumably like to complete his season with a fine Grand Tour showing. Last year, Rodriguez took 4th in the Vuelta, even wearing the leader’s jersey for a short spell before imploding, doing poorly in a late individual time trial, losing time, and being unable to climb with Vincenzo Nibali and Ezekiel Mosquera. Without a Tour in his legs, can this punchy little rider last until the end?
The Tour’s topsy-turvy edition this year just might mean that the Vuelta a Espana will be additionally exciting. In addition to what’s shaping up to be a fresh General Classification battle, sprinters and attackers will use the Vuelta to prepare for a flattish World Championships in Denmark – and we’re excited.