When the decision to move the Vuelta a Espaņa to late August/ early September was made by the UCI in the mid 90's, people thought the race was doomed. From riders, to director sportifs, the media, sponsors and fans gave the idea two thumbs down, without even giving it a chance to
bloom or sink.
But one thing the Spanish race has that the other two "grandes" don't have (the Giro may have a little more than the tour) is flavor. The organizers of the Vuelta made sure the UCI was not going to change the World Championships at the end of the year (October), without changing the date to their race back to the spring, and this gave the Iberian race a sudden coveted spot in the racing calendar.
Perfectly placed, the race became the perfect preparation for the Worlds. Abraham Olano won the 1996 Worlds in Duitama, Colombia after racing his home tour. Jan Ullrich saved his season by winning the race a few years ago and "Tricky Dickie" Virenque used the race to fine tune his form on his way to winning Paris-Tours, after his long suspension.
The organizers are no strangers to drastic changes or ideas. The thought circulated this summer about the race taking two pelotons within the race. A true trailblazing idea, although we'll have to wait until, perhaps next year, to see if this new "receta espaņola" will add more spice to a race which will be "muy caliente" starting a week from Saturday.
True to their antics, the organizers have decided to start this year's race with a team time trial. Usually reserved towards the end of the first week at the Tour, the Vuelta will have the 23 teams, in full time trial paraphernalia at the start line, giving the fans a true spectacle.
The cool thing about having a team time trial as the first stage, is that the winning team will have all nine riders (if the squad finishes together) in the top 10 from day one. But more things that can impact the final overall of the race can go wrong in this event. A crash, like USPS suffered at last year's Tour TTT can take one or several riders out of contention. A flat tire or mechanical problem can break the formation and make a main contender, drop down the Clasificacion General. Still, with all the cons, a very good and refreshing idea coming from the peninsula.
Y el ganador es?
No doubt all eyes will be placed on ONCE. Regarded as the best team in this discipline, the yellow and black outfit will surely be the ones to beat. Expect Fassa Bortolo, Coast, Phonak Hearing, Telekom and USPS to put up a fight, but if ONCE is running in all cylinders, the lottery for the blind backed squad should take away the first "camiseta de lider".
Mis Favoritos para la contrareloj por equipos son:
1. ONCE (SPA)
2. Phonak (SWI)
3. Coast (GER)
4. Fassa Bortolo (ITA)
5. USPS (USA)
6. Telekom (GER)
7. i.Banesto (SPA)
Ride fast, ride hard