Over the next three weeks, I will be giving daily awards for the biggest ham-gazers and the golden hams of each stage of the Vuelta a Espaņa. I began these awards earlier this year during the Tour de France (for an explanation of the awards and a definition of ham-gazing, click here). During the Tour de France, I gave the awards a French name: the Jambon Awards. For the Vuelta a Espaņa, I have given the awards an appropriately Spanish name: the Museo de Jamon Awards. What is the Museo de Jamon? It is the name of a chain of very well-known, pigflesh-centered stores in Spain; literally translated, the name means "Museum of Ham." The Museo de Jamon stores are stuffed with wall to wall and row after row of hams, much like the peloton in a Grand Tour. As you can see from these pics of the inside of a Museo de Jamon store in Madrid, here we have the peloton all strung out, and here we have the bunch all back together...gruppo compatto, if you will. Thus, given the preponderance of ham at these Spanish stores, I have titled my Vuelta awards in their honor.
Ham-Gazers of the Day:
Golden Hams of the Day:
- Index-Alexia. The team of Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli came in way behind everyone else. He now sits in 189th place, 2' 38" behind leader Joseba Beloki (Once). This is not exactly a disaster, as Savoldelli came to the race with no real ambitions of a high GC placing. Now he and his teammates will be free to attack without fear of being marked too closely, thus increasing their chances of a stage win. And there are two mountain stages with moderate climbs and a descent to the finish that will suit the "Blue Falcon" perfectly. Also, sprinter Ivan Quaranta will have a good chance for some high placings on the flatter stages with a sprint finish. While today wasn't their day, the race is far from over for the Index-Alexia boys.
- Once-Eroski. Yet again, the Spanish fly-boys have proven their superiority in the team drag-race. Joseba Beloki is in the Gold Jersey, and will now have a chance to make up for his emotional crack-up while wearing Gold in last year's Vuelta. By jumping right back on the horse, as it were, Beloki can now regain his confidence and adjust to the spotlight in his national tour, and become comfortable with the mantle of leadership.
- U.S. Postal Service. They are right where they want to be. Just like in the Tour, they have lost little time to Once and have put their rivals in the position of riding at the front of the race. They scorched the last half of the course to leapfrog over Kelme today, and will now sit on while Once burns some of their matches before the mountains. Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera put the hurt on Beloki and everyone else in the mountains of the Tour. If they have carried that form over to the Vuelta, then Once would be well advised to let a sprinter take the Gold tomorrow.
- Erik Zabel, Team Telekom. Deutschland's fastman was best of the sprinters today, placing only 18" behind Beloki on the stage. If he picks up some of the time bonuses on offer in Stages 2 and 3, he could take over Gold and hold it until the mountains. He has a 5" lead on Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), 24" on Oscar Freire (Mapei-Quick Step), 25" on Mario Cipollini (Acqua e Sapone), and 29" on Sven Teutenberg (Phonak). Over the next few days, look for these guys to throw everything they've got at one another.