Hello again! Like last year, I will be giving out daily reports of the stages of the Vuelta where I size up the ham-gazers and golden hams of the day. In honor of the Spanish market chain that specializes in pigflesh, I have called these the Museo de Jamon Reports. Also, like in this year's Tour de France, Crazy Jane will contribute an especial section called Los Jamones Deliciosos that will look at the lighter side of the race through the lens of fashion and beauty. Her preview is below.
For those of you who don't know already, here's the definition I came up with for ham gazing that might clarify the slant of these reports:
ham-gaze verb: 1) in cycling, the practice of watching other riders make the race; to sit on while other riders take off down the road. 2) the act of staying in the peloton and watching the "hams" of other riders in front of you. 3) the visual aspect of going off the back when other riders increase the tempo. noun: ham-gazer. synonyms: ass-watch, rear-view. antonyms: attack, hammer.
Of course, my previews of the race must always include some sort of embarrassing predictions as to who will do well and who will falter. Laugh away…
Other GC Men to Watch
- 1. Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). The 2000 Vuelta champion came in 2nd last year with subpar support from his team. This year he brings a powerful support squad that includes "Handy" Manuel Beltran, Jose Luis "The Punisher" Rubiera, "Pretty Boy" Floyd Landis, George "LL Cool G" Hincapie, and "The Notiorious VHP" Victor Hugo Peña. These men all rode with Armstrong in this year's Tour de France and saved the Texan's hash on more than one occasion. They will be joined by the powerful flatlanders Benoit Joachim, "Mad" Max Van Heeswijk, and Michael "Take Off" Barry. Heras struggled in the Tour, but looks to be in fine form coming into the Vuelta. If he has his climbing legs on, he will once again spank his rivals when the road goes up…and with five of the six mountain stages ending with an uphill finish, AND with the final time trial an uphill time trial… well, it just looks to me like this course was made for little Roberto. The BlueBerry Boys should also smoke the opening team time trial, and give him some important time over several of his key rivals. There are a lot of men who can win this race, but Heras has got to be the surest bet in the bunch.
- 2. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski). His team is still looking for a new sponsor, and it's unclear what effect this will have on the performance of the riders. However, the fact that these men are all in the market for employment might give them a bit more kick when it counts. Gonzalez de Galdeano is an excellent time trialist and an above-average climber. He will lose time on the climbs to Heras, but if he can stay close enough he should smoke Roberto in the time trials (except for that final one). His team should challenge Postal in the opening team time trial, but it would be to Gonzalez de Galdeano's advantage if they didn't take the Gold Jersey on the first day. Why? Because his team director has a history in grand tours of burying his team to protect an early lead at the expense of winning the race at the end of the three weeks. Still, his team is very strong, and he should be right there on the podium at the finish in Madrid.
- 3. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank). His team isn't as strong as the men I've put above him, and it's unclear how he has recovered physically from his injury in the Tour de France. However, he should be highly motivated to do well in this race: he made his mark here with a 3rd place in 2001, but he has not had a strong result all season. His steady climbing and above-average time trialing should place him high on the GC, and if he pulls out something special, he might even be able to take it all.
The Points Competition
- Jose Antonio Pecharroman (Paternina-Costa de Almeria). He stunned men like Heras when he won the Volta a Catalunya earlier this season. He is a powerful climber and a dangerous time trialist, and he clearly has the talent to be a force in the sport for years to come. His 2nd division team will not be able to support him as well as the other favorites, and it's unlikely that he will be able to carry the form that won him those earlier races this far into the season. Also, the fact that he has signed on to ride for Quickstep-Davitamon for the next two years will leave his manager and teammates less-than-motivated to work for him. However, many people think that Pecharroman is the most dangerous man in the race. If he can show up with his "A" game and hold it for three weeks, he will shock the world and win his first grand tour. More likely, he will win a couple of stages and then think about next year.
- Oscar "Flying Elf" Sevilla (Kelme-Costa Blanca). Oscarlito has struggled with a horrific boil on a part of his anatomy so sensitive that most men cringe to even think about it. Most of his season has been lost to this injury, so he should be extremely motivated to at least win a stage and show his team colors. He has been able to train pretty well for the last several weeks, but he may struggle to find his form early in the race. If the talented climber can hang around long enough, he should get stronger and challenge the leaders in the last half of the race. On a different note, Kelme had the worst Tour de France of any team this year by far. Even Jean Delatour made them look bad! So they should be gritting their teeth and putting the hammer down to have a strong performance on their home turf.
- Cadel Evans (Telekom). For my money (and my fantasy teams), Evans is the darkhorse candidate to win it all. Like Leipheimer, Sevilla, and Gonzalez de Galdeano, Evans has had his season crippled by bad luck. In Evans' case, a couple of crashes and a couple of broken collar bones have put him on the trainer watching the big races on the television for most of the year. Evans had a brilliant Giro last year, and showed that he can climb and time trial with the best. He bonked while wearing the Pink Jersey on the last big mountain stage, but if Evans can show his old form and hold it for the full three weeks in the Vuelta, he could win this race.
- Angel Casero (Team Bianchi) and Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo). Casero won the Vuelta in 2001, but has done little of note since then. Gonzalez is the defending champ, but this year he rode the Giro and part of the Tour and showed little form. Both are decent climbers who excel in the time trials. If they have particularly good climbing legs, either one could win the race. However, a more likely scenario is that both will struggle on the climbs and perhaps snatch a stage in a time trial along the way.
- Alex Zuelle (Phonak Hearing Systems). The aging Swiss rider won this race in 1996 and 1997, and may have a stage win or two left in him. It's doubtful that he can threaten for the podium, but hey, you never know.
- David Millar (Cofidis). He started the Tour de France strong, and then faded due to illness. He says that he is feeling strong again, and this is the kind of race where he could actually make the podium… if it weren't for all those damned climbs. Well, if his team can manage to find a front derailleur for him, he should still light up the race a bit.
Sprinters to Watch
- 1. Erik Zabel (Telekom). He beat Petacchi by 25 points in this competition last year, and though he seems to have lost a step in the sprints, he will likely be the most consistent sprinter to finish the race. In the Tour, Zabel didn't have a leadout man as everything was geared towards the GC. However, he has Steffen Wesemann and Gian Matteo Fagnini with him in this Vuelta, and they should be able to help him capture a stage win or two and take home the big sprinters prize. And who knows, with all the climbs on the "flat" stages, he may come away with four or five stage wins while Petacchi, Cipollini, and Quaranta all slide off the back.
- 2. Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS). He didn't do much in the Vuelta last year, but I have a hunch about this guy. This year the Spanish sprinter has won some races and shown good form. He is like Zabel in that he is a sprinter who can hang over the smaller climbs, so this year's course might suit him. He might not win a stage, but he should be up in the sprints making noise all the way to Madrid.
- 3. Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). Hey, he got 5th in this competition last year… and with five stages that finish uphill, he could very well win the points jersey. It probably won't happen, but do expect to see his name near the top of this classification in Madrid.
- Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo). This year he won six Giro stages, four Tour stages, and is now looking to do some funny things to the record books in the Vuelta. A crash kept him from winning the points competition in the Giro, and he packed it in on Stage 7 of the Tour when he saw the first real mountain even though he was wearing the Green Jersey. He is fully capable of winning the Red-and-White Jersey in the Vuelta, but he has to be motivated enough to make it over all of those big climbs within the elimination time. I think he'll win a few stages at least, but I have serious doubts about whether he'll make it to Madrid. After all, he has already had a very long and absolutely incredible season. But I'd love to see him stick it out and make it up onto that final podium.
- Mario "The Human Fashion Show" Cipollini (Domina Vacanze-Elitron). Okay, so SuperMario will be there with his wild zebra-men, but the fact that everyone has had to twist his arm to make him ride doesn't bode well. I hope he's playing possum… I mean, this is the first time that Cipo, Zabel, and Petacchi will face off in a grand tour this year, and I'd love to see the fabulous one up at the front in his World Champion's Jersey putting the smack down. Alas, I fear that he will simply be on hand to remind us of how stylish a cyclist can be, and then will go home.
- Ivan "Lead Shorts" Quaranta (Saeco). Poor old Ivan is the one man who can make people like Petacchi and Cipollini look like Heras on the climbs. That lead he carries around in his shorts is great for flat, straight-up sprinting, but give him a bump in the road and it's over. If he can avoid dropping anchor on the climbs, Quaranta has a brilliant burst that few can match. He just has to make it to the finish line each day in good enough position to use it.
Crazy Jane's Museo Especial del Jamón: Los Jamones Deliciosos
Ah, si. La Vuelta.
Readers who followed my Tour de France column and noticed a distinct latin bias may well have an inkling as to just how much Crazy Jane and the panel have been breathlessly anticipating this fiesta pequeño del lycra in Spain. Ladies (and Gentlemen... God knows we don't want to forget you!) who can see una iglesia por hora solar: prepare yourselves. We are in for a Delicioso Vuelta, and are standing by to give you a blow by blow account of all the beauty, style and panache, as 198 of the best hams in the business saddle up and hit the road for three weeks of heaven on a bike for those of us at home watching the sweat glisten on TV.
¿Quién es la más delicioso?
There are some major contenders for the Delicioso Distinction in Spain this year. Many of our perennial favorites are back, including tall, professional Italian dreamboat, Alessandro Petacchi, who will almost certainly mount the podium with just the right amount of stubble, his blue eyes smiling in victory. That privilege that will be hotly contested (and I do mean, hotly) by that master of perfect facial grooming and hell, so much more, Mario Cipollini. Denied his company in Le Tour, we will at last have the enormous pleasure of enjoying Super Mario's fashion choices, the sparkling whiteness of his impressive dental presence, and hopefully, his deft handling of Spanish podium girls and champagne corks in La Vuelta. Sprinting alongside them, and certainly mixing it up in the Deliciosos category will be German National Champion Eric Zabel, well-loved by the readers of this column, and perhaps even Freddy Rodriguez, who, if we are lucky, will give us a delightful demonstration of his princely posture on the podium.
Who else do we have? Well, the Postal Service is bringing us an especially nice package! The ever-charming, and always fashionable George Hincapie will no doubt rig up his halfway-up-the-arm sweatband and the slickest glasses in the peloton to make girls on both sides of the pond swoon whenever he asserts his masterfulness on the flats or grinds up a climb. Should George find it in his legs and heart to throw us a bone and contest stage wins, he will have an army of ladies cheering him all the way home. Joining him to make Postal a Delicioso force to be reckoned with are curly-headed Asturian charmer Chechu Rubiera, Mr. Personality himself, Floyd Landis, the irresistible Roberto "Tinkerbell" Heras, and in the delightfully gigantic adam's apple depatrment, Michael Barry.
US Postal is not the only team to be fielding an impressively turned out team of blessings to the name of lycra... I know that one of my dearest readers may particularly relish the presence of one Christian Piepoli of the Saeco team, while another will save all of her lovin' for the Basque treats on Euskaltel-Euskadi. We all have our favorites, and as usual, I hope you will fill me in on who they are! My dear readers, your picks are gratefully received, and will be given their moment in the hotseat if you notify me of who they are by e-mail, at email@example.com.
I really could go on and on, but in preview, I am only going to mention one more delicioso little morsel, and that is Oscarlito Sevilla. How we have missed this boyish little creature all year long! We'd rather not consider the graphic details of why he has been absent; rather, let us rejoice that he has returned, and let us hope that there is a new, manly fire in his Latin blood that will give him the strength he needs to give a certain ex-teammate, who shall remain nameless, his just comeuppance. There's something distinctly naughty about how Oscarlito, resplendent in his rosy-cheeked teenaged charm, handles the podium girls, and we love it!
We will often be silly here at Crazy Jane's Museo Especial del Jamón, but not exclusively. The best thing about the glorious sport of cycling is the way you never know if you'll be flipping on the TV at a bleary-eyed hour to witness not only fit guys in lycra, but also, incredible feats of strength, grace, courage, determination and sportsmanship which will eclipse the beauty of a good leg. If such moments do arise, you can be certain that Crazy Jane will address them with the reverence they so richly deserve. So, without further ado...
Bring on La Vuelta!