|Golden Hams of the Day|
Ham-Gazers of the Day
- Alejandro Valverde and Oscar "Flying Elf" Sevilla (Kelme-Costa Blanca). Sevilla has recovered from his crash just in time: though his GC hopes are toast, he was the perfect teammate today to help launch his boy Alejandro to victory. For his part, Valverde won back the Blue Jersey for best all-around rider (he was just borrowing it from Nozal today). Valverde's ride in this Vuelta has really taken the sting out of a horrible grand tour season for the Kermits, a season which looked to be getting worse with Sevilla's crash. In addition to wearing the Blue Jersey, Valverde is now 3rd in the points competition, 4th in the mountains competition, and 5th on GC at 6' 37". The future is very bright for this new Spanish star.
- Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras and his mighty BlueBerry Boys (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). They threw everything at the ONCEs today, attacking hard and setting a ferocious pace. Though Heras was able to drop Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano, he wasn't able to take enough time to move up on GC. He still has the Sierra Nevada and the final time trial, and his team is still stocked with monsters, so Heras still has a chance to win this thing. But the "Spanish Fly's" chances are getting slim.
- Isidro "Nitro" Nozal and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski). These two limited the gains of Heras to a mere 1' 11" on the most dangerous stage of the race. The slopes of the Sierra Nevada aren't as intense, and should suit these two much more than the Pandera. Barring illness and accident, Nozal probably won the Vuelta today.
- "The Big E-Z" Erik Zabel (Telekom). Zabel snuck out to win the 3rd intermediate sprint and reclaim the Polka-Dot Jersey. "The Big E-Z" now leads Petacchi by 4 points, a margin that could be decisive come Madrid.
- Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2- Cafes Baque). Sure, he went on the attack and sewed up the King of the Mountains competition, but he just sat on Heras up much of the Pandera. If Cardenas had worked more with Heras, there's a good chance he could have won the stage. As it turned out, Valverde managed to bridge up and take Cardenas in the sprint. That's what happens when you ham-gaze too much.
- Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo). Zabel was able to take 4 points today, and Petacchi will have to try to take them back in the intermediate sprints on Stage 16. The points race is going to go down to the wire, and every last sprint will be crucial in determining the final victor. For now, Petacchi is just praying that the mountains will go away soon.
Crazy Jane's Museo Especial del Jamón:
Los Jamones Deliciosos
Two men struck me hardest today. The first was Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, and who put aside personal ambitions and unselfishly worked hard for his teammate in gold. ONCE is a great team, and they proved that again today, with Gonzalez de Galdeano showing himself more than capable of the good graces of a champion.
There was a photograph from the Tour de France, of Manolo Saiz holding Joesba Beloki after his crash, that really moved me - Beloki was in pain and in tears, and Saiz was holding the rider's head against his chest like a father might, and directing to the medics to make sure Beloki was cared for. The story of Nozal coming over the finish after his time trial and falling in tears into the arms of his director is similarly affecting, and Saiz's insistence of a few days ago that there is no conflict within the team, that "ONCE is the leader," and that all his riders will give everything for the best man has been proven everyday of this tour, and it's a real testament to the professionalism of those riders and to Saiz, that he can inspire that kind of loyalty in his riders. The ONCE men could easily be riding every man for himself as the team faces extinction at the end of this season, but they aren't and that is delicioso. Chapeau, ONCE!
The other man who gets top honors today is Oscar Sevilla, who isn't getting the "-lito" today because what I want to point out about him isn't his rosy, teenaged cheeks; it's the way he swallowed his own hopes for glory like a man, and rode as a domestique for his 23 year old teammate. Oscar Sevilla has a face that should be on dolls, yes; but it's hardly the reason he has so many supporters. Stage winner Alejandro Valverde told the press today that Sevilla worked flat out for him, and "behaved like a friend and a champion." That's nothing new when you're talking about Sevilla, though. Anyone who saw his face as he dismounted his bike after losing the Vuelta to Casero on the last day in 2001 knows that his good grace and open smile on the podium moments later was pure class. Last year, as leader of his team, he was attacked at exactly the moment when he most needed support by his teammate, and though he was angry, he chose not to bitch to the press, and finished the tour working for the team. He's had so many opportunities and justifiable excuses to be negative and sour, and he never, ever takes them. That kid is pure class, and he's charming. Two thumbs way up from this reporter.
And he is, once again, today's posterboy. Here he is signing autographs for the kids... Good man.