I try to care about the Vuelta. At this point in the season, it seems like even the potential podium finishers don’t care about the Vuelta. Outside of stadium sports, the Fascists have never done too well with sport, despite their best intentions. Short shorts, throwing things, jumping and running while seated hordes of thousands provide a soundtrack demands a certain aesthetic and cultural reality. Oklahoma high school football games, the 1936 Berlin Olympics are proof that all sorts of rabid right wingers into God and Country and diffusion of the self into the mindless glob of the mass can pull this kind of shit off. They don’t do too well with bike races. Naturally, the Italians are excluded because in the end they sucked worse at Fascism, and for Italians, individuals of the caliber of Coppi and Bartali are always going to transcend everything else even when everything else is a world war, near famine and a Duce who insists on skiing without a shirt. But pre-Borbon restoration Spain was different. Even when Mr. Merckx himself set out to compete in Franco’s bike race, the rest of the world just sort of saw it as strange and a bit depraved. Headlines read, “Spain shuts off the water supply to Gibraltar again. Eddy Merckx samples wine out of cardboard box.” Ocana had bronchitis for Christ’s sakes and any scene of the peloton passing in front of statues featuring generals in sunglasses assumed its own level of backwater absurdity.
The timing of the Vuelta has changed over the years, and certainly the state of Spanish politics has changed even more. There are rumors that three elderly women living in Hoyo de Pinares still occasionally vote for the Falange party in county elections, but they are unsubstantiated. Today Spain is a liberal democracy, with an economy that rivals Italy’s and Britain’s and is the poster child for how the EU can turn around a nation through massive redistribution of German money to sunnier, poorer places. I like Spain and pedaling a bike in February around Tenerife until ones 6’3 frame could legally box as a welter weight is as close to the liberal Christian view of Eternal Paradise as I could imagine.
Nonetheless, The Vuelta is not the Giro, it’s not the Tour, it’s not even Lombardy or Flanders for most cycling aficionados. It’s a weird race – a warm up for a meaningless criterium often called the World Championships or a way for a rider to atone for a lackluster season, career or blood level. The organizers have always hinted at bizarre changes in format to make the race more exciting. They’ve moved it around on the calendar to try to entice the best to come and contest. They’ve incorporated stupid roads in successful efforts to make privileged Nancy-boys like David Millar throw temper tantrums and cry; but all for naught. The Vuelta generally sucks. It’s a boring race for boring riders. It’s suited to Denis Menchov, not Lance Armstrong. Gerald Ciolek, not Mark Cavendish.
So wither the Vuelta? No. The Vuelta has its place and it should remove itself from the UCI and oversee itself. Invite exciting, South American teams to compete. Remove the more draconian drug testing, or at least roll it back to Superweek levels. It is a modest proposal, but I want every edition of the Tour of Spain to be the 1999 edition. I want Mavic neutral support cars chirping tires and spinning out in a reckless attempt to keep up with the Peleton while it goes up a fucking mountain. I want a Rock Racing rider playing the roll of a returning Jan Ulrich. I want to see Vino and Rasmussen do their best imitation of VDB shooting the entire world down on stage 16. I want to see a megalomaniac with self esteem issues, willing to trade his contract for a night with an Italian Super model, arrive “all fucked out” to the start of the 19th stage, and kill it again. In short, I want ultimate bike racing. Too much to ask? Watch this youtube video and ask yourself, are you not entertained?
*Originally published 9/09/2009