Contador wasn't as dominant as ever, but it was still enough to win his second Vuelta. Photo: BrakeThrough Media
It's tough to be a cycling fan in this country. Case in point: Over the weekend, the Vuelta a España finished with a bang and the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships showcased cross country racing as exciting as the Olympic Games—and there was zero option for watching any of it on TV.
I groused about this omission at a bar on Sunday night where everyone was rapt by the Bronco/Steelers game, and one guy took the opportunity to inform me that cycling gets no coverage because, "They're all dopers anyway." (Nevermind those "all natural" 300-pound footballers who can move almost as fast as Usain Bolt.) Of course, there are places to watch cycling online, and if you took time to tune in over the weekend you were treated to some of the most exciting racing of the season. In case you missed it, here's the wrap:
1. By sealing up the Vuelta a España overall on Sunday, Alberto Contador picked up where he left off before his controversial doping ban—winning grand tours. The Spaniard didn't look quite as invincible as he has in the past, getting pipped at the line on almost every one of the mountaintop finishes. But with a commanding time trial performance and an audacious attack on Stage 17, he proved his versatility and determination and showed that he is, without question, the greatest grand tour rider in the world right now. Officially, that brings the 29-year-old's haul to two Vueltas, two Tour de Frances, and one Giro d'Italia, a number that is sure to rise in coming years.
2. Much like this year's Giro, the Vuelta laid out a great template for what an exciting grand tour should look like, and the organizers of this year's ho-hum Tour de France should take note. The Vuelta's drama came from fewer flat stages, plenty of transitional stages that allowed breaks a legitimate chance at surviving (and eventually crowned Contador king), a departure from the same old sprint week/climb week/sprint week formula (the Vuelta's first mountains came on Stage 3), and lots of dramatic mountaintop finishes (just watch a few of the searing attacks (1:20) and thrilling conclusions). Of course, this year's Tour was disadvantaged because of the lack of explosive climbers, but Contador should fix that quandary next year.
3. Joaquím Rodriguez has to be the world's most hapless and likeable runner-up. Having lost the Giro d'Italia in May by 16 seconds after he was overhauled by Ryder Hesjedal in the final time trial, the pint-size Spaniard looked set for some redemption after fending off Contador and the others in the biggest mountains. But he unexpectedly lost the red jersey to Saxo Bank's savvy tactics on Stage 17, and though he kept on fighting he never regained his momentum and had to settle for third. In both cases, he never complained nor made excuses, saying simply that he was beaten by better men and promising to come back next year and try again. To me, this poise in the face of losing is the mark of a true champion, and I hope that Rodriguez makes good on his promise and gets his grand tour win someday.
4. While Contador was defending his lead outside Madrid, the world's top cross-country mountain bikers were fighting for world champion honors a few countries over in Saalfelden, Austria. Swiss racer Nino Schurter racked up a decisive solo win to cap an impressive season in which he had already scored four World Cup victories and the overall World Cup title. He'll probably spend the off-season rueing the slight mistake he made in the closing 200 meters of the Olympic Games that saw him lose gold to a wily Jaroslav Kulhavy. Speaking of Kulhavy, the Slovenian gets the 2012 award for most inconsistent racer: He failed to win any World Cups (after dominating them in 2011), won the Olympic gold, and then finished a forgettable 13th this weekend.
5. American Georgia Gould, on the other hand, racked up her most consistent and successful season by finishing third in Saalfelden, a repeat of her bronze-medal ride in London. At both races, she was bested by an unstoppable Julie Bresset, of France, who said her form was so good after the Olympics that she didn't bother preparing for the World Championships. One word of advice for Bresset: Even if it felt that easy, nobody—not your fans, nor your competition—wants to hear that you were coasting. Next time at least make it sound a little bit challenging.
That's a lot of great racing we Americans missed out on, but hey, they're all dopers anyway, right? Now about those Broncos....