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By Andrew Hood
Vuelta a España director Victor Cordero called the 63rd edition of the Spanish tour the “best in years.”
“We are very satisfied to see Contador likely to win and to see the quality of racing during this Vuelta,” Cordero told VeloNews on Saturday evening. “It’s the best Vuelta in years and we hope to build on this momentum in the coming years.”
Cordero also cited the record number of leader’s jerseys at eight, high-profile victories by Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen as well as the showdown between Contador and Carlos Sastre as highlights during the three-week Vuelta, set to conclude Sunday in Madrid.
“We’ve had winners on a high international level. Bettini is a crack in every sense of the word while we’ve had young riders like Van Avermaet really lift their game,” Cordero said. “The reappearance of the French and Italian riders has really been great for the Vuelta. It’s not just a Spanish race as many like to say.”
Cordero expressed his disappointment about poor weather on the first mountain stage in Andorra, but said Contador’s completion of the grand tour triple crown has helped fuel new interest in the Vuelta.
Average viewership of the Vuelta is up more than 35 percent this year, Cordero said, saying that daily numbers of TV viewers from grew from 800,000 per stage in 2007 to more than 1 million this year.
“This is key to recuperate the trust and confidence of the fans,” he said. “We had Alberto win the Giro, which was broadcast live in Spain for the first time in years. Then the victory of Carlos kept the fire of interest alive and it kept right on going into the Vuelta.”
Vuelta wants April again
Cordero said that the purchase of 49 percent of the Vuelta by Tour de France owners ASO will help the business side of the Spanish tour, but won’t result in any visible changes for fans.
“The French are going to help us look for international sponsors and help us emit TV images worldwide, something that’s already happening with this Vuelta,” Cordero said. “In terms of organization or how the race is run, nothing is expected to change.”
Cordero said he agrees that the Vuelta could be shortened, but only by two or three days, and that a return of the Vuelta to the spring could be in the works.
In 1995, the Vuelta was moved from April to September in an attempt to lengthen the racing season and give the Spanish tour more heft in the international calendar.
Initially, the move seemed to work and the Vuelta enjoyed increased international participation, but many now say the season is too long and that the Vuelta was better off as a preparation race ahead of the Tour.
“The Vuelta will never be two weeks long because it’s a race of resistance, but a race of resistance could be 18 or 19 days, even though this won’t happen before 2011 because the international calendars are already decided through 2010,” he said. “Changes to the calendar will have to see a return of the Vuelta to April. It’s something that we’re already talking about with the Giro and Tour to have the three grand tours between April and July. Riders won’t be able to make three grand tours in one year, but still at least two of them.”
Cordero also said he will not reconsider his decision to retire at the end of this year, but he was quick to add, “never say never.”