By Andrew Hood
A glance down the world championship results sheet reconfirms the notion that the best way to assure a shot at the rainbow jersey is to race the Vuelta a España … and to finish it.
The entire top 10 of the elite men’s road race Sunday in Mendrisio competed in the Vuelta. Most of them rode all the way to Madrid, and the three that didn’t finish the Vuelta shared a total of five stage victories.
Newly crowned world champion Cadel Evans wore the leader’s jersey for one day and rode to third place overall in the three-week Spanish tour, confirmation that the Vuelta is the ideal way to hone form for the world championships.
“After the Tour, I refocused on the Vuelta and the worlds,” Evans said. “The Vuelta is a great race to get ready for the worlds. I came out of the Vuelta feeling stronger and ready for the worlds.”
All of the world’s top 10 not only competed in the Vuelta, they were competitive.
Six of the 10 either won stages or finished among the top 3 overall. The others were active in breakaways and close to victories, with bronze medalist Joaquin Rodríguez riding to seventh in the Vuelta while supporting Valverde to claim the overall.
“I wanted to make a strong Vuelta, first, to help Alejandro win, but to also push myself to get ready for the worlds,” said Rodríguez, who saved Spanish honor with bronze in the road race. “The Vuelta makes an important difference. Now, with the fitness I have, I want to win the Giro di Lombardia.”
Five more from next 10 also raced in the Vuelta, meaning the road to Ticino for 15 of the top 20 at the worlds went through Spain.
According to a review by VeloNews’ John Wilcockson, the trend started in 1995 when the Vuelta was moved from April to September, and the worlds were pushed up from August until early October (since moved back to late September).
Going into this year’s worlds, 11 rainbow jerseys have been won by men that started the Spanish grand tour since the Vuelta was moved.
With Evans’ victory, that number grows to 12.
Vuelta organizers, however, are chafing under the September date on the calendar and want to return to their previous spot in April.
They argue, with some merit, that the Vuelta is the “forgotten” grand tour and that media attention diminishes after the season build-up and peak at the Tour de France, something that’s amplified further within Spain as the soccer season clicks into gear.
Riders, meanwhile, are nearly unanimous that the Vuelta is preferable in September.
It opens the door for younger pros to get their first taste of a grand tour and allows riders to save their seasons if things went badly during the Tour, not to mention preparing for the worlds.
“The Vuelta is the best way to get strong for the worlds. It worked for me in 2005,” said Boonen, who rode the Vuelta and then won the world title in Madrid. “If they moved the Vuelta back to April, I don’t know how many riders would race it. I probably wouldn’t, because I have the spring classics, then I need a break before the Tour.”
Evans is living proof of that argument that the Vuelta in September works.
After a disastrous Tour, when he finished a distant 32nd, he refocused on the final half of the season. Not only did his third place at the Vuelta save his season, it helped pave the way to the biggest win of his career.
Here’s a quick glance at the worlds top 10 and how they fared at the Vuelta:
1st: Evans – 3rd overall, race leader’s jersey for one day
2nd: Kolobnev – 31st overall
3rd: Rodriguez – 7th overall
4th: Sánchez – 2nd overall
5th: Cancellara – DNF, two stage victories, race leader’s jersey in first week
6th: Gilbert – 54th overall
7th: Breschel – 68th overall
8th: Cunego – DNF, two stage victories
9th: Valverde – 1st overall
10th: Gerrans – DNF, stage victory
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