Roberto Heras. Alex Zulle. Laurent Jalabert. Tony Rominger. Sean Kelly. Freddy Maertens. Raymond Poulidor. Perhaps the greastest riders in cycling history to attempt, but never acheieve, victory in the Tour de France. What else do they all have in common? Victory in the Vuelta a Espana.
The youngest of the grand tours, la Vuelta has bounced around the calendar, from April to May to June, before finally settling in September in 1990. In it’s early days, it was an on-again, off-again competition, existing only when organizers could pull themselves away from civil and world wars long enough to get the funding together. It is, without question, a dreamer’s race, and it’s most definately fitting then, that this year’s edition commemorates the 400th anneversary of Don Quixote, the ultimate daydreamer.
This year’s startlist contains no shortage of dreamers. Floyd Landis, who gave up fame and fortune at Lance Armstrong’s side to nearly miss a ProTour berth on the Phonak sqaud; Aitor Gonzales, whose career vacillates wildly between incomprable brilliance and deadening mediocrity; and Izidro Nozal, who came out of nowhere to claim the jersey de oro in 2003, before being shattered just as shockingly by his now-teammate Heras in the final uphill TT.
The sprinters on hand, however, are no mean group of wannabes. Erik Zabel returns to competition, with, for perhaps the first time ever, an entire team behind him. TdF maillot vert winner Thor Hushovd will toe the line as well, set to go elbow-to-elbow against Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen, and reigning sprint maestro Alessandro Petacchi. Though most of these names will drop out halfway through, the first week on the wandering plains of La Mancha should promise plenty of action in the final kilometers.
Yes, the 2005 Vuelta looks to be one for the ages. And it used to be, back in 2003, you could watch it on this pathetic, fly-by-night cable channel whose name escapes me. Now, if you don’t have a satellite network that lets you buy Unipublic and you’re fluent in Spanish, thanks to OLN (yes, that’s what that network was called), you are SOL.