Vuelta a Espana 1998-2014: Defining Images

This will undoubtedly be the weakest of the three “defining images” threads, simply because my knowledge of the Vuelta is, well, poor, and because until fairly recently it was rather under reported and under appreciated by cycling fans, who given the choice of watching the majestic mountian scenery of France and Italy or the interminable identikit plains of central Spain that the Vuelta seemed furiously keen to explore in the days before ASO arrived and shook up the racing. So again, here’s the copied and pasted explanation of what’s going on, and again, many apologies for trying to sound considerably deeper then I am…

During my time doing the whole graphical top ten malarky (see elsewhere on the site), I got a bit fed up of seeing each Tour as a bunch of lines and tried to offset this by looking at images of those races. That gave me an idea to try and think up a defining image for each race, which is what you see below. They are by no means perfect – condensing a three week, 90 hour rollercoaster tale of drama and intrigue into a single frame is bound to leave plenty out and untold, but hey, I tried. Perhaps there can be a “highly commended” section later on. In the meantime, here’s what I came up with – feel free to tell me how very wrong I am!



A race defined by time trials, and by the soon to be World Time Trial champion, so here’s Abraham Olano, time trialling, in the Malliot oro.



The major talents at the 1999 Vuelta were Jan Ullrich, who won overall, Frank Vandenbroucke, the prodigiously talented Belgian who won back to back stages at the end of the race, and Roberto Heras, the youngster from Kelme who announced himself by finishing on the podium after finishing 5th and 6th in his first two editions. Unfortunately, he was somewhat crushed by Ullrich in the time trials, but the major sight of the race was of the groups grinding uphill at Ullrich’s pace as he asphyxiated the competition.



5th, 6th, 3rd and now 1st, Roberto Heras announced his future domination of the Vuelta in 2000. Unfortunately I know next to nothing about the race, so…



A rare image, as it shows overall winner Angel Casero in the golden leaders jersey – a sight never seen during the actual race. It goes to show that there’s only one day where it’s important to wear the leaders jersey, the final day. Casero pulled off a coup in the final day TT to take his career best result.



Another final day TT turnaround, and Aitor Gonzalez need not have put so much effort in – he would win by over two minutes, incredibly.



A penultimate day TT swing for a change, this case being in the favour of Roberto Heras, who having lost to Aitor Gonzalez the previous year, was happy to defeat Benjamin Nozal this time around. Note the US Postal kit – this was the “buy up your rivals” phase of Armstrong’s career, and it worked pretty well – the team would win all three grand tours in the following two years as a result.



Another easy, and record equaling win for Heras, so the symbolism of him being feted by his podium companions is apt. Praise also to Santiago Perez for his assault on the final week, even if he wasn’t doing it entirely fairly.



The 2005 Vuelta is supposedly Roberto Heras’ again, although I picked an image with the temporary winner, Denis Menchov, in, in order to convey the blurred mess this event have become, with the political wrangling certainly closer and more taut then the racing was. Carlos Sastre, a man whose career could have been so much the brighter had various dopers not been present, also features. Now there’s a what if….



After Liberty Seguros was not allowed into the Tour on the account of only having four riders left once the riders implicated in Operacion Puerto had been purged, the sponsors exited stage left, and Astana entered stage right, with Kazakh money now pumped in to support the team. And what a start for their new venture, as with Alexandre Vinokourov entering to make up for his Tour exclusion, the nation discovered they actually had two grand tour contenders, as Andrei Kashechkin came third as the Kazakh duo won five stages between them. It is thus only fitting to use an image of the Kazakh Champion being able to be gifted the win by Vino, such was their domination of the race. The Astana story was forged early.



A not particularly enthralling Vuelta, the reason for choosing this picture was the fact that podiums were rather important. the second year of the returned combination classification, winner Denis Menchov won that, the points competition, the overall and was leading the points competition until the final day. Since then, the combination competition has only not been won by the overall winner once, in 2012, which suggests it’s somewhat of a pointless experiment. The race established the Vuelta’s future idea of early summit finishes by placing one on the fourth stage, but otherwise it was fairly unremarkable, although it did provide Belgians with hope of a future Tour winner thanks to Stijn Devolder’s solitary day in the golden jersey. The fact he failed to finish the race was ignored.



2008 was essentially all about the Vuelta for Astana and Alberto Contador once the team was banned from the Tour, and this is reflected neatly in this image, with second placed rider overall Levi Leipheimer just obscured behind the Madridista. Leipheimer was never far away from Contador, but the Spaniard took the glory for himself and his team to complete his clean sweep of the grand tours and hold up a metaphorical finger to the Tour de France for not having allowed his participation.



A grand Tour Cadel Evans should have won, and this is reflected as much in choosing an image of him in the golden leaders jersey.  A puncture at a crucial moment ultimately cost him the race, which went to Alejandro Valverde, on the right, although the Spaniard managed to win no stages, as in fact did the entire top eight. The closeness of the riders is thus reflected in this picture.



The first year of the new leaders red jersey is reflected here, as is the increased viewership as ASO’s influence became felt, adding more interesting and exciting routes rather than simply trudging through Spanish backwaters. This image is from the Bola del Mundo, the penultimate stage of the race, and Ezequiel Mosquera, who was trying to gain less than a minute to overhaul Vincenzo Nibali, is just visible in the distance as Nibali chases him down.



This was to be Bradley Wiggins’ year, but he ended up being overshadowed not only by his own team mate, Chris Froome, but by Juan Jose Cobo, who pretty much surprised everyone by winning the race by 13 seconds. This picture attempts to show that, with Wiggins trying to take authority, the “pride of Britain” clad in the British champions jersey, yet with Froome and Cobo lurking behind him. The mass of riders behind the podium trio also reflects that this was the race with the closest top ten in a Grand Tour in the last 17 years, with only 5:33 between first and 10th overall.



The best Vuelta in history? It’s a bold claim, but it was full of such attacking fervour, last minute attacks and collapses and, well, just drama that it was simply exceptional. The “Three Amigos” of Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde were the protagonists, briefly matched by Chris Froome in the first week, but they played out some fascinating battles. Contador, of course, would eventually mug Rodriguez to the win, and this image shows just one of the countless attacks launched by the three, as well as showing Rodriguez in the red jersey so many wanted him to finally achieve. Alas, it was not to be.



When Chris Horner powered off to win the third stage of the Vuelta, I, and many others I assume, laughed at the shock of seeing a man who always talked himself up and rarely delivered suddenly winning something. “It’s Chris Horner!” I guffawed at the screen, “the others must be so surprised he attacked they’ve stopped in their tracks!” Oops. Horner certainly was a surprise, and the surprises continued throughout the race as he ground down Vincenzo Nibali to nab the overall win in what was a rather enthralling competition. Here, the facial expression of Nibali, who was desperately trying to pounce on Horner on the Angrilu, seems to convey that shock and surprise that the 41 year old American was riding away from him, whilst Horner just churns away that laconic, out of the saddle gear yet again.



With a line up that included Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, Fabio Aru and Samuel Sanchez, the Vuelta in 2014 arguably had the best Grand Tour line up in years, although Froome and Contador were there on the accord of having crashed out of the Tour de France. I’ve deliberately picked an image that shows off the strapping on Contador’s knee, as the saga over how badly damaged his knee was (see this page for more discussion of that) almost overhwhelmed the column inches of the rest of the race. Contador was the centre of the tale, at his home race, playing the against all odds storyline, and providing the nation with the entertainment it demanded. The fact he changed the bandages to specifically mirror the Spanish flag for the final TT tells you more than enough about the significance of his win.

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