Andrew Hood over at Velonews did a nice piece today explaining why the Vuelta a Espana rocks.
It’s the most entertaining, thrilling and unpredictable grand tour on the calendar. Compared to the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, the Vuelta is the loco little brother who liked playing with hot sauce and gun powder.
We like to call it the Helga Skelta Vuelta. The Vuelta is Red Bull mixed with sangria and that makes everybody a little crazy. It’s not a controlled substance so the race is always wide open, subject to surprise and improvisation.
Basically, that vibe was taken from the Giro d’Italia when wild man impresario Angelo Zomegnan was art-directing the show. For seven years running, from 2004 to 2011, he turned the Giro into his vision of a grand tour. He liked to say that “we put ‘art’ into the stages every day. He had a vision for the Giro: “I want the Giro to be the most sophisticated, the most glamorous.” His idea of art included as many mountain climbs as he could cram into three weeks — until the riders starting complaining. Not that Crazy Z really cared — his response was “They can stay at home if they prefer.”
However, Zomegnan and his insistence on spectacle, drama and art must have influenced the people who run the Vuelta a Espana. For example, read this quote from Vuelta director Javier Guillén: “We made a big bet on the spectacle, and it’s paid off for us. We search out the ‘epic’ moments — these explosive climbs, these impossible ramps — so that the race comes down to an honest, brutal rider-to-rider battle.”
Those are ideas right out of the Zomegnan playbook: spectacle, epic, explosive and brutal. No surprise that there are more than a few riders that said this year’s Vuelta was harder than the Tour de France. Guillén likes those 10 summit finishes and 25% ramps. Sprinters won’t even show up to the the Spanish grand tour anymore. “We try to make every stage count. We try to make every day a mini-movie,” said Guillén, again channeling Zomegnan.
Eventually, Zomegnan’s ego and grandiosity got the better of him and he lost his circa hat and whip. There was no question, however, that the Italian knew that cycling needed to change with the times. He wanted Giro starts all over the globe.” We have to re-model cycling events to fit other cultures. They have to be made more spectacular, with finishes around 6pm, night-time racing, inner city circuits,” said Zomegnan.
You had to hand it to Zomegnan — he knew what and who he wanted in his show. When the Giro started in the Netherlands, a race official there suggested switching out the sexy podium girls for men or drag queens, Zomegnan went nuts.
Well, Crazy Z is gone but his ideas live on. What was once the Giro d’Italia is now the Vuelta a Espana.