Foreword by Sean Kelly viii
The puertos of the Vuelta x
Prologue 13
1935–1936 The Vuelta of the Republic 18
1941–1942 The Negro with the Blue Eyes 31
1945–1950 The Years of Hunger 41
1955–1958 Two Roosters in the Farmyard 58
1959–1961 ‘The Race is over. May God forgive it!’ 85
1962–1965 Stars and Water-carriers 98
1966–1969 Waiting for a Champion 120
1970–1975 Cycles of Pain 137
1976–1982 The Transition 173
1983 A Vintage Year 203
1984–1989 Becoming European . 215
1990–1994 Swiss on a Roll 243
1995–1997 Last Chance Saloon 265
1998–2001 The Angliru - the Climbers’ Revenge 284
2002–2004 ‘The crazy rhythm of the Spanish.’ 304
2005–2008 In the Shadow of Operación Puerto 325
2009–2013 Higher, Steeper, Tougher 356

Appendix I: La Vuelta, 1935-2013: Facts and Figures 391
Appendix II A Commentator’s View by David Harmon 399
Bibliography 401
Index of Names 403

Viva la Vuelta!
Like a sculptor seeking perfection, Javier Guillén continued
shaping and polishing his route. Striving towards the ideal Vuelta
he held in his mind’s eye, in 2012 his vision focused in depth on
lhe mounlains of norlhern S¡ain, conhrming lhe reincor¡oralion
of lhe ßasque Counlry. There vere 36 cIassihed cIimbs in lolaI,
vilh seven mounlain-lo¡ and lhree slee¡ hiII-lo¡ hnishes, some
¡reviousIy unfealured. The hnish in Madrid vouId be lhe mosl
southerly point.
The counlry vas submerged in an ever-vorsening economic
crisis, with unemployment sky-high, faith in institutions
¡rogressiveIy ballered by endIess corru¡lion cases, and o¡¡osilion
to austerity measures resulting in massive popular demonstrations
in the streets and squares of Spain’s major cities. In this atmosphere
of gloom, insecurity, and pessimism, the Vuelta was Guillén’s gift
lo lhe ¡ubIic: 'The slages viII be shorl and ex¡Iosive, because
that’s what spectators want,’ he announced at the presentation. It
vas aIso a gifl lo lhe cIimbers, vho, hfleen years afler lhe inlerIude
of MigueI Indurúin's dominion, remained lhe essence of S¡anish
cycIing. 'I Iike il,' Iurilo re¡ealed over and over, vhen lhe parcours
vas unveiIed in Iam¡Iona, lhe slarl lovn, and Indurúin's home
lovn. The hve-lime Tour cham¡ion, vho'd never von a VueIla,
conceded he wouldn’t have stood a chance with this one either.
The roule exciled lhe cycIing fans, bul vhal lhriIIed lhem
even more vas lhe ¡resence of AIberlo Conlador, relurning lo
com¡elilion afler lhe CIanbuleroI sus¡ension, vhich had slri¡¡ed
him of his 2O1O Tour and 2O11 Giro lilIes. He'd herceIy foughl lhe
case, and was now desperate to purge the unhappy period from
his memory in lhe besl vay he knev: immersing himseIf in racing.
Lveryone knev lhal vouId mean incessanl allacking, bul no one
ex¡ecled lhe caIibre of lhe resislance Conlador vouId hnd.
As early as stage three – 155 kilometres through the Basque hills
lo hnish on lhe AIlo de Arrale ÷ Conlador soughl lo free himseIf
from his pursuers. It was on these slopes in 1974 that another
indomilabIe S¡anish cIimber, }osó ManueI Iuenle, bIood-soaked
from an earIier crash, had defended his Iead so heroicaIIy. Six limes
Conlador acceIeraled, lesling himseIf and lhe bunch. He effecliveIy
idenlihed his rivaIs, as each lime Iurilo Rodríguez, VaIverde and
Iroome ¡uIIed him back.
By the time the gradient eased at the top the quartet were clear
of lhe resl and vere hghling for lhe slage. Iurilo |um¡ed, and
would have won the sprint had he not stopped pedalling for a
¡remalure ceIebralion and been edged oul by VaIverde. IuIIing on
lhe red |ersey, lhe Murciano aIso asserled himseIf as Movislar's soIe
Ieader, vilh nev-signing Cobo quielIy reverling lo a gregario role.
InslaIIed al lhe lo¡ of lhe Ieader board (logelher vilh VaIderde's
leam-male, ßeñal Inlxausli, lem¡orariIy in second ¡Iace courlesy
of Movislar's leam lime-lriaI vin in Iam¡Iona), lhese four riders
vouId be lhe hearl and souI of lhe race, sliII lhere 18 slages Ialer
in Madrid.
Iurilo's irrilalion vilh himseIf vas ameIioraled lhe nexl
day vhen he inheriled lhe red |ersey, aIbeil in conlroversiaI
circumslances. As lhe ¡eIolon a¡¡roached lhe hnaI hrsl-calegory
cIimb lo lhe VaIdezcaray ski slalion in La Rio|a, ballered by slrong
crosswinds, Valverde was among the victims of a crash. Claiming
ignorance of what had happened, Team Sky continued to drive
hard on the front, and the race leader was left to work his way
back as besl he couId lhrough lhe bollom echeIons.
Òn lhe cIimb Conlador's allacking vas sIighlIy more measured
lhan lhe day before, bul no more successfuI al ¡ulling lime and
dislance inlo eilher Iroome or Iurilo Rodríguez, vhiIe VaIverde
lost 55 seconds to this trio and dropped to eighth place. It would
nol be unliI slage 8 lhal he regained his ¡osilion among lhe lo¡
four overall.
As lhe race doubIed back lhrough Aragón lovards lhe
Iyrenees, slage 6 hnished on lhe Iuerle deI Ra¡ilún, an oId forl
overIooking lhe lovn of }aca, reached by a slee¡ zigzagging cIimb
recommended lo lhe organizers by ¡rofessionaI cycIisls vho lrain
in lhe area. Iroome made a slrong bid for lhe slage. In }uIy Sky had
dominaled lhe Tour de Irance, cuIminaling in a hisloric vin for
ßradIey Wiggins. Some beIieved, ¡erha¡s himseIf incIuded, lhal
Iroome had been lhe slronger, ke¡l in Iine onIy by leam disci¡Iine.
The Vuelta was his chance to shine as the unchallenged team leader,
and al lhe fool of lhe cIimb he had Sky's CoIumbian cIimbers sel
a diaboIicaI ¡ace. ßul al lhe Iasl momenl Iroome vas oulvilled
by Iurilo, vho cIaimed lhe hrsl of lhree evenluaI slage viclories.
Somevhal sur¡risingIy, Conlador Iosl 18 seconds, bIaming cram¡
and dehydration.
Viva la Vuelta!
Anolher noveI cIimb came lvo days Ialer in Andorra, lhe
Collada de la Gallina, 7.5 kilometres long, the gradient averaging
al around 8/, bul ¡ainfuIIy irreguIar, vilh ram¡s of u¡ lo 18/.
Here Conlador ado¡led differenl laclics, cIoseIy foIIoving Iroome,
and refusing to take a turn on the front, even when the Anglo-
Kenyan's acceIeralion brießy carried lhem cIear. Il vas onIy in lhe
hnaI kiIomelre, vhen lhe quarlel had regrou¡ed, lhal Conlador
made a move. Wilh a visibIy lilanic efforl il seemed he'd forged
a decisive ga¡, onIy lo be overhauIed, ¡raclicaIIy on lhe Iine, by a
hard-driving VaIverde, foIIoved by Iurilo Rodríguez.
Movislar's Ieader, laking his second slage-vin of lhe race,
vas exhibiling lhe ex¡Iosive riding of his youlh, ralher lhan lhe
conservative approach that had won him the 2009 Vuelta. The
GeneraI CIassihcalion nov read: hrsl Rodríguez, Iroome al 33¨,
Conlador al 4O¨' and VaIverde al 5O¨. AII four had reveaIed lheir
inlense ambilion, and none had shovn lhemseIves dominanl,
each one losing and gaining, depending on the day. The favourite
Conlador had nol Iooked es¡eciaIIy comforlabIe. 'He's loo edgy,'
reßecled VaIverde. 'He allacks vhere he shouIdn'l.'
AIlhough sliII second overaII, Iroome's ceding of 15 seconds
in lhe hnaI kiIomelre of lhe CoIIada de Ia GaIIina hinled al faligue
accumulating from his efforts in the Tour and Olympics. The rest
day vas sliII one slage avay, bul il vas aImosl aII dovnhiII inlo
ßarceIona, vhere Iurilo look second ¡Iace on Monl|uic behind
IhiIi¡¡e GiIberl, shoving off lhe red |ersey lo aII his CalaIan
su¡¡orlers. ßul his efforls vere nol |usl a maller of ¡ride: 'I need
every bonus second I can gel,' he insisled.
Looming ahead vas lhe lime lriaI, lhe bane of any sIighlIy buiIl
cIimber. Disaslrous rides againsl lhe cIock had cosl Iurilo dearIy:
as well as the leadership of the last two Vueltas, he’d lost the 2012
Giro on lhe hnaI day. Yel lhis year, in kee¡ing vilh lhe organiser's
zesl for aII lhings hiIIy, even lhe 4O-kiIomelre lime lriaI, hnishing
in Ionledvedra, had been s¡iced u¡ vilh a lhird-calegory cIimb in
lhe middIe. And Iurilo look his o¡¡orlunily: sevenlh on lhe day
behind lhe Svede Iredrik Kessiakoff, he Iosl |usl 59¨ lo second-
¡Iaced Conlador, 39¨ lo Iroome and 8¨ lo VaIverde. HardIy daring
lo beIieve lhe oulcome, Kalusha's Ieader found he'd relained lhe
red |ersey from Conlador by a soIilary second.
So began a goIden second veek for Iurilo, and for lhe
s¡eclalors. Slage 12 hnished on a GaIician hiII lo¡, LI Mirador de
Lzaro, a cIimb Iess lhan lvo kiIomelres Iong, vilh excrucialing
slrelches of u¡ lo 29/, and an average gradienl of over 14/. Il vas
laiIor-made for his ex¡Iosive u¡hiII s¡rinl and he von by eighl
seconds. Two days later he repeated the performance on the very
differenl lerrain of lhe 1O-kiIomelre Iuerlo de Ancares. His rivaIs,
¡arlicuIarIy Conlador, allacked re¡ealedIy bul vilhoul resuIl. Ior
the spectators, even when the principals had a day off the racing
lhe racing vas enlhraIIing. In belveen Iurilo's lvo slage vins,
lhe ßrilish rider Sleve Cummings von Slage 13 inlo IerroI vilh
a stunning solo attack from a small group of strong rouleurs four
kiIomelres from lhe hnish.
Òn slage 15 lo lhe Lagos de Covadonga, Conlador began lo
acquire an aura of frustration and impotence, as his persistent
acceIeralions faiIed lo ¡ul dislance inlo lhe red |ersey. Iroome vas
lhe onIy casuaIly lhal day, il had become a lhree-man race.
Continuing in Asturias, stage 16 was widely regarded as the
etapa reina. Soflened u¡ by lvo hrsl-calegory cIimbs (San Lorenzo
and Coberloria), lhe riders vouId lhen face a nev agonizingIy
slee¡ chaIIenge, lhe Cuilu Negru (¨ßIack Crag¨ in Aslurian).
The Iuerlo de Ia|ares in lhe Canlabrian CordiIIera has fealured
regularly in the Vuelta throughout its history. This year the cyclists
vere being laken even higher aIong a side road, freshIy as¡haIled
for the occasion, past the tiny ski station and over a cattle grid for
an addilionaI lhree kiIomelres. In many vays lhe cIimb is simiIar
lo lhe ßoIa deI Mundo: lhe same Ienglh, equaIIy narrov and vilh
gradienls |usl as slee¡ and irreguIar. Tvo brave men, Thomas De
Gendl and Dario CalaIdo, esca¡ed lhe allenlions of lhe ¡eIolon
earIy in lhe slage, and, coo¡eraling veII over lhe earIier cIimbs,
they reached the start of Cuitu Negru with some eight minutes
in hand. They vouId need mosl of lhal advanlage, al lhe lo¡,
riding as if in slow motion, at little more than walking speed, the
exhausled CalaIdo dragged himseIf over lhe Iine |usl ahead of lhe
Iurlher dovn lhe mounlain Conlador had o¡led for a nev
sel of laclics, ¡Iacing his Saxo ßank leam on lhe fronl lo sel a
bIislering ¡ace in lhe Iasl ¡arl of lhe slage in lhe ho¡e of veakening
Kalusha's Ieader. He lhen allacked earIy, six kiIomelres oul. WhiIe
this distanced Valverde, the red jersey was impervious to the
move. The scene vouId be re¡ealed aIong lhe cIimb: Conlador
Viva la Vuelta!
acceIeraling, oflen on lhe 24/ seclions, ho¡ing lo crack Iurilo
with his sudden changes in rhythm, the race leader staying on his
vheeI and VaIverde lem¡orariIy dro¡¡ing back, onIy lo re|oin lhe
¡air vhen lhe ¡ace eased. In lhe Iasl 2OO melres Iurilo nol onIy
resisled an agonized hnaI lhrusl from Conlador, bul came round
him, narroved lhe road lo inhibil a counler-allack and crossed lhe
Iine lvo seconds ahead of his veary chaIIenger, vilh four bonus
seconds lo bool.
Nov in lhe second resl day, Iurilo's advanlage over Conlador
had grovn lo 28 seconds. VaIverde vas al 2'÷O4¨ and Iroome,
oul of lhe running bul secure in fourlh ¡Iace al 4'÷52¨. The race
Ieader's advanlage vas sIim, bul he feIl lhe vorsl vas over, and
for lhe hrsl lime dared lo imagine himseIf vearing lhe red |ersey
in Madrid. The hnaI obslacIe vouId be lhe ßoIa deI Mundo on lhe
¡enuIlimale slage, bul Iurilo had aIready shovn he couId more
lhan hoId his ovn on lhe mosl lorlurous of cIimbs. His racing
vision vas shar¡ and cIear, and he knev exaclIy vhen lo unIeash
his ex¡Iosive cIimbing skiIIs lo overlake Conlador, vho vas cIearIy
paying the price for so much time out of competition. Such was
Iurilo's seIf-conhdence lhal he revarded himseIf vilh a vhoIe day
reIaxing in bed, unavare of lhe imminenl danger.
Ior his rivaI hadn'l given u¡. Conlador des¡eraleIy vanled
that red jersey for himself. Second place meant nothing to him and
he was prepared to take risks. As far as he was concerned, he had
nothing to lose.
The slage afler lhe resl day vas su¡¡osed lo be a genlIe relurn
lo business. Il had a summil hnish on Iuenle Dó in lhe shadov
of lhe Iicos de Luro¡a, bul lhis second-calegory cIimb is far from
slee¡, averaging Iess lhan 4/. Yel vilh 5O kiIomelres sliII lo go,
on anolher second calegory cIimb, Garmin began Iifling lhe ¡ace,
since lhey hadn'l managed lo ¡Iace a rider in lhe break. Conlador
took this as a cue, and attacked.
Al lhe lo¡ he'd o¡ened an 18-second ga¡ on Iurilo, vho vas
uncerlain hov lo reacl, and |oined forces vilh his Saxo-ßank
advance guard among lhe break. Gaining lime on lhe descenl, by
lhe bollom Conlador vas lhe VueIla's virluaI Ieader. In lhe vaIIey
his Iieulenanl Sergio IauIinho sel a searing ¡ace, lo be re¡Iaced
by Aslana's IaoIo TiraIongo. A year before Conlador had gifled
his IlaIian ex-leam male a slage in lhe Giro, il vas nov ¡ayback
lime. Conlador's Iead over Iurilo, vho had VaIverde silling on his
vheeI, had exlended lo more lhan lvo minules.
Al 13 kiIomelres from lhe summil TiraIongo dro¡¡ed avay (nol
before he'd received a bidon from lhe Saxo ßank leam car) and
Conlador vas hnaIIy oul on his ovn. ßul lhe drama vas nol over:
almost simultaneously Valverde accelerated past the now isolated
red jersey and set off in pursuit. Scything through the remnants of
lhe break, he'd cIosed lhe ga¡ lo 3O seconds vilh lvo kiIomelres Iefl.
Going under lhe one kiIomelre banner il vas dovn lo 15 seconds,
bul Conlador, conlinuaIIy gIancing back over his shouIder, had |usl
enough Iefl lo lake lhe slage by six seconds. A resigned Rodríguez
trailed in two and a half minutes later, relegated to third overall,
and headed to the hotel for a sleepless night.
When Contador crossed the line there were none of his usual
pistolero lhealrics. Inslead he Iel oul an uninleIIigibIe roar, vhich
seemed lo echo around lhe im¡osing ¡reci¡ices of lhe Iicos de
Europa. With this win Spain’s star rider had shed a huge weight
of fruslralion and billerness, and ¡ul lhe ¡asl behind him.
Des¡ile an aIready gIillering ¡aImares, for him lhis red |ersey
was priceless.
The generaI cIassihcalion vouId nol be changed by lhe ßoIa
deI Mundo, vhere once again massive crovds Iined lhe road, lhis
lime lo vilness lhe viclory of veleran Menchov. Al lhe summil lhe
overaII ga¡s had been com¡ressed, bul Conlador sliII had 1'÷37¨
on VaIverde, vho in lurn had 21¨ on Iurilo. Iroome, loo, vas sliII
in fourlh ¡Iace, bul nov al a dislanl len minules. The mounlains
cIassihcalion had been vra¡¡ed u¡ by lhe AuslraIian Simon
CIarke, vho'd Ied over lhe hrsl lhree cIimbs of lhe day. ÒnIy lhe
¡oinls cIassihcalion sliII hung in lhe baIance: Iurilo Ied VaIverde
by |usl four. Riding inlo Madrid lhe foIIoving day lhey vere seen
laIking lo each olher in lhe ¡eIolon. 'I Iel him knov I vas going
for lhe s¡rinl,' VaIverde re¡orled. }usl Iike lhe year before, Iurilo
vouId Iose lhe green |ersey on lhe Iasl slage. Il vas scoo¡ed by
VaIverde, enlering in sixlh ¡Iace in lhe hnaI s¡rinl behind }ohn
DegenkoIb, vhose lolaI laIIy of slage-vins vas nov hve. Hasta el
rabo todo es toro, lhe S¡anish ex¡ression has il (IileraIIy, lhe buII
goes righl dovn lo lhe laiI), or lo ¡ul il anolher vay, il's never over
till it’s over. At least, not in the Vuelta.
Il had been an im¡eccabIy designed race, vilh sus¡ense
mainlained lo lhe end. ßy inlroducing lhe nev cIimbs }avier
Viva la Vuelta!
GuiIIón had effecliveIy ¡iqued lhe inleresl of lhe ¡ubIic and gol lhe
race laIked aboul. As a TV s¡eclacIe lhe 2O12 edilion vas a huge
success: in S¡ain vieving hgures vere lhree limes higher lhan in
2O11, ¡eaking on lhe ßoIa deI Mundo, vhich vas lhe mosl valched
slage since 2OO4, vhiIe abroad, Ini¡ubIic's deaI vilh ASÒ, lhe
organisers of lhe Tour de Irance, ensured Iive coverage of lhe race
vas lransmilled in over 17O counlries. Some haiIed il as lhe besl
VueIla ever. Il viII cerlainIy be remembered as a cIassic year, on
a ¡ar vilh 1974, vhen Iuenle and Òcaña ballIed, or 1983, vhen
HinauIl Iashed oul al lhe unex¡ecled S¡anish chaIIenge.
* * * * *