Vuelta a España competes with football for headlines in Spain, at least for a few weeks

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, a.o-button”} }”>

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members!
>”,”name”:”in-content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Download the app.

Nothing can push football from its pedestal as the No. 1 sport in Europe, a supremacy that was emphasized in Spain this past week when the country won the Women’s World Cup by beating top favorite England 1-0 in Australia.

Celebrating the Spanish women’s unprecedented achievement — and matching the national men’s team’s single World Cup championship of 2010 — would normally have filled the newspapers and airwaves for a few days.

Instead, such is the sport’s notoriety in Spain that the headlines switched to the denigration of Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales, who brought shame to his country during the World Cup final’s medal ceremony by first hugging one player, Jenni Hermoso, and kissing her on the lips, and then grabbing another, Athenea del Castillo, and swinging her over his shoulder in an over-the-top celebration.

The saga should have ended at a federation meeting on Friday, but Rubiales refused to resign, and instead he said he was the subject of a “witch hunt” led by “false feminists.”

Also read:

Commenting on the situation, leading Spanish newspaper El País said that Spain is left with a disgraced president who many believe has destroyed “the prestige of the federation in one of its moments of greatest glory.”

While the scandal will no doubt rumble on, Spanish sports fans will be relieved that their attention can now turn to the opening week of what promises to be an outstanding edition of the Vuelta a España.

According to the respected internet site, the, cycling is now the fourth most popular sport in Spain, after football, basketball and tennis, whose 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz has succeeded Rafa Nadal as the world’s No. 1 ranked player.

Interestingly, both tennis and cycling began climbing to their current levels of popularity in 1995. That was the year that Spanish tennis player Carlos Moyá turned professional and soon became the world No. 1, to be followed by David Ferrer, Nadal and now Alcaraz. It was also the year that, on its 50th anniversary, the Vuelta had its dates changed from April/May to its current August/September time slot.

When it was held in the springtime (sometimes overlapping with the start of the Giro d’Italia), the Vuelta lacked the prestige of the other two grand tours. It was started in 1935, 32 years after the first Tour de France, and 26 years after the first Giro.

Vuelta overcomes rocky start

Vuelta a España
Jan Ullrich won the 1999 edition ahead of some top names. (Photo: PASCAL PAVANI/AFP via Getty Images)

All three grand tours were founded by newspapers — L’Auto (now titled L’Équipe) in France, La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy and Informaciones in Spain — as marketing tools to increase their circulations. That formula proved a success for the French and Italian publications, but not for Madrid daily Informaciones.

Its failure was caused by the country’s disruption during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), World War II (1939–45), and a postwar economic recession. As a result, only nine editions of the Vuelta were held between 1935 and 1955, when the race was revived by the Basque newspaper El Correo.

That brought stability to the event, which gradually emerged from being a largely domestic stage race over two weeks to a race with more international presence over three weeks.

The Vuelta was seen as a warm-up to the Tour de France in the 1960s and early 1970s, when Tour stars Rudi Altig, Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor, Jan Janssen, Felice Gimondi, Roger Pingeon, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk all won the Vuelta. That higher level of competition also saw the emergence of Spanish stars Luis Ocaña (the 1970 Vuelta winner) and José Manuel Fuente (who won in 1972 and ’74).

Following the death of Spanish dictator Generalissimo Franco in 1975, political turmoil again ensnared Spain, and it saw the Basque separatist group ETA kidnap and murder the publisher of El Correo.

When the country’s cycling federation subsequently banned the Vuelta from entering the Basque Country, the Bilbao-based newspaper stopped promoting the race in 1979. That’s when the sports event company, Unipublic, took over the race organization.

For the following 15 years, the Vuelta continued with its springtime schedule. It didn’t attract the strongest European teams, which preferred to keep their top leaders for the Giro or Tour. In that period, the only Tour champions to also win the Vuelta were Hinault (1983) and Pedro Delgado (1989). Even Spain’s greatest grand tour rider Miguel Induráin, during his five-year reign at the Tour, started the Vuelta only once, placing second to fellow Spaniard Melchor Mauri in 1991.

Big changes would come after the UCI reorganized the international calendar in 1995 and shifted the Vuelta to September.

This allowed teams that had failed at the Giro and/or Tour to send their best men to Spain, while other riders used it to fine-tune their form for the later world road championships.

New dates helped shape modern Vuelta

Juan Ayuso, Spain’s newest GC talent, speaks with former Vuelta winner Pedro Delgado. (Photo: Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As the Vuelta gained in prestige and popularity, so did the television coverage. Two more important factors in this expansion were Unipublic being bought by ASO, the Tour de France organizer (first with a 49 percent stake in 2008 and then 100 percent in 2014), and the evolvement of the UCI’s WorldTour which ensured that all 18 of the world’s top teams had to ride the Vuelta.

Also, since it first introduced the fearsome mountaintop finish at El Angliru in 1999, the Vuelta has increased the number of “must-watch” stages and turned the race into one for the climbers, a far cry from the pre-Unipublic era when for instance, in 1977, Belgian sprinter Freddy Maertens won 13 of the 21 stages (including two time trials).

In this year’s Vuelta, that vintage Maertens might win three or four stages, but he would be well back on GC in a race that has no less than nine summit (or near-summit) finishes.

Thanks to these spectacular stages, cycling has become immensely popular in Spain. That survey showed that 26 percent of the Spanish people are followers or fans of competitive cycling, compared with 27 percent of the French and Italians.

After this year’s Vuelta, perhaps those totals will be the same.

After all, the 2023 course is ideal for Spain’s big hope for the future, Juan Ayuso, who can win on mountaintops and in time trials; and after placing third overall last year on his Vuelta debut, he could become as famous as that other Spanish 20-year-old, tennis player Carlos Alcaraz.

Should Ayuso win a stage or two and again finish on the podium, cycling could temporarily trump tennis and football for a while, his story is certainly far more compelling than that of a certain Luis Rubiales.

Source link