If you didn’t know anything about the intricacies of road cycling this past Saturday while watching Universal Sports coverage of the three-week race, the Vuelta a Espana, that would have be
A day before its mostly ceremonial final stage race -- day 20 of 21 -- you only had to watch the two overall leaders of the race to figure out what was going on. That’s
because the two cyclists were a razor-thin three-seconds apart.
Now, this isn't what's normal in big-time three-weeklong cycling races. Typically, many minutes can separate the top
contenders -- with a bunch of other competitors in the mix in any particular piece of video. It can get fuzzy for the casual cycling or sport viewer.
Before the next-to-the-last
stage started on Saturday, 41-year-old American Chris Horner
who rides for the RadioShack-Leopard team, was leading by three seconds over 28-year-old Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who rides for the Astana team.
Three seconds. All that was easy to remember
when Nibali tried rocketing away four times on perhaps the hardest of all climbs in cycling: the L'Angliru, in Northern Spain.
When Nibali was ahead of Horner, it was easy to figure out who
was ahead. And that made what followed even more dramatic. Out of the blue, Horner, seeming to be losing the race, caught up to the Italian bike racer, again and again, every time Nibali shot
Back and forth the battle went, with 7 kilometers -- about 4.2 miles to the finish line of an 88-mile stage that day (the 20th stage of a total 21 stages of the Vuelta). Then, Horner
caught up one more time and pasted Nibali, eventually getting some 26 seconds over Nibali at the finish. (He came in second place on the day). This secured his win overall of the Vuelta.
But the best part of this was Horner observation, afterwards -- not from his vantage point -- but from the TV viewer perspective. “That Nibali would put such an attack at the finish like that
and make it so epic and unbelievable for the fans, to see him attack 10, 15 times — whatever it was — I’m sure the fans must have been on the edge of their seats every moment of it,
of every pedal stroke that I did on the final climb."
Yes, we were -- especially in the U.S.
Here’s why: Horner went on to set two historical marks -- the first
American cyclist to win the Vuelta and the oldest cyclist ever to win one of the three big grand tour cycling races. The others being the Giro d’Italia and, of course, the Tour de France.
Though the Vuelta a Espana is not the marque sports name of the Tour de France, the race was arguably the hardest of the year, perhaps in a long time -- with a diabolical 11 mountaintop
finishes. By comparison, the Tour de France this year had four.
Hard to focus on cycling, when you know what is still the hot topic in sports news these days? Many might have problems about
whether cycling performances (or that of any other sport, for that matter) are enhanced these days by any performance-enhancing substance.
No matter. Real-time, live sports TV wins out,
especially this kind of drama, adding in sometimes too-crazy Spanish fans shouting and jumping sometimes too close to the cyclists.
True, cycling is a niche sport in this country -- as is
downhill skiing, kayaking, motorcycle racing, beach volleyball, or track and field. But perhaps that’s why seemingly hundreds of TV networks/programmers can satisfy U.S. viewers.
athlete in the heat of competition can see that