The two greatest stage racers of the modern era are set to race, head-to-head, at Spain's Vuelta a Castilla Y Leon which starts on Monday. Ordinarily this situation would make for some very interesting racing. What makes this even more interesting is that both racers are on the same team. Yup, you guessed it, Big Tex and the Pistolero from Pinto are set to race side-by-side, well at least on the flats, in Spain.
Can it get even better? Of course it can. Cycling has had its share of drama over the past few years because of doping problems, but recently, the Lance and Alberto show has taken center stage. As you might remember, Alberto was all set to win Paris-Nice a week ago, but pulled a total rookie move by not eating enough food and bonking on a tough climbing stage. Lance didn't let that faux pas go, commenting to the media that Contador still had a lot to learn.
Public sparring between two riders on the same team is pretty unusual. I would have to say that Lance probably should have relayed his comments to his teammate privately, but in this era of Twitter and Facebook is anything safe from the public eye? Clearly, if both Armstrong and Contador are in top form at the Tour it is going to be a rough ride, but why create a bumpy road before you have to?
Some have commented that the reason Astana lost both Paris-Nice and the other big stage race at that time, Tirreno-Adriatico, was because of poor teamwork. That will definitely not be the case at Vuelta Castilla y Leon. Lance and Alberto will have Levi Leipheimer, Haimar Zubeldia (both top-5 finishers in the Tour de France) along with stalwarts Chechu Rubiera, Benjamin Noval, Thomas Waitkus and Jesus "Baby Jesus" Hernandez. This team could contend for a Tour title, it is that strong.
The Vuelta Castilla y Leon looks to be a good test for both Lance and Alberto. There is a 28km TT, similar in length to the Solvang TT at the Amgen Tour of California, plus two mountain-top finishes. This is exactly the kind of riding Big Tex needs to be doing to keep his comeback on track, the only question being is how he will ride given that the race is in Spain and Contador is Spanish and he is also the defending champion.
The five-stage race is laid out perfectly for maximum drama. Stage 2 is the time trial with Stage 3 and 4 being mountain-top finishes. Contador is on super TT form as of late, but if Armstrong uncorks a ripping ride, he could put the pressure on the team to ride for both potential team leaders. My guess is that Lance is still a tick or two behind Contador against the watch and in the mountains so we should see more gun slinging than fist pumps at the finish line.
Besides Team Astana, there are a number of other riders and teams of interest. Rock Racing and Garmin-Slipstream up the American factor and Fuji-Servetto finally got invited to a big race. Throw in Alejandro Valverde and Denis Menchov and this could be a lot of fun to watch.