That’s not meant as a slight against La Vuelta, which has only introduced the young rider competition this year. Though it does seem strange that the race should bring it in now.
Miguel Ángel López is part of the reason. That the 25-year-old Colombian is eligible for it seems incongruous, if not preposterous. He is competing in his sixth Grand Tour and already has two podiums on his palmarès.
It’s not his fault, of course. The Vuelta decided to simply photocopy the Tour de France’s rules for its own version of the competition, rather than adapting them for the times. That means any rider born after January 1st 1994 – almost a third of those who pinned on a number in Torrevieja two weeks ago – qualified, and it was all but guaranteed López would win it.
Being young and supremely talented just doesn’t seem all that novel these days. Nor do teams need much incentive to give youth a chance. Everywhere you look there’s a fresh-faced thing, throwing mud in the eyes of his seniors.
Tadej Pogačar’s victory on Sunday made him the youngest Grand Tour stage winner since Moreno Argentin at the 1981 Giro d’Italia. It should have knocked us for six. Instead it felt like more of what we’ve come to expect from the Slovenian and the sport. The new normal, the natural order of things. It was barely a month ago that we watched Egan Bernal dance to Tour de France victory.
So what to do instead? You could lower the competition’s age limit by eighteen months. That would still leave a reasonable 23 riders in the mix but, ultimately, wouldn’t be more than fiddling around the edges. What’s more it would presumably still be dominated by the same GC suspects for a couple of years at least. (Did someone say Remco Evenepoel?)
A better option – and one that should satisfy some of the old timers in the Rouleur office – is to flip it round and replace the white jersey with one awarded to the best rider over 35. You might, with justification, argue that it would just end up being the Valverde prize but he won’t be around for much longer. Sixteen riders would have been eligible to fight for what would have to be a grey jersey, including Nicolas Roche and Luis Leon Sanchez.
At the Giro d’Italia, in which Valverde didn’t participate, there also would have been 16 riders vying for it but any guesses as to who the winner would have been? That’s right: Domenico Pozzovivo, who finished 19th overall. The maglia grigia could have served as satisfying salute to a rider who has given a lot to the sport and taken relatively little. At the Tour, André Greipel would have worn it for a stage, likewise Roche.
Better yet, however, is if organisers were to introduce a debutant’s prize for anyone riding their first Grand Tour. The best thing about it is that no rider could win it more than once, though that would, of course, not eliminate Pogačar from the mix in this edition of La Vuelta.
It wouldn’t necessarily end up on the shoulders of a youngster, though. It might even create an opportunity for an unlikely, unsung elder rider. At 29 years of age, CCC’s Paweł Bernas is the oldest first timer at the 2019 Vuelta. Wouldn’t it be nice for him to have a chance to shine, even if just for one day?