Sagan is awesome. Many experienced pros complained that this Vuelta is one of the hardest GTs of their lives and being 21 and riding his first Grand Tour he not only managed to finish but had enough left in the tank to win the final stage. Also winning 3 stages (and doing some work for Nibbles when he was still in contention) is an amazing result for a debut. BTW, have you seen what he did on Angliru? http://www.podiumcafe.com/2011/9/6/2...gliru-from-the
Anyway, I don't know if Vuelta was the best GT of the year- I don't mind seeing a show like the one Contador put in the Giro as long as it doesn't happen in every GT (plus there were other pretty special moments- Rujano's climbing, Euskaltel's stage wins- and I still consider Gardeccia stage as the best piece of racing of the year, Kiryienka winning one of the most difficult stages and dedicating it to Tondo, also before it turned out that he's in the form on his life AC going crazy and attacking on flat finish... of course, in a way, the stage for Wouter as well) and while the Tour was a bit ruined by crashes and the real GC battle lasted 5 days (and would last 3 if Contador didn't go crazy on the stages that finished after descents), there was some vintage attacking 100 kms from the finish which was something great and unusual.
But certainly, it was a very entertaining race and gutsy battle for the win. On Cobo's part it was quite a comeback from all the problems he had with himself and his career, seeing him so happy on the podium was truly a great sight and reading his interview later, I got the impression it really gave him confidence and may be a new start for him. He really was impressive and I don't only mean his fantastic ride on Angliru and great recovery on Pena Cabarga (both will be remembered for years) but also how smart he was throughout the race. Quietly climbed his way up GC until showing his best on the crucial weekend and when he was defending his slim lead, his positioning was top class, didn't give Froome any chance to surprise him. Froome did try his best which can't be said about all 2nd places in recent GT history and certainly contributed to making this Vuelta exciting, fantastic breakthrough and I'm sure he'll be rewarded with nice new contract. He showed good sportsmanship too- constantly praising Cobo and thanking Sky for support, with a smile on his face, making the most of the moment.
I'm also really really impressed by Wiggins. He had a great chance to win the Tour this year, had he not crashed out. Vuelta route suits him a lot less and of course preparation was messed up by the injury. Many in his place wouldn't be able to find motivation yet from the first moment he said he'll be going all out because you don't get many chances to ride for a good GC in GT (while for example Van den Broeck basically admitted he's riding the Vuelta to have a 3 week race in his legs because it's important for the Tour next year). And for his climbing ability, he did incredibly well even on Angliru and on easier mountains he did take responsibility and together with Froome they did a lot of damage. Plus he actually defended Cobo against doping accusations and generally handled himself with class. I wasn't a fan before but I guess I am now.
Menchov is another guy who I think deserves praise, he did some superb job for Cobo. And again, no word of complaint- even though I think he had it in him to challenge for the podium. That's a leason to learn for all of those who want two guys on the podium- better sacrifice one for the win of the other, otherwise you're likely to end up 2nd and 3rd. Generally Geox made up for all their failures, perfect tactics. De La Fuente was always there to outsprint Froome for bonus seconds, Sastre contributed whenever he could.
I enjoyed following the fight for green between Mollema and Rodriguez, it was pretty heroic from Purito to get in the break to get some points after the nasty crash but well, at least he goes home with two nice stage wins. He tried in GC but maybe it's not for him (no way he was at his best, he was often doing better riding for Valverde). While Mollema's 4th and his consistency showed potential, good race for him.
Nibali and Scarponi were pretty disappointing, I expected both of them to feature. Could it be that riding such hard Giro all out got to them (same could be said about J-Rod)? I was quite certain Nibbles will podium but well, it's not the only surprise after all.
And while Anton was no doubt expected to do more and people will soon start questioning his GT ability (if they didn't already)- what he did was very special. He was the biggest favourite and being dropped on every climb, by guys who aren't half the climbers he's on his best day, must have been humilating. It really was rare for a favo to collapse so badly, I was half-expecting him to pull out. Then when he started getting better, he still couldn't get the stage win on Angliru or Pena Cabarga. But he took it all with gritted teeth and then gave us one of the most beautiful wins of the season in Bilbao. No wonder he has so many fans. And I still believe he will win Vuelta one of those years, he always seems pretty upbeat, even after his misfortunes, he'll get it together at some point.