Getting finely tuned for the Vuelta a España: cycling through a Grand Tour's official songs
Exploring the Spanish Grand Tour through the mysteries of its official musical numbers from A-ha to the Vengaboys. There are 50 of these.
The Vuelta a España is the newest of the three Grand Tours, so it has a licence to try things a bit differently, be a bit funky. It has tried out shorter stages, interesting climbs, and even had a team time trial over a beach a few years ago.
Another thing that differentiates it from its bigger brothers the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France is the fact it has an official song. Yes, you read that right, the Vuelta chooses a song every year as its official musical accompaniment.
Specially-composed music for sporting events is nothing new - how could we forget Shakira's Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) for the 2010 World Cup, or John William's Olympic Fanfare and Theme - but the Vuelta goes a step further.
Every edition since 1978 has come with its own song, starting with the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka by Strauss and Sheila B. Devotion's cover of Singin' in the Rain, and ending with C'Mon C'Mon by Lorena Medina, The Inner Kids & Sophie Francis, this year's song.
Here's Cycling Weekly's guide to the highs, the lows, and the downright forgettable of the 50 - yes 50 - songs that have been chosen to represent the Vuelta. There are some interesting choices.
I won't talk through every song because, well, there are 50 of them, but instead pick out potted highlights of the Vuelta's weird relationship with music. There is a playlist at the bottom with 44 of the songs; sadly, six of them are not on Spotify, but can still be found online - here is a list.
1978: Sheila B. Devotion - Singin' in the Rain
43 years after its first edition, the Vuelta finally did what everyone had been crying out for: introduce an official song. Well, in fact, the organisers chose two official songs, so overawed were they with their new power.
Johann Strauss' Tritsch Tratsch Polka is clearly outmuscled by Sheila B. Devotion's cover of Singin' in the Rain - think disco Gene Kelly. The song actually reached 11 in the UK singles chart, so is not as anonymous as others on this list.
1978's winner? Bernard Hinault, taking his first of 10 Grand Tour wins.
1979: Earth, Wind and Fire - September
Clearly not content with their two-song approach from the previous year, the Vuelta chose three songs for the next year, all big hitters in their own right.
Alongside the undisputed banger that is September by Earth, Wind and Fire was Goodnight Tonight by Wings, notable for a flamenco section, possibly why it was chosen, and Born to be Alive by Patrick Hernandez.
September is an all-time classic song, which reached number three on the UK charts. What puzzles me about this is that while the song makes sense for the modern Vuelta, which is often raced in the eponymous month, the 1979 Vuelta occurred in April. Maybe the organisers had great foresight.
1979's winner was Joop Zoetemelk, the last time a Dutchman won the race.
1980: Lipps Inc. - Funkytown
For 1980, at last, the organisers chose just one song for the Vuelta, and it was quite the tune. Not only one of the many great songs from Shrek 2, but a chart topper around the world, including in Spain.
Lipps Inc. are one of the ultimate one-hit wonder bands, just like 1980's winner Faustino Rupérez, who only one won Grand Tour, and never came particularly close to victory again. A party song for the party race.
1986: A-ha - Take on Me
Having the official song of the 1986 Vuelta would probably be a surprise to the Norwegian supergroup A-ha, considering the amount of other plaudits they have garnered for this tune.
It's a classic, surely one of the most famous songs of the 80s, and is as upbeat as the race itself. Its innovative video does not really scream bike racing, but maybe 1986's winner Álvaro Pino took some inspiration from it.
The weird thing about the early official songs is how mainstream they are - later tunes would be specially composed for the event. At least people know this one, although I'm not sure they associate it with a Spanish stage race.
1988: Serafín Zubiri - Pedaleando
OK, this is more like it. Firstly, a song actually in Spanish! It's not a first for official songs, that was "Me estoy volviendo loco" by Azul y Negro in 1982, but it is definitely the first to be in Spanish and definitively cycling themed.
Pedaleando translates as "pedalling", and who wouldn't want to listen to a song all about that? After Take on Me the Vuelta clearly had a thing for synthesisers in the 80s, as this is all this song is.
Sefarín not only wrote the 1988 Vuelta's official song, but also competed at Eurovision for Spain twice, and recorded the Spanish soundtrack for the film Beauty and the Beast. Not bad.
This tune is good, I'm not scared of saying it, and I've had it stuck in my head ever since I created the playlist.
There is a problem at this point, however. Sean Kelly, the man who won the 1988 Vuelta, came third in 1986 and almost won before pulling out in 1987, has never heard of the official songs.
He has never heard Pedaleando! The Irishman told Cycling Weekly that the first time he became aware of the Vuelta's rich musical history was when we texted him about it. Even though he is still in the sport, commentating on Eurosport/GCN, the songs have not made it into his world. This. Is. A. Disgrace.
I will be listening to his commentary stints very closely this year to find out if these all-time bangers get a mention this year.
1993: Azul y Negro - Two-pa-ka
This is what I thought all the official Vuelta songs would be like when I got into this, to be honest with you. It kind of sounds like it could be the theme tune for a highlights programme of the race, I can imagine the stars of the 1990s zooming around over a graphic as this played.
1993 saw the second of Tony Rominger's three successive Vuelta victories, a record only achieved by Robert Heras and Primož Roglič as well as the Swiss rider. This song is also Azul y Negro's third bite at the cherry, and they saved their best for last.
Azul y Negro are yet more evidence of the Vuelta's love-in with synths, which dominate the early half of the playlist.
1998: Vengaboys - Up & Down
After ten years of Spanish songs, 1998 saw a strange turn into Eurodance with this certified banger from the Vengaboys.
The Dutch group have sold more than 25 million records worldwide, so perhaps this is not their greatest achievement, but to be among some of the greats on this list is something.
Up & Down might have been Abraham Olano's riding style of choice through the Vuelta as he dominated the race. In fourth that year? An American classics rider, or so people thought, called Lance Armstrong.
1999: Hevia - El Garrotín
A return to Spanish music the following year, and a particular kind of Spanish music too - bagpipes, or the gaita as it is known in its native Asturias. It's a bit of a world away from the synthesiser-heavy offerings we have had so far, with the semi-authentic folk music making an appearance.
Who knows what Jan Ullrich made of the wailing noises of Hevia while he stood atop the podium in Madrid, having conquered all. Knowing what we know now about the late 90s in cycling, however, the bagpipe music was not the only strange thing going on.
El Garrotín, by the way, means "the cudgel" in Spanish, naturally. A song about a cudgel. The Vuelta organisers clearly liked him, Hevia was back in 2003 with Tirador. Also nuts.
2005: Xucro - Mi primera vez
The early 00s saw the Vuelta dominated by Spanish riders, in particular Roberto Heras, and the music of the race dominated by twee acoustic guitar pop. Not 2005 though, as dad rockers Xucro entered stage right with Mi primera vez or "my first time".
I'll be honest, this song sucks. I just wanted to show you the sheer breadth of music that has been dredged up for Vuelta official songs.
2005 was Heras' last win, a record fourth at the Spanish Grand Tour.
2008: Beatriz Luengo - Pretendo Hablarte
Most Vuelta official songs do not make much of an impact, not even one in the race as we saw with Sean Kelly above. However, Pretendo Hablarte did, and is the only song on the list which has reached the top five in the Spanish charts this century.
Beatriz Luengo is almost famous, unlike many of the artists on this list. The single actually went platinum, such was its success. I'm not sure I can really see why, as it is not too much better than others over the year, but there we go.
Pretendo hablarte means "I pretend to talk to you". I could not possibly comment on whether Alberto Contador pretended to do anything on his way to his first of three Vuelta wins this year.
2013: Carlos Núñez - Mambo
It's a return to traditional Galician/Asturian music for 2013, with Carlos Núñez bringing the gaita back. The impressive man also plays the Galician flute, ocarina, Irish flute, whistle, and low whistle, some of which feature in Mambo, I think. I'm not really sure.
It is a funky tune, suited for an edition which started in Galicia, and spent five whole days there, in fact. Its lack of lyrics makes for an interesting official song, how are you supposed to get pumped up at sign-on to bagpipes alone?
To match the old-school Spanish music, the 2013 race was won by 41-year-old Chris Horner, the oldest Grand Tour winner ever.
2017: Maldita Nerea - Bailarina
Bailarina or dancer, is not a nickname usually employed for 2017 Vuelta winner Chris Froome, but perhaps it should be. The first part of his Grand Tour grand slam, the Froome err, danced his way to victory five years ago.
This tune is the last to be successful beyond being chosen for the Vuelta, as it reached the heady heights of 83 in the Spanish charts. It is fine as a song, but that is about it. Some cursory research tells me that fans of the band are known as tortugas or tortoises, thanks to the group's first album. You really do learn something new every day.
2021: La Maravillosa Orquesta Del Alcohol - 1932
La Maravillosa Orquesta del Alcohol or La MODA, the wonderful orchestra of alcohol, were called up to front last year's song. It's about the year 1932, which is a solid three years before the race began, so that seems a bit off topic for a start. It might be about the attempted coup of General José Sanjurjo that year, I could not possibly comment.
The weird indie-folk band, think Spanish Mumford and Sons, produces this strange track. It is not exactly good at building up excitement, but maybe that is not what the organisers were going for.
2022: Lorena Medina, The Inner Kids & Sophie Francis - C’Mon C’Mon
Finally up to the present day with C’Mon C’Mon, which is what Primož Roglič might be saying to rivals as he goes for a fourth consecutive Vuelta victory. With this year's edition beginning in the Netherlands, The Inner Kids and Sophie Francis provide Dutch vibes.
It is the first time that multiple artists have been chosen to perform the same song, which might be a good thing, I couldn't possibly comment.
The press release from the race organisers says: "With its upbeat rhythm and very danceable sound, the song’s melody and lyrics reflect the joy and enthusiasm that we will experience on the 19th of August at the official departure in the Netherlands and, later, throughout the entire country."
Let's hope all 172 riders are dancing around Utrecht come Friday.
I remain unconvinced that a Grand Tour needs an official song, but there we are. These tunes exist, although most are incredibly obscure, and should be given the gravity that they deserve.
My favourite is still Pedaleando, even if Sean Kelly has never heard of it. Let's hope this tradition continues for many years to come.
The Spotify playlist is below, should you wish to enter.
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Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.
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