As you know, the Vuelta started in Marbella with a team time trial (not without controversy), and I couldn't have a better opportunity to see a rather special stage like a CRE.
Contrary to what is usual when you see a stage of any lap, a time trial is a way to see action on a continuous basis. Normally, except for mountain stages, going to a stage of a big lap is about waiting for a good while, seeing the riders pass by in a matter of seconds and then picking up your gear and going back the way you came. So you couldn't miss the opportunity to see a good stage on your doorstep.
My cycling weekend began on Friday, the day I went to review the entire circuit that had raised so much controversy among some riders during the week. And to have an informed opinion you have to know the facts, in this video you have the complete route that raised so much controversy, from the start at the pontoon in Puerto Banus to the finish line area on the promenade of Marbella. The entire circuit runs through the promenade that connects these two points, through surfaces of the most varied. Albero (the surface that has raised more expectation, and I think it was the least of the problems), asphalt, marble, wood and even a temporary platform.
My personal opinion is that the circuit itself didn't present a major problem for racing a stage. What is true is that I don't think it is the most suitable circuit for a team time trial, not because of the surfaces, which didn't have a major problem in themselves, but because of the various potholes and traps all over the circuit. An individual time trial would have presented fewer problems, as doing it in teams on such a narrow track doesn't make much sense, as you can't relay and the last rider in the group doesn't have much visibility of what's ahead. Yes, there are training sessions before the race and you can memorise the corners or the main traps, but it's impossible to memorise each and every potholes on the road.
They were still finalizing all the details, both polishing the circuit details and finishing the installation of the fence and setting up the finish area, which was totally inside the beach.
When I was back I found the ugly detail of the day. One is used to the fact that when you ride your bike the respect of some drivers is not as good as we would like, and we know that they can pass us quite close without much consideration. The meter and a half separation we know that we will rarely have, but at least a reasonable safety space.
Unfortunately there are still many drivers who go beyond this safety distance, but what I would never expect is that a member of a PROFESSIONAL cycling team, who is on the road all day with cyclists and who, presumably, likes the world, would do the same.
You can see in the video how both the bus and the support car overtake correctly, but the van passes right by me. And note the camera lens, which distorts the distances quite a bit.
I calculate that he didn't leave more than 50cm of space. I repeat that we are talking about someone from the world of cycling, who we suppose should have more respect for cyclists. And in the same way I sent them the video through a tweet, without any answer from them. A very ugly gesture.
- Eduardo (@Correr1Marathon) August 21, 2015
On Saturday morning it was my turn to train, and I had to go through the starting point of the race.
Perhaps the best part of a race like this is that you get to share the road with the same riders you see on TV. Here you can see Team Lotto coming in from their morning training, coming back from the same place I was heading.
A little later I would come across a Sky and a Movistar on the way down the road to Istan, one next to the other. It is much more common than we think for riders from different teams to relate to each other and even end up training together.
When the training was over, I went back to the starting area, where everything was being prepared. It was the moment when the mechanics were working, taking out each of the bikes and washing them one by one, with quite a lot of love and detail, not a quick hose and moving on to the next one. The truth is that it doesn't take me half as long to wash my bike, so considering that they have to prepare at least nine, it's quite a boring job.
But coming at this time gives the opportunity to learn interesting ins and outs. For example, have you ever wondered where they wash the amount of clothes they use every day? Well, I guess it depends on each team, but here you can see how the Orica team has a washing machine on the bus, along with a water heater. A quick wash between stages and get the team dressed again.
In the afternoon, before the start of the stage, we go to the Parque de La Vuelta. In addition to the competitive attraction itself, a series of parallel activities are organized for the whole family, all of which are promoted by the sponsors. And of course, everything is focused on cycling, as it could not be otherwise.
More than a place where the most fans can enjoy themselves, it is about bringing the competition closer to the people who are less involved.
And with fun and refreshing activities, such as beating your own fruit into juice by pedaling a bicycle converted into a blender.
After reviewing all the exhibits from the different sponsors (notably the Carrefour exhibitor, if I'm hungry I'll go for a snack, dinner and even breakfast), it was time to see the highlight of the day, the stage against the clock, which the vast majority could see comfortably from the beach or the bar. In my case, I chose to get on the bike and thus see the action from different points, trying to get away from the start and finish areas, which are always more collapsed.
Once the place was chosen to take the photos, it was easy to know when the riders would arrive. Firstly because of the location of the television helicopter that was following the riders. Secondly because each team was normally preceded by two Civil Guard motorcycles, which were indicating that the race was coming and therefore could not cross between the road area and the beach. And, above all, because of the amount of dust they were raising in their path, especially by the support vehicles.
This first point chosen for the photos turned out to be the best, since in that area there is a slight slope after a couple of not very wide curves, so the passing speed was a little slower than in other points (for example the finish line).
At that point I made a slight change of perspective, rising a little above the walkway to take pictures from another angle. Some of them are impressive. If they had needed refreshment points, they could have done them directly from the bar. It's as easy as asking for some espetos and picking them up from the table as you pass. In what other race have you seen something like this?
I looked for a new change of position, but as I got closer to the centre of Marbella, it was more and more difficult to find a good spot, the influx of people was quite important.
The best part of riding a bike and not just exercising my rights as a spectator after a ride was the interaction with the riders, with whom you shared the road. In fact, while I was going to the finish area, the teams that were finishing their stage were going in the opposite direction, back to the starting point. But not only them, but also the TV camera bikes, which were coming back escorted by the police at a fairly high speed, because they obviously had a certain time to be at the start again and follow a new team.
I tried to get closer to the finish line, but it was already mission impossible. There wasn't room for another soul, so I went back in search of a better place to see the end of the stage. And again, I crossed with more riders.
The best thing about rolling around with them is being able to see how easily they move when they're all together. They're positioned like a block and move like a swarm of bees, not to mention the speed at which they're moving, because while they were just coming back from finishing the stage at a relaxed pace and even chatting with each other, I had to go quite lightly to keep up with them.
Finally I chose to go to the starting point, not only because it was the initial point and where I would find more atmosphere, but also because it is where the team buses were still parked. Here I would see the last start of the day, of the Katusha team. You can see the atmosphere that was left at the end of the stage in this video, in which I arrived behind some stragglers of the, I think I remember, Cofidís team.
With the stage already finished it was time to return home, for which I had chosen the best means of transport. What could have taken me 10 minutes by bicycle, could have easily been half an hour by car. I hope that those of you who saw it on TV had images as spectacular as those I had at the foot of the track.
And with that... thanks for reading!