Last month I had my first experience of seeing the Vuelta Ciclista a España at close quarters – close enough to see the effort on the cyclists’ faces, witness the strength and endurance of those participants as they pushed themselves to their physical limits – it was amazing to think that just days earlier some of them had taken part in the Tour de France as well!
Here’s a run down of all the stages to give you an idea of just how arduous this cycling game is: (game! sorry, lads!)
A quick calculation means that they covered around 3,170 kilometres over the 21 days, not counting time trials, and averaged 175 km a day – not bad! According to the two entertaining Spanish television commentators, cyclists need to take in 6,000 calories a day to sustain this effort – well, the training might help as well, of course – they commented that the UK’s own Chris Froome, who is held in high regard in Spain, was stick thin compared to some – unfortunately, despite being victorious in the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015, this year in Spain he suffered a mishap and fractured a foot. Inevitably, he had to drop out, but not before completing that stage.
The reason that this year’s Vuelta caught my attention was because Stage 18 would be passing through Riaza, a small town in the mountains in Segovia a stone’s throw from where my husband was born. I know this area well – been going there for 40 years, in fact. In the end we didn’t see the tour there, though – I was lucky enough to be taken to Avila to watch Stage 19 instead. I say ‘lucky’ because my ‘guide’ for the day was a nephew-in-law who is from Avila, knows the area like the back of his hand and is a keen cyclist – result!! As well as that, Avila is a beautiful place, surrounded by an impressive – and intact – city wall.
The cyclists had to ride up the slope in the shadow of the city wall, over cobble stones – not ideal! But this was an excellent spot to get some photos – they had to slow down (a bit!) so you just had to make sure you stayed on the right side of the Guardia Civil, who were stationed along the road at intervals.
I have to say the crowds were very well behaved and the Guardia Civil are no longer that fearsome, gun toting bunch they once were – although they still look quite tough!
When I looked at the shots I’d got – more by luck than judgement as they went past in a blur – what amazed me was how closely they cycled to one another – when you thought you were looking at one cyclist you realised there was another right behind him.
Of course this race – or any other – couldn’t take place without the veritable army of support vehicles, carrying spare bikes, spare parts, drinks, food, medical supplies – in fact, everything but spare arms and legs, it would seem – and then there were the valiant cameramen perched precariously on the back of motorbikes to get those exciting shots for television.
The scenery in some of the mountainous areas in northern Spain was nothing short of spectacular and when you realise that these guys have to cycle up those mountains – it hits you just what a monumental effort it must be to get that fit.
That evening we made our way home to Madrid on the ‘back road’ (I think that means we avoided paying a toll!) and we stopped to admire the wonderful view across the hills of El Escorial – the 16th century monastery built on the proceeds of 16th century ‘Spanish gold’ (’nuff said!) My photo doesn’t do it justice but it looked splendid nestled into the hillside at dusk.
I am more pleased with this one of the car headlights meandering up through the valley below us.
We saw the final stage of the Vuelta in Madrid – I left my camera at home because there were too many people and the pace of the race was too fast and furious to even hope to get a good shot. Up and down the main streets they pedalled – the pelotón streaked past us – one giant mass of multi coloured logo covered lycra.
In the distance we could hear the excitement rising in the commentators’ voices – the end couldn’t be far off – but we decided to savour the atmosphere from a ‘terraza’ with a ‘tinto’ or two. Down this end of the Gran Vía at least the world was starting to go by more slowly.