It’s that time of year again with lots of teams on the Costa Blanca for their first training camp of the off season. Our man in Spain, Alastair Hamilton is on the spot and spent the day on the road with Team Astana. Here is how his day panned-out with the Kazakhs.
I’ve had a day out with many a team over the years and Astana has been one of them, but that was the Astana of Johan Bruyneel. After the return of Alexandr Vinokourov the Astana team has not been one of the more accessible WorldTour teams, that is until Chris Baldwin took over as the press officer. I’d heard the team were local to me and after I’d emailed Chris everything just fell into place: “What day do you want to come? What do you want to do? Who do you want to talk too?” It couldn’t be better.
The Astana team were staying in the Hotel Diamante Beach in Calpe on the Costa Blanca; this hotel has been the most popular with teams since someone booked in there one Spring by mistake thinking it was the Esmeralda across the road. Now the Diamante organises its own cycle tours. Omega Pharma – Quick-Step used to come here and the Esmeralda, but this year they have been further up the coast in Oliva for their December camp, but when they come back in January for their team presentation it will be to the Hotel Sol y Mar in town, the same place Garmin-Sharp use.
The hotel was fairly quiet with only a few pensioners on their Winter break; along with Astana there was also the Synergy-BAKU Project team from Azerbaijan and the French BigMat-Auber 93 team with their very smart Look bikes, both teams had been here for a couple of weeks.
As always at this time of year you can’t move in this part of Spain for Pro cyclists, with Belkin, OPQS, BMC, Argos-Shimano and Lotto in the area and lots of riders doing their own thing, but no Katusha this year as they are up near Gerona.
The cars, just like the bikes, need to be washed every day; I don’t think the hotel forecourt has ever been so clean either.
Chris was waiting for me in the reception sporting a beard which he is convinced is “the in thing” at the moment, but Janez Brajkovič (amongst others) is less than impressed, more of that later in his interview coming soon. The beard would have to go before the Tour de San Luis; the temperatures will be in the 40’s Centigrade in Argentina at this time of year.
The plan for the day was that the riders would be doing 5 to 6 hours, a long steady ride in the hills. The plan for me was to go in a team car with two photographers from Bettini who were here to do the team shots for next year. We would return after a couple of hours leaving the team to finishes their ride and after lunch I would interview Janez Brajkovič and Borut Bozic.
I was to go with the first group, including Vincenzo Nibali, there was one slight problem though, Michele Scarponi and Mikel Landa were also in this group and have to wear their present teams clothing and helmets etc and we were asked to try not to use photos of them, which it not easy as both riders were taking their turns on the front or would be in full view at the side of the group. Maybe the rider contracts should run from the 1st of November to avoid this problem.
We were soon off down the road chasing the group and hopefully passing them to get some seaside photos, not that easy on a busy coast road without anywhere to park. They did pass the Russian church though, but there was no chance of pictures of the team with a Mediterranean backdrop.
It was interesting to see what proper photographers thought were good places for shots and what Italians think what parking safely means, although we got away with it. The local oranges were looking good, so they had to take the place of the sea.
The main climb of the day was the ‘Coll de Rates’ with all of its steep curves, it’s a perfect place for photo opportunities. On the climb; Andrei Grivko, the Ukranian champion, didn’t want to ride with the others and headed on up the road, it was meant to be a steady day, but he wasn’t allowed much space off the front, although there wasn’t much of a chase.
Up through the olive trees Grivko still had a good lead and there were lots of stops for photos as parking wasn’t a real concern, basically just stopping the car on the road wouldn’t inconvenience anybody except the team, a farm tractor or a delivery van.
The first rider who got to the top wasn’t Grivko as he had been passed by Francesco Gavazzi, both a good distance ahead of the Nibali group. The two groups stopped at the top for re-fuelling and jackets for the descent, also two riders were to have blood lactate tests.
Both groups were sorted out with food, clothing and banter while a few Spanish shrubs were given a good watering. The riders headed off for a few more hours in the saddle and I was left to a white knuckle ride, gripping the seat as an Italian showed us how to handle an Astana VW team car on a dodgy descent back to the hotel in time for lunch and then the interviews with Borut Bozic and Jani Brajkovič.
The Astana kit and bikes were looking good in the Spanish sunshine, but the Specialized S-Works Evade helmet worn by Paolo Tiralongo was very smart; light and fast was the general reaction to the helmet. Wish I was!
Thanks to the Astana team and Chris Baldwin for a good day out and the guy’s from Bettiniphoto for showing me how to drive like an Italian.