Vuelta Tales: A Mountain Too Far?
Another dispatch from the front – Al Hamilton filed this report after the stage 20 TT – a harrowing account of Spanish cuss words, Spanish drivers, and of course podium girls… and that’s just the beginning…
I wanted to get to the start of the mountain time trial, stage 20 of this year’s Vuelta a Espaсa, early. The previous day Manolo Saiz, director sportif of ONCE had used some choice language to the TV cameramen of the national station TVE. The phrases used by him tested my Spanish, but as he was swearing I understood nearly all of what was said: “Puta madre” and “Joder” are well known, “gilipollas” and “cabrуn” maybe not so, but the wife had never accused me of having no “vergьenza”. (Anyone needing translations E-Mail me).
So after getting parked after the worst traffic jam in the world to get to the start in San Lorenzo de el Escorial, (also on was an MTB race and Festibike a bike show, where I saw the biggest cheese ever (see above), off I go to the start village to find Neil Stephens (ex-ONCE rider) to get a translation and get his views on Seсor Saiz. Well, “vergьenza” means shame, so that’s a new one for me to use, don’t know where though. Neil and most other people I spoke to thought Saiz had a point, the camera was a bit close to the Heras group, but should a man who is looking for 10 million euros for a new team be threatening to kill people live on TV? No, he should have handled it differently, but his men, Gonzalez de Galdeano and race leader Nozal were getting dropped on the climb and things were getting fraught.
After surviving the free food frenzy and more importantly getting some breakfast and coffee, I had the dreadful task of interviewing the enchanting Maria Josй, one of the podium girls (see story).
That done, I had to get myself into a car up the 11.2 kilometers to the top of the Alto de Abantos. Not an easy job as everyone else had the same idea – so all the team cars were full. OK I’ll try a publicity car, a-ha! a soft drinks producers people carrier, with one person in it, would it be possible for a journalist to get a ride? “Si, no problema”, that was easy, then I realized I was doing him, Juan, a favor as now he had an excuse to push his way into position behind a team car because he now had, as he told every-one, a very important journalist with him. I was looking round for this person for 5 minutes until I realized he meant me! I also realized he had never driven in a car behind a rider before and hadn’t got a clue. All this wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was a very twisty course with a crowd 5 deep and he insisted on taking photographs with one hand whilst driving, (hmmm, interesting laxative properties!).
The rider we were following was Pedro Diaz Lobato of Paternina, he’d won an earlier stage and if he’d known a lunatic in half a ton of unwieldy steel was just behind him he may have won this stage as well. I think Juan only hit 10 or 12 spectators. But at the top (where he thought the Guardia Civil policeman on the deviation for team cars didn’t mean him), things got a bit tricky as the officer sort of bounced/slid off the front of the car! Things were said, some as above. When I got out I thanked him for the lift/experience and assured him I didn’t need a ride back to the start.
Viscioso gives it full throttle on the mountain TT.
My nerves settled down with some free food and drink from the Unipublic (Vuelta organizers) courtesy caravan on the finish line, I watched a few stars come in, some seemed to be taking it easy, others giving it the full effort including Fabian Jeker and Levi Leipheimer.
The funniest thing to happen was the Cofidis team mechanic ran from the finish area to the team car with a bike on his shoulder, to catch a lift back down the hill, some one shouted to him to hurry, three (fat, unfit) policemen misunderstood and legged it after him thinking they would be the heroes of a bike theft apprehension. They only caught him as he was putting the bike on the roof rack at the same time as about 100 people were pissing there pants laughing.
The best way to extract oneself from a mtn top finish… maybe next year, Al?
My problem was going to be how to get back to my car at the start, all the cars going back down were full, I didn’t fancy the walk back, so after asking a lot of people there was a space in a Alexa publicity car, relieved? You bet. This time my hosts were Italians, but my Scottish accented Spanish seemed to work and we sorted out world cycling on the 35 kilometer return journey to the start area. I should get back to watch the last riders on TV. Well only just! Bumped into old friend Graham Jones who is working for the BBC doing reports for the world service, “you‚ve missed it” he said, from the pressroom. Oh great! Nozal had blown and Heras had the overall lead, the young lad had missed the guiding hand of his manager Saiz, his race and my second last day on La Vuelta was over, only one day left of madness.