What's Cool In Road Cycling

Vuelta’15 ROADSIDE: Lost In Murcia!

Roadside: Stage 8 of the 2015 Vuelta a España finished in the town of Murcia and that’s not too far from where PEZ-Man Al Hamilton lives. He doesn’t get out much, so we had to prize him from his laptop and send him ‘Roadside’ for some fresh air and let him see a bike race in the flesh for a change. Murcia is not his favorite part of Spain, but we persuaded him to go.

Stage 8 was heading north from Puebla de Don Fadrique and I came south to meet the race at the stage finish in Murcia. A sprint finish was a possibility, but with two climbs of the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo, the race could be split before the line. There was a sprint finish and the peloton was split, not by the climb, but by a string of crashes. But let’s start from the beginning.

There have been quite a lot of changes at la Vuelta since ASO bought a large share of the race. The worst change seems to be the lack of signage to the race start/finish and the ‘Sala de Prensa’. Before there would be signs on the motorway on the outskirts of the town, now there might be one at the end of the street.

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Strange place Murcia, they have what looks like the giant statue like Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro in what can only be described as a rough area of town.

Eventually the accreditation truck was found and all went well, except for the first time on the Spanish Grand Tour since my first in 2002, they wanted to see my press card! I have one, pity it ran out at the end of 2011. It was suggested that a letter from the PEZ editor would do, so when I started to write one (as PEZ editor), they accepted my out of date card and all was good. It is a good idea though, more food and drink for the journos.

Looking at the race book; the race passes through Murcia once before the second climb of the Cresta del Gallo, so I though it a good idea to get to the finish early to catch the first passage. OK, I should have looked a little closer, the first time through town, the race by-passed the finish line (at the top of the road) by about 500 meters. I wondered why it was quiet at the scheduled time!

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Not to worry, there were enough other things to keep me occupied. Walking down the finishing straight I heard my name being called. I don’t know that many people in Murcia, but it was a Yorkshire accent. It was Serena Rayner Meakin with her husband Gary and son Alexander on holiday near by. Serena’s first husband was Dave Rayner, a very talented British amateur and pro in the 80’s and 90’s, I was his mechanic in the Raleigh-Banana team. Dave died in terrible circumstances and now there is a foundation in his name to help young cyclists. Anyway, it was great to catch-up as I have probably not seen her for 20 years. One day I’ll make it to the dinner.

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Next to be spotted was Juan-Antonio Flecha who now works for Eurosport, he still looks fit and, more importantly, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to racing.

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The Vuelta souvenir salesman was doing a brisk trade but with all the free giveaways it’s always a surprise. Behind the trucks, in a department store window there was a display in homage to local hero, Alejandro Valverde. Bike, jersey, trophies and big posters, when he was on the podium he received the biggest cheer, closely followed by Esteban Chaves from all the Colombians in the crowd.

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It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without Perico Delgado and as usual he was doing the Spanish TV commentary. Podium girls? Yes, there were many, here are two in their casual uniforms, the make-up and dresses were for later.

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One big change that ASO has brought to la Vuelta is the publicity caravan. Years gone by there wasn’t one, every year it has got bigger. Now we have Carrefour (French), Alain Afflelou (French), Cofidis (French) and BIC (French), yes there are others, but it does look like an advert for French goods and services.

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I wouldn’t have the job of the guy in the BIC outfit for any money, I’m sure you could see a trail of sweat behind him.

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As well as the Colombians there was the ubiquitous Belgians, but they didn’t seem very interested in proceedings, that all changed when their countryman; Jasper Stuyven (Trek) took his first pro win.

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The news was coming through that Tejay van Garderen (BMC) had crashed, broken collar bone or shoulder, a bad year for him. He would be joined by Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) either on the way to hospital or home. On the big screen there was more crashes, unbelievably (again) a moto had hit the rear wheel of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo). He came across the line on is own over 5 minutes down. The usual happy look was a scowl of displeasure. He had also been fined 300CHF for “insults and behavior that damages the image of cycling.”

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Samu Sanchez looked a little flustered as he finished, he is now the undisputed leader of the BMC team, but it would have been handy to have Tejay along side him in the coming mountains.

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It was very happy Jasper Stuyven who opened the bottle of cava Grand Ducay, nearly as happy as young Colombian, Esteban Chaves. Three jerseys to collect and the fans love him.

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The biggest cheer of the day had to go to local hero, Alejandro Valverde and the newest addition to his collection of children. If Movistar had not won the day’s team prize, the organization would have had to invent a prize to get the ‘Green Bullet’ up on the podium.

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Trek also book-ended the stage as Stuyven was first to cross the line and Boy Van Poppel was last, he either didn’t know his teammate had won or was past caring. Finding his team bus was more important at that moment. The last ‘face from the past’ to be spotted was Fenando Escartin, he was not the best looking rider in the peloton in his time, but he could climb.

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Tomorrow the Vuelta leaves Murcia and we enter Valencia with its perfect road surface, well sign posted roads and beautiful mountains and coastal views. Big summit finish on stage 9, stay tuned to PEZ for more.

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