What's Cool In Road Cycling

Back Door Vuelta: To Hellin and Back

Today I went to the start and then drove the whole course to the finish, saw the lot, but in some ways I wished I hadn’t, but then I wouldn’t have seen some of the worst roads and rain that I have ever encountered, or had a really nice breakfast (early lunch) and met some interesting people.

Hellin is a nice place, at yesterday’s finish I wasn’t so sure, but a stage start is a much more relaxed affair than a stage finish. I got there just before 12 o’clock, it’s best to get there before they let in the “normal” people, the old women are the worst, get in their way of the food and you’re dead!

My first port of call was the Castilla La Mancha tent for some beautiful wine along with migas, which is made by frying breadcrumbs and sausage and some other bits, very nice.

Next was the Paella stand, you all know what that is, rice etc. there was also some pieces of tortilla on bread. A great menu for almuerzo (11 o’clock snack), sets you up for the day. I still have not had any Mexican food from the sign-on sponsor, Cantina Mariachi, though.

Bumped in to Craig Geator, one of the Discovery mechanics, he had just recovered from the gin and tonics on the first day in Vigo! He is looking forward to Madrid, but they might only have three riders soon because of crashes and riders going home to prepare for the worlds. He has had offers for next year, so things look OK for him.

The scandal on the race is that a journalist says the UCI has a list of 200 riders that they are suspicious of, no comment needed. The sad news is that Leo Piepoli had to go home as his wife is unwell after the birth of there first child, a son. He said he was too worried to concentrate on the race and it’s where a husband and father should be.

There was a lot of Police and Guardia around today, it’s a bit worrying to see sniffer dogs and men with mirrors looking down man-hole covers, maybe there had been a terrorist threat, the biggest problem today was going to be the weather.

The first 40 kilometers of the stage to Cieza was a bit boring, no people, no villages, just a straight road with a lightening storm in the distance, I should have enjoyed the piece while I could. [See Pelo-Pics for the stunning vista.]

Murcia has some bad roads and La Vuelta had managed to find the worst. From Cieza over the climb of the Puerto Espuсa and down to the sprint in Alhama de Murcia it was all bends, ups, downs, narrow bridges and rough sections. The climb was twisty, but the descent had rocks on one side and a big drop on the other. None of this was helped by the down pour of rain, my wind screen (shield) wipers are automatic, they have never moved so fast and I still couldn’t see where I was going. It also went cold, I had to turn on the heating, and it hadn’t been used since February.

I was glad to reach safety in Alhama were I bumped into Graham Baxter of Sporting Tours with a group of eighteen, mostly riding, but some only spectators. They had just been riding with Valverde, who is from this area; he had seen the rain clouds and headed home, to prepare for the Worlds? I had time for a chat, a photograph and then off to the finish.

As you get to the flat land towards the coast there is either farmland or building work and the Vuelta would be using new roads that were not open to the public yet. Even with accreditation I had a terrible job to get on them. Long sections with nothing to see, then what do I see? Yes the regulation Belgian camper van, every race must have one; I think the UCI must contract them for the season. I once asked someone what they thought of Spain? They said (looking at the building going on) it’ll be nice when it’s finished! Well this is how I felt now.

To the finish and the usual chaos, except there was one big difference, the break away was going to succeed, Andreas Klier had stayed “klear” of the peloton, and Peta didn’t even get the bunch sprint, that went to Bennati and our man, Magnus Backstedt had a good 8th place.

• I had been trying to have a word with the young Ag2r Irish rider, Philip Deignan since his great ride to the top of the ski station at Cerler when he only finished 2 minutes behind the winner Piepoli. A wet and dirty Deignan rolled up to the team bus, I asked “hard day, Philip?” “Yea, real hard!” So I had to ask the stupid question “how do you feel?” I could have bitten my own tongue off; the guy had just ridden 150kilometers in 4 hours in a thunder storm, DUH! He took it in his stride “I feel good, I was terrible in the first week, but I’m improving as we go on.” He could have given me the brush off under the circumstances, but didn’t, nice.

It only left me to see if the bloke who sells the Vuelta gift pack was doing much business, for 10 Euros you get a T shirt, hat, watch, radio, sunglasses and a bracelet, a bargain! But he wasn’t that busy. Saw the girls waiting to do their podium stuff and then I was off to send in my story and photo’s. That’s 2,000 kilometers on my car in three days and thanks to Murcian roads my car now has a new clunking noise, but it was worth it!

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