What is this curious wet stuff?
The sign on for Stage 11 of La Vuelta was a sedate affair. Waiting for the start in the sleepy town of Mombuey, there was little sign of how intense today’s race would play out to be. On paper, it already sounded tough, with 400m of climbing over 200km. But then an ominous boom of thunder rolled overhead and the skies opened.
I’d almost forgotten what rain looked like after the sweltering sun of the last couple of weeks. But I was reminded in a hurry as the streets suddenly transformed into streambeds. The peloton obviously didn’t want to stick around in these conditions, because they took off at a blazing pace.
Ignorance is bliss
While some of my fellow photographers headed straight to the finish line to chomp their way through the press buffet, Àlvaro and I remained blissfully oblivious to the new supercharged race schedule.
Our first location was a picturesque scene of riders crossing an old bridge with a castle as the backdrop. We noticed the bunch had some good pace on, but didn’t think much of it.
Meandering to our second spot 25km down the road, we saw the peloton strung out in single file with a big break in the middle, the second bunch led by Astana working hard for Miguel “Superman” Lopez.
But it wasn’t until our third stop that we realised just how fast these guys were moving, with the breakaway almost beating us there. They came screaming down the hill and across the bridge, followed by the chasing peloton which stretched in one huge line across the whole length of the bridge.
Fire up the horses
At this point, I became belatedly aware that the timing was no longer on the same page (or even planet) as the route book. The riders had covered 50km in the first hour alone, compared to the predicted maximum 39km.
No time for lunch - we’d have to fire up the horses (or however the Spanish hurry) to make the finish and get set up in time. Just one little problem…there was no sign of the coche escoba (broom wagon).
We waited…and waited…but the guy manning the intersection wouldn’t let us go. Eventually a small grupetto struggled past, but we still weren’t allowed to go!
Finally the coast was clear, but we had lost over 20 minutes. If we missed the finish I’d never live it down, especially after calling the others soft for taking the buffet option. We set off in tense, hungry silence.