Just as it was starting to feel like we were home and hosed at this year’s Vuelta, disaster struck. I awoke this morning to find Álvaro speaking on the phone in hushed tones, a dark look on his face. The only word I could make out thanks to my very elementary Spanish was ‘coche’, the word for car. It didn’t sound good.
Hanging up, Álvaro relayed the news back to me: our trusty SKODA had been broken into, and the police had caught the suspects in the act. Even better, as a safety precaution, it had been towed to the local impound. Great.
It couldn’t have happened on a worse day, as we had been instructed by the organisers the night before that we had to leave Lleida before the race started, otherwise it would be impossible to get in front of the race to see the finish. It was panic stations as Álvaro and I scrambled to get our things together, frantically waving down a cab to take us to the impound.
After a long and heated discussion with the lady behind the counter, the Don turned to me and said “she’s as stubborn as me”. Apparently we were meant to pick up the paperwork from the local police station first in order to release the car. After another heated conversation on the phone that ended with a cacophony of muchas gracias, Álvaro convinced the Mossos d’Esquadra to fax through the paperwork; according to the now defeated lady behind the counter, it was the first time they had ever accepted faxed paperwork. Ah, the joys of Spanish bureaucracy.
Stubborn Spanish impound lady defeated, it was time to inspect the car. On first approach, it didn’t look good: the driver’s side passenger window was smashed into a thousand tiny pieces, and glass fragments were strewn around the cabin. So I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw my bike and Álvaro’s camera still inside! All that appeared to be missing was my kit bag with bike shoes, sunglasses, bike computer and compact camera – a minor miracle, really.
Justice is served
After all the dramas at the impound, the time before the race started was rapidly slipping away from us – and we still had to visit the local police station to see if they had my kit bag. I waited outside while Álvaro went in, and he soon returned – bag of Santini kit in tow – with all the gory details. According to the report, two suspects had smashed the window at 4:45am and were in the process of stealing our stuff when they were spotted. They fled, dropping the Santini kit in the process, but one of the scoundrels was caught and arrested.
With only ten minutes until race start, my Spanish sidekick relayed all of this to me as we zoomed through the streets of Lleida, wind blowing straight through the broken window. I tried to plug the hole with one of the race direction arrows that I’d ‘acquired’ for Beardy’s Bric a Brac but it was a little too small. And although we cut it rather fine, thanks to Álvaro’s skill behind the wheel, we managed to make it back in front of the race.
The current shutter count for the race today was sitting at nada de nada, so it was time to get to work. Unfortunately though, the finishing climb of the Coll de la Rabassa was steep at the start but flattened off towards the finish, so the race organisation had placed all the VIP hospitality areas directly after the line, completely wrecking my chances of a good shot.
I was running out of options as the climb didn’t have much in the way of scenic views on the drive up either, so I decided my best chance was capturing the finish from behind. These shots don’t usually work as the winner is crowded out of the frame by the other riders, but I hedged my bets that they’d be finishing solo or in dribs and drabs.
So, it was a great relief to see the lone figure of Thibaut Pinot come around the final corner, with Simon Yates in hot pursuit. A second mountaintop stage win for Pinot – what a great Vuelta it’s been for the lanky Frenchman.
All’s well that ends well
After snapping off a few more shots of the riders post-finish, and happy with my photo haul given the less than ideal circumstances, we decided to try our luck at the SKODA service. After another heated conversation and explanation of our situation, things were looking promising, so Álvaro left me editing photos in the car to negotiate some more.
When the Don came back and greeted me with a big smile and a thumbs up – happily announcing that “they are going to fix it for us” – pure relief washed over me. Everything was going to work out. Now the only thing left to do was locate a pair of size 46 cycling shoes with Shimano cleats so I could go for a ride tomorrow...