Every Tour rider has their own arcane preparation routine, be that lathering inch-thick chafing cream onto their chamois or wearing their lucky Tasmanian charm. But I’m willing to bet most of them don’t involve staying up half the night editing photos and drinking Spanish beer. Perhaps it could be a new winning formula? I was about to find out.
6am on the startline of Stage 2 of the Vuelta a España was pitch black, and warm enough at 24 degrees I could almost pretend I was still snuggled up in bed. At least until the first hill of today’s “flat” stage, which was way tougher than I expected. At 45km in I had already done 1000m vertical, without having a coffee yet.
But even suffering from caffeine withdrawal, seeing the sun rise over sleeping Spain was pretty incredible. The landscape looked much softer in the cooler morning light and the empty road unfurled in front of us.
Horses are the new bicycles
By the next town we were in full coffee hunt mode, which was easier said than done on a Sunday morning at 9am. What we did find a lot of were horses, ridden by young couples and kids dressed in their Sunday best. Perhaps if we followed the horses, they would lead us to a cafetería, like a faithful dog leading its master to water? It was worth a shot.
Sweet, sweet success (literally) as we found a shop selling Bon Bon espresso with condensed milk. I inhaled a couple of rounds while lathering on the sunscreen – the early morning cool was evaporating fast.
We couldn’t spend too long horsing around though. The last 70km was a big loop that we would ride twice, meaning we had to make the turnoff in time as not to be cut off by the pros.
The world’s most dangerous walkway
My first sight of the Caminito del Rey (King’s little pathway) was breathtaking, a tiny bridge strung over empty space between two sheer cliffs. As I slogged my way up the finishing climb - for the first time – the air was laden with the smell of ripe figs and pine needles and the sound of cicadas singing filled my ears.
El Caminito has been known in the past as the "world's most dangerous walkway" following five deaths in 1999 and 2000. As the temperature rose to 40 degrees and I polished off my 10th bottle of water, I started to think that toppling to my death into the sparkling lake below might not be such a bad way to go – at least I’d die cool.
Despite a killer headwind, Sylvan and I made the final turnoff in time. The pro riders were on the course now so we had to keep pushing on. Officials cars started passing meaning the riders weren’t far back – way to put the pressure on my poor tired legs! The spectators getting ready to watch the race helped cheer us towards the finish “Venga vamos!”
No rest for the wide-angled
To my relief, we scuttled across the line before the official race caught us. But there was no time to relax. I hurried back to the car and got my OLYMPUS ready to shoot the pros. After one pass by of the peloton, my legs were cramping and I decided to do the public a favour and take myself and my salt-encrusted kit to a shower, stat.
Beardy McBeard (Team Amateur)
Total Distance: 171.48 km
Active Time: 6:36:35
Paused Time: 2:21:48
Average Speed: 25.98km/hr
Cooked Meter Reading: Toast
“Who calls 3000m of climbing a ‘flat’ stage? We had to contend with headwinds and very hot conditions. My legs were toasted and we averaged 10km/hr less than the pros, with 2 hours of rest stops!"
Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar)
Total Distance: 163.5 km
Active Time: 4:13:01
Paused Time: 0:00:00
Average Speed: 38.77km/hr
"I'm delighted…In the Tour [de France], I didn't get all the good sensations I was looking for. And now I feel like I have the condition I was looking for. It had been some time since I had won a stage at La Vuelta and I wanted to get one, so I'm very happy."