The party animal
After the stress of yesterday, I couldn’t blame Álvaro for wanting to take the edge off with a few soothing beers. But I didn’t expect him to come tip-toeing back in at 4:30am, having clearly tied one on at the Vuelta party in Andorra – work hard, play hard, I guess!
I, on the other hand, woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the final mountain stage of this year’s Vuelta, so I let the party animal catch up on his beauty sleep while I submitted the necessary paperwork to the insurance company to claim back my stolen items from yesterday. With Álvaro’s snores continuing right through his mid-morning alarm, I was minutes away from pouring a glass of water on his face, but my hungover and grumpy sidekick was back on his feet after a few loud claps and whistles.
With another lame bus trip – direct to the summit of the final climb – scheduled for media and photographers, we decided to take matters into our own hands on today’s stage. For us, three locations (plus sign-on) were on the cards, made possible by me riding my bike and gear up the last 4-kilometre long climb, which would be closed to all cars except the race convoy.
I’d shot our first spot – a tight corner on the Coll de la Comella – during the 2017 Vuelta, so I had a good idea of what to expect. At sign-on, Álvaro had overheard riders discussing not putting water bottles on their bikes until the top of the first climb to save weight, as the course went directly uphill from the start line and would be full-gas from the get go. With the rest of the photographers taking the bus to the finish, I had the climb all to myself, and fired off a few shots of the breakaway trying to escape a Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar controlled peloton.
You reap what you sow
After the race passed we had to turn around and head back down the way we’d came, with the road now open and filled with traffic. I was already thinking of my ride up the final climb and the time ticking away, and didn’t want to have to set a new KOM just to make my photo spot in time.
Álvaro could sense my stress levels and flicked on the hazard lights, casually skipping a lengthy queue of stopped cars by driving on the wrong side of the road. Confidence is key in these situations, and the Guardia Civil simply waved us through, with no need for a negotiation or Jedi mind trick on this occasion.
Soon enough we pulled up at the base of the final climb, and I quickly loaded up my camera and got on the bike. The crowds lining the side of the road weren’t as numerous (or crazy) as those in the Basque country, but just before the barriers began at 500 metres to go there was some action building. I set up in the apex of the corner, a little nervous about the growing number of people standing in front of me.
Just as eventual stage winner Enric Mas and Superman Lopez came into sight, a fan wearing a bright yellow shirt ran up the inside, completely blocking my shot. I still managed to get an image but the riders were overshadowed by the lunatic in the foreground. There were no police anywhere to be seen and the crowd were taking full advantage, running up and back with each rider, so after the first couple of riders passed, I decided it was time to move on.
I’m usually the first to complain about excessive police presence, so I guess it’s karma.
All roads lead to Madrid
Simon Yates might have held on to the red jersey today, but the real stroke of genius was our escape plan. Once the race went past, I bombed it down to the base of the hill, where Álvaro was waiting with the boot already open, ready to pack my bike. As the road was still closed, the rest of the spectators would be queuing in their cars for hours to get off the mountain, but we skipped all of that and got away scot-free.
With only 600 kilometres between us and Madrid, I got on to editing as Álvaro explained to me the most efficient speeds to use on the autopista while still avoiding a speeding fine. After another big day we were both starving, so once we had a couple of hundred kilometres under the belt, we pulled in at a roadhouse to wolf down a bocadillo or three and a cafe con leche. We’d need the caffeine, with our next stop Madrid and the final stage of the 2018 Vuelta.