Sunday morning pub crawl
Waking up at 11.30am in Álvaro’s family apartment in La Elipa, Madrid on the final morning of La Vuelta, I felt like I’d fully integrated into the Spanish way of life. The sun spilled through the windows and I could hear the music of a neighbourhood festival outside.
Why bother with breakfast when you can go on a Spanish pub crawl instead? Álvaro’s family (Señor, Señora and Señorita Don) took us on a Grand Tour of the local bars, which were all offering a special tapa and caña deal for just €2. Esta es la vida! After 3 beers I was ready to follow my sleep in with a siesta in the spirit of my new cultural identity.
But photographs of the final stage weren’t going to take themselves, so instead we hauled our gear to the bus stop and made for the city centre.
Bike racing is the new bullfighting
A famous quote from H. O'Shea about 1865 Madrid says "God worked six days, and rested on the seventh: Madrileños rest the six, and on the seventh... go to the bullfight." It was a bike race rather than a bullfight ahead of us, but the Spanish appetite for entertainment obviously hasn’t changed in 150 years, the streets thronging with people making their way to the race course. Impressive as Alvaro’s road block negotiating skills are, our bus driver’s were even better, managing to talk an entire bus nearly all the way there.
Due to road works this year’s finishing circuit was a simple up and back, missing the magnificent metropolis building (excuse me while I shed a photographer’s tear). By the time the riders made it from Alcorcon to Madrid, it was golden hour, giving the riders and city a celebratory glow, and Aussie Mitchell Docker’s blonde mullet an almost divine appearance, like a bogan demi-god.
Duck for cava
Just as the sun was setting, the bunch sprint swept over the line in a thunder of cheers and applause, Viviani making the stage win and Yates finishing in the main pack to take his first ever Grand Tour.
Riders hugged and clapped each other on the back. You could feel the joy, pride and relief radiating off them. After covering 3324 kilometres pedal stroke by pedal stroke, pushing themselves to their limits and beyond day after day, they had finally made it…and so had we.
As I watched the place getters celebrate with geysers of cava, I reflected on my own Vuelta journey. From riding 8 hours a day in the intense heat of Malaga to giving everything I had to get the best photographs possible. It had been some of my hardest 3 weeks of race chasing, but the most rewarding for sure. I’m still to find the perfect balance of cycling and photography, but I think I’m getting closer.
A huge thanks to Álvaro for putting up with me once again, and not complaining (or at least, not too much), the Grand Tours Project for inspiring me to experience the Vuelta in a whole different way, and to all of YOU for joining another Beardy’s Caravan escapade! I’m returning to the cultural home of mullets, Australia, but I’ll be back soon with more cycling adventures.