The Spanish have a wonderfully relaxed view of life. Afternoon siestas, dogs swimming unsupervised in public fountains and a lot less red tape for La Vuelta than at the Tour de France. Unfortunately, they also have a relaxed view about the accuracy of their Stage overviews, with considerably more climbing over the last two stages than listed.
Today’s Stage 4 route promised me 3,400m of vertical, which – based on previous experience – could possibly be as much as 4000m over 160km. After yesterday’s ‘issues’, followed by clumsily splitting my eyebrow open on the glass edge of the shower screen, I was wondering if I should start learning the words of the hail mary. If this kept up, I’d need all the assistance I could get, divine or otherwise.
My fresh white Santini jersey was possibly an optimistic choice given my makeshift eyebrow bandage job. Would it hemorrhage blood all down the front of me, like a virgin’s nightie in a B-grade horror movie? Or would the tailwind of luck be with me today?
We rolled out in darkness, making our way swiftly along the coastline towards Malaga. But the third piece of bad luck was waiting for us in the shadows, with Christian suddenly sliding out on a slippery patch of road. Gravel rash on hip and elbow was definitely not what he needed before the upcoming 30km climb (the longest of the Vuelta to date).
Believe it or not, myself and the Grand Tours Project crew are not the only ones insane enough to ride the tour route for fun! We met with another group of ‘psyclopaths’ on the first climb, and pedaled up together. Sadly the effort proved too much for the injured Christian, and he took a seat in the van just after the summit.
Dropping from mountains into olive groves gave us the kind of vistas that postcards only dream of. What pictures don’t show though is the sheer heat. My wished for lucky tailwind arrived with a vengeance and we raced along at 50km/hr. The hot wind stripped every drop of water from my molecules, and I had to stop and refill my bottles, pouring a couple over my head too.
Two local riders were filling up at the fountain as well, and we ended up riding the next section with them to Santa Fe. The stronger of the two turned out to be Antonio Miguel Díaz - a pro rider back in Miguel Indurain day. There was still some power left in those legs and I let him and Uri set the pace while I chugged down my water. Antonio assured us that the last climb wasn’t too bad, only 7km in length.
Spanish understatement strikes again
We hit the bottom of the final climb up Puerto de Alfacar, only to see a sign saying 15km to the summit. Spanish understatement strikes again! I had wet down my jersey, gloves and shoes trying to stay cool, and looked like I was ready to compete in a wet t-shirt competition for scrawny cyclist dudes. But I didn’t regret it with my bike computer telling me it was 43 degrees.
Handy Joe handed out focaccias – not exactly what I felt like, but I knew it would be perfect when I got to the top. So I struggled up the climb with a paper bag in one hand, gripping the bars tightly with the other as the gradient hit double digits.
Well earned focaccia
I was still 60m of vertical short of the official statistics (so who knows how far from the actual finish line) when the race officials closed the road and I was stopped by the policia. Truthfully, I wasn’t too upset about having to get off my bike at this point, even if it was a little short of the Stage total.
I was cooked, but had just enough energy left to change into my photographers vest and capture the pros riding up, chowing down on my well-earned focaccia.
Beardy McBeard (Team Amateur)
Total Distance: 163.2 km
Active Time: 7:03:17
Paused Time: 1:27:30
Average Speed: 23.15 km/hr
Cooked Meter Reading: Seafood Paella
“I’m totally cooked, but just grateful not to be dealing with any more “Dumoulins” today."
Ben King (Team Dimension Data)
Total Distance: 161.4 km
Active Time: 4:33:12
Paused Time: 0:00:00
Average Speed: 35.45 km/hr
"It's a dream come true. I really can't believe it. I didn't start believing in it until the last kilometre, and I'm really happy for the way it worked out. I'm happy for the confidence the team put in me, giving me the opportunity even though we're riding here in support of Louis [Meintjes]"