A full weetbix day
Stage 5 of the Vuelta included a 10km neutral zone and 190km stage, adding up to 200 big ones in total. I was going to need my weetbix for breakfast, that was for sure (or whatever Spanish equivalent I could rustle up).
We pedaled our way out of Granada through suburban streets and smaller main roads, colourful roadside billboards and powerlines contrasting against the distant mountains. While the morning was cool enough now, it wouldn’t be long before the full heat of the day was upon us.
A feature of Spanish towns like Lanjaron are the white-painted roadside trees (instead of Dulux Weathershield, they use a traditional mixture of copper sulfate hydrate and slaked limestone). Apparently before the time of streetlights, the white trees helped people see the roads or paths when it was dark, and the tradition seems to still be going strong.
The hunted become the hunters
The first climb of the day kicked in, and so did the heat. Thankfully the wind was in our favour, and it just kept intensifying. If I’d been wearing a loose 1940s silk cycling jersey, I could have used it like a sail!
Partway up, the Vuelta caravan passed us, which was odd as they are usually only an hour in front of the racers. Shrugging it off, we made it to our lunch stop in good time, and dug into the charcuterie.
While we were eating, I noticed one of the TV cars which usually stick to the race like burrs. I asked one of the nearby policia what was going on, and he told me the riders were only 15km away! We still had 80km to cover, and even with the howling tailwind there was no way we would be able to hold off the peloton, even if we scattered our cheeseboard on the road as a distraction for hungry riders.
Sure enough, the lead motorbike came past and taped off all the side roads. It looked as if we’d be finishing after the race today. At least knowing I was chasing behind them would keep the peloton honest - the hunted had become the hunters. (We later discovered the race had been started an hour early to try and avoid the intense heat of the past couple of days.)
Two-wheeled treasure hunt
We joined the local townsfolk to cheer as the colourful racers rolled through, then jumped on our bikes in quick pursuit. I’m not sure if it was the epic tailwind, but I was feeling good today. Maybe I was finally getting used to spending 8 hours in the saddle.
One advantage of being behind the racers was the chance to collect some bidons, like a plastic treasure hunt on two wheels. It seemed we might be out of luck though as no red blooded Spaniard was going to drive past a free bottle. Just as I was giving up hope, a glint of bright green caught my eye. A Euskadi Basque Country bidon! The perfect addition to my Beardy’s Bric-a-brac giveaway.
I channeled my inner Baywatch babe and wet down with water again for the final Category 2 climb. The 10km grind went on, and on. When we finally reached the summit my Stage elevation read 3100m. I’ve never been so thankful for a long downhill run.
By the time we reached Roquetas de Mar the team buses had already started clearing out. It’s strange seeing the race packing up but having no idea of the results. The finishing arch was already being dismantled, so I had to resort to riding around the block to get my final kilometre, rounding the total off to a very respectable 200km.
The Caravan’s biggest fan
No sooner had I come to a standstill, when I had a guy thrusting a La Vuelta cap and black marker in my hands, asking me to sign it for him. He was either a massive Beardy’s Caravan fan, or had absolutely no idea and just thought anyone on a bicycle was part of the pro peloton. I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise, so signed it and posed for a photo – my own Simon Clarke moment for the day.
UPDATE: Did Stage 5 winner Clarkey just credit me in his victory speech? Talking to the cameras, he said “I was so worried they would catch us from behind”. I’ll leave you to decide, but personally, I think the extra pressure of me chasing helped him power over the line. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Beardy McBeard (Team Amateur)
Total Distance: 200.2 km
Ascent: 3153 m
Active Time: 7:40:12
Paused Time: 2:34:07
Average Speed: 26.1 km/hr
Cooked Meter Reading: Crema Catalana (the “poor man’s creme brûlée”)
“Maybe I was finally getting used to spending 8 hours in the saddle.”
Simon Clarke (Team EF Education First-Drapac)
Total Distance: 188.7 km
Active Time: 4:36:07
Paused Time: 0:00:00
Average Speed: 41 km/hr
“It’s such a long stage. It's so hard to sprint after that. Even I was cramping when Mollema attacked and I just rode through it. I backed myself. I was so worried they would catch us from behind, but in that situation you just have to be as cold as ice. You've got to be willing to lose to win, and I was and I came out on top."