With over 180 kilometres to cover on stage 7, there would be no sleep in for my weary body and soul today. Under the cover of darkness we rolled out of Puerto Lumbreras, initially on the main highway – but after a few close calls we found a quieter back road that had us heading in the same direction. The road was rough, even gravel in parts, but nonetheless preferable to hugging the shoulder with semi-trailers breathing down our necks.
The gradually climbing road ended up being a great way to start the day, with the rising sun illuminating the mountains, a castle on a hill above, and the town below. Over the top of the climb, we hit a fast section of flat road and to my delight, pushing hard on the pedals seemed to improve my sore knee. Who needs a Spanish farmacia anyway?
Zooming along at 50 km/h, our humble little breakaway knocked out a tidy 100 kilometres before we’d even stopped for coffee (10 coffees for 8 euro, by the way). While we were parked up, an English couple from the area recognised me and I took a photo with them.
One thing we’d noticed was how green the area looked compared to previous stages, and the couple told us about the nearby El Portillo Reservoir and bountiful springs and groundwater in the region. Rolling out again, we soon passed the reservoir, which looked full to the brim with emerald green water that was more reminiscent of the lakes in the Alps.
I was thinking of that water a lot over the last 50 kilometres of the day. As we dropped further and further down off of the plateau, the air got hotter and drier, sucking all of the moisture out of our bodies before we hit the final, category-three climb. My knee was still holding up strong and I was determined to hold on to my climbing buddy Sylvan, who had put me to the sword numerous times over the last three days. It was time to get one back.
I immediately regretted my decision as the oven-like air roasted my throat, but I gritted my teeth and held the wheel, even managing to put in a big effort to roll over the top of Sylvan in the final metre. A small group of spectators appreciated the show as we both collapsed in the shade of an olive tree to catch our breath and wait for the others.
We made it just in time to the next town for the peloton to come through on its first lap of the finishing circuit. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) our support car got stuck behind the barriers, so we wouldn’t be able to complete the second lap of the circuit ourselves. I can’t say I was too mad at a slightly early knock-off, and it gave me more of an opportunity to shoot the pros.
After throwing on some more casual gear over my salt-encrusted lycra, I headed to the finish line. The peloton were steaming along and I didn’t have time to put my shoes on, attracting some strange looks thanks to my zebra Santini cycling socks and matching Adidas slides.
My fellow snappers hadn’t seen me for two days and many presumed that I’d packed it all in, but it was with a somewhat smug sense of satisfaction that I told them of my riding exploits. True photographic hardmen don’t bother with air-conditioned cars – they ride the whole race route themselves.
Despite my borderline cramping legs and glycogen-depleted system, it was fun to re-enter the fray of the finish line. It turned out to be worth it too, with a late solo break by AG2R’s Tony Gallopin just holding off a fast-finishing (and heavily reduced) peloton led by Peter Sagan.
Luck was on my side too as an exhausted yet overjoyed Gallopin pulled up right in front of me. He was so close that I think he even noticed my stylish slide/sock combo – take notes Tony, take notes.
Beardy McBeard (Team Amateur)
Total Distance: 179.6 km
Ascent: 2402 m
Active Time: 6:35:38
Paused Time: 2:23:42
Average Speed: 27.2 km/hr
Cooked Meter Reading: Pastel de Carne - a traditional Murcian baked meat pie
“I immediately regretted my decision as the oven-like air roasted my throat, but I gritted my teeth and held the wheel, even managing to put in a big effort to roll over the top of Sylvan in the final metre”
Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale)
Total Distance: 185.7 km
Active Time: 4:18:20
Paused Time: 0:00:00
Average Speed: 43.13 km/hr
"We knew the final was hectic a little bit, so we had a plan that first we try to go in a breakaway, then at the end, the team put me in a really good position and I fight with the best. Then when we came on the last straight road, I had a plan that if I have a possibility I try to attack. I found a good moment - and I'm so happy”