They say sleep deprivation is the worst form of torture, and that’s before you factor in eight hours of riding every day. After punching out Beardy’s Caravan and wolfing down a late dinner (even by Spanish standards) of Secreto Iberico, I was left with only five hours to catch up on my beauty sleep, before I had to be up again for breakfast and another long 190 kilometre stage.
There’s a long list of things that I’ve loved about riding every kilometre of La Vuelta – and an equally long list of things that have made it so much harder than I expected – but getting up early after eight hours of riding is definitely the hardest part.
Today was essentially a transfer stage before tomorrow’s voyage into the mountains, and relatively flat too. In contrast to my usual daily grand tour schedule, sunrise has been a regular sight on this trip, the early hours bringing with them a different set of sights. This morning saw us rolling through the endless olive groves around Jaén, watching the sun appear through the trees and smoke from farmers burning branches. The picturesque scenes almost made the 5am alarm worth it.
We were on a tight schedule today, having been promised the opportunity to ride over the finish line and for the rest of the guys to get a tour of the finish line area. Regardless of the time ticking away, Uri had promised us all a coffee stop and boy did we need it after the early alarm. At around 40 kilometres in, the chat turned to all things caffeinated and toasted, but 50 and 60 passed and we still hadn’t seen a town.
I had a feeling that the only major climb of the day was coming up so I suggested we pull over for a snack – my blood sugar was at rock bottom and last night’s Secreto Iberico wasn’t going to keep the engine firing all day. This turned out to be a good idea as it wasn’t until 80 kilometres (once we’d crested the summit of the 10 kilometre, cat 3 climb) that we were able to find a cafe, our weary bunch more toasted than the tostadas that the waiter brought out with the coffees.
The lack of sleep was clearly taking its toll. In a bid to fight the fatigue, Uri made himself an “energetic tostado” with double butter and double jam, a wise move given the extra climbing that seems to go unmentioned in the Vuelta’s route outlines.
Olive trees turned to acorns as we continued on our way, pedalling deep into jamón ibérico country. The pigs were all huddled in the shade of the trees sleeping off their acorn-y breakfast. At lunch, it felt slightly wrong to be loading up my sandwich with the same little piggies we’d had for company for the last couple of hours, but a man’s gotta eat!
One to go
Once we left jamón country, it was a long, hot ride to the finish. Yet again myself and Sylvain duked it out, half-wheeling each other over every pinch and pushing the pace all the way to the barriers, where I collapsed in an exhausted, salty heap.
After getting my breath back and maybe an accidental minute-long siesta, I changed into my photographer’s bib and filled in the rest of my colleagues about today’s adventure, just in time to see the seemingly immortal Valverde notch up yet another grand tour stage win. I think they’re all going to miss my daily updates of what it’s actually like to ride the stage – it’s hard to believe there’s only one to go!
Beardy McBeard (Team Amateur)
Total Distance: 190.7 km
Ascent: 2289 m
Active Time: 6:40:31
Paused Time: 1:39:16
Average Speed: 28.6 km/hr
Cooked Meter Reading: Tostado
“Our weary bunch was more toasted than the tostadas that the waiter brought out with the coffees”
Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar)
Total Distance: 195.5 km
Active Time: 4:35:54
Paused Time: 0:00:00
Average Speed: 42.52 km/hr
“They said it was a hard finish and people could even lose time. My DS told me to get on Sagan’s wheel but I told him, ‘I’m not going to go for the stage today - I’m going to focus on not losing time. But in the end I got on Sagan’s wheel and was able to get past him. I know I’m in good shape but I was surprised with that.”