Rest day 1 started sometime around 10:30am, with my face deeply buried in the pillow. Anyone who doubts the importance of a rest day or two on a grand tour needs to spend some time with the people involved in the race. By yesterday afternoon everyone, from the soigneurs to the official to the guy who throws free lollies off the back of a float in the promotional caravan, looked more dead than alive - sustained solely by the promise of a day off to get some decent sleep, some nutritious food and some deep remedial massage for lolly-thrower’s RSI.
Then there are the riders. As pampered as they may seem off the bike, they still, in my mind at least, have the toughest job in professional sport. No one I can think of suffers as much pain, for such long periods of time, with so little respite. I always think about the riders on rest days - and how much they go through to entertain millions - including myself. If I am honest, though, the main reason I am glad they are getting a break is because it means I get a much-needed one too.
Back to the rest day itself. After I got myself vertical (with a fair amount of mental perspiration) there were the usual jobs to get done. Our first ‘spot’ for the day was the local laundromat in Alhama de Murcia, a town that smelled strongly of cured meats, courtesy of one of la Vuelta’s major sponsors - El Pozo. I don't know a whole lot about chorizo politics, but these guys seem to be everywhere. In a nation of swine-addicted aficionados, controlling the means of chorizo distribution bestows incredible power, and these guys are at the top of the tree. El Pozo literally means ‘the hole’ - I guess you need somewhere to put all that sausage money.
We hung out in the laundromat for an hour or so, reading Spanish tabloids and watching the suds go round. I wasn't sure if a rest day ride was going to happen today, my motivation being fairly low. I was so tired and it had started to rain, meaning the excuses were piling up in my mind like my dirty washing. However, at 6pm, there was a faint glimmer of sunshine - so I went for it.
Wind beneath my wings
Trusty Don Àlvaro gave me a lift to the bottom of the Collado Bermejo climb before offering to come along and take photos as well. He said this was because he didn’t have a bicycle with him - and that, if he did, he would have ridden with me.
This man has serious character. He wouldn’t just follow you up the hill - he would follow you into battle if you asked him. He has risked life and limb for me, no-one has taken as much verbal confrontation in the name of Beardy’s Caravan as this guy. Yet, still, he sticks out his chin, and never takes a backward step - for a guy (me) who, until a week ago, was a complete stranger.
With The Don providing the wind beneath my wings, I got on the bike and headed out. The climb would feature in tomorrow’s stage, meaning there were some campers already in position. They gave me hearty shouts of encouragement, warming up their lungs for tomorrow as I sweated it out in the late hours of the day. The rain didn't return, meaning I made it to the summit just in time to catch the sunset.