Steps in time
Human nature is a funny thing - you always want what you can’t have. After cursing regularly in these posts about the long distances stuck in various vehicles, all Álvaro and I have been talking about is how much we want to turn our brand new Škoda’s engine over and hit the road for some adventure.
It has been two days since the key has been in the relative proximity of the ignition (cars these days!), which is a strange experience on a grand tour. However, with more than 5,000km of La Vuelta driving ahead of us, I suspect the novelty will wear off soon enough. At that point we can safely resume normal programming, whinging about our sore legs and stiff backs.
The Octavia’s loss was our leg’s gain, with a solid workout on regular offer. Yesterday we walked over 8km in precision accreditation manoeuvres, and today we also had multiple opportunities to close the rings. The centre of Nîmes had very little by way of parking and we were staying only 1600m from where we needed to be. That made for 3.2km on the pedometer before we had even snapped a shot.
Which brings us to the team time trial. Comprising a hectic 13.7 km course, I really felt for the riders. Winding its way around the city, it would have been difficult enough as an ITT, let alone a team of 9 on the rivet, trying to stay in tight formation. Oh, and right through the middle of a bullfighting stadium.
Speaking of numbers, Álvaro and I had set ourselves an ambitious challenge - trying to cover five spots in 90mins of team time trial. In 30 degree heat. Let the games begin. ¡Olé!
We walked the route ahead of the riders, checking the various locations and calculating the shuffle-run time between them. For new readers, the shuffle-run is about my top speed on a grand tour, laden down with various cameras, lenses, accreditation lanyards and high-thread count (read: heavy) media vest - amongst other things.
So, to protect the gear, and my posture, I shuffle like an olympic walker, trying to glide as quickly and smoothly as possible. Whilst, at the same time, trying to minimise vertical movement so as to keep the various accessories delicately draped around me from battering me in my more sensitive areas. I have this movement down to a fine art, and Álvaro is already showing great promise.
Accordingly, Álvaro and I were now moving with the precision of a well-oiled, synchronised shuffle-run machine. We were (shuffle) running our own team time trial, gliding in formation around the streets like a couple of pros.
The jewel in the stage 1 crown was the bullring, but this presented its own unique challenges. The first was getting in the door.
Most of the doorways were closed and barriers cordoned off any other access points that weren't already jam-packed with queuing spectators. Next we needed to negotiate the monstrous polished lime stone steps and countless dark corridors. As close to a miracle as you can get with both feet still on the ground, we finally found our way in.
The next part of the story is a blurry haze of heat stroke as we madly ran against a tide of people. Our ambitious, pre-shuffled plan had sounded fairly straightforward only moments ago, however with the clock now ticking, we were pouring sweat. Team by team sped past, cranking up the PSI in our midday pressure cooker and threatening to blow a gasket.
Still, true to form we somehow managed to pull it off, catching Team BMC as they rolled back in to take the hot seat. They were such pros, waiting quietly and patiently until the last team had completed the course before erupting in celebration.
Rohan Dennis seemed to have won everything, and offered the same exact facial expression and arm position in each podium shot. Looking back through the shots, there was a mechanical (almost Stepford-like) quality to his podium behaviour - had he been replaced by a clone? Still, it would be an Australian clone - and that was OK by me. Despite having a publicly sentimental spot reserved for Contador in his last grand tour (and to avoid Álvaro bludgeoning me in my sleep on patriotic grounds), I swelled with Aussie pride at seeing Rohan in the red jersey. The Vuelta was off to a great start!
Back to you, Álvaro
Soon afterwards we were downloading our images in the press room in what should have been a completely normal, and otherwise innocuous, end to the stage. However, in this case, it ended up being the prelude to the most eventful moment of the day.
It started when the press officer came over to tell us we were not to leave the room. There were mutterings about a situation involving a gunman at the Nîmes train station. Accordingly, they were locking us up for our own safety.
We hadn't eaten and it was long past 9pm, leading Álvaro to preemptively raid the scraps of the press banquet - netting a couple of stale bread rolls that would double as handy truncheons - just incase we were holed up for the night. I sincerely hoped not, I didn't fancy sleeping on the floor with only a bread roll wrapped in an accreditation vest for a pillow.
Álvaro tweeted that we had been locked in the La Vuelta pressroom. Next thing we knew, CNN news were calling to find out the latest on the situation. We gave them a detailed rundown of our bread roll haul (what else could we tell them?).
Still, his tweet went viral. Even after the threat had passed, and we were released to find the closest pizza joint, the phone just kept ringing well into the night.