Bus drivers & broomsticks
Don Àlvaro assured me several times that it never rained in the Murcia region. Unless, of course, it did - and then everything floods. His cryptic riddle proved most wise on stage 11, as, after days of beautiful sunshine, the heavens opened in somewhat dramatic fashion. As I pulled the curtains open this morning, I was treated to a scene that could only be described as dismal.
Team Sunweb and Team LottoNL-Jumbo were both staying in the same hotel as The Don and I, and we got chatting to Chris Hamilton from Sunweb over breakfast. It seemed the riders were about as excited to head out into the deluge as we were. On days like this I was truly thankful to be in the car.
The drive to the start confirmed the extensive flooding that Don Àlvaro had predicted. As we ploughed through puddles, spraying walls of water metres into the air, it was hard to imagine how the riders would be able to race on these roads.
The team bus drivers were kept busy at the start line, emptying their heaving awnings by poking the pooling masses of water with broomsticks. The water cascaded onto unsuspecting passers-by like a waterfall.
I had forgotten to bring my raincoat to la Vuelta, so I fashioned a makeshift one from a clear plastic laundry bag, ripping 3 holes in it. I have mentioned previously that I would never stoop to using a garbage bag as a rain coat. Well, friends, today it happened.
After shooting the stage 11 sign-on, the riders rugged up for the soggy conditions and headed out on the course. My shoes were already squelching.
Ponchos & punctures
The route today took a short diversion along the coastline, before heading inland towards the climb of Alto de Velefique, then finishing on top of De Calar Alto at 2120 metres.
A last-minute press communication warned about parking on the grass due to the flooding. Apparently, they were worried about the likelihood of vehicles getting bogged. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t pay much attention - however the rain was becoming insane. After almost getting bogged yesterday, despite the Škoda’s otherwise flawless performance on this Caravan so far, we scrapped our plans for a coastal shot in favour of the first climb out of Lorca. This would give us more time to park and get organised - as it was sure to be chaos at the summit.
Trampling around it the bushes looking for a spot on the first climb, my shoes were now muddy and soggy. My makeshift raincoat, however, was doing a great job at keeping the rest of me dry. The riders came into view and, sure enough, a breakaway was using the climb as an opportunity to pour the hurt on the chasing peloton.
There were a host of punctures yesterday and it seemed it would be a similar story today. I watched as Fabio Aru and his team tried to catch back up after he had flatted earlier in the stage.
The rain was also creating havoc with local traffic, forcing us to slow for a truck that slid straight off the road. We came up the back of the final climb, only turning onto the race route for the last 10kms. It was still pouring with rain - the visibility was now virtually zero.
I knew the spot we needed to be. It was the last steep pinch before the finish. When we arrived the place was almost empty, which wasn't surprising considering the rain, wind and freezing temperatures. I put on everything I had with me, for a total of 5 layers. Yet I was still cold! I retreated to the car for some heated seat time, while we waited for the riders.
Something fantastic happened. The rain stopped, the clouds started to break up, and crowds started to swarm in - until the road was full.
I had considered my spot very carefully. I knew if the Guardia Civil locked their icy gaze on me, I would be lifted from the road - or just pushed to the curb. So I didn't stay still, weaving through the crowd, until I found a gap in the patrol. I had a Spanish flag opposite me for some colour and the mountains in the distance - this was the place. It was a nervous time waiting for the riders, as you only get one chance. Besides the threat of the police, that perfect shot can easily be spoilt by an iPad thrust out in front of your lens, or a TV motorbike blocking the riders fro your view. Luckily I chose wisely today, the spectators parted and I had a clear shot straight at the riders.