A fistful of spaghetti
Today, for stage 13, we plunged deep into Spain’s interior. A place where there are ten times more olive trees than people. A place where the sun shines so brightly that you squint even with sunglasses on. A place of whitewashed villages and scorched brown fields. A place where you can cook a tortilla on the bonnet of your car.
It is no wonder a number of famous spaghetti westerns - including the iconic Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Dollars Trilogy - were shot in Spain. As for Don Àlvaro and myself, we were still one hombre short of completing The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. We were still looking for someone to play the good guy...
Today the race wasn't going to give us much as it was one of the few flat stages of this year’s la Vuelta. Still, that guaranteed a sprint finish and, if Matteo Trentin didn't win, I told The Don I would eat his straw hat. He had become quite fond of it, so making him watch me eat it would be well worth the sacrifice.
The start for stage 13 was in Coín. There was a lot of talk amongst the teams about yesterday's dramas with buses catching on fire, out of control Guardia Civil and riders being pushed off their bikes.
For a few turbines more
The first spot we had picked was not far from the undulating start. It was also over the category three climb - which was the only hill for today. There was no shortage of wind turbines in the area - but the breeze did little to counteract the sun's scorching rays.
Stopping at a bridge over a lake, we found that there wasn't much of a lake left. Clearly the rain we experienced in Murcia hadn't reached here for quite some time. I trekked up the hill in search of a better angle and came across a dilapidated farmhouse. Exploring inside I found a window to shoot out of, but decided against it. The roof was only just holding together, and I didn't fancy it falling on my head.
After the bridge there was nothing much left to do but drive straight to the finish. I was glad we did - the combination of Seville traffic and road blocks, coupled with a complicated route to the press room, didn't leave much room for error.
The Beard, The Don and tres hombres
Packing in with the other photographers, I knelt down - placing one knee on the asphalt. I immediately lifted it again, after my shorts were seared like on a hot plate.
The sprint was uphill to the finish. However, when I saw the green jersey of Trentin out front, I knew that The Don’s hat would be safe. After 200 km in the heat the riders looked exhausted, guzzling icy drinks or spraying themselves with water.
We had yet another long transfer after the stage was finished. Tonight's accommodation was a charming little truck stop on the highway, the Spanish equivalent to an outback roadhouse. I hoped the restaurant might offer up something of interest, since there was nothing else for miles around. However, other than an enormous minute steak, there was little to work with.
Was this restaurant, that could seat over 80 people, ever full? Certainly not tonight - it was just The Don, myself, and 3 strangers.