Individual time trials. I think I look forward to them about as much as the riders. I will leave you to take from that what you will.
Every photographer has their own way of tackling the longest day in the racing schedule. Some like to spend lots of time at the start of the time trial, documenting the riders warming up, the technical bike details and then each rider rolling down the ramp. Others find a spot on the course and shoot each rider as they pass. Either way, you get a lot for not a lot of effort.
Then there is me. I like to think I am still filled with a certain amount of youthful enthusiasm, so I try to make it as hard as possible for myself - often writing cheques my shuffle-running body can’t cash. I try to hit multiple spots to get as many different shots as possible (including the start and finish), so that, at the very least, I end up with a lot of material. To that end, 1953 images were taken on my cameras today.
The stage 16 individual time trial started at the Navarra Racing Circuit, which seemed like it would offer all sorts of advantages for the savvy photographer. However, after setting off on foot, I soon realised just how long a race circuit is, and, with no shade available from the baking sun, it suddenly didn't feel like such a great idea afterall.
Still, I persisted and found the tightest corner of the circuit. I was after a low angle so I laid down on the ground on the inside of the corner. Honestly, it may have been a little off-putting for the riders, as I saw a couple go for the brakes when they caught a glimpse of me lying right on the edge of the apex. I was certainly pushing the envelope, even resting my chin on the ripple strip at the edge of the course.
I jumped in after the next rider zoomed past, with The Don following closely behind the team car. It seems that following behind is still allowed at la Vuelta, something the Giro and Tour don't seem to allow anymore.
We pulled into a field, with the mountain I climbed yesterday in the background. However, after a couple more riders had passed, we decided to get moving again. I was certain there would be something more exciting, somewhere up ahead.
We pushed on and eventually found what we had been looking for! A tunnel of noise that was reminiscent of a mountain stage.
The crowd was already in full voice - spraying cava in the air, blowing air horns and racing each other on bikes in between each of the riders. There was even a DJ in one of the vans spinning tunes! The Don and I abandoned any additional plans we may or may not have had - this was the place to be.
We photographed each rider passing through the crowd, and then, in the gaps between the riders, joined in the festivities. I was glad to see most of the riders really seemed to enjoy this section of the course, breaking up the monotony of a particularly brutal ITT in the Spanish sun. The crowd, for their part, might have looked like an unruly mob, however they gave the riders more than enough space, never taking it too far. It was hilarious, yet respectful.
There also wasn't a single member of the Guardia Civil in sight, so the crowd just kept getting more inventive. At one point they had a stationary bike, peddled by a particularly brave (and coordinated) reveller. The crowd lifted him aloft, proceeding to run alongside the riders at top speed, while our brave peddler was bumped and shaken like he was on a mechanical bull. He was paraded around like a king upon a throne, somehow managing to also wave a giant flag pole whilst trying to balance and pedal. I was most impressed.
Still, all good parties must come to an end. In this case, word had somehow got to the Guardia Civil, who sent a crack response team of their biggest, meanest and hairiest officers to try and control a crowd that, frankly, didn’t require such a heavy-handed approach.
The response team included the guy that had pushed a spectator into a Shimano neutral service motorbike on stage 12, causing it to crash. Rather than immediately terminating this thug (as anyone else would have done for causing such a dangerous situation), it would seem that La Vuelta have promoted him. He strutted around as the rest of the team did their best to play the role of belligerent party poopers. Luckily, the crowd in this neck of the woods are made of sterner stuff, and the party raged on.
As we got closer and closer to the final riders, the crowd got more and more excited. Finally, Cantador came past, looking strong, and the place went absolutely bananas. If only he had pulled out the pistola hand gesture, I suspect some kind of en masse (or even national) orgasm may have ensued. I don’t think I have ever been witness to quite so much patriotic euphoria. Even when Cadel Evans won the Tour (the only Aussie to ever do so), I remember it being much more along the lines of “Nice work mate”.
Eventually the red skinsuit of Chris Froome came into sight, however it was difficult to tell how the final riders were performing. The organisers had been increasing the starting gaps between them, so they were less likely to catch the rider in front.
As we listened to the final moments of the race on the radio it was clear Froome had set a very fast time, maintaining his lead ahead of a difficult last week.
Thanks to all the partygoers for making it such a memorable stage for The Don and I - it was an afternoon we won't soon forget.