All downhill from here
So long Andorra! We loaded the car boot with a haul of duty free booze and smokes, before gunning it for the Spanish border. I have been quizzing Don Álvaro day and night about the culinary delights that await us there. Presented in order of hypersalivation, I am most looking forward to feasting on the following: paella, pinchos and postres.
Before the great mastication could begin, however, we had la Vuelta business to attend to. We dropped by the start of stage 4 to snap the riders and, more importantly, rifle the press tent buffet.
Today was a transfer stage, which basically means a 200km, dead-straight course of little consequence to the race (or spectators) beyond getting the riders from one area to the next in the shortest time possible. Stage 4 was, in essence, a gravity-assisted downhill roll, starting at 810m altitude and finishing at 40m above sea level. Thankfully there was a category 3 speed bump 60-odd km from the finish to ensure the riders didn’t fall asleep...
Phoning it in
I had pinpointed a spectacular lake with a mountainous background for our first detour. I was thrilled to discover that most of the press photographers had phoned this stage in, meaning The Don and I (plus a few other hard-working souls) had the place all to ourselves. The water below was so clear and I could see some rather large fish swimming lazily (they had phoned it in too). They seemed so close to the shore that one Bear Grille-style lunge and that evening’s paella shopping list would have some momentum.
A lack of parallel roads meant a super long diversion to make it to the finish. Accordingly, while The Don drove and managed the playlist, I added to the crumbs in the Škoda by whipping up some enroute sandwiches. I opted for jamón, cheese and some pickles while Don Álvaro went for the meat lover’s special; chorizo, jamón x2 and a token of cheese, all washed down with a strong cup of filter coffee from the flask.
Change of pace
We made it to the finish with ample time up our sleeve again, which is a pleasant change of pace I’ll admit I’m still adjusting to. It was also another baking hot afternoon, so we found a patch of shade to wait under until it was sprint time.
With another win for Quickstep in the bag, I am perfecting the art of capturing the post-sprint celebration with minimal effort. I just wait for the last members of the team to cross the line and then loiter near them until the winner comes over. This way I avoid getting pushed around or, more importantly, having to run or get any sweatier.
Podium Traumatic Stress Disorder
I'm not sure La Vuelta have got the podium presentation down pat just yet (they’ve only been doing it for 70-odd years). There seems to be some awkward moments after each stage with the exhausted winners coming onstage only to find there are no podium girls, and no-one to greet them/guide them through the ceremony.
Let me be clear. I am not, in any way, condoning the concept of podium girls. I think this is a ridiculous and degrading tradition, best consigned to history. However, in the absence of anyone else knowing what is going on, they do do a good job at wrangling the winner into position and giving them some much-needed direction. Without them the riders seem to be just standing up there unsure of exactly what to do. Even Chris Froome, a seasoned podium specialist, looked like a confused and bashful teenager at his high school prom today.
Which brings me to the stage winner’s prizes. After stage 2 the stage winner received what looked like a doll's house. Today it was something like a glass version of a green recycling bin. It is all very strange.
Mr or Ms Vuelta, can we please get this sorted? The Giro d’Italia has it down with confetti canons and magnums of Prosecco. Why not take a leaf out of their book? Don’t you guys also run the Tour de France?
The Dirty Don
We too were experiencing a transfer stage of sorts, confronted with a 2 hour drive from the finish in Tarragona to Castellon. I had my head down editing and writing this story the whole way.
All of a sudden Don Álvaro gave me a nudge and and a wry smile. “We are here” he said, pointing out the windscreen. I looked up to see a fading billboard with a woman flashing us, a stark contrast to the lack of podium girls at la Vuelta finish, and an interesting welcome to Castellon.
Hungry and tired it was time to find some of that local food I had been dreaming about all day. I was not disappointed, the Paella Castellon (made to order) was amazing, and a fitting welcome to beautiful España.