Gunning for Gaté
There are very few moments when the word ‘efficient’ can be bandied around convincingly during either a grand tour, or Beardy’s Caravan in general. This morning, however, we hit the nail on the head.
During a routine fuel stop at a random service station we noticed a sign advertising a €3.50 car wash. We jumped at the chance to give the Škoda some sudsy love. In all we managed to refuel, wash the car and even pick up some groceries in just over 10 minutes. The racing vibes were strong with us today, or so it seemed.
Better still, the groceries were a strategic buy - in the hope of getting into the front seat lab on one of the longer stretches of driving today and conducting some vital R&D. You see, I am thinking of going after Gabriel Gaté’s cushy Taste Le Tour gig, with my own cooking show - Beardy’s ‘Dashboard Delicacies’. A must for all weekend getaway types and long-haul commuters, I will show you how to prepare gourmet cuisine in the front seat of the car - using a hot dash as a bain-marie, a cigarette lighter for a little flambé, etc.
But I digress in the pursuit of a quick buck. Unfortunately, our moment of brief efficiency came to a disappointingly short end. We arrived at the stage 5 start in Benicàssim only to find the mother of all traffic jams preventing vehicles getting through. In the end I had to set off on foot to make up for lost time.
Today’s ambitious plan was to capture 3 of the 5 categorised climbs on stage 5. There was a little confusion amongst the photographers regarding the final mountain top finish - and if we would be able to drive to the top. The media guide said one thing, while the road book stated the total opposite. The worst-case scenario was that we would have to walk 3km up the hill. Our fingers were firmly crossed, hoping it wouldn't come to that.
The stand off
The first climb actually turned out to be a descent (it looked better through the viewfinder), but was otherwise a fairly standard affair. We parked the car at the mouth of the diversion road, ready for a quick getaway, and walked 500m to the spot we had picked out. Lady luck was on our side as our one spot yielded 3 locations and some great variety in the shots.
I did the shuffle-run back to the car and gave Don Álvaro the fright of his life. He didn't realise that I was coming up behind like an olympic speed walker. He has vowed Cato-like revenge.
The diversion road was in terrible condition, with only one lane available. There were a couple of cars in front, happily meandering along. We soon put paid to their ambling bliss, issuing repeated, authoritative blasts of the horn until they got the message and pulled to the side.
The Don was in fine form behind the wheel; I would read directions to him like a rally car navigator as he piloted the Škoda between potholes with surgical precision.
We had almost made it to a proper road when we met a car coming the other way. We asserted ourselves - our car was covered in la Vuelta stickers afterall. We hit the horn and signalled for the driver, a frail-looking old granny, to pull over so we could continue through.
We had, however, underestimated the tenacity of this old broad, who refused to be intimidated. She set her jaw and started edging forward, determined not to yield. Like an old bull in a bullfighting arena, she was getting ready to charge (I understand I am mixing genders here, however, I like the analogy and am going to stick with it).
Finally, The Don blinked, reversing back into some bushes to allow the old lady to pass. She smiled sweetly, then floored the accelerator, kicking up a cloud of dust at us to celebrate her victory. Rather than flourishing a red cape at the old bull, we had waved the white flag. Our pride gouged, we limped on.
The diversion paid off and we made it to the second climb with time to spare - but nowhere to park. Every section of road that could possibly accommodate a car had been staked out long ago. The only other space was reserved for team cars, looking resplendent with doors open and legs hanging out. Soigneurs were busily snoring through a siesta until the riders arrived.
Eventually we found half a park that would work - if only we could get a red Citroën C15 van to move a little. The owner was of a similar vintage to his van and, as I far as I could understand, got very angry when Don Álvaro asked him to move. The conversation became so heated I thought it was going to end in a punch-up. However, eventually he agreed, inching forward and allowing us to park.
I went off to shoot the riders coming past, in the now blistering heat. When I came back to the car Don Álvaro was relishing an icy-cold can of drink. I asked him where he got it from and he pointed to the old guy in the red van. Apparently, after almost coming to fisticuffs, they were now best mates.
The van guy had taken to yelling rather loudly at the peloton through a megaphone. Apparently he was screaming, over and over, something along the lines of “thank you Contador for everything you have done for cycling”. Eventually, Contador, perhaps as an act of civil service, actually came past and gave the guy a thumbs up. Old mate almost fell over backwards with excitement. I guess he will be telling the story of today for many years to come. The Don even managed to get a snap of the moment. I asked him if he had asked the man for his email, so I could send it to him. Don Álvaro just stared at me and then laughed. “Email? As if he has an email!?!”
The day the music died
We farewelled The Don’s new BFF and hit the road for the last climb of the stage, and first summit finish of this years race. On the way Don Álvaro called a friend that worked for la Vuelta, who relayed the terrible news; the carpark was full so we would have to walk up.
As we power-walked our way up the 3km climb the gradient just kept getting steeper. This climb was much harder than I had given it credit for - it was going to be a cruel test after a long day.
We found a spot 1km from the top where things were getting lively. A couple of budding musicians were banging out tunes on a drum and trumpet, accompanied by gruff voices. They were chanting about everything from chorizo to Contador - and were getting the crowd pumped up. That was, until the fun police (aka the Guardia Civil) told them pipe down, or risk a baton over the head.
Thankfully, this did little to dampen the general enthusiasm of the spectators, who continued to cheer loudly for each rider as the battled up to the finish.