Back in business
After a somewhat abridged version of Beardy's Caravan for Le Tour de France (more popularly known in some circles as le petit tour de la barbe), I returned briefly to Australia to recharge my batteries and beef up my frequent flyer points. A few short whirlwind weeks later and I found myself back in Europe, ready to hit la Vuelta hard.
It takes a special person to be part of Beardy’s Caravan covering a grand tour - possibly because there is nothing particularly ‘special’ nor ‘grand’ about it. For 3 weeks your life and mine become entwined tighter than many relationships, without all the usual perks. You pack your life in with all my gear in a small car for hours each day, only to end up sharing a tin can hotel room at the end of it. Mostly there are separate beds.
You need to be able to drive in a high-stress environment for hours on end, run on minimum sleep for weeks straight, take photos, read maps, haggle with local constabulary, and put up with my foul moods if it doesn’t all go to plan. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few minutes of bike racing each day.
And yet, somehow, we always have an absolute ball. Team Beardy is always up against the odds, but we always end up with a great story to tell. Now I just needed to find a trusty Spanish sidekick.
Enter Álvaro, a young Madrid local who was seemingly as excited to be coming along on Beardy's Caravan as I was to have him. He also came highly recommended. Already a team director for an U23 Madrid team, his driving skills might even rival those of the Stuntman.
Álvaro and my story begins in Barcelona. Regular readers of the Caravan will know that the luxury of a local guide (or even someone that half-speaks the local language) has been, up until this point at least, a somewhat foreign concept (pardon the pun). Accordingly, as we deftly negotiated the city buses and metro with ease, scything our way to a Škoda dealer on the outskirts of town, I felt a strange sensation. Calm. I was calm. No stressing about whether I was on the right train. No worrying about where the bus stop was. Álvaro and I were relaxed and chatting away like old friends. This was going to work out just fine.
Arriving at the dealership we were shown to our car by an enthusiastic salesman named Javier. When we saw the car that Álvaro would be driving around in for 3 weeks, our eyes lit up. Our Škoda Octavia was already all stickered-up with La Vuelta livery. It looked like an official tour car.
Not only would this prove a handy addition when negotiating roadblocks and local police, we couldn’t help but feel a little bit special. It felt like, for a moment, our little Caravan had evolved from a fledgling outlier to a mainstream force. We felt eight feet tall.
Seemingly oblivious to our newfound status, Javier leant on the car door, outlining the key features of the vehicle. All I could do, however, was focus on the magnificent golden bull’s head with pointy horns, hanging from a chain around his neck. I was so impressed with his status symbol, I started thinking about finding something equally impressive as a souvenir of the Caravan. Something befitting of my new persona, Macho McBeard.
So enamoured was Javier with the car he was loaning us that I think, given the chance, we would have been happy to jump in and join us for the ride. Even if only to continue to point out the many wonderful selling points.
With Álvaro’s UCI driving licence and a punchy 2 litre turbo diesel under the hood, we opened the sunroof to let in some of the baking Barcelona sun. This left us only two things to do; crank some latino tunes from Álvaro’s playlist and head out towards Nîmes.
Nothin’ but time
With most of the jobs for the day completed in record time (on account of Álvaro), including collecting our respective accreditation and, of course, stickering the car, I again found myself in unfamiliar territory - with time up my sleeve.
Fortunately, this meant I could sleep off my jetlag while Álvaro attended a UCI driver’s certification course, to further hone his skills.
A little later there was a press conference for the GC hopefuls. Normally, this would not be something that I would attend (on account of being accidentally caught up in a sightseeing tour or something similarly ridiculous). However, with all this newfound time up my sleeve, and the fact that it was being held in the middle of a bullfighting arena, it was worth a look. The team time trial would also be passing through the middle of the ring tomorrow, so it was a good chance to see what we were up against.
Following the press conference it was time for the team presentation. After the first couple of teams had been presented, I got a little edgy, and went looking for a different perspective. Fortuitously, I stumbled across where the riders were waiting, ahead of being called on-stage. They were all casually hanging around in the gardens with barely another soul to bother them. It was a great opportunity to snap some close-ups and say hi to a few familiar faces.
So there you have it - not too bad for a first day back on the job. We even found a nice little bistro serving up braised beef cheeks cooked in the grandmother's traditional recipe. Welcome back to the Caravan!