I’m back from getting up close and personal with the Vuelta in the Basque country. It was the Vuelta’s first visit to the cycling mad region in 33 years and the fans did not disappoint, lining the route whenever they could, and particularly on the climbs, to encourage all the Basque riders. Despite the cessation of hostilities in the region, the Vuelta organisers were taking no chances and both days there was a significant, albeit discrete, police presence. Despite that, the Vuelta is much more intimate than the Tour and it’s possible to get much closer to the riders and the race. To be fair, the Tour is a much bigger affair, attracting much more interest internationally, and therefore one can appreciate the necessity of the measures put in place by ASO.
Stage 19 started in Noja, a charming seaside town in Cantabria, with fabulous beaches, just an hour’s drive from Bilbao. At the sign on I happened to be standing next to some friends of JuanJo who came over to greet them. He had the look of a man who couldn’t quite believe what was happening to him. Lots of young local riders were there in their cycling kit and the riders were only too happy to pose with them and make their day. I easily managed to attract the attention of both of my friends and wish them luck. At this stage of the race, many are just counting down the hours until they reach Madrid and finally home. Most have been away for almost a month.
I managed to handover the cakes my friend ordered after the race. Picking my way carefully through the streams of water issuing forth from the coaches as the riders enjoyed a post-race shower, I handed them over to one of the mechanics. I’d wisely made enough for the entire crew. I only hoped they would enjoy them.
Stage 20 started in Bilbao with a perambulation around the city, showcasing it’s various monuments, before wending its way to the third main town in the Basque country, Vitoria. While San Sebastian and Bilbao have much to recommend them, the same cannot be said for Vitoria’s new part of town. Again, after a pleasant lunch in a local bar, we took our places on the finish line in full view of the big screen to watch the action unfold. This was going to be a stage for the sprinters and their teams, including that of one of my friend’s, were driving the peloton in the last 15km. Clearly, the cakes had worked their magic and given everyone a fillip. The team’s sprinter finished 2nd behind Leopard Trek’s Daniele Bennati.