04 September 2011

Watching La Vuelta a España from the top of a hill

Last weekend, we went to Madrid to visit Alberto's family and spend some time in a place where summer actually exists, unlike the UK! As luck would have it, the Vuelta a España (like the Tour de France, but in Spain) is on at the moment and Stage 8 on Saturday finished in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a beautiful town outside of Madrid and only about 20 minutes drive from where Alberto's family lives. We knew we had to go check it out!

About 500m from the finish (and no, we didn't write that!)
We've been to see a pro cycling race before, but this one was different in a number of ways:
1. It's the Vuelta a España, one of the three Grand Tours and a major event on the cycling calendar, not a dinky little classic in the UK! There were a LOT of big names.
2. We were at the finish of the race (we stood between the 200 and 300 meters-to-go banners), rather than a random spot along the route. This meant much more excitement and bigger crowds.
3. It was an uphill finish. And when I say uphill, I mean UP. HILL. The slope reached 27% at some points. This meant we could watch the riders go past slowly. The final 1km went straight up a narrow, straight road -- so the riders came past us in little bunches and we had enough time to see the names on their backs and shout out at them.

View from close to the finish line.

We arrived in El Escorial in the early afternoon, and the riders weren't expected until 5:30 or so. We had time to walk up the race route (and it was steep enough to be difficult to walk!), take in the atmosphere, and have lunch in town before heading back to the route to find a spot to watch. It was quite busy already by 4:30 but we eventually found some space. Unfortunately, it was right next to a guy holding the Madrid flag who thought that it was funny to hold it out in front of everything that went passed...not just cyclists but cars and motorbikes as well! It was annoying because it blocked the view for a lot of the time.

For a sense of the angle. Note struggling children in background. 
While we waited, we were entertained by a radio announcer who stood near us broadcasting the race. Those of our readers who understand Spanish may find the video amusing. (Ok, those who don't understand it might still find it amusing!)

Anyway, we waited in anticipation until eventually we could see a helicopter overhead and a few official cars and motorbikes flew past. Finally, we saw him -- Joaquim Rodriguez of team Katusha, or Purito as the Spaniards call him, flying up the mountain, followed closely by Lampre's Michele Sarponi. As the main peloton passed I shot this video. Apologies that it starts a bit slowly -- I really didn't want to miss the riders coming by! The riders arrive at about 1:15 in the video. (You can even hear the point where I spotted Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins and shouted out his name. A few days later he took on the leader's red jersey and at the moment still has it!)

Because of the hill, the riders were very spread out so we had a chance to see lots more cyclists come past and some of them really needed the moral support as they suffered up the mountain.

When it was all over, we walked back down to the exhibition area and looked around. I was excited to find a bike that had been signed by Jens Voigt, probably my favorite pro (and blogger)!

And to top off a great day, while walking through town, we even caught a glimpse of Purito as he cycled back down to his hotel after he had won the stage and took the leader's jersey for the day!

1 comment: