Did it escape your notice that I was absent from the live threads this past week? I hope it did. I like to be missed. I’m sure you had all sorts of questions about the Basque Country and gnashed your teeth when you realised I wasn’t there to help. Why wasn’t I there? Because I was IN the Basque Country! Yes, that’s right, for the past ten days, Urlaub and I have been on an odyssey through all kinds of exciting places, and the first five days of the trip involved following the Vuelta from Pamplona to Arrate to Barakaldo to Logroño. As you might expect, I took rather a lot of pictures (not ALL of men in orange, really), far too many for one post, so I shall inflict several posts on you. Please display enthusiasm, or at least pretend to, because this will make me happy. Milesker!
Leg One of the trip took us to Pamplona, scene of the team time trial and the stage start the following day. On arriving at the city’s bus station from Bilbao, someone appeared to have opened a massive door to a massive oven in our faces. It was 45 degrees centigrade. We then got lost on the way to our hotel and dragged our suitcases for MILES, requiring an emergency corner shop raid for cans of KAS (cycling sponsors FTW!), and when we arrived where the hotel should have been we still couldn’t find it. It turned out it was actually an apartment type thingy with no reception. Not confusing at all really. But all was well, apart from the lack of air conditioning. 36 degrees at almost 11pm. Yes, that’s hot. But for bike racing we will survive even the fires of hell itself!
It was just as warm the next day but like true Englishmen (who support Euskaltel) we went Out In The Midday Sun to look at men on bikes, preceded by men getting ready to go on bikes. Here is what we saw!
The city prepares. I was a little worried about the narrow and cobbled nature of the course, fearing for my Euskies, but what little stars they were! First page of results!
A list of pelota champions in the street. This pleases me.
The first riders we bumped into were from Caja Rural, who had a promotional stand complete with free team tat (t shirts! Hats! Inflatable bangy things!), a bouncy castle (I was too old for this...boo) and stationary bikes on a stage. The riders appeared and all sat on the bikes and pedaled, very willingly considering the blistering heat. They were very friendly with the fans, too.
Euskaltel bus! This made me happy. I posed in front of it for a picture and this family was convinced I was part of the team. They started asking me all kinds of things in Spanish! Aaaargh! Could it be my orangeness which made them think this?
After much wandering and the drinking of several litres of water, it was time for riders to start emerging. PhilGil!
Santambrogio. Bike as weapon?
The French teams arrived fashionably late in their sexy compression socks
No Pablo, it goes like THIS
Castroviejo would look VERY happy later on in the evening!
Cataldo and Pauwels hung around for longer than most of the 'steppers who headed for the showers pronto after their warm up
Niki Terpstra did a lot of bike tweaking
Valverde was much in demand with the press
For the action, we managed to get a spot just by the bottom of the start ramp. Result! By this point it was so hot that my Euskie jersey had been turned into a crop top so I dread to think how the riders must have felt!
Caja Rural. What was with those skinsuits? San Fermin colours or...?
We watch Movistar win on the big screen, to thunderous applause from the local crowd. Along with Euskaltel, they were by far the most popular team in Pamplona.
When it was over, we went to the Movistar bus, where the team staff were already whooping and hugging. The riders took a while to get back from the bullring, but when they did it was fantastic to share, even a little bit, in their joy. The photos are not exactly quality, but I think they capture the atmosphere!
Hugs for Lastras
Benat Intxausti looked like the Cheshire Cat
He launched himself at his team staff
...then shook hands with all and sundry
Erviti poses for the public
So there we have it, day one down! Off we went to find dinner, get whatever sleep we could in our sauna..er..hotel room, and prepare for day two. Watch this space (warning: Euskies will be hugged).