Straight from the start of stage 2, Urlaub and I departed the steamy heat of Pamplona and headed to Bilbao in a hurry to watch the pelota at Bizkaia. When we arrived we found the city in party mode, deep in the throes of its summer fiesta, Aste Nagusia. It was marginally cooler on this side of Euskadi, and our amazing hotel (we got a cheap special deal), which had the biggest bathroom I’ve ever had the privilege of using in one, was fully air conditioned! Huzzah. After a much needed good night’s sleep it was off across the city to the Euskotren, the Basque Country’s rather slow and sometimes rather idiosyncratic narrow gauge railway, which chugs through glorious scenery from Bilbao and into Gipuzkoa. The Urkiola is over there! As it wended its merry way towards Eibar (a very strange town which is almost literally in a hole and where the locals require escalators to get around), more and more people in orange joined the throng of passengers and expectation mounted. Once in Eibar, we alighted to find the route went right past the station. Along with many of our fellow travellers, we began to walk, following the race route up the iconic Basque mountain.
Only 8km to walk, with the Euskotren in the background
The climb starts on a residential street
Leaving Eibar...up, up and away!
Climbing and climbing
We didn't envy this woman pushing a pram all the way up...
As you emerge from the trees, the views get rather special
One PdC editor, who shall remain nameless, asked if the word under 'Benat' said 'marriage'. Sadly it says 'Elorriaga'.
We sussed out various spots to watch, and decided on standing just at the top of the steepest section with about 3km to go. As we had time, however, we walked all the way down the descent after the summit to have a look at the finish line.
Here's the actual crest of the climb
And the finish line
The crowds had grown up the time we got back down to our viewing spot
Do you think I fit in ok?
Any riders yet?
How about now?
YES! Here's the lead group, with Roche heading Anton, Froome, Contador and Intxausti (I think my 'aupas' drowned out the rest of the baying crowd with some ease. I got QUITE excited ;)
Landa follows soon-to-be-deposed leader Castroviejo
Anyone else coming? The crowds get ready to cheer those who were struggling rather more. The Basque fans cheer vociferously for everyone and are endlessly encouraging.
A slightly fuzzy Terpstra grits his teeth
Not many of my actual race pictures are up to much as the riders were too close and I was clicking only with an iphone rather than a swanky camera, but I hope these capture some of the atmosphere! There's nothing quite like being a part of the orange wave on a Basque mountain, with a crowd so amazingly passionate about their own team but yet so generous in their support of all, who garner their respect simply for being cyclists.
The riders through, we huddled round a tiny little screen on someone's camping table in time to see that Valverde had won. Or had he? Nobody was sure, and there was no phone reception! Gah! Then we began the downhill march back to Eibar.
When we arrived back in Bilbao it was as if the Basque party had transferred from the mountains to the city. We wished we had more energy to enjoy Aste Nagusia; the place was rocking!
And so to bed. In the morning, Barakaldo!