At the invitation of the region of Asturias, CycloWorld was able to follow two mountain stages in the Vuelta up close. Both days started in the sponsor's village, followed by presentation of the riders (what torture for the guys to have to do this every day). Then we followed the race in a chauffeured car, including a sustainably packed lunch. It turned out to be two intense stages full of spectacle, chaos, anxious moments, honking and above all a lot of racing.
Every day the teams have to introduce themselves. That some riders were done with it is completely understandable.
The stages took place on Saturday and Sunday, August 27 and 28. We were lucky: they were two mountain stages with a lot of climbig and (in both cases) arrival on a steep climb.
What especially sticks out is the tremendous speed at which the riders complete the stages. The drivers of the cars we used to travel with, have been cyclists themselves and could estimate this very well. It does mean that stopping to see a leading group flash by has to be timed perfectly or you can follow the stage behind the peloton. We always left before the peloton but as soon as the time difference between a breakaway and the peloton is enough (3 minutes or more) we were allowed to place ourselves behind the breakaway. On the first day we stayed behind the breakaway for a while and passed it a few times. On the second day we stayed in front of the breakaway all the time, but were able to follow them through the back window of the car.
Both days we were allowed to drive the car all the way to the finish, right through the assembled frenzied crowd on the final climb. A chaotic scene.
The speed at which the pros operate was best illustrated by the acrobatic descents we had the opportunity to experience: the mountain passes were narrow, steep and full of right-angled turns; this didn't stop the riders from reaching speeds of 100 km/h and more. Driving a car downhill at that speed is hallucinatory. We were convinced that there would be a lot of crashes, but that turned out to be a mistake: the riders apparently know very well how to deal with it.
Another eye-opener was the gradient of the final climbs. Especially the climb on Sunday to Les Praeres was impressive from the car. Even our driver, ex-pro David Navas, mumbled a few Spanish phrases, while he was the calm steadfast one the rest of the day (even at 110 mph on a descent). The strength needed to flame uphill again after 10 days of the Vuelta here no doubt requires a huge training effort.
With some luck you will get very close to the riders.
It was impressive to see the riders come over the finish line: some totally exhausted, others for whom the time limit was the main goal and still others who after a successful day descended the mountain with a big smile back to the bus of their team. Finally, it was also a great moment for us to see Remco Evenepoel hoist the red and white jersey after each finish, Jay Vine the polka dot jersey and Mads Pedersen the green jersey (by joining the breakaway during the mountain stage to Fancuaya which we were able to witness from close by).
Thijmen Arensman was so tired he almost fell over.
Valverde: as fresh as a fiddle.
La meta, where Jay Vine won in the clouds. Shortly after, it cleared.
And despite the corona virus, it sometimes turned out to be possible to have a word with a pro or shoot a picture.
It were two unforgettable days: Viva La Vuelta, Viva España!