Well I?ve made it through the first two big mountain stages of this year?s Vuelta. With timed efforts and good judgement they were hard but ?survivable?. What especially made them hard has been the intensity the Spanish teams have been riding at, particularly Liberty Seguros. They are riding hard all day, every day. Even when there?s a breakaway that?s no threat to the overall GC, they don?t let it get more than three minutes up. I?m not sure what their tactics are but they?re certainly making hard work of it. Not only for themselves but for the rest of the peloton as well. Obviously though if they were finding it that hard they wouldn?t be doing it so I guess that I, and the rest of the peloton, mustn?t be going that good compared to them?
One thing that I?ve really noticed with the Vuelta over the years since I?ve been doing it, is the decreasing number of spectators. Especially on stage 10 when we were in
Andorra for the biggest mountain stages of the race, there was almost nobody out watching. Yesterday was a little better as we were closer to the Basque Country, but still the mountain sides were far from heaving with fans. I think that it?s just a reflection of where sporting successes in
Spain lie at the moment. Previously in the times of Indurain, cycling was huge. Every Spanish and their dog rode a bike or at least stood on the side of the road to support a bike race. Since those days of the early to mid 90?s cycling fanaticism has been in decline. Spanish ? like most nationalities ? always tend to go with what is hot. At that time Indurain thrust cycling into the limelight with his multiple Tour wins whereas now it is Formula 1 with Fernando. Alonso is the biggest star in
Spain at the moment and all the kids want to drive go-carts to become the next Alonso. Alonso?s face and merchandise are everywhere. They even plucked his eyebrows and fluffed up his hair to make look more like a superstar.
This whole thing was reinforced yesterday when I got back to the hotel, after riding 6 hours with no spectators, and on the TV was a doco about Alonso?s go-cart track in
Asturias when he was younger. It?s interesting how one person?s success can have so much impact on a nation. Or likewise the lack of success, or an international superstar, within a particular sport will affect the degree of passion shown by the nation for that sport. Spain had, and still has, some very good riders over the past few years with several World Champions but I suppose that the Tour is the king of all races and is what propels the riders to superstardom which then turns the heads of a nation.
Today is the first rest day of the Vuelta. It has been a long time coming and I really need it. I?m feeling pretty thrashed after what have been two hard mountain days on top of